Friday, July 31, 2009

My Marthon

A house in St George near the finish line of Lander's first marathon.

Last night Lander and I packed up the baby and drove up the canyon for dinner. On the way up we passed a runner, with the most muscular legs I've ever seen, powering her way up the constant climb. We were both infinitely impressed by her pace and obvious strength. It was a clear demonstration of endurance and ability, and for more than a moment, I wished I could do that.

This morning I woke up to a seemingly endless list of things to do. Most of the things I did were hardly interesting enough to explain, and I certainly couldn't squeeze any jokes out of my two trips to the grocery store, or the chair match between me, my toddler, and the printer. Throughout the World's Most Boring Activities Part 682: Revenge of the Smart Women in Business Grant Application, I ignored the pain in my body. I pushed the exhaustion out of my consciousness. I felt like that woman from last night. Only I was attempting to reconcile mommyhood, housewifery, and the art of succeeding in business (while trying as hard as humanly possible) with the constant drain of chronic pain and the all-consuming exhaustion that comes with it. I mentally awarded myself a Finisher's Medal once I reached the end of my to do list. Too bad no one at Smith's recognized the feat of strength they were witnessing. Perhaps it would have been more inspirational if I had been wearing one of those cute little running skirts.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Return Ticket to Agent Town

I read a bit of advice a while back which loosely said, "find a publishing deal first, then an agent. You won't like the kind of agent you're likely to find without a deal." This is in reference to the plethora of good-hearted souls out there who claim to be publishers, but really just want to charge editing fees and take all your money without ever publishing your work. So I started approaching publishers directly.

I thought I had found the publisher for me! She was looking for "socially relevant personal journeys." The only way my book could be more perfect for her list was if I could have somehow rigged the book itself to play, "Don't Stop Believin'" (Journey's greatest hit in case you happen to not be old. Just thought I would explain the joke to the kids. And now I'm done.)

I sent her my first query, but she sent it back covered in red ink. She carefully explained everything I did wrong, but invited me to fix the query and send it back. She said I needed a strong marketing platform since the "Coping Memoirs" genre is so saturated. I was elated to have another chance, but I knew I lacked a gimmick.

I decided to focus on the sheer drama of my life, hoping that a good story could still sell a book these days. I explained the car accident, the pain, my crazy mother, the rampant abuse, rebuilding my life with nothing but $25 bucks and a cracker (do you think it's enough...) Just when I thought I had put it all back together there was the miscarriage, and my mother's suicide two weeks later. As I stuck what was left of my mother in a drawer and asked the Universe, "What's next?" a surprise baby came along to carry and care for just when I felt sure that my soul had already left the building... I could go on, but the James Frey police might come after me.

She said my query was better, but she still wasn't interested because the way I have survived this life was not revolutionary enough to sell to the media. Too bad I didn't rise above my grief long enough to buy a Julia Child's cook book or some other inane set up that seems to sell books.

I have thought about this for several days now. At first I just wanted to tell her that the very fact that I did survive AND became a contributing member of society IS revolutionary. But now I have decided to find comfort in the idea that I'm ordinary. It means that if I can go through this much garbage and come out a better person in the end, anyone else can too.

More research has led me to plenty of books about regular people coping with crappy things in ordinary ways. But those publishers won't accept work directly from the author, so now I'm back in the hunt for an agent. In the meantime, I plan to cook tofu everyday and journal about how it changes my life, and then I'm going to attempt the impossible and run a hundred mile foot race with no ability or training so that I can come to terms with my grief, blah blah, blah.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"pressing your money into hands that are still caked with dirt"

This response was left by my eloquent young husband Kris Lander, in the comment section of my previous post about Industrial America. I thought I would post it so that no one missed it. I keep telling him that he should write more often.

I asked, "why do I hold things like the arts, food, and all other indulgences which are good for soul apart from industry? Why do I think it's ok for the car manufacturers to make decisions based on the bottom line- that they would be ridiculous to continue making a part by hand, when a machine can drastically cut costs, but I am offended when the same principle is applied to dinner and diamonds?"

Kris Said:
I think the reason why you hold a double-standard when it comes to dinner and diamonds is this: You can control the origin of your dinner and, to a certain extent, your diamonds.

If you need a new car you can't help where it was manufactured. The sticker on the window may tell you the origin of the parts, and the countries where they were assembled, but if you want a new Toyota Venza you don't have the choice between the Venza built and assembled in Mexico and one built and assembled in Japan. There's only Venza. Sure, you could opt for a car that's built and assembled in the USA, but that may not always be a practical or financially feasible decision. (As an aside, Marketplace had a story a few days ago that said the majority of new car buyers are no longer willing to pay a premium to buy an American-built car).

