Friday, October 24, 2014

Pretty Pictures from an Autumn Day

Ugh. It has been a day, folks. I am running on very little sleep and a whole lot of drama. Can't really publicly snark about what it's about, either, because some stuff you just can't open up to the world.

Sorry to be vagueblogging, but I just think that we may need to have it suffice to say that (1) it's been one of THOSE days, (2) my head is killing me, (3) I forgot to eat at all today so an hour ago I just ate a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter. I can't THINK in complete sentences, let alone write a coherent string of them... so today is a "pretty pictures" blog post. All of these photos were taken by me as part of my ongoing attempt to appreciate beauty around me in a more mindful way. I think all of our lives can be enhanced by looking at beautiful things, and I know that it makes my day a little bit better.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I Wish I Were a Mommy Blogger

Photo Credit: Melissa Burke

I wish I were a Mommy Blogger. From my limited perspective, Mommy Bloggers seem to run the blogging world. They are like the popular kids in high school. Don’t misunderstand, they are not the mean popular kids, they are always polite and will help you pick up your books when you accidentally leave your backpack open… but they aren’t going to invite you to the party on Friday night.

In the blogging world, the Friday night parties are online magazines and centralized blog article hubs. I won’t name any of them here because I like them all and I would love to be invited to any of their parties. This post is meant to be more “Dear Cool Kids, Look At Me!” and much less “Cool Kids Suck! I’m Going to Pack Up My Pens and Leave!”.  I am willing to share my pens. (They’re G2s, too, so that’s a great deal!)

Let’s take a second to examine why Mommy Bloggers are cool.

Why Mommy Bloggers are Cool
  1. Mommy Bloggers have cool stories. Kids are a great topic of conversation. They are funny and exasperating. They are endless fonts of inspiration. Kids can make you relatable to your readers… or you can go the other route by making perfect Pinspiring lunches complete with clementine and celery pumpkins (yes, this is a thing) – in which case your traffic will consist of a mix between those in awe and those who are secretly hate-reading. Whichever way you go, though, you are guaranteed commenters. (Granted, a lot of those commenters are fighting the Mommy Wars and are commenting to tell you why you’re losing so badly but, still, it’s blog traffic.) 
  2. Mommy Bloggers are a club of their own. It is nice to belong to something, and it is nice have other people around you to cheer you on.  That doesn’t happen a lot in the world and, quite frankly, it really should a lot more. Mommy Bloggers have always been nice to me, but the simple fact is that I am NOT one of them. I don’t fit in the club because I am lacking in the key requirement. Sadly it doesn’t matter how many rides I give, sandwiches I make, ACT practice tests I administer, or sleep I’ve lost over the last 17+ years – MS doesn’t count as my child because, alas, he does actually have perfectly capable and loving parents. I mean, *I* count him as mine, but outsiders tend not to.
  3. Mommy Bloggers have street cred. This was not always true. They had to struggle for a long time before they were taken seriously. Luckily they are mothers so they know all about not being taken seriously… and how to persist until they are. They’ve more than arrived now, however, with sites devoted almost entirely to what they have to say and advertisers queuing up to buy ad space on those sites.  
  4. Mommy Bloggers are someone’s Mommy. Let’s face it, this is the real reason I want to be a Mommy Blogger. Having tried so long to have kids of our own, it is really just one more way that being infertile makes my life a little dimmer. After six years of “another day, another pregnancy announcement”, I feel like I have a somewhat unique perspective on parenthood gleaned from my hyper-aware-outsider status. This extends to my thoughts on the balance of parenting and career.
    • It turns out that being a Mommy can, and often does, give you an edge in your career. What’s that? You didn’t think that having little to no maternity leave or sick time and making, depending on the study, somewhere between 10 and 33 cents less on every dollar than their male counterparts counted as “an edge”? Well, it doesn’t, that part sucks. A lot. It is despicable and it hurts our families and our economy – and the burden is heavier on women of lower economic means. What I’m talking about is the flexibility and capability that involved parents across the gender spectrum bring to the table. Who better to handle a pressing deadline than someone who knows what it is like to be told one evening that they are supposed to make nut and gluten free cupcakes for their child’s class and that they are to deliver them in the morning? Who better knows how to multitask than a parent who can simultaneously cook a nutritious meal, vacuum the living room, change a diaper, AND switch the laundry? Who better to put out figurative fires than a parent that sometimes has to put out ACTUAL fires? (Yes, it happens…)
    • Involved parents, in this case Mommies, also tend to be more grounded. They know what their priorities are. This simultaneously makes them more invested in a job and more daring in their decisions about what sort of work they want to do. Involved parents often make the best entrepreneurs because they understand the WHY of what they are doing, and they are especially motivated to make their endeavors succeed because, after all, someone is counting on them. I think, too, that involved parents are more innovative because they are more experienced in using their imaginations and looking at things from other perspectives – it is, after all, hard NOT to ask the questions of “Why?” and “Why not?” when you have someone in your life who is asking YOU those questions on a daily (or hourly) basis.

