In Which I Procrastinate Writing by Writing About Writing

Writing has become something I just do now. I mean, writing has always been something I’ve just done, but attempting to write a novel is something I just do now. I get the kids to school, go to the gym, say, “Ugh, I could be going on a long walk or reading in bed or browsing Target today but instead I’m making myself write. Ugh!” Then I set a timer for one hour and tell myself that when it bings I can go on a long walk or read in bed or browse Target. When it goes off, I’m irritated because I can’t stop typing now…things are just getting good! Or thing are going horribly, but maybe I can write my way out of it so I’m not in a bad mood when everyone comes home.

Lately, I’m having more good days than bad. It helps that my critique group has swooned over chapters that felt like battlegrounds and which seems like a kindergartener’s attempt at a self-portrait. I’ve learned that my writing will rarely be good enough for myself but that other people think it’s pretty neat. And every once in a while I write a line that is so lovely I can’t sleep. Like, “The tea kettle whistled shyly, then let out a reckless yell.” Or, “The brochure felt slick and shiny, like hope.”  Then I feel like I’m probably meant to do this.

The novel still feels like a gigantic mess and I wonder daily if I’m cut out for this, if I’ll be able to finish the novel, if I do happen to finish it, will I be able to do it again, how long this is going to take, how much money it’s going to cost, whether people will like it, what the critics will say if it gets published, how I’m going to weave so many things into it, how I’m going to find time to do the other things I want to do, like substitute teaching and relearning Spanish and meeting Kevin for lunch, what the next chapter will be, if I’m insulting or offending anyone, why I chose such a difficult topic for my first novel, etc. etc. etc.

I didn’t realize how much time writing would take up. I’m  SAHM. I’ve been wanting to go to Target for six months to get mirrors for the boys’ rooms so they don’t go to school looking like clowns, and I haven’t found the time. This is super tough for someone who lives and dies by to-do lists. It’s not natural for me to let errands go un-run. I am trying to understand that writing is a choice and that even though it means many of my dreams are on hold, writing has been a dream of mine since before all the others, and now is its time.

I do miss the days when I had babies at home. I never had to get my babies critiqued or worry that I was the only one who would ever love them, the way I have to do with my writing. I miss the days when I didn’t expect any more out of myself than what the day had to offer. As demanding as three boys can be, it’s nothing to what I demand from myself.

But even if I stopped writing, I wouldn’t get that golden time of life back. And writing, as far as I know, is the next best way to lead with my heart. To take all the pieces of life I’ve squirreled away, add a heavy dose of imagination, a passable amount of plot, a few too many commas, and watch them grow and change and become their own thing. Just like children.

Sometimes writing feels like it takes a lot out of me. Sometimes it feels like it fills me up. But Kevin says no more babies, so what’s a girl gonna do?

She gonna open her computer and push and push until all those words out come out. Then finally, hopefully, she gonna let those words walk out into the big, scary world. Just like she did with her babies.

That is my hope.

That is my slick and shiny hope.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE
Gnocchi with browned butter sauce
Turkey kielbasa
Garlicky green beans
Watermelon
Buttermilk chocolate cake

What do You Call a Fish with No I’s?

Okay, the answer is supposed to be “fsh,” but in our house, we call it Lightning, which is the name of our fsh.

Here’s the backstory on our two goldfish. Vincenzo won a goldfish at the state fair four years ago. It was handed to him in a plastic bag with a sticker that that said, “Get me in a tank within two hours or I die and your kid is permanently scarred forever and will blame you,” causing us to leave the fair in a mad dash to save the fish and our son’s life.

Kevin and I wanted to name the fish “Carny,” but Vincenzo went for “King Bob” because  ever since the name “Bob” was invented, elementary school children have found it hilarious to name things Bob.

Well, since we were getting a giant tank and all that, we decided to cough up an extra $.25 and buy a second fish for Rocco, which he named “Lightning Fast.” “Lightning” for short.

For several years these fish ate and pooped and grew in their tank, which Kevin occasionally cleaned and which instantly turned foggy again. It was a spiteful tank. A few months ago the water had gotten so dingy the fish were just shadows floating around, so Kevin went to clean it and when he pulled the fish out, he called us in. We were all rather shocked. The goldfish were no longer orange–they were white. They looked like those creatures you see on nature shows, the ones living in underground caverns that have never seen the light of day. They looked just like those creatures of the dark, except for their little black eyes. It was kind of creepy, but we got used to it.

When we went to Australia, we plopped a ten-day feeder in the tank, wished the fish good luck, and left. As soon as we got back  we checked on them. Whew! Alive. Only something wasn’t quite right. Lightning’s eyes seemed to be kind of sluffing off. Like, a whole bunch of scales around them were shedding in a horror-movie kind of way. Anyone who was curious to see what it looked like when your eyes melt off your face was unable to eat dinner that night.