When it comes to corn and chicken breasts you do have that choice. And, increasingly, you don't even have to shop at another store to make the choice. Organic milk sits side-by-side with the rBST laden SuperMilk. Organic apples and pears are next to conventionally grown apples and pears. The choice to choose organic is as simple as putting a different item in your cart, and opening your wallet a little wider. (Another quick digression: shouldn't produce grown using organic techniques be labeled as "conventional"? It wasn't until relatively recent times that farming involved huge quantities of nitrogen, pesticides, petroleum, and genetically modified seeds. Perhaps these foods should be labeled as "Industrially Grown").

The same holds true when it comes to jewelry. You could go to the mall and pick out something bright and shiny from Claire's or Nordstrom's. But, you can just as easily walk through your neighborhood farmer's market or arts festival to find something equally bright and shiny, and as a bonus it's probably unique. Or at least unique enough that you probably won't see other girls wearing the exact same piece.

The other bonus to purchasing organic foods and handmade jewelry is that you often see your money changing hands with the farmer or artisan. When you buy a basket of strawberries at the farmer's market chances are you're pressing your money into hands that are still caked with dirt. When you buy handmade jewelry you know the person on the other side of the counter is directly involved in the production of that jewelry. You don't get the same feeling when you buy a new car, or pick up a family-sized package of toilet paper from Target.

corn as far as the eye can see

Since I found myself in the car in the late evening yesterday, I settled in for Marketplace, one of my favorite shows on NPR. Of course they were discussing the fall of the American auto industry... a topic we are all too familiar with around here since Lander's employer collected most of their revenue from car dealerships. The story was about a machine from Canada which cut the price of a particular part, which used to be handmade here in America, from $14.00 to $2.50. The reporter tossed the term "handmade" about like a dirty word, and in this context, I agreed! I actually started questioning my devotion to all things handmade, or locally produced, and felt like I was somehow responsible for holding the entire American economy in the gutter.


I embrace technology in almost every other aspect of my life. Why then, would I shun mass made jewelry still stinking with the smell of sweat shops and child labor? Why would I support tiny farmers over the industrialized super farms with all of their pesticides and monoculture?

I do appreciate my own hypocrisy. Somehow, I think it's just fine to buy my clothing, toys, computers, and cell phones, etc. from China, but as long as I don't shop at Wal-mart, I buy organic food, and I make my own jewelry by hand, I still get to feel all superior. Most of the time it is very difficult and expensive to purchase everyday goods like food, clothes, diapers, and toilet paper which won't offend my body, my morals, or my carbon footprint. No matter how much I wish this weren't the truth, I don't think it will ever change, especially considering the sad state of our economy. Sales of locally produced, or organic food are plummeting. Skinny wallets have sent many of us running back to ConAgra with all their subsidies, artificial additives, and cheap ingredients which put cost ahead of nutrition and taste.

I guess the point to all of this rambling is this: why do I hold things like the arts, food, and all other indulgences which are good for soul apart from industry? Why do I think it's ok for the car manufacturers to make decisions based on the bottom line- that they would be ridiculous to continue making a part by hand, when a machine can drastically cut costs, but I am offended when the same principle is applied to dinner and diamonds?

Thursday, July 9, 2009


As I less-than-patiently await birth stories from at least four of my blog buddies who just had new babies (you'd think they're busy, or something) I thought I would post my own story from, what seems like, a lifetime ago.

