The Amazon Iowan

Blog of Author Heidi Cullinan


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The little things matter: how my kid’s school schooled me on reacting to sexual bullying

I just returned from a meeting with my kid’s school counselor addressing an issue concerning her, and while there are others getting a talking-to right now, I can’t stop thinking about what just happened. I’m humbled, and I’m so incredibly glad my kid goes to school where she does.

The essentials are this: my daughter loves horses. LOVES. Horses. We own one. She has a million Breyer models and various toy horses. Half her clothing has horses on it. If she has an assignment and can turn it into something horse, she does. Horses are life. Her dream is to own a barn someday, and a stable full of horses, so much so that she’s basing her career choices on paths which would best fund her dream and still leave her free time to ride.

She draws horses too, and has for years, always trying to draw them better. She’s very proud of her work, sometimes taking hours to work on her pieces. Sometimes she colors them, sometimes she doesn’t. She customizes My Little Pony figures, adds mods to games to add horses. She doodles at school when she has time, and brings pictures to school to show her friends.

She’s also a pre-teen, and she loses her work sometimes. One picture was lost recently, only to be found again, then lost a second time. After that loss, it was returned to her by a male classmate…with an addition.

The texts I received from her bus ride home that day were full of hurt and fury. I was proud of the way she’d gotten angry, not let the incident make her cower and destroy the drawing. She had many emotions, but she understood feeding the fire would make it worse, so mostly tried to convey anger and then ignore it. We talked about it, processing her hurt, and I did my best to explain I don’t think it was personal–I doubted they understood how much that hurt her, that they were simply being dumb boys. She understood and was still hurt, which I said was very normal. I encouraged her to fix the drawing, erasing and then adding background to rub it out completely. I also applauded her new drawing, which was a bit…bloodthirsty. I also suggested maybe don’t take that one to school, just enjoy it at home.

Unfortunately, the incident wasn’t over. When she returned to school, the teasing kept happening. From everything I could gather, it was subtle, infrequent, but just enough to keep the wound open. My daughter was upset, still angry, but her anxiety began to pick up, and she didn’t want to go to school. I suggested she tell her counselor and teacher in the class where it happened, and she sent them an email once she was back home. One teacher wrote her back promising this would be addressed, and it seemed to be over for the night.

But as we went to bed, fears of what the next day would bring haunted her, and talking to her teachers and counselors wasn’t enough. When I offered to go with her, she said that was what she wanted.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be passive as much as I could, to let this be her solving the issue, but I didn’t want to leave her to hang out to dry, either. I asked what she wanted me to do, and mostly she seemed to simply want me there. So we sat in the office and waited for her team’s counselor to be available.

First of all, while I’ve talked to this guy before, I’ve never seen him in action with my child. He greeted her with a warmth that came from really knowing and caring about her, and she responded with the kind of ease that said they’d had a lot of conversations and she was clearly glad to see him, to talk with him. I think that’s when I began to understand how serious this was in her head–she felt this comfortable with this counselor, but she still needed me present for this conversation. This point was driven home when she panicked as she found out he hadn’t gotten her email yet and she’d have to relay the story out loud.

She did great, though, repeating the email almost verbatim, her voice only wavering a little. She was calm, cool, and composed.

And that’s when I got schooled.

I am ashamed to say, I expected her to be soothed but told this was how boys are. To say this wasn’t okay but point out this was pretty minor, that this was about defacing property and kids being hurtful and clueless. I thought maybe the boys would be spoken to, maybe, but I wasn’t sure. What I wasn’t ready for was the counselor essentially treating this like sexual assault.

I hesitate saying that, because it feels so serious, implying more invasion than I think my child felt, but basically he took this incredibly seriously, making room for her to feel whatever she felt, to say in no way was this okay. He validated her, thanked her for coming forward, gave her a script to say to her bullies and made it clear the names she gave of those who teased her would be talked to. He explained emphatically any additional teasing especially after they were warned would have immediate consequences. The assistant principal was referenced several times. He repeated these things several times in different ways, made sure my daughter felt okay with how things were going, and when he dismissed her for class, orchestrated an elaborate set of timing so she would not meet her harassers in the hall as they came to the office to be talked to.

Please, please note this is a male counselor, and he’s got at least five years on me. Probably a few more. I’m forty–feel the generation he’s from. Please note the assistant principal referenced is also male. This next bit only matters for the full picture of awesome my daughter is subconsciously digesting: the counselor is a white man, the assistant principal is black. They’re both stereotypical “tough guys.”

My twelve year old was just told, with no blinks, no excuses, no nothing but validation, that they have her back. That she deserves to have strong, powerful people, men included, on her side. That her feelings are valid and her dignity should be protected. That peers, boys or girls, have no write to draw on her pictures, but that when it’s sexual it’s very serious and will be stopped right now. Any attempts to keep things going after the perpetrators have been told to stop will be met with swift justice.

