Monday, June 30, 2008

I'm busy writing my novel...

...and I hope you're busy writing your teenage mayhem stories for the "what your mom didn't know didn't hurt her" comments confessional! Come on, pretty, pretty please?

*stomps foot* I wanna hear more stories!

(psst...I accept anonymous comments!)

It's not like your mom is reading this blog!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Your Secrets are Safe with Me! (And the rest of the Blogosphere!)

I started writing a young adult book a few days ago that starts with the line:

"Looking back, of course Max could see that taking Miss Desmond’s silver Audi for a joyride instead of taking his fourth period history final was a bad idea."

Max isn't a bad kid, but he's a little impulsive, and he likes that thrill you get when doing something you really, really shouldn't be doing.

My friend Shana read the first two chapters and emailed me a hilarious story about sneaking out and stealing her parents' van that got me thinking on my own escapades as a teen, some of which my parents never knew about. Now, I just told my mom yesterday not to worry, go ahead and read my blog, don't be scared, so I probably won't be sharing any of the juicy ones here. (Don't worry, Mom. I always joked with my friends that you were such a light sleeper that if I put one toe on the floor in the middle of the night, you would instantly say, "What's the matter, Liss?" We never even thought about sneaking out of your house!)

Still, I have lots of memories of stupid things I have done, things that afterward seemed like a reeeaallly bad idea. Even when I didn't get caught, which was truly most of the time, I sometimes looked back on the situation and thought, "God, what if..."

OK, I'll tell one example. (Mom, you might want to stop reading and come back for one of the cute posts with pics of the grandkids...I swear it's normally quite safe!)

So my friend and I took a dance class every Monday night. Ballet was the first hour, then we had a break, and then jazz and tap classes for the second hour. Not everyone took the classes in the second hour, or sometimes people only stayed for ballet or whatever. So L and I thought it would be a great idea to skip the second hour one evening and go see what kind of trouble we could get into waltzing around downtown in our spandex clothes. Let's just say it was plenty. We ended up at this apartment where the only thing I clearly remember was there was a little girl running around in her pajamas yelling "Frick my Bic" while she flicked a Bic lighter and this guy (who was about five years older than us) playing tug-o-war with a pit bull while offering us shots of whiskey.

As a parent, I would FREAK. THE. HELL. OUT. if I caught my kids in such a place at age fourteen or whatever, with their black eyeliner and their fishnets and their high-top shoes. (That attire on my sons could possibly make me freak out anyway, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it!) My point is, there are a lot of baaaaad things that can happen to kids, and it's so freaking amazing, given the stuff I know you all did growing up, that the bad stuff doesn't happen more often. any good stories about the crazy things your parents never knew you were up to? The confessional is in the comments!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Monkey Business

I realize that I write an awful lot about my older son, and not as much about the little one. That's not because I love him more, although that's what Jabber told me this afternoon. (See, here I go again.)

Part of it is just the fact that he's verbal and provides so much more entertainment, and I suppose the other part is that I've got more years of stories about him. But, in the interest of fairness, I will now tell you five fun facts about my youngest son.

1. He has very strange eating habits. For instance, today we were out in the sandbox, which had numerous containers filled up with rainwater. Great for mud-making, you know. So Monkey takes a fistful of mud and begins to eat it! Now, most kids will get a mouthful of sand, spit it out, and that will be that. Not Monkey. He actually enjoys eating mud.

He doesn't enjoy eating asparagus, we found out yesterday. He does, however, enjoy carrying a stalk of asparagus around the house taking bites out of it, which he then spits on the floor. When I try to take the asparagus away from him, he has a mini-tantrum. So instead, I just follow him around picking up bits of half-chewed vegetables. We need to get a dog.

2. He has had about 412,000 head injuries. At first, we contemplated making him wear a helmet all the time, but lately we have been thinking about an entire suit made of bubble wrap. Just this week, he got two goose-eggs on his forehead from falling on the sidewalk and a cut down the side of his face from when his big brother dropped him on his head. Unfortunately, he still has not had the sense to grow some hair to cover up the evidence.

3. He has recently learned to talk like a duck. This one doesn't require much explanation, but it may help to know that his grandpa, my dad, talks like a duck so much that my children refer to him as "Papa Duck." I'm not sure if Jabber actually knows his real name.

4. He is an exuberant colorer. Crayons, fingerpaints, Sharpie. There isn't an art material Monkey isn't willing to give a try, and unlike his brother at this age, he doesn't like to conform to the "only on the paper" rule. Yesterday we colored at the dining room table. Monkey colored on the dining room table. His favorite colors are bold and dark, and he covers the entire page with color. Yesterday he was in love with the color black.

5. He really enjoys having a bucket on his head. Yeah, just about any kind of bucket will do. He could be having a complete melt-down, but pop a plastic bucket on his head, and he's instantly giggling. He navigates the house pretty well with his head covered, too, and it actually keeps him from getting some more head injuries.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Well, that's different. Why didn't you say so?

Today Jabberwock insisted on bringing a wooden jewelry box to daycare.

"Please be careful with that box, honey. We got it from Grandma Maggie, and it's pretty special to me. I'm not sure if it should be just a box for toys."

He looked at me with utter disdain. "It's not for toys, Mom." His tone conveyed nothing but contempt for someone who would carry around toys in a wooden box.

"Well, what are you keeping in there, then?"

"My notebooks," he said.

Well. That's a totally different story. Carry on, little writer man!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the...Ugh-ly

A mixed bag today.

On the good team: (ooh, I think this is my first time with the bullets!)
  • I started a new novel yesterday, and I'm really in love with the concept and characters so far. The plot arc is slowly emerging from the depths of my subconscious or wherever the hell these things come from, and the first chapter is written. Genre is young adult realistic fiction, and my protagonist is a fifteen-year-old boy. If it's any good, it should be marketable. (At least, if it doesn't take me five years to finish like my first novel did!)
  • I sent out five more queries for my first novel, so I'm just plugging away at the list, taking care of business.

  • Jabber and I went to see his very first movie today, like at the movie theater. We went to see The Spiderwick Chronicles, which was fun and scary and even got me a little teary-eyed when the boy and his mother have their emotional breakthrough moment. Jabber got a little promotional book or two in his Lucky Charms, so we read it out loud as a family, and he loved it. He promised not to be scared, but I had to admit that I was a little nervous when the goblins started popping out all over the place, so he was nice enough to let me hold his hand. And then he was even more generous and allowed me to have him sit on my lap.
  • After the initial bathroom sink-trap excavation session onTuesday night, David dredged up the medicine dropper (both parts) that Monkey had stuck down the drain. However, the drain was still a bit sluggish, and then this morning I turned my back for five seconds to set out Jabberwock's clean underwear, and Monkey "dropped" his toothbrush down the hole. So once again, we (and by we I mean David, with the help of any kids I couldn't keep contained) pulled out the trap and started fishing around with a variety of tools, some commercially prepared for the job and others fashioned out of a metal coat hanger. The prize was a plastic bolt from a toy toolbox, and of course one nasty ass race car toothbrush. And, a drain that flows freely. As Monkey would say, "Ta DA!" Until tomorrow.
  • Last good for today would be these two pictures that show just how much fun a four-year-old can have in about five inches of water.

The Bad
  • We're all a little disappointed this evening. David got an offer for this job he's been interviewing for and whatnot, and they didn't want to pay him more than he's making right now. With the change in hours, we would end up with the boys in daycare for about twenty-five more hours a week, and that's just impossible on the same salary. So, even though he really likes the place and the work, he can't accept the position, not for a whole lot more pay. We figured it out, and even without taking into consideration the cost of gas, he'd need about six dollars more per hour. There are still some negotiations on the table, so who knows. But still, it's disappointing.

  • Here's a picture of Monkey NOT enjoying the swimming pool. I don't know if it's the hand-me-down swim vest from Jabber's pink and purple period that isn't doing it for him, or if he's just against the whole concept of swimming, but he is clearly not happy. OH, wait. It could have been the TWENTY MINUTE nap today. Yeah, we'll file that one under Bad.

And last, we have The Ugh-ly:

Balancing the checkbook and paying the bills. Excuse me while I have an anxiety attack. Or, I could just keep on blogging!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I wish I would have taken a picture, but alas. I took the digital camera out of my purse last night to post the picture of Jabber giving me the "I'm not going to listen to you" look, and I forgot to put it back before our trip to the library.

So you'll have to use your imagination, and I'll have to use my mad descriptive skills. So we went to library story time today, and Jabberwock picked out his own clothes. On top, a bright orange T-shirt with glittery dinosaur creatures on it. I think one of them was eating the other, and I'm not even sure they are real dinos, but that just goes to show how much I know. Luckily, Jabber knows All About Dinosaurs, so he's all good with that.

The T-shirt is a long one, an inheritance from his best big boy buddy who always gives him cool hand-me-downs. (His SpongeBob SquarePants BOXER SHORTS were also from this friend, and I swear I can barely get them off his little cheeks to wash them before he's got them back on again!) So the shirt is long, hanging waaaaayyy down, almost past the bottom of his little navy blue uniform shorts (also from big buddy J).

Beneath his dress of a shirt, his skinny legs protrude, covered with huge mosquito bites and the usual eczema patches. Plus about a zillion bruises, just par for the course here with summer. So far, he's looking pretty much like his normal self.

