The Many Hats of a Writer

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago for the Utah Children’s Writers Blog:

I just got home from a ladies social where the theme for the night was vintage fashion and the girls put on a fashion show. There were vintage era dresses and hats from the late 1800’s to present day. I have never seen so many outlandish hats and froofy dresses in one room all at one time!

It made me think about all of the many hats we wear . . . just today I have been a business woman doing outreach for my agency at a charity breakfast, an office assistant, a mom cooking vegetable beef stew and checking homework, a friend, a fashion consultant for my 14 year old daughter, a napkin for my 3 year old, and now I am attempting to put on my writer’s hat, while at the same time serving as a bean bag chair for a child who will not go to bed.

With life sometimes spinning out of my control, I often feel at a loss when trying to fit in time for writing, and yet on those days that I barely have time to think, it is in the quiet moments after the kids have gone to bed (and sometimes after I have finally gotten comfortable) that the ideas start coming in like waves. It can be really irritating. Of course I never have a pen and paper handy, so while I lay there all comfy in my blankets with my pillow just so, staring at the ceiling and knowing that if I go to sleep the idea will be gone in the morning . . .

With my eclectic web of life experiences, it seems like there are always a wide variety of crazy stories bouncing around my head, from pirates on a picnic (inspired by my 5 year old) and tales from the little farm I lived on as a child to the more serious stuff of family dysfunction and teen angst, divorce, and moving to the city.

Even now as I sit here typing, Brie has pulled off one of my shoes and socks, and is asking for a glass of milk. As I get up to accommodate her, I notice that she now smells strongly of perfume and is wearing gray-blue eyeshadow on her eyebrows and lips — how long was she gone? My foot is cold and she is finally falling asleep in my lap . . .

When Mom’s Away, The Kids Will Play!

Musings on Mothering

How many children do you have to have before you are actually qualified to give parenting advice? Even Dr. Ferber changed his stance on the ever popular Ferber method for getting kids to go to sleep after having a child of his own. Too many people who write books on parenting are giving advice from the perspective of only having a degree in child psychology, and maybe only have one kid. I go to my mother for advice—she’s the only one I know who’s really qualified since she has raised 12 kids. My younger sister is a close second. She has nine. I have four kids, and my right to give advice on parenting is very limited.

I hate it when parents of only one child (usually a mild, even tempered, obedient child who has never run away from them in the supermarket) look at a frazzled mother and say something stupid like, “I wish she would learn to control her kids!” or “don’t you think you should have used birth control?”

In order to even be able to start handing out advice, you have to have had a child who has done something horrible, like sneak out of their room after pretending to be asleep at nap time, and then quietly going into the kitchen and getting into the refrigerator so that they could get your eggs out and hide them around the house, breaking a few in the process, or like gleefully throwing cottage cheese onto the carpet because they wanted to pretend they were throwing candy in a parade, or getting out your maxi pads and sticking them all over the bathroom wall and calling them butterflies. Or my personal favorite, squirting chocolate syrup out on the white carpet, pouring milk over it, and then dancing in it. (Why did it take me so long to figure out how to lock the fridge? And why for goodness sake did I ever agree to rent a house with white carpet!)

I remember once, being infuriated with my sister because her 2-year-old little girl had pretended that my stacks of clean folded laundry were cakes and she had ‘frosted’ them with a large bottle of baby lotion that had been sitting out, and all my sister had done was take the lotion away and sternly say “no, no, sweetie!” At the time, of course, my first child was only a few months old, and had never done anything remotely obnoxious. If it had happened now, at least we would have both gotten a good chuckle over it.

And what can you really do about it? Take it away, and say “no, no!” while you try your best to look angry. There are a few areas, however, where I do feel qualified to give some advice. For example, never just nod and say “yes, uh huh, ok,” when your toddler is talking to you in words you don’t understand. For all you know, you have just given them permission to use your scissors to play barber. And if you have put your child down for a nap, make sure that he is really asleep before you go take a shower, or worse yet, fall asleep yourself, or you may find him missing when you wake up. Which brings me to the next thing—if you do fall asleep, first make sure you deadbolt the door and lock the top latch which you have smartly installed way up high at the top of the door, and then hide away, or better yet lock up anything with a long handle, like, say a broom, for instance, or you may find him being returned to you by a strange blue haired old lady who was nice enough to go door to door looking for you rather than calling the police. . . if you’re lucky.

How to Tell if You Are the Mother of a Toddler

You know you’re the mom of a toddler when nothing embarrasses you anymore. I know this is true because when my second son was 3 years old he once interviewed every stranger in the fast food restaurant we were eating at, asking everyone if they had penises, even the women. (Thank God there were only 3 other families there.) I was really starting to get annoyed at this strange fascination of his, because no matter how often I patiently explained to him that “no, I don’t have a penis, only boys have those,” he didn’t believe me, so it was actually a huge relief when he came barging into the bathroom one day and whipped open the shower curtain with a strange look of triumph on his face. He looked at me as if he just knew he had finally caught me red handed. As I frantically grabbed for the shower curtain, he shouted “Ha! Mom, you do have a . . .” a puzzled look crossed his face. “A big hairy thing?” Then he smiled and said “and you have bosoms too!” Then he closed the shower curtain and left. That was the end of it, and I am really, really, really glad.

