Getting Other People to Get Their Shit Together

For the past year or so, I’ve been researching and writing about getting one’s shit together. Several things have happened in the past year that have made this mission seem ever more important and made me ever more grateful Corey and I finally got our own shit together last summer.

A month ago, a young father whose kids go to Miles’ school was killed in a car accident on the PA Turnpike. His death rattled a lot of young families from school and the larger community. That same week, my long-ailing step-grandfather died.

I’ve now seen first hand how even when someone like Pop Pop dies, someone who had his shit together in terms of will and pensions and life insurance and all that–even then, it sucks so much for the surviving family members. My poor Nanny has been submerged in paperwork for the past month. My extended family is helping her with forms, but my God! It’s horrifying to deal with someone’s death, just from a paperwork standpoint. Imagine adding to that the horrors of probate court because assets weren’t properly designated or allocated?

Ever since my article published and I joined the board of directors at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, I’ve wanted to host a Get Your Shit Together event in the play space so other young families could do what Corey and I did. We finally held our event on Monday, Polar Vortex be damned.

I hired our trusted mobile notaries for the event, got people to pre-register and pre-pay, and sent out some unhelpful document templates paired with suggestions for more helpful document sources. 22 young parents filled out paperwork and came to our event and got their shit together! They all served as each other’s witnesses while their last will, power of attorney, living will, and medical power of attorney documents were notarized.

What a truly amazing thing to behold, to have helped facilitate! Here are families who can rest easier knowing their wishes for their children are made known should the worst happen. Here are families with a plan in place.

Our event reached (actually exceeded) capacity within a few hours of my sending out the email to our membership, which tells me this idea has weight and power and means something. It looks like 2014 will be another year spent researching getting shit together. There is more work to be done!

Posted by on January 9th, 2014 1 Comment

Solder vs Welding or How I’ll Fix My Favorite Shirt

Today, I learned the difference between soldering and welding!

I should back up.

In 2007, Corey bought me a reversible Pearl Izumi fleece that had a 2-way zipper. It’s my favorite garment in the whole world. Most pictures of me in existence since then show me wearing it. See here:

Me, the fleece, and Baby Miles on the beach in San Francisco in 2010

Here it is again:

Me, the fleece, baby on back, baby in front!

I love it both for working out and also for maternity/nursing because it can UNZIP FROM THE BOTTOM as well as the top.

Well, a bit ago (probably 8 months or more) the bottom zipper pull fell off. It’s still usable as a 2-way zipper, but I have to dig my fingers into the zipper thingy and it’s annoying and I started wearing the fleece less and less.

Today, I finally got around to calling the company to see about their warranty policy and replacing it. They are happy to replace the fleece with something new…but they no longer make this reversible fleece and they only made the 2-way reversible zipper that one, single season in Fall 2007. There’s really nothing new that appeals to me as much as this fleece.

If it were any other garment, I’d forget it and just get a regular fleece. But this one! One side is fuzzy and has two zippered pockets, one on each side. The other is sleek and wind resistant, with one back pocket–for goo or fuel or what have you during a work out. It just fits me so well. And I’ve had it for so long!

The guy I talked with says he can replace the whole zipper for me, making it a one way zipper. One that only unzips from the top. Who wants a zipper that only opens from the top? That’s the whole point! How will I use the fleece as a nursing shirt if I have to open up the whole top, I ask you? (I realize this isn’t the goal of an athletic apparel company, but I made sure to tell them about this awesome side benefit)

So then I started texting my arty friend who blows glass to see if she could help me weld a new zipper pull. I have a vision, you see. I sat and jiggered the zipper around and ran a paper clip through the bottom and made something passable. Surely, a bit of metal a bit firmer than a paperclip could be a more permanent solution.

But my friend says that what I’m describing should be soldered, not welded. Something about flames and polyester fabric not mixing well. She doesn’t know how to solder. But her husband does!

So then, I called back the manufacturer and told them to forget about replacing the zipper. I was going to solder something myself. He, intrigued, is going to mail me a new zipper pull and wishes me luck. Now I just need to find a wee bit of metal to hook the zipper pull on to, get my friend’s husband to teach me to solder (not weld!) and I’m back in the business of wearing my very most favorite shirt!

Just a girl and her fleece hiking in Cinque Terre, May 2008.

What’d you do with yourself this holiday season? Surely someone else spent this amount of time investigating zipper repair on a beloved outer layer?

Posted by on January 2nd, 2014 3 Comments

Post Office

I know I just bemoaned the challenges of self-employment, but one of the undisputed perks is the opportunity to run errands as they crop up. Today, I had to go to the post office–not to mail work things, but family gifts.

The post office nearest to me has a parking lot, is a distribution hub, and is generally insanely busy. I have never been there with more than one employee working, so the line bends out into the lobby and everyone has a dramatic issue to be dealt with. Packages don’t get delivered. Mailmen walk through flower beds and crush plants. Money orders cost too damn much. Everyone’s got issues.

Today, the week before Christmas, I feared it would be doubly insane and armed myself with an audio book, planning to wait in line for an hour. I had my packages addressed, taped up, ready to go. Imagine my shock when I arrived to find TWO employees working! The long line moved, not glacially slow, but only rather slowly.

The woman in front of me had a loud argument with a credit card company, trying to cancel her account and demanding refunds for certain purchases.

The woman behind me needs more money, works until 5 pm, and doesn’t know when the hell she’s supposed to run to the check cashing place. She narrated this entire exchange via voice-to-text.

Another person was shredding advertisements and scrap paper from the trash to cushion something breakable to be placed in a box barely clinging to life as a solid object.

And then at last it was my turn, and I quickly paid for my postage and took off.

I was sad my kids weren’t along–the Lamar people were changing over one of the billboards outside, which was very exciting, and a car had plowed down a signal light while I was inside, so there was a lot of excitement with police officers and city workers, and flashing lights all around.

The whole trip took a half hour, leaving plenty of time for me to make tea. Self-employment at its best.

Posted by on December 18th, 2013 No Comments


These are uncertain times to be self-employed. This was certainly true 4 years ago, when I was about to have Miles. But it feels more uncertain now than ever.

Clients I’ve had for years are suddenly sitting on invoices for months–one owes me thousands of dollars. THOUSANDS.

I started teaching part-time again, and yesterday the English department sent a generic memo that part-timers might not get contracts for spring semester (which begins in 2 weeks) because enrollment is down and tenured faculty will be teaching those intro courses.

I’m used to the ebb and flow of contracts, but never with this short notice. Just let me know if I have a job or not in 2 weeks so I can apply for unemployment compensation and find another client, you know?

I know the publishing industry slows down considerably in December, which is nice when family stuff ramps up. I’m used to those sorts of things.

But this extreme delay in invoice payment coupled with not having a contract for spring semester, it leaves me nervous and unable to sleep at night.

I’ve got a lot of ideas, as always, and I’m trying to keep pitching. I’m thankful for my smaller clients right now, who not only keep the work coming in but pay invoices almost as soon as they receive them!

Posted by on December 17th, 2013 No Comments

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!

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!

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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!

Posted by on October 18th, 2013 No Comments