Update on Tossin’ Turkeys

Well, we dragged our bags out of bed to do the Pottstown Toss Your Turkey 5k on Thursday. It was 27 degrees. TWENTY-SEVEN. And windy! Ugh. I hated my face for the first while we were out there.

I am sorry to say that neither my future-sister-in-law nor I won the turkey toss. I was the only tosser I saw try for an overhead soccer/rugby-style throw. I came within a foot of the leader, but alas. I also felt something crackle in my back and have felt sore ever since, so that’ll learn me for tossing frozen turkeys with no warm-up or practice.

We have a medicine ball at home, too. I should have been out back practicing! I should have been doing a lot of things…

Corey opted not to even toss the turkey, because he didn’t want to hurt his back. Everyone else I saw did a little side throw or else tried to shot-putt it. Those turkeys didn’t make it very far.

Anyway, I had a PR (personal record) for the race! My FSIL is such a great motivator and we kept a nice pace the whole time. The winner passed us coming back the other way before we’d gone a mile. He finished in 15-something minutes. I can’t even begin to think about that. We went slow and steady and felt great.

I think I want to do a turkey trot every Thanksgiving. Totally invigorating!

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Posted by on December 1st, 2013 No Comments

Late Night Scones

Today is one of those endless days, where Corey has a board meeting well past the children’s bedtimes, they won’t go to sleep, and I am exhausted, but too tired to go to bed. Plus, I have to stay up with the children, who won’t go to sleep.

In my former life, when I had a day like this, I’d exercise. Intensely. I get hyper-focused while exercising and the rest of the world melts away. Plus, rugby (my former exercise of choice) is great for getting out aggression and working through feelings of frustration at such things like children who won’t go to sleep.

Today, I’m baking scones at 8pm. There’s nothing like a recipe to get my mind off the lede I can’t quite perfect, the invoice that hasn’t been paid and the client I’ll have to pester about it in the morning.

We’re thinning out our fridge and pantry in anticipation of Thanksgiving travel, and so I don’t have a ton of ingredients around. Today I chose scones because they don’t require much. I usually fail at scone-baking. I follow the recipe, but end up using Smart Balance because we don’t buy butter and skim milk because I don’t buy cream (we don’t drink coffee…).

And so, usually, my scones melt into a soupy mess, just like my patience by the time I get around to nighttime-frustrated-scone baking. They bake into something firm, not quite a cookie but not really a biscuit. With enough butter and jam, anything tastes good at 5am when the troops start crying.

But today, we had real butter and I had a half cup of cream leftover from something else earlier in the week. And wouldn’t you know it? My scone batter wound up firm enough to not only knead, but to slice into triangles as the recipe suggests!

I was so pleased to have firm little balls of scone on my parchment paper, I actually bothered to paint them with the last dregs of the cream and sprinkle sugar on top before sliding them in to the oven. By the end of the whole thing, both boys had finally submitted to sleep (an aquarium night light and stuffed owl did the trick).

I had decided on an image to use for my lede* and I tucked into the couch to catch up on Glee while I waited for Corey to get home from his board meeting.

I don’t feel as awesome as I might if I’d gone for a long run, but I’d say a piping hot scone and some trashy television are a nice compromise.

*You might think I keep misspelling this word, but really this is how you spell the word that means “first part of an article below the headline,” usually the big, teaser text before the meat of the story gets going. The more you know!

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Posted by on November 20th, 2013 2 Comments

Jumping Ship and Taking Names

I got a great email the other week. The very best kind of email for a freelance writer. One of my editors is leaving her job at a publication and moving on to a new one. This is the second time in recent years this same editor has moved onward and upward. I love it!

This means that she gives me work at her new digs AND leaves my name with the new folks taking over at her new job. I now have another magazine to pitch where somebody knows my name.

As soon as I got the news, I set to work looking up all my “pitch this someday” ideas, trying to form them into something concrete instead of nebulous phrases.

This time a year from now, I hope to be linking to a brand new publication in another national magazine.

This also means I need to do my own due diligence and follow up with the new editors she’s put me in touch with so I can keep those connections hot. The timing is pretty good in terms of magazine work cycle–December is a pretty slow month for getting assignments, so that gives me a bit of time to really work on ideas. It’s hard for me to take this time lately since I’m only working part-time and I don’t have pitch time built into my weekly schedule.

I find writing pitches to be really energizing, so I’m definitely excited to be part of this mobile Rolodex.