This was the message I watched my girl get. My very pretty, anxiety-carrying, passionate, deep-feeling child. I could not pay money enough in the world to set up that kind of empowerment, and it just happened because that’s a day of doing business at her school. I don’t even think I affected the outcome much by being there. I think this would have happened without me present. I’m selfishly grateful she needed me there so I could witness.

What do I say? Thank you? I did, but it feels so tawdry. I’m ashamed at some of my own thoughts, like I didn’t take it seriously enough. Like I was going to give these guys permission they didn’t deserve. Because I was raised in a different world, in different schools, with different counselors.

For all time, for her life, my child will believe differently. These people pass hundreds of young men and women through their building each year, teaching them this kind of different too. They will carry this into the world. Those boys, who very probably did not mean anything as cruel as it was perceived, will learn they must mind their accidental cruelty. They will live with that message too, and carry it forward to their own children, their sons and daughters.

I just…thank you? What useless words.

What amazing, incredible educators. If only the whole world could go to this school.

 


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Drum Corps Love and Documentary About Them That Needs You

A month ago my friend Caryle posted a call on Facebook wanting to know if anyone wanted to go to Celebration in Brass. It had been forever since I’d been to a drum & bugle corps show, so I said, “Sure, I’m in!” Dan had originally planned to go to see Grease on the big screen at our local theater, but he found out it would be a sing-along and decided no. So all three of us piled in the car, picked up Caryle, and headed over to Waukee.

IMG_1163The weather, for once, was wonderful, and as I milled in the lines and took my seat, I got lost in memories. You see, a million years ago when I was fourteen, I was in the Americanos drum & bugle corps out of Menasha, Wisconsin. I played pit, because my usual instrument trade was piano and flute, and there was no way in hell I was coordinated enough for a flag. I toured all over the country, dipping once into Canada, and slept on gym floors with the rest of them. I remember endless hours on coach buses, constant bickering and support from my corps mates, and the comforting thrum of the drum line as we rehearsed. I remember sitting next to the snares and toms, feeling the kind of excitement from their rhythm and resonance that I have elsewhere found in writing and good sex. I remember wearing polyester uniforms in parades with volunteers squirting water into our mouths and standing ready to pull us if we passed out from heat exhaustion.

Mostly, though, I remember the Madison Scouts.

When I was a corps member, the Scouts were mostly too old for me, but they are my first memory of openly, shamelessly admiring sharp, sleek male form. They were clean-cut, fully at attention, more regimented than any other corps. When our drum majors told us to keep in time, the Scouts were what I thought of as the ultimate example of Doing It Right. I remember one night being able to stand to the side as they marched by onto the field, and I remember my heart pounding, my senses alive in something so much deeper and complicated than sexual attraction. I remember drinking them in, savoring each crisp line of their uniforms, hard line of their jaw. I never noticed one as an individual, only the whole unit.

Last night the Madison Scouts were there, to my great delight. When the show was over, we were all discussing our favorite performances, and Anna asked me mine. “The Scouts,” I said, which surprised her because so many were showy and full of props and flash. The thing was, while Santa Clara Vanguard was great, I’m old school, and I didn’t like how they didn’t walk out to the beat because they were busy screwing with those building parts in the back. It was cute how The Academy had that guy vamping in the front with whatever his accent was, but it was a little too cute if you know what I mean.

IMG_1167The Scouts came out in a militant line, did their thing where they turned in unison, pivoting and expanding at once, and as I remembered everything they did was so precise you could set your watch by it. And yeah, there’s something about them being all-male. I really loved a lot of the female performances in the other corps, or at least the females one could identify (everyone looks the same under those plumey hats). Some of the color guards were ballets, and they were beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the Colts: they felt like the old school corps I remembered, and they radiated family in a way that made me nostaglic. The Scouts, though—God Almighty.

I admit, I had the same reaction last night I did when I was fourteen, except this time the wistfulness was different. Back then I thought I was yearning for a boyfriend, but I think what I really was after was that strong sense of sexuality: as in, “this is what masculinity is, watch this. This is what behaving is, this is what order and form is.” Because then as now, I was never a person who understood who she was. I’ve been a member of many borrowed families like the corps, but I’ve always felt off to the side.  Now I know how to play that—now I wouldn’t trade that for anything, because that distance is what lets me see so I can write. It felt like beautiful closure to see that and acknowledge it, and well worth the price of admission.

The other thing last night that got me was while I watched each core that statistically, a lot of gay men and women were out there, some who knew who they were, some who were out, some who were as conflicted as they could be. Anything artistic I swear raises the odds, and there were a few pit crew and flag corps members with the kind of swish which, if they weren’t gay, were even more beautiful because they were part of that lovely line-blending the younger generations are serving up. I even spied a few women who, I knew now, had I been a little less shuttered when I was young, I’d have been attracted to as well. I loved the idea that these young people have more acceptance and permission to be whatever orientation they want to be.

