Monday, January 28, 2008

Money, money, money

Money isn't everything, but it ranks right up there with oxygen.
-- Rita Davenport, motivational speaker and Arbonne International president

Money has been on my mind lately. Being married to a financial adviser, I have someone else to take care of the day-to-day fiscal operations of our family, and I like it that way, for the most part. But every so often, something that takes a lot of money bombs its way into my consciousness and I'm consumed by the particular financial conundrum it presents.

The latest is my discovery of a program I think would be very beneficial for Abby, my 6-year-old who has a mild form of autism. I'd love to have her take part, and am in the process of completing applications for participation and financial aid. But even if we were awarded some scholarship money for her to go, chances are we'd still need to come up with a few thousand dollars on our own.

I've been brainstorming ideas for coming up with some cash. Here's what I've thought of so far:
  1. Writing until my fingers bleed. This was my initial plan, until I figured out that no amount of newspaper articles would create the kind of income I need to generate in the time frame. So that made me think (again) of...
  2. Magazines. A couple of weeks ago I wrote in this space that I would be writing a query letter, and then got sidetracked. But after a big nudge from a colleague today, I'm proud to say I did send off an article proposal to one magazine and am in the process of fine-tuning a query to another. Magazines pay more than newspapers, but I'm a pretty new freelancer, and it's a competitive world out there. Still, it doesn't hurt to try.
  3. Cake sales and yard sales. These ideas are courtesy of Diana, my hairdresser. I don't think I could rely on them to pay for the program entirely, but they might rake in a couple hundred bucks. Particularly if I baked for a week and then hauled all the possessions we no longer need out into the yard and ALSO had the goodies set up for purchase. But this sounds like an awful lot of work for the potential return.
  4. A benefit concert (benefiting me, of course, so I can pay for this program for Abby.) It's been seven years since I've given a voice recital, and I know so many more people now that I might be able to pull in a decent crowd and make some money, even after expenses. Of course, the kind of program I'd like to do wouldn't necessarily be a crowd-pleaser (an evening with Richard Strauss, anyone?) but if I did some of my favorite repertoire and some lighter stuff, like musical theater, it could work. Maybe. Can I realistically set aside the time to prepare for this, musically? If I'm also trying to pitch magazines and keep up with my other writing assignments?
  5. Putting ads on my blog. I need to check out other blogs to see how it looks, but this might be a painless way to generate a little money, too. Very little, I'm sure, but every dollar helps, right?

If anyone out there has any brainwaves on this subject, drop me a line. I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Greek seasoning rides again

Several years ago, Earl's uncle Roger, a Lutheran pastor in Iowa, introduced us to Cavender's Greek seasoning. Not convinced on the authentic Grecian background of the spice blend, we gingerly tried it, and became true believers. We use it most often on grilled steaks, swordfish, shrimp or scallops. It's delish.

We introduced Kathleen and her family to the joys of grilled swordfish when they visited us last summer, and I sent them home with their own shaker of Greek. So their Greek in Houston came by way of Boston, and indirectly from Iowa, if not Greece.

Well. On my recent sojourn to Texas oil country, I told Kathleen that I wanted to look for a pair of boots for my cowboy husband. She found a store, programmed the GPS and off we went.

So there we were, outside Cavender's Boot City, in an uncharacteristically cold drizzle. Inside, the store had everything from flannel shirts to bolo ties to enormous belt buckles, plus boots that ranged from $80 to $1,000 a pair. When a salesman (in full western regalia) offered his help, Kathleen the Texan Imposter stepped in and said, "No, thanks, we're just admahrin' the boots," in the twangiest twang I'd ever heard out of her.

I noticed all weekend that she slipped into a Texas accent whenever she talked with the locals. When I teased her about it, she said, "Of course you have to talk that way to them! Otherwise they'll think you're cold!!" Well, ah em cowld, thankye verih much.

Anyway -- I found a pair of boots for Earl (who was holding down the ranch and looking after the two little cowpokes while Abby and I were away.) And then, when I was browsing around, I saw several shakers of my favorite Greek seasoning on display.

Greek? In Cavender's Boot City?

Then it hit me lahke a cast-iron fryin' pan upsahd the heyud: CAVENDER'S Greek Seasoning. CAVENDER'S Boot City.

