IMG_3792 Back in September, we got an awfully big surprise.

Around the third week in August, I had started having undeniable pregnancy symptoms. We did some math on our fingers and excitedly planned for a due date of May 6th, which seemed perfect: I’d be on break between teaching semesters (May is my biggest chunk of time off every year), Hubby would be through with an always-grueling tax season. We’d have plenty of time to rearrange our three boys into bunk beds and all that. And we had plenty of time to wait a month before spreading the news to family and friends, so we didn’t tell anyone yet.

IMG_3455Still, we both admitted that something felt off. There was something different about this pregnancy, but we couldn’t figure out what it was.

Three weeks later, in the middle of catching ourselves up on Downton Abbey, the baby kicked me.

I put my hands on my stomach and suddenly couldn’t pay attention to the captivating drama of Mary and Matthew anymore. I froze, waiting for it to happen again, my head spinning to catch up with what this meant.

It meant I wasn’t seven weeks along, that was for sure. It definitely meant we weren’t due in May.

When the episode ended, I timidly revealed the news to Hubby, and we spent the next hour laughing at the possibility. Could it really be true? Could we have been pregnant since last May and not known it?

Two days later, an ultrasound confirmed it: we were over eighteen weeks along! Due February 8th.

IMG_3905With a girl!

Everyone’s response to the news? “I didn’t even know you were pregnant!” Well, we said, neither did we!

Since that ultrasound September 14th my priorities have swung in a wildly different direction. I abandoned the blog and put all my spare energy into prepping our house and lives for a new baby in less than four months.

Today is the first day in those months that I feel suddenly open to blogging, ready to see if I can still write anything after so long out of practice. The older boys’ room is finally outfitted with a bunk bed (including a new handmade quilt for my five-year-old who was previously in a toddler bed), a mural to fill the wall space, and painted closet shelves. The other room now holds a toddler bed, a crib, a changing table, a rocking chair and a train table, with just a few things left to arrange on the walls before it will feel complete. I’ve crocheted a flower blanket, sewed a floral chair pad and girly owl pillow for the rocker, and continued nesting like that to my heart’s content. IMG_3929This past weekend her grandma bought us a bright pink car seat and a neighbor loaned us a bassinet. Her closet now has just enough size 0–3 months clothes for us to get by for a little while. I can finally feel ready.

Last night, sporting a basketball under my shirt, I walked into a room full of strangers facing me in their desks, probably wary as the first thing they learned about their new college English teacher is that she is nine months pregnant. But once we got going, and they opened right into discussion so easily, I felt the usual thrill of discovering I’ve got a good group of students — knowing we’ll be able to analyze and dig into complexities and have the room hum with enthusiasm because I can tell they’re interested and they care. It reminded me how much I love all that, including discussion here on my blog.

At the same time, this is my fourth time around having a newborn, and I know my limits. I cut down to just one class this semester so that those 75 minutes twice a week are my only commitment in these next few months besides my baby and three boys.

This post isn’t an announcement that I’m back to blogging, just an update to confirm that I’m not.

Since my last baby, I’ve learned a lot about shaking off stress and living a peaceful life. That’s the life I want to welcome my daughter into — in just three short weeks! Writing will resume when it feels right.

Why Blog? The Altruism of Giving Ideas a Home

A moment ago I did something that’s become habitual for me: I took the pitcher of reclaimed water off my kitchen counter, out the back door, and used it to nourish the semi-evergreen plants that live in my backyard and need watering year-round.

the perpetual pitcher

Reclaimed water?

It’s the best term I can think of for the water recycling project I began after attending a cooking presentation at someone’s house over a year ago. The hostess made just a tiny comment about how when you drain water, like off of pasta, you could save it for watering plants.

Honestly, she didn’t even say it that directly; it was just an aside, really. But somehow the idea stuck in my head. I began thinking of all the water I waste, pouring it down the drain when my plants, whether outside or inside, would probably love it. And shortly thereafter I elected a certain pitcher to live on my counter forever more and catch whatever water could be reused.

As I offered it to the bamboo behind my patio today, I got to thinking about the passing-along of ideas and how randomly it often happens. We just happen to be somewhere, happen to be with someone, when something is said or done that sticks with us and changes us somehow.

The beauty of blogging is that it removes the random factor. It allows those ideas a place to exist and be found.

