Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Crazy List Lady

I write lists to stay sane, but I think it might be the catch 22 that keeps me crazy.

I have my yearly goal lists that break down into my monthly pacing guide which breaks down to weekly goals and then daily.

I love this post it note. They are EVERYWHERE in my house, car, purse etc.

When I get a pile of little notes. I put them on whatever master list belong on.
Legal pads are my best friends. Notes, planning, projects all on legal pads. On the front page of one is the, ON MY PLATE, list. For some reason if I can see everything I'm working on all in one place it calms the hyperactive crazy person that lives in my brain.

After rewriting said post it note on the correct legal pad I get to use this:

I love to destroy a used note. Ahh the satisfaction of stabbing paper...

Checking boxes is always awesome too. Austen Kleon gave me this idea. Seeing the progress I'm making is like crack for me.

Another fun list I keep is this one:

For that flood of ideas that never stops. I can't remember anything anymore! It's got to go on a list. So there is a peak into my obsessive list making brain. I have no shame.

Check out Lisa Yee's blog. She is a great Kid lit author and she wrote about her note taking this week. From the looks of her picture our desks are soul mates. (And she's got a shabby thingy too!!! I'm not alone...)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dear Grandpa

If letter writing is an art, then my grandfather was an artist. Born in 1923, he grew up in the 20’s and 30‘s. He was a young man and naval officer in the 40’s. My grandfather, Robert Burke Hilsabeck, wrote letters as did everyone else. A sign of the times I suppose, but there was nothing frivolous about my grandpa’s letters. There is a reason my grandmother saved every one he wrote when he wrote her everyday when he was in the naval academy. There is a reason everyone in my family saved the letters he had written them.They are beautiful.
There is something about letter writing. Taking pen to paper. Taking the time to write something by hand means more I think. You can tell me you love me, you can type it, you can text it, but writing it is different. It makes it more meaningful. It’s permanent and real. It takes effort.
When grandpa passed away in 2008, we were going through his things and found his “Copy Book,” something I didn’t know he had. It was a book of quotes he liked that he had written down over the years. I had this same thing in my purse that sat on the couch next to me. I loved that we had this in common. But what astounded me more is in it I found a draft of a letter he had written to me. A letter I had lost. The letter he wrote to me the week I got married. He was ill and couldn’t come to my wedding (which was devastating for me though of course I understood). He wrote me a letter in his absence. In it he quoted Robert Frost’s poem The Master Speed (a poem Robert Frost had written his daughter on her wedding day), “Together wing to wing and oar to oar.” A quote I love and is forever my barometer when finding a life long partner. I loved finding this long lost letter. Proof of his love for me, but also it proved to me he was a letter artist. He wrote drafts. There were scratched out sentences, arrows flipping phrases, re-chosen words. It was carefully constructed. He didn’t just use his quotes from his copy book, but wove them into his vernacular.
I also credit him with my love of story telling. I loved going to my grandparent’s house when I was a kid. Grandma would make me my favorite snack: a smoked cheddar cheese sandwich and hot tea and grandpa would bring out his tin of pencils and giant notepad. He would tell and draw stories all afternoon. A year before he passed away he read my picture book, Yawnster the Monster, and drew his rendition of Yawnster for me. I treasure that picture. It has a special place on my inspiration board.
Grandpa was an amateur photographer, collector of wisdom, illustrator, letter writer. I don’t know if my modest history teacher grandfather would have considered himself an artist. Though he most definitely was.
Take the time. Write a letter to someone you love. I’d love to hear about your connection to letter writing and letters you’ve received that have impacted you.

To close, I’d like to share the last part of a letter he wrote to me and my husband at the time:

“Both of you stay well and enjoy life: as Lincoln said he ‘was glad the future comes one day at a time.’ So it does and we have to ‘seize the day’ as the Romans said (Carpe Diem). Much love, Gramps.”

Grandpa, You would have been 89 today. Happy birthday. Thank you for making me all that I am. Your influence is obvious. As William Wordsworth said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." You did that. That is what strive for.

