Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Out of My Element

A few weeks ago I turned in a writing assignment that was such a challenge to complete. What made it most challenging was my initial assumption that the subject matter was right up my alley and, so, the article would just come to me easily.

This happens sometime–a subject is so riveting to me or else I know enough about a topic that the words flow forth from my fingers. Every now and again, I link right up with the MUSE and she does my “work” for me.

Not this time! I was writing some marketing copy for a tourism agency, writing about winter adventures. Now, I’m outdoorsy. I registered at REI for my wedding. I like to think this sort of assignment lies well within my expertise.

But there was just some sort of blockage for me. I haven’t actually ever skied, so I didn’t feel like I had much to say about different ski resorts throughout our state. I’ve never gone bob-sledding or ice fishing. I’m not even really sure if I’ve been to the Poconos. Maybe once when I was 12?

Because the project had a tight deadline, I didn’t know what to do about my lack of firsthand knowledge, and so I panicked a bit. And in my panic I procrastinated.

Eventually I snapped out of it and came to terms with the fact that reality was not meeting my expectations. I needed to tackle this assignment just like I would any other and conduct actual research. It seems like such an obvious thing. A writer needing to conduct research in order to create. But because I assumed I had more knowledge than I actually had, I lost sight of my job for a little while.

The nights leading up to my deadline found me on the phone with various Eagle Scouts and outdoors enthusiasts, gathering narratives about ski trips and snowshoeing adventures until I felt like I could actually put words to screen. Some of these research interviews went so well, I almost felt like I had been the one schussing down the slopes.

It was nice to remember the importance of a good interview and how even the tiniest sensory detail can add so much zing to an article. It felt good to eventually finish the draft, sleep on it, and read it again in the morning with rested, satisfied eyes.

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Posted by on October 29th, 2013 No Comments

Turkey Tossin’

If you know me at all, you know that I am competitive. So, so, so competitive. It gives me great pleasure that my eldest child confessed to me, “Mommy, I just love to win things.” I happily race him up stairs, race him to finish eating fruits, and challenge him to see who can pee the longest. Winning!!

So Corey and I were searching for a Turkey Trot to run on Thanksgiving Day since we’ll be staying with his family this year. He found one close by that includes a bonus feature: a turkey tossing contest. If, before the race, someone (me!) can toss a frozen turkey the farthest and still complete the 5k in under 35 minutes, that person wins a free pair of running shoes.

My ears and sense of competition perked up immediately! I have been averaging 12-minute miles, but I can push myself a bit when shoes are on the line. Corey says my bigger problem is winning the turkey toss. He suspects a lot of former, or worse–current, softball players and soccer players will enter this event.

But I played rugby for 12 years as a front-row forward. I have a lot of experience throwing the ball for lineouts. And I hoist babies around all day. Provided this frozen turkey doesn’t weigh more than Miles, I think I have a shot at winning.

And by gum, I’m going to give it my all.

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Posted by on October 10th, 2013 1 Comment

How Quickly I Forgot

I had forgotten what the highest highs and the lowest lows of teaching felt like. I forgot how fantastic I feel when I meet one-on-one with a motivated, curious student to discuss writing. We bend our heads over the paper and talk about ideas, what he’s trying to say, how he might more effectively do so. It’s a rush! We talk about organization and the next time I see the paper, it’s transformed into something that makes an argument in a coherent way. Beautiful.

I’d also forgotten about the students with a ghastly sense of entitlement, who insist I make time to meet with them on days I’m not on campus, who email at 3 in the morning expecting to see a response in their inbox when they wake up. Students even text me late at night now because I forgot to remove my signature (containing my phone number) from an email correspondence.

I try to ignore those students and the A- grade-grubbers who want to squabble over 3 points here and 1.5 points there. I try instead to think about the students who really want to work hard and learn something new about writing and to do well in the course. For them, I’ll happily come into campus at 8 in the morning or stay later in the afternoon.

Tonight I pick up a batch of essays to grade. I’m glad this batch comes in at a time I find myself between other projects and with some client blog posts pre-scheduled. I’ll have time to breathe in between rounds of grading.