So, yes, I wish I were a Mommy Blogger. The number one reason is because that would mean that I have managed to fulfill the key requirement, but the secondary reason is that they are wicked cool. I want to go to their parties, drink [a lot of] wine, and swap kid stories. Heck, I could do those things now – I have plenty of tales to tell thanks to MS and I can hold my wine – but I would have to be invited. So, cool Mommy Bloggers, please invite me. I’ll even bring the pens.

Please include invites in the comments, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Rejection

I was rejected today. I woke up, checked my email, and there it was – a politely worded form email telling me that my blog didn’t fit the needs of the publishing network I had applied to. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. To say that I want to hide under my bed covers in a darkened room is much more on par with how I feel. I’m not going to lie, either, that is exactly what I did.

Of course I had my smart phone with me the whole time, I’m not a savage.

I think that it is important to engage in some self-indulgent sulking for a little while after any rejection. The trick is to figure out what the appropriate length of sulk time is. I have a general rule that, unless your marriage has ended, no length of sulk time should exceed three days.

Long-term relationship? That gets three days, anything more and you risk looking like you’re the one who can’t live without THEM and that is just absurd. Oh, you can still be sad, but you best get yourself up, out of bed, showered, and doing something of use to the world. You are, after all, an important person of substance and, as such, you can’t let some small-minded, shortsighted fool get in between you and your important business. Don’t think you have important business? Then go find some. Rededicate yourself to your work or school, volunteer, start a book club, learn to knit, babysit for a friend, or start a charity for cats to have their own laptops (to lay on, naturally). Do whatever, but for God’s sake DO SOMETHING.

If, however, your rejection comes either in the form of a USAJobs form letter or a writing rejection – the first being one I know a lot about and the second being one I am quickly being educated on – you get an hour MAX. That hour, for the record, is reserved only for opportunities you were REALLY excited about and wanted to come through. Everything else should only get the amount of time that it takes you to frown and continue to your next email. Why? Because it’s going to happen ALL THE TIME and you’re just going to need to get used to it. If I devoted a full hour to every rejection I got I would still be under the covers over things that I applied to three years ago. It is what it is, folks, and let me tell you a little about it.

Any time you put yourself out there for any job there are somewhere between 10 and 10,000+ other people going for the same position. What happens on the other end, then, is a weeding out and whittling down of the pile. Some applicants will be bounced right away because of obvious issues – they didn’t meet a critical requirement or didn’t finish the application. Other applicants will hang in right until the end but not make the final cut because the employer or editor could only pick 1 of the 3 candidates they interviewed. At that point it can become rather cut-throat… and even fairly arbitrary.

