Double Rainbow (Rainy Day Edition)

Not long ago a man left a nasty little comment in my comments section calling my blog piece sophomoric and trite and something else I can’t remember and why this person was so unevolved as to blog-roam and drop his little bomb of negative energy on my page is beyond something I care about, really, although at the time I was annoyed, so annoyed, in truth, that I took his email (a silly email with his name and THE THIRD in it, not Jr. or Sr., but THE THIRD) and subscribed him to several pregnancy sites that would promptly be checking in with him to see how his first trimester was going, if he needed Dr. So and So’s bottle nipples, all-cotton diapers, Butt Cream, etc. And then I deleted the blog piece, not because I agreed with his comments, but because the piece had a fine layer of scum on it and needed to be wiped down and it will reappear eventually, without THE THIRD’S comment, of course, and hopefully THE THIRD has gone back to Goodread’s, where obviously he belongs (with so many others who feel entitled to critique without manners or explanations beyond this annoyed me) and will never visit my nicely swept and cared for doorstep again–because, really, what’s the point? Doh!

I hear rain on my roof, finally come to kill some dust in this desert/valley. That’s either the dog snoring or the rumble of a distant semi truck. The creamsicle cat stretches in his sleep. Even the conure is quiet. This flu of late is receding, so much so I can see my manuscript again.

Away, murk! So much work to be done. And, mostly, a reading this Sunday to prepare for. Right on.

Yours in fought-for clarity,

P (zinc and vitamin C’s) B

primary and secondary rainbow with Alexander's dark band, ie., double rainbow, people, double rainbow

primary and secondary rainbow with Alexander’s dark band, ie., double rainbow, people, double rainbow

Posted in books, Children's Books, dog, Fiction, Poetry, poetry reading, Writer's Angst, Writing, Writing Progress, WTF | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Notes From The Retreat #2: Critiques

Yes, I am going to go here.

Out of the 10 copies of the first 25 pages of my novel returned to me, scribbled on by the writers in my core group at the SCBWI retreat, I kept 4. Those 4 contained thoughtful, constructive criticism. The 6 I discarded were: mean, rude, and 1 writer actually crossed out my sentences and replaced them with her own as she attempted to turn my story into what she wanted to read instead of the story I am telling.

I found this quite shocking. Not to mention a bad idea.

If you’re a writer, you are well acquainted with criticism. So–be professional. By which I mean: respectful and mindful when offering criticism and far more creative than unhelpful one-liners such as, this is annoying, I don’t like this, doesn’t work. As the red, red nib of your pen hovers over another writer’s work, keep in mind how you’d like your own work critiqued and dig beyond one-liners which are way too easy to come by (key word: lazy).

SCBWI provided a Critiquing Sheet to all retreat participants—healthy, practical, professional guidelines I continually referred to as I poured over manuscripts. I wish more of the writers in my group had taken the guidelines to heart. Or bothered to read them at all.

And look! Here is a book to keep you from turning into Linda Blair at her foamiest in The Exorcist when you are critiquing: The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback, by Becky Levine

I am very fortunate to have a writing mentor who immediately, before the words were hardly out of my mouth in yesterday’s video chat, encouraged me to ignore the mean comments and the rewrites of my work. My mentor has many Middle Grade books published, her own beautiful library created through care and sweat (and no doubt blood and guts). She has experienced plenty of criticism and critique groups and now has a group she trusts and consistently benefits from—not because her group isn’t candid about her work, but because she is surrounded by writers who know how to critique without turning into vicious, nasty a******s. “Your critique group is out there, PB,” she told me. “Now, let’s get to work. Tell me everything the editor at the retreat wrote about your novel and let’s discuss. This is so exciting!”

Love her.

Moving on, now. Moving on.

And here is a writer:

cat pic

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Notes From The Retreat #1: Books

At last weekend’s SCBWI retreat, 4 editors imparted useful information–and shared book titles they love–Picture Books (PB), Middle Grade (MG), Non-Fiction (NF) and Young Adult (Y the effing heck A). I know what the abbreviations mean. YOU know what they mean. But, you know, my mom doesn’t, so…

Luckily I was able to decipher my own handwriting:

Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith, Deborah Heiligman (MG and up)

Watership Down, Richard Adams (someone was having a delightful re-read)

Anything by MG author Sharon Creech, especially Walk Two Moons

Anything by Gary Schmidt, especially Okay for Now

One is a Feast for Mouse, Judy Cox (PB touted for having a gratifying story arc)

One Beetle Too Many, Kathryn Lasky (PB NF-ish–more Darwin)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly (MG award winner, w/grasshoppers)

Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo (YA–first of a forthcoming trilogy)

For the editors (Candlewick, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin etc., Henry Holt) these books are NOT too quiet, contain irresistible hooks that draw the reader in, have characters with distinct voices and——-

Maxed out on last weekend. Was all good, nice to be hosted by cheerful friars who dined with us (their steamed vegetables were delicious–but were they organic???) and meet so many writers, but brain (such as it is) must rest. Will read Proust to knock brain out. And here is a picture of a grasshopper.

David_Carradine_as_Caine_from_Kung_Fu_-_c._1972–1975[1]

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2014 Rhapsodomancy Reading

Sunday, February 9th, 7:30pm, The Good Luck Bar, 1514 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles 90027

goodluck2Ah. I am so happy to be a part of this Los Angeles reading series. So many writers I admire have participated–Chris Abani, Louise Mathias, Amy Gerstler to name a few–writers I learn so much from. The Good Luck Bar is in my old Los Feliz/Silverlake stomping grounds. Always fun to visit that eclectic pocket of Los Angeles. Marty and Elayne are still going strong at the Dresden–although not on Sundays. Sorry. But what better bar for a pre-poetry cocktail? (other than The Good Luck itself, that is–doors open at 7:00p.m.) Here is a link with the details and bios of the other readers. I’m looking forward to hearing their work. Hope to see you there.

RHAPSODOMANCY

Yours in (oh Marty, oh Elayne—how do you do it?) Dresden sidecars (I actually haven’t had one in possibly a decade–but I have definitely and fairly recently had chardonnay with poetry at The Good Luck Bar)

PB

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2013 Middle Grade

Oh, productive, on-the-button-always (not the panic button), well-informed you—you’re already aware of this list. I’m just getting to it. I think I’m most excited about Holly Black’s book. Quite creepy!