This weekend my intermediate students are writing their first blog posts, wondering what to say. What can they tell the world on this historic occasion of their debut post? What’s the point, anyway?

I’m suddenly thinking that my pitcher of reclaimed water is the point: sharing ideas someone else might not think of on their own but that could alter their life — not dramatically, but in the small ways that feel like a difference.

For me on this blog, it’s about sharing ideas for reading, writing, and teaching, obviously. I think of how lost I once felt as a writer, totally unsure of how to tackle drafting and revising on the 300–400-page level. As I gleaned ideas from other writers — such as printing the manuscript out, putting it in a three-ring binder, slapping it full of post-it notes, scribbling revision thoughts all over the pages — I grew more and more confident in my own abilities.

At first the sharing/gleaning of those ideas was limited to infrequent writing conferences, but once I began blogging and reading other writers’ blogs, tweeting and reading other writers’ tweets, I discovered that social media creates a world-wide never-ending writing conference full of incredible advice.

tips from food bloggers gave me the secret I needed for moist & soft whole-wheat banana bread

The same goes for reading, where I used to get stuck wondering what to read next until I hooked up with other readers on the internet.

The same goes for nutrition, where I used to have no idea how to transition into healthier cooking until traditional-food bloggers gave me their tips.

It might be a personal experience, a recipe, a review, a unique perspective on some current issue — there are so many things to blog about. But I think what it comes down to is that when you put those thoughts into writing on a blog, even as little asides, someone else might latch onto them and put them to use.

A student of mine last semester asked me why I blog when it must take up so much time. Other non-blogging writer friends have asked me why I bother with it before I’m even published.

For me, it’s because I love to share ideas and because I’m indebted to all the people who have shared with me. My life is a conglomeration of all the little tidbits I’ve picked up here and there. Those tidbits have turned me into a writer, a reader, a recycler of water, a baker of sourdough breads, and countless other good things that make my life more fulfilling.

Maybe something I mention will ring true for someone else and help them the way it’s helped me.

What about you? Why do you read or write blog posts? What ideas have you gleaned that have changed you?

Leave a comment!

The Naming of Blessings

As I walked into class on Monday, the first thing one of my students said about the homework was “Am I the only one who had never even heard of an ‘en dash’?”

I laughed and polled the class, and sure enough there were several others who felt the same way. Heck, I didn’t hear about en dashes until grad school, so it’s very possible that my freshmen students are now ahead of the curve.

I remember the feeling of enlightenment that came with learning the term en dash. It was like, “Whoa! The universe is bigger than I thought! There’s this extra little thing that I’ve probably seen my whole life but didn’t realize was unique!” (Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic for a punctuation mark that’s only slightly longer than a hyphen, but I do tend to get dramatic about punctuation. What can I say? I’m an English geek.)

Suddenly, just by knowing its name and what it was, I became more aware of it. I started seeing en dashes everywhere. I even came across one today in Righting the Mother Tongue: “a sixty-four-thousand–word translation of Aesop’s Fables.” Did you see it? That third hyphen-like thing that’s not a hyphen because it’s longer? It’s this special little thing that’s so rare most books probably don’t need one, but it serves a function that nothing else can by linking together all those extra words. So I’m grateful for it!

The point is . . . naming something — whether we assign it a brand new name or simply use the name already attached to it — makes us more aware of it. It makes that thing stand out to us in its uniqueness so that we can appreciate it more.

My grandma used to submit that one of the traits of courteous people is that they learn others’ names and use them often, because when you say someone’s name, that person immediately knows you care. Naming does that, too: shows that we care enough about someone or something to know what he, she, or it is called.

I started thinking about all this in terms of Thanksgiving when I read my friend Leisha’s post listing the things for which she’s grateful. Most of the population of America is likely to write a similar post this week, and why do we do it? Why do we copy what so many others have already done? I submit it’s because we need to name our blessings to elevate their importance, to secure them in our memory, to make ourselves more aware of and grateful for them. That’s what naming does.