So the shaker we sent back with Kathleen last summer was really just goin' home to Texas.

Milton Times article

My profile of Gillian Najarian ran in yesterday's Milton Times. Gillian does some fascinating work regarding the science of child development, which I found interesting as an educator and as a parent. She's very articulate, and a lovely person, besides. I enjoyed talking with her.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Home again and column

Abby and I are back home. I'll write more about my trip another time, but the Cliffs Notes version is that it was fun, relaxing, and restorative, for both of us. And I was so happy to see Brian and Timmy when we got back that I got all teary in the car.

I had the Broad Sides column in the Womyn Zone section of today's Patriot Ledger. Much to my surprise -- I opened the paper and there it was.

Off to do my other job -- I have a piano lesson to teach in 10 minutes. But my brain is still in Texas, if not my heart.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

En vacances

I've just submitted that article I've been working on, so now I'm really on vacation. Kathleen and I have plans today to go out to lunch and then a Houston Symphony concert. We're hoping to get to the gym this morning, too -- something I really could use after the sumptuous snacky dinner we had last night. Freddy made me a glass of kir -- white wine from France with a little splash of blackberry liqueur. Delicious! And we had various puff-pastry hors d'oeuvres and foie gras (which I tried and didn't love) and chips and dip. And peanut butter cookies with Hershey's Kisses in the middle. This, after Kathleen's homemade Reubens for lunch. I'm going to be as big as Texas by the time I get back. But I'm enjoying it!

Abby participated in Patrick's recreational therapy yesterday, and had a good time. They played board games, and she got a little bossy ("Patrick, it's your turn now!") but it was nice to have some structured playtime, and good for both of them to practice their social interaction skills. We then ran some errands and Abby got to see a dog being groomed at Petco -- something her wonderful therapist had recommended, because Abby is so into playing dogs lately.

Houston is an interesting landscape. There are no zoning laws here, no planning boards, so many of the residential neighborhoods are subdivisions, which protect homeowners from having commercial development spring up next to them. Kathleen and Freddy live in a gated community, which is very nice. The houses are closer together than I would have imagined, with all this land down here. Smaller yards than I envisioned. But there's still a nice sense of privacy, with fences and the way the houses are angled in their cul-de-sac.

There's an interesting opinion piece about urban planning and what it means for development and economic growth in today's Houston Chronicle. I'm not sure I agree with it, but it can certainly give readers an idea of the mindset of many Texans on this issue.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Deep in the heart of Texas

I'm here in sunny Houston, where it was the same temperature yesterday as in Boston. So much for a warm winter getaway! But it's a toasty feeling, basking in Kathleen and Freddy's hospitality in their spacious, gracious home.

Abby did wonderfully well on the trip. She listened to a couple of CDs, read books, and played ponies and Polly Pocket on the plane. She handled the airport, the people, the delay and everything else with aplomb. When the lovely gentleman who sat in our row commented on how well she did, it was all I could do to hold back from telling him, "and she has autism, too!" But I realized that he didn't know, couldn't tell, never would have guessed, and I didn't have to clue him in. A delicious feeling, to have a secret like that, and the luxury of keeping it.

Kathleen, Freddy and I went out to dinner last night, and left the kids with one of their regular babysitters, and again, Abby did great. I'm really proud of her.

I'm writing a piece with a deadline of Monday, and wasn't looking forward to working on it here. But I decided to get up early to write, as is my habit at home, and discovered I love it just as much on vacation as I do in real life. Mornings with coffee and words -- it doesn't get any better than that. Except when someone else makes the chocolate chip pancakes, for a change, and I get to eat them while they're still hot!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

She blinded me with science

I'm working on an article that, while disguised as a personal profile, really is all about science and child development. And it's fascinating. But I'm not writing for a scientific audience, and am trying to cram all of this good information about the person and the work she does into 800 words by tomorrow night. And it's not flowing. At. All.

The actual deadline is Friday at noon, but...drum roll please...I'm flying out to Houston to see Kathleen that morning! Abby and I are going (I'm sure Kathleen will be working on the arranged marriage between Abby and Patrick all weekend) and I am excited but as yet unprepared, because of this article AND another one I need to get done before I go.