Some other things that could tip you off that you are the parent of a toddler are:

1. When your child is missing, the closet in the entryway of your home is a perfectly logical place to look.
2. You have had to look in the middle of every clothing rack in Wal-Mart at least once.
3. You often look like your shirt sleeve has been used for a napkin. (Oh wait! It really has!)
4. White is not something you wear unless you have a babysitter.
5. It’s a relief to only have to give your child one bath in a day.
6. You lock the doors of your house with a latch that has been installed at the top of the door before taking a shower or using the toilet so your child doesn’t escape, and even then you are ready to run out of the shower naked at the slightest sound of chair legs scraping across the floor . . . (the news story of a toddler who escaped with the car keys and crashed the car into the garage while his poor mother was showering comes to mind)
7. Oh wait! Ha, what was I thinking? As soon as I get in the shower, I have instant company. And supervised toilet time . . . (“eeew mommy, you stink!” “Thanks sweetie!”)
8. Nap time is the only quiet part of your day. (Please! Pray that the toddler will take a nap!)
9. Anything nice you may have is either hidden away, or on a really high shelf that can’t be reached by climbing. (Ha! don’t you know there isn’t such a place? Must be why I don’t really have any nice things . . . )
10. If your child even eats one or two bites of his dinner, sometimes that is good enough.
11. You find yourself babbling to complete strangers at the play area in the mall, because you crave adult conversation.
12. Your house has at least one wall with crayon scribbling if you’re lucky. Otherwise, it’s permanent marker and it’s on every wall in the house. This will invariably happen right after you have painted. Thank goodness for magic erasers!
13. Your house is always a wreck, even right after you have spent the whole day cleaning up.
14. You keep baby wipes in your car and/or in your purse.
15. Milk and applesauce is a good lunch.
16. You often find yourself spelling out words such as C A N D Y, or P A R K in conversations.
17. Barney, Vegi Tales, and the Boobahs are necessary evils.
18. You have had at least one conversation as if Elmo were a real person.
19. You have either gone to the store with an odd assortment of barrettes in your hair at least once because your little girl was ‘fixing your hair’ and would have cried if you took them out, or you have pretended to be a dinosaur and that pancake syrup is blood to get your son to eat (or some other equally gory thing).

Anji’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some days you just need a cookie! I try to make them as healthy as possible without sacrificing the soft chewy cookie taste . . .

Cookie Base
1 c Butter
½ c White Sugar
¾ c Brown Sugar (or substitute 1c organic Sucanat sugar for both brown and white sugars)
1 Egg
1 tsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Vanilla
2 c Flour (add an extra ¼ c flour for high altitudes – I like to use spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour)

add:
1 c Chocolate Chips
½ c Oatmeal (I like to use Bob’s Red Mill 5 Grain cereal)
½ c Chopped Pecans
Mix butter, sugar, and egg. Add salt, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix well. Mix in flour until mixed evenly. Stir in chips, oatmeal, and nuts. For other variations, try adding other things to the cookie base recipe—for example, white chocolate chips, dried blueberries, and chopped pecans. Be creative! Drop in spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for @ 8 to 10 min at 350°. (Do not overcook!)

Variations:

Fred’s Special Cap’n Crunch Cookies: add 1 c Captain Crunch Berries cereal and ½ c of chocolate chips
Oatmeal:
add 1 egg, 1 c oatmeal, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, and ½ c chopped nuts
Peanut Butter: add 1 c flour, 1 egg, and 1 c peanut butter
Carrot: add 1 c grated carrots, ½ c crushed pineapple and ½ c chopped nuts
Mocha Chunk: add ½ c flour, 1/3 c cocoa powder, 2 tsp coffee crystals dissolved into 2 tsp coffee liquor, and 2 c chopped semi sweet chocolate bars. Omit vanilla.
Ginger Snaps: add 1 tsp ground ginger, ¼ tsp cloves, and ¼ c molasses. Omit vanilla, ¼ c sugar, and ½ c butter.
Pumpkin: add 1 c pumpkin, ½ tsp nutmeg, and 1 tsp cinnamon. Optional: add 1 c chocolate chips. Omit ½ c butter.
Thumbprint: Add 1 egg. Omit sugar and ¼ c of brown sugar. Roll in 2 c chopped nuts. (Indent and fill with jam after baking.)
Chocolate Thumbprint: add 1½ c flour and ½ c cocoa powder. Roll into balls and roll in 2 c chopped nuts. Press indentation and fill with filling: heat 1/3 c corn syrup and add 1½ c chocolate chips. (Fill before baking)

Some of these variations are still as of yet untested. So, try them and then leave a comment on how they turned out. have fun!