Until you get to the shoes and socks--black shiny tuxedo shoes with tall black socks, pulled all the way up to just below his knobby little knees. What a sight!

He did get quite a few comments about his cool shoes, although also quite a few raised eyebrows. He's an original!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bungling the Playful Parenting...or am I?

Have I mentioned I've been reading Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen? Heh. Well, there are an awful lot of really insightful things I'd like to write about my thoughts on this book, and I hope I'll get to it later, but currently I'm having a little tiny bit of difficulty, since I'm simultaneously blogging and singing along to Thomas and Friends: Songs from the Station, Play-a-Song book and trying to keep Monkey downstairs long enough to allow David to take the trap out of the bathroom sink to remove a medicine dropper that Monkey just threw down the sink. I think it's funny that Thomas sings the song we sang every week in Girl Scouts, "Make New Friends." I don't remember this last verse, though, so maybe it's a special train verse?

Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver
And the other is gold.

A wheel is round,
It has no end.
That's how long
I want to be your friend.

Oops. I just let Monkey slide through my grasp, and now he's up there "helping." I just heard David sigh. This is why I cannot write while the boys are awake, I guess.

Still, I'm going to tell a couple of things I've been doing to try to implement some of the ideas of Cohen's Playful Parenting. It's not easy, and I think I'm still only a slightly more playful parent than your average wicked stepmother or evil sorceress or ruler-wielding nun, but I'm making progress.

First, if you don't know me in person, I'm a pretty nice person overall (and those of you who do know me, you just keep yer mouths shut!) I have a lot of patience usually with people, especially with hordes of hormonal middle school people who are, to say the least, very trying on the patience. Sure, there is a definite line that can be crossed, as any of my students could tell you (but they won't, if they know what's good for them!), and I have my days where I'm feeling pretty cranky and pissy (no comments, please, Mom!), but overall, I'm nice.

Nice, nice, nice. Minnesota nice. Please and thank you nice. Jabberwock, sweetheart, please stop spinning the chair into the wall for the thousandth time nice. Gentle hands, Monkey, nice. Use your polite voice to ask me nice. Please don't unplug Mama's computer and lose all her work for the second time, baby nice. Please, pretty please with sugar on top, help me to pick up all these toys nice.

That's when it happens. Jabberwock looks at me and says, "No. You pick 'em up."

I'm still mostly nice. A little annoyed, my arms full of scattered toys, but I just give him a look and say, "Why is it that you get to do all the playing, and I have to do all the cleaning up?"

And then he trips my trigger, just like that with these sassy little words: "'Cause you're the mom. That's your job."

I then learn that I am not a playful parenting master. I am not even an apprentice. A playful parent would have giggled then. "Oh was that on the job description?" Maybe bumbled the job really badly, like trying to put the matchbox cars in the freezer and the package of Go Fish cards in the aquarium, until the giggling little Jabber would have stepped in to help out this foolish idiot adult who cannot even clean up properly.

Nope. That occurs to me now, in the calm sea of my mindspace once the children are tucked into their beds and Mama has had a good workout and a nice, hot shower. (Yes, I took a little break from writing in the middle there.)

In the moment, I make ridiculous idle threats ("Maybe I'll just throw them all in the garbage then!") and do a lot of scary yelling. David shushes Jabber to keep him from poking the tiger while we all clean up the house, and then I decide to try again for connection by taking Jabber out for a walk. My original plan had been to give David a break by taking both boys to the playground, but at this point, even with some deep breathing, I am not mentally able to accept that challenge, so it's just the two of us.

I'm still pissed, though, and having a lot harder time "reconnecting" with Jabberwock than he is. His mouth is going a mile a minute, oblivious to my anger or trying to smooth it over the best he can, but I am seething, stomping down the sidewalk, still thinking about how unappreciated I feel. Grrr.

Then, it hits me. Ohhhhhh, yeah. I am tired of being like this. I was reading a book. Yes, yes, it's all coming back to me. A parenting book about being playful. Well, shit. I guess I screwed that one up.

"Hey, Jabber," I say, taking his sweaty little hand. "I'm still having a hard time not being upset with you."


"I don't want to feel like this."


Hmmm. This isn't quite working. "Let's pretend that you're the Daddy and I'm the little girl, and I keep misbehaving."

Jabberwock looks up at me quickly, his eyebrows raised. He starts to skip a little. "OK! I'll be the Dad, and you're my daughter. wouldn't clean up your toys."

"So what should we do about it?"

"We should go to the playground!" He's giggling as he speaks, unable to believe that he's actually getting to be the grown-up, that he's going to bring us to the playground, despite all the chaos in our wake.

"But I was misbehaving, so I don't know if I should go to the playground." I drag on his hand, acting ashamed of myself.

"But, Daughter," he says, playing along beautifully, "that's why we have to go to the playground!"

"Because I wasn't being very nice?"

"Yes! Because there will be all kinds of things to play at the playground, and you'll be able to run around and get all those misbehavings out of you. So then you wouldn't have them anymore, and we could go home and be nice together."

Wow! I'm fairly certain that I could ask him why he was being stubborn about picking up his toys or why he was rude to me or whatever at least seven thousand times, and he would never in a million years be able to tell me that it was because he was bored and restless from knocking around the house all afternoon. I knew he needed to get out and run; that's why it was my plan to go as soon as the dishes were done and the house put back together again.

Now if only I could see all this when it was happening, instead of here in my bloggy sphere of peacefulness.

The best part, though, and proof that I'm at least on my way to being that lovely PP apprentice? When we got to the playground, Jabber went down the twirly slide, one that usually makes him a little nervous. He wants someone to catch him at the end, but he doesn't want to feel like a baby who needs someone to catch him at the end, so I always hang out at the end of the slide and say, "I'm going to get you!" kinds of things so he knows I'm there. He came flying down the slide, and I tagged him, yelled, "You're it!" and started running all around the playground equipment. A little boy said wistfully to his sister, "I wish our mom was like that." Ha! So the next time around, I tagged him!

He looked at me kind of indignantly and said, "Hey! No fair!" But then he got up and chased me, giggling hard. Pretty soon the two siblings and Jabberwock were playing and hanging out and I could go collapse on the sidelines, sweaty and breathing heavily but thankfully no longer angry.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Taking Things Personally!

**pssssttttt...all you lovely visitors from're writers, right? Come on over to my comments confessional and tell me some fun stories about things you did as a teenager that your parents STILL don't know about! I return you now to your regularly scheduled programming...

This seems like a weird thing to get excited about, but today I got a personal rejection from an agent that I queried on my novel! Meaning, not a form letter. Sure, I've had rejections that were addressed "Dear Author," and I've had rejections addressed "Dear Elissa ..." and I've even had one that said something to the effect of, "Your story was intriguing, but..." which at first made me feel good until I found out it was really a form letter, too. A good one, though.

Today's rejection, though, didn't seem like a form letter, and contained the following compliment: "You have a lively literary voice." Which was unfortunately followed by a sad little sentence starting with the word "Alas." If that is a form letter, though, what a nice one!

I did manage to query five more agents today, via email. Sometime soon I've got to spend an evening getting together a batch of snail mail letters, synopses, sample chapters, etc. I'm ready for another mailing. It's a little cumbersome with my lack of a printer for my laptop, so I've got to save to the flash drive, bring it upstairs to the aging (but beautiful and still powerful...just no longer up to date on her soft and hardware!) Mac for printing duty.

The email queries are nice, but of course they, too, have their clumsy points, such as the fact that I feel I must save each letter as simple text and paste into my email, hoping the formatting comes out somewhat close to normal after it is broken up into a bazillion tiny bits of code and shuttled across the world (well, the country anyway) to some poor, overworked agent's assistant's cluttered email box.

I have a little bit of trouble with the agents who have an online submission form instead of taking query letters. These can be a little troublesome to me, since I spend all this time fussing and tinkering with each word, each comma, each snappy little compound adjective in my query letter, and then I am asked to break it all up into bits and paste it into little electronic boxes.

It's been a long time, though, since I have felt this good about getting rejected. My very first writing group, Doreen and Shaedra, used to celebrate each rejection notice with a little party. Doreen would break out a bottle of sparkling something or other, and maybe we would finger paint or make a collage or just go swing really high on the swingset under the freeway. We celebrated because a rejection letter means you really put it out there--you braved the publishing world and came back with a little bit of proof of your journey. That's why I still save all the letters, even the "Dear Author" ones. And why it feels so unfinished to type "no response" into my spreadsheet instead of "rejected."

Best of all, I've still got four more queries out there for today--four more chances for success. Tomorrow, maybe I'll get to five more. Even better, while I was sweating along on the elliptical this evening, out of nowhere came the whisper of a first sentence of my next short story. Now all I have to do is wait and listen, and the rest of the story will come. Hang on, world, my lively literary voice is getting primed for action!

Not Making Cents

Jabberwock is sorting his money into piles: pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. We are talking about each of those coins being worth different amounts, and at first he was completely baffled by that. "What does that mean, it's worth twenty-five cents?" he asked. We counted together up to twenty-five. I showed him a pile of twenty-five pennies and we talked about how they were the same as one quarter.

He gave me that look, you know the one. Like, "Who are you trying to fool, Mom?"

I am remembering lectures from developmental psychology involving pouring water from different sized containers, how kids without abstract reasoning cannot understand a short, fat cup holding more than a tall, skinny one.