The Goodreads Best Middle Grade & Children’s 

books[2]

Any flagrant omissions from this list? Besides Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s beautifully crafted, Destiny, Rewritten?

books[4]

Information is always appreciated.

Yours in captivating, well-written books,

P (where are my reading glasses) B

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Walking to Floats (SoCal Edition)

Rose Parade Floats Viewing, January 2nd:

float1I walked my son several blocks down a typically—for Pasadena—vast and nicely swept boulevard to another major boulevard (wider than the Rio Grande and as sungleamy in our December heatwave) mobbed by people like us eager to see parade floats. As we waited at the intersection, pedestrians were distracted by a car horn—and booming, deeply anguished voice:

Beep, beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeeeeeeep. WHAT IS GOING ON! TELL ME! WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE! WHAT IS GOING ON!

As is typical when it comes to anyone in my immediate sight-range who might be in distress or acting out, fainting, starting a brawl, tripping drastically on pavement, lost, unknowingly dropping items from a stroller, losing a wandering child or dog, unaware of a pending bee swarm, etc., the crowd around my son and I melted away and there was only me and the stranger in his big shiny car, honking and yelling as though his best friend had just been destroyed.

I stepped to the curb.

Float viewing, sir.
FLOATS? WHERE???
I raised my arm and pointed up the boulevard we were about to cross. In the distance, colorful float tops were visible.
OVER THERE?
Yes, sir. Right up there. Float viewing.

Immediately, the man calmed. The WALK sign blazed. My son and I moved off. People in the crowd commented on the man’s frustration. They laughed critically and uttered unkind remarks.

Sometimes, I told my son, bracing his arm as he jumped up the typically—for Pasadena—steep curb. Sometimes, people just need answers.

Mama, look over there, he replied. Shaved ice!

Shaved ice was far more captivating than the space dude float.

Shaved ice was far more captivating than the space dude float.

*

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As 2014 Looms (Looming Edition)

Palm of the Happily Burning variety.

Palm of the Happily Burning variety.

The minivan’s A/C died just in time for the Christmas heatwave of 85+ degrees. As I ferried us home from a visit to the ocean’s cool and calming vastness (all windows dooooown), I remembered my one and only Christmas poem, which includes (apart from Christmas scotch, a hungry coyote and an ill-looking full moon) a palm tree I once saw burning in a supermarket parking lot. For this California native, it is absolutely a tiny bit horrifying, watching a palm tree burn. They are such emblems here—mascots, well studied still life, living flagpoles heralding flip-flops and shorts and sunglasses year-round, dear, lanky constants—except, of course, when Santa Ana winds rip the dead fronds from the trees, cartwheeling them to Earth where they (quite heavy in death) dent the hoods of cars, terrify cats and dogs and unfortunate pigeons and hopefully don’t kill anyone.

From Full Howling Moon

…California’s brittle December:
swells, surfboards, red skin, Christmas BBQ
next to a slide-dunked swimming pool
blooming algae, all palms standing by—city logo,
city tattoos.
The Hollywood Hills Gelson’s Market rescues
its delicacies when a parking lot palm tree’s head
explodes, ignited
by a derelict power line, resembling
a single birthday candle,
lit.
Hello, New England? Hello, DC? Hello, Dear Baltic.
LA calling. Keep your troikas and furs and ploughs,
but send all bells and much of your ice.
The trees are on fire. The palm trees are on fire.
It’s December the 24th. I am…
O my longing, my
longing…And here it comes,
cataract-riddled eye rising lazily
over shuffling Pacific. We carol
(rote, stoned, brown) from Hollywood
to the post-eutrophic canals
of Venice Beach, in a Santa Ana twisting
in from desert, snuffing
scented candles in wide open windows
(O frankincense, O myrrh)
rippling cranberry punch
in the communal wassail bowl.
We fear nothing
coasting through our toasty season.
We enjoy our lighter shade of blonde,
our token brown, parties, dancing strangers
lit by hard-boiled moon—pitted sadsack
belly up over fuss (O dead
thing). Stars bloom…

Etc. This poem was written back when I was bold enough to write a line like post-eutrophic canals. Now? Even if Venice’s canals are post-eutrophic, I would never actually write post-eutrophic. I would write: alligator water, or: puddled hilarity, or: rotting batik. Okay, maybe not rotting batik. But I cop to the others.

O how we evolve.

Happy almost you-know-what. And if there’s anything else you’d like me to throw into italics, feel free to share.

Also: Save the palms!

Sincerely,

P (shut up and drink yer Christmas punch) B

No palms were harmed in the taking of this photo.

No palms were harmed in the taking of this photo.

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December Whinny

Sitting on the patio at Peddler’s Fork, alone out here as it’s a SoCal pre-Christmas bit of chilly, i.e., 60 degrees, way too cold for the cycling clan packing the tables indoors, brrr, but perfect for me as I’m the kind of writer who likes to wear sweaters, for once, and watch the mallards fuss about down in the gurgling creek and the squirrel pforkscurry by my riding boots as I wait for a visit from my muse—and gear up for a riding lesson that terrifies me. Not the horse, the horse is a generous Majesty. It’s the effort I shy from, of being gaspy only half way through the lesson and a noodly wreck afterwards instead of composed and powerful enough to food shop, pay bills, scrub the bathroom, make homemade chicken nuggets, rake the Ponderosa, be a mother, be a GREAT mother (this typically involves playing the Dr. Seuss I Can Do That game, thus hopping around the Trick-A-Ma-Stick with a rubber ball between my knees), be a Taxi Mother,  draw the bath, ready the pajamas and the lullabies, and write, all in one, hours-stingy day. But I tell myself:

I can do it.

Something I never let myself in on until I became a mother. And even as I say it, I feel the terror surrender and climb meekly into the newspaper boat I made for it and sail off down the gurgling creek and into the dark drainpipe, instant ghost ship, abandoned. Gone.

Each day, over the last 6 years, the terror that I won’t be able to accomplish what I want to goes away a little bit faster.

May 2014 be full of this kind of s***.