I love you. I miss you very much.

Your granddaughter,

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why You Want Me Around if You're About to Die

“Do you help your victim first or call 9-1-1?” My CPR instructor asks.
“Call first!” I say confidently.
“Do you love your person?” She says to me, eyebrow raised. A classroom full of people look at me like I’m an idiot.
First aid fail.
Help first. Help first. That is my mantra.
My work informed me I needed to be CPR certified by today or I couldn’t work. I work with kids and seeing that I can barely put on a bandaid correctly I better figure out what to do if they are unconscious from a basketball to the head. And I won’t lie, the idea of learning how to use a defibrillator is sort of intoxicating.
Despite my out of gate “Obviously I’m not in the healthcare field” response, I love my instructor.
She’s teaching us how to use and epi-pen, that pen you jam in someone’s leg if they are having a sever allergic reaction.
“Why do you inject it in the thigh?” A classmate asks.
“It needs to go in the meatiest part of the body,” my instructor says.
“I know. I know. We all know that’s not the meatiest part...”
Class laughs like fifth grade boys.
“But you’re not going to ask someone to bend over. Unless it’s Brad Pitt. Then by all means...”
“I know someone who uses the epi-pen three times a day. It’s totally addictive,” another classmate says. Yeah sure, you know someone...
“Oh yeah. This stuff is a good time. Great stuff for a weekend. This is Friday isn’t it? Rave it up,” Our instructor says.
Then we get to practice stabbing each other. It’s awesome.
Then we got to watch one of those instructional videos. First of all the video had NOT been formatted for this screen so we only saw partial titles. I don’t know why, maybe it was the mandatory CPR class at 9am, but I found this very entertaining: Roduction, ompression, Oking (That was my favorite).
The actors in industrial video... Oh such terrible acting. I totally should have booked this job. I would have kicked ass as the emergency supervisor in the factory. But I must admit the chick who played that part was good. I’m pretty sure she had a backstory that she was in the love with the new employee she was training or at least they hooked up the day of the shoot. And during the epi-pen reenactment the dudes really looked like they enjoyed the required ten seconds of rubbing the injection spot.
Then it was time for the real work. CPR.
I’m not going to lie. I rocked this. Two hundred required compressions.
“Don’t pull a Conrad Murray,” someone said.
LOL I almost lost count.
The video showed a... how do I put this nicely... a gross, hairy guy with his shirt ripped open getting CPR’d.
“Now unless it’s Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise...”
Or Ryan Gosling.
“Do NOT take off their clothes, “ Our instructor says caressing the mannequin. “If it’s Brad, you are checking for injury. That’s your story.”
I love her.
We learned the breathing. Create airtight suction around their mouth and blow.
Although not require anymore, FYI.
And last but not least, we learned the AED.
Now this is not an Automatic Explosive Device like I suggested (Star student).
But the Automated External Defibrillator.
Whoo Hoo! That was my favorite part. Though we didn’t get to do any real practice. Whatever. Helpful tip: Have a shaved chest. Otherwise I’ll have to do it for you if I have to defibrillate you and it won’t be cut free.
“You are their heart machine. You are their lung machine. You aren’t? They have zero chance of survival,” The instructor says.
No pressure.
So I learned how to stab Epi-pens, give life saving french kisses, do chest compressions on naked hot chests, break a chest wall if you’re helping a choking pregnant lady and shock some life into people.
But seriously. If you’re unconscious you want me there. I actually know what I’m doing! I think I may go prowling the malls today looking for anyone is medical distress.

** if you are in LA area and need CPR certification, let me know! The class and instructor seriously rocked.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Baby Apocalypse

It’s the end of the world. Zombies have taken over. You’ve found yourself a rag tag group of people to try to survive with. And part of your group are a few women who back in the pre-apocalypse days were stay at home moms and won prizes in the bake sale. You think “Great. These bitches are dead weight. They got nothing to offer.” Wrong. They will be the best members of your team. Way ahead of the machismo bad ass wannabe that can’t wait to see the zombie brains explode. Y’all should know that guy is going first. Moms are your ticket to survival.