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Posted by on October 1st, 2013 No Comments

Ebb and Flow…again

I often talk about freelancing as a struggle to balance the ebb and flow of my work. I’ll have manic periods of too much to do followed by long droughts. Again, this would be better if I worked full time, but as a part-timer it’s stressful.

I often feel like I need about 8 more hours of work-time in my tough weeks, but then what would I do with myself in those hours during the droughts?

Anyway, it turns out that teaching just one class brings the same ebb and flow of busyness. Right now, my students are writing papers, so I have nothing to grade and since I’ve taught this class before, not really very much prep. Sure, I meet with them to talk about their drafts. I’m actually insanely excited about meeting with them. “HI! LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR WRITING!!!!!!”

What’s odd for me is that the ebb and flow between the teaching and my freelance work have somehow synched up. I had a huge writing deadline September 17, which was also the same day I had to turn back 32 graded essays. You can imaging the week prior was taxing as I cobbled together 3,000 words and proofread, fact-checked, revised in between suggestions for telling students how they might proofread, fact-check, and revise.

But! Now I’m in between waves. Do I enjoy it and go for a run or start pitching editors for new work or just sit tight with confidence that another fun project will roll in? I opted to go for a run after office hours on Thursday and came home to a fantastic email about a new project…that will coincide exactly with my students turning in paper #2.

It seems this pattern will continue and my real task will be to grow more efficient in my on weeks and learn to enjoy the child-free time on my off weeks. Easier said than done for this type-A lady! I like things to be all mapped out and predictable. This is exactly why I find parenting to be so challenging.

Thankfully, the acupuncture and meditation class I enjoyed last spring has started up again for fall. And it’s moved to a location one mile from my house, so on Thursdays I’ll get to pair a nice two-mile walk with a meditation session in the evenings! Surely this will help me calm down during busy weeks and still my busy mind during my calm weeks.

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Posted by on September 20th, 2013 No Comments

Sneak Thieves

Last week, Miles asked me to go see this “yarn bridge” I’d been talking about. It was slated to come down last Saturday, so Friday was really the only day I could take him. We planned to go right from school on Friday, park along the bike path and walk to the bridge.

Such is my fear of downtown parking that I planned to park one mile from the bridge and hike the two kids there. I figured it couldn’t hurt me to put in 2 miles of hiking anyway. I plopped the boys in the wagon with some snacks and hauled them to the bridge. They fought, of course, and it was hot so Miles had a meltdown and drank all of our water. We returned to the car sweating and crying and thirsty at around 3:30 in the afternoon.

I saw, upon approaching the car, that the driver’s window was smashed. I sighed and told Miles he had to stop whining so I could call the police because some sneak thieves smashed our car window.

Well, this set him off into a panic. His panic caused Felix to panic and they sat buckled in the wagon screaming. I figured this could only help me get police to the scene faster, so I called 911 with them freaking out. Apparently, I was having my emergent situation during a shift change and was told to plan to be there for some time.

I next called Corey and told him he needed to leave work to rescue us. “Bring water!” I shouted. He was, of course, attending the GED graduation ceremony (he works for an adult literacy agency and this ceremony is a big deal for everyone involved). He had to bike some water to us and bike several miles to get the other car. The Prius was filled with glass, even in Miles’ car seat. Our idea was to get the other car and have me take the kids home while Corey waited for the police/AAA.

AAA was my next call. And then I was just stuck with two kids in a wagon in the sun, waiting by the road with no real way to contain them other than leaving them buckled in the wagon. Crying.

So then I started to cry out of frustration, and this really snapped Miles out of his funk. He just stepped right up to the plate to be brave and we all hugged and worked on helping Felix remain calm while we waited for Corey. It ended up being an hour total that the kids had to stand around. I drove them home and immediately fed them ice cream.

By the time the police and then AAA arrived, it was 5:30 on a Friday evening, so all body shops were closed anyway. There was nothing to do but sweep some of the glass out of the driver seat and bring the car home. We found a nice neighbor who let us keep it in their garage until we figured out what to do to fix the window.

