Thursday, August 13, 2020

Allen Bubble

I love revising. I really do. But sometimes it’s such a challenge revising rhyming stories. It’s like working on a puzzle. I pore over my rhyming dictionary and online thesaurus and the words start to blur. I jot down lines that don’t have anything that rhymes with them. I rack my brain and rearrange the words. Nothing works. And then suddenly, I have a new idea for how to phrase something and it all fits together and it’s just the best feeling. And I think, why didn’t I think of that to start with? I sent my revisions are off to my agent and she liked what I had done. So now, the story and its companion will be ready for submission to editors. In addition, my agent is preparing to submit two picture books that we’ve been working on for the past year (although I’ve been working on one of the manuscripts for two years now). I’m really hoping there will be some good news soon!

My husband and I decided that we’re not sending our son back to preschool (at least until things seem safer). It’s so sad because it may mean that he doesn’t get to go back to his beloved preschool ever again. So my sister-in-law and I have decided that our twice weekly play dates will be preschool for the boys. I even named it—Allen Bubble Preschool. It’s been really fun doing projects with the boys even though they spend a lot of time screaming at each other and trying to hit each other.

 Last week, we measured out how long different dinosaurs were and did a bunch of fun experiments with baking soda and vinegar (the classic “volcano”, baking soda and drops of food coloring with vinegar dripped on top, and inflating a balloon). This week we made homemade bubble solution and twisted pipe cleaners into various shapes to see if we could get bubbles to be anything other than spheres. We also did a cool color mixing experiment (if you have food-coloring at home, you should try this--it's super fun to watch). And we made “comets” out of foil and ribbon and threw them at “Earth”. Since our preschool is play-based, we mostly just let the boys play and try to keep them from killing each other.

What I’m reading: I finished reading The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie since I did enjoy reading The Murder at the Vicarage. Continuing with my Christie theme, I’m now reading The ABC Murders. I’m also reading a book that a friend from high school wrote. I’m about halfway through United Scenes of America by Bryan Starchman. He had planned to write about several-months-long road trip to all 50 states and the trip was underway when Covid struck. The book details the journey he took before turning back home. I read aloud Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink to Zachary. I read this book soooo many times as a kid, but it’s probably been nearly 30 years since I last opened it. He loved it. Literally the minute I finished reading it, he said, “Let’s read it again right now!” But instead we started reading the first Famous Five book by Enid Blyton. So many books. So little time.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Books, Playtime, and More Books

I’m feeling quite proud of myself to be blogging again already only ten days after my last post. Although by the time I finish writing this, several more days may have passed. The baby’s asleep and my son is watching Netflix. Yeah, it’s one of those kind of days. That makes it sound like this is an unusual turn of events, but who am I kidding? Every day is one of those kind of days. My son won’t go to sleep until around 10:00 p.m. (he’s in his room by around 7:30 p.m., but he doesn’t fall asleep until much, much later) and the baby is awake every few hours all night long. Mama needs a minute and Netflix is there.

Before we devolved into the Netflix Zone, we spent some quality time together reading. His favorite book this week is A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert. We read it a lot today, which I was really excited about because he has only been wanting to read Harry Potter lately and I’ve been missing picture books. I also managed to get a craft project underway with him—a snake made from toilet paper tubes. He only painted one of the tubes before saying that he was too tired to do the rest. By tired I think he meant bored. So I carved him a stamp out of a sweet potato and he used that to make diamond prints on the rest of the tubes. Maybe we’ll even finish the snake tomorrow.

Last week (at least I think it was last week, but the days and weeks and months have been blurring together lately, so who knows for sure), we did a cool art project with shaving cream and food coloring. It came out really nice, but I’m not sure I want to do the project again because the shaving cream smells soooo strong. I tried to find unscented shaving cream, but apparently that’s not really a thing. The pictures reeked so much afterwards that I sprinkled them with baking soda for a few days in a row to try to get the scent off of them (it helped but you can still smell it).