Let me make my case:

1. Be quiet- Every mom knows the value in this. Disturbing a sleeping baby is criminal. Disturbing a walking zombie is death. Moms have the art of silence perfected.
2. Pick your battles- Any mother knows that you can’t fight every fight. That will kill you. Same goes for zombies. If you can avoid a fight, do it.
3. Know your way out- A mother who takes their children always knows her exit strategy.
4. Keep the idiots close- Keep them close so they don’t fuck up your zombie survival plan. Moms keep the idiots close all day long. We got this down.
5. Be prepared- Always have a gun and a secondary weapon. You can’t solely rely on the gun. You will run out of bullets at some point. Mom’s know this. Their diaper bag is filled with anything needed for any worse case senario.
6. Be efficient- One shot should be all that needed to kill the zombie. One and done. As a mom that’s my motto. I say "no" once and that is it. Done. (Though double tap to be sure. See number 11.)
7. Always check the backseat-Check for Zombies. Checking for kids. Practically the same thing.
8. Be ruthless- You got no time for compassion. Zombies sure don’t. You got to get the job done. As a mom, you can’t be weak. You must be strong. Ruthless or those little fuckers you spawned will eat you alive.
9. Have some stamina- I been running after my toddler will the energy of twenty men on coke all day long. Zombies got nothing on that.
10. Do not confine yourself to a small place- Don’t be an idiot. You’ll get cornered. This goes for zombies and evil genetically related toddlers.
11. Double tap- Make sure that zombie is dead. Don’t trust the one bullet and done. Double tap. Same goes with kids. That came out wrong. What I mean is never take anything for granted. Double wipe. Double check. Double everything. Moms can never be too sure about anything.
12. Travel in a group- It’s a numbers game. You stand a better chance if you’re in a group. There’s not just you the zombie has to focus on. Someone else more weak will go down. Same goes in groups of parents and kids. Most likely there’s a mom worse than you and a kid worse than your kid. Makes your day.
13. Blend in- It’s not pretty, but works. Smear some zombie guts on you and maybe you’ll just blend. Mom’s are used to this. We smell like our kids poo and pee and spit up daily. I think it must be part of how the children bond with us.
14. Warm up- You don’t want to pull a muscle while taking down a zombie. That’d be a pretty lame way to die. Moms have learned this lesson after straining themselves while crawling on the floor with their three years olds.
15. Have a plan. Know where you are sleeping- Moms nest. That’s our thing.
16. Dress comfortably- Whether you’re dealing with zombies or kids: It’s is not a fashion show. I perhaps am too good at this one. Don’t have any extra fabric. Be able to move. Good shoes. Doesn’t matter what your clothes look like. It’s going to get dirty.
17. Don’t go anywhere alone- In a zombie war this is crucial. In our mom lives it’s unavoidable. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been in the bathroom alone.
18. Be healthy- Eat well. Stay healthy. The only way you’ll survive. Us moms have got Michelle Obama breathing down our necks about how to feed our kids. All right already.
19. Travel light- Only bring the essentials. Now only some moms will be good at this one. The ones who know what they are fucking doing.
20. Don’t get attached- Attachments, as in being attached to people, will only slow you down when the zombies have taken over. You might think this would be a mom’s weak point. I throw away my kids art work. You can’t be too sentimental or you will be horribly disappointed.

And moms know the most important thing...

21. You are never safe. NEVER.

Case closed. Any mom worth their salt would survive a zombie apocalypse. Make sure you have a few in your group.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Erin McKean, rockstar lexicographer, gives me great insight!