We played around with the coins a little bit more, with me introducing the concept of counting by tens when we counted the dimes. Jabber's little brow wrinkled with confusion, or maybe it was contempt. "Mom! You're not doing it right!" He pointed to each of the dimes and very seriously counted off, "One, two, three, four, five."

"Yeah, exactly!" I said. "But each one is worth ten cents, so we have to count them by tens. See? Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty!"

A puzzled silence. Then, in a small voice, "Why would you want to do that?"

"So you can count your money. So you know how many dollars you have."

Jabberwock looks relieved. "Oh, that's easy, Mom. I don't have ANY dollars. Just cents."

I am still not getting it that he's not getting it. "Ha, ha. But these cents make dollars, don't you know? Here, let's try counting by tens again."

Jabber scoops his hand across all the piles, quickly mixing all the coins. "You know what I want to practice?" he asks.

"What's that?"

"Dumping my coins into this container. I'm really good at that, Mom."

Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn't attempt to teach math, hey?

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I just did something possibly stupid. Possibly brave. Or possibly just a non-issue. I emailed a copy of my current novel query letter to the blog of the Query Shark to be possibly critiqued. It may make me feel like an idiot. Or it may give me some really valuable advice. Or it may make me so angry I write a much better query letter. Or it may not even get critiqued. Anyway, I'll keep you posted!

Now I'm off to work on my new short story, getting it all ready to submit. Also, I'm going to spend some time searching through Agent Query and updating my handy little color-coded spreadsheet, making a list of agents I'm going to query next. So far, I'm getting a nice little collection of rejection slips/emails, but that's okay. I know it's normal to get rejected a lot, and given the fact that agents are often receiving upwards of 100 queries a week or more, I don't feel like it's that personal, either. Still, I feel like I've been writing and revising my query letter so many times I can't quite tell if I'm currently making it better or worse, so I thought why not? I'll give the Query Shark a chance to pick it apart. Janet's critique doesn't scare me as much as the comments thread, though. Eek.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Six Hour Shopathon

For some women, six hours of clothes shopping might be fun. Entertaining. Enjoyable.

For me, the mere thought of traversing the mall makes me break out in hives. But when Mom calls and wants some help picking out some summer work shirts, of course I agree to go along. After all, spending time with Mom is nice, and besides, she sounded so desperate. Since it was past 8:00 pm when she called last night with the idea, it was a surprise to David when I finally rolled out of bed this morning. Surprise! The kids are all yours this morning. Just a couple of hours, though, no biggie.

Six hours later we arrived back at home, finding the house more or less intact and David's left eye only a little wiggly and twitchy. Both boys were accounted for, and neither of them had any major bruising or emergency room stickers. I, on the other hand, had about the worst headache ever and a new pair of jeans, that Mom bought me. I also had the experience of looking at, discussing, and doing a complex materials check on each and every women's shirt for sale in this city. The materials check was important, since it seems that this summer the material of choice for dressy tops is linen, which turns into a big ol' wrinkly mess as soon as you so much as breathe on it. So we did a lot of, "Oh, this one is cute. Wait, let's see how it holds up to this." Then we would grasp a chunk of the shirt tightly in one hand for a bit and check out the wrinkle factor.

Personally, wrinkles don't really bother me. I know I have an iron, but I'm not sure exactly where it is. But Mom takes the wrinkles a bit more seriously. So once a shirt passed the wrinkle test, the next thing we had to determine was whether or not this particular shirt would make a woman with an average body shape look approximately six months pregnant. An awful lot of the shirts did not pass this second test. Finally, before a shirt could make its way into the fitting room, it had to pass the "But is it too low cut?" Mom test. And of course, there was the hysterical "Does it look like I'm wearing bananas for sleeves?" test. I don't pay a whole heckuva lot of attention to the world of fashion, but there's some seriously strange sleeve-work going on out there, let me tell you.

When all that was said and done, we still had to try not to get anything green or lavender, since Mom said everything she already owns is one of those two colors. Then we had to avoid blue, too, 'cause everything she bought at the first two stores was some shade of blue.

I'm sorry, did you get a headache just reading about it?

I did have fun hanging out with my lovely mother, and she did buy me lunch and a pair of jeans. (I happened to tell her that the jeans I was wearing were my only pair, which they were, and that they didn't currently have a button, since it fell off one day and I'm too sewing-impaired to fix it. I think Mom was slightly appalled that I was walking around in public with unbuttoned jeans. No worries, Mom. These hips can hold up anything!)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Date-Night Demise

I was so proud of the way I had organized daycare for the summer this year because it seemed like I was arranging things to allow everyone to have that luxury, time. So Monday mornings, both boys are going to daycare, allowing Mama to write. Tuesday mornings, Jabber goes to daycare, allowing Monkey and Mama to go to Mothersong and hang out together. Wednesdays everyone is together, ready to go to the beach or library story time or whatever fun events we can cook up for ourselves. Thursday, Monkey goes to daycare so Jabberwock and I get some time to ourselves. And the part I was most excited about? Friday afternoon Date-Night, when both boys would go to daycare in the afternoon, and David and I would have four precious hours to ourselves!!! (OK, I realize it's not night, but Date Afternoon sounds a little less titillating, you know?)

Today is Friday. The boys are at daycare. Why am I sitting alone in my living room blogging and stuffing my face with jelly beans instead of hiking Hawk's Ridge or watching Indiana Jones or any of the other ideas we've been entertaining all week?
Because David's on a job interview. A job interview for a job which would require him to work regular hours, which would mean that our Friday Afternoon Date-Night would no longer be an option.

Drat and double sigh, because I typed a huge entry here, with lots of very deep philosophical questions answered comprehensively and stunningly beautiful prose that would have brought tears to your eyes and made you beg for an encore. Then I tried to add some photos, and I lost the whole shebang when my computer crashed. Then I thought I'd go back yet again to my Dell wish list and click Add to My Cart, but alas, the computer was really, really crashed. Then David came home, positively glowing with prospects of this new job possibility, and we decided (unwisely) that hey, we could still make it to see Indiana Jones, what the heck. Off we went.

Fast forward to the lead-in to what has to be the climax of the movie. I look at my cell phone and see, oops! We were supposed to pick the boys up from daycare in two minutes. On top of that, apparently I'm the kind of parent who leaves her kids with someone and doesn't add that someone's phone number to her cell phone. Niiice.

Reluctantly, we leave Indy and company in the midst of armrest-clutching tension and jump into the van. We then get (minorly) lost trying to find a road that cuts across town to the other side where daycare is. David notices, as we reach approximately the exact middle of nowhere, that the fuel light is on. Eek.

So went our very first (and probably last, by the sounds of that interview; David goes in next week to work a few hours on a trial basis) Friday Afternoon Date Night (afternoon). I can't say it was just like it was when we were young and free, but the hugs at the end of it all were pretty sweet, too. The screaming all the way home in the car seat wasn't so hot, though.

All right, now I'm going to attempt to post the pictures from yesterday when Jabberwock and I started on his bedroom mural. At his request, we're converting three sections of wall on one side of his room to a Minnesota wilderness landscape. There's a sketch there of the four of us in our happy little canoe, a moose taking a swim, and soon there will be a black bear cub up in that tree. The tree will turn into a Norway pine, once I look at a few real Norway pines so I can get the branches and needles just right.

All in all, this week worked out really nicely...a completed short story, a mural started, a Mothersong adventure, library story time, and even a bit of a date with my wonderful husband. What could be better? :)


Didn't blog this evening 'cause I was too busy finishing my latest short story! Yay!!!

Now I've got to let it sit a while, revise, and look for a publishing opportunity. I always start with a character, and with this particular story I had to remind myself that it really is okay if the action isn't big big big all the time. And I actually wrote a short story that's really short, not a novella in the making. (It's under 3,000 words, just.) Whee!!!

Now I really must sleep, or tomorrow will be very un-pretty.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


A couple of short funnies from my short little funny one:

Jabber: Mom, whew! That rice milk sure crunched my thirst! It crunched it right up into bits!
Me: It crunched your thirst, huh? When I drink something and I'm really thirsty, I sometimes say that it quenched my thirst.
Jabber: Oh. Well, that's just silly.

A little later.

Jabber: Mom, are there other worlds, than ours?
Me: ... (I'm thinking, I'm thinking...what is he wondering? Is he looking to have a talk about heaven again, and if so, what should I tell him? Is he wondering about other worlds like in a fantasy book, like through the looking glass or Narnia or that wacky island of Sodor where trains talk to each other and make strange faces in elaborate miniature settings? Is he curious about alien life forms or simply taking an astronomical interest in, say, Jupiter?)
Jabber: MOM! I said are there any other worlds than this one?
Me: exactly are you wondering?
Jabber: Well, like there's Disney World, and...are there other worlds?

Still later.

Jabber: Mom! (super excited, dancing in place) I've figured out who I'm going to marry!
Me: Ohhhh? Really?
Jabber: Yeah! Yeah! I'm going to marry Monkey! I love him so much, and we're going to get married, and I'm going to live with him until we die!
Me: Ohhhh? Really?
Jabber: Yeah, when we grow up, Monkey and I are getting married.
Me: Well. Usually people don't marry their brothers or sisters. Usually you marry someone who isn't related to you. If you get married, that is.
Jabber: (devastated) But I want to live with Monkey until we die! I just really really want to! (collapses into a puddle of tears and snot and such)
Me: Come here and hug me, you sweet thing.

