Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Post About Writing

I never write here about writing. Some of you readers might not even know I’m a writer (beyond the writing-random-freelance-stuff-for-pay kind of writer). But I am, and just usually keep it to myself. But I’m breaking my silence today to announce some good news and to provide a warning about the direction this blog may take for the next few months.

The news is that I now have an agent—a good one, from a great agency well-known for its literary-fiction-writing clients. I met her a few months ago at an event I forced myself to go to at Columbia—an alumni/agents mixer. I say “forced” because this kind of event is a pretty perfect combination of everything I hate most in life—small talk; entering a roomful of strangers alone; seeing familiar faces from what seems like a completely different person’s past life; pitching work to steely-eyed professionals, some of whom cut you off mid-sentence; the expectation that you are there to sell yourself as much as anything else. But I practiced my pitch for weeks and forced myself out the door on a snowy evening and up to Morningside Heights. And, apparently, the trek (and the leaden stomach of nerves) paid off.

Here’s the catch: She didn’t take me on as a client for the novel I went to pitch; she hasn’t even read it yet. Instead, she fell in love with one of the novellas that formed part of my Columbia thesis and wants me to turn it into a full-length novel. When we spoke last week, she seemed confident about the possibility of selling it, which floored me. Of course I agreed to the revision.

Here’s the other catch: I agreed to complete the revision by the beginning of June. That’s one-hundred-plus pages in two months. This—this taking on of a project an otherwise reasonable person might rightly wonder if she can complete—is a very Orlando thing to do. But I do feel confident that I can do it. I’ve halted all my freelance work and plan to devote every minute to this. I’m planning to finally find a babysitter for a few hours a week. I’m planning at least a week in Connellsville for some really intensive writing time. And in two months I hope to have a strong piece of work.

It’s all a little crazy, and I feel alternately exhilarated and panicked. All I know is that for these next two months, writing this novel will be what I do. I will try to post now and then about the process, though here’s where the warning comes in: When I do attempt such posts, they might consist of little more than a stricken, Edvard Munch-like AAAHHHHHHHHHH.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Brooklyn Sunday

Today we took Lucia on a nice afternoon walk. First, we went to a shop and bought her a new pair of shoes. Her cute little sneakers with the silver stripes—her first “real” shoes—are now too small, so we got her a pair of cute purple sneakers that cost more than most of the shoes in my closet. But they are high-quality Japanese sneakers that I trust will not hurt the growth of her feet and will enable her to traipse all over Brooklyn this spring. One of the best parts of buying new baby shoes is getting the baby shoebox. Worth the price right there.

Our shopping trip successful, we headed to the Brooklyn Lyceum—a multipurpose performance space—for the Brooklyn Mutt Show. Dog-owning friends of ours who know about Lucia’s mania for dogs alerted us to it, so we decided to check it out. It was a huge hit. Dogs were everywhere—small, big, dressed up. Lucia scrambled out of our arms and just took off, running up to dogs and barking, squealing, waving, blowing kisses, even (once the dog’s child-friendliness was confirmed) kissing and petting the dogs. She was in her glory. Perhaps too much so, as she began getting more and more wound up with her barking and screeching and was getting hard to keep up with. She loves, loves, loves animals. I’m really excited about taking her to a petting zoo this summer.

And now Andrew is cooking up a recipe we found in today’s Sunday Times Magazine. I did a manic cleanup of the house; did laundry; folded clothes; tried to get back to zero for the week. It’s hard to do that when the house reaches a critical mass of chaos. I’m pretty good at letting clutter and mess roll off my back—what else can you do with a toddler?—but at a certain point I look around, feel my blood pressure rise, and realize I can’t stand the mess another second. Things look better now.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Parenting: April Issue

I’m busy. Really, really busy. And so when I received this month’s Parenting I crossed my fingers that there would be no material for my monthly post, thus sparing me the time I’d have to spend writing it. Alas, here I am, compelled by a few choice nuggets to continue this monthly tradition. Let’s dive in.

I’ll turn first to the FAMiLY section, to an article called “Finders Keepers: Resurrecting the lost art of the scavenger hunt.” Nothing inherently wrong with scavenger hunts; but there is something inherently wrong with this suggestion for a “cool, kid-friendly theme for the hunt”:

“Knock, knock. Include everyday items like pennies, paper clips, and sandwich bags on your list and ask kids to ring neighbors’ doorbells. More often than not, folks will happily give you as many as they have on hand. Sure, you may bump into a Scrooge here and there, but at least you’ll know whose house to avoid next Halloween when it’s time to trick-or-treat.”