I remember when John and I were choosing interns for the project we were working on. There were 4 candidates that we really wanted to bring in – all excellent students that brought new and innovative ideas to the table – but then something shifted up the chain and we were only allowed to bring in one. We were fortunate that we did get to keep our top candidate, but we had to send regrets to the other three – all impressive people who would have been valuable assets to our team. To be honest, too, the reason that our top candidate was our top candidate was primarily just because we were fairly certain that we would get along well with him. Their credentials were essentially on the same level, so it came down to being the right personality fit. And that was mostly just a guess based on resume, cover letter, and the one phone interview that John was able to do before the decision had to be made. He was a great intern – really superior – but did it work out because we’re just THAT good at judging character or because we just got REALLY lucky?

What happened to the other three? Well, I know that one, at least, got an internship on Capitol Hill and another just increased their time at the job that was actually paying them to do research… but the third? I don’t know what happened to the third. They came from some school with George in the name and were clearly brilliant, so I’m guessing that they came out just fine… but I don’t actually know.

The point that I’m making, in my characteristically long winded way, is that most of the time when you don’t get something it has absolutely nothing to do with your value as a person. You can’t take it personally. If you’re lucky then you’ll get some additional feedback about how you can improve, but that is, quite frankly, a fairly rare occurrence. If you are that lucky, remember to take the feedback in the spirit it was intended – not as a criticism of your person but, rather, as an implicit statement that someone sees your value and thinks that you are worth the amount of time that they are taking to help you succeed. If you don’t get any feedback, then review things on your own and see if you can spot ways you can do better.

For my part, I know that I need to tighten up some of my writing and re-introduce some of the adaptations I had made when one of my friends previously gave me constructive feedback. I need to focus on quality over quantity – but still maintain consistency. I need to submit my writing to more venues and improve both my promotion of my own work and my support of my fellow writers (of all types). I also just need to take care of myself so that I am able to get into the correct headspace to be able to write worthwhile things. I DO have a lot to learn and I’m probably NOT quite ready to be a member of that publishing network… but I’m on my way.

It sucks to be rejected. The most important thing to remember, though, is that it isn’t a reflection on you as a person. It might actually be random, it might reflect someone else’s bad judgment, or it might be an opportunity for you to review and rededicate yourself to your ultimate goals.  The truth is that there isn’t a person out there that couldn’t improve themselves somehow, so do your best to place your focus on improving yourself – it’s a far better, and happier, use of your time than focusing on the negative.

What are your thoughts? What are your experiences with rejection? How did you get through it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Keep Your Pets from Getting Spooked this Halloween

Nala the Ewok

Holidays can be a stressful time for our pets, and each one brings a new set of challenges. Halloween is no exception. A few simple tweaks to your Halloween routine, however, can go a long way toward keeping your pets safe.

Exercise your pets earlier in the day. Frequent knocks and doorbell rings, excited children on sugar highs, and masked creatures walking about – well it’s all rather a lot for a cat or dog to take in. Consider taking your dog for an extra long walk earlier in the day so you encounter fewer ghosts and goblins AND tire them out a bit before things really get busy. Make sure that the leash is secure, and seriously consider using a harness as they are much harder for your furry friend to slip out of. Cats, too, could do with plenty of play earlier in the day (try a Da Bird cat toy, few cats can resist them). The more energy you can get them to expend, the less they will have to apply to the frenzy of the evening.

Doug the Dinosaur

Give your pet somewhere private and secure to spend the evening. Whether you’re answering the door to hand out candy or having some friends over for a costume party, put your pet(s) in a room where they can avoid the crowds. Provide them with food, water, bedding, and, for cats, a litter box. Consider playing some soft music to drown out the sounds and soothe their harried nerves. Go the extra step, too, of putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so folks know that Fido and Fluffy are not to be let out.