“I know one flower which is unique in all the world.” --The Little Prince

Towards the end of my pregnancy I was so fat and tired and miserable that I googled "signs of labor" and "inducing labor" every day for two weeks straight. I had been having contractions for about a month. They didn't hurt much, but sometimes they were very regular, so I ended up in labor and delivery twice for false alarms.
At the hospital they have a separate room for observation. They pretend like they send everyone there to determine if real labor has started, but I'm pretty sure it's just for the first-time moms like me who wander in calmly and say, "Yeah, uh...I think I might be in labor...but I'm not sure."
I had no idea when the baby was actually due because I had two different due dates in September that were about two weeks apart. Since Rosie was a bit of a surprise we didn't know when she might have been conceived. I understand that it's all guesses anyway and I would have been able to go with the flow, but my mother-in-law, Peg, had to be out of town for a week right in the middle of the two due dates. I really wanted her to be there for the birth. Not only did I want her to see her first grandchild being born, but I also wanted somebody who had done it before to be with me. None of my friends had had babies yet.
When Peg left town I was already dilated to a three. I technically had two weeks left until the most likely due date, but I was still positive that Rosie would not wait that long. The whole week Peg was gone I was full of mixed emotions. I was so so so ready to not be pregnant anymore, but I didn't want Peg to miss the birth. She would be home Friday morning, so I was desperately hoping Rose would be born that day. Saturday, September 15 was my mother's birthday. It was the first one since she killed herself, and my feelings about her death were still quite raw. I did not want my baby and my mother to share a birthday.
On Thursday evening I went to visit my sister's new apartment. It was in yet another hundred year old building in a cool old neighborhood downtown, so of course there were a thousand stairs to her door. I climbed them slowly, but secretly hoped the effort would send me over the tipping point and straight to Labor and Delivery. Waiting is just about my poorest skill and not even being sure when the waiting would end was the worst test of my anemic patience, ever.
"I have figured it all out," I said as I caught my breath between flights of stairs. "Peg gets home tomorrow around 11:00am. That means I can go into labor tonight at midnight and spend the average 8-15 hours in labor. That leaves her plenty of time to get here before Rose is born."
“Midnight, huh?” Amy said. “That's a very clever calculation.”
“Thanks. I thought so too.”
At midnight on the dot I woke up screaming. The tight pain in my tummy, back and legs was the most consuming thing I had ever experienced. Eight minutes later, almost to the second I had another contraction. I got out of bed to gather my last minute items for the suitcase that had been gathering dust by the door for a week. Kris stared at me with so much excitement, but I was anything but excited, "You must put on pants. We're going to the hospital, now," I said.
"They said in class that you have to wait until they're five minutes apart."
"I'm not waiting."
Another contraction started while I was getting my toothbrush so I steadied myself on the sink. I wasn't breathing, I couldn't speak, I couldn't signal when it was over like we had practiced. Things hurt me more than they should because my central nervous system is overly-sensitive to pain. My nerves amplify even the tiniest pain message. A pinched finger or a stubbed toe can be excruciating to me, but as a result, I have a lot of practice dealing with terrible pain, so I had been wondering for months what labor would feel like to me, and now I had my answer: crappy.
I only had to endure one contraction in the car because the hospital was close. I stood at the front desk with my suitcase, pillow, and a determination to get an epidural within the next ten minutes. There was no way they were sending me to the observation room again, and I was so happy when they didn't even try. Maybe the fact that I couldn't sign my own name on the form was an indicator of my general discomfort and urgency.
When I got in the room I was almost dilated to a five already. They still made me wait over an hour to get the epidural...something about IV fluids. I was so unprepared for the pain. I tried to do the little breathing patterns we had learned in the birthing class... the same patterns I had neglected to practice more than once. What was I thinking?
Then suddenly I had something else to focus on besides the pain. My baby was in distress because the contractions were so strong and close together. The nurse had me turn to one side, and then the next to try to lower Rosie's heart rate. I flipped over and over like a pancake, and eventually her heart rate settled.
When I finally got the epidural I hated the way it felt. It was nice to just watch the nearly constant contractions go off the chart in intensity on the monitor and not feel them, but I hated that I couldn't move. My legs were heavy and floppy and required my husband to move them for me.
Two hours later, my second exam revealed that I was already completely dilated so they quickly called my doctor. Of course he was unable to make it in time, so a woman I had never met introduced herself to me and said she would be delivering my baby. Then she broke my water. What's one more stranger with her hands up my skirt at this point?
"I'm going to go start your paperwork and then when I get back we'll start pushing."
"Are you serious?" I said.
"We'll push for about an hour, and then we'll see where we're at."
I braced myself for what sounded like a long morning. It was about 4:00 am, and Peg was only just boarding a flight home. But I didn't have to wait long.
As the nurse checked me one more time, she called to her assistant behind her, "go get the doctor, now!"
Then to me as calmly as she could muster, "looks like we're ready to go." It had barely been ten minutes since the doctor had left. The nurse went to put my legs into position for me when I realized that I could move them myself. I started to feel the contractions again, each one stronger than the one before. I was actually happy that my epidural was wearing off though, because I wanted to feel the birth.
Bob excused himself to go call Peg and let her know that her first grandchild was about to arrive. She was beside herself that she could not be there.
After one peek the doctor said, "I guess we're starting now. That didn't take long." I had no idea what they had been waiting for in the first place, but before I knew it the doctor was teaching me how to count and push. I couldn't believe it was happening already. I felt like a little girl again- small, scared, and being dragged along by the hand toward something I didn't want to do. I wasn't ready.
I pulled my legs into my chest and felt the next contraction coming, but this time I had a job to do so the pain was not too bad. I focused on pushing for ten seconds straight. I was supposed to keep my chin down but I kept watching in the mirror. It was fascinating.
I had given up on he he he hoooo a long time ago, but then Amy told me to breath into the spaces between my ribs just like we had practiced at yoga so many times. I breathed into my back and ribs and it calmed me. I suddenly felt more prepared that I thought I was, like maybe I could do this after all.
I only pushed for about 15 minutes before the doctor told me to stop. One last slow push and then there was Rose. I saw a head, and a shoulder and an arm and I said, "oh my God, it's a baby."
"What did you think was going to come out of there?" the doctor said.
The nurse plopped the baby on my tummy and Rosie squinted at my face. She had more black hair than I had ever seen on a baby, dark skin, and blue eyes. She was beautiful, and so tiny. She was only 6lbs. 3oz. I was shocked because an image of Rose had been forming in my mind over the last few weeks, and my vision looked just like her.
They took her away suddenly. Rose hadn't started breathing yet, so they carried her quickly to the warming bed and started a flow of oxygen just in front of her nose. Kris hesitated to go but I released his hand and told him to follow.
My nurse called the NICU for a consultation, but before they arrived Rosie finally took a breath on her own! "Oh, she's a doll!" the NICU doctors said and cooed at her for a few minutes before they were called away again.