Last year I wrote about the ten writers I’m most grateful for. This year I want to catch a broader spectrum, though I’ll limit myself to just the main ones that have stood out to me lately:

  1. Words. Maybe having a baby makes me especially aware of their importance (“Why can’t you just tell me what you need so I don’t have to keep guessing??”), or maybe it’s that spelling book I’m reading (Did you know that a group of dermatologists is called a “rash”? How awesome is that??). Maybe it’s because of thinking about names so much for this post and because I’ve learned so many new names in the last month, like that “good” bacteria have their own names like Acidophilus and that there’s more than one branch of medicine, like allopathy and naturopathy and homeopathy, and each new word/name I learn comes with that universe-expanding feeling of “Whoa! Life is cooler than I knew!”
  2. Hubby, who says things like, “Well, if you HAVE to experiment with new dinners, just fix them on a night when you’re teaching.” To which I respond, “Why? So you can throw it out while I’m gone? Where’s your sense of adventure?” And he says, “Oh, it’s not that. I just like to add conflict to our relationship to keep it interesting. You know, like in movies — if there’s no conflict, it’s boring!” Yeah, I love that man. (That conversation is verbatim, by the way.)
  3. Boys, who regularly turn all stick-like objects into swords or guns (depending on the length of the stick) and are constantly fixating on ways to fight “bad guys” and “monsters” and “strangers.” I’m grateful to have so many of them “protecting” our family, and I’m grateful for all the many ways they share unique perspectives about the world with me.
  4. Food! The main culprit here is that when I’m nursing a baby, I’m constantly hungry. This time around I’ve decided to focus on whole foods like grains, veggies, and fruits, and learning about the health benefits of them has made me so much more grateful for organic produce and all the like. Hooray for market forces at work driving us toward healthier, more sustainable agriculture!
  5. The Internet, which makes so much knowledge so readily available! I’m grateful to have free access to information on everything from en dashes to naturopathy, to read blog posts and journal articles and pamphlets and studies and theses and how-to’s and manifestos and whatever else right from my kitchen table. It definitely helps speed along the revealing of names and the expanding of my universe.

How has your universe expanded lately? What blessings will you name off this week? And why is naming them important to you?

Leave a comment!

Woefully, Thoroughly, Embarrassingly Spaced: A Case for Adverbs (and Swears)

If you stopped by on Friday, or Saturday, you may have wondered what happened to me this past week. Is she still alive? Is everything okay? Has she collapsed into postpartum depression?

Everything’s fine except my brain.

(Thursday was rough with the babe, but that’s because he was almost six weeks old. This is my third kid, and with all three I thought to myself right before six weeks hit, “Damn it! I can’t do this anymore. I can’t hold a baby this many hours a day. I can’t feed him this often. I can’t handle this much crying and fussing.” And then six weeks hit and they magically became good babies. So really on Friday I didn’t have an excuse anymore, other than recovering from Thursday, which I’ve dubbed Day of Massive Tears. Anyway.)

On Saturday, I began typing a tweet about spacing the post so thoroughly that “spaced” needed extra adverbs, but then my brain must still have been out to lunch because I couldn’t think of any clever adverbs to add to the tweet, so I deleted it.

But it made me think about adverbs in general, which IMHO have gotten a bad rep. Writing teachers love to rant about them and circle them with red pens: “No -ly words!” And really, what have the adverbs done to deserve this?

Now, granted, I do understand the point. I am a writing teacher, and I have cringed at plenty of “-ly words” myself. But maybe just because I love adding a new perspective to debates, I’m going to throw out the idea that it’s not the adverb itself that is bad; it’s the usage.

For example, think of the words we label as “bad” words. Go ahead. Think of a few of them. It’s sort of fun to let them roll through your head. They have a pleasingly rough sound to them, a hard consonant ending that stomps down to help us feel a little better just by slipping them out. I mean, when you’re upset, it’s natural to feel like you want to punch something, and an expletive is the verbal equivalent of that punch.

(My favorite is the mild-but-still-explosive “damn,” which I justify by only damning the pronoun “it,” never “you” or “him” or any other undeserving pronoun; somehow “it” just seems to ruin my life often enough to merit the curse.)

Anyhow, now I want you to think of a scenario where one of those bad words is really the only word that could possibly fit.

Maybe it’s because that word sums up a load of misery the size of a landfill; maybe it’s because that word perfectly fits the person/character saying it; maybe it’s because that word is just ironic enough in the context to shock everyone present into much-needed laughter.

(We named our baby after his great-great grandfather, and asked my husband’s grandparents to tell us about the namesake, and one of the first things Grandma Mantyla told us about her dad was that he loved to swear. I asked her if it was in anger or in jest, and she laughed and said it was always to be funny, because he was that kind of a character.)