Naturally, while I was doing all this musing, a plot bunny happened.

Actually it wasn’t so much a plot bunny as the decision that I would make a garden for a plot bunny to call home, and the garden would be corps-themed. Because tell me there aren’t gay romances happening in these coach buses crammed with young and new adults. When they aren’t happening, someone is wishing they would. I sat watching the show, I realized how much inside info I had on a corps, and I knew it had to happen. So I tweeted about it. Many, many people on twitter went BANANAS at the idea, and those who had no idea what I was talking about looked it up and then went, “Oh, god yeah.” I posted pics, confessed I was perving and slashing, particularly the Scouts. It was a great time.

This morning I woke up and my phone told me @ScoutsHonorDoc was following me, and that they’d favorited the tweet about writing a gay romance set in a drum & bugle corps. I peeked at their info, and then I ran to my computer. A documentary about the Madison Scouts.

Hello, bunnies. Look at this goddamned garden.

It’s the Scouts’s 75th anniversary, and to celebrate they’re trying to put the documentary out this year to match it. But movies cost a lot to make, and as you can see, they’re $8,505 short just now. I did my best to send them forward, but I don’t have ten grand to spare. I do, though, have a crapton of you following this blog, another lump on twitter, and all the other social media. And you have friends, etc.

Ten bucks counts. Ten bucks is a deli sandwich, chips, and a soda. Ten bucks is a Chipolte burrito with guacamole and a drink. Ten bucks is a Cullinan Starbucks order. Ten bucks from ten people is one hundred dollars, and takes the Scouts from $8,505 to $8,405 short. Ten bucks from one hundred people is a grand, and that would mean they’re only down $7,505.

If you have ten bucks or more to spare, please send it their way. Think of it as supporting great art, amazing young men, and budding filmmakers. Think of it as making it so I can get that DVD that much faster.

In the meantime, watch their trailer. Check out their website. Follow their Facebook and Twitter. And if you ever hear that a drum & bugle corps show will be in your area, check it out. You won’t be sorry.

(If you want to see if one will be, check this schedule.)

Here’s a great mashup of their greatest hits:

Show I saw last night:


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Of Stories and Spines

Scan 6I had this vision when I began my summer of taking time at least once a week to blog, especially about writing process and about being a reader, because I pretty much walk around with essays on both topics blooming in my head constantly. The facebook page has been pretty good, actually, but I meant to get the blog going again as well. June, however, had other ideas for me. First I was busy trying to sort out my preteen’s crazy summer schedule, and at the same time my mother’s side of the family was in turmoil because my grandfather kept ducking in and out of the hospital, nearly dying several times. On June 13 he did pass away, and I took a week to mourn, spending three entire days making this movie for my family, then attending the wake and funeral in Cedar Rapids. That movie is twenty-three minutes long, so feel free to skip it, but if you want to watch it I don’t mind at all, because making it was my way ot saying I love you to him. I meant it to be something I could give to everyone in my family (I took almost fifteen copies to the funeral and have five more on my desk I need to send to my grandmother), but in a move Grandpa would have loved, the pastor of his church showed it in the sanctuary on a big screen on perpetual loop during the visitation, and the last segment of it was shown during his funeral service.  My grandfather was an amazing man: a WWII vet, a husband, a father, a government worker, and a grandfather to what I can only describe as a horde. When you get to the grandkids section with the 1970s fabulousness at 11:11, the baby is me, and I’m there with most of my siblings until about 12:30. He’s one of the reasons I haven’t blogged until now, because writing about him was important to me, but it’s taken me this long to be able to say this much. He was ninety-three, and he lived an amazing life, but I’m selfish and will not be ready to say goodbye to him when I am ninety-three. If you want to skip the video and just peek at a picture, the one above and to the right is Grandpa Morton and I sometime mid-seventies.

That movie is actually a nice segue into the topic I’ve been meaning to blog about, because as I put the memorial together, my daughter Anna watched me work, and at one point said in frustration, “I don’t know how you do that, make those kind of movies.” She says this because she makes her own movies, and please don’t hesitate to visit her channel and leave comments, but she gets paralyzed by the idea of making the family montages that I’ve made for trips I’ve taken and more frequently for Christmas and New Year’s with her godparents. So as I made Grandpa’s movie, I tried to explain my process. The only thing I could come up with was that when I made a video or wrote a story or even put together a playlist in iTunes, I look for the spine.

h8C4DD3E8I suppose you could use theme as a synonym, but it’s not the same thing at all as far as I’m concerned. Theme is umbrella-like: it has veins, but it’s static, and while you’re drafting something, theme is the ceiling that was always there but you often can’t see clearly until you’re done on the ground. The spine is the way up to that canopy, all the vertebrae connected to each other and every individual aspect of the story. It connects everything rather than covers it, and you can use the spine to find your way anywhere else. Also, if you break it or try and do something off the spine, everything goes to hell really fast.