Yours in goals,

P (if you give a horse a carrot…) B

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Kickstarted (Coffee Blend Edition)

Back again—homing pigeon style—at Peddler’s Fork, I ordered a cup of the restaurant’s Kickstand Blend and a macadamia nut infused scone that tastes more like somebody’s gourmet birthday cake than scone, which is why I ordered it, and carted my spoils outside to the restaurant’s deck, even though it’s Arctic-California in Old Calabasas these days. I can’t resist the view of the vaguely gurgling creek several feet below the deck, and the 2 mallards residing there, birds you know are aware of each other even when she’s paddling for worms and he’s off playing tug-of-war with a morning glory vine. If she paddles too far South, he quacks, sternly, vine in beak, facing not her, but tree. I find this sort of voyeurism priceless, possibly essential, hunched in my little magical pocket of Los Angeles that is Peddler’s Fork at 8:23 in the morning on any Wednesday, sipping Kickstand Blend (better, even, than Starbucks Holiday Blend’s soft and layered, and served year round) with a smile that means I might actually write something new, rather than revise, revise, revise.

I hate it when poets impart bits like: The poem overtook me, or, I knew not myself I knew only the poem, or, I was a conduit for Life, or, Aliens invaded my psyche and messed with things, etc. And yet…

Pure synchronicity.

Pure synchronicity.

I’m thinking the dreams I had somewhere between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning lingered in my psyche, producing a poem that surprised me because a) I was actually composing a poem and not revising, yah, yah), and b) the poem is so different than anything I’ve been writing lately. Product of incubation? Is nothing for certain except the Muse, or are her paths (if they do appear) elementary—i.e., far from beyond me and my little muddled maps?

Why ask why? Something came knocking at my icy table on the deck at Peddler’s Fork and I let it in. I might even have offered it a sip of my coffee.

Quack, she said.

Right on.

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Bathroom Reading (Scouring Edition)

While holiday cleansing the bathroom, on my knees scrubbing corners usually in my blind spot, I glance up and notice books also, apparently, usually in my blind spot.

bathroombks

I have no idea when Dylan Thomas arrived. Definitely wasn’t me who brought him in. I just–I don’t think I could do it, although I could read anything he wrote while soaking in a bubblebath. The last time I had a bubblebath was around 2005 and we were housesitting (pre-engagement, pre-wedding, pre-sleepless-baby, pre-purchase-of-house-in-scathingly-hot-suburbs, i.e., pre-everything) for my cousins who have an exceedingly deep Jacuzzi tub in a masterbath with a view of: a tranquil, leafy canyon, and then: the entire San Fernando Valley as seen from the wild hills of Sherman Oaks. Coyotes howled and a gazillion Valley lights twinkled in their best Vegas imitation as bubbles frothed like a mini-rapids, no Dylan Thomas or any reading material at hand—except, of course, for what we read in each other’s eyes, newly paired as we were, ha ha, sipping champagne, flicking water at each other, wheee, no idea of the five years of sleeplessness ahead of us–although we would do it all again in the wink of a giggle–or something like that.

Same goes for The Turn Of The Screw. I could never read that in the bathroom, not even in a bubblebath and certainly not in a bubblebath lit by candles at midnight, with a storm raging outside.

I could, however, wear Nicole Kidman’s dress in The Portrait of a Lady movie, you know the dress I mean. When Nicole/Isabel meets disgusting Malkovich/Osmond. That satiny one that looks pretty enough to eat? Is bubblebath one or two words? I prefer it as one: b u b b l e b a t h. Truthfully, I’d rather it was already January 1st, 2014, and that we were driving to Disneyland. Pretty sure the cat did something behind the commode it should have done outside. Also noting the importance of opening bathroom windows when cleaning bathrooms, even if using 7th Generation products to, you know, clean and I’ve discovered (or have I always known) I’m very good at not cleaning even when I insist that I am, in fact, reaching around the back of the toilet with a trembling, severely rubber-gloved hand…

Did Henry James read in his bath? Did Hesse bathe?

Under The Sea belongs in here, in this bathroom decorated in shells and several portraits of starfish (knobby, brittle, sluggy, etc.). Some people call them sea stars. Tut!

The Millionaire Next Door, bingo! Utterly apt bathroom reading. I don’t think our next door neighbor is a millionaire. Although he did just install solar panels on his roof…Oh–I see: WE are the millionaires next door. Ha ha! Got it. Where’s my champers? No? Right, a cup of Starbucks Christmas Blend and hanging out with my chirpy Kindergartner in our sparkling-clean bathroom as he bathes in honey scented bubbles with his super hero toys—yes, I am a rich woman indeed. Put THAT on your bathroom bookshelf and read it. Or possibly on your bathroom wall. Or any bathroom wall, really–those you’ve cleaned, those cleaned for you and especially those located inside Greyhound Bus stations and Motel 6’s. Also, this: zzzzzzzzzzz…

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Flashback: Yesterday (Turkey Edition)

In the thick of it, I remember thinking: It would be nice if this was catered, but then the caterers would be working on Thanksgiving.

tg3

I prepped a millennium of food the night before–even so, that didn’t mean there was time to visit with our visitors–and I had the village helping prepare Thanksgiving, I wasn’t alone by any means (put that in caps). Many dishes were contributed–vegan paella, yam pie, creamed onions, giblet dressing, sweet corn pudding, etc.

Partly due to my fear of cooking a 26lb turkey, partly due to cleaning the house for 5 days before everyone arrived, partly due to being a busy parent, partly due to fighting off the many cough-related-cocktails of colds circulating this time of year–I just wanted the turkey to fly to the table cooked and juicy, on a magic carpet of platter, and the other dishes to, you know, do the same. Like in an episode of Bewitched.

Searching for giblets. The village set me straight.

Searching for giblets. The village’s Priestess set me straight.

However–as the village mingled and played with 3 kids and 6 dogs and ferried plates to and fro, and carved the turkey and filled the Ponderosa with holiday mirth—and not just because wine glasses were refilled and my cousin’s cousin’s artisan beer was proffered/poured without end (Pumpkin Porter–ahhhh)–I knew that I would absolutely host again.

In a heartbeat.

With gleaned turkey-cooking knowledge, secret recipes revealed, prized tips and information that can only be filed from hosting a Thanksgiving dinner.