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Posted by on November 18th, 2013 No Comments

Will Editors Steal My Ideas?

When I was in graduate school, just learning to put together pitches for articles, I voiced this concern in class a few times. What if I submit a pitch and it’s awesome, but the magazine doesn’t want to pay me to write the story, instead assigning it to someone else???

Several different professors, who have all worked as freelance magazine writers, assured me such a thing never, ever happens. The very idea goes against the way “it works” in the world of publishing.

I just started exploring Contently to see if it might be a source of professional support for me and stumbled upon one of their blog posts on the same topic. The gist of the article is that of course this doesn’t happen! Don’t worry about it–at the beginning of your career, most of your pitches are going to be crap (which is probably true) and editors don’t do this. It goes against the way “it works” in publishing!

I can’t figure out how to add a comment to the blog post, so I’m using my own blog to share my experience, because I want other writers to know that this DOES happen, and it has happened to me twice.

I’ve decided not to name names about which publications, but I’ll share the details of each instance.

FIRST

I pitched a story about the Peanut Butter Project to MAGAZINE A. I had earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing and had been freelancing for about a year and I knew it was a good pitch, tailored to the right magazine and the right section of that magazine. The editor and I went back and forth about the idea a few times, and then radio silence for a few months.

At this point, I received an email from the editor. He had forgotten that the idea had come from me, just had noted it down to share in his pitch meeting. The staff loved it, assigned the article, and it was published that month. Whoops!

At least he told me about it, right? He asked what I thought he should do. I suggested he assign me another story of the same length so I could at least earn the same $$ I might have for the article I wanted to write. He gave the assignment, I wrote the article, and wound up going to small claims court over my payment for the piece.

I have sour grapes. Bad client.

SECOND

When I was in graduate school, I interned at a magazine. This was a great experience and I got a ton of clips, which led directly to paying gigs after graduation. I was feeling so positive about my experience there! Toward the end of my internship, my editor assigned me a short little piece about an undergrad project.

I began the research on the project and realized this piece was much more than a little ditty in the front of the book. This was a feature! He agreed, and so did the EIC of the magazine. But they didn’t have room in the publication until a year later (this was a quarterly).

“Hold tight and we’ll assign you this feature,” they told me. So I held and worked on other stuff…until the magazine came out a few issues later, with my piece as the cover story, written by another author.

When I called my editor to ask about it, I learned he had moved on to another publication a few weeks prior and the EIC had no recollection of anything I was talking about. She was very angry with my phone call and line of questioning, and I never worked for that magazine again.

In both instances, I can see that following up in a more timely manner would have benefitted me. Perhaps both editors truly forgot who they heard the story from (editors get a ton of email), but remembered the ideas because they were both so dang great.

Regardless, I missed out on two paychecks and the chance to write about two projects I found truly inspiring. I still get angry to think about it.

So, there you are. A counter-point. Perhaps the world of publishing has changed since my professors and the blog post author began working as freelancers? Or perhaps I am just dreadfully unlucky. Either way, I can assure you that my lesson learned was: rigorous follow-through. I schedule emails in advance and type in reminders on my calendar so that I call editors about my pitches, until I hear a firm yes or no.

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Posted by on November 14th, 2013 No Comments

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

Feeling Recognized

I wanted to share a post I wrote over at my work blog, because I feel really strongly positive about it.

A few nights ago, my husband and I went to his friend’s birthday party. My husband is a long, lanky cyclist and so all his friends are long and lanky with single-digit body fat. Some of them are ultra-marathoners or triathletes. Those kind of people.

We started talking to a man I’d met a few times before. He’s an ultra-marathoner who does trail races. Last time we spoke, I’d told him how I was training for the Pittsburgh half marathon, so he knew I’d been running around the city. “Hey!” he asked me, “Do you run with a red and black water belt?”

I was taken aback–could people see me when I was out there running around the sidewalks?? “Yes,” I told him. “On my longer runs.”

“I wear one for long runs, too,” he said. And just like that, we were two runners having a conversation about running. We talked about howsilly we feel wearing the water belts, how people yell out their car windows to make fun of us or call out from bus stops to say lewd things. He told me he wears those five-finger shoes and short-shorts when he runs, so he gets even more comments. “But you know how it is,” he said. “You just tune it all out and get in the zone.”

I felt so legitimate to have been recognized as someone who runs. I realized later it has probably been years since I’ve had an entire conversation with another adult that was not in any way related to my children or my role as a mother.

Read the rest here!

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Posted by on October 18th, 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