In hindsight, I should have just sought help to clear the glass out of the seats enough to get it home. I could have avoided Corey standing by the road for 2 hours in the heat, could have avoided the kids crying by the road in the sun. My lily-white kids have sunburned faces!

But, the autoglass people came to our house today and brought a new window and vacuumed out the whole car. I had no idea that would be such an easy fix.

The only residual problem is Miles’ fear of the sneak thieves. Each time we approach the car, he remembers he’s nervous and asks, “Will the windows be smashed??” He also freaks out before bed, begging us to make sure we lock the doors to keep the thieves away.

The worst part of this is that the glass repair guy assessed that a vandal didn’t do this damage–he showed us the signs of impact. Most likely, a rock was flung from a tractor trailer using the back road by the bike path since there’s a detour from the highway. We’re working on figuring out how to explain this to Miles, and then we’re back to normal! Minus our deductible.

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Posted by on September 11th, 2013 2 Comments

Knit the Bridge

This month, Pittsburghers did something extraordinary. We–thousands of us!–knit a bridge. A fiber artist decided several years ago she wanted to yarn bomb the Andy Warhol Bridge and set about doing it, not just knitting the thousands upon millions of yards of yarn herself but inspiring an entire region to work together for this eclectic public art project.

View of the bridge from the bike path headed toward the Point

The result is stunning, and I think Andy Warhol would have loved it.

I did not find out about the project early enough to contribute an entire knitted panel. Or, rather, I found out about it but had a newborn baby and a sleepless preschooler and couldn’t imagine knitting the work required.

But! I did find out they needed knitters to knit great, long tubes of black yarn meant to go in between the colorful panels and accentuate the art, create a border to make it pop. Heck, I could knit a big tube in garter stitch! So I did.

The knitting went fast at first, but I ended up being glad I had the entire month of July to finish just my one long tube. I loved going to the studio to turn in my work, to see the heaps of yarn all ready to go up on the bridge, zip tied in little bundles and labeled.

One of my favorite panels

My BIL was in town the weekend it went up and so we planned bike rides and Duck-boat tours ostensibly to see downtown, but actually to see the Knit the Bridge project going up. I sneaked away from my family a few weeks later to attend the celebration alone. I was too hot and tired to stay in the blazing sun to do yoga on the bridge, but I bought some juice and walked along it a few times, checking it out from all angles.

When I left the party, I asked a stranger if she’d take my picture with the bridge in the background. “I knit a railing,” I gushed to her.

“Hey! Me, too!” she said. She’d been able to make it to the training and, thus, the installation of the project. She was just sitting on a bench along the bike path admiring and feeling proud.I got to add the yarn pin for my neighborhood! Morningside, represent!

The project has gotten a ton of publicity, which is great. Even my little old grandmother heard about it on television, though she hadn’t realized I knitted part of it.

Interested persons can check the database to search for favorite panels or look up their favorite knitter…maybe you’ll even find me!

The work comes down this weekend. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m so very excited I was a part of this project. How wonderful to join needles together with so many people!

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Posted by on September 3rd, 2013 3 Comments

Dusting Off My Teacher Shoes

Tomorrow is my first day back at the lectern. It really sneaked up on me, because I’m really in a place where I can only deal with one day at a time right now. I found myself scrambling around to print lesson plans and quizzes and locate folders as soon as the kids were asleep.

(I’m part of a team of teachers in the program teaching freshmen comp to engineering students. I didn’t opt to give a quiz the first day–it’s a team decision! All of the many hundreds of freshmen engineers will have a quiz the first day)

Corey just described me to my mom as nervous, but that’s not quite the right word. I’m worried about little logistical things–did I put my wallet in my bag? Will I remember the right door to access 229 Benedum?–but the actual introducing of the syllabus is kind of old hat to me. Once I start talking, I like to think I’ll be pretty comfortable.