Jabberwock really must be working out the difference between life and death lately. He speaks about dying very repetitively, and he's constantly asking questions about "when we die," and "is that like heaven," and when someone is late arriving (according to his measurements of time, anyway), he'll often say, "What if s/he died? I think s/he died."

A couple of weeks ago we were having a playdate (have I mentioned I hate that term; it makes me feel like a socially awkward teenager just typing it!), and the other boy asked me over a picnic lunch, "When did Jabberwock's sister die?"

The other mom looked really uncomforable until I said, "Jabber never had a sister, T. It's just him and Monkey."

Jabber insisted, though. "Yes I did!" he said with considerable passion. "I had a sister and she died. She was older than me." Then he adopted the nana-nana-boo-boo tone of voice and added, "She died before you were even born!" He didn't add the "So there!" but it was clearly implied.

Some of the talk is heartbreaking, like when he told me he hopes I die before his daddy, and some of it is light-hearted, like when he pretends that his toys die and then he brings them back to life. All of it reinforces the fact that the little imagination man is always thinking, always listening, always storing things away in that wonderful brain of his. Just waiting to drag them out at the next opportunity when Mama looks like she's not doing enough at the moment.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Today was everything I love about summer as a mom, and only a little about what drives me crazy about summer as a mom. Jabberwock went to daycare for a couple of hours this morning so that Monkey and I could have some time to be a duo. We sat on the porch swing and read books together, fingerpainted on the front sidewalk, and then we actually followed through on my little plan to go to a gathering called Mothersong, a group of moms, dads, and kiddos who get together and sing fun songs, dance with Playsilks, play instruments, etc.

I am such an introvert that stepping into the completely unfamiliar like this is WAY outside of my comfort zone. I did not really know one thing that I could expect when walking into the room, except that people were going to be singing. I'm not a singer, really. I think my voice is actually okay, and I can stay on key, but my range is seriously like one octave. So any time the song goes up or down significantly, Elissa moves into stealth mode whispersong. But Monkey really likes music, likes to sing in this beautiful little croon, and likes to dance all the time. So we braved it. For the first forty-five minutes or so, Monkey sat on my lap all snuggled up, looking with awe and amazement at all of the kids dancing and shaking their maracas. Very uncharacteristically, he didn't even tap a toe until he decided to nurse a little bit; that seemed to fill him up with confidence and energy, and his little legs were bouncing so much it was difficult to keep him on my lap. Pretty soon he was investigating the room, and he even got a little rough with a couple of kids, pushing one down and snatching a couple of toys. Yeah, you thought this new kid was just a little introvert like his mama, but whoops! Looks like he's a little spitfire!
Jabber even got a chance to do his own fingerpainting and get his own one-on-one time with me, since Monkey fell asleep in the van, and we left him sleeping with the door open, right next to where we were painting.

Later on, went for a short walk with the kiddos, played some more catch in the backyard, even had a massive wrestling match with all four of us, and nobody got hurt. I'm like a Playful Parenting genius.

When we have a schedule, some creative plans, and I don't actually try to get a single thing done for myself or my house, being a stay-at-home-for-the-summer-mom works out okay for me. But I mean that part about not doing a single thing for me or the home. My house looks like an enormous puppy went through it and tugged and shook and knocked things over. At least I don't think there's any poop or pee to be discovered. Now that's something.

On the writing front, I am proud to say that yesterday I wrote a thousand words (pretty good ones, I think) on the short story I'm going to try to get published somewhere, somehow. I tried to work on my agent list, but something malfunctioned on my computer and I couldn't access any of my documents for a long enough time and through two restarts so that when it finally came up again I began to build my own computer over at the Dell website for a bit. I haven't ordered it yet, but then this evening all of a sudden the left mouse button on the laptop stopped working, and I went back over to my wish list and started adding things. We shall see.

I'll leave you this evening with one last image. A couple of evenings ago, the whole family was upstairs, and we noticed that we had lost the baby momentarily. We checked around the upstairs and came to the conclusion that he must have gone back downstairs. Here's what we found. I'm sure he was just getting one for Mama and Dad, right?

more playful parenting

So it's going to sound like my son Jabberwock is kind of a mess, but once again, the best word I can think of for him is "intense." He's smart, witty, wildly imaginative, and he has a flair for the dramatic. He can be "shy," which mainly means that he takes a little while to get used to new situations and people before he jumps right in, but just when I think I've got that figured out, then he gets in a crazy mood and strikes up elaborate conversation with perfect strangers. He seems to have quite a bit of fears and anxieties, but at the same time he can be extremely brave. It's a mixed bag with him, and you just never know what the surprise will be.

So like I said yesterday, I've been reading Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen, and I've also been telling all the relevant (in my opinion) parts to my husband, David. One thing that often frustrates me about Jabber is that he's a perfectionist. If he cannot do something perfectly right, he will not try. This may be why he did not start walking in earnest until he was almost a year and a half. He's always been a bit better at the verbal and intellectual stuff than the physical, and one thing that has been a big challenge to him is throwing and catching a ball. (And kicking, hitting with a bat, you know, all that athletic-type stuff.) I'm not a superhero athlete by any means, but I kind of think that when I was a kid I was influenced to believe that I wasn't athletic by poor phys. ed. teachers and such, and personally it kind of bugs me. So I really want to be encouraging to Jabberwock when it comes to learning how to play sports.

"Hey, Jabber, do you want to play catch?"

"Yeah!!!" He jumps up and down spastically and then runs to find a ball.

"OK, here you go, are you ready?"

He says yes but is holding his arms out ridiculously stiff. He will never catch the ball like that, so I go over there and show him how to relax his arms.

"Now are you ready?"

"I can't do it. I don't want to play." And he goes away.

This is how it has gone for much of the last year or two when it comes to throwing and catching. I try not to over-direct, but it doesn't seem to matter. He always feels like he's not good enough to even try. So in reading Playful Parenting, I find a section about children learning new skills, and how even though we may see them doing an awfully good job for a beginner, what they see is all the mistakes they make in comparison to other people they see doing it. Cohen suggests acting a bit incompetent to make the child feel better. What he actually suggests doing is completely abandoning your dignity and making a fool of yourself until the child is laughing so hard he forgets to worry about his own lack of skills.

So, to set the scene, Lissnkids backyard, half hour before bedtime. Both kids are covered in mud and mosquito bites from emptying buckets of rainwater in the sandbox. Monkey found an old toothbrush we had been using in a Matchbox car wash about a week ago and was dipping it into the "toothpaste" (mud) and "brushing his teeth" (eating the mud). Enter Daddy with a big bouncy ball.

We form a triangle, with Monkey sort of bouncing around inside like a pinball on the loose. I suggest that Jabber throw the ball to Daddy, and then Daddy throw the ball to me, and then I throw the ball to Jabber. You know, the usual triangular set-up. Except, unlike the usual, both Daddy and I are suddenly hugely clumsy oafs when it comes to catching and throwing. Jabber is so busy laughing he forgets to hold his arms out all stiff-like and actually catches the ball most of the time. We all laugh a lot, like when I keep chasing the ball all over the yard, but every time I bend over like I am going to pick it up, I simultaneously kick it farther. These antics go on for about twenty-five more times than my back is happy with, but the laughter was worth it. And I honestly do think that Jabberwock was learning more about catching and throwing AND getting a lot more confident at the same time.

Sheesh. I haven't even had a chance to sneer at this book yet. What a let-down.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Terribly Cute

Here are two silly videos from our Father's Day. Terrible videos, really, taken with my digital camera, but fun. The first one is Jabberwock and his friend J having a moment at the organ. They're already married, you know, and they like to hang out together in the bathroom and poop. J makes Jabber fetch her the TP.

The next one is Monkey's greatest new game...spinning and spinning and then walking around bumping into things. I just love the tongue hanging out of his mouth!

Playful Parenting, with a side of Wish Books

In an earlier post I mentioned the parenting books I have started reading for some reason. I'm about one third of the way through the book Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen. My usual way of reading books is to pick three or four of them and start reading them all more or less at the same time, so that I have different books going to fit my reading mood. So I started with the no-cry discipline solution, but I only got about one chapter in before I was snoozing. I will probably read the book, but I'll say that it didn't grab my attention right away and hold it. It sort of reinforced my feeling about reading parenting books in the first place, which is..."Well, DUH." I start to feel like, "Why am I reading this again? I know how to be a parent."

So the no-cry discipline solution was relegated to the bathroom, where I will honestly read anything, even the shampoo bottles. Although I have not yet been able to read any of David's catalogs. WARNING: Total off-topic tangent, but wtf is with men (people, I guess...I shouldn't make a stereotype just based off of my husband, brother, and five hundred male students I've had, I guess) and spending inordinate amounts of time reading catalogs??? Like, I understand the appeal of a catalog when you're trying to choose something to buy. Maybe you need to make a big purchase, so you start looking around, comparing prices and features. Then you make a choice and you're done. But David will spend hours, weeks, months even poring over catalogs for things that, at least to my knowledge, he has no intention of buying. Camera gear is a huge one. He gets these massively huge doorstops from B&H Photo, and he dog-ears them until the very day the new one arrives. And then it's guns, and target shooting equipment. Remember the Sears Wish Book that you'd mark up with all of your Christmas desires? I guess it's just a continuation of this? Maybe he's hoping that one day I'll see one of these catalogs lying there on an end table and start paging through it. "What's this?" I'll say. "Look at this amazing spotting scope, this terrific telephoto lens, with the circles around them. Why, and look at this advertisement for the Red Ryder BB gun with the compass in the stock. I'll just place my order right now!" Whew. That was quite the tangent. I've got to go and refill my coffee, and then maybe I'll be mentally ready to nail down my thoughts so far on Playful Parenting.