The next day, we looked in on Lightning and it was like a magic trick had happened. POOF! Where did Lightning’s eyes go? Because they were no longer on Lightning’s person. His eyeballs had FALLEN OUT.

Rocco immediately diagnosed him. “He probably just has the flu.” Yes, because when you get the flu, it is perfectly normal for your EYEBALLS to FALL OUT. Good thing we all got flu shots this year! The boys wanted to take the fish to the vet. Kevin said, “Oh, Dr. Toilet? Let me see if she’s available.”*

So instead, Kevin went to the pet store to see if there were any magical fish eyeball regrowing flakes we could sprinkle in the water. He came back with a good news/bad news kind of thing. “Bad news,” he said. “Fish cannot regrow eyeballs.” Awwwww, we sympathized. “Good news!” he said. “Fish don’t actually need eyes to live a happy and fulfilling life.” Yay! we cheered.

And then Kevin asked us if we had any idea where Lightning’s eyeballs might be. No; none of us had any idea. Kevin said, “Most likely, they are in King Bob’s stomach.” Yes, it is quite probable that King Bob ATE the eyeballs off of Lightning. Or the eyeballs fell out and King Bob ate them off the ground. I mean, I guess it’s possible that Lightning ate his own eyeballs off the bottom of the tank, but it would have been tricky, since he wouldn’t have been able to see  his eyeballs. King Bob probably used his two beautifully attached eyeballs to eat Lightning’s eyes. The jerk.

So, for those of you who were looking for an excuse to skip dinner tonight, here is a picture of Lightning, the NotVeryGoldfsh, living a happy and fulfilling life.

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Let me tell you, I’m glad I’m not the one who has to sleep in the same room as this thing.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken noodle soup
Crusty bread

*Technically, he said, “Let me see if he’s available,” but I am working on fixing society’s gender stereotypes problem, one sentence of one blog post at a time.

Leo, the Author

Leo wrote a book at school and came home all excited, wanting me to submit it. “Wouldn’t it be funny,” he said, “if my book got published on the first try and you’ve had, like, FIVE rejections.” (I didn’t correct him on the FIVE part.) Yes, I agreed, that would be freaking hilarious.

I thought I’d post a little summary and a review of this manifesto for you so you can see the author’s complete control of the craft. Caution: spoiler alerts below.

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In Boat, a penguin named MeowMeow is“happy, kind, and misunderstood.” She accidentally takes a boat to Hawaii, does a bunch of random sh** that has absolutely nothing to do with getting lost, then in the last line seems to remember the whole point of the story and “siald a boat home.” The end.

Here’s my review of the book:

Boat is the story of a penguin named MeowMeow who gets lost in Hawaii and must find her way back home. While the plot left several story lines dangling and was confusing at times, the ending was wholly satisfying. Boat draws readers in with an intriguing beginning, though MeowMeow does not actually seem “misunderstood” as events unfold. The book could use additional editing, as MeowMeow seems to board the same boat twice without ever getting off in the final 10% of the book.

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On the bright side, the artwork of Boat takes a minimalist approach, leaving plenty of room for readers to add their own interpretations and also hair. MeowMeow the Penguin’s resemblance to a human with a sick mustache shows the artist’s ability to not conform to industry standards of penguin beauty. For this alone, Boat is worth at least a skim-read.

***

Leo wants me to type up his story and submit it today. He said he’s going to work an author’s note this morning–he’s that confident it will get picked up. Meanwhile, on the other side of the kitchen table, I have taken a break from submitting my picture books because I’m so sure of the opposite.

Today I will try to channel my inner Leo, or perhaps my inner MeowMeow, and write as if I am God’s greatest gift to literacy ever.

Or at least, God’s second greatest gift.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Salmon chowder
Bread
Roasted asparagus.

Addendum:
After I published this post, I felt actually really bad about it and decided to add this addendum: Leo’s book is actually a super sweet story that makes way more sense than I may have made it seem.  I was actually super impressed by it—the plot is about how the penguin is having fun but still missing home, Leo includes a bunch of onomatopoeias, and MeowMeow is freaking adorable.

There. Now I feel better. But I’m not deleting that stuff on top because it’s funny, and it’s also kind of true.

Sydney, Part: The Last

And now, for the pretty. Here are some of my favorite shots from Australia, where we each left a little piece of our hearts. Some day we’ll have to return to reclaim them.

Requisite shot of the Sydney Opera House and a fun fact: the guy who designed it had a falling out with the people who built it and never visited it once finished.