The other cool feature about a story spine is that you can start anywhere. Top, bottom, middle–you can compose out of order, skip things, or start at one end and dutifully work your way along. When you’re lost in story fog, finding the spine will always get you back on track, because it literally is the thing holding your work in place. Sometimes you don’t realize you wandered off until you’re on a limb over a death canyon, but so long as you figure that out before you drop into the pit of death, you can wriggle back onto the track and continue on.

Anna’s next question, of course, was how did she know what a spine was. Naturally, that’s a bit trickier, I’ll admit. I don’t know that I have a pat answer for how to discover it, either. I guess if pressed I’d say finding it feels a bit like fishing. You have to have an active line, and enough good stuff on it to draw your prey to you, but you mostly have to be patient and watchful. Sometimes what you think is a story spine is an old boot, and sometimes what you think is an old boot is the through-line of your story you’ve been waiting for. More than once I’ve thought I was following one kind of spine only to have it morph on me as I reached the end. I don’t think the story altered half as much as my expectations, but it’s always a kind of breathless magic to me, watching it happen.

130201158228Spine is so important because it’s what you as a creator use to make your story, but it’s also what your audience will use to consume your work as well. As a reader, I get so cranky when I find myself in the middle of a hot mess and don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at, what story is being told. It makes me angry, makes me feel unsafe. When I read kindle samples, I’m trying to find that spine, to see if this writer has a nice path for me or if they’re an elephant clomping about in desperation. A good spine is like a train track, because story is a ride, and the track is what moves a reader through the story. As a reader, when I find one, I’m so, so happy. The best rides, of course, are the ones where I thought I was on one spine and at the end I have that same surprise I get sometimes while I’m writing.

I always try to make my story spine an easy ride, and I try to lay it out looking effortless. I will tell you that never, not once, is it actually easy to put into place. Even when the first draft doesn’t have the equivalent of weird backwards vertebrae and oddball nerve patterns, I always go back over the story spine obsessively, trying to smooth it out. Pacing plays a role here, but pacing like character and plot come out of this central nervous system. If I get to the point where I’m selling a book these days, it goes into submission with me knowing exactly what that spine is, with me having worked so many adjustments on that sucker I could tack a DC after my name.

This is also why, though, I can’t have an alpha reader. I’ve had a few on very rare occasions, but even when it was people I loved and trusted implicitly reading over my shoulder as I wrote, the mere presence of additional eyes made me feel like the house of cards was about to fall. Lately I’ve only done beta readers in rare circumstances: Dan and my agent are always first readers, but unless I’m in a real pickle, they’re usually all I use. It’s too hard to find that spine when I have people commenting on what I’m doing. I’ve written about Sealing before, but I’m more a disciple to it now than ever. Something important happens when I keep my work contained until completion, and so that’s what I do. Some of it is focus, and some of it, I’m convinced, is pure magic.

hF264D314Finding and following the spine for me is a quest. Writing has very much become a job for me–this isn’t a hobby, it’s what keeps my family functioning, and I’m as serious as a heart attack about the business side of my career. When I’m following the spine, though, the door on that side is shut, and I’m hunting for luminescent threads in the dark, trusting they’ll be things I can weave into works I can sell. Those moments in the deep, though, while I’m searching, are precious. Maybe that’s why I’m so determined to go into it alone, because it’s holy, and things like that are best done alone, at least for me. Writing with a partner changes that slightly, yet when I’m writing my section of the work, I’m still down in that deep pool, hunting and gathering in solitude.

The nice side effect of this kind of composition means it’s very rare I’m able to fall into the conceit of trying to write to please, to serve my ego instead of the story. It’s a lot easier to see the difference between those things in the silence. I always have the shore in mind, and because I’ve been blessed to get to know some of my readers personally, I very frequently think, “So-and-so is going to love this part,” and bringing that part of the spine to life is a joy I do for them. Mostly, though, I’m communing with the story itself, trying to find the veins that will allow it to live.

Because really in the end, that’s what the spine does. It allows the structure of the story to stand without me. I can’t hover next to every reader and explain things when I’m unclear. I can’t fill in vertebrae once the copy is set and distributed–once it’s out, it’s out, but if the spine is there, if it’s strong, anyone who was ever going to take that ride in the first place will be able to, with the same magic I used to find it, fill in the gaps that are best for them.

I think that’s why I love books so much, even more than movies: there are so many spaces for the reader in a book. What one person sees and absorbs and projects is absolutely different than someone else’s experience, and yet they’re all happening at the same time. A movie too, I suppose, but not in the same way as a book, at least for me. The spine of a story is the gift I give it, the ladder, the track, the delivery system for everything.

