July 30, 2004
Feeling Green
It started with an article in the newspaper this week. There was a profile of a successful Romanian teen author who wrote a fantasy/adventure novel at age 12 and published it at 14. The book received rave reviews in France, made the German best-seller list and had rights sold in 21 countries. Good for her, I thought, though somewhat dejected.

It reminded me of a time a few years ago when I heard that a friend from another state wrote a novel—a thriller. I felt like I’d been sucker-punched since I didn’t even know that she was interested in writing. As a lawyer who had recently become a stay at home mom to her three very young boys, where did she even find the time to write? She’s someone that I like very much, so I didn’t feel negatively toward her. I just felt weird.

Then a member of an online writing group I’m part of (another blogger actually) just announced that he obtained a New York agent for his book. He seems like a great guy and a talented writer, so I’m excited for him.  But hearing about all of these people reaching lofty writing goals makes me feel a bit envious.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about a time when most of her colleagues ignored a big professional achievement. There was one guy, though, who sent her a gorgeous flower arrangement with a card that read, “Jealous as hell, congratulations anyway.” That’s how I feel. It’s not that I begrudge or resent other people’s success.  I’m usually happy for the person and interested to learn how exactly they made their dream a reality.

I’m mostly curious about my envy. I’m interested in exploring its meaning, what it can reveal to me. In these instances of writer envy, clearly it’s telling me that there’s something there that I want for myself. It’s informing me of the importance of my own writing goals, which are a little hazy at this point.  The positive aspect of envy then, is that hearing of someone else’s accomplishments goads me, motivates me, and serves to stimulate me to get moving on my own aspirations. 

I also realize that even accomplished writers experience envy, so I don’t expect these feelings to go away even if I do achieve success someday. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says that jealously is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer.  She reports that “if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen to some of the most awful, angry undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.” 

Kidding aside, when envy strikes, I’ll try to pay attention to its messages. Jealousy has a way of illuminating my own desires and prompting me to take steps toward realizing them. It’s obvious to me based on recent reactions that my desires undeniably have something to do with writing.

July 27, 2004
Fairy Tales
I’m such a liar. My defense—that I was put on the spot—is pretty weak, considering that I should have been ready. Now I can’t even look my daughter in the eye.

My five year old has her first loose tooth. She’s scared because it feels weird, she’s worried it’s going to hurt when it comes out, and I think she senses that it’s a sign of her leaving babyhood for good.  “Why is this happening so early?” she asks me in tears. 

I’m not ready for this either, but I tell her all of the positive things that I can think of about the situation.  “It means you’re turning into a school girl!”  I add, because I know that she’s excited about starting Kindergarten in the fall.  Then somehow the tooth fairy comes up and that’s where I fumble.

“There is no tooth fairy,” J. tells me matter-of-factly without a hint of sadness. I look at her little sister S. who is sitting with us and see by her lack of reaction that she agrees.

There’s no time to think. I have only a split second to determine my position. “Oh yes, there is a tooth fairy,” I say to them.

It would have been easy to go along with their non-belief (and just give them little gifts in exchange for their teeth without the pretense of fairy involvement), but something compelled me to lie. In one brief moment I tricked these innocent children into believing something that they weren’t even upset about not believing in the first place.  And then I had to continue to fabricate the particulars of the matter in order to answer their ensuing questions.

“Well, how does she get in the house? The doors are locked at night,” J. says.

“Oh, she can get in,” I say, vaguely.


“Magic,” I answer.

“But the doors are closed,” J. says again, not satisfied.

I should allow myself a moment to come up with something good but I don’t. “How does Santa get in?” I hear myself saying. Oh crap, I didn’t want to go there.

“Down the chimney!” she says and I can see she’s now on board. “You’ll have to open up the fireplace doors.”

“I will,” I say. “I’ll be sure that she can get in.”

Afterward, I feel bad about lying to my kids. I know that believing in the tooth fairy will do them no harm, that we can have fun with it and I can cop to the truth when they’re older. But it’s strange to concoct details with the intent to deceive.

Instead of just winging it, I suppose I should prepare for these inevitable conversations, have my spiel all ready to go, something that I know in advance I can live with. Lord help me when it’s time for the “Big Talk”. You’re probably never ready for that.