A village.

A village.

Thank you, family.

Let’s all go to the moon for Christmas.

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Handy Resources

Brainpickings has compiled a nice list of 9 writing resources. Some are oh so familiar, perhaps all are to you. But I’m glad to be reminded of them. And quotes such as this one by Kurt Vonnegut, which you’ve probably read a million times, yet here it is, staring you in the mind, staring down your muse and your critique group:

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.”

Mary Pickford, writing.

Mary Pickford, writing.

Stephen King’s On Writing is on the list. Even if you hate his books and believe he never should have been given a National Book Award, you will probably be really grateful for On Writing and, anyway, you can’t help but like lines like this one:

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

St. Jerome, writing.

St. Jerome, writing.

Anne Lamott, RayBradbury are predictably (in a good way) on the list. Also Stanley Fish, whose How To Write A Sentence And How To Read One I have never read—and now I’m going to. I would have made it a list of ten, though, by adding Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer, which I have, but admit I’ve only partially read, but I will–I swear–finish the book–in a ‘soon’ sort of manner. Francine Prose was teaching at Bread Loaf the summer I was there. I remember watching her cross Bread Loaf’s lawns, her black hair in contrast with the eternally (infernally?) shimmering emerald grass, how she moved rather than walked, probably on her way to a workshop. She was a presence (with a capital P)–or so I mused, crumpled up in an Adirondack chair, open (empty) notebook on my lap, furious that after my first workshop at Bread Loaf, I had no idea who I was as a writer.

Here’s the link to the list.

The inimitable Francine Prose.

The inimitable Francine Prose.

Posted in Fiction, Quotes, Writer quotes, Writer's Angst, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Food Glorious Food

Speaking of bon bons, I think I’ll switch to madeleines. But stick with coffee, not tea. For now. Coffee served in a teacup? Even better.

The Telegraph is featuring 10 Great Meals in Literature. A fun little slideshow. Especially the Dickens photo.

Madeleines and no Proust? Must they go together? Sigh...

Madeleines and Proust? Must they go together? Sigh…

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Gobbling Towards Vegetarianism

It became November.

Day Two, I said: OMG THE TURKEY!

Because this year, we’re hosting the beloved horde.

I navigated to the Whole Foods website. During the Diestel ordering process I was asked to choose: Hen or Tom.

My bedroom office went dark. I heard a crazy woman scream: Who let Sophie’s Choice in here! I can’t, I won’t–THE TOM THE TOM I CHOOSE THE TOM!

I have a feeling this is my last turkey year. Because I’m married to a vegetarian AND have a picky-eater Kindergartner, much of his pickiness revolving around meat? Because I give money to WWF, The Mustang Society, the African elephants, the beleaguered tigers, the homeless pot-bellied pigs and rescued McDonald’s chickens? Because of the movies I watch: Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, Forks Over Knives, Supersize Me, and so many more? Because I’m basically perpetually Paleo dieting anyway, without the meat? Because I’d rather eat kale-rolled-granola than a creature so young he belongs with his mama?

Centerpiece.

Centerpiece

Beware of hypocrisy, warns the very Tom I’ll be picking up the day before Thanksgiving. Food for thought. Think before you eat? Off with his head!
Unfortunately.

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The Truth Is…(Maintenance Edition)

The truth is, I’m way too busy to blog—sprawling on the couch eating bonbons takes up a lot of time. And let me make this extremely clear: NOT milk chocolate bonbons with cherries tucked inside them.

Lifted from Candyland

Lifted from Candyland

If I was even busier, I’d be sprawling on the couch eating (dark chocolate) bonbons while watching soap operas—but although we have a television, we do not receive any TV stations, local or otherwise, partly because my portion of the San Fernando Valley is a black hole (one that comes with, fortunately, coconut sprinkled dark chocolate bonbons) and partly because I’m adverse to exposing my Kindergartner to an abundance of commercials, many of which are movie trailers showing people shoving guns at others (etc.) and young girls with substantial rivulets of blood striping their faces (etc.).

Why, Brazilialn bonbons

Brazilian bonbons

I’m pretty sure that for the past 2 weeks I’ve been so busy sprawling on the (quite long, actually) couch and eating (coconut sprinkled, dark chocolate, firm-centered) bonbons that I forgot about the blood drawn from my arms, a couple of shots in the a**, I don’t know how many shots in the left side of my mouth, the parts of my anatomy that were crushed for medical purposes, being probed, poked, fasting, revising-crazy and that I somehow still rode a horse without falling off—ah: dark chocolate, coconut sprinkles and a darker (liquid) chocolate with a lava-like ooze upon biting.

Supernovas, certainly

Supernovas

Sure, there’s always Hulu.

And the Edward P. Jones novel I need to finish.

Paleo recipes to bake, bag, and freeze for the future.

Google.

And this: computer on my lap as I sprawl on the extensive couch, the dog uber-close, wetting the Pergo with his snores, a cat on the coffee table, bathing its orangesicle paws, a light rain healing the valley-stuck garden, and me, me, me: revising, revising, revising (not a bonbon in sight) until it’s time to meet the Kindergartner and present him with his daily kale-disguised-by-organic-frozen-blueberries-&-honey smoothie.

If I’m blogging, I’m not revising. I worry! I must progress.

Making memories.

Japanese bonbons

Japanese bonbons

Posted in Children's Books, Fiction, middle grade, Pets, Poetry, To Explain, Writer's Angst, Writing, Writing Progress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Appreciation (pre-Dinner Edition)

Recently my husband and I listened politely to a woman with green fingernails and an iphone with a ringtone that sounds like something Michael Flatley would raise his knees to—listened as this lady (dressed in a tunic the distracting green of fairy-forest canopy) told us she drove home from work with a sunset in her eyes, the sky so spectacularly fractured by colors that she broke the law and called her husband from the car and insisted he rush to the West-facing windows in their house. “It was the last thing he wanted to do,” she confessed, “get up and move–but once he was seeing what I was seeing? He appreciated the call. We shared something amazing and calming and real without even being in the same room, near the end of a day in which we’d barely spoken and not set eyes on each other for hours, hours, eons. It was,” the lady told us, flicking her Cher-hair from her cheeks Cher-style, “good.”