Consider using gates. Redundancy rarely hurts. If your pet is a known escape artist – or if you have children who might be particularly excited about the holiday – then consider placing pet gates around the outside leading doors. Halloween is a holiday during which the front door is frequently opened and closed, and each time you hand out treats in an opportunity for an anxious animal to bolt through that door and into the night. Unless you are certain that your dog won’t dart and your cat won’t catapult, give yourself the backup of pet gates.

Cooper the Dog Shark (or DoRk, for short)
Note that Cooper is sporting his ID tags

Have your pets carry ID. Sometimes even the best prior planning won’t prevent your pet from fleeing during a frantic time. If that should happen, your best chance of recovery is for them to be wearing up-to-date identification. Microchipping, too, can vastly increase the odds of having your pet returned to you. Tags can be lost, but a microchip can’t be. Again, redundancy is a good idea. Microchipping is a quick, easy, and inexpensive procedure for your vet to perform – call and make an appointment today. A collar and a microchip will help you cover your bases in the event that your pet makes it past [your] home.

Keep your pets inside. Crazy things can happen on Halloween that could cause your animal to go missing. Things as innocent as excited children opening gates to things as vile as people wanting to harm an animal – they are all more likely to happen on Halloween. Just avoid it all by keeping your pets inside or, if they must go out, keep them on a secure harness and leash.

This Kitty Likes the Nip

Doug the Ninja [Turtle] Dog
Make your cat indoor only – at least around Halloween. I am an outspoken supporter of keeping cats indoors only. It enhances their quality of life and extends that life significantly. Even if, however, you have an indoor/outdoor cat, please keep it inside for a few days before and after Halloween. There are a number of threats to a cat on this holiday including increased traffic and, again, disturbed people who would seek to do them harm. Attacks on cats increase dramatically in the month of October. Don’t risk it. Keep your cat calm during this extended home stay by providing their food, water, clean litter boxes, exercise and, of course, love. Yes, they may protest, but what is more important to you, their safety or your irritation with their serenade?

Consider using pheromones. Comfort Zone has synthetic pheromones for both cats and dogs. These pheromones mimic natural pheromones produced by mother cats and dogs (respectively) soon after they give birth. These pheromones comfort the young and cause them to associate these scents with security and good feelings – an association that continues for most animals even after they have become adults.

Xander is feeling chill

Secure your candy from curious cats and dogs. All candy is dangerous for dogs and cats. Chocolate, especially, can be lethal. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, rapid heart rate, trouble breathing, and seizures. Xylitol, an ingredient in many different candies, is also suspected to be toxic to animals. Keep your candy out of reach of your animals, and remember to teach the children in your life that candy isn’t safe for their furry friends. Watch your littlest ones closely so that they don’t forget and hand (or drop) anything to your dog or cat. If you know that your children are the sharing type, then consider having them help you as you make special treats just for Fuzzy and Fido. You could even store them in a special Halloween themed container -- one that doesn’t look like any of your children’s treat buckets (to reduce confusion). 

Keep pets away from the décor. Cats and dogs have been known to chew a thing or two in their day. Things like decorative corn, pumpkins, and other gourds, however, have been known to cause stomach upset when animals ingest them. Electrical cords, too, can prove to be too tempting for some animals to resist but a chewed cord has the potential to give a severe shock or start a fire. Protect your animal and yourself by keeping these things away from your pets.

This pup makes Ralph Macchio nervous.
(vague Karate Kid reference -- check!)

Use battery operated candles in your jack-o-lanterns and other décor. This is a good rule regardless of whether or not you are blessed with an animal companion. Jack-o-lanterns and other décor are easily bumped into, knocked over, or stood too close to. Luckily we’ve advanced to a point that we don’t have to risk a fire in order to have a festive holiday. Just use a faux, battery-operated candle instead. Mothers of children wearing polyester capes with their costumes will thank you. 