So what’s the going rate for a baby tooth anyway?

July 22, 2004
Life Begins at Waters End
Or so the brochure for this new development in our town would have you believe. My younger daughter and I recently visited the model homes there, and I’m still chuckling at the bullshit that they came up with in their marketing material. “At this coveted collection, you may be inclined to think that we read your mind, as the haven you thought only existed in your dreams has finally arrived.” Believe me, if they could really read my mind, I don’t think they’d like it very much.
Let me say that it was fun to walk through the four model homes, all modern and professionally decorated.  What’s not to love about gourmet kitchens, curved staircases with oak handrails, and large walk-in closets? Who doesn’t enjoy the adrenaline rush from imagining all that wonderful newness as your very own?
But really, I’m satisfied with my own home and neighborhood. Would 500 or 1,000 more square feet than I have now make my life better? Happier? Would brand new appliances improve my quality of life? Well, maybe a little. But the initial excitement is fleeting. It’s like the thrill you get when you first drive a newly purchased car.  How long does that last? A week? A few days?
As we walked through the sales office to get to the models, the realtor was meeting with an attractive Asian couple who are purchasing one of the homes.  The salesman’s tone was as sickening as the brochure copy. My daughter probably wondered why I was gagging as we passed by. Let’s get real with these buyers for a minute, shall we?
The model homes are set up to trick you. First, at the model site, the houses back up to open space providing the illusion of expansiveness and privacy.  They are removed from the general construction area where the newly built homes sit practically on top of each other—where, if you had an argument with your spouse, your next door neighbors would hear every nasty word and look at you funny the next day. Inside the models, designer know-how is fooling you in every room. The furniture they use is actually smaller than what you own, making the rooms look bigger and better. Expensive accessories and accents engender a feeling of fabulousness in a way that your stuff won’t. Then there’s the Norah Jones concert that was playing on the gigantic TV with the music piped throughout speakers all over the house, because that’s the cool kind of life you’re going to lead living there.
That $5,000 children’s play structure in the backyard? Not included. The grass? Nope. The sinks in the laundry room? They’re extra.  Do you want the upgraded kitchen counters, snazzy designer carpet or groovy built-in shelving and cabinetry throughout the house? Follow the asterisk in the sales material: all custom features are available at an additional cost.  But don’t worry, the easy-care vinyl flooring in the bathrooms and the white decorator light switches around the house are standard.  
There were two positive things that came out of my visit, though. First, I got some great decorating ideas that I can use in my own home. Particularly, I loved the window treatments that they used in the first model, as well as the faucets and lighting throughout all of the bathrooms. Someday, when we replace our carpeting, I’d love to get the style they showcased. Maybe we’ll even paint the interior of our house with the beautiful beiges and gray-green tones that they used.

Also, I’m all fired up about my city. As a result of their sales brochure, I’m reminded that right here, in the very place that I live, “the charming, small-town American ideal has a decidedly elegant feel with marvelous art galleries, bayside restaurants and charming cafes and boutiques.” They’ve got photos of the brick capital building and park (our city was the state capital in the 1850’s), the marina (from a vantage point that makes it seem bigger and better than it is), an older couple cuddling over a cappuccino at a cafe, a grandfather fishing with his grandson on the pier, and a handsome 30-something couple smiling and pointing at some gourmet foods in the window of a shop. Yep, that’s my town. Look at what I’ve been ignoring.

So it looks like we’re staying. But in our own abode, thank you very much. What I have is enough.

July 19, 2004
Reduce Stress in Ten Easy Steps

Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.
- Natalie Goldberg
Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it. 