Darned snow day on Monday. Having Abby and Brian home all day really threw me off.

Back to the salt mines. I'll get it done. I may be up at 4:30 tomorrow, but I'll get it done.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

LIFT article

My feature on LIFT ministries ran in the family section of today's Patriot Ledger. I really enjoyed working on this story, but wished I had remembered to bring my earplugs to the service. It was rock-the-rafters loud, and I'm the type who wears earplugs at the movies.

Decibel level aside, it was an interesting evening, wonderful in many ways, and I can see how it would really inspire people seeking a more modern approach to worship.

To borrow a slogan from another Christian denomination -- God is still speaking, and He speaks in different ways to different people. Just don't expect Him to use His indoor voice at LIFT.

Oink, oink

Yesterday was a very bad eating day. Maybe after months of Weight Watchers I've finally snapped. I'm starting to wonder if I have an eating disorder -- not anorexia or bulimia, but eat-everything-I-can-get-my-hands-on-ia.

I won't list everything I ate, as I can't remember it all and it would be too humiliating, anyway. As my friend Suzette Martinez Standring wrote, a food diary is "pornography on paper." Suffice to say that the list would be very long, and ugly.

I wonder if it's time for a different approach. A few years ago, I took off about 5 pounds by taking a look at my eating behaviors and making up a few rules to head off the most egregious ones. My rules were:
  1. Sit down when I eat. At the table, with a plate. Not standing up in the kitchen, or anywhere else.
  2. No second helpings. I can always have a snack later, if I need it.
  3. Have a little (a little) dark chocolate after lunch and dinner.
Those rules were adapted from a book called The Fat Fallacy, which turned my low-fat-food-pyramid rules of the 90s on their heads. It was more about eating in moderation, like the French do, rather than policing the substance of everything we eat. The chocolate rule was about having a little treat and, as the book said, getting a little butterfat on board to help with satiety.

I still eat standing up, in the kitchen, where no one can see me, especially the kids. This cannot be good for me. If I'm sitting down to eat, it's an event that I have to own up to, not mindless grazing. So it's definitely time to revive that rule.

I'm not big into second helpings, although I do have them occasionally. I can watch that, too.

I'll happily get some dark chocolate to comply with that rule.

More fruits and veggies can't hurt, either.

This little pig is going French today. Wish me bonne chance.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Maybe it's time

Recently, Abby's therapist, Earl and I have been thinking about whether it might be time to tell Abby about her diagnosis. This came up because of some self-esteem issues that are surfacing, most likely from Abby's emerging social awareness.

For example, the other day, Abby was upset and announced she wanted to put herself into the recycling. She then proceeded to say that no one at school likes the way she looks, and no one at school likes her. I asked her if anyone had told her so, and she said, "No, I just think it."

She had gone on a similar tirade a few months ago, when she said she wanted to throw herself in the trash, and then proceeded to go into the bathroom and stand in the wastebasket.

All this is very upsetting to me, and so I mentioned it to Abby's wonderful therapist. And her response was that maybe we should think about explaining to Abby why she feels different sometimes.

My first reaction was that she's too young and she'll probably obsess about it. I can just hear her saying now, in that sing-songy voice she sometimes uses, "I do that because I have autism!"

But after a conversation I had with her yesterday, I'm not so sure. I was bringing her home from OT, and she started singing a song -- something about a silent e. I asked her about it, and she said it was from the Starfall website. She then said she wasn't stimming, because if you sing songs from a computer it's not stimming.

I told her that stimming wasn't about where a song was from, and that if she was just singing a song because it was in her head and she liked it, it wasn't stimming, anyway. And she said, "It's OK as long as I don't stim on it."

So we talked a little about that. And then, I asked her, "Do you ever get stimmy at school?"

And she said, with shock and a silly Mommy! tone to her voice, "No, of course not! Because stimming is boring!"

I know that she's been working on social and conversational skills at school, like staying on topic and not going on and on about a subject (something she doesn't do that much, anyway.) And I see that she's becoming aware of what other people might think is a boring (or strange) behavior, even if her awareness is defined by rules at this point, rather than true theory of mind.

