Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Project Runway meets Project Clueless

Child #1, like her mother, settled on her career choice in fourth grade. For me it was law, for her it's fashion design.

Apparently, if one wants to be a fashion designer, they need a sewing machine and sewing lessons.

My daughter begged for a Bernina sewing machine for Christmas, which is the equivalent of begging for a new Mercedes for your first car.

One quick look at the $2000 starter model was enough to send me straight to Craigslist where I found a very gently used Bernette at a much happier price.

Which is all good except, as my mother put it when she inspected the Bernette on Christmas morning, "It's a lot of machine for a little girl."

"Hmmm," I said and then I shrugged because I don't know the first thing about sewing. Literally, nothing!

I am the woman who, on noting the seam had come out of her skirt hem earlier this week, stood up, turned it around and fixed it with a quick row of staples. Which is exactly how they teach you to do it in law school.
Child #1 took to her sewing machine like, well, a seamstress to thread.

There were some immediate successes. I am now the proud owner of three coffee cup warmers, an odd little purse made out of something blue and fuzzy and one napkin. "Make three more and I'll use them on the dinnertable," I suggested.

So far that suggestion has gone unheeded.

But failure is where you learn the hard stuff and my lack of knowledge about sewing means Child #1 has had to go it on her own. In fact, the only thing I do know about sewing is that eventually something goes wrong.

A few weeks ago there was a shriek of pure anguish from the basement. "I can't thread the bobbin," she wailed as she stomped upstairs.

"A bobbin," I said and handed her a sandwich. "That sounds like something you'd wear to meet the Queen. Don't forget to put on your bobbin and bring sixpence."

She glared at me.

The bobbin drama was followed by a novel approach to patching her father's jeans. Instead of closing the hole at the knee she sewed the entire leg shut. We offered help, but it was summarily rejected.

She's made herself several skirts of interesting length, but it wasn't until she whipped up the dress pictured here that the benefits of my sewing cluelessness became clear.

Instead of sitting at my side and patiently taking direction she's busy forging her own trail. Mistakes and frustrations will be plentiful, which is okay because success, when it comes, will be that much more satisfying.

As for me, I'm gathering a nice collection of her early works and waiting for her to get a little bit better before I hand my skirt over to see if she can do something about my staple hem job.

Did you follow in the footsteps of your parents or blaze your own trail? 

Monday, January 28, 2013


The last few months haven't been easy.

In September my father was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Just as I was coming to terms with that news, my darling grandmother passed away. Followed, ten days later, by the death of a good friend from college who perished on a lonely mountaintop.

 By the time I received the text that my other grandmother had been found unresponsive and bleeding from the mouth I was oddly resigned.

I thought I was holding it together. I really did. This fall, in between manic episodes of grief, I finished a first draft of my WIP. I've been friend, daughter and lifecoach to my mother and I managed a (small) publicity effort for the newly released Losing Hope.

But then I stepped on the scale.

Stress affects everyone in a different way and, as it turns out, it causes me to lose my appetite. Foods I love suddenly make my stomach turn.

Instead of sustenance, I crave the moments of escape from my thoughts provided by things like yoga or a run. I crave those things so much I grieforexia-ed myself down to 105 lbs.

Fortunately, I have friends who are like sisters. I confessed my appetite-suppressed ways over coffee and two days later one of my sister-friends appeared at my front door with a starter pack of homemade bars. "Eat one of these whenever you don't feel like eating anything else," she instructed.

And so I did.

After two days, along with runs and yoga I was craving bars. By the end of the week I emailed her for the recipe. Since that time I've made four batches of my own. The recipe for these magic bars is from Barre3, a local fitness studio. Their official name is Barre3 Bars, but because of the ingredients and current obsessions of the Garth Family we refer to them as Hamster Bars.

The kids love them. They're easy to make and the best news is, yesterday I ate three and seriously considered a fourth. Maybe the combination of Hamster Bars and time will be the perfect cure for my grieforexia. And if you needed added incentive to try them, the kids tell me they make my breath smell like apple cider.

