Big News

Ten-year-old Martha has leadership skills. At least that’s what her parents say. Her cousins, Sanjay and Anand, just say she’s bossy.

Martha and the Boys: Ten-year-old Martha has leadership skills.
At least that’s what her parents say.
Her cousins, Sanjay and Anand, just say she’s bossy.

Last summer, I fell in love with middle grade novels. First it was The Penderwicks series. Then Harriet the Spy. Then Charlotte’s Web, then The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, then Harry Potter. And on and on.

When I fall in love, I fall hard. And when I fall in love with books, I want to write.


Over a week long vacation in August, I pounded out a draft of my own novel for ages 8-12. That’s right, I wrote 25,000 words in nine days.

And I couldn’t have done it without Nora. She was my tiny project manager. I’d write a few hundred words and read it back to her. “That’s so great, Mommy! Write some more!”

Did I mention one of my main characters is a ten-year-old girl with, ahem, leadership skills?

All these years I’ve tried to find time for writing while parenting. Turns out all I needed to do was write something my daughter wanted to read!

Now it’s seven months and many revisions later. The novel is in its final draft (I hope).

I’m querying agents. I’ve had two nibbles so far. Exciting!

While I wait, I thought I’d give you guys a peek at it and the chance to get an email notification when it’s published.

Click here to get a taste of the book, tentatively titled Martha and the Boys. If it sounds like something you and your kids would like to read, enter your email address to read the entire first chapter and get notified when it’s published.


Letter of Impact to the Humboldt County Court

1969227_1470579643170614_1311160596_nWhen I was nineteen years old, my big brother got me into a band with some of his friends. Even then, I knew how lucky I was to be dropped into the midst of a such a talented group of men.

The lead singer and songwriter was Douglas Anderson-Jordet.

Doug gave me a demo tape he’d made and some lyrics scratched out on yellow legal pad paper so I could learn the songs he wanted me to sing.

I remember sitting on my bedroom floor and playing that tape over and over again. I was in slight awe of Doug’s voice, so flexible, so easy to listen to. I was in complete awe of his song writing ability.

I’d never heard music that had both an earnestness and a sense of humor within a few bars. Some of songs referenced books I hadn’t read, some had searing social commentary, some were just plain hilarious.

Remember in the nineties when everyone was moving to Seattle? Doug had a song that likened the trend to a cult:

Riding on the freeway

to the Pacific Coast,

they tell me it’s the most,

we can buy some heroin,

then we will fit right in

with all our hosts,

smear goat dung on our clothes…

In Seattle.

Despite being under drinking age and having a pitiful stage presence (I stood stock still at the microphone), we played some shows together in Saint Cloud — our home town — and Minneapolis. Doug and the rest of the band were perfect chaperones, never letting me drink, keeping me sheltered from bar patrons. Assuring me, that yes, I was doing a good job, they wanted me there.

I remember sitting in the back of the van after a show, trying to fall asleep and listening to the conversation Doug was having with the bassist. He was adamant that however talented Trent Reznor was, he was not a good person. Therefore, Nine Inch Nails was not worth listening to.

You had to be a good person, that was Doug’s rule. And he tried, he really did. God knows it’s not easy to measure up to our own rules sometimes.

Once, after a show, the band was in the parking lot behind the venue saying our goodbyes. Doug gave me a hug and casually mentioned that one day we’d have children together. Part of me hoped he was telling the truth. Honestly, I was a little in love with every member of that band. Ah, to be nineteen again!

Once Doug came to the apartment I shared with my brother. He admired my antique typewriter collection. On my old Underwood he pecked out “I always liked your little smile.” After he left, I circled what he’d written and wrote his name and the date in red felt tipped marker.

I kept that piece of paper in a scrapbook for nearly twenty years. I pulled it out again when I heard of his murder.

I got the news in an email from my brother. Word was spreading quickly among Doug’s old friends. Such horror. Why? What could have happened?

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday sobbing over my feast preparations and listening to Doug’s music. All of his friends were digging through everything they had and posting it online.

I kept picturing Doug lying in the street, alone, bleeding to death. The panic and terror he must have felt. I went to Google maps brought up a photo of the intersection where he was found. I  wanted to see the last thing he saw.

I reached out to old friends I haven’t spoken to in almost twenty years. I made some new friends, a few recent musical collaborators of his and his sister. I needed to hug everyone who’d ever hugged Doug.

Thankfully, the police did some stellar work and quickly found the perpetrators. The sense of relief was profound. They wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else and we would get some answers.

But then.

What a mess.