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If I tell a story about my grandfather, I think of the spine. In that video I wanted to tell the story of his life via pictures–all of it, as much as I can. I used what I had and put out a frantic all-call to everyone in the family. What resulted from that was an amazing Dropbox cornucopia of images spanning almost a century, coming in from around the world. I learned more about my grandfather and my family through making that video than I did in the forty years I’ve known him. I learned from watching people watch it. I know too that my family learned about me.

I’m less concerned that my readers learn about me through my books, but I do want them to have that kind of communion with the work, to feel when they finish something I’ve written that their life is clearer or easier or happier or richer. I love that each story can illicit seven different reactions at the same time. I love that though the magic for me happens quietly, usually a year before anyone but my smallest inner circle see, it blooms even brighter once it takes its own steps into the world. Though writing is lonely, I love that moment  of sharing the most, lingering in the back of the room quietly watching people open presents I left waiting.

All that happens, though, through the spine. Spine is essential. It is the way in and the way out for both composer and audience. It connects the story. It connects it to me, connects it to you. And when we’re very, very lucky, it connects us to each other too.


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Peanut Butter Eggs, My Pelvis, and Bill Cosby: Or, This Blog Post is All Over the Map

I didn’t get to round three of #DABWAHA, and as I told Abigail Roux, since I was tired just watching I think the best woman won. Honestly, it’s a bit of a relief—now all I have to do is finish Better Than Love, which is damn, damn close. I was on a roll until Marie Sexton showed up, which is fine, and then as she left it said, “Nah, we want to chill a little longer. Theoretically I was supposed to start back into it today, but in reality this afternoon I’m pretty damn tired. This is because I have gone back into physical therapy.

Though the whole pain thing has been better of late, it started getting worse again, and the last month in particular has been more than a bit shit. I had a quiet moment where I freaked out and panicked and worried nothing I could ever do would stop it or make things right. Then I got over myself and called my general practitioner. I have a new Vicodin prescription, and I’m back in physical therapy.

If you’re the sort who reads those things, you may have noticed that I thanked the Mary Greeley Physical Therapy Department in the acknowledgements of Dance With Me. This was because all Ed’s PT was my PT. I never played football, but my neck was really stupid. I bawled like a baby while I wrote the pain goals scene, and I had to write Ed’s goals (or have Laurie write them) before I could write my own. Well, now I’m back at MGPTD, and this time we’re playing with my lower back.

Today specifically I learned that my abdominal muscles suck ass, and that the right side is so incredibly bad I failed the most easy, inane, people-with-seriously-fucked-up-bodies-do-this exercise: floating in the deep end with a weight belt on and doing marches and scissor kicks. I kept getting shooting pains in my right piriformis muscle, though it’s actually right on my tailbone so I don’t know what what to make of it. The therapist in the water wondered if I didn’t need an MRI, but we’ll see what Matt, my main PT squeeze, thinks about that before I trip over to the metal tube. What we did suss out is that pretty much never are my right abdominal muscles aren’t doing much of anything. So they’re relying on the left side to do everything and the right lower back, which is pissing off my right hip and right side of my pelvic muscles something fierce. This seems to be the whole water problem.

Anyway, there is a whole lot more body work than writing work right now, and now that I’m at my desk to work, I’m barely able to stay awake. Working in the water is exhausting. I didn’t do much of anything, but tell that to my body.

In the meantime, I have a small addiction to copycat peanut butter eggs. These are vegan and can be made sugar-free. I’ve been eating them quite a bit so might try getting some xylitol, but probably I’ll just use powdered sugar and not think about inflammation. I’ve made them twice already, once with the cocoa recipie, and once I melted Enjoy Life chips. I still have some of the melted chocolate in the fridge, and I still have powdered sugar. I feel it’s my duty to make at least one more batch, don’t you?

I heartily, heartily encourage you to make these yourself, even if you don’t have to be vegan. They’re so much better than the store’s, and probably that’s because they’re fresh.

 

After a nap, I anticipate getting back into the game of writing and continuing it through the weekend. The bunny will visit our house and hide eggs all over as per usual. I have to get a few more things for Anna’s basket, but that’s about it. I don’t even think we’re doing anything for Easter other than going to the barn for Anna’s lesson.

Speaking of my child. A few weeks ago I introduced her to Bill Cosby: Himself and now she walks around quoting her favorite parts. Last night she was doing the high person at Burger King so well we were falling over with laughter. To that end, I’ll leave you with a clip of the real deal. Happy Easter, happy pelvis, and I’m serious, make those peanut butter eggs STAT.


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More Shameless Nepotism: Now It’s My Kid

My daughter's Breyer collection, the stars of her shows.