COMMENTARY: I almost don’t even have to write commentary for this, you know? I’ve never heard a worse idea. First, though, welcome back, overzealous copyeditor! We missed you last issue. I knew you were here by your red-flag addition, “More often than not…” As a parent myself, I can’t help but wonder: in those situations that are “not,” what on earth happens to the poor, scavenger-hunting kid? A door slammed in her face? A rude “get outta here”? Or worse—a rough grab of the arm so the kid is never to be heard from again? What, exactly, will these occasional “Scrooges” do? Maybe you can have your kid knock on random strangers’ doors in some idyllic towns; but I’m not going to rush out to put this on Lucia’s summertime itinerary.

I’ll turn now to the LET’S EaT section, to an article about creating a spring bouquet out of lemon muffins. This is supposed to be a project kids and parents can do together to form a “festive centerpiece,” so you’d imagine it would involve baking simple muffins and then using everyday household objects to create a bouquet. This is not the case. I—a crafter myself—was taken aback by the supplies list (which, FYI, is never given; you have to read through the entire instructions and tease out the needed supplies. Woe to the person who starts without reading all the way through). You’ll need:

yellow muffin liners
green construction paper

Okay, we’re fine so far. Check, check, check.

floral foam
green straws
green floral grass
5.5-inch-tall flowerpot

Floral foam? Green straws? I’d never turn down an excuse to head to Michael’s—unless I had a carful of kids with me.

Anyway. I digress. As I mentioned, I am a crafty sort, but I was completely clueless about how to execute on the following instructions for creating the flower:

“To create the petals, fold a regular-size yellow muffin liner in half. For the first petal, cut two wide V shapes, with the point of the petal in the middle of the liner’s bottom edge. Then, on each side of the first petal, make one more angled cut alongside the original two, for a total of three triangles. Unfold to reveal six petals.”

COMMENTARY: What? Where art thou, overzealous copyeditor, when thou art needed most? Thank goodness a (tiny) diagram was included.

With that headache-inducing tidbit, I will conclude this month’s post. Until next time…

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Picture of Contentment

Just had to snap this picture this morning: pacifier, blankie, a favorite book, beloved snack cup, ottoman perch. Baby bliss.

Park Slope Extortion

We have a mini stroller now, but one thing has still been an object of yearning for Lucia lately: a new ball. “Ball” is one of her very favorite words, used to refer not only to actual balls but to pictures of anything round—the Earth on Atlas’s back, polka dots, a full moon. And at the playground, she is fixated on balls—the basketballs being tossed by the teenagers on the basketball courts and, of course, the many different balls carried around by other children. “Ball, ball,” she always says, pointing. This afternoon at the Tot Lot, she made off with another child’s dinosaur-printed ball. Well, “made off” isn’t a very Lucia action; she saw it, picked it up, and clutched it to her chest for pretty much the rest of the time. She, too, had a ball with her—her spiny purple ball—but what she wanted more than that was a smooth ball printed with some sort of picture.

And so this afternoon we went to a nearby toystore and I bought her a ball, which she held tightly the entire way home. The point of this post is not to announce that I’ve bought her yet another toy, though that is an interesting point to make. I find I’m quite susceptible to her plaintive pointing and mewling of “Mama? Mama?” when she sees something she yearns for. I’m counting on it being less cute when a teenage Lucia says, “Uh, Mom? iPad? iPad?” But really, a little stroller…a little ball…I don’t see the harm.

No, my point is that this ball cost $7. Seven dollars! A five-inch-diameter rubber ball. This strikes me as some sort of Park Slope extortion. Every child at the Tot Lot will want a ball, so why not charge $7? Lucia is my first baby, of course, so maybe I’m just woefully out of date when it comes to the price of balls. I may not have actually ever bought a ball before today. Aunt Molly bought her the spiny ball, also $7, which seems steep but understandable. But a plain rubber ball? Really? It’s an item that seems like it should cost about $2. I will have to do some reconnaissance next time I’m at a Wal-Mart.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Greyhound Getaway

Where can you go where you are forced to sit for four hours—forced to sit in a lazily reclined position, eyes closed, and relax to the sound of endless highway rushing past? The answer is a Greyhound bus. And as Molly pointed out, this scenario sounds restful only to parents of toddlers.