We have a plea deal that doesn’t come close to ensuring that the perpetrators won’t harm anyone else. And Doug’s reputation is being tarnished beyond recognition. Doug is being put on trial in the court of public opinion, instead of Juan Ferrer, Nicholas Stoiber and Sophie Buttercup Rocheleau being on trial in a court of law.

While it’s obvious there was an altercation that terrible night in Arcata, I know in my gut that it was not due to racism and bigotry on Doug’s part. I haven’t found a soul who knew him who believed the defendants’ version of events.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not big on revenge.

But since I can’t have a time machine where I could go back and intervene to prevent this nightmare from occurring, I do want a result that gives the defendants the time to consider their actions and do whatever internal work needs to be done to make them safe for society.

They ganged up on a lone man. They beat him. Juan stabbed him in the heart. They left him for dead. Then they hid.

A two-year sentence in a county jail does not convey the severity of their actions.

And that’s a disservice to us all.

Note that sentencing for this trial is scheduled for April 3, 2014. To learn more about Doug and his music and art, you can like this Facebook page. It’s worth your time.

On Empathy, Luck and Gratitude

I get out of the car and walk up the driveway. Ben meets me at the door. He is shaking.

“Everyone I know is okay,” he says with strange emphasis, “But there’s been an accident. John hit someone head-on and the person died.”

John (not his real name) is someone Ben works with. I know without asking that he must have been driving a very big truck.

I sit down on the steps and Ben tells me a few more details. Then he goes to the back yard to chop wood and collect himself. I head inside.

As the door closes behind me I hear Nora calling, “It’s time to WIPE!” She’s been pooping while we talked.

“Okay, I’m coming!”

“Mommy, are you home?”

“Yes, I am,” I call back in a sing-song voice as I kick off my shoes. I have never been happier to be around to wipe my daughter’s bottom.

It could have been Ben driving a big truck and unable to stop in time as an oncoming car crossed the center line.

It could have been me speeding toward a dump truck. It could have been my fatal lapse in judgment, trying to sneak a quick look at my phone.

What a great gift it is when danger gets just close enough to wake us up, but not fuck us up.

I tear some paper from the roll and bend over my daughter and let myself be grateful. Grateful to be momentarily safe and warm, grateful for a husband who shakes in empathy for a friend and a stranger.

I remind myself never to fall into the trap of thinking that my family has been spared for some special purpose. It hasn’t.

We’ve just been lucky so far.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Thanks, thanks, thanks.

May luck and gratitude be with you in the season to come.



Dear Santa, I Can’t Stop Thinking About You

Today’s guest post brought to you by my six-year-old’s obsession with Christmas, small animals and magic “cases.”

That’s right, it’s August and Nora’s already two revisions deep into her Santa letter…

Dear Santa,

I love you very much. Thank you for my candy wand last year.

I am now six.

I would LOVE a guinea pig and a cage and a parrot. But I want the parrot in a cage, too, please Santa.

And also a quilt and a pillow, a set of bean bags and a very, very humongous trampoline with a big huge net and a staircase so you may climb up. And make sure it’s soap and water proof.

Dear Santa, I really, really love the bed tent you got me last year. I’d really like a big set of bean bags and an instrument room. It’s a big room you can go in and play music in.

And a bunk bed with three levels of height.

And cases you may throw and they turn into whatever you are thinking about and they are disposable once you have thrown them.



A Lesson in Economics

Nora pulls down one of her pink piggy banks and shakes it mercilessly, the coins clanking against the ceramic in a way that makes parents question their decision to have children with arms.

“Hey,” I interrupt, “I’m going to Freddie’s. Do you want to come?”

She nods with raised eyebrows. “I like to look at the art supplies there.”

Trying to head off the inevitable requests for me to buy glitter, I say, “Why don’t you bring some of the money from your piggy bank and you can buy something for yourself?”


We talk about how much money to bring. Two dollars may not be enough to get something good, but twenty dollars would be spending too much of her savings at once. We settle on ten dollars.

Over ninety degrees outside, we are sitting in pools of sweat by the time we get to the store. I try to dawdle in the garden section, but she grabs me by the hand saying, “Can I lead you to the water section?”

I think she’s hot and wants to buy a bottle of water.

Oh no.

We go straight to the water toy aisle.

Nora is obsessed with water balloons. They bring together so many of her favorite things: rainbow colors, bathing suits and shrieking.

Fred Meyer sells a blue plastic bucket of water balloons and two fillers that connect to a garden hose. She spotted it one day while we were shopping for floaties and goggles. She’s talked about it for a solid month.

She points to the bucket. Six hundred water balloons in a gallon bucket. Six hundred.