In case you don't want to follow the link above here's the recipe.

barre3 bar
These bars are so easy to make you can whip them up within minutes. They don’t need to bake and
all you need is a glass dish and a food processor.Feel free to adapt the recipe to suit your needs. Sample before pressing into the dish and adapt anything to taste.
6 dates, pitted
2 TBS coconut oil
1⁄4 cup sunflower butter or almond butter
1⁄4 cup goji berries (raisins work too)
1⁄4 cup shredded coconut flakes
1⁄4 cup ground flax
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Couple pinches of sea salt (unless sunflower or almond butter is salted)
1 cup almonds
Handful of cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips
1 . Place the pitted dates and coconut oil in the base of your food processor. Add the seed or nut butter. Whirl these three ingredients until blended.
2. Add the goji berries or raisins, the coconut flakes, the ground flax, the cinnamon and the sea salt and whirl in the food processor again, until the mixture is well incorporated. It’s OK if its a bit more chunky at this point.
3. Add the almonds and the cacao nibs or chocolate chips and pulse your food processor until you have a chunky mass that looks like cookie dough.
4. Scoop dough-like mixture into a 8×8 glass container and press the mixture down with the back of a spoon.5. Store in the fridge for at least one hour to harden. Cut into bars to grab-and-go to your barre3 class and store extras in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Choices Presented by Canada

As I make my way through Richard Ford's latest novel, Canada, there are many thoughts that occur to me. Most of them are related to the book, but one that keeps popping up is a writing question.

In case you've never heard of Richard Ford he's about the age of my father and has a lengthy wikipedia entry. For purposes of this post all I want you to know is he's the first writer to be awarded both the PEN Faulkner Award and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the same novel.

In short, he's an amazing, well-respected writer. But, from what I've observed, E.L. James gets substantially more press.

Which brings me to my question.

Assuming the two options are mutually exclusive, would you rather be well-respected and widely awarded or well-compensated and widely read?

There's a part of me (the part that has to keep telling my kids, 'No, my books are not in the running for any awards at the moment') that salivates over the idea of writing a prize-winning work of literary fiction. It would be like winning the grand champion writer's ribbon. In my mind it's purple with an enormous rosette. I would pin it up in my office and whenever I doubted my writing abilities, it would be there to remind me someone, somewhere once thought my writing was award-worthy.

There's another part of me that would find immense gratification in an overflowing stream of royalties; the kind of money that could be used to pay for vacations or mortgages as opposed to shoes and lunches with friends.

I recognize the choices presented are extreme options. The kind of thing only at issue for the top 1% of the top 1% of all writers. I'd do the math, but you all know there's a reason I'm a writer and not an engineer.

Still, I'm curious. If you had to choose, would you take the E.L. James path of fame and fortune or the literary accolades of a Richard Ford?

And to those who take the time to's hoping someday you actually find yourself at that particular fork in the road.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Negotiated Technology

I heard about the social media contract from a friend at book group. We were discussing technology, social media, texting and how to set parameters when the internet comes in an iPhone box small enough for most kids to carry around in their jean pockets.

Two days later I told Child #1 she needed to sign a technology contract. "What do you  mean?" she asked, hackles raised like an attack dog.

"Oh, just a contract governing the terms of your use," I said lightly, because even though I've known her for almost eleven years I still forget how she can slip into trial attorney on cross-exam mode at a moment's notice.

We got home and she snatched the sheets of paper from the printer as they came out. "Umm, Mom. We need to talk about some of these terms."

By this time I was in lawyer mode too and told her to save her questions until she'd finished reading the entire thing. In response she grabbed a highlighter and a ballpoint pen and started making notes.

The first provision under fire was Number 8. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.

"What if I want to talk about your birthday gift or Christmas gift? It's overbroad," she argued. We added the words "because it would disappoint or anger them" at the end of the first sentence.

The negotiations continued.

We modified the word parent to make it clear she is subject only to my parental standards, as opposed to parental standards in general.

We struck provision #12, dealing with picture and video taking, in its entirety, because I couldn't define a zillion and was unable to come come up with a counterargument to, "But what if I decide I want to be a photographer or videotographer?!?"

Talk to strangers was also deleted. "Are you serious? You want me to talk to strangers? You don't even let me open the door for strangers."

We reached the end of the contract and I thought our negotiations were finished. But they weren't.  "I'd like to add a clause of my own," she said and started furiously scribbling on the back of the page. Her clause, which I accepted in its entirety, reads as follows
I, ("Mom and Dad") will not play any games, change the passcode of this iTouch or pretend to be me ("Child #1"). After I look at the iTouch I will put it back where I found it. I will not send any emails or texts from this iTouch and I will not delete any pictures or videos.
We signed the contract.