One of my writing projects I've been working on is a play called Definition. The main character is a lexicographer. Maybe this should be embarrassing to admit, but... I find that job fascinating. An editor of the dictionary. That sounds extremely important with lot of responsibility.
I've always been into words. I look forward to my word of the day email. I love playing "dictionary" at family gatherings. When I was about 10 I was obsessed with cool words and phrases. I still have all these old poetry books where I circled stuff I liked. I guess it's no surprise I enjoy writing. So when my play idea first dropped into my head I was very excited. Then I realized quite quickly that as much as I admired lexicographers, I know nothing about this profession and this character I'm writing is smarter than me. Now I'm no dummy, but I'm going to need some help here.
I found some articles online which were helpful, but found the most valuable information on a TED talk (I love TED talks!) given by senior editor at Oxford, Erin McKean .

Please watch! It is so worth your time. She talks about how we need to redefine the dictionary and how we interact with language itself. Fantastic. I learned a lot watching this, but I still wanted more. So I tried a shot in the dark. I emailed her. I pushed send and figured Erin, who I've dubbed the rockstar of the word world, would have much better things to do than respond to some playwright in LA.

Then she emailed me about a week later. Whoo hoo! I thought I'd share a few of her answers to some of my questions. Thanks again Erin!

What is a typical day for a lexicographer?

EM: t depends on the day, and the skills of the editor. There's planning
meetings, there are rote tasks (pulling lists of entries by category,
such as chemical elements, or checking all the currency entries to make
sure that they're up to date -- this was a big deal after the Euro was
created), there is new-word finding (people talk a lot about this, but
the truth is that there are so many more new words than most paper
dictionaries have space for, so it's mostly not finding new words, but
winnowing them out!), there is definition writing, there is checking
pronunciations (usually experts do this, but everyone pitches in). If
there are biographical entries (common in American dictionaries, but not
in UK dictionaries), they have to be updated.

A big part of dictionary work is pouring old text into new bottles --
for instance, taking a big dictionary and creating a new smaller edition
(like a desk dictionary) out of it.

Are their any inside jokes within the dictionary world?

EM: We usually call everything by short names: etymologies are etys,
definitions are defs, and pronunciations are "prons" -- which is also a
common misspelling for "porn" online, so there are some jokes about that.

People who write definitions are either "lumpers" or "splitters" -- they
want to cram as much meaning as possible into a single definition, or
they want to have a different definition for each possible shade of

What is the most satisfing thing about your job? Why do you love it?

EM: I love words, but I really love systems, and the idea of systematically
describing all the words was very, very seductive. I have wanted to be a
dictionary editor since I was eight years old ... but I also love

I have had co-workers for whom is was more of a job than a vocation;
they were usually people who loved literature or research, but disliked
teaching, so they didn't enjoy university life.

Words are infinitely changeable, and the task of trying to pin them down
is both frustrating and exhilarating.

*** And while writing the interview email to her I told her paranoia was taking over while I wrote it thinking about my sentence structure, spelling and grammar. She was very sweet and assured me that lexicographers were not grammar nazis. They are too interested in variation and how people really use language.

Research is awesome! I love it. Thank you Erin McKean! Now back to the rewrite...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Bless the Rains Down In Africa 2.0

To celebrate my one year anniversary of writing for the fantastically hilarious I am reposting the article was most fun for me to write. I added a few new bits and pieces for the occasion.