As I've been reading this book, I've been chatting with David all about my thoughts on what I read. The poor guy--I do this with almost every book I read, especially non-fiction. Sometimes I'm sure he wishes he could just NOT be in school for once, but I can't help it. I learn more about things when I discuss it with others. So a few of the things that I have learned from this book so far is that a lot of conflict and crises can be averted in your life with small people by lightening up. I think sometimes we worry (okay, we meaning I) that if I let go a little bit when Jabber and I are power struggling, if I "give in to him," then all chaos will reign, and I will have a little monster on my hands. Rationally, I know from teaching that things work a lot more smoothly when I am willing to joke and laugh with young people--they are more willing to go along with my methods and needs when they see me as someone not afraid to be silly. And we all have more fun in the process. But somehow in parenting my children, this is harder. The stakes are higher, I guess, because these are my small people. I don't get to send these kids home to other people, don't get to blame other factors for their faults.

Another thing that made sense about what Cohen is saying in this book is his metaphor for attachment: a cup that needs filling, a parent as a reservoir. He uses this metaphor to describe various ways that children behave, depending on the state of this invisible cup. This way of thinking has given me a new way of looking at behavior. Jabberwock is an intense child, full of anxieties and dramatics. I feel that our attachment is quite secure, but I know that the arrival of his baby brother 18 months ago has changed something about our ability to connect with each other. There are times when I have found myself at my wits end with him because he's bouncing off the walls, unlistening, and seriously doing everything it seems humanly possible to annoy me. Maybe I can accept Cohen's assertion that what he is really doing is running low on attachment, running around freaking out because his cup is getting low, and in the process sloshing out anything that was left in the bottom. Whatever the case, the current strategy isn't working. We both end up frustrated, and the behavior doesn't stop either.

Reading this book, I get the idea that Cohen, as a psychologist working with play therapy, sees kids that have a lot more difficulties than the average child. From his intense assertions about the importance of play for children to work through all of their aggressions, insecurities, and feelings of disconnection, you can kind of get the idea that children are awfully delicate, at risk for damage, as though they will certainly be screwed up forever if you don't play with them. Getting beyond this sentiment, I started to use some of the strategies with my intense little Jabberwock, and found that it really did make our lives a lot more fun.

An example: Jabber is fearful of heights, moving too fast, and other situations where he feels physically out of control. He is thrilled by a little bit, but it quickly becomes too intense for him, and then he starts to panic. His body becomes rigid with fear, and he forgets to breathe. He got this way on his Grammy's swingset just yesterday, while we were at a Father's Day picnic. Although he has played on a swing many times, this was sufficiently different for him to scare him silly. He was playing with his friend J, a boisterous girl who is a year and a half older than him and fearless and bossy. They wandered off to the swing set alone, and I followed them over when I saw that, while J was gleefully swinging and laughing and acting crazy, Jabberwock was hanging by himself on the edge of the scene, looking doubtful and apprehensive. According to Cohen, this is the place for the parent to join the play, helping the child figure out how to connect.

So I convinced Jabber to get into the smaller swing, the one with a seatbelt like a baby swing. Instead of standing behind him to push him, like I usually do, and leaving him to face his fears alone, I got in front of him, like I do with the baby. "When you were a baby, Jabber, this is how I would push you on the swings. Let's pretend you're the baby and I'm your mom." Then I started to push him gently, and he started to get anxious. "When you were a baby, I'd pretend I was a monster and grab your toes, like this...Gotcha!" I repeated this game a couple of times while he giggled and seemed a little more comfortable in the swing. Slowly, I pushed him a little bit harder.

We continued on like this for a bit, and when the swing was really starting to cook, Jabber became nervous again. "Mom, slow it down!" he said. Normally, my response would have been to immediately help him slow the swing down, help him feel comfortable again, because he was saying that he was nervous, and I didn't know how to help him "get over it" any other way.

"All right, I'll slow you down, just a sec," I said, moving in toward his feet again. But I wondered, if maybe he really wanted to enjoy himself in the middle of this risky business but didn't quite know how to dissipate his nervous feeling. So instead of actually slowing him down, as soon as one of his feet touched me, I made an exaggerated motion backwards and yelled, "WHOA! You almost knocked me over, you're going so fast." He began to giggle, so I kept on playing. (Cohen talks about this game in the book; I had just read it on the drive up. When I read about it, I didn't really ever imagine myself doing it, just to let you know.) "Hang in there!" I shouted. "I'm trying to slow you down!" Again, I flew backward, fake screaming and flailing my arms, as soon as his feet lightly touched me. Jabber's giggling escalated, and all the rigidness of his nervousness disappeared.

"Again, Mom! Try to stop me again!"

This looked like so much fun, that fearless girl J decided she needed in on the action. She grabbed the back of Jabber's swing and started pushing him very wildly and erratically, yelling, "Now try and slow him down! He's going SUPER fast now!" I watched Jabber carefully, but he was still having fun. I continued to fly backward and do silly hand motions, wheeling backwards comedically with every "push." J. tired of pushing and jumped on another swing, calling out for me to push her, too. I told her I was going to try to take off her shoe, and she squealed happily. The swingset was shaking with their laughter.

As usual, though, I started to tire of the game well before the kiddos did. But the purpose was achieved. I gave Jabber one final push, and then on the next swing through, I not only flew backward but took it the next step and "fell" down onto the ground. Monkey happened to be making his way across the yard at that point, and like usual a body on the ground is a body that needs to be tackled, so he started off at a run toward me. When he landed on me with a fit of giggles, Jabberwock decided that he wanted a part of the action. Without a trace of fear, he threw off the belt on his still-moving swing and jumped down to the ground to tackle me. Earlier, he had claimed that he was afraid of falling out of the swing.

This is a tiny little "victory," but later that evening Jabber told his other grandma that she really should have a swingset for her grandchildren, so it seems like he has realized a new enjoyment of swinging.

This kind of goofiness is not always my first response to having my buttons pushed, but at least I can practice using this "playful parenting" at times when the stakes are not so high. Already I've tried being playful in a couple of other situations where normally I might take to nagging, like when Jabber kept sticking his toes under the edge of the rug, curling it up. What was on the tip of my tongue was to say, "Excuse me? What have I told you fifty thousand times about sticking your toes under the rug?" in an annoyed tone of voice. Not pleasant, and pretty much shaming him because as a four-year-old he has trouble controlling his impulses. So I controlled my own impulses for a second and thought of something different. Putting on a silly voice, I cried out, "Hey! That tickles! Get your stinky toes away from me!" He got the point, and giggled a little, too. Granted, he did stick his toes under twice more, looking for more of the rug voice, but then I said in my normal voice, "Hey, it sounds like the rug doesn't like it when you do that, doesn't it?" He smiled and stopped "tickling" the rug. Then he said, "Anyway that makes the edge curl up, and you don't like it." Exactly!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Grocery Shopping Poem

To the two women fighting

in the cart corral this evening,
maybe there's something wrong with you
that I cannot see--
a tricky hip,
a faulty ticker,
weak ankles that act up on sunny days
like today.

Peering between the motes in my own eyes,
I hesitate to judge you.

But I watched you sprint
the twenty feet outside the door,
racing to reach
the motorized cart
set aside for people
who struggle with walking
the width of this store.

I stood there in the checkout line,
my toddler in my arms,
and saw your feisty hips
bouncing each other
out of the way
to reach the prize.
You giggled and shouted and shrieked,
and finally one of you
sank into the seat,

Your daughter or niece or neighbor girl or friend--
a girl of about seven--
stepped through the doors
just as you threw the cart exuberantly
into reverse,
and she had to step lively
to avoid
getting hit
by your highjinks.
She did not look impressed.

I wonder.
Would you have hip-checked
my grandma
for that motorized prize?

Maybe there's something wrong with you
that I cannot see,
but I'll admit
that I laughed
all the way to the car
when I saw
that the battery
was dead

and you got off
your lazy ass
and walked.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

marinating motherhood

Been having an urge to do some reading about parenting lately. I don't really know why; I've never really read anything about parenting with any kind of seriousness, mostly just the odd magazine article, which mostly I sneer at, to tell the truth. I read The Baby Book by Dr. Sears once upon a time, maybe not cover to cover, but poked around to see if my first little precious was normal or to identify the strange rash on his face (eczema--big sigh), but I've never felt like, "Hey, I have some extra reading time and I want to devote it to reading someone else's idea of being a good parent."

I've always parented mainly from instincts, and it worked out pretty well for the infancy and toddlerhood of my oldest, as well as the infancy of my youngest. Even the earlier preschool years of Jabber, I felt like I pretty much knew how to figure my way through the tantrums and the neediness without anybody else's advice, thankyouverymuch. But lately I'm starting to feel like my bag of tricks is running low, and I'm relying instead on the reactive parenting strategies of someone whose buttons are repeatedly being pushed. I can blame it on the stress of working full time, but that's not likely to change any time soon (even with this eight week furlough from the front lines), and with a possible new job opportunity on the horizon for Mr. Lissnkids, it sounds like we are only getting busier.