My daughter’s Breyer collection, the stars of her shows.

I think I’ve done smaller promotions on Facebook, but my child has asked that I try and get her some views and hits, so this is a mom doing her best.

Anna the Fabulous, my number one (and only) kid, makes movies. She started watching other kids’ homemade videos on YouTube and decided, hey, I can do this! And so she does. Fabulously.

She has several different storylines and several trailers. What she’s really looking for are two things: comments and regular viewers. I think it’s safe to say the crossover from m/m romance to Breyer toy videos is low, but I do know a lot of you have children who might find my daughter’s humor and dramatic sense enjoyable. The only warning I have is that there’s a high likelihood they’ll want to make their own movies too.

The filming is an intense process that sometimes takes days. She likes to film outside, so a lot of times it’s weather dependent, though Santa brought her a stable and corral so she’s taken to making a few inside. A lot of her videos become an education, teaching her about filters and effects and how to make a cut or voiceover. She went to Apple camp last summer where she learned about iMovies, which helped her cause exponentially.

I promise in January I will do some actual blogging. In the meantime, watch my kid’s movies. Here are some of the greatest hits, but go to her channel for the full effect. Tell your children and others who like to watch YouTube.


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Shameless plug: Go vote for my husband.

My husband entered this contest with the cover for his annual mixtape CD he gives to our family of choice at Christmas. I wasn’t allowed to help him whore for votes sooner for fear they would see the cover before they opened their gifts, and then I just got so busy I simply forgot. I’m trying to make up for that now.

Here’s his entry:image

Here’s the original:

MDNA

As you can see, he spent HOURS AND HOURS on this in photoshop, soliciting help from several online friends and one in particular really helped him bring it home. (Thanks, Holly!) In my opinion, he deserves to win because everyone else clearly just snapped a photo whereas he put in the grunt work to get ‘er done. So go vote for Dan, and feel free to RT or spread the word or share or whatever. Vote whoring, not true talent, is what will win the day, and if I can’t use my modest fame for nepotism, I don’t know what the hell it’s for.


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Today this happened.

Today we adopted Royley, aka Royal Investment, aka Timberwolf Power, who used to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in races and now accepts carrots and apples from my daughter. To celebrate we made a cake, and the seller decorated Royley’s stall.

Royley got a piece (no frosting, because Anna read bad things about horses and chocolate), and the rest of us enjoyed ours when Dan got home from work. Because Royley and I wanted to eat too, the cake was vegan. It was pretty damn good, I must say, and I tweeted about how good it felt to not have my family balk over the veganized cake but simply enjoyed it and declared it good. Cardeno C asked for the recipe. Here it is.

Modified from Vegan Thyme.

Vegan Yellow Cake With Coconut Sugar

1 1/2 cups coconut sugar

1 cup Earth Balance margarine (any vegan margarine would do, but I like the health aspects of EB best)

1 cup unsweetened flax milk

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 dashes tumeric *the secret weapon for getting the “yellow” color to come out

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with 6 tablespoons warm water (equivalent of 3 eggs)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 cake pan. In a medium bowl, mix your flour, baking powder, salt and tumeric together. In a separate bowl, mix cream together the margarine and sugar. Add the vanilla extract to this. Next add the Egg Replacer mix–about a tablespoonful at a time. Mix until well incorporated. Add the flour in three increments alternating with the milk–beginning and ending with the flour, mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.Spread cake mix into prepared pan.

The instructions said bake for 35-40 minutes, but with 15 on the timer it sure smelled done, and my toothpick came out clean. So as it works for you, grasshopper.

Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Vegan Dark Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup Earth Balance Butter (1/2 stick)

1/2 cup dark cocoa powder

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups powdered sugar (or a little less–depending upon how creamy you want the frosting)

1-2 tablespoons flax milk

Cream together the shortening and butter, then add the cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Then, about a half cup at a time, slowly add the powdered sugar. Keep blending until all lumps are gone. You want peaks to form, but you also want the consistency to match your own individual expectations.

I found it way too clumpy and weird without adding flax milk, but it literally was just itty bitty bits of splashes and it was gold. To my mind that stuff was as good or better as anything I could have bought, and this is said by someone who has a hell of a time with frosting.

My next goal is to figure out how to make this thing gluten free. I’ve been nervous to bake GF and vegan at the same time, but I may try a flour mix from the store when it’s not a Big Day and the cake really needs to come out right.

***ETA: I used flax milk because that’s what I had on hand. I can’t do almond milk and obviously not regular milk, so flax it was. I suspect any alternate milk would do. Coconut milk could be fun if it were a kind that kept enough cream in to give it the coconut flavor, especially with the sugar along to make it extra fun. The coconut sugar is dark, so it turned the cake darker than it would normally have been, but it still tasted great.


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My Baby and Her Baby

Reposted from Coffee and Porn in the Morning.