I Bless the Rains Down in Africa

“I loved traveling with my kids!” A business man next to me says as me and my two kids wait in line at airport security.
I look for signs of a stroke, but he seems to just be a fucking insane person. I smile and move along peeling my four year old Frankie off the stanchion pole. I take inventory for the hundredth time this morning. Diapers. Wipes. Snacks. Movies. My computer. Books. Coloring book. Crayons. CDs. Old Disc-man. Changes of clothes. Sippy cups. Child one. Child two. Got em. It’s my first solo trip with my love monsters and I’m a bit freaked. But I am as prepared as I can be. I can do this.
“ ‘Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie’,” Frankie says to the woman behind us.
Frankie has been quoting A Christmas Story and singing Deck the Halls at the top of her lungs since we arrived to LAX. It’s March. I’m thinking this is her nervous tick. Zoe, my little zen Buddha baby, is cool as a cucumber.
We make it through security, our first hurdle, just fine. Except for the fact that it’s really hard to close up a stroller and lift it onto the conveyor belt of the x ray machine one handed while holding a 18 month old and everyone around you acts like they don’t see you struggling. I think it might be against policy for TSA workers to be courteous human beings.
We get to our gate armed with happy meals. The kids are... happy. Content. Staying in one place. Frankie downs her milk. Zoe eats all her food. This is going well!
“Okay, time for the bathroom stop before we get on the plane,” I announce. Frankie scrunches up her face momentarily, but then gives in.
“Okay!” She says.
We go to the bathroom, cram ourselves, stroller and all, into the handicapped stall and she sees the toilet.
“NO!!!!! It’s the magical potty!” She screams.
Ever since she used one of those automatic flushing toilets, she is deathly afraid of them. I don’t blame her. They sound like jet engines and seem to have the vacuum power of a black hole.
But I have an idea. We go to the family bathroom. Perfect. There’s a little potty just like the one at her preschool. This is where things really go to shit. I am in a full on wrestling match with a four year old forcing her pants down and trying to make her pee. I scream. I beg. I plead. Nothing. Zoe looks on amused. I even call Papa, “MAKE HER GO!”
He helplessly talks to her, but there’s no use. The public bathroom is not happening. I take a deep breath. Okay, let it go. When she’s got to go. She’ll go.
We board the plane after waiting an excruciating thirty minutes (Note to self: Getting to the airport too early with kids is worse than having to rush. “Look at that trashcan! Is that a toy?? What’s that man doing? What’s that girl eating? Girl, what are you eating? Lady can I touch your shoe? Oh look she has a princess backpack!” Can someone say overstimulation? ). I hope we have the row to ourselves, but no. A older man sits next to us. I scrutinize his face. I’m dying to use my line on that passenger that gives me the “I have to sit next to two kids” look: If you didn’t want to take public transportation then maybe you shoulda chartered that jet. But he sits down pleasantly.
“ ‘A crumby commercial? Son of a bitch!’ “ Frankie quotes another classic Christmas Story line to the man.
The man chuckles. I actually feel a little sorry for him. This guy doesn’t even know what he’s in for.
I can’t seem to get anything organized. Everything Frankie wants she can’t have. Zoe is smearing her breakfast bar all over my jeans and to make me more annoyed the flight attendants start their spiel. Okay, let me say this. You can’t make up for being a shitty airline with lame humor. That’s like giving permission for the shittery. Oh there’s nothing to eat and my legs are scrunched up to my armpits forming blood clots, but that bit with the seatbelt was so cute. So it’s cool. No way. Let’s just face the reality that this is not going to be the greatest four hours of our lives and joking about the pilots lack of experience is not making me feel any better.
Finally we are at cruising altitude and Frankie can use her approved electronic devices. Let the attention span of a gnat commence immediately. She watches about five minutes of a movie before she wants to watch another one. She loses all her crayon in the first fifteen minutes. She launches her hair band into the row ahead of us. And Zoe, officially the laziest baby in the world who would lay in my lap all day at home if I let her, all of sudden wants her freedom. Not to mention she flings her sippy cup and lambie into the aisle every chance she can get. Bet the guy next to me didn’t know he be on baby crap retrieval duty, did he?
I look at the time. Three and half hours to go.
“Mama, I got to go potty,” Frankie says.
“All right let’s do this,” I say.
I make this nice man next to me get up (I’m sure he could use a few minutes away from crazy town) and make our way to the bathroom. I jam all three of us into it which is comical in itself.
“NO!” She proclaims.
And once again I’m in a wrestling match with my four year old only this time we have no space to thrash and I’m holding Zoe who once again coos with delight. We pour out of the bathroom and go back to our seat. I am livid.
This happens two more times.
We even have the whole front section of the plane chanting: “You can do it! You can do it!”
A woman with sad sparkling eyes says,” I just went it was awesome!”
A man who seemed to be giving the “van down by the river” speech ended with “It’s so cool to go on a plane!”
Frankie rolled her eyes. Dude, she’s four. She’s not an idiot.
We come back to our seats the third time and I am defeated.
“Are you doing okay?” The flight attendant asks me sweetly.
I want to scream at her, “NO! Take them. Do you guys have a playroom I could throw them in? And by playroom I mean, baggage area. Dogs are their right? So it’s okay. They love dogs.”
But instead I say, “ ‘Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.’ “ I couldn’t help myself. She just looks at me confused and walks away. She must have skipped the day in flight attendant school when they watched Airplane.
I really wish I could get lost in a Toto song right now. I could be in the middle of a nuclear holocaust and Africa would bring joy to my melting heart.
I watch Frankie squirm in her seat. She has to go. Bad.