So I did a little looking about, asked a few questions on the gentle discipline forum over at MotheringDotCom, and came up with a pretty good list of books that might be worth a little bit of my summer reading time. I stopped at the library today while on lunch break from writing curriculum with my friend mary'slist, and I picked up three of them. So now I've decided to read all three of them at once, 'cause that's how I read books. And maybe, if any of these wonder books of parental wisdom happen to make me stop and think about anything of consequence, I'll write about that here. And if I feel like sneering a little, I may do that, too.

The books are, in no particular order:

Playful Parenting, by Lawrence J. Cohen (with a little Ph.D. for good measure)

Positive Discipline for Working Parents by Jane Nelson (Ed.D., sorry, what is this?) and Lisa Larson, (M.A.): This is a skinnier book than just plain old Positive Discipline, I suppose because working parents have less time to read?

the no-cry discipline solution, by Elizabeth Pantley (without acronym). I've read some about her book, the no-cry sleep solution, but I admit I've never read it. My no-cry sleep solution has always been to stick a boob in his mouth, so yeah.

So anyway, that's my parenting strategy for the next couple of weeks: a blitzkrieg of gentle discipline books and hopefully a lot of time outdoors. Maybe if we're really lucky the weather will cooperate. Either that or we'll at least stay busy building our ark.

Jabber is afraid of what these parenting books might teach me!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Yuck, yuck

Lost power for quite a bit of our evening here due to strong winds, rain, and other storm-type stuff. So I went back to the gym (third night in a row...go, me!) so that I could do something other than sit in the dark. This is pretty mundane, but it's past 11:00 and I'm racing the lightning here to meet my goal of blogging "almost daily." Is it better to write like crap than never to have written at all? Probably not.

Well, honestly, I could post some cute-ass pictures of my kids, but some weird thing keeps happening to the photos. They turn sideways no matter what they look like in my photo program or how I save them or which way I rotate them. I have truly spent FAR too much time trying to figure it out, with my husband sort of glaring at me as he chases the boys out of the kitchen with a spatula and trips over thirteen or fourteen toys in the process.

Here's an example. This was on the one day we actually had summer, which sounds like I'm complaining but honestly, here's my little secret: I hate being hot. I hate glaring, hot, relentless sun (though I do appreciate a little partly sunny with a gentle refreshing breeze, maybe 70 or 75 degrees?) that chases me into the shade or a big, stupid-looking floppy hat and some SPF 50. Heat and the nasty humidity that go along with it make me lazy and sweaty, with frizzy hair and blotchy freckles, and they also make me contemplate baring my blinding arms and legs in skimpy clothing that sticks to my body and forms a moist, slightly smelly tent of trapped heat.

What was I doing? Oh, yeah, posting a messed up photo of my little Jabberwock.

See? Wouldn't it be a lot nicer as a horizontal? Like it is when I look at it everywhere else in the world???


So this morning I was changing Monkey's diaper. It was the hard-earned product of some pretty considerable work in the far corner of the bedroom, back behind the toybox. When I opened that sucker up, I was impressed, and said something like, "Wow, Monkey! That was a pretty full diaper!" (Actually, I probably said something more like, "Ooh, Monkey, lookie this ginormous poopie diapie!" 'cause I'm a geek like that.)

Jabberwock came sprinting over to take a look. Apparently being a geek is hereditary. "Wow, Monkey! It's a poop-a-potamus!" Ha! A Poop-a-potamus! I can certainly see this becoming a very unfortunate family phrase. I've already demonstrated that my boys are obsessed with potty humor. So I can just hear it now.

"Mom, check out my Poop-a-potamus!"

"Wow, Dad! Way to Poop-a-potamus!"

"Shut up, you Poop-a-potamus-head!"

(Did I mention I teach middle school? There's my maturity level.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dumpster Day Indeed!

Ha, sometimes the timing of the universe frightens me with its synchronicity. After my post yesterday about wishing I could have a Dumpster Day in my own life, a time to stop and get rid of everything I don't need, clean everything I've got, and put everything back in its place, I came across this article in this week's TIME magazine called "The 100 Thing Challenge." It's about a guy named Dave Bruno who is trying to fight our consumer culture by whittling down his belongings to only 100 things. After reading the article, felt like I understood the why of the decluttering challenge, and why others around America are feeling inspired to do similar challenges. "Organizational consultant" Peter Walsh is quoted in the article as attributing people's desire to get rid of stuff to their desire to get some control over their lives, "even if it's just a tidy kitchen counter." (The online article, btw, has a photo of a really cluttered kitchen counter. Despite your suspicions, it is not mine.)

I get it. I want to have control over the stuff that sometimes feels like it is taking over, too, and I have already said that mainly my husband and I limit our consumerism. We really don't have as much stuff as a lot of people. Still, it weighs us down.

I remember when David and I first left on our westward adventure, how good it felt to get rid of everything we couldn't carry in the trunk of my car. Granted, it was a 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, and the trunk was massive. Still, all we had for a year or so was what could fit in that car. It was pretty funny when we finally stopped and moved into the four bedroom house (briefly) with the two roommates, and we unloaded all of our stuff into the house for about a week before the roommates arrived. There was all this wide open space, and our little camp chairs, our sleeping bags on the floor, our single candle, our one beautiful rug. It felt good, and clean...and a little bit ridiculous, if you want to know the truth. Like when we had to sweep our huge living room floor with a little hand brush and dustpan that we used to brush pine needles and such out of the tent. Or when we sat cross-legged on the floor of an expansive dining room, eating rice out of a shared camping pot with a stick David carved into a spork.

My first reaction to the article, though, was a little misled. I believed that this guy was actually trying to only own 100 things (that is sort of what the article says, that he was the beginner of a "grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.") So I started making a mental list of my essential 100 items, while I was jogging on the elliptical machine:

1. My house. That's my hugest possession, though maybe it doesn't count since I don't really own it yet, and won't for what seems like a billion years?
2. My van.
3. Our other car, Zoom-Zip. (Due to my husband's weird schedule and the absence of buses during that time frame, the only way we could narrow down to one vehicle is if I were able to wake up both boys every morning at 3:00 am and drive David to work, then he would have to take a bus to my work, pick up the car, and drive to daycare at noon to get them.)
4. Then I thought, so do I have to count two carseats as possessions? I own them.
5. I live in northern MN. That means I need at least three coats for the different weather, two hats, at least three pairs of mittens/gloves, warm boots, dressy boots, fleece pants, snow pants, neck gator, snowshoes, you know. Does "winter gear" count as one thing?
6. Oh, shit, I got to books. Sorry, game over. I can't even limit myself to 100 books in each room. I can't even limit myself to 100 journals of my own writing! This was my weakness when we went out West, too. I can recall David physically restraining me in a bookstore in Jackson Hole, our first rare trip out of the wilderness and into a real shopping environment.

So then, as I was pondering whether the gym membership was a possession (yeah, I think so), I started wondering if this whole idea was even a good one. I mean, isn't there something to say about owning things and using them right up to their limits? I mean, hanging on to the stuff and reusing it as much as possible. You look in the closets of old people who have lived through the Great Depression, for instance, and you're likely to find all kinds of things saved in bundles and bins, things that can be reused. Drawers full of twist ties, cardboard from panty hose packages, recycled greeting cards. Isn't it better to hang onto things, so we don't have to buy more later?

Take my bicycle, for instance. Now, later on in the article, another person modifies the challenge to just getting rid of things you don't use daily, never mind the number. OK, sounds a little more reasonable. But even accounting for the winter months, I haven't ridden my bike for several years, since becoming pregnant and having the second kiddo. So yes, I could get rid of my bike, saying well, I'm not using it, so it's just extra stuff. However, I'm pretty sure that I will love riding my bike once again when I don't have to figure out how to transport two small children on the back or in some kind of trailer (that I'd have to buy) or whatever. Like maybe in a few years when they're riding their bikes. (Helmets? Separate possession?) In that case, I'd have to be a bigger consumer by buying another bike.

Another case in point is the espresso maker. Haven't used it in a really long time, 'cause well, it's a wonderful treat that takes more time than I can put into right now. Plus it's really hard to operate with a toddler monkey hanging off my hip. But there will probably be a time in the future when I can see David and I having the leisure time to cuddle up with some homemade mochas. And I'm not going to buy another machine (especially since this one was a gift I got in 1997--now that's getting some use out of it, right?)

So, with all these questions, I finally visited this blog, which is the guy who the article was based on. He clarifies there that it's about personal possessions, not things like furniture and vehicles. He also completely excludes both books and filled journals. Now I'm back in the game. Also, it's only things for himself, so I don't have to count the car seats or kids' bike helmets. I'm also quite relieved to find out that he lumps some things together like underwear and socks! I mean, gross. Then I'd just have to be a crazy laundry soap consumer. Or else really stinky.

I noticed that Dave Bruno has nothing on his list like toothbrush, hairbrush, contacts, glasses, maybe a little shampoo, lotion, etc. Did he count those as shared possessions (ew, toothbrush)? Or just not count them at all? I was a little humbled by the fact that I probably use 100 things just as personal care products, and I'm not even a girly girl, Sex-in-the-City type. Well, next week when I have the boys in daycare for a couple of mornings, I guess I'm going to have to get together my Goodwill boxes. There is some junk here that needs to go away, but I still don't feel that 100 things is enough for me.