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A relatable picture:

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Watson’s Bay lighthouse:

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View from the lighthouse:

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The beach that was just one down from the nude beach:

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One of the million shots I took of the city:

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Okay two of the million shots:

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Tall ship (and not at all a thinly veiled attempt to sneak in a shot of the city):

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The two children who were not having a temper tantrum at the Botanic Gardens:

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Glamour shots of three boys and one koala:

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Me and mah boys:

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Mandatory journaling (There are certain drawbacks to having a former English teacher for a mom. And “You’ll thank me later” means nothing to them.):

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At the zoo:

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The finally, the boys’ favorite sight to see in Sydney:

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It’s hard to be home when that’s where we were. I’d easily jump on another 16 hour flight today if someone told me I could go back. As it is, I’m walking around a little teary-eyed and sometimes a lot teary-eyed, back home where I have so many expectations for myself. It’s back to writing; back to the impossible; back to falling short of my goals on a daily or hourly basis. I wish I could always be Vacation Me.

WHAT’S COOKING 2NITE:
Pancakes
Scrambled eggs
Bacon

Directionally Challenged

Still on the Australia thing…

So I went into the week knowing that it was going to be directionally challenging for me at the beginning but thinking that by the end of it, I’d be better at finding my way around. I mean, you can only go up when you start off at the bottom. At least, I think it was the bottom. Like I said, I’m not good with directions.

But as it turns out, I did not get any better. I’d enter a destination on my phone, study the little blue arrow, point myself in the right direction, and promptly head in the wrong direction. Vincenzo took to following alongside me with a map on his own phone, politely telling me each time I turned that it should have been the other way and on the next street. Leo tried to take my phone any time I opened up Google maps. I began asking Rocco how to get places, even though he had no map at all.

Here’s my theory on why I get lost so much. I think I’m actually living in a reality that looks almost exactly like Earth, only everything is off by one street. It’s close enough that I think I’m on everyone else’s planet, but I’m really not. It would also explain the whole Train Station Debacle of last Monday.  (Just to clear myself of that one, let me quote one some reviews of Town Hall station: “Very difficult station to navigate for non-locals.” “very mazelike,: and “Terrifying when crowded. Am surprised there aren’t fatalities here.”)

It’s not like I didn’t learn anything about finding my way around over the week, though, and I will share my lessons and advice here for those who also may be living in that alternate reality with me.

1. Book a room in the tallest hotel in town. Try to keep that hotel in sight wherever you go.
2. Make sure roads are not also freeways when you cross them.
3. Sometimes when you think you are going forward, you are actually going backward (which is good to know for life in general).
4. Even so, do not question the blue arrow. DO NOT QUESTION IT.
5. Bring a change of clothes, or at least a change of underwear.
6. Bring snacks. When you get lost a lot, you are going to need snacks.
7. And water.
8. Going straight is one of the hardest things you can be asked to do.
9. Crying is not necessary but is sometimes helpful.
10. If it involves a train, it’s best just to stay home.

Our vacation has come to an end, and I didn’t get one ounce better at finding my way.

But I did get much better at being lost.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beef vegetable soup
Salami and cheese plate
Strawberries
Sugar cookies

Sydney Funnies

Leo kept referring to our hotel as our “cabin.” Here’s a picture of our “cabin.”

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I pointed out to the boys that if you switch the first “a” and “o” of this bank, you get RobABank.

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This would have been funny except that Rocco pointed it out to us five times a day every day after that.

Leo takes in the view:

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Leo has also taken up hair twirling again and walks around everywhere with one hand on his head. We joke that he can’t walk very far because his arm gets tired.

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We spent a day at Manly Beach, so named because when Captain Cook landed there, he thought the inhabitants looked very manly. I happened to stumble upon one of the original habitants while there.

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(It’s the guy kneeling down behind Kevin.)

Rocco and Vincenzo working together:

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Rocco and Leo working against each other:

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Rocco, reading the menu: Why are there so many kinds of sprite?

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Leo enjoys some Australian finger food:

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Leo: “Why would anyone name a store ‘Ugg?’”

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(There are as many Ugg stores in Australia as there are Starbucks stores in the U.S.)

We got home last night and after a good, long nap I went to the store to buy about every vegetable they had there. No joke—Leo asked, “What’s a vegetable?” As hard as it was to leave Sydney, maybe it’s a good thing we’re home.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Stir fry and rice (I never made it last night because we all felt rather bloated and hungover from our 21-hour journey fueled only by plane food)

Solo Flight in Sydney

Monday was the first day Kevin went to work and I went out in the city with just the boys, which caused great worry among the ranks. Imagine the most directionally-challenged person you know. Now put a bag on their head, put them halfway across the globe, stick a map in their hand, and assign them three children. That’s what Monday was going to be.