My son loves to build and I was wondering if I should look for some sort of a new building set for him when I suddenly remembered a rainy day activity that I used to have available in my classroom. So I bought a 100 pack of plastic cups (which in my head I still call “keg cups” despite having not had a beer from a keg in a plastic cup in well over a decade). The idea is to build something out of the cups and then knock them down. We’ve had a blast building castles and other structures, and then devising unique ways to destroy them. We’ve tried blowing, throwing paper airplanes, launching foam rockets, and rolling a ball, among other things. My favorite was one-on-one garage soccer with cup castles for goals.

On the writing front, I finally finished the back matter for two picture books that I’ve been working on and now my agent is getting ready to submit to editors. I’m really excited but also feeling more nervous than usual because everything in the publishing world has been grinding to a halt. Both stories are uplifting so hopefully that will inspire someone to want to acquire them in these challenging times.

I was idly Googling the name of one of my books a couple of weeks ago and discovered to my surprise that it was showing up on Goodreads, Amazon and other places that books are available for sale. I went from giddy to horrified in the time it took me to click onto one of the sites because I realized that my name was wrong (Serena Allen rather than Serena Gingold Allen) as well as the publication date. But my editor got it sorted out quickly, so I’m back to feeling giddy whenever I think about it. It’s like real, solid proof that my books are coming out next year. Since my books are now listed I was able to set up my Goodreads author account which helped me to feel even more legitimate.

Oh, and if you were wondering, I did finish writing this post in one day! I feel so accomplished.

What I’m reading: The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie. I recently bought a bunch of Christie’s books because they were on sale for Kindle. I read through most of her works when I was a kid/teenager and it seemed like it would be fun to reread them now. I’m only a few chapters in and hoping to not be disappointed, because I’ve found that there are many things I liked as a kid that I do not like as much as an adult.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Quite the Hiatus

Alright, so admittedly, I don’t have the best track record when it comes to writing this blog, but this has been the longest break I’ve ever taken.

Here’s the quick catch-up for the past three years: I’ve got two kiddos now (my son is no longer a baby, he's four and a half, and I have a daughter who is seven months old), I’m still writing children’s books and my debut books are coming out next Fall (check out my website for more details, I still read a ton (aloud to my kiddos and to myself on my Kindle in the middle of the night), and I will climb rocks again someday (it’s been over a year—first because I was pregnant and then now because, you guessed it…COVID-19).

Despite having less time to myself than I’ve ever had before, I decided I should start blogging again. Crazy, you say. There’s probably some crusted spit-up on the floor that needs cleaning or a load of laundry to fold, you continue. You probably shouldn’t overextend yourself anymore. Yes, yes, you’re correct. But I need something that’s just for me. All of my other writing is critiqued, edited, revised, sometimes changed beyond all belief. But this blog is mine. I can do whatever I want with it. And the worst that can happen is that no one will read it. So here’s what I’m going to do: refocus it, at least for the time being, on my life at home as a mom and a writer.

I spend a lot of time with both of my kiddos, but currently more with my son since my daughter is in the three-naps-a-day stage (on the good days). My son LOVES books of all kinds. I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series aloud to him and we’re now on the sixth one. We started the first one shortly after we locked down and he just can’t get enough of them. At first I was a little worried that he wasn’t following along, but whenever I asked him questions about what we’d read he definitely understood. After we finish each book, we watch the movie version of it together. On numerous occasions, he’s asked why something is different from the book or has been left out. It’s been really fun having these conversations with him because my husband is not a Harry Potter fan. My son still loves picture books and he has a renewed interest in board books, thanks to his sister (he also has a renewed interest in baby toys—is that normal?).

My sister-in-law and I are each planning one project a week to do with our “big” boys (my older nephew is three and a half and my younger one is five days older than my daughter). Having projects to look forward to each week is helping a little with the stay-at-home fatigue. The first project we did was to make playdough. Back when my son used to go to preschool (you know, way back in March when life was still normal), I was the mom who made the playdough each week. I had the boys help measure out the ingredients and stir them together. I did the cooking and kneading and then they got to choose the colors they wanted. Then they kneaded the dye into the dough (I put small balls of dough into plastic sandwich bags and they squished to their heart’s content—we did have to help them at the end to get the dye fully mixed into the dough). And then the boys played blissfully for at least five minutes without fighting.