Sure, there will be 75 glazed pairs of eyes staring at me and I’ll be wearing a microphone. But I’ve done that before. I’ve been working with freshmen comp papers since the spring of 2000 (my first stint working in the writing center at Penn State). That’s almost as long as these students have been alive!

It’s not the doing of the job that has me worked up. It’s all the rest of it–getting the children dropped off at childcare, navigating my way into campus (the worst 2 mile journey in the history of the modern United States). I suppose that’s a good thing, right? That I have confidence in my ability to do this thing but agonize over the small details leading up to it?

Regardless, I’m sweating now and I’m going to be sweating until I start talking into my microphone at 10am. After that, I’ll just go back to sweating my upcoming deadlines in between grading quizzes. Easy stuff, you know!

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Posted by on August 28th, 2013 1 Comment

Still More Shit to Be Gotten Together

The August/September issue of Bust is out, along with my article on getting shit together. So, lately, when people say, “What’ve you been up to?” I feel like I have something really meaningful to say, and I tell them about my article and about the mobile notary party we hosted. The response has been overwhelming!

I’ll tell you what. People are walking around every single day dealing with a lot of pain, a lot of drama, and a lot of administrative bullshit. So much of it can be avoided, I’m learning, through simple paperwork and organization.

I met a mom who is raising two kids and nursing her ailing mother through a terminal illness, and still this woman’s parents don’t have their shit together. This poor mama, in addition to her heartache over losing her own mother, is filled with anxiety thinking of the logistical nightmare that will follow the illness.

I meet people every day who can’t access funds to pay their parents’ bills because they aren’t agent-in-fact. People who can’t legally authorize medical care for step-parents. People who, lacking passwords or social security numbers, spend entire days circuiting through hold menus with utility companies and insurance agencies. It’s ugly.

Corey and I have done a pretty good job gathering our passwords and account numbers, easily accessible to one another. I feel pretty comfortable. I know Corey’s parents have their shit together…actually I’m assuming this based on the fact that Corey’s dad is super fastidious and also that they all had a big meeting with lawyers since Corey will eventually become the shared guardian of his sister. Maybe his parents don’t actually have their own shit together and I need to nag them?

At any rate, I know my parents have only a few elements of their shit together, so my new task is to hound them until they get their stuff situated. It’ll be bad enough dealing with my grief when one of my parents passes on. I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to also deal with probate court!

Do your parents have their shit together? Do you and your siblings have access to the shit? How (apart from surprising them with a weblog post) did you have this discussion with them?

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Posted by on July 31st, 2013 No Comments


I am a bit beside myself. I’ve been nominated for something called a Liebster award, which is a way for small bloggers to give recognition to other small bloggers (200 followers or fewer). What a wonderful thing to discover while reading one of my favorite blogs! So, I’d like to begin my acceptance speech by thanking Allison of Two Moms Two Be for nominating me–I’ve loved reading their blog, chronicling life with their expanding family. I see them write about similar joys and also similar struggles with kids and employment and balance.

When you’re nominated for a Liebster, here’s what you do:
1.    Thank the Liebster Blog presenter who nominated you and link back to their blog.
2.    Nominate 11 blogs who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.
3.    Answer the 11 questions you were asked and create 11 questions for your nominees. [I love this because I always begin teaching writing classes with an exercise in creating questions that are not cliched and the students and I have great fun thinking of questions for each other]
4.    Display the Liebster Award logo.
5.    No tag backs, meaning you can’t just re-nominate the person who nominated you.

 So, here are the questions I’ve been asked:

1. What is your quirkiest quirk? I cannot stop picking at my blemishes. I pick until they are gaping wounds.

2. What is your favourite song and what do you like about it? Right now, I’m way into singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” because I just really love the chorus and it always puts me in a good mood.

3. What do you like doing in your spare time? If I had spare time, I’d spend it exercising, then cooking something complicated, then knitting something fascinating.

4. What is something you wish you were better at? I wish I were better at being patient. I’m hopelessly impatient in all ways.