Monday, June 9, 2008

An Organizational Moment

There's something amazing about the end of the school year, the way it builds up from far away and crescendoes wildly into a whirl of stress and deadlines and craziness until you just don't know if the end will ever come. Some count the days, marking them off right along with the students, and others, like myself, try to ignore the next week and focus on making it through each and every minute with everything done that needs to get done. No matter which approach, the end does come. Goodbyes are said, some tears are shed, our 8th graders march across the platforms at graduation, and our sixth and seventh graders bubble over like a pot of water at a rolling boil until that last day---and suddenly they're all gone.

Today was called "DumpsterDay" at my school, and all of the teachers and professional staff worked to clean, organize, and throw out all of the junk we no longer need. All of the furniture was gone from my room, the floor bare, the posters removed from my walls. I filled the recycling bin with papers I no longer needed. I pulled odd conglomerations of items from my desk drawers and speculated on their possible uses: a wind-up dinosaur? confiscated laser pointers? a copious amount of Monopoly money? twelve small plastic containers of confetti? a tube of glow-in-the-dark face paint? Each new discovery met the test of usefulness and then was either tossed or carefully straightened on its way back into the drawer. I swept up an entire bottle of spilled gold glitter from the back closet and threw away a stack of dusty newsprint tablets that was dusty when I moved into this classroom six years ago. I went through all my files and thinned them out, putting them into an order that will make next year much easier.

Some people like to rush this process at the end of the year, especially back when this day was an optional day and everyone wanted to get out earlier. They shoved everything into the closet and smashed the door shut, willing to deal with it in the fall. I have always taken my time to put things away with care, knowing that once I am in the thick of teaching and living, I rarely have a chance to put things back just so or dust all of my bookshelves, for instance. I get so caught up in trying to keep my head above water with lesson planning, attending meetings, grading papers, doing observations, setting goals, (plus being a mother, a wife, a blogger, a housekeeper, a human), that I don't have a chance to step back and take a breather.

When my husband and I were not yet married, we spent a summer traveling across the country, living out of our car and backpacks and tent. Because of the economy of our possessions and space, we had a number of systems to keep everything organized and ship-shape, but every so often we would have to stop. Reset. Take what we called "an organizational moment."

I wish I could get one of those in my home life sometimes. A period of time (like a week, perhaps?) when everyone but me would go away and stop making messes, so I could clean, organize, put everything back where it's supposed to be. I could install those hooks by the front door for the kids to hang their backpacks on, and finish putting the pictures that are piled on the buffet into the photo album, and clean the oven so it would stop smelling like burnt sausage pizza, and finally catch up on the laundry (actually get all of the folded clothes into the drawers before they're dirty again!), and pick up all of the toys and have it stay neat for even ten minutes before it's trashed again. With two little boys, I feel like I'm running around cleaning in front of me while they destroy the place right behind me. I turn around and can't even see where I've been. This gets so frustrating, and it never stops.

Well, maybe next week, when I've got the kids going to daycare for a morning while I stay home. I'll have my own little dumpster day here at home, and get myself ready to face the summer vacation, so we can focus our attention on having fun instead of keeping afloat.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

If I Had Known

Driving home from Shana's house, I was listening to Greg Brown's song, "If I Had Known," (I linked to the lyrics 'cause the YouTube video isn't the greatest!) and really not only listening but singing, loudly, off-key. I started thinking about whether or not there was anything I've experienced in my life that was the best that it will ever be. The best fishing? Well, possibly the fishing with my Grandpa Rance and Grandma Maggie when we pulled sun fish out of the water off of bare hooks. I wrote a Sestina about that experience, and it surely is the most memorable fishing experience of my life so far. But life is long, and fishing is full of great moments. What will be the greatest moment? "It's just as well, we don't know when things/ will never be that good again..."

The best kissing? Well, now, I've had some great kissing (mostly with my husband!) and some great memories that accompany those kisses. And the sweetest kisses ever are those from my little boys. The best writing? Well, there have been times when I've been awfully proud of something I have written, but that doesn't mean I don't have the need to write again, the next week, day, or minute. Writing is like breathing, with each breath following the next. Not all the breaths are going to be as fresh and pure as the gasp of wonder when you reached a mountain summit, but you don't stop breathing just because of that.

I'm trying to go somewhere with this piece of writing, trying to reach out and snap my fingers across a hidden string, making it vibrate and resonate just so inside my soul. I'm thinking about how strange it would be to know with certainty that this -- whatever this was -- is the best it's ever going to get. "And Jimmy, if I had known, I might have stopped fishing right then..." Wouldn't that be awful, to know that no matter what, it wasn't ever going to get that good again? I guess sometimes people reach that point in a career, or at least they may think they have. A pinnacle, from which the only direction is a descent. But then why go on?

Maybe that's why religion, the hope/faith in an afterlife, becomes so important to us. Why go on, if this is as good as it gets? Especially once the body and mind begin to deteriorate, can a person manage to greet each day joyfully, knowing that the best is not yet to come, that in fact it was long past?

Sometimes relationships can get that way, stuck looking backward, toward that time when we were happy, when we were free, when we were full of passion. When just a glance in the other's direction was enough to send us tumbling into ecstacies. So I guess that's when we've got to listen to the rest of the song.

"If I had known, I'd do it all over again. Some things just get better and better and better than they already been..." That's the way I want to think about most things in life.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

When the World Falls Down

Jabber (from the backseat of the van): Mama, are we going to die someday?
Me: Yes, honey. All living creatures die at some time.
Jabber: Everything that's alive dies?
Me: Yes. The people, the animals, the trees and flowers are all alive. And they all die eventually.
Jabber: What about when the world falls down?
Me: Well, the world has been going on for a long, long time, and it's still going. I don't think you need to worry too much about it falling down.
Jabber: But what about after we die?
Me: After we die, the world keeps going on. Other people are still alive, and the world is still there.
Jabber: But how? Why?
Me: We're only one small part of the whole world, honey.
Jabber: (greatly dismayed) But how can we even feel like we're important then???

I did go on to explain to him how important we are to our loved ones, and I even threw in some hopeful thoughts about how important one person could be to the future. I talked about wonderful leaders, great inventions, making the world a better place, but when I checked his face in the rearview mirror, he still looked a little bleak. This is, after all, the child who woke up one morning at age three and responded to my cheery good morning with, "It doesn't matter. Nothing matters anymore."

For such a little guy, he sure thinks big thoughts.

All about Dinosaurs

Jabberwock's Story Time

"Do you want to hear all about dinosaurs? I’ll read to you. OK, the first thing you need to know. People did not get eaten by dinosaurs. That’s because they got extremely lucky, and all the dinosaurs died. Millions of years ago they got stinked. Scientists digged up their bones with a bulldozer, and there were a bunch of school chairs, but the dinosaurs ate them all up because they are functionary. That means dangerous, according to this book.

"Dinosaurs lived. Dinosaurs lived. Dinosaurs lived. (giggles) I'll tell you a joke about dinosaurs. How did dinosaurs eat, and eat, and eat, when they had none hands? Mom? They their face dirty! (brief interlude of nonsensical jokes about animals that eat despite having "none hands")

"I would read some more, but my breath won’t let me."

Friday, June 6, 2008

This is normal, right?

Ever since I was a kid myself, I've loved being around little kids. I was the one who always got the shy smile from the kiddo in line ahead of me at the grocery store, the one who got called to babysit, the one who attracted random children like a pied piper when I would go for walks in the park, the one who read Harry Potter out loud on the front lawn to a couple of neighbor children just because they seemed lonely and attention-starved. I thought maybe I'd like to have a couple of my own kids and then become a foster parent, even adopt five or ten of the little buggers. I became a teacher partly because I love language, but also because kids and teens seemed to need someone like me who understood them and, well, liked them.

When Jabberwock was born, I felt like an excellent mother most of the time, even when he was in the middle of a terrible crying fit or a difficult sleeping phase or those "terrible twos" I had heard about. Sure, he drove me nuts a little bit, but we got along pretty well overall, and as he grew older, the two of us spent our summers rambling around together, finger-painting out on the lawn, hanging out at the library, having a grand old time. My opinion of myself may have declined a little from "excellent mom" to "doing my best" as I became more experienced and realized that I really know absolutely nothing about raising a small child, but I was up for the challenge.

Enter Monkey. As a newborn, Monkey was active, awake, and vocal. I remember asking David, "Did Jabber ever cry this much when he was a baby?" and neither of us could really remember, from that sea of sleep deprivation. It's not that Monkey was a difficult baby, but his disposition was a bit more in-your-face, and then there was just the added demands of a three-year-old who was desperate for attention. I started to wear a little thin in the areas of patience and saintliness. I got more snappish and less willing to tolerate the small stuff.

Now that both boys are running, chasing, shouting, screeching (really, really loudly, btw), snatching, screeching, running, chasing, shouting, eating, screeching, hitting, biting, screeching, running, fighting, chasing, and screeching, and making gigantic messes, I sometimes wonder, where is that person who loves children? Where's the Elissa who has the desire to get down on the floor and play? Where's the Elissa who listens to stories and answers endless questions? Where's the Elissa who always sees the silliness in life, who remembers what it feels like to be little and to have everyone pushing you and rushing you and yelling at you all the time? Where is that excellent mother?