Michael Flatley in a few hundred years

Michael Flatley in a few hundred years

“Hi,” my husband said as I balanced my iphone between shoulder and ear and flipped my son’s Super Cheesy Chicken Burger! (organic chicken secreted with organic carrot puree, flaxseed and a little bit of cheese so I’m not actually lying to him about what he’s having for dinner). “I’m in gridlock on the 101,” he said. “Go look outside.” I started to protest, but remembered. “Gorgeous,” I agreed, shivering in the back yard as fire-sky seeped into my eyes–then deeper. Eventually my husband suggested, “Why don’t you?” “Already on it,” I said, fetching the boy (and his hoodie). “Oh my gosh look at that,” our Kindergartner gasped, hands in the pockets of his little-dude jeans. “Mama, do you know—sky starts with an S?” “As do Super Chicken Cheesy Burgers!” I replied. We stared at the sunset. He took my hand. We went inside.

yesusbchsunset

Wedding sunset

Posted in Children's Books, Me and Us, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

3 Cubs & Dodgers

Father/Son Dodgers Game!, the elementary school flyer stated, producing an amendment a week later: Due to unprecedented interest in attendance by moms, grandmothers, grandfathers and 3rd cousins twice removed, Father/Son is expanded to Family Dodgers Game! So we all went to the Kindergartner’s first baseball game and, because we were encouraged by the school to do so, and because we are a family of school spirit, we (purchased from the PTA and) wore bright red shirts depicting our son’s school’s name and name of the school’s mascot, CUBS.

IMG_3132

I tensed as we trekked across the Gobi-Parking-Lot. “What are the opposing team’s colors?” I asked my husband as another crowd dressed in blue ogled us three in our scathing reds. “I don’t know,” he answered. “Possibly red?”

“Do you get a discount if you show up in red shirts?” a man asked us as he hoofed by. “Ha!” I responded too loudly, but come on.

When you park a mile away from the stadium, it seems as if you will never reach its glorious Oval–but then it looms, shockingly, like Helms Deep. “Wow!” the Kindergartner said. “What the heck is that?” “The stadium,” I said as my husband barked, “Dodger Stadium!”, and I realized my spouse was way more excited than I had realized and, because it was about 2,000 degrees despite being the next to the last day of September, I wondered how sad he was going to feel when we left after possibly 10 minutes–unless, of course, our seats were in shade.

We took the escalator, only to be told at the top: “People? You’re down on the field.” I don’t know–the school purchased the block of seats. We just assumed…

The field is explained to a Kindergartner by his dad.

We utilized our Free Dodger Dog! tickets on the way down to the field, even though my son insisted he wasn’t hungry and my normal diet consists of nuts, berries and assorted lettuces and my husband is a vegetarian.

Even though my husband is a vegetarian and we are working on our 9th or so wedding anniversary, I asked him, after saturating 2 dogs in ketchup and tearing open the 3rd’s (presumably toxic) foil: “What do you want on your dog!” “Babe?” my husband responded. “I don’t eat meat.” I stared at him like he was a dangerous stranger.

Yeah. He ate that.

Yeah. He ate that.

3 Dodger Dogs, 1 carton of popcorn, 2 Diet Cokes, 1 Lemondae, 1 Bag Of Chips and repeated NO’S to requests for cotton candy later (yes, that’s right), we found our seats. “These are fantastic!” my husband declared. “And hot,” I responded, but our son donned his baseball cap and began munching his Dodger Dog and we were so entranced by his cuteness and taking family pictures we didn’t notice the type of heat that makes one certain Global Warming is real. I cried at the National Anthem sung by an extremely talented chick introduced as some guy’s wife (WTH!), we met other red-shirted Cubs and by the 3rd inning I received a phonecall from my husband (I had departed our seats to people-watch from shade): “He’s ready to go.”

IMG_3182

My husband was not disappointed. He was exuberant. We barely made it to the end of the 3rd inning, but so what? It was about a Cubling, not us. It was nice to see #66 after hearing his story on NPR and The Green Field was so very green and the players are indeed such fine athletes and the spirit in the stadium was felt and appreciated by us and no, I don’t watch it, I’m no convert, but baseball is good. Thank you, elementary school, even though you encouraged us to wear red.

No. 66

No. 66

And how great was it driving home with the A/C saturating the minivan. And how great were the sun-induced naps back at the Ponderosa: Right. On.

I’m sure there’s a poem in this. Perhaps in right field. (Or is it left? Arrrgh!)

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On Roald Dahl’s Birthday

Sometimes I let the agent I’m querying know who my literary heroes are. Only ‘sometimes’ as my query letters tend to change. Evolve? Products of endless, restless experimentation…On Roald Dahl’s birthday I was thinking: I always forget to put Roald Dahl down as an influence. I remember Joan Aiken, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Philip Pullman. I was thinking (as I made a vegetable smoothie for my Kindergartner, hiding the green color with organic blueberries): I greatly dislike that I forget to put down Roald Dahl. I was thinking (as I poured the smoothie into a BPA free travel cup, stuck in a stainless steel straw and carted it to the minivan): I will not forget!

And then the minivan wouldn’t start. And I thought: Bloody effing f***-all hell in Hades.

My son’s elementary school is very strict about retrieving your child on time. If you are 5 minutes late, your child is walked by the teacher to the office, where your child will wait as the office phones to find out where the hell you are. No child wants to have a parent pick them up late, the principal told us parents at Parent Orientation Night and the mood in the auditorium became frantic for a time as the principal stared us down without blinking, our 1950’s wooden auditorium seats creaking into an embarrassing chorus as we shifted in our frozen smiles, not one of us wanting her to think we were going to be that parent.

The car won’t start, I screamed into my cell phone. I’ll call the cab, you call the school, my husband responded, his own panic risen. I’ll notify the teacher to walk him to the office, the office lady informed me in a calm, neutral tone that could have meant understanding or disdain, I had no idea. My husband phoned again, shouting: Cab. There! 10 minutes. Wait, I screamed, do I have the backup carseat, or do you? No, no, no, I have it, he shouted and disconnected, calling back immediately to say, I’ll call you back.