5. What made you fall in love with your partner? I love the way he meticulously rigs up solutions to problems. For instance, we don’t have a clothesline and Corey wanted to sun-dry his athletic wear, so he strung straps and bungee cords and hiking ropes to make a web in the back yard to dangle his performance socks.

6. What is your favourite colour combination? Blue + Orange

7. If you could do anything for a living (including stay-at-home parenting), what would it be? Writer!

8. If you could do anything for a living (including stay-at-home parenting), what would it be? Still writer :)

9. What is your favourite physical attribute? I used to really love my eyelashes, but they all fell out after Miles was born. Instead, I’ll give some loving to my powerful thighs.

10. Do you prefer cooking or baking? Cooking

11. If you could change something about your past, would you?  If yes, how do you think this change would affect who you are today? What a tough question for the finish. I will say that I would change my past so that I birthed Miles vaginally. This would, I believe, change my present by kicking off my parenting experience with more confidence in my body’s biological functioning and the way it translates to my innate ability to nurture my child. I think I’d feel more connected to the circle of my female relatives who’ve blasted out babies and gone on to (in my eyes) mother with grace. This would most likely have led to me birthing Felix vaginally and avoiding months of intense, painful, grotesque surgical recovery this time around. It also would have changed our family planning, because we’d have been able to safely put a smaller distance between children and think more positively about a potential third.

So there you have it. As for my nominees, I’m not entirely sure how to tell if a blog has more than 200 followers, so I hope the people I picked are not offended–I think all of them should have hundreds of thousands of followers. I also realize that answering questions such as these might not fit into the aesthetic of all the blogs I selected, since some of them are very themed, and that’s ok. I choose them because I love to read them, even if I don’t always remember to comment. The 11 blogs I choose for the Liebster award are (in no particular order):

1. A Heart In Progress
2. Charmingly Modern
3. The E is for Erin
4. While the Water Boils
5. I Hope This Old Train Breaks Down
6. These Sandwich Days
7. Warm As Pie
8. Imperfectly Whole
9. Previously On
10. Bilgewater Cocktail
11. Domestica Horribilis

Here are my questions for my nominees:

1. What sort of milk do you prefer to drink?
2. Do you prefer baths or showers and why?
3.  What percentage cocoa do you prefer your chocolate to contain?
4. What is your about-to-begin-the-workday ritual?
5. Describe your perfect lunch meal.
6. What are your thoughts on flavored dental floss?
7.  What is the most important thing about a dwelling? (Bonus: does your dwelling succeed at this thing?)
8. Do you really untie your shoes before you remove them? Every time?
9. What is your goal in blogging?
10. What part(s) of your current life is/are the way you imagined when you were in middle school?
11. What would you say to your young self if you encountered her on her first day of college?

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Posted by on July 28th, 2013 5 Comments

The Rejection Thank-You

Last week, I got two pitch rejection emails. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself! In my experience, I primarily hear radio silence or an acceptance. Quite often, I’ll send two nudge/reminder emails regarding a pitch and never hear a single word. Ever.

When a familiar editor rejects a pitch, I know just what to do: continue the conversation with that editor, send a thank you, quite often send along another pitch in the very next email.

But a stranger rejecting a cold pitch? Acknowledging it? For a few days I just stared at the emails in disbelief. I wasn’t sure if I should respond. One of the rejections was very brief: Sorry. Not for us.

Do I take up this editor’s time again with an email reading “Thank you for responding to my pitch”? Ultimately, yes.

The other rejection was longer and more conversational. I decided with this one to write a more detailed response, asking her if she could let me know any topics for which she was seeking pitches, because I’ve been reading that particular magazine for a long time and really want to break into their freelance stable. You can imagine that I was excited to be hearing back from them, even with a rejection, because I’ve pitched them 20 or 30 times in the past few years.

This sort of work is what I find most challenging about freelancing part time. It takes work to cultivate these relationships with editors, to develop all these pitches and be actively seeking work and freelancing part time does not allow for as much time for this sort of career development work.

What about you? Do any of you have a standard operating procedure for handling pitch rejections?

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Posted by on July 4th, 2013 No Comments