And then I started calculating the cost of law school tuition approximately 12 years from now.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mommy Apologies

It was after school on Monday.

After snack time, after tennis, after battling traffic to get home from tennis, after hamster time and general fooling around time. I was chopping peppers while simultaneously quizzing Child #2 on his treble and bass clef note flash cards.

The noise came from the dining room like a fire engine. "I CAN'T DO THIS." I pretended not to hear and continued chopping and quizzing. Two seconds later Child #1 poked her head into the kitchen.

"You need to help me. NOW!"

I took a deep patient mommy breath. "Okay honey," I said in that overbright voice which means I would really rather be anywhere else. I hovered over her shoulder and re-explained principles of rounding to the right of the decimal and money that I was certain she knew.

"BUT I CAN'T," she wailed as I turned to go back to the kitchen. "YOU have to STAY and WATCH me."

"I'll watch you do one," I said and then, I'm embarrassed to say, things got ugly. There was the point where I stomped back to the kitchen and hacked at vegetables like they were convicted pedophiles.

There was the moment when she chased me down and attempted a sit-in. Nonviolent, but filled with words designed to send me over the edge. "How could you refuse to help me. I'll never help you do anything ever again. You're a mean, mean mother and I think dinner looks disgusting."

At this point there should have been a punishment. Time out would have good for everyone involved.

Except there wasn't. We did battle over the dining room table. Me, with poison seeping out of my voice saying things like, "In your opinion, is the number three bigger than five or smaller than five?"

She retaliated with tears and guilt. "You don't even love me a little bit, do you?"

My husband came home to mayhem. Angry wife, one child sulking and one child who wouldn't stop talking about Pokemon gym leaders. He took over, for which I was grateful, and told me to go to my dance class.

Afterwards it occurred to me I owed my daughter an apology. I took a deep breath and entered the sanctum of her room where she was using her hamster as a mustache (don't ask). "I'm sorry," I told her. "The way I spoke to you was inappropriate. I hope you can forgive me."

"I'm sorry too," she sobbed.

We cried. We hugged. We cozied down on her bed for some girl talk.

Later that night I realized maybe math wasn't the most important thing my daughter learned that evening. Maybe it was everyone has to be accountable for their behavior.

Even mothers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Losing Hope and Little White Lies

I'm at Writing on the Wall today talking about Little White Lies. The lovely Rachel Schieffelbein noticed the release of my newest book in the Persephone Campbell Series, Losing Hope and invited me to do a guest post

Please stop by, say hello and if you haven't had a chance to read Losing Beauty my publisher is offering free downloads today only on Amazon. If you read it and like it, now you don't have to wait for the sequel because it's finally available...ahem...I know it was a long wait!  But here's hoping you think the wait was worthwhile.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cookie Season

Two words; they return to my vocabulary each January and strike fear into my heart.

Here are more words. Samoas. Do-si-dos. Thin Mints. Trefoils. Tagalongs

At a time when most of this country is trying to recover from an extended food and festivities binge, adorable little cookie pushers with pigtailed hair and gap-toothed grins hit the streets and clog entrances at every grocery store.

The preceding sentence makes it sound like I don't like Girl Scouts or their sugary wares. Really, the problem doesn't lie with Girl Scouts. It's found smack dab in the middle of my own weak cookie resistance.

Last year I bought forty boxes of cookies. Yes, forty! I rationalized I could give them out as hostess gifts. My daughter assured me I could put them in the freezer to keep them fresh and I drank the kool-aid on her sales pitch. Forty times.

The look on your face when you read how many boxes I bought is EXACTLY the same look that was on my husband's face when Child #1, having reeled in her first big fish customer (aka the person who gave birth to her) turned to him and said "So Daddy, are you going to beat mom's order?"

 It's not just the purchasing and consuming of Girl Scout cookies that bothers me. It's the antiquated order and delivery system.

Child #1 pounds the pavement, takes orders and then several weeks later our dining room is filled with cases of cookies that have to be sorted and labeled. Customers have to be cornered. Money must be counted and kept safe in the cookie envelope. If you could see the freewheeling way my daughter handles her homework binder you'd understand why the cookie money envelope is problematic.