The backup carseat takes 2 seconds to install in a car. Our son’s everyday carseat, however, is a behemoth with specific strap configurations and exact cinchings and anchors and takes about 20 minutes to secure to a seat. Taking it out of the minivan is not a problem. Transferring it to a cab, under pressure?

I’m on the freeway, my husband shouted. Cab canceled. I’ll pick you up. No, don’t, I screamed.  That will add 10 minutes! You call the school, I’ll keep driving, he shouted and disconnected. That’s fine, the office lady told me and possibly she was on the verge of being irritated, but then again–maybe not. If you wouldn’t mind telling him that Dadda is coming? I requested feebly. Of course, she said. I returned inside the house, poured myself a shotglass of vegetable smoothie, downed it as I paced the living room and stared out windows, thinking bits like: Surely we’re not the only parents this has ever happened to? Thinking: Why don’t we have neighbors whose cars we can borrow in emergencies? Thinking: My husband sure rose to the occasion. Thinking: I think I have a crush on my man. Thinking: Did the dog get breakfast?

I’ve got him, my husband said calmly and with a dash of triumph. Is he okay? I asked, trying to match his tone. Have we damaged him? Nah. He was flipping through a book when I got there and wouldn’t let us leave until he finished ‘reading’, my husband reported. What book? I asked, laughing. Huh? I don’t know. You know. The one with the peach.
peach

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Quote For The Week: Diana Nyad (Butterscotch Cookies Edition)

Find a way.
—Diana Nyad

Champion.

Champion.

I briefly interrupt evening reading time to announce I’m zooming to Albertson’s for eggs for tomorrow’s scrambled egg jamboree and ask my spouse if he needs anything from the store. In the Daffy Duck brogue he utilizes when reading Quackenstein to our giggling Kindergartner, he informs me (with spittle): New client, butterscotch cookies, you bake, meant to ask, QUACK————–

r u effing kddng me, I text from the minivan because I’m not the mommy who shrieks WTH during evening reading time in her little boy’s lovely yellow and red and blue room with all the precious art he’s created taped to the walls and the train stencil I crafted above the closet and on top of the bookshelf there’s the North American box turtle in her aquarium and a family Labrador 1/2 on/1/2 off the twin bed—sensitive types all—especially the turtle—and so no: I won’t protest until pertinent parties are fast asleep, when not even explosions from the just released Star Trek Into Darkness movie will wake them. At which point I will let loose with a stern if not slightly hysterical: Pigeon crap, Spockman! Cookies? Really?

Er—or something like that.

I spend years in the Albertson’s baking aisle–enough time to grow a woman’s moustache. My Albertson’s is close by and I’m very familiar with it. When I burn my mini-muffins into stuck black crystals, where do I stomp for a new tin? That is correct. So my mind has trouble accepting that there are zero boxes of prepared butterscotch cookie mix in the baking aisle. Surely I’ve seen butterscotch mixes before? WTH, Betty Crocker! I run like Zachary Quinto in Star Trek Into Darkness (hands pumping next to the body) to the refrigerated section. If Pillsbury or its copycats sell prepared butterscotch cookie dough, Albertson’s has vetoed them. I Quinto-run to the day-old section piled on that baker’s rack by the restrooms I will never utilize. Nothing. Am I really going to have to make a trek to Ralphs? Back at the baking aisle, I snatch up a bag of butterscotch chips and squint at the recipe for butterscotch cookies on the bag. The word oatmeal swirls into focus. I have that at home! And, I realize, de-hyperventilating, everything else needed to make cookies from scratch. Plus, a bottle of chardonnay has materialized in my shopping basket.

Per Diana Nyad’s advice: I have found a way.

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Bad A** Naid’s Nyad (Git Yer Goggles On Edition)

As her website states: She freaking did it

As her website states: She freaking did it

I didn’t know Diana Nyad was attempting the Cuba/Key West, FL swim again. So when I returned from Labor Day shenanigans, I went a little happy-ballistic upon reading about her success. I tweeted, I FB’d, I emailed friends. I worried for her recovery when she was on the stretcher, but shortly rejoiced and wept and cheered watching the next day’s interviews and Key West parade. “Never, ever give up.” In one interview she said that with each stroke she pushed Cuba behind her and reached for Key West. She visualized and used a mantra. “Find a way.” She kept going. She didn’t let go of her dream.

A friend I wrote to about Diana Nyad responded with an email that startled me:

“When I was a child I always quit. I quit trying anything that was
tedious, boring or difficult over the long term.

I think this became habit due to not having a father. Also because most
of my free time outside of school I spent alone.

I never had competition in my life. And when I did engage in athletics
in school I did not have a ‘Dad’ to cheer me on or tell me that
winners never quit or just to say ‘atta boy! Because of this I never
learned a fundamental skill which has altered the course of my life
since childhood. I never learned to catch.

Because I never learned to catch. I also never learned to – not quit.

It took me about 45 years to learn to stop quitting. Especially since I
always enjoy attempting different things.

I thought that having multiple irons in the fire was the way to feel
like I was progressing until I realized it was just another form of
gradually quitting. So I took it upon myself to learn how to complete
anything that I start. And I realized that I could be successful on my
own, without working for a corporation or an established market leader.
But I could only believe in my success by measuring what I had completed.

So Nyad is of course a supreme example of never giving up. Perhaps what
humans need in life is not success, which can be bought or inherited,
but humans need completion or the challenge of a lack thereof.”

Time to keep going.

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Secret Equestrienne (Before Morning Coffee Edition)

$300 boots in the local saddlery. Gorgeous. And nothing a budget-minded, secret equestrienne would ride in. So the Amazon dot coms that arrived by mail shocked me. At $94+change, they looked way too regal for the price. I was expecting spray-painted cardboard. When I couldn’t shove my foot into the right boot, I was ready to accept defeat, but realized the boots had zippers at the back. Doh. When they were on, zipped up, buckled at the tops (also a surprise), my new jodhpurs tucked inside them (once I realized what the Velcro was for at the hem of each ribbed leg), I donned my polo shirt, helmet and riding gloves and faced the mirror.

See? In the picture they look toy-sparkly, or like Thumbelina boots.

See? In the Amazon picture they are toy-sparkly Thumbelina boots.