The Story Bag – Writing Fun for all Ages

I went to a writing workshop a long time ago when I was teaching High School English. I don’t remember who it was that presented now (it was over ten years ago!) but there is one fun activity that I have used over and over again, with myself, my kids, the writing club that I was the advisor for, my writing group . . . it turns out to be a very useful tool to get over writers block, and for brainstorming new story ideas. I have modified the activity a little over the years, but the idea is still the same. All you really need is a small notepad and a pen, or a computer, if you prefer. But you can make it even more fun with a little bag and a small object to represent each story. Here is how you do it — Get out your steno pad and your favorite number two pencil and make ten lists:

  1. Make a list of all the teachers you have ever had.
  2. Make a list of all of the teachers you have ever had who were not at school or who did not carry the official title of “teacher.”
  3. Make a list of all the teachers you have ever had that are animals.
  4. Make a list of all the teachers you have ever had that are objects or things.
  5. Make a list of all of the strange or unusual people that you have known.
  6. Make a list of any strange or interesting creatures that you have met or seen.
  7. Make a list of all of the places where you learned something important.
  8. Make a list of all of the interesting or unusual places you have been.
  9. Make a list of any interesting problems you have faced, or any weird or uncomfortable situations you have ever found yourself in.
  10. Make a list of any interesting, quirky, accidental, brilliant, or just plain stupid ways that you or other people you know have solved problems.

Now publish list 9 to the internet with your name, address, and a photo of yourself. (Ha ha, just kidding)

If you like, you can add illustrations in the margins (this is a great excuse to doodle) Obviously some lists will be much longer than others, and some of these lists may be quite short, but each item on these lists is a story all by itself. It can get really interesting though if you choose a few from different lists, for example choose a setting from list 7; characters from lists 1, 5, and 6; a problem from list 9, and so forth.

Now, here is the next step, which is optional: get a small drawstring bag and choose a small object — a unique stone, a really small toy, a coin, a marble, slips of paper color coded for character, plot, and setting, etc. — to represent each item from these lists. Put all of these in the bag and then when you are having writers block, or just want to give yourself a fun writing experience, pull one out and write the story that goes with it. Or you can randomly pull out a few and mix it up a bit.

10 (not so easy) Steps for Teaching a Toddler How to Blow Her Nose

1. Hold out a tissue and say “Blow your nose, sweetie!”(the child daintily holds tissue to her nose and then sucks the boogers up into her brain with a loud glurping noise. She then blinks up at you with big innocent brown eyes and hands back the dry tissue.)

2. Say “No, don’t suck in, blow, like this.” (demonstrate for her, blowing in a loud, exaggerated fashion.)

3. Repeat steps 1& 2 randomly until you are ready to pull all of your hair out.

4. Take deep breaths and DO NOT pull out your hair. (It really hurts.)

5. Since she can barely breathe, the desperate thought of actually sucking the boogers out with your own mouth may cross your mind before you collapse in total frustration. If you actually try this step be prepared for it to work much better than you expected.

6. Scream and spit into the tissue you were holding for her as your life for the next several days, (or even months) flashes before your eyes (if she doesn’t learn to do this herself!) Blagh!!!

7. Very gently, yet firmly, hold one hand over her mouth and say “blow through your nose.” While holding a new tissue ready in the other hand.

8. She will try to blow with her mouth into your hand. Do not let her. Remind her to close her mouth before blowing. (If she doesn’t do it, or if she gets upset, move your hand for a minute to let her breathe, and then try this step again. This is one case where it is possible that screaming could work to your advantage.)

9. When she finally gets it, let her hold her own mouth closed, and let her hold the tissue. She will feel more in control this way, and less scared. (After a couple of times, if you live in an ideal world, she will figure it out and won’t need to cover her mouth anymore)

10. Proudly watch her blow gobbs of boogers out on her own and hear her say “mommy I blowed it all by mysewf!”

Start over the next day, but skip steps 1- 8 (thank goodness!) you may need to add a little reminder that she needs to blow through her nose and not her mouth, and you might need to remind her to keep her mouth closed by having her hold her hand over her mouth the first time . . . much easier!

Welcome to My Blog!

This is my blog about life, writing and all of the fun and frustration I experience as a mom, a wife, and a writer. I am hoping this will be a place for me to vent, get feedback, and supply helpful information, but not necessarily in that order.

The name is a twist on “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” but it actually comes from a true story too. . . and plays on my belief that life is not always soothing, but that the struggles that fill our daily existence can be finally pulled together to make a very satisfying cup of soup nonetheless.

The story behind the name starts with a small farm, a henhouse, four small girls, and one mean red rooster. After several months of taking turns fighting off this rooster every morning to gather eggs, one of the four girls found herself under attack without a weapon, and so she reached for the closest thing she could find. A small length of PVC pipe.  This turned out to be deadly for the rooster and extreemly tasty for the four small girls.

As it turns out, where my writing career is concerned, I am still battling my way past the rooster every day, but one of these days I hope to revel in a very fine cup of mean rooster soup!