-Jane Wagner

My husband suffers from migraine headaches and recently met with a new doctor, a Board Certified Neurologist.  Along with a prescription for Topomax, the doctor gave him a full sized brochure called Headache Help. Inside, there’s a section with a list of “proven stress reducers.”
Now, for a women’s magazine junkie like myself, there were plenty of things on the list that made me go, “Duh!” Like: prepare for the morning the evening before; get enough sleep; take a hot bath to relieve tension. But the list had some surprisingly interesting ideas as well.
Here are ten that I liked:        

1.   Relax your standards. The world will not end if the grass doesn’t get mowed this weekend. [ed note: substitute vacuuming, laundry, or whatever for lawn mowing]
2.   For every one thing that goes wrong, there are probably 10, 50 or 100 blessings. Count them!
3.   Everyday, do something that you really enjoy.
4.   Focus on understanding rather than on being understood; on loving rather than being loved.
5.   Do something that will improve your appearance. Looking better can help you feel better.
6.   Become more flexible. Some things are worth not doing perfectly and some issues are well to compromise on.
7.   If an especially unpleasant task faces you, do it early in the day and get it over with; then the rest of the day will be free of anxiety.
8.   Have a forgiving view of events and people. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world.
9.   Have an optimistic view of the world. Believe that most people are doing the best that they can.
10.  Do one thing at a time. When you are with someone, be with that person and with no one or nothing else. When you are busy with a project, concentrate on doing that project and forget about everything else that you have to do.

Do any of those hit home for you?

July 16, 2004
Right now, the girls are playing downstairs with some dolls and stuffed animals. My five year old is talking in an English accent—I don’t know why. They just ran up here to get a book (Ten Apples Up on Top!) to read to their baby.  So the reading thing—I adore books—is sinking in with them.
I’m drinking peppermint tea, something I don’t usually have. My normal candy coffee didn’t seem right after a breakfast of pancakes with syrup. I had told the girls that they could have waffles, but then I didn’t have any. So I had to make the pancakes. Well, that or listen to whining about a regular breakfast…so I got out the bowl and whisk and hopped to it.
Early this morning I got a surprise call from my (favorite) Aunt Betty in Maryland.  She wanted to talk about the bridesmaid dresses for my mother’s upcoming wedding before leaving on a trip to help move her mother-in-law to Florida.  Looks like we’re going with eggplant colored dresses. My two sisters are the other bridesmaids and my daughters will be the flower girls.
On my desk, I can see my blue leather planner opened to today’s date.  I actually have blogging on my list of things to do. That, and laundry (which I don’t usually do on Fridays but I let myself get behind) and picking up a DVD for tonight (Season 2, Vol 3. of Six Feet Under, one of the best written and acted shows, period. But not for the easily offended, which I’m not.)  Also on the list is a library trip this afternoon with the girls, and returning my dad’s phone call of two nights ago (he said it was just a social call).
Yesterday was J’s last day of Pre-Kindergarten so we’re not on a schedule today. I’m still wearing my pajamas and my hair is in a bun.  The sun is bright at 9:30am—I can tell it’s going to be hot today. I already have the oscillating fan on in here.
The girls both just came in and hugged me. J. tells she loves me and then a moment later asks, “When we get home from the library can we watch Arthur’s Eyes? Because I really like watching new movies right after we get them. It’s so fun.”  I tell her yes and she relays the news to her little sister, S. 
“Yay! I love that movie!” S. replies.  That she’s never seen it before is beside the point. (Well, she did see the preview for it so she thinks she knows it.)
So that’s what’s going on over here this morning. Exciting stuff! What’s happening in your world right now?   

July 13, 2004
Welcome to M.T. Elementary School!

Dear Principal of M.T. Elementary School,

Thank you for your letter dated July 1, 2004, in which you informed me that my daughter J. has been assigned to afternoon kindergarten. You said that if I have any questions or concerns, that may I contact you. Well, first of all, I have to ask: what part of “I need morning kindergarten” that I wrote all over the multi-colored registration forms did your staff not understand?

I had carefully constructed what I now know to be a house of cards, whereby my younger daughter S. would be attending morning preschool, so that while J. is in kindergarten I would have concurrent childcare. Please note that I had to enroll my younger daughter in preschool several months ago, as it is a popular program for which some parents wait in line starting at 3:00 a.m. the night before (I’m not kidding) in order to secure their child’s spot.

I realize that you have rules, and that you can’t go changing things around willy-nilly. But the way that I had it planned, I was going to get two and a half hours to myself—with no children—twice a week. I was going to get pedicures, do errands alone, have coffee and write, even volunteer in your school. Doing it your way, I can’t even pick up S. in time to get J. to school on time. Not to mention that J. would have to eat lunch an hour early and she would be unable to attend her afternoon dance class that she loves. Pardon me, but your way sucks.