I thought having two children would be easier than one in some ways, that the kids would play together a little bit so that I could get one little thing done here and there. Except, they do not play together really. They just pick at each other and poke at each other and tease each other until I'm ready to scream. And sometimes I do, which I definitely don't like.

There are so many moments that are wonderful and funny and heart-warming, like when Monkey goes in to wake Jabberwock in the mornings, climbing up on his brother's bed and waking him with kisses. Or when we read stories together, both boys sharing my lap. Or when they are giggling together in the backseat of the van, sharing jokes only the two of them understand. These times give me hope for some future ceasefire, when the two brothers may begin to spend more of their time getting along than not. But I worry sometimes about their clashing personalities. Having Monkey around seems to bring out all the worst parts of Jabberwock's personality: parts I didn't know he possessed, like aggression, greed, and vengeance. He sometimes is so mean to his little brother and shows so little remorse for his actions that I feel terrible about who he is becoming.

This is normal, right? My closest sibling is almost nine years younger than me, and my other sibling is 27 years my junior. I'm definitely no expert on this whole thing. I remember getting very upset with my brother when he was Monkey's age (toddler-esque) because he seemed to hurt me and take my things and get away with it because he "didn't know any better." This seems to be the biggest problem with Monkey and Jabber, too. But Jabber is younger than I was, and he has little or no impulse control, which I think is pretty normal for a four-year-old, and it's harder for him to understand the difference between his and Monkey's behavior, development, and even size. When Monkey tackles Jabber, for instance, it's great fun, and both boys are laughing. Then Jabber reverses the move, and bingo! Monkey is crying, Mama is yelling, and Jabber ends up getting removed to his room for a while to separate them. No fun.

This evening, Jabberwock went downstairs to work with Daddy for a while, and Monkey and I hung out together. We looked at a book for the longest time, talking about the pictures and playing with the sound effects on it. I found myself able to give him undivided attention for the first time in forever, and I was surprised by how much he really does know and what he can do (like pointing out different animals and objects when asked about the pictures in the book). I feel like I almost never get a chance to figure him out, and I feel like that's really not fair to him, since I was able to spend so much time with my oldest at that age. Even his toys get scattered all over so much that it's hard to "work" on the kind of play he might learn from, which was not the case with his brother. I feel guilty, like he's getting the short end of the stick. Do all younger siblings get the shaft like this?

Similarly, Jabber and I spent some time together this afternoon when I got home early and Daddy and Monkey were still napping. Granted, all we did was fold the laundry, but we got to talk and connect like we rarely do. We got along so well. He could tell me his wonderful stories and show me how he can roll socks and fold his underwear into tiny squares, and I was just able to listen attentively without all the chaos.

When I'm one-on-one with either one of my boys, I rarely get pissed off at them, but when they're together they can bring me to the edge of a kind of anger that is frightening, embarrassing, childish, guilt-inspiring. Today was my last day with students, so summer vacation stretches before us, and I'm a tiny bit worried about how it will all work out. I always saw myself being perfectly happy as a SAHM, but tomorrow David is going to be out of town all day, and I'm kind of dreading spending the entire day without a break, without being able to divide and conquer, so to speak.

I love my children, absolutely. I just hope I can survive them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sixth graders are...AMAZING!

Well, my homebase got first place for the sixth graders in our Amazing Race! The weather was wonderful, and my group really amazed me, over and over. They worked together to complete all of the tasks, and each one of them stepped up to the plate at different times to show leadership, from problem-solving during team-building challenges to reading the maps to offering to eat the worms for the whole homebase (relax, they ended up being gummy worms, but man, did we ever have them going!), each student showed their best skills. There was only a little complaining ("I'm hungry" mostly, and once "this stupid race" which was amended to "well, it's not THAT stupid" after my look of incredulousness) and a lot of encouragement. They helped each other out all along the way, and they even kissed each other when the task called for it. They even got me to run, and wow, did we ever make tracks! Admittedly, I walked much more than I ran, but it was some heavy-duty hiking we were doing! I feel proud, tired, and so happy to end my year with these wonderful young adults in such a terrific way. YAY, Amazing Race!

Again, I am only including pictures in which my students are unrecognizable, but here they are studying some benzo macroinvertebrates that they dredged up out of the creek. Our task? Identify five distinct species. They did it with excitement!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sixth graders are crazy...

Today was our sixth grade end-of-year field trip to several locations of our city, including this lovely beach on Lake Superior. It was maybe forty-five degrees. The wind was straight off the Lake, and seriously cold. I was wearing a fleece jacket, an outer waterproof shell with the hood cinched tight, a pair of gloves I luckily found in the pockets of my shell, and the pink hat I wisely left in the Mom Bag the other night. These intrepid sixth graders, on the other hand, were swimming. This photo was taken just after they got off the bus and rushed toward the water, fighting the stiff breeze the whole way. They haven't yet had a chance to strip down to their swimming suits and jump in (they even got their heads wet). I can't post those pictures because they include recognizable faces of kids who don't belong to me, but my description of them would be deliriously happy...or maybe just delirious!

I knew, even as I packed the layers in my backpack this morning, that they would swim. They always do. Still, it amazes me that so many of them went into that frigid water, with white-capped waves roaring up on the beach, and that wind. Yeesh, that wind. If for some reason somebody offered me a sizeable chunk of money to go into that water, I'm still not sure if I could have done it. Probably I'd have to use the money to pay for the emergency room visit for hypothermia, or at least physical therapy for all the muscles in my body fusing together or something. But those sixth graders, man. They are hardcore.

Later on, I had my first experience with Laser Tag. I learned a few things about myself in this experience. First, I learned that running about for seven minutes makes me extremely sweaty, especially when I am wearing several layers, including a black fleece jacket that, while it was nice for keeping me less visible, was really freaking hot. Also, I learned that I like to shoot at people with something resembling a grocery store price scanner. It gave me inexplicable pleasure to zap my co-workers until their vests went dark. Does that mean that I have some latent violence lurking below my pacifist exterior? Or is it just that I like flashing lights and the instantaneous praise of a disembodied voice saying, "Good shot!" Finally, I learned that I do not keep my head very well in a fire fight. I think I tried to kill both of my teammates with my "friendly fire," and I just about had a heart attack when I was "killed" from behind in a sneak attack. See? You do learn something new every day, even in school!

Tomorrow is our Amazing Race in a nearby "nature center," and I'm really excited to sprint around with my homebase through the muddy trails, traversing hill and dale in a competition that involves daring (tadpole kissing and worm eating?), teamwork (swamp-hopping and boat-flipping activities), skills (geo-caching and multiple species-identification tasks), and silliness (mandatory hokey pokey break). Unfortunately, the forecast is pretty sketchy, including rain and possible thunderstorms. This is where flexibility comes into play, and the inevitable contingency plans. Well, at least we got a chance to make some really cool T-shirts!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Thinking about it isn't the same as doing it...

...but I've been thinking about my writing a lot lately. Yesterday I went for a nice long walk around the neighborhood, my favorite way to let ideas bounce around in my head before writing. Unfortunately, by the time I got home and got my lunch packed for the next day and all my stuff together, I had very little time for anything other than reading over the start of my work-in-progress, a short story about a mother named Madeline. Or maybe Simone. Or...okay, never mind.

I have a goal to write and submit a short story, something I haven't done since before I started on my novel. I typically have some trouble with the short fiction, simply because I have a hard time keeping it short. If you've been reading my blog more than a little bit, you can probably see how I might encounter that problem. However, getting a few publishing credits (non-poetry, too) to my name could make it easier to get an agent to look twice at the query for my novel, I'm guessing. And even if it doesn't make any difference whatsoever on that front, maybe if I could manage to get published in the next couple of years, it might help me to persevere on writing that second novel (which is in the works, but slooooowly).

I know it's not the best system, but it seems like the only time I really get any serious writing done is when I'm not teaching. Which means like eight or maybe ten weeks out of the year, when it's all said and done. That's not much to work with, so I think I'd better find some way to get better at writing in between the moments of being a mama and Ms. Lissnkids. It's hard, not so much because of the time, but because of the creativity teaching and mothering full time takes out of me. Don't believe anyone who tells you teaching is easy-peasy. Maybe it could be, if I were content to pick up some literature book and cruise along with my teachers' manual in tow, all "read this short story and answer the questions," but I can't roll that way, even when I try. Much of my writing energy goes toward school projects (you may have heard of the screenplay I recently wrote and directed called "Alien Invasions: UFO's and the MCA's"? Well, let me tell you it's not easy to get inspired by a state test (MCA's are the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, pretty much the bane of our No Child Left Untested academic year). Plus, being that cheesy takes a lot of work!

Hmmph, it's time to make a lunch and get to bed, as usual, so I'm going to distill my thoughts down into a list of writing goals for this summer.

1. Submit AT LEAST fifteen queries for my novel.
2. Research publication options at least three times (basically once monthly)
3. Write a thousand words each day that I have writing time (we'll say three days a week, to keep it simple, since that's when I've got daycare. I'm hoping to steal a few more days here and there, though.)
4. Keep blogging. I know some people find that blogging becomes a way to avoid writing, and it's true that sometimes I "waste" time reading my way around the blogosphere, but I think the exercise of writing a daily (mostly) blog entry has been sort of a catalyst for more writing. A warm-up, in some cases.

All right. Now I've just got to keep it up, and be persistent with those queries.