I got to nurse her before they took her upstairs, and I was cheered because it went pretty well. As soon as they finished sewing my body back together, I followed her to the maternity ward.
Subsequent feeding sessions, however, were very difficult. She wouldn't latch and I couldn't keep her awake. I was so frustrated and I felt like such a failure already for not knowing how to feed my child. I had even read a book and gone to a class to learn how, but I just couldn't do it. We eventually resorted to Kris dribbling formula down my chest so Rosie would think it was coming from my breast and want to suck. It took forever to even get half an ounce in her like that.

I felt alone and clueless and for the first time I broke down in tears. Kris made me scooch over on the bed and just held me until I was ready to say out loud that I wanted my mom. I wanted someone to teach me and help me be a mother myself.
It wasn't all frustration and tears though. Between the feedings we got to stare and coo at the most beautiful baby ever born. We marveled at what we had made together and wondered about our new life as parents. We got to show her off to our friends. And when Peg's plane finally landed, Rose met her only Grandmother.

The day after Rose was born was my mother's birthday. We were still in the hospital learning to care for our baby. I was closing my eyes hoping to get a little sleep but it wasn't working. Kris was holding Rosie. I heard a catch in his throat and a few quick sniffs. She was so beautiful and amazing that she made her new dad cry- a feat I had only witnessed a handful of times in ten years. I kept my eyes closed and tried not to intrude on his moment with our new baby. I was thinking of my mother of course. It was only then that I realized that my mother's last words to me were, "Thank you for the rose for my birthday." That's just what she got this year.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Udon Noodles With Seame Crusted Tofu

photo credit: The Vegan Dad

My darling husband used to cook for me all the time, so I have never needed to hone my kitchen skills. Back when I was actually employed and worked pretty late every night, I would almost always come home to a fragrant house and a beautifully plated meal on the table. Those were the days, people.

These days, Lander apparently has better things to do when he gets home like playing the baby he so dearly misses every minute he's away at work. So I finally gave into my maternal guilt, tightened the apron strings, and bellied up to the cook top. However, I had no idea what to do next.

I was determined to actually cook a meal tonight without the microwave. I have thus far mastered the art of opening bags of frozen vegetables (which is no easy task-- sometimes I even have to use the scissors.) And I am a pro at the classic Lander meal consisting of chicken, a vegetable, and rice, which I relished every time I crashed the nuclear dinner table at Kris's parent's house. But tonight I attempted to branch out.

Once again, Lander gave me more credit than I deserved when he suggested a yummy recipe from

I wandered the aisles of Smith's, wrestling my squirming child, and gathering the ingredients to the best of my ability. I managed to get home with most of the ingredients in tow. I felt fancy as I tossed the tofu in sesame seeds, but it only went down hill from there.

The tofu bubbled in the oil but never really turned golden brown like in the beautiful picture on Vegan Dad's website. When I tried to flip them the white piles of goo just fell apart and congealed into sesame covered mush. I thought more heat might do the trick, but I only managed to start a beguiling collection of tiny third degree burns on my arms and face, and coat the kitchen in a slippery layer of oil splatters. As I nursed my wounds, I reflected on the good old days when Lander did all the cooking. I recalled watching him drain and press the tofu, as I sat uselessly watching Buffy and sipping wine. Oh, how I miss Buffy.

Rosie missed her bedtime waiting for me to finish cooking. I left out the green onions because Somer told me to, and I forgot the hoisin sauce, so it was slightly lacking in flavor. The noodles were sticky, and we've already discussed what happened to the tofu. In summary: a complete failure, but stay tuned for future adventures in house-wifery. I'll master this yet.