A few years ago an aging cookie salesperson knocked on our door. I think she was eleven at the time, maybe twelve. "Wanna buy some cookies," she asked with a barely suppressed eye roll.

Child #1 was in first grade. She came running to our front door, flailing cookie sheet in hand. "How many boxes have you sold? I've sold eighty-two. What's your favorite flavor? Don't you just LOVE TO SELL COOKIES????"

The other girl studied her, shrugged and then looked at me. "So you probably don't want to buy any, right?"

She was like an advertisement for studied unenthusiasm.

That picture lodged itself in my brain in the place I reserve for snapshots of what the future of my parenting experience will look like. It's filled with things like sulky teenagers glaring out of Christmas card pictures and tweenagers with texting-trained thumbs.

 I thought it was a future I dreaded, but this year, with Child #1 pushing eleven, her cookie form sits in a state of neglect on her desk. It's been pushed aside to make way for texting thumbs, hamsters and sewing projects. This just might be the first year that Cookie Season and Samoa binges don't go hand-in-hand.

It's a milestone. Time to retire my recipe for Thin Mint Milkshakes. And, it turns out, I'm happy to move on to whatever comes next.

What milestone did you dread reaching, only to discover a unexpected happiness when you reached it?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Squeaky Wheels

It was dead, dark middle of the cold winter night when I heard it. At first I thought it was the screeching of metal. Maybe a horrendous car accident had taken place on the street outside my bedroom window, but then no, there it went again.

SCREEeeecccchhhhhh. Followed by Screech Scratch Screech Scratch Screech Scratch. A cross between a yip-yappy dog and nails on a chalkboard.

I got up to investigate.

The sound was coming from Child #2's bedroom. His door was open and from inside his room came the death knells of a hamster wheel. Even though the hamster cage sits on Child #2's nightstand, right beside his head, he was sound asleep, like a little cherub.

I, on the other hand, was not feeling so cherubic.

The hamster stopped running long enough to go to the cage door to great his favorite midnight treat giver. "It's not happening tonight, Ninjy," I said and glared at him and his squeaky wheel.
Almost like he understood me, he hopped back on and the noise that had pulled me out into the dark and cold started up again.

I kneeled down, eye-to-eye with the hamster. Actually his eyes were open wider than mine, and tried to readjust his wheel. He looked at me, kind of like a puppy holding a leash and when I was finished he hopped back on.

For two blissful seconds the wheel was quiet and then the noise started again. I re-readjusted and this time it ran smoothly right up until I got back into bed.

I made another cold, dark trip down the hall to my son's room and hissed, "You're finished with wheel time, Ninjy!" The instrument of my torture was disconnected and I went back to bed where I cuddled up under the covers and worried the wheel would somehow topple over on poor Ninjy. I could envision the tears and recriminations when my son awoke to a crippled hamster.

On my last trip down the hallway it dawned on me. Squeaky wheel gets the grease. This is what it means. Literally.

Last night I made a point of reminding my husband to grease Ninjy's wheel with vegetable oil. We all slept peacefully. And by we, I mean me,because everyone else in my house sleeps like hibernating bears.

Which brings me to my Friday question. What kind of wheels are squeaking for you this January? I hope they aren't as literal as mine.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Airline Linguistics

One of my best friends recently returned from one of those family inspired, crazy holiday travel dances.

Portland to Ithaca with a brief layover in Newark via redeye. To keep things interesting she brought her children and upon landing in Ithaca embarked on a two hour drive through icy snow.

We were catching up over coffee and she was telling me about the highlights of her trip, but it was the return piece that made my ears perk up. Two feet of snow overnight was her first clue that thirty minutes to make a connecting flight wouldn't be sufficient. She called the airline and was told she had a "valid connection".

"I understand it's a valid connection, but the plane is going to sit on the runway for at least thirty minutes for de-icing. We'll miss our connection."

"I'm sorry ma'am, but it is a valid connection," was the response.

Early the next morning she returned to Ithaca to be told her children didn't have seats on the flight. "So you're overbooked," she told the airline attendant.

"No ma'am. We had two extra passengers who we removed so now the flight is at-capacity."

"Yes! Those two extra passengers were my children and so you're overbooked."

"No. We've removed the two extra passengers in order to make the flight at-capacity."