“It’s 12.99 and you only brought $10.00.”

She gives my hand a squeeze and says quietly, “I could use all my money and you could help me a little.”

I have flash back to every time I mercilessly manipulated my mother into buying me plastic shit. It takes several moments.

“Let me see this thing,” I say, picking it up; pretending to inspect it for value.

Six hundred water balloons.

Once popped, this means the potential for 1200 little schnitzels of colored plastic littering my backyard.

I look into her expectant little face. “Okay,” I said. “But you have to carry the bucket through the store yourself.”

“I want to carry it,” she beams.

Examining her treasure on the ride home, she blurts, “Hey, they are trying to trick kids! There’s a big hunk of cardboard board in here with pictures of water balloons that aren’t really water balloons.”

“Yeah, but it tells you right on the package that there are six hundred. They just want to make the container look full and un-inflated balloons don’t take up much space in a big bucket.”

“Well, they’re trying to trick kids.”

“They’ll do that,” I say. In my head, I am beginning to formulate an economics slash marketing-to-kids-lecture to keep at the ready.

Later, as I weed the flower beds, she fills water balloons and loads them into her hammock. As she does, she explains that this hammock is her water balloon shop and if I want to participate in a water fight, I’ll need to pay a dollar per balloon, “And it has to be real dollars, mom.”

Six hundred water balloons.

There’s also a class I can take to learn how to fill water balloons, and then a next level course where I learn how to make the balloons themselves. With those skills, there could be job opportunities for me in her water balloon shop.

I wonder if she offers an employee discount, so I don’t have to pay a dollar per balloon.


Hope You Like Bison

Photo credit: lightfoot via

Photo credit: lighfoot via

Sometimes you have something important to get off your chest before you can settle down to rest.

This was the case with Nora last night. She couldn’t sleep until she told me:

Three reasons you shouldn’t try to kill a bison with a spear.

The first reason is that you may not be able to bury the spear deep enough in the bison, or it may simply bounce off the bison, in which case the bison may become angry and ram you.

I can’t remember the second reason and neither could Nora this morning when I asked her for clarification. So, sorry, hope this doesn’t haunt you. If it makes you feel better, I suspect there were only two reasons, and we were both too sleepy to count properly.

The third reason is that you may actually be successful and then what would you do? As Nora put it, “Geez, I hope you like bison! They’re so big some of it might go to waste.”

So, there you go. Once I was in possession of the knowledge, I had to share it with all of you. Mainly because I really need some sleep tonight.

This is a Test

file000711900263For some reason, I was awake in the middle of night thinking about something a Buddhist nun said.

I was recovering from the flu and sharing a twin bed with a 5-year-old and a 73 pound dog, so it’s no wonder I couldn’t sleep.

I kept thinking of Pema Chodron telling the story of some folks on a Buddhist retreat. One of the retreat attendants was unpopular due to his general negativity. He was bringing the whole group down.

Finally, the group was out on the grounds of the monastery moving rocks or performing some such act of service and the unpopular guy was in a huff about it and would not stop complaining. He finally got so worked up he stormed off, announcing he’d never return.

Everybody cheered.

When the monk in charge found out about it, he went out and found the man and brought him back.

The monk was paying the guy to be there.

Because of course, the biggest test of one’s ability to practice lovingkindness, a major precept in Buddhism, is to see if you can do it even with people who get under your skin.

So, this little story was playing in my head on a loop that night (as important bits of subconscious have a tendency to do when we are half asleep).

Finally, I drifted deeper and slept until morning.

I woke up before everyone else, and is my habit, I checked email before I was fully awake.

And there I saw a Facebook friend request from a person who is my annoying guy at the monastery.

I closed my eyes for a moment in rueful recognition, shook my head, smiled, and hit “accept.”


How to Get Carried Away with a Fundraiser

It’s that time again. Time for me to off the deep end, craft-wise.

Every year Nora’s school holds a fund-raising auction and each class makes a big-ass something that gets donated to the cause.

This year’s something was my idea, though now I have mixed feelings about not keeping my mouth shut — as I really just wanted to make it for myself. It’s going to be a supreme exercise in detachment to let this sucker go.

The finished product will look something like this

It’s a quilt, of sorts. We’re modifying the ingenious beekeeper’s quilt from Tiny Owl Knits by making it mixed media, so the little hexagons won’t just be knitted, but also crocheted and sewn (to maximize the skill set of all the class parents). Also, each child in Nora’s class will draw a bee which we’ll embroider on the fabric hexagons.

We need a total of 384 hexagons.