My daughter has been on horses since she was three and some friends of ours put her on the back of a Percheron (bareback). She was scared of flies, but she’d wander around these huge horses’ legs like she was in the safest place in the world, and she let Chip lead her around with nothing to hold onto but the horse’s mane. When we stopped going up to Minnesota every few months in 2007, she burst out crying about how much she missed riding horses, and it was the kind of cry that came from her soul. It got my attention, and I looked up “horse riding lessons in Ames.” I found her a barn, she started taking lessons, and she’s been at it ever since.

At first all we had to buy was boots, but then came johdpurs, then chaps, then a helmet of her own because she didn’t have one at a show, then a shirt and jacket so she could look sharp. We caught a break there for awhile when all we had to do was buy new pants and boots and recently a sweat-wicking shirt. We started leasing lesson horses last fall, and in January we started leasing a teacher’s former racehorse, and this month we did our first “free lease,” which isn’t free at all because we pay all board and vet fees for him now.

This week we found out the barn is foreclosed by the bank, and we have two weeks to get out. What I’ve learned about horse people is that they’re family to each other, and it’s been a hard, hard week at Canterbrooke. We’re going to a temporary home at a rather rudimentary barn (no viewing area. I have no idea what allergy-riddled me will do while Anna rides) until a new barn is finished that’s more our speed in November. Yesterday I dropped over $650 in tack, because we’ll need our own now (though I got a great deal on a Passier saddle she’ll use forever), and starting in November I have to come up with full board at a rather posh stable that’s a bit of a drive away. I’m thinking of printing new business cards: please buy my books so I can support my child’s horse habit.

A lot of people wonder why I do it, because it truly is right at the edge of what we can afford. They figure Anna could just go do something else. It’s true, she could. What they don’t know is how much working with a horse heals my anxiety-riddled daughter. She who can barely stay overnight at a friend’s house is out at the barn right now cleaning and organizing her tack with almost nobody there (though that probably changed since I dropped her off). She’s been bucked off horses and gotten back on, but you can’t get her on a roller coaster. I can’t get her to bring her dirty dishes to the kitchen without melting down in frustration, or hang up her towel, or empty her lunchbox, but she cleans up not just her horse’s messes and the stable’s tack but cleans up after other people who thought their mother was coming by later. With horses, my baby thrives.

Hopefully with the next few royalty checks I can buy my baby’s baby outright so that he will be hers alone. I gave up my cleaning service and Starbucks and some of my book budget for board, and that horse tack is what was going to be extra swag for GayRomLit. I sit in that barn for hours and hours even though it makes me sick because of all the allergens.

Look at this picture below and tell me it’s not worth it.


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In other news, I’m apparently allergic to everything.

Originally my plans for this week were to finish up Family Man and get it turned in, work on revisions of Second Hand if they came in, and otherwise continue finishing Dirty Laundry. I was well set to meet all my goals too and maybe even have some spare time.

Tuesday afternoon I went to the allergist, and I’ve had a very different week since then.

While my no-sugar, no-flour routine has done very well, allowing me to eat a bit of meat and even a bit of dairy again, I still have too much chronic pain plus in the past few months I’ve developed a recurring swollen upper lip. A month ago it was so bad my husband made me go to the doctor, who made me go to an allergist. As a part of that process I had to stop my antihistamine I’ve taken daily for several years now to control my intense and unexplained itching, which meant by the time I got to the appointment I was a hot, hot mess. The allergist was amazing, and he made the appointment almost a good time. They poked and scratched me and made me breathe into things to see what was going on. It turns out quite, quite a lot.

I am allergic, it turns out, to above all else, dust mites. Like, a lot. It’s weird because I don’t sneeze or cough, though I did always have stuffiness and sinus that I’d assumed was just part of being human. Turns out, no! Who knew? Allergists, apparently. The damn things are everywhere, and in my house they’re crazy bad because when you can’t bend over and do too much physical activity like lifting and reaching and scrubbing, your house it turns out gets pretty rancid bad in the deep depths of itself. Dan, Anna and I spent many hours on the bedroom, me in a mask. It was hella gross in there, I have to say. De-stuffed, de-grimed, washed (in hot water) and zippered up everything remaining in allergen-proof covers, except the box springs which we will get to later. This business is expensive.

The dust mite thing is the most royal pain in the ass I have encountered yet. The cleaning is intense and needs to be regular. I get points for having almost all hardwood floors, though I don’t know how much it helps your cause when you clean them only before guests come. I favor a lot of curtains and blankets too, which are apparently nice mite factories. I don’t even want to know about my air ducts, though I have a call in to a guy to get an estimate. We had to buy those crazy expensive filters for our furnace and air-conditioners. I bought an air purifier which I haul between my office and bedroom, though I’m not sure it’s anything more than a $99 security blanket. Oh, and I have to wear masks when I clean. And flush my eyes and nose out. And wash my hands a lot. And basically this is really fucking annoying for me and for all those whom I love and live with.