As a writer, this purposeful twisting of language to alter reality fascinates me. It's as though I bought a box of chocolates, eaten a few and then decided to return them.

"Ma'am, it appears you've eaten a few of these chocolates."

"I just removed a couple and now I need my box to be replenished to an at-capacity state.

"We can't replace the chocolates you've eaten."

"I haven't eaten them. I've removed them. You can't expect me to accept this as a valid sale when the box hasn't been filled to capacity."

Silly, right?

But as long as the airlines are pushing forward with their new form of linguistic reasoning it makes me think we should push back, lobby for codified language that will redefine and specify the  true meaning of phrases like valid connection, overbooked flights and adequate aisle seat space for elbows and knees.

After that we can turn our attentions to the vendors of chocolates and those cute little Girl Scouts who sell cookies. I happen to have one such cookie pusher living in my house and I'm sure she'd be happy to engage in a little alternate reality linguistic reasoning. Any takers?

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Pilgrim

Somewhere in the mayhem of days that precedes Christmas I heard about The Pilgrim.

I don't remember how or where, but I had enough wherewithal to grab a pencil and scribble down the name of the pubication and one particular writer before resubmerging under the deluge of gift wrapping, food preparation and festivities.

The Pilgrim is a magazine in Boston that publishes the voices of that city's large homeless population. I say, that city, but really, what city doesn't have a large homeless population? In Oregon it's not limited just to Portland. When I travel south on the interstate there are people at every freeway onramp and exit holding cardboard signs detailing their need and asking for help.

If you believe the handwritten pleas, these people are ex-military, moms and dads out of work for seven months, young people who can't find jobs. More and more frequently I roll down my car window and hand out dollar bills. When I scan their faces they look less methamphetamine ravaged and more like people who could use a good meal.

There's a lot to write about here.

I don't intend to tackle the issues of adequate homeless shelters, food and our economy all in one blog post, instead I want to talk about art and expression.

The ability to voice your experience and have your voice be acknowledged is a crucial step toward changing the way we think about the homeless. Instead of viewing them as a seething mass of semi-humanity, it allows individuals to be named and reclaim their place in society.

Margaret Miranda is a homeless woman and a writer for The Pilgrim. This is an excerpt from one of the pieces she wrote for its December issue:

At a time when I wanted to blend into the earth in every sense you insisted I take a reversible winter jacket - hot pink on one side, electric blue on the other - so I could not escape your opinion that I was precious and wanted to be safe in traffic.
Margaret Miranda is just one of many voices. If you have a minute stop by to read some of the others that so often go unheard and unrecognized.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's New?

It's a new year. After the New Year's celebrations, either the up 'til midnight or the boardgame in front of the fireplace variety, I'm sure you're all aware we've left 2012 behind and entered 2013.

We survived Mayan predictions and post-holidays sales. Christmas tree needles have been swept up, or at least under the carpet and I've managed to pawn off the sugary treats that made up part of my holiday decor on helpful neighbors and friends.

One of my favorite new year's activities is making lists.

Yep, I'm one of those kind of people. And my favorite kind of lists are derived from lists made by other people.

In my free moments I love to pull up all the end of year best book lists. The ones I like best aren't derived from sales figures, but from critical reviews.

These books help me grow as both a reader and writer.

I think of them as my homegrown MFA program. They push me to be a better writer and thinker. Well, in theory they do. Sometimes they make me wonder what the critics were thinking, but that's okay too. It's part of the process of understanding what works for me as both writer and reader.

One book I've been obsessing over for almost two years is Cover of Snow, written by friend and fellow author Jenny Milchman.

Cover of Snow, due out on January 15, will be the first book I buy this year and I predict it will be the first book I finish during the second full week of January

What else is new?

Well, of course there's Losing Hope, but I've already read that one. Several times, in fact.

My second book in the Persephone Campbell series is a grown-up look at one woman's ongoing battle with her inner darkness and the Lord of the Underworld.

In addition to my OCDness over Jenny's new book, I spent the waning days of the year devouring Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water and am about to embark on a Kathy Acker binge which I anticipate being hard on the psyche, but good for the soul.

What about you? Are you making up a book list for the year? Are you in the middle of something unputdownable? Tell me! Tell me, please! And I'll add them to my Santa-claus long list. Who knows, maybe they'll even skip to the top.