And sure; the bus is awful. While waiting at Port Authority, a woman approached the Greyhound person taking tickets at the gate next to mine. English was not coming readily to her. “My in the station! My in the station!” she said. The Greyhound person tried to quiet her. “Ma’am, what’s yours in the station?” he said. After several more exclamations, it became clear that she was announcing that there were mice in the station. “That’s the Port Authority’s problem, not mine,” said the Greyhound person. A man standing nearby said loudly, in a satisfied voice, “Welcome to New York.”

And the bus has that terrible bus-smell; and people talk on cell phones; and the woman in front of me reclined her seat so that I could not sit with my legs together. Fortunately, no one sat next to me, so I could lie with my back against the window. And my journey was a four-hour respite from feeding and diapering and singing and ministering. Bliss.

The purpose of my restful Greyhound journey was to see Molly’s piano/sax duo, Six Impossible Things, perform in the Intersections new-music festival in DC. It was wonderful all around—a nice dinner beforehand with Mom, Dad, and Ian; a spectacular performance; and nice hanging out at Molly’s condo after. The next morning, because we are the crafting sort, Molly, Mom, Dad, and I spent a few hours creating kimekomi. Then we had lunch at a Greek restaurant, and then I bussed it home.

This was the longest spell Andrew had ever spent alone with Lucia, and their time went swimmingly (at least, Andrew claims it did). He even took her out to lunch with some friends Saturday afternoon. She was not the calmest member of their party, but there were enough hands to manage her. (Apparently there were a few stairs in the restaurant—her current obsession.) I did get one phone call from Andrew Friday night, asking in alarm if he should actually make Lucia stop eating—she was devouring bowl after bowl of Fat Baby pasta, which I’d made before I left. She can’t get enough of it. She also had some at their lunch out, and a visiting Italian friend of Andrew’s said that recipe would probably be illegal in Italy. (Perhaps. But my baby has fat-ish thighs now, which is the point of the Fat Baby product line*.)

So my DC journey was a success all around.

*The Fat Baby product line consists of one product: pasta and veggies in a sauce made of cream cheese and half-and-half. Mmmm.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Letter to Lucia: 17 Months

Dear Little One,

What a joy you’ve been to usher in your seventeen-month birthday! Over the past week or more, you’ve been silly and fun, playful and calm, with nary a tantrum in sight. It’s been wonderful.

You are doing your best to out-cute yourself each day. Your newest thing is kissing, and blowing kisses. You blow kisses to dogs on the street. You kiss your stuffed animals and you kiss pictures of animals in books. You’re especially fond of a picture of a cat in a book called Passing By; you kiss the picture, but you also do your snuggle-snuggle-snuggle motion whenever we turn to that page—snuggling so violently that if you’re in my lap I have to lean back to escape your elbows. You make a real little kiss sound with all of this, and it is exceptionally cute.

You are sleeping well and eating okay. You surprise me sometimes—like asking for forkful after forkful of asparagus risotto—and frustrate me as well, such as when you refused the chicken fingers I made for you from scratch. I bought a cantaloupe this week, after many months of doing without, and your mania has not abated. Today you carried your empty plate all the way back to the bedroom to find me, crying “More! More!” I think you would be a blissful baby if you could eat nothing but cantaloupe, raisins, Gerber Biter Biscuits, and string cheese.

You are adding more words to your repertoire and refining those you’ve been saying for a while. “Up,” for example, which was always “uh!” is now a very definite “u-pah!” You now say sit, baby, bye-bye, beep-beep, and pop. (You are very good at sounds.) Daddy claims you say truck, but I haven’t heard it yet. You babble constantly, and I believe you’re going to be a very verbal baby. You’ve already given up your children’s books for novels. (Well, not really. But you are intensely interested in holding whatever book is on Daddy’s bedside table.) You still prefer to sit on your ottoman by the window, with a book, either “reading” to yourself or having me read to you, than do just about anything else.

You hate having your clothes and diapers changed. Hate. Your happy mood instantly deteriorates and you become a writhing, boneless, screaming protestor. I always prevail. But sometimes the contest is close.