So maybe she is more aware of differences than I thought. Maybe knowledge, in this case, would be power for her, because she could more objectively recognize a behavior and modify it.

We're still thinking about whether, and when, to explain Abby's diagnosis to her, and will discuss it more with her therapist. And in the meantime, I hope we'll have more opportunities to talk like we did yesterday, in the car after OT.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Call in the reinforcements

"I wrote for twelve years and collected 250 rejection slips before getting any fiction published, so I guess outside reinforcement isn't all that important to me."
--Lisa Alther, author

Unlike Lisa, I'm all about reinforcement, both as the reinforcer and the reinforcee. Of course, there's the ABA approach to managing my kids' behaviors -- m&m, anyone? There's my piano teaching, too: the Suzuki method relies heavily on reinforcing small successes, very similar to ABA. And we all work for the reinforcement of a paycheck.

But a beginning freelancer doesn't get a big paycheck from anyone, so the reinforcers have to come in other ways. Certainly, a byline is better than an m&m, any day. And recognition from friends and colleagues feels wonderful, not to mention the occasional email response from a random reader, or a nibble from a new editor.

While the phone call from the magazine editor last week was wonderfully reinforcing, I've also been obsessing a little about it. I haven't heard anything more from her, despite my having sent her several story ideas and another complete submission within 24 hours after the call. I'm feeling slightly sad about it, even though I'm also telling myself that there's still hope; editors are very busy and I can follow up (gently) in a couple of days. But that hole I shot in my foot isn't getting any smaller.

So along with the obsessing comes the analyzing, and I've been wondering why I'm so panicked about this. Yes, it's a prestigious magazine, and yes, it has a huge readership. It pays very well and I will jump at the chance to be published there, if and when another chance comes. But the sun does not rise and set on this one publication. There are other books on the rack.

So I broke open my Writer's Market book yesterday, for the first time in months. Last August I had marked a few magazines I had in mind, but hadn't done anything about them because I didn't have very many clips. But now, I have quite a few published articles, and I'm thinking about putting out some feelers. And it might be a good time to do it, since I'm not drowning in assignments at the moment.

So today I will query a magazine or two, and hope that some reinforcement comes out of it eventually. And in the meantime, I'll be proud of myself for doing it. Maybe I'll even have an m&m.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Great weekend = bad weigh-in

"I had a great time getting fat."
-- Kirstie Alley

Oh, it was a wonderful weekend: dates, takeout chinese, fireplace time, pumpkin bread, writing, m&m's, singing, ice cream. And I gained. Only a tiny bit -- less than half a pound -- but this was the week I was going to bust out of the EZ (emergency zone) again and I didn't do it. Because I was having such a great time!

I've always thought of myself as an emotional eater, but tied my cravings for chocolate and carbs to negative emotions. Turns out that I eat whenever I'm feeling anything, including happiness.

I eat when I'm happy
I eat when I'm stressed
I eat when I'm joyful
and when I'm depressed

With so many feelings
that make me indulge
No wonder I'm waging
a war with the bulge

I'm no Kirstie Alley
I'm no Roseanne Barr
I don't think I'd let
myself go quite that far

But I'm tipping the scale
just too much to the right
I work out, and like it,
But try as I might,

The burn doesn't offset
the calories in.
I don't think I'm destined
to ever be thin.
I'm gonna stick with it
and try hard today,
and work out, and diet,
and finally, pray

for help on this journey
that's so very long.
O God, let my muscles
AND psyche be strong.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Two dates and a name rant

I neglected to mention in my new year's post that Earl and I are reviving our date nights, which slipped by the wayside in December. I've decided that in addition to going out to dinner every other Saturday night, we will have at-home massage dates on the off weeks. We went out last Saturday, so last night it was time to break out the massage table.

A little background: last January we had a couples' massage with a twist: the massage therapist taught us how to practice her art on each other. It was great, and I was so inspired that when I saw a massage table at BJ's, complete with headrest, I sprung for it for Valentine's day.

We used it quite a bit at first, but it's been at least 6 months since we got it out of the case. When I informed Earl of my (unilateral) massage-date decision, he readily agreed, and the dear man set everything up in the family room after the kids were in bed last night. When I came downstairs, there was the massage table, all made up with flannel sheets and the electric blanket, candles casting a soft glow, fire crackling in the fireplace. Pure heaven.