It was too early for Halloween, but I felt like I was ready for a Boo Party and wore flip flops instead of boots (helmet, or gloves) when I dropped my son off at Kindergarten.

What ancient mothers wore to their kids' elementary schools.

What ancient parents wore to their kids’ elementary schools.

Yes, I am a pretentions-wary, semi-gawky, dirty-blonde chicken. Who cares if I wear  jodhpurs and boots onto an elementary school’s playground where parents gather to deposit their children for the school day? I drive a Kia minivan with a dent in the right front bumper from someone backing into the car in the dead of night the one time I parked it on the street instead of the driveway. Getting the bumper fixed interferes with my writing schedule. My flip flops are from some dead surfer’s grave. Do I care what our car looks like behind the white Range Rover in the school’s lot? Not yet. Do I care about wearing ratty flip flops in front of strangers? Nooooo. Do you? I have less than a minute to don my boots between dropping off my son and zooming to the Farms and the beginning of my riding lesson. It is more practical, time-wise, because it’s ALL about timing, to have my boots already on when I escort my son to the playground.

But I just. Can’t. Wear my boots.

boots

Come, child, let us go to Kindergarten.

Him: If you need to wear your boots, wear ‘em.

Me (as though arguing):  When I’m in the saddle? I sweat like—do sheep sweat? It’s work. Not recreation. Not really. I mean, I don’t ride all la-la-la, go home and eat See’s Candies until it’s time to pick up the boy. I ride, sweat, grip, worry about having the stamina to complete the lesson, worry I’m wrecking the horse with my mistakes, go home all wobbly, could easily collapse before making it to the shower…

Him: PB, wear your damn boots.

homer_the_scream[1]

Walking down the shady steps leading to the Farms, my boots were very comfortable, though I still stork-walked into the barn, shoulders hunched, nervous about making eye-contact with the gazzilion equines munching in their stalls. Over here! Lori, my teaching pro, shouted from across the ring. She had me sign a release form, then presented me with an interested-in-life horse clearly bred for giants to ride. My neck strained as I gazed up at my warm-blooded host–and I am tall. Lisa, a pixie, stood on tiptoes to rub Horse’s nose, stating, He’s the best. Okay, she said as I ascended from mounting block to saddle, Next time put your foot in the stirrup before getting on so you don’t startle the crap out of Horse. Let him know you’re about to arrive. And I knew Lori was the right instructor for me.

Silent Eeek.

Silent Eeek.

Way up on Horse, thunder clouds bumped my helmet. I was eye to eye with a pair of gliding mourning doves. Summer air churned by muttering traffic copters buffeted my cheeks. The view from Horse’s back was spectacular–the well tended ring and kempt stalls framing it for at least 3000 raked-dirt acres. Hundreds of colored jumps criss-crossed the area per some master professional’s genius design. Tall as Horse and I are, I felt miniscule and a novice as I trotted in a 2-point around the gargantuan ring (I think this simple circuit took days, possibly a year), particularly when Horse shied from a dude passing with a wheelbarrow. Don’t look down, Lori immediately shouted. She was an ant to my Tall Alice when I cantered awkwardly by her. Cut the looking down crap. Know where you are, where you’re going! Aaaaand I liked Lori even more. She didn’t text during my lesson. She had no cell phone on her person, that I could see. She told me things I never knew about myself as a rider, like: Relax your face! She had me guide Horse over the baby crossbars, but despite the kidstuff height of the jump, she wouldn’t let me stop until I executed a jump I could instinctively and physically feel was correct (that amazing connection between self and magnificent animal). I noticed her scrutinizing my dismount, but by then I owned my boots. For a second I was Tatum O’Neal in International Velvet (you  know, when she wins Nerve). I was red-faced and gaspy, there was a bite in each of my inner thighs, but my legs did not buckle when my heels touched dirt. Lori didn’t say a word, just nodded. Your posting trot is great, a young miss offered from atop her showhorse. She was heading into the ring. Her riding posture was picture perfect, her long hair braided down her back, her handsome boots tended, gleamy leather. Thank you, I said, thinking, Farms is a far cry from my childhood stables, where kids and adults were catty about everyone else’s tack and the way you led your shaggy pony into the ring. Good boy, I told Horse, patting his neck. And: Thanks.

onealnerve

I asked Lori about my boots. She pinched and pulled and tugged. Except for the stupid elastic laces, she said, these work. When I told her where I got them, she laughed. Amazon? she said, as if now she’d heard everything. Awesome deal.

Zooming to Starbucks, I didn’t change my shoes before going inside (although I did wipe them down). After my first lesson in months, I needed my boots on. I wanted their spell to last until it was time to retrieve my son from Kindergarten—at which point I would switch to flip-flops, maybe not as much of a chicken-secret-equestrienne, but a tad more of a pro (who, you know, just likes horses and doesn’t compete–except for that one time when she was 14 and won First Place in a 4H walk-trot…wearing tennis shoes and a baseball cap).

boots.jpeg

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Quote For The Weekend (RIP Edition)

I have learned that particularly clever ideas do not always stand up under close scrutiny.

Elizabeth Peters, The Hippopotamus Pool

Ah, but the above author’s ideas stood up and have never stood down. Armed in 2 pen names (Elizabeth Peters being my personal favorite), she wrote book after book after book. Go ahead, Wikipedia Barbara Mertz and choke on your coffee as you note how prolific she was. She turned her love of Egyptology (receiving her PhD in the subject at 23 years old) into a GAZZILLION Amelia Peabody novels and numerous other novels. She won awards. She hosted tours of her favorite Egyptian sites. She fearlessly (never recklessly, not her) combined history with fantasy in each novel featuring Peabody and Emerson. Reading her books was/is fun. My sisters and I couldn’t wait for her next installments. Start with Crocodile on the Sandbank. You’ll find it in paperback in a used bookstore or, less romantically, on Amazon. If you like it, you’ll have a long, happy relationship with EP and AP ahead of you. I envy you that.

Little note: The Amelia Peabody series spans my living room bookshelves, so I suppose part of me registers their titles every day—but just yesterday I was thinking about the books quite a bit, mostly about how Peabody and Emerson argue (so engagingly, hysterically) in the novels. And I thought about how superbly Elizabeth Peters created her characters, how easy they are to imagine. And I considered retrieving my battered paperback copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank and tucking it into my suitcase for this weekend’s final mini-break of the summer. And today I saw a Tweet about her death and choked on my coffee. She was 85. You can read about her 85th birthday party here. She donned quite the appropriate get-up.