I'm slowly filling this jar and it's making me happy.

On top of that, we’ll build a beehive and provide all the supplies needed to start beekeeping (including bees!). Yes, people really do that here in Portland.

But wait, there’s more!

We’ll also make a donation of honey bees in the winning bidder’s name to Heifer International. (We feel kind of guilty about the idea of people who are doing well simply trading items of value with other people who are doing well, so we added that bit to help families in need. We’re just liberal like that.)

And we’ve got to get it all done by March 1st.

Did I mention that it took the woman who wrote the quilt pattern a year to make it? Never mind. I have complete faith in crowdsourcing, Waldorf style. Wool motivates us.

If there are any knitters or crocheters out there who want to bust out a few hexagons, let me know. I can supply yarn and stuffing and instructions. We need all the help we can get.

And please tell me about the craziest craft project you’ve ever done. We need ideas for next year.

The New Guy

Meet Charlie, the new guy. We got him in September, when the dog-lessness of our house became unbearable (to two-thirds of us).

He is a cuddle bug. With the world’s longest tail. (18 inches. Ben measured.)

But he has some issues.

He’s a rescue, and as such, he classifies the entire world into two categories: things to eat and things to fear. We’re working through it all, but it’s a lot of, well, work. 

Sometimes, we don’t do such a great job of keeping on top of his needs. As every responsible dog owner knows, doggie mistakes are really human mistakes.

Which brings me to:

A non-exhaustive list of things Charlie has eaten, chewed, defecated on, vomited on or otherwise destroyed since his adoption:

(Really, this list should really be in a big globby paragraph — Salinger style — but in this internet age we need bulleted lists or our little heads might explode.)

  • Living room rug (soiled)
  • Replacement living room rug (chewed)
  • Hallway rug (chewed)
  • Nora’s mattress (vomited on)
  • Food dispensing rolling toy (chewed threads on cap, rendering it useless)
  • Replacement food dispensing rolling toy (chewed threads on cap, rendering it useless)
  • Harness (chewed right off of himself)
  • Countless hair ties (eaten)
  • Beeswax (eaten)
  • Fire wood (eaten)
  • Wads of wool batting (eaten)
  • Upstairs wall to wall carpeting (soiled)
  • Sheets (chewed)
  • Dog bed (chewed and shredded)
  • Replacement dog bed (chewed and shredded)
  • Slippers (chewed)
  • Binder for storing film negatives (peed on)
  • Pink plastic headband (eaten)
  • Rain boots (chewed)
  • Miniature garden (chewed)
  • North Face sleeping bag (peed on)
  • Sweater sleeve (eaten)
  • Wicker basket (chewed)
  • Duvet cover (chewed)

And all this has occurred even with the judicious use of baby gates and a considerably bully stick budget.

Miraculously, none of these ingestion events have landed him in the emergency room. But if one ever does, we had the good sense to get pet health insurance this time.

As most of you know, Charlie has big shoes to fill. An eight-year-old well trained purebred lab he is not. He’s just a year old, full of energy and uncertain of the world. But with lots training and lots of love, he’ll grow into the role of steadfast companion.

Speaking of growing, in the short time we’ve had him, he’s gone from fifty-five pounds to over seventy. Which leads me to worry, perhaps he’s growing into the tail?

10 Reasons I Haven’t Blogged in 5 Months

1. For awhile, all I thought about was Hoover and there are only so many doggie cancer posts I can subject all of you lovely people to.

2. I fell into a brief, grief-related depression and needed to focus on eating spinach dip.

3. Nora wasn’t saying anything blog-worthy, because she was too sad. (See reason #1.)

4. I was busy with freelance writing assignments, for awhile.

5. Somehow I got talked into supervising people at my day job. And that shit is tiring. (Don’t worry, it’s only temporary.)

6. I spent several hours each day trying to prevent our new dog from eating the living room rug.

7. Then I was busy with the holidays.

8. I was knitting a shawl for Nora, then a big-ass doily-blanket thingy.

9. I simply fell out the habit. And that’s a very bad thing for a writer to do.

10. I needed time to figure out if this blog still had a place in my life.

And I think it does. Here’s what to expect from Mommy’s Pen going forward:

  • stories of my family that (hopefully) connect with your experience
  • new dog antics (his name is Charlie, he’s a big spazz)
  • recipes
  • crafting exploits
  • links to what I’m writing elsewhere
  • photos of Nora, she’s doing a 365 photo project this year

Basically, I’m going hodge-podge on your asses; it’s whatever I feel like saying, whenever I feel like saying it.

I hope you’re still with me. What’s been going on with you?