Yesterday at the playground you enjoyed walking up stairs and going down the slide over and over again. But when you spotted a little girl pushing a toy stroller, you stopped and pointed at it plaintively. You love toy strollers more than anything else, and I just hadn’t gotten around to buying you one—bad, bad Mama. It was pretty heartbreaking to see you just staring at that stroller, pointing it out to me whenever it came our way. And so today, little one, you got a stroller of your very own. We took it to the playground and you proudly pushed it all around, wearing your black puff coat and your striped leg warmers. I took a considered look around the playground and confirmed it: you were the cutest baby there.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Few Activities

Yesterday, we had our usual Monday playgroup, with three other babies. Lucia has grown to enjoy this group more and more, and now that she’s getting familiar with everyone, she’s been getting a little more engaged. It helped that it was at our house yesterday, her own turf; and she immediately began offering her toys to everyone. Later, she even sat down in one woman’s lap a few times, unprompted! I nearly got jealous. My clinging little one was nowhere to be found.

This morning, Lucia and I headed to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum with friends, a little boy and his mom, whom we see each Tuesday for a playdate. Lucia always has a great time with this particular little boy—though he’s several months older, he’s not a giant compared to her, and he’s extremely gentle and giggly. He’s the only baby we see regularly with whom Lucia actually has squealing, laughing-out-loud fun. It’s pretty cute to see them together. Last time, he even hugged and kissed Lucia several times.

We had fun at the museum—playing at the water table, tossing large blocks into bins, filling a shopping basket with fake food in the pretend grocery store. In the little store, near the time when we were getting ready to leave, Lucia selected a large, very realistic-looking loaf of bread from the bakery area and carried it over. But instead of putting it in the basket, she put it down and made the “again” sign, which has changed over the last couple of months and now means “again,” “I want that,” “more,” “read that one,” and “sing to me.” She wanted to eat the bread!

Later today, Lucia and I went to our Spanish music class. Though I really want to love this class, I’ve come to accept that it was not the best choice for Lucia. It is a bit loud and boisterous for her quiet tastes—even the music we dance to at one point in class, always from a different Spanish-speaking country, is sometimes too much for her, and she begins to squirm and fuss. It doesn’t help that there’s a very wild kid in our class who runs around the entire time, screaming whenever his mother tries to stop him from stealing other kids’ instruments or knocking over chairs. This kid puts me on edge, and I know he does for Lucia, too. Our Music Together class starts in two weeks, which I hope will be a better fit. It was great last time we did it; I just hope the children are a nice, well-behaved group.

Anyway, I recount these stories just to highlight that Lucia is definitely developing a firm idea of what sorts of situations she does and does not enjoy. Funnily enough, they are exactly the same situations I myself do and do not enjoy. Imagine that…

Monday, March 07, 2011


Last fall, when Andrew, Lucia, and I were in Mountain View for seven weeks, we had no complaints about our corporate apartment—except for the kitchen table and chairs. It was a high table, with high, barstool-like chairs, which made both feeding Lucia and working at my computer a challenge. Lucia solved her problem by refusing to eat at the table, launching our period of chasing her around the apartment with forkfuls of food. I had no solution to my problem, however, since the apartment had no desk. Very quickly I developed back pain. And that pain has persisted, with no relief, to this day.

Tonight, fed up, I finally saw a chiropractor. He ran his fingers up my spine and immediately identified the exact spot that was hurting—and confirmed that a vertebrae was out of place. Though it’s Molly, not I, who is the hypochondriac of the family, I felt a certain satisfaction in having my complaints to Andrew—“It feels like a vertebrae is jammed!”—confirmed. With some intense heat and violent (-seeming) cracking, my vertebrae is now once again aligned. And the doctor said it could indeed have been from that awful chair. I go back for a follow-up next week, and maybe more, who knows, but I am thrilled that I can now bend and arch my back and reach for things on high shelves without pain. Remarkable!

Friday, March 04, 2011

A Calculated Move for More Presents?

Lucia was pretty cute yesterday, doing things designed to make her Grandparents Orlando desperately miss her. She enjoys looking at the “Team Orlando” baseball cards Molly and Ian gave us for Christmas, and she can now pick out all nine of us. (Well, Franny and Zooey are kind of interchangeable for her, but she can do all the others—Mama, Dada, Uncle Ian, Aunt Molly, Papa, Grandma, and Baby/Lucia.) Yesterday, she carried Mom’s card around for a while, occasionally snuggling it. Later, I talked to Dad on the phone, and I held the phone to her ear while he said hi to her. Not long after this, Lucia hurried into the kitchen carrying Dad’s card, saying “Papa! Papa!” Once she had my attention, she pointed to the phone and walked over to it, still saying “Papa!” Lots of connections being made there. I, for one, was impressed.

Not to worry, Littells. One of my weekend projects is to have pictures printed of all of you, too.