RIP, Barbara Mertz. And long live Amelia Peabody.

Amazing Barbara.

“Another shirt ruined!”

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Chirp

The colony of house finches thriving in the trees outside our bedroom windows begins the chirping frenzy around 530/6am and they never fail to wake me up—but I beat them to their cacophony this morning, fueled into consciousness by thoughts of Big Foot in that mountain man’s yard, staring at barking dogs while the man shouted from his house for Big Foot to vacate the premises.

Hermit is what the press and the self-proclaimed ‘mountain man’ meant. A hermit yelled at Big Foot to ‘git’ and shook a big stick at him—one terrified hermit suddenly up close and personal with his isolation. He was scared and un-hermit-like enough to call the police and suggest they come on out and check the property (see, a mountain man wouldn’t have had a phone—and a proper hermit would have invited Big Foot inside for hot soup—see Frankenstein movie, or even Young Frankenstein movie). I’ve read that Big Foot types scream, too (click here for fascinating screaming action). What if Big Foot had turned from the dogs and just started screaming at the hermit shaking a stick at him? I think about this, scratched-record-style, when ruminating on this particular Big Foot encounter. Look: I have no desire to hunt for Big Foot. I don’t want to find him staring at my goofy Labrador in the dead of night. I don’t want him pounding my indestructible Big Foot and bullet proof RV when we’re on a family camping trip, although I don’t think Big Foot pounds much, just screams and makes X-like ‘keep out’ signs with branches in forests from North Carolina to Oregon to Nepal and crunches noisy underbrush as he flees cameras. What nags me in the wee morning hours before house finches start their chirping is: Did Big Foot know the hermit didn’t have a mountain man’s gun? Only a stick? We don’t know Big Foot, but just how well does he know us?

What is Big Foot doing right now? Contemplating a berry in his furry palm and dreaming of dog meat? Squinting at the moon? Can Big Foot squint? Will Big Foot ever lumber out from those trees and make contact that doesn’t involve scaring dogs and hermits? Hopefully not while I’m hiking or showing my son Gold’s Beach where that one schoolbus driver lady said she saw Big Foot studying wild ocean…Why she was near the beach with her schoolbus is also a mystery to me…No, I don’t always get my facts straight…Facts? Big Foot, hermits who call themselves mountain men, roaming schoolbus drivers…What is this world?

My son starts Kindergarten a week from today.

I am affected.

He's all: Good morning!

He’s all: Hi!

Posted in Avoiding My Writing, Children's Books, Fiction, middle grade, Poetry, Writing, WTF | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Wake of a Rejection

The last day of July hurtles into focus as I prepare for mini-break #4: single-mommying 3 kids for 3 days. Will be intriguing to see how I fit in writing time. I’m thinking between breakfast and the day’s planned outing, all outings culminating in, of course, the beach, where it is impossible to write or revise due to wave-beauty and making sure children don’t get sucked out to sea by undertows or attacked in shallows by great white sharks (I stand in the shallows while children swim, beach bucket in hand, ready to bonk anything with a dorsal fin on the snout, hard—unless, of course, fin is on a dolphin). Other newsy bits:

1. Ditching riding instructor as have realized he a) doesn’t like having students who will never, in his lifetime, be competing, and/or b) simply has no social skills–although excellent texting skills while giving my lesson—and is not to be faulted, but I am a paying customer, thus—the fault is mine? I will miss Leroy (horse). I wish I could take him away from this scorching Chatsworth summer and to a new life by the ocean (because if I could afford him, it means we’d be living by the ocean at last).

2. Worrying obsessively am morphing into Walter Mitty.

3. About to start marketing the adult novel. Summer is almost over, you know—another blink and it will be gone—even though we valley dwellers will certainly be experiencing heatwaves from now until January 2014.  Time to—oh, it’s just time.

Yours in writing strength and perseverance and iced coffee for breakfast while standing in a cold shower ruminating madly on personal goals,

PB.

Simmer down now.

Simmer down now.

Posted in books, Fiction, middle grade, ocean related, Poetry, Santa Barbara, Writer's Angst, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mini-Break 4: Summer Flu (Mr. Darcy Would Not Approve)

I see from Facebook that those of us women afflicted turned to the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

Tonic.

Tonic.

No coincidence. Those empire-waist dresses (so cheerful) and perpetually bouncing ringlets, lush countryside and obvious magnetism help when you’re languishing against your bed pillows (in not quite so lacy and opulent a fashion as Mrs. Bennett languishing against her pillows, but her pillows are so very lovely to look at—oh dear, that sounds a bit obscene…).

Other useful summer flu remedies: Monkey Trail Mix, icy fruit smoothies with Power Greens packed in them and turned purple by blueberries so that your son won’t know he’s drinking vegetables, hot showers and cold compresses made out of washcloths soaked in cold tap water, Kindle Fire and all it’s many delights for children, pets clustered on the sickbed, a husband who returns home from work early (with gourmet hot dogs or Chinese food) and takes over estate management of your little Ponderosa, sleep.

Today I’ve emerged (wobbly, squinting) into a July ever-intent on scorching this great valley, especially our yard, in particular the recently planted purple hopseed. Mr. Darcy would not approve of the hopseeds’ demise. Elizabeth would probably understand. And do just as I’m doing: Fantasize about ocean and coastal scenes (Cornish coastal scenes, with wind) as I hastily water everything in my nightgown and flip flops and chipped pedicure (Mr. Darcy would not approve).

Talking myself down from the summer flu: Stop worrying about what others have written. Don’t read anything right now. Not even the fortune in that cookie. Throw the cookie in the trash. Don’t force yourself to write in this condition. Just shush up. And when your son (cheerful and chirpy despite his fever—take note!) naps, make haste to your pillows

and dream.

Jane Austen and an unknown male, circa 2006. Tonic.

Jane Austen and an unknown male, circa 2006. Tonic.

Posted in books, Children's Books, Fiction, Poetry, Writer's Angst, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments