Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The End of an Era and a New Beginning

I've been cleaning out my house, slowly. I've made a lot of progress in the past year, and am making strides in letting go of things. When I was a child, I had a strong attachment to things and what they represented to me. This has taken many years to come to terms with. Giving away old clothes and things from my past has been a difficult process, but one I'm happy to say is far easier than it used to be. The more I let go of things, the easier it gets. It's a process and a journey. I'm finally feeling lighter.

My youngest child turned two this month, and I finally did something I've been putting off since he was born.

Yesterday I washed my maternity clothes, then sat on the couch, folding them before gently placing them in a big, gray, Sterilite box. I smiled at the warm softness on my hands, remembering fondly--and not so fondly--the many times I wore the blue dress my mother made me, the striped shirt, those black pants, giving thanks for cotton and spandex mingled in wondrous ways.  Then I loaded up the van and drove to Once Upon a Child, a resale store, hoping to turn them into some cash for my kids' winter clothes. They only wanted one shirt. (They said the rest were too outdated and they didn't need any more. Oh, well.)

So, last night, I posted an offer on our local Freecycle e-loop, and got several requests. I ended up offering them to a woman who gave all her maternity clothes away--then found out the next week she was pregnant. She called me back and I gave her directions to my house between beeps of my dying phone, which was a real accomplishment!

A couple of hours ago, a car drove up. "Someone's walking to our house!" the kids yelled. I took the bag of clothes, went outside, and shut the door in the dog's barking face. (Really, he's way too protective of me--but I'd rather have him scare everyone who comes to the door instead of no one.)

The woman came up to the step, full of gratitude. Being only eight weeks along, she wasn't showing yet, but I know that when you're pregnant, clothes begin to constrict before anyone else can see. Her face lit up at the sight of the full bag. "Oh, thank you so much!" she said.

"I'm so glad you can use them!" I replied. After a moment of chitchat, she left, hurrying to her next destination.

I used to agonize about giving my maternity clothes away, like it meant an end, a finality that I wasn't ready to come to terms with. It was only after she left with my black trash bag of clothes, that I realized what I was feeling:


Nothing but the sweet sense of having helped a mother with her journey in bringing a precious life into the world. I'm happy that instead of sitting around collecting dust, my out-of-style maternity clothes will be used as they were meant to be.

After all, the clothes were just those--clothes. What really matters to me is life and love, not things. I'm so thankful that the Lord is helping me internalize this and is giving me the ability to let go and bless others in whatever small ways I can. And in doing this, my life is simplified and I am blessed, along with my family.

So, goodbye maternity clothes. May you continue to bless the lives of expecting women until you are full of holes and ice cream stains.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When You See a Puzzled Look in a Two-Year-Old's Eyes . . .

You know what follows is bound to be interesting.

Last night, Bean wouldn't go to sleep. He hadn't felt well all day and took a catnap too late. The result was a little guy who was, at midnight, still running like an Olympic athlete.

I got him settled on the couch with a blanket, then turned on an episode of "Kipper the Dog." Bean watched TV while I went to the bathroom and put a clay mask on some problem areas around my chin and upper lip, kind of where I'd have a goatee--and I just realized that I've painted a wonderful picture of myself for you.


I don't have a goatee. At least, not a full one. Yet.

Anyway, once I got the goopy mud on I went out to the living room and sat down by Bean. Even though it hadn't been thirty seconds since I put the mask on, I'd already forgotten about it.

Bean stared at my face, his eyebrows slightly furrowed, studying me. I wondered at his change of mood. Then he asked, "Change diaper?"

Slowly, like a dawning morning, I remembered what I looked like. The lower half of my face was thickly covered in a sticky, smeary brown substance. To a toddler it must have looked like--

No wonder Bean was concerned.

I smiled as well as I could, since the mask was already drying. "Change diaper?" I asked, wondering what he'd say next. Usually if he finds something interesting, he tries to touch it. Not then. He didn't move a finger.

Bean alternated between looking me in the eyes and glancing at my chin. I don't remember when I've seen my little firecracker so calm and contemplative. Then he said, "Change diaper mouth."

I was at a loss of what to say that would help him understand (I turn into a zombie after midnight), as he didn't seem upset, just interested. So all I came up with was, "Oh, okay, buddy." I got off the couch and went to the computer, leaving him to watch Kipper and hopefully forget about what he thought he saw on his mother's face. He knows the words "wash face," so I don't know if I want to know what was going through his brain. Thankfully he passed out on the couch not long after.

Hopefully this experience won't leave a negative imprint on my son's subconscious memory that requires tons of therapy. At least I have another story to add to the family collection!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Birthday Cake and Literary Agents: When the Two Collide

Yesterday was Princess' sixth birthday. I spent a good deal of the day baking a made-from-scratch, cherry-filled Hershey's chocolate cake with homemade vanilla buttercream frosting, while taking breaks to immerse myself in WriteOnCon. Oh, yes, it was decadent. (WriteOnCon or the cake? Both.)

The cake was a labor of love. I piped on pink edging (love those icing decorators in the store baking aisle), stuck in candles that looked like fairy wands, and added orange polka dots on the sides. On the top, in a space not filled with sparkly pink birthday greetings, I added what was at first an orange daisy--then I decided it would be better to fill in the "petals" (quotes used because they are well-deserved) and make it a butterfly facing downwards.

When Princess saw the butterfly, she was thrilled with her "fairy." I told her it was a butterfly, but she said, "No, Mom, there are the legs and that's the body and head!" Who was I to argue?

After a dinner of Chinese food we dug into the cake. Then there were issues of getting overtired kids to bed, a huge thunderstorm that knocked out power all over the city (but not here, thank goodness), and a baby who wouldn't go to sleep until 11:30. By that time I was pretty tired, so I went into the kitchen to make sure the cake was covered and saw the dessert plates sitting there in all their drying, crusty glory.

And was enlightened.

Thoughts of the conference ran through my head while I walked around the table, assessing the amount of cleanup needed. I pondered the different preferences of agents when they looked at pitches (it's fascinating to see an agent's thought process), and the results of the first 500 words contest. The top five entries in the contest were picked by one agent. No surprise to me that my story didn't make it, after sensing a theme throughout the top picks. Interestingly enough, of the top five, only two were ones I would have personally been interested enough in to keep reading. Add to that the vlog I saw featuring agent Holly Root and editors Molly O'Neill and Martha Mihalick, and I really got something out of those sweet and sticky plates.

My husband's plate was almost clean. He'd eaten the chocolate cake and left all the buttercream frosting. He doesn't like frosting, but the cake was apparently acceptable.

My second son's plate was equally interesting. Lion had left no sign of cake or frosting anywhere, but he'd left three whole cherries from the filling. He likes the fruity "sauce," as he put it, but not the squishy cherries.

Princess' plate held the barely touched piece with the butterfly-turned-fairy. She was so excited for her cake and gushed over it, but she was full and could only eat two bites. She made me promise to keep it for the next day when she had more room. (She couldn't reject anything with fairies.)

The eldest, Professor's, plate was clean. I have a suspicion he might have licked it.

My plate held the picked-off remnants of pink and orange decorator's frosting. Not worth the calories or the sugar. (Though I need to throw in a couple extra workouts thanks to that buttercream.)

Bean (who just turned two) had eaten several thin slices of cake, which he demolished in turn, then begged for more. His last piece lay there in his bowl, because he'd had so much that even though he loved it, he couldn't fit any more in his adorable tummy.

I thought of all these plates in terms of agents (and readers, now that I think of it). Nothing in that cake was bad--we're not talking about the appearance, ha, ha--but each family member had their preference, just as an agent does. Some agents don't like buttercream frosting, some don't care for cherries. Some may really want your butterfly-turned-fairy, but have a full plate of other things.Some love everything about your cake, and others want to pick off parts that you might love, but just don't work for them. Then there are those who may want your chocolate cake and everything included with it, but have three identical chocolate cakes at home already.

So if you're going the agent route (or entering in contests, or self-publishing), remember that a rejection (or a bad review) might not mean your cake is inedible. You can test your recipe, tweak it a thousand times and end up with a rich, fluffy, mouthwatering confection, but not everyone will like it. Either something about your cake doesn't tickle their fancy--or they may just prefer cheesecake.

After all, the writing business is incredibly subjective. In fact, I like cake, but I'm more of a cheesecake gal.

Straight up New York style, please.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Story for Tuesday: The Miniature Rose

 For me, one of the best ways to sort my emotions and experiences is through writing. Here is one I'll share with you. It won't win any awards, but it's close to my heart.

The Miniature Rose

Once upon a time, a little Seedling poked through rich, dark dirt and raised her head toward the sun. A soft breeze blew, cool air sending waves of delight along her delicate stem.

The Gardener smiled, leaned down, and brushed a speck of potting soil off a tender leaf. After giving the Seedling a drink, he left her on the deck to bask in the warm light.

Days passed, and the little Seedling grew and grew, until she was a Seedling no longer--but a small plant with beautiful, pink flowers growing off her in all directions, reaching over the sides of her little terra-cotta pot. She heard the Gardner telling his child that she was a Miniature Rose. Oh, how the Seedling loved the sound of that. Rose. Reaching for the sun and wind, she bent and twisted her small, thorny stems so the scent of her flowers could reach the child who played on the deck every morning.

Once the trees dropped their leaves, the Rose went to the place the Gardner kept his precious plants in the winter, and slept. When spring came, He placed her in the sun and she grew and stretched, and for weeks waved her new blossoms in the gentle wind.

After a few seasons, it became harder for the Rose to stretch. Her roots grew uncomfortably tight, pushing against the sides of the pot, and it pained her to reach out to the breeze. Still, she smiled and nodded hello to the birds that visited the feeder, and the child (who now went to school) played near her every afternoon.  The Rose kept growing in her cramped pot, but try as she could, her flowers wouldn't bloom very well and she feared the child would stop seeing her. "What's wrong with me?" she cried. "Am I dying?"

The Gardener heard her weeping. "Rose, dear Rose, soon you will blossom anew. Wait, and I shall help you when the time is ready."

So the Rose waited, roots cramping and tight against the cool stone of the pot, doing her best to find joy despite the pain. One warm day, the Gardener picked her up, walked across the yard, and set her down next to a large, new pot. She watched as the Gardener filled up the empty space with special food and deep brown soil, then the Rose braced herself as the Gardener lifted her slowly out of her cramped home.

How it hurt! The Rose's roots were a horrible, tangled mass. "Here, let me help you, little one." The Gardener gently loosened her roots, which ached from being in one position so long. Then he settled her into the new pot, swept dirt around her roots, pressed firmly, then gave her a long drink of crystal clear water.

Then the Gardner rose and went away, boots clomping back to the house. The Rose looked around at her unfamiliar surroundings. He'd moved her to the garden.

That night, she cried as mist left dewdrops to fall off her leaves. Who was she now? Would she see the child again, or the birds by the feeder? She shuddered as rabbits hopped near in the gray morning hours, sniffed at her and wriggled their noses in curiosity. Wind whistled through the ivy, making her shiver. As the day grew warm, the Rose relaxed. Butterflies of rainbow colors visited her and the other flowers. She made friends with the daisies and the peonies, and their silent songs of beauty touched all who came near. The next morning, a light rain fell, and the Rose reached out her leaves to shelter the rabbits who came to see her again.

As the weeks passed, the Rose stretched and grew and bloomed as she never had before. She grew to love hearing wind whistle through the ivy, and even made friends with the rabbits. The Gardener's child came to visit sometimes, and the Rose was happy. She grew old and wise, and comforted all the frightened, young flowers who came to her garden. She taught them that even if they had pains from growing, all flowers could trust and be safe in the Gardener's care.