But wait, there’s more!

I am also allergic to milk. I’d already cut way down, but now it has to be gone, period, nada dairy. So no more goat cheese or cream in my coffee unless they give me soy milk. No cheese ever, period. No whey or “milk products” which let me tell you they stick in everything. (Salt and vinegar potato chips sometimes have milk. And sugar. WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK.)

It’s funny, because I’m kind of mourning milk now, even though I’ve been very blasé about its loss to me already. Maybe it’s the finality, maybe it’s that it’s going to be such a pain in my ass to get coffee at a lot of restaurants. I don’t know, but it’s sad all the same.

But wait there is still more!!! Because I cannot have eggs either, ever. This, Virginia, is very, very sad.

It’s not so much that I adore the taste of eggs (ironically I’ve only eaten them as a stand-alone dish for the past decade) but that they’re in a lot of things and they make for easy breakfasts in restaurants. Look at my list of things I can’t eat now: sugar, white flour, milk, eggs. Tell me what I order at Perkins. Or more to the point, at the hotels I will eat at during these cons I keep going to. Holy fucking crap, this stinks.

I mourn eggs as a dish too. Marie took me to her favorite Fort Collins restaurant, The Egg And I, and there were so many yummy egg things, and now I can’t order them anymore. I hardly got to try them, and now it’s over. Oh, sure, I could just pretend I wasn’t allergic, but that always goes over so well with me once I remove something from my diet. I’m mourning them and calling it done.

So now I am a vegan who occasionally eats a little meat, probably now when I can’t figure out what else to put in my gullet while I’m traveling. Having cut out meat for six months, I’ve found that having it more than four times a week makes me feel very gross and uncomfortable, so it’s mostly vegan for me. Vegan with complications, that’s me.

What’s weird is how minor my reaction has been to the food. I think I’m just numb to it all, like whatever, it’s another food limitation, tell me something I haven’t heard before. I keep dropping weight, five pounds a month (at my height you’ll have to get a microscope to see it), and I swear most of it is because figuring out what to eat is such a PITA I just don’t or I eat hummus and chips or strawberries or a salad. I joined Sam’s Club mostly because they sell Sabra hummus in monster truck tubs for $5, and it’s worth the membership for that alone. If they sold blue corn chips too I’d likely camp out in the parking lot.

Maybe my reaction has been muted on the food because the dust crap is so incredibly consuming. Oh, I forgot my other environmentals: dog and feathers and mold. So I had to call the Marriott in Anaheim and make sure I have a feather-free room, and I’m shopping for travel dust mite covers and trying to suss out how I tell the maid to leave me my weird extra sheet and pillowcases. I have to make my bedroom and office as allergen-pristine as possible, which has meant removing a lot of my favorite things because they’ve become part of what makes me sick. The cool hand painted glass I won from Jeff at a recent Tina’s Christmas has raw old wood on the edges, so it has to go until I polyurethane the frame. My beloved Japanese handmade wallhanging made by a college roommate’s mother has to be dry-cleaned and put behind glass before I can hang it again. 90% of my books had to go because they collect dust and mold. Any and all clutter that could be culled was, and the cats can’t have their litterbox in my closet any longer. Well, I don’t miss that last one. But everything else, yes.

To make things more exciting, I’m not supposed to be the one who cleans, and I’m the one who is home and has the time to do so. Even when I clean with a mask on I can tell this is what’s making me sick, because it makes my whole body go nuts and my lip swells to new heights to the point that I had to start Prednisone today. It seems to be helping so far.

Thankfully Dan’s parents (God bless you Tom and Nina) are going to come help us on Saturday while my mother distracts the child. Technically Anna helps a great deal, but I don’t think we’ll miss a ten-year-old during the projects. It’s also not good for her anxiety, because she flips out and needs to wear a mask too. And truth be told between her father and I, she’s got to be allergic to something.

I’m also not supposed to wear makeup (so breaking that for RWA) or but anything at all on my lips, though I’m cheating and using Vitamin E oil so my lips don’t peel off my face. I’m also supposed to try avoiding almonds, since I had a questionable reaction to that and they want to get me to as clean a slate as possible first. (I drink a lot of almond milk and yogurt and eat almonds and its flour in almost everything.) I have a slight, it turns out, allergy to cats, but it’s very low, and honestly, they’ll take my babies out of my cold dead hands. Sadly that has been done way too much lately, though the cold and the dead have not been on my part.

So this is my update. Totally not writing, though I did finish editing Family Man with Marie and got it turned in to Sasha Knight at Samhain today. There haven’t been any edits yet for this round of Second Hand, so I win there too. Two out of three isn’t bad, I guess.

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