We both were a little rusty, and poor Earl had to endure my icy-cold hands at first, but it was a wonderful, relaxing, bonding evening. Funny how an hour or so of focused attention with my husband makes me remember why I'm married in the first place.

And it's been a two-date weekend: we had on-demand movie night on Friday. We rented Waitress, which I really enjoyed, with one exception: the controlling, abusive, redneck husband's name was Earl. I think my husband has had an uphill battle his whole life with his name, and movies like that and shows like My Name is Earl only perpetuate the image of the unsophisticated, slightly stupid country bumpkin.

I have only known two Earls in my entire life: my husband and his cousin, for whom he was named. Said cousin is a professor at Brown University -- hardly a dim-witted hick. And my Earl is no slouch, either, even if it only occurred to him a few weeks ago, while looking at the first-quarter moon, why half-moon cookies are so named. Aside from astronomical baking references, he's really a very bright guy.

My Earl is a financial planner and classical musician who is very knowledgeable and passionate about special education. He's a terrific husband and father, general handyman, cook and CCD teacher. So fie on the unfortunate name, I say. He's the best massage date I know.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Hurry up and wait

Oh, timing is everything. And what timing isn't, patience must be.

Many, many months ago, I submitted a piece to a magazine for consideration. I never heard a peep, and a few months after I sent my submission, I noticed a blurb in the publication that said, in so many words, "no unsolicited manuscripts." Ah, well, I thought, and ended up sending that little piece to another, smaller publication, which published it. And everyone was happy.

Yesterday the magazine editor called me, wondering if the piece I sent last spring were still available for publication. The short answer is yes, of course the piece is still available, since I have no contract with the smaller publication and the publisher has made clear to me that freelancers own the copyright to their own works. But.

Things got a little sticky when the magazine editor started talking about the ins and outs of the publication, contract, rights retained by the author, etc. I felt that I had to tell the editor that while the piece was still very much available for publication, it had, in fact, been in print already. And the whole time I was saying this, I was glad that we keep no arms in the house, because I might be tempted to really shoot myself in the foot, instead of just figuratively.

Of course, the magazine editor wasn't as excited about publishing the piece when I told her it had been published already, albeit by a publication that could in no way be seen as a competitor to the magazine. I asked her what we could do, thinking maybe some legal language from the smaller publication might set the mag's mind at ease. That door, while still a bit ajar, seemed to be closing rapidly.

But the editor asked if I had anything else to send her, and also asked about other story ideas I might have. So I did send her something else (unpublished) and she responded right away to my email, saying that she would read it and was looking forward to my story ideas. This gives me reason to be hopeful that all may not be lost with this magazine.

As I get more into the realm of the published writer, I am seeing that while the writing part of things may come naturally and easily and be so darned much fun, getting published is a bit more complicated. I do believe that honesty is the best policy, and I'm glad that I told her. And I'm glad that it was printed in the smaller publication, because I really wanted to see it published. I guess I just wish I had known that it was under consideration by the magazine before I sent it to the other publication.

Everything happens for a reason, and even if nothing comes of this, at least I now have made contact with the magazine editor and have learned a couple of lessons:

1. Hearing nothing isn't necessarily rejection.
2. I need to be sure I'm comfortable with letting go of a potential opportunity with one publication before sending the same piece to another.

And, most excitingly, at least one magazine thought at least one thing I wrote was worthy of publication. I find that encouraging. Even if I do have a hole in my foot.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Milton Times profile

I wrote a profile of Janet McCourt for the Milton Times. It's in today's issue, complete with beautiful photo of Janet (which she took, herself!)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Vacation insights

It was a good school vacation. The past 11 days were mostly filled with good family time and holiday cheer. Of course, there was the usual psychodrama, too, but I'm happy to report that the good far outweighed the not-so-good.

The first few days, of course, were busy with preparation for Christmas. Cookie-making (and eating), gift-wrapping, menu-planning. I noticed Abby lining up toys for the first time in years. I questioned her and she didn't want to talk about it. Earl and I decided to keep an eye on it and see if it went away, and it did. I think she had some anxiety about Christmas, and somehow, that behavior helped her cope. She has also been spending a lot of time with a certain book she got for Christmas -- flipping through the pages, which in my mind is similar to lining up toys -- but the end for that is in sight, with her return to school today.