I got really excited today because my daughter scooted over to her shelf of board books and started pulling them off and throwing them on the floor. I was like, “YES! Another reader in the house!” My son’s love affair with books started in the same way when he was her age. Every morning, I would set him down in the living room and he would immediately scoot to his shelf of books. He would then pull all of them off and chew on them. Hopefully my daughter doesn’t get in to the habit of consuming large enough portions of her books to get sick.

All right, I gotta stop procrastinating. Time to stop blogging and get a little work done. Until next time (which hopefully isn’t in another three years).

What I’m reading: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Written in the first person, it’s about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their life together. I bought this on a whim. Well, really because it was on sale for Kindle and had a lot of stars. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but so far it’s quite good—well written and captivating. It’s reminiscent of Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan and Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, which are also based on the lives of the partners of famous men.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A New Focus

I realized recently that part of the reason I haven’t been blogging regularly is that I feel like my life doesn’t fit into what I had intended to write about when I first started this blog. Reading, writing and rock climbing. Those are the three R’s that I chose to blog about. They were three of the most important things in my life (at least in terms of interests). And I still love all three of them and try to make space for them. But being a mom has taken over my life in many ways.

*It’s rant time. I’m getting up on my soapbox.*

At first I felt like I didn’t want to admit this, especially to the world in general. I didn’t want to be “just a mom.” I didn’t like the idea that I had lost any part of my old self and stepped into a mold to become a mom (I still don’t like this idea. I’ve worked hard to retain my old self while accepting my new mom-self). But I’ve realized that this is buying into part of our culture that I actually don’t want to embrace. There’s a widespread attitude that while it’s, “So great you’re staying home with your baby!” it’s also viewed as not being “enough”. There’s some idea that moms are all counting down the days before they get back to their “real” jobs. (OK, I’ll be honest. There are days that I wish I were counting down. They are the days where I haven’t slept, the baby is teething, it’s raining, I’m bored because I haven’t talked about anything other than my son in the last 16 months, etc.)

It’s a conversation killer as well.

Other person: “So, what have you been up to lately?”
Me: “Um, taking care of my baby.”
Other person: “Ohh. Ok.” (Moment of awkward silence before they move on to another topic.)

It makes me feel like people are embarrassed for me that all I’ve been doing is taking care of my child. And so then I start to feel ashamed that I don’t have anything to talk about. But this is ridiculous. I’m tired of it. I’m proud to be a full-time mom.

Women fought so hard and for so long (and continue to fight) for their right to hold any employment position a man does for the same the pay and the same respect. We fought to not have to stay home with our children if we didn’t choose to. But now, the respect for moms has plummeted. We live in a society in which a lot of people apparently think, “Oh, all you do is take care of your kid full-time?”

Being a full-time mom (or dad) does not command respect in our society. Neither does being a nanny or a daycare provider. Teachers fare slightly better since they usually have five years of schooling in higher education. However, jobs that revolve around children aren’t well-paid and typically aren’t well-respected. No one says, “She’s a mom/nanny/daycare provider,” with the same tone they’d say “She’s a doctor/engineer/lawyer.”

But isn’t raising the next generation something that deserves respect? Shouldn’t we as a society revere the people who spend quality time with our nation’s young?

*I’m off my soapbox.*

So…will I still write about the three R’s? Yes. But I’m also going to write about being a mom. And I’m going to write about it unabashedly. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

At Long Last

Man it has been a long time since I last posted to this blog. I don’t understand how there are mommy bloggers out there writing witty blog posts about their children every day. Most days I’m lucky if I can get a shower and three meals.

Now that Baby Z is over a year old, I finally have a little time periodically to sit down and write. A few months ago I had the inspiration and the opportunity to write a new story. So mostly when I do have time, I’ve been working on that rather than blogging (although I did write a few blog posts for my Birthday Challenge blog a couple months back

I did my first Twitter pitch party back in December. It was sort of fun, in a stressful “Ahh, it’s time to tweet my pitch again!” kind of way. No takers for the four stories I was pitching, but it’s a long shot, so I wasn’t discouraged. And now I’ve just submitted my newest story to eight publishers. Hooray!