I’m not an unreasonable person, Ms. Principal, but I really must insist that you try to rectify this situation. I checked online and you have three morning kindergarten classes and one afternoon class. There should be room in one of the morning classes for J., a wonderful student who will thrive in the earlier setting (she can be tired and crabby in the afternoon). If it will help, I’ve taken a look at the Kindergarten Class Supply List that parents are required to provide, and I am wiling to give several extra bottles of “white multipurpose glue” and a Costco-sized box of “waterless antibacterial soap”. Plus, I’ll wash your car.

I tried calling you but the school office is closed until August. Please, please don’t make me worry about this for the rest of the summer. Let’s start off our elementary school relationship on a good note. Let’s make this work, ok?

Thank you in advance for your courtesy and cooperation.

M. Peterson

July 09, 2004
The Books Are Talking to Me

And no, I’m really not insane. But first, I want you to pick a number between one and seven and remember that number. Have you got it?

This morning, I picked some books off the shelf and opened them up randomly to find the following messages for me. Sometimes when I do this, my first inclination is to say that the arbitrarily chosen passage doesn’t really make sense or apply to me. But it always does.

What was the number you picked? Find that citation below and think about what someone is trying to tell you today…

1) The Bodacious Book of Succulence by SARK, page 102:

“We are all in various states or stage of healing. Let’s remember this as others falter or fall or appear to be acting stupidly.

Let’s pick each other up, drive more slowly and kindly, and be conscious of judging and its harm to ourselves and others.”

2) Life Makeovers by Cheryl Richardson, page 101:

"Sometimes the things we most want seem to come with the most risk—the risk of rejection, disappointment, or failure. But if you play it safe, and never let your desire see the light of day, you risk something even greater—the opportunity to experience the joy that comes from expressing your unique talents and gifts. And worse, by not taking the risk, you’re left with a haunting inner voice that will forever sing the song of 'if only'. What a waste!"

3) How Much Joy Can You Stand, Suzanne Falter-Barns, page 74:

"It’s as if we can’t bear to be that good to ourselves. It’s as if we’ve always been told to keep it small and carve out only a modest chunk of satisfaction of ourselves..."

4) 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, Dr, Wayne Dyer, page 112:

"Your resentments will literally send God out of your life while you're busy bring offended. Not being offended will mean eliminating all variations of the following sentence from your repertoire of available thoughts: ' If only you were more like me, then I wouldn’t have to be upset right now. ' You are the way you are and so are those around you. Most likely, they will never be just like you. So stop expecting those who are different to be what you think they should be. It’s never going to happen."

5) Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach, April 17th entry:

Chapter is titled, “Making Peace with Your Hair”.

6) The Bastard on the Couch : 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom by Daniel Jones, Editor, page 138:

"…I began to understand that passing the time, cleaning, and cooking were only going to be the most obvious demands of the job.

The less obvious element was that I would be presenting the world to four newcomers. I would be the filter, the promoter, the advisor, the dissenter. In short, I was in the position to shape them. The stakes were even higher than I’d expected. And the ego boosts I needed to give me the energy to get through it were few and far between."

7) Outwitting Writer’s Block, by Jenna Glatzer, page 88

“Writer’s block can also strike when you get caught up in comparing yourself to other, usually famous, writers. ‘ Writer’s block strikes when I read something similar to my own style and preferred topic but which is far more brilliant and graceful then anything I have ever written in my life,' says freelance writer Jennifer Durbin. ' Makes me want to just go slit my own throat and be done with it. It’s like comparing Cary Grant to William Shatner—one is sexy, smooth and seamless, the other bearable, but just barely. There is no mistaking which is which.

… 'Then it occurs to me—William Shatner gets hired anyway. William Shatner doesn’t have to be, isn’t expected to be Cary Grant. Ever. Then I go off and read a few published words by somebody, anybody, who isn’t Madame Dazzling and I remind myself that this person got hired, got published, and I am every bit as good.'”