See where I’m going with this?

I think there could potentially be a place for adverbs.

We try to avoid them on the principle that if your verb needs an adverb, you’re not using a strong enough verb — and therefore the issue is word choice. A writer’s job is to choose the best word possible for every situation, and that’s a challenge.

So maybe that’s why I bristle a little at the idea of being limited in my choices. I want to have every word at my disposal without being limited by ones that are supposedly “bad.”

Today I want to celebrate adverbs and give them the credit they are so often denied.

To the words “magically,” “thoroughly,” “pleasingly,” “perfectly,” “potentially,” and “supposedly” that slipped unintentionally into this post, thank you for adding that touch of emphasis I wanted in each place. (Note: There are more adverbs than that in this post, but these are the most obvious culprits that would offend certain past teachers of mine the most.) Sure, there might be a better verb that could eliminate the need for you, but since this post is already two days late and is written in your honor, I’m going to let you stay.

And perhaps we’ll make a game of it.

I’d love to hear your ideas. What words could I use to ditch the above-mentioned adverbs, or which of them do you think fit best and don’t need ditching? What are adverbs you’ve groaned over upon encountering and how would you have replaced them? What are your favorite adverbs and when could you justify using them? And best of all, what are some funny situations that just beg for a great swear word?

Leave a comment!

UPDATE 8pm: Okay, Hubby and I were chatting and suddenly realized that this movie clip below absoluteLY had to be part of this post. You might not understand at first, but you’ll hear it when you get to 1:37 and 2:56, and it’s awesome (IMHO). The movie is 1776 (the musical), and this is Ben Franklin and John Adams sending Richard Henry Lee off to convince Virginia to initiate the vote for independence. Enjoy!

UPDATE 5/2011: Sadly, the clip is gone and I can’t find another one from the movie, but you can find stage play versions on YouTube if you search for “1776 Lees of Old Virginia.” 😥

The Scoop on the Schedule

Thanks to all who posted helpful comments on my last post. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that the key is simply consistency. I know that I stop checking other blogs when they have too long of a posting lapse because I start to wonder if they’ve stopped blogging altogether, plus I just get out of the habit of checking them if they aren’t updated on a regular schedule.

So, without further ado, I’m announcing a change in my regularly scheduled programming. Instead of my usual twice-weekly posting, I’m going to cut down to once a week for the remainder of gestation and the first six weeks of screaming newborn.

Realistically, I’m picturing that Friday will be the optimal day for posting, since I’ll be teaching Monday and Wednesday evenings.

And, by the way, this little nugget doesn’t count as a post this week. I’m still excited to put up the post I’m working on, complete with photos. It’s just turning out to be a more time-consuming post than I realized.

See you Friday!

To Blog or to Revise?

Sorry that I haven’t posted a second blog this week until now. First there were grades to turn in for the end of term, manuscripts to read for fellow writers, then the flu knocked me onto the couch for 24 hours, and when I pulled free of that all I wanted to do was revise my novel and finish the baby’s room in the two weeks (just two weeks!) I’ve got before fall semester starts.

Oh, and I had an ultrasound Tuesday that estimated my baby’s current weight at 7 pounds, 9 ounces. Um, I’m only 36 weeks along. This means the baby’s either coming early or he’ll be 9 pounds by the time he gets here. Yikes!

So yeah, I’ve been feeling like it’s time to concentrate on finishing my novel before it gets shoved down to a much lower priority. A writer friend of mine sent me fantastic chapter notes that I’m working from right now, and it’s exciting to see how close I am to being done, finally doing much smaller revisions than I have on previous drafts.

But in the mean time, I’ve obviously put off blogging.

It’s sort of a tricky question as a writer. To blog or not to blog until you’ve published is a debate all by itself, some people telling you that agents and editors will want to see your web presence while others say it’s completely unnecessary. But then what about once you’ve established a blog and you’re trying to maintain followers and consistency? Should the blog come before your work on your writing? Which is more important?

The writing is, and yet  . . . the blog’s important, too. I admire writers who find ways to balance both, consistently posting interesting blogs without sacrificing too much time on their manuscripts.

So what do you think? Where are the lines? How do you find that balance?

Leave a comment!