Practice caution when costuming. Please do not make your cat or dog wear a costume unless you are 100% certain that they like it. Many of us feel like our animals are our children but, like our children, they have preferences and personalities all their own. You wouldn’t force your teenage to wear a costume, so you shouldn’t force your animal. Then again, some pets (mostly dogs) really DO enjoy, or are at least indifferent to, costumes. It is perfectly fine to dress these animals in costumes... but remember these simple guidelines: (1) try on the costume ahead of time to make sure that it fits correctly and doesn’t restrict breathing or movement, (2) be certain that the fabric does not cause an allergic reaction, (3) double and triple check that there aren’t any pieces that could be chewed off and create a choking hazard, and (4) never leave your pet unattended while wearing a costume.

Consider Halloween from your pet’s perspective. There is a lot of activity, strange sounds, energetic children, and strange looking creatures roaming about. The doorbell is being rung over and over by strangers. It also suddenly seems appropriate to leave pumpkins with faces sitting on the front step. It’s all rather a lot to take in for a cat or dog, and it probably doesn’t seem like much fun for them.  Luckily you can keep them from getting spooked this Halloween by taking these simple precautions, and we'll be one holiday closer to Christmas.

What do you think? Is there anything I missed? If so, please share in the comments so that we can all make this holiday a little easier on our furry friends.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday in Autumn

I am not entirely sure what to say all the time and it can be an awful lot of pressure to have to figure it out. Some days just don't work. Some days I just need time to do other things (like vacuum). Right now I am in NaBloPoMo so I have to post every day. That's usually a good motivator, but it can also be a lot of pressure and, more importantly to me, the quality of my writing suffers. I don't like that, and I can't imagine anyone reading this would either.

I am feeling very inarticulate today. I will be happy when NaBloPoMo is over, but I can't really explain why right now. I am actually in the middle of an anxiety attack. Today it is one of the ones that robs me of my ability to express myself clearly. I hate that. I promise to come back around to it but, for today, I have just decided to start something new instead.

I'm trying to take more pictures. I am trying to appreciate the beauty around me. I am trying to notice more. Taking pictures helps me do that. I've decided, then, that on days I am feeling like I can't write my best work (either because of health reasons or because I am just too busy to focus) I will, instead, just post some of the pictures that I have taken in the few days preceding the post. I hope that's okay.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Senior Pictures: The Years Are Short

Photo Credit: Emily Kubley

MS had his Senior pictures taken yesterday by my very talented friend Emily Kubley. I don’t think that it was what he was expecting… mostly because I think that he was expecting it to be a miserable experience that would take hours on end. It was, instead, about a half an hour of relaxed banter that occasionally required him to smile. I am very excited to see how the photos turned out. I apologize in advance that these photos will likely not appear on this blog -- as much as I like to make my reader's happy, I have to put MS's wishes first. He tolerates my writing about him since I don't use his actual name, but I am fairly certain that photos would be a bridge too far. I have, instead, provided you with some of Emily's other photography -- you can talk to her about getting prints.

Credit: Emily Kubley
Why yes, I do believe this guy was friendlier than
MS would be if I shared his photos without his express permission.
 Senior pictures are an interesting experience. These pictures almost didn’t happen. To say that they weren’t high on his priority list is an understatement, they were very much something that he did to humor me… or maybe because I threatened to follow him around with a camera as though he were an animal in the wild. In fact, when he cancelled the first scheduled shoot on me I told him that I not only would Emily and I follow him around, I would also record it and later have it narrated Wild America style. I considered contacting Morgan Freeman to see if he would do it – that seems like it might be something Morgan Freeman would choose to do for fun. That guy seems like a man with a sense of humor.

 In the end, though, things actually turned out really well. Yesterday was a warm, mostly still day with just enough clouds in the sky to make our late afternoon light that much more flattering. Even more, his delaying tactics actually DID benefit us in terms of getting the fall colors that he wanted in his pictures. I always kind of suspected that his stated desire for a “fall feel” was more a delaying tactic than a deeply held artistic preference, but the colors right now ARE truly beautiful and I do think that they add a layer of interest to the photos.