Knowing this about myself, I  prepared.  I studied maps, planned routes and back-up routes, had Kevin quiz me on what I’d do if something went wrong at each point, made pie graphs and Venn diagrams of the day’s plans. I prepared for the worst.

Things only ended up slightly worse than that.

The plan: to make it to the Sydney Opera house for the 9:00 tour then stroll through the Botanic Garden, find a charming place for lunch, take the train home, and be poolside by 2.

We left the room with 15 minutes built into the schedule, just in case. But once we got to the ground floor, we had to go back up to the room to get the bag we left up there, leaving us with just 12 minutes to spare. That’s okay. I can work with that.

We started toward the pier. I double checked timing on my phone and I realized the ferry we planned to take was going to get us to the Sydney Opera House 8 minutes late, which I somehow hadn’t realized before. My back-up plan training clicked in. No problem! We’ll take the trains!

The concierge pointed us to some stairs across the way and told us we just go straight until we get to the Town Hall Station.

Here’s how that played out.

train route

Our extra 12 minutes had whittled down to an extra 2 minutes by the time we reached the station, and huge drops of sweat started running down my neck. Unfortunately, none of my plans involved packing a change of clothes.

At the station we had to find platform 6, which may as well have been platform 9-3/4 because it DID NOT EXIST and everyone was on their Monday morning commutes and appeared to be in a different dimension than us. I tried asking a couple people for help but either they didn’t speak English or I wasn’t speaking English anymore, and I got no answers. I pulled the boys this way and that, forging through rivers of people and telling the kids NOT TO TALK TO ME RIGHT NOW!!!

But if you put enough monkeys in a room they’ll write Shakespeare, and so it was that we somehow found The Platform that Does Not Exist.

Unfortunately, on Platform 6 there were also Signs that Did Not Exist. Trains everywhere, but not a single freaking sign. No signs! No numbers! I blacked out for a minute and when I came to, I knew which train was ours. I don’t know how I knew. Maybe someone whispered it to me. Maybe it was somewhere in my ancestral DNA. But somehow, I figured out which train and marched the boys toward it. Here’s what happened inside my head as we got closer to its doors.

Wait—is this our train? Maybe. It might be. It probably is. Right? Yes, it definitely is..Or is it that other one?  “PLEASE STAND BACK, DOORS ARE CLOSING.”  Oh crap! Already? It’s okay. I’m sure this is our train. Yes. I’m sure of it.  But I’m never right about these things! So maybe we should choose the other one?! Oh Toto, what should we do?!  “PLEASE STAND BACK, DOORS ARE CLOSING!”

At which point I grabbed all three boys’ hands in one of mine and yanked them on the train, leaving most of my hair and one of Leo’s arms on platform 6.

Now, are you ready for the surprise ending?

It was the right train!

I went through the same mental gymnastics when we got to the station I thought we should, maybe shouldn’t, definitely shouldn’t, probably should get off at and lo! The opera house rose before us like a vision!

It was a 9 minute walk and we had 8 minutes to get there but we were full of hope and confidence after successfully getting on the right train and off at the right station. We raced up those stairs like we were in the finale of a romcom movie, trying to catch the plane and profess our love to the girl who most certainly will forget us if we miss that plane. We ran up those stairs, ready to grasp our happy ending and shout HURRAH to the world below!

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Alas, there was no happy ending to be had. The doors were locked. The plane took off without us. And with no kindness or understanding, the clock chimed 9:01.

(It’s true, clocks don’t normally chime 9:01, but I swear, somewhere nearby a clock very loudly chimed 9:01.)

So we casually walked down the stairs, found the right entrance, and bought tickets to the 9:30 tour. I know, a total fizzle-out ending for such a heart-stopping saga, and one might wonder why I even panicked in the first place if there are tours every half hour throughout the day, but there you have it. We can’t always explain these things.

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The rest of the day went pretty well, except that the boys ate the day’s worth of snacks in our first 15 minutes and then were immediately hungry for lunch. At 9:15. So the Botanic Garden turned into The Whiny Walk of Wrong Turns until we found the first place we came to, which of course was McDonald’s. (I personally think all the M’s should be W’s down here, but it’s not up to me.) Not exactly a“charming place for lunch” but it was unusually small for the amount of people in it, so there was that.

We made it back to the hotel’s pool by 3:00, which isn’t bad, considering. Kevin checked in to make sure we all survived the day.

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Yep!  I texted. I still have both the kids!

Tomorrow, I decided, we are only going to visit places from which we can still see our hotel.