Of course, everyone caught colds, and the week after Christmas was one big sniffle. We're all on the mend, now, but I had to face a dilemma: drippy nose, or droopy kid? The cold medicine I use (and swear by) knocks my kids out, which is fine at night but not so useful during the day. Abby's occupational therapist commented on how tired Abby seemed, and no wonder, with her appointment in the morning of the day after Christmas, and her being drugged up with Benadryl. But she did some good work and was able to stay on task.

Abby and Brian's therapist saw all three kids together for a session on Thursday and again on Friday. She wants to help the kids learn to play better, and will be working with Brian and Timmy together for the next few weeks. It's hard work: cooperative play does not come naturally to anyone -- for Abby and Brian because of their diagnoses, and for Timmy because he's two! I imagine it's pretty hard work for the therapist, too.

After the session on Friday we took everyone out for dinner. The kids all ordered for themselves and everyone ate well, although we did have the endless parade to the rest room for the second half of dinner. No one threw up (thank you, God) although Abby and Timmy came close. It's getting easier to take everyone out together. Continued glimmers of normal family life.

I taught a few lessons on Friday and Earl took the kids to the Children's Museum in Easton. They had a lot of fun, but between the museum visit, the therapy and then going out to dinner, we had three little pumpkins that slept like rocks that night.

Abby had a playdate with her friend, T., and her sister, K., on Saturday. They are the nicest girls on the planet and I am so grateful that they enjoy Abby's company. The girls played together very well -- everything from beading to princesses to hopscotch (on an indoor hopscotch rug the kids got for Christmas from our friends Cheri and Steve.) I made brownies and they all enjoyed a snack and then it was time for them to go. I observed a lot of good verbal and social interaction on Abby's part, and Brian's, too, for that matter.

And then, after the girls was very interesting. Abby had a little "off" time. Earl said he observed her "spazzing out," for lack of a better word -- she did a lot of jumping and complex movements with her arms and hands. And it got me thinking: being "on" socially for two hours is HARD for Abby. She did just great -- I described it to Earl as being "darned close to normal" -- but it took a lot out of her. Abby's therapist has been telling me this for months, but it really hit home when I noticed how she had to engage in some atypical behaviors when the playdate was over.

Playing and interacting with friends must be as difficult for Abby as making social small talk at cocktail parties is for me. (Oh, how I hate the cocktail party! I felt a tsunami of relief when Earl told me his office was not having a holiday party this year.) Of course, the difference is that I can avoid situations of forced social chitchat and still lead a full life, but Abby cannot avoid playing and conversing with friends with the same result.

And so this school vacation was a bit of a laboratory setting for me, observing behaviors, conjecturing causes, making decisions about what to do, and ultimately, growing in compassion. Yes, some of my kids' behaviors can be mystifying and difficult. But I have a new understanding about some of the reasons behind the behaviors, and that helps me strategize about how to work with the kids. And about how to cope.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

My holi-daze has almost lifted; it's a new year. A new beginning, a fresh start. I slept blissfully through the changing of the calendar last night and awoke ready to tackle the next 366 days, albeit one at a time.

I didn't succeed in keeping my resolution for 2007, which was to get to a certain weight and maintain it. In fact, I missed it by several pounds. But the resolution is a good one, and I still have a few pounds to go, so I'm making the same resolution for 2008.

The magic number is about 8 pounds away (yes, I did put on some Christmas-cookie-and-fudge weight, but it was a yummy couple of weeks.) That weight will give me a body mass index of 23, a healthy goal.

So I'm starting over again...tomorrow. Today it's still the holidays, and there is more pumpkin bread to be eaten. Plus champagne to be drunk, as our celebratory bottle of bubbly stayed in the fridge last night because I've been battling a cold for the past few days and didn't feel like having any.

I'll drink a toast tonight after the kids are in bed, to my plans for this year:
  • a healthy weight,
  • more writing, and
  • praying every day.

What are you toasting on this first day of 2008?