I was able to resume rock climbing at around four months postpartum. It was a struggle getting back into it. I felt really weak, particularly in my abs (I had a medium sized abdominal muscle separation due to pregnancy and I had a C-section). But now I’m climbing pretty well again. The hardest part now is dealing with having a toddler at the gym. My husband and I take turns chasing him while the other person climbs. Baby Z seems to like the gym aside from the daycare room (we’ve tried leaving him twice and both times we’ve been paged to come pick him up early because he’s hysterical). We’ve yet to get back to outdoor climbing, but hopefully someday soon we’ll take a trip.

What I’m reading: Sadly having a baby and being a voracious reader don’t really go together very well. I can only read on my phone or my Kindle because otherwise Baby Z grabs my book and tries to eat it. Apparently when I wished to have a child who is also a voracious reader, he misheard it and thought I said voracious eater. Anyway, even reading on an electronic device happens infrequently because Baby Z demands attention like it’s going out of style. That being said, I’m currently reading The Emerald Comb by Kathleen McGurl which combines a modern story with a story from the past (one of my favorite styles of fiction). And I just finished Truly Madly Guilty and The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty. Both were very entertaining stories that take place in Australia. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Happy Birthday!

I just realized that this blog is year old as of yesterday. I intended to blog yesterday to celebrate. But I also intended to blog the day before that and the day before that as well. I’ve clearly been having a difficult time with prioritizing blogging. I do have some legitimate excuses, like being pregnant and being out of town. But enough of the excuses. Here I am sitting my ass down on the couch to write. Finally.

I attended my second SCBWI conference last week in Los Angeles. It was fabulous once again. A highlight for me was meeting Jane O’Connor, the author of the Fancy Nancy books. While getting her autograph, I showed her a picture of me and my old teaching buddies dressed up as Fancy Nancy characters. She was charmed and asked for me to email it to her. So I emailed it and she wrote a brief note back to me. So unbelievably cool. I also got to speak to author/illustrator Peter Brown for a minute while he signed his book Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. He was super friendly and warm. I was so caught up with my chat that I forgot to get a picture with him, but I have no regrets.

I had some insights about writing picture books due to the break-out sessions that I attended. I realize I have my work cut out for me because I really need to go back and revise everything I’ve written to allow room for the illustrator to tell part of the story. This idea isn’t a new idea, but it finally started to make sense to me at the conference. I’m pretty excited about trying out some new ideas.

A few weeks ago I ran the Wharf to Wharf race in Santa Cruz with a dear friend. Well, we didn’t really run together because she actually runs while I jog at a snail’s pace. I succeeded in running the first five miles, but my knee gave out and I was forced to limp the last mile. I was a little sad that I couldn’t run across the finish line (I have never walked across a finish line before) but I was pretty happy that I was able to finish. In some ways it was a fun race, but it also sucked. I felt like I had to pee the entire time thanks to little dude bouncing on my bladder. I think I’m done with running until after he’s born because it just isn’t fun anymore.

Pregnancy has definitely changed my life. I haven’t had a solid night’s sleep since April. Most of my clothes don’t fit anymore. Running sucks. I can’t boulder anymore and no one wants to top rope with me. Everything that used to feel easy feels hard. I get emotional watching Charmed. I want to eat ice cream all the time (to be fair I wanted that before I was pregnant too). Being pregnant is like being on an amusement park ride. You’re all excited to get on the ride and parts are fun and exciting, but then things can get scary and you feel sick. And just like a ride, you can’t get off until it’s over. At least at the end of this ride, I’ll have a darling baby boy (which I’m getting pretty excited about, especially after my ultrasound this morning). But I’m not sure if I’ll be yelling, “Again! Again!” anytime soon.