Credit: Emily Kubley
 Beyond just GETTING him to actually show up for the appointment, I didn’t push on much of anything. I did give him a haircut the night before because his hair was sticking up funny in the back (he has a very stubborn swirl that does not like to cooperate at certain lengths), but that was really the extent of it. I didn’t really care what he wore, I didn’t insist on wardrobe changes, I trusted Emily to do her job well, and I stayed out of the way.  Literally. Emily’s tiny assistant (her three month old son), does a fantastic job of keeping Monopoly mothers distracted so that they manage to refrain from meddling. Really, he’s a fine addition to the team.

In all honesty, it makes all the difference that Emily was taking MS’s pictures. She is incredibly talented and, probably just as important, she has the ideal personality. She’s funny, relaxed, and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She is friendly and professional. What always impresses me the most, though, is how well she can capture someone’s personality via a photo.

That last part means a lot to me, especially in this case. I feel Senior pictures are meant to capture the essence of the subject – but I rarely think that is what actually happens. They have become so staged and, even worse, they often become something that is orchestrated and micromanaged by parents to reflect what THEY want their kids to be – or at least what they want other people to think their kids are. I didn’t want that. I like MS for who and what he is – a young man with a good heart, quick wit, and determined spirit. He is, among other things, funny, talented, and kind. I’m not sure exactly HOW Emily manages to capture things like that in a photo – and yes, I am sure I am biased – but I think that she does.

Credit: Emily Kubley

I feel like I should pause for a second and say that no, this is not a sponsored post. I am not getting any discount from Emily that I wouldn’t already have gotten for my continued efforts to ensure that her son knows the proper way to pronounce “sauna” (it’s ‘sow-na’ NOT ‘saw-na’, for the record)... just as soon as he is actually able to talk. (Yesterday he learned how to roll over, I am convinced he is a genius.) I’m gushing because she is good, and because it means a lot to me that she both captures and understands how special MS is.

While I am writing, I want to take a second and note, for posterity, that I am exceedingly grateful to have been able to be there as he had his Senior pictures taken. It is a great gift and I deeply appreciate it.

Photo Credit: Emily Kubley
Gretchen Rubin, the author most famous for her book “The Happiness Project”, coined the phrase “The days are long, but the years are short.” I think of it often as I spend time with MS. I remind myself of it when he is doing something that I find irritating, like when he opens a gourmet soda and then forgets it ¾ full or when he sends me frustrated texts about cosigning car loans. I think of it when I watch my friends with their younger children too – I sometimes want to stop and tell them to REALLY enjoy what’s happening because it is true that it goes by REALLY fast.

I think that’s true, in a way, for everyone. It’s true whether or not you have kids or cats. I think it’s true with friends and with partners. If you love someone, the time will go by quickly. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss it. You have to take the time to pause and realize how lucky you are to have this time with these people.

My favorite television show is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I have seen every episode more times than I can count. One episode, however, undoes me like no other. Even just watching clips of certain scenes will leave me crying it is so touching. The episode is “The Visitor”, and actor Tony Todd gives a truly magnificent performance. Many regard this to be the best episode of the series. The first scenes include a quote from Captain Sisko as he speaks to his young son Jake, the final scenes revisit that quote as an adult Jake speaks to Melanie, an aspiring writer. I will end this post with those quotes, and I will tell you (1) that you should watch that episode, and (2) that you should follow the advice in the quotes, doing so will make you a happier and better person.

Captain Sisko: I’m no writer; but if I were, it seems to me I’d wanna poke my head up every once in a while and take a look around, see what’s going on. It’s life, Jake. You can miss it if you don’t open your eyes.

Adult Jake Sisko: I... want you to promise me something.
Melanie: Anything!
Adult Jake Sisko: While you're studying my stories, poke your head up every once in a while. Take a look around. See what's going on. It's life, Melanie.

Melanie: And you can miss it if you don't open your eyes.