Its gonna take a lot to take me away from you...
There nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do...

She is squeezing her legs shut. Dammit why did I let her guzzle that milk!

I bless the rains down in Africa...
Gonna take some time to do the things we never ha-ha-ha-ha- ha- have...

We’re in our final decent. I make peace with the fact that it’s going to happen. We land and pull up to our gate which of course is not ready yet. The man next to me jumps away from his seat. He knows.
“Mama,” She pleads looking at me with big eyes. I want to cry. I flash back to when I was a kid and I peed my pants at Disney world.
“Oh sweetie. Just go babe,” I say. I shove Zoe’s blanket under her dress. A full minute later she is relieved. I go into survival mode. Change her clothes. Pile up the pee soaked ones. No plastic bag, but who cares at this point. We exit plane. I have breakfast bar in my hair. I’m covered in spit, pee and boogers. You might think it would be hard to retain my M.I.L.F. title, holding pee soaked clothes but judging by the guy’s face in 13B I’m going to go ahead and say I rocked that shit anyway. Hey I’m smiling. I made it. Soon I can relax my hold on my wild child, set down my now clingy baby and have a beer.
The flight back was much better. Frankie wore a pull-up and I got her a giant bag of popcorn that kept her busy for awhile. I dosed Zoe with some Benadryl and tethered her sippy cup and lambie to the arm rest. Pretty smooth sailing. There were only two snafus. One, Zoe stole a tee shirt from a store at the airport and I didn’t notice until I was folding up the stroller at the end of the jetway. She was quite proud of herself. It wasn’t even a cute shirt. And two, we were delayed about ten minutes because some jackass didn’t want to put on his seatbelt. Man, I got stolen goods on board. I even got a few minutes with my Ipod and had some alone time with Toto. I didn’t even cringe when the pilot landed and said, “Weeeeeeee folks! We finally made it. Now I’m going to take what’s left of the plane back to the terminal.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I used to keep a cookie sheet under my bed and burn stuff on it.

Before you freak out (mom), my pyro stage did not last long. I was much too afraid of burning the house down. I loved the idea of burning stuff. Striking the match. I loved the smell, the disintegration of the paper, but then I would panic when a piece of ash flew upwards and I’d extinguish it before I could get my full pyro high. The cookie sheet was probably back in its rightful place before my mom’s next batch of peanut butter cookies. But I think I was onto something then.

Burning something is freeing.

Years later things are different. Now I keep my negative feelings under there. I remove them from my brain before bed, tuck them carefully under the box spring, but instead of burning them I store them up like it’s a deep freezer. Preserving them. So in case anyone asks I can say, “See here’s all my baggage.” Freezer burn and all.

Not super healthy I’ve realized.

My 10 year old self was wise. I got out the old cookie sheet, sat quietly in the backyard and set some shit on fire. I emptied the metaphorical freezer I’d created under my bed. I wanted my dreams to be free, to be infinite, not burdened with the past. I still panicked a little bit when the ash flew upward, but for different reasons now. I didn’t realize how much I was holding on.

So I let it go.