July 06, 2004
Picky Celebrities Get Perks Aplenty

Clearly, my negotiations skills were off when I took my last job. I should have retained Sharon Stone’s lawyer. In addition to her salary, her contract includes a five-page list of demands that must be fulfilled before she agrees to show up for work. Her requirements include a chauffeured car piloted by a non-smoking driver approved by Stone (plus a convertible sedan for personal use), three nannies, two assistants, armed bodyguards, first-class travel (if a private jet is unavailable), accommodations at an A-list hotel (“Presidential suite with two bedrooms” required), Pilates Cadillac equipment for her exclusive use, a personal chef, a $3,500 per week nonaccountable per diem, and a deluxe trailer with air conditioning, heating, bed, private bathroom, shower, TV, VCR, refrigerator, telephone, stove, couch, stereo, and cellular fax machine. She also keeps all wardrobe and jewelry worn in a movie.*

*Can we have a little aside here where I’m catty and I tell you about my real-life encounter with Ms. Stone? K. and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary last year at a luxurious French restaurant in San Francisco. During our second course, in walks Sharon in a knee length leopard print coat with her then-husband Phil Bronstein (Executive Vice President and Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle) and two other couples. They sit two tables away from us. Throughout the evening, things seem rather tense at their table (read: she seemed to be, shall we say, too cool for her own good.) From my particular vantage point, I was also able to watch her husband get up during the meal and sneak into the small bar area, where he quickly downed a stiff drink before returning to the table. He didn’t seem too happy. Two months later, Phil and Sharon announced their divorce.

But no, it’s really not Pick-on-Sharon Stone Day. Touring musicians can be demanding too, you know. Christina Aguilera’s dressing room requirements include a long list of various items (“To be ready by 3:00p.m.”), such as ten bottles of room temperature bottled water (“not Evian”), one small container of Flintstones vitamins with extra Vitamin C, a platter assortment of gums and mints, four votive candles with matches, and one roll of APS film/ 200 speed exposure. Other demands include a police escort because she can't bother to "encounter any delays due to traffic."

Jennifer Lopez’s representatives gave the production crew of a recent charity (hello?) music video, in which she had a cameo appearance, a detailed rider describing what needed to be in place prior to her arrival. The list included dressing room requirements of a white room with white flowers, white tables and/or tablecloths, white drapes, white candles and white couches. All of which she reportedly did not even use during her 90 minute stay.

Where am I going with all this? I don’t know. I suppose I’m a little jealous of some of the perks. High on my list of extravagances would be a personal stylist who finds me great outfits to wear and a hairstylist to do my hair for me everyday. A personal trainer would be nice. Oh, and a generous per diem. (Because really, I can do a lot of things myself. I just need some walking around money).

In reality, what I’ll get is an occasional family vacation with roundtrip coach transportation and standard hotel guest room, a cell phone, bimonthly highlights, a husband who acts as a personal chef for at least two weekend meals (he is the Egg King around here), white carpets (well, they used to be white), two marginally helpful young assistants (who currently require their own container of Flintstones vitamins) and non-exclusive use of an Ellipse machine. Oh, and a happy home life surrounded by people I can count on. Pretty good perks.

July 02, 2004
Housekeeping: The Real Kind and the Blog Kind

First, I am referring to my adventures in laundering of yesterday. A word of advice: don’t ever let a black crayon get mixed in with the kids’ laundry. And if you do, be sure to notice all the black streaks and dots on the clothes as you move them from the washing machine to the dryer, before they get permanently baked into the clothes and the interior of the machine.

Sometimes you don’t yell and scream when things go wrong, you just quietly shake your head and marvel at unbelievableness of the situation. Then you silently calculate the cost of the ruined clothes and possibly of a new dryer (because the inside is a black mess that won’t come off with scrubbing and I’m afraid of it melting into MY clothes when I do another load of laundry). But I’ve heard it said that if you have a problem that can be solved with money, then you don’t really have a problem. So, putting things in their proper perspective, I guess I should count my blessings (always a good approach).

On to housekeeping of the blogging kind, otherwise known as template management. After hours of fiddling with things, now you can see that there really is a person behind the blog: I added a picture to my profile. So frustrated by engrossed in this project, I even missed the window of opportunity for dinner preparation last night (don’t worry, I ordered some pizzas). So for those of you who’ve been asking what I look like, there you go.

P.S. Have a wonderful holiday weekend. We’re painting our nails red, white and blue with all those nail polishes that I won.