What I’m reading: I finished reading Drums of Autumn and have started on the 5th Outlander book A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I read the 11th Maisie Dobbs book A Dangerous Place which was depressing, but good. I loved Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle so I read The Silver Star which was excellently written. I also read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. It was interesting, but just not a very good story in my opinion. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, was a great story. I didn’t realize until I read the afterward that it was based on the life of a real person. In college I took a writing class that featured the works of Toni Morrison, so I was excited to read her latest book, God Help the Child. It was interesting and totally bizarre, but that’s kind of her style. I’m currently reading Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende and two non-fiction books: Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by James Clapp and Catherine Cram and Parenting From the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Honeymoon, Part 1

We finally went on the first part of our honeymoon. We spent two nights and three days in South Lake Tahoe. We stayed at the Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge and Spa which is right on the beach. We had a balcony overlooking the beach and the lake. The weather was gorgeous and we enjoyed hanging out on the balcony and reading.

Bear statue in front of the lodge (now I see why
people are afraid of bears...)
View from our balcony
 The trip wasn’t exactly as we had originally planned due to a few circumstances that prevented us from being able to go rock climbing. Tom had wrist surgery a few months ago and I’m in the second trimester of pregnancy. So we decided to do some hiking in place of climbing. The first day we hiked to Roundtop Lake which is near Kirkwood. Between being pregnant and being unused to the high elevation, I was slogging along the whole time (take a step, breathe twice. Repeat). But it was great to be outside and the scenery was beautiful. Despite the slow pace (four hours to go less than five miles), we both thoroughly enjoyed the hike.
At Roundtop Lake
After the hike we went out to dinner at a place called Azul Latin Kitchen. I got some excellent tacos (one with fish and the other with pork belly, yum!) and then I proved that maybe I really am a fangirl after all. We were leaving the restaurant when my husband whispered, “Look over there at the guy in the green hoodie.” I slowly turned to look and then my head snapped back to my husband and I was like, “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” Sitting at a table in front of the restaurant with his hood pulled up (probably trying to avoid fangirls like me) was none other than Alex “My What Big Hands You Have” Honnold (at least that’s what I call him after the 60 Minutes interview with him where the reporter is enamored with his hands). If you don’t know who he is, he’s a professional rock climber who is known for his free solo ascents and speed record climbs of big walls. If you haven’t seen the 60 Minutes segment you can watch it here: 60 Minutes clip. Anyway, we didn’t bother him or his dining companion (maybe I’m not really a true fangirl after all). Then we saw him a little while later at Safeway, where I continued to surreptitiously watch him. I heard him say something to his companion and I was like, “Oh my god. He sounds just like he does on TV!” Sometimes, I’m such a dork.

The next day, we relaxed on the beach and had lunch at Sprouts Café, which was awesome as usual. Then we headed back to our hotel to relax some more. As we were getting ready to head out for our spa services, I got a call from one of my midwives to tell us that we are having a boy. With that news fresh in our ears, we walked down the hallway to the spa. My husband got a massage and I had a facial. It was wonderful. Then we went out for a romantic dinner at Evan’s American Gourmet Café. The food was French inspired and the restaurant is in a darling house that has been converted. We both enjoyed our food tremendously.

After breakfast the following morning, we packed up and went on a very short hike (which was all I could manage) to Cascade Falls. It was another amazingly beautiful hike with views of granite cliff faces, Cascade Falls and Lake, and Lake Tahoe.
Cascade Lake in the foreground and Lake Tahoe in the background
It was a perfect trip and we’re looking forward to October, when we embark on the second part of our honeymoon to Yosemite.

What I’m reading: I finished reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things and it was excellent from start to finish. I love historical fiction and I thought the author did a great job of writing about New York in the early 1900’s. I also read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I thought this book was really entertaining. It’s also a work of historical fiction, but it takes places in the early 1800s on a plantation. As much as I enjoyed reading this book, I kept feeling like certain parts of it didn’t ring true. I’m still reading Drums of Autumn and I’m trying to decide what to read next. I just got the newest Toni Morrison novel and the latest  Maisie Dobbs novel by Jacqueline Winspear (I desperately want to read this because I thought the series was over only to discover that this came out in the last few months), but I have a shelf full of other books waiting to be read. Ah, the dilemmas of an avid reader in the first world…