Friday, October 31, 2008

Blogging My Novel: Rejection Reflection

Number of agents approached: 8

Number of queries completely ignored: 2

Number of rejections on query: 2
(My sincere thanks!)

Number of rejections on query plus partial manuscript: 2
(Again, thanks for taking the time!)

Number of requests for partial manuscript from query: 1
(Can I wash your car?)

Number of requests for full manuscript from query: 1
(Can I paint your house?)

Number of rejections after reading full manuscript: 1
(Since your rejection was so nice, I forgive you...but I won't paint your house.)

Number of requests for full manuscript after reading partial: 1
(I can make a mean stew. You hungry?)

and finally....

Number of agents upon whom all hopes are hanging: 1
(Come on! You know you want it...)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween à la Suisse

Halloween is not officially celebrated in Switzerland, though it's presence has certainly become more evident over the past five years. The grocery stores now carry a limited selection of spooky costumes and the odd family will throw a party. Door-to-door grovelling for sweets has not yet reached our end of the pasture, but it's only a matter of time. As much as one might object to the sinister undertones of this the spookiest of holidays, its kid appeal is hard to beat.

A long-standing tradition in our household is to listen to Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre on the days leading up to the big night. I was thirteen years old when I performed Danse Macabre with my town's youth symphony and the piece has stuck with me ever since. It opens to the sound of a single violin plucking the stroke of twelve. It's midnight on Halloween. Death appears with his fiddle and calls forth the dead from their graves to dance. One by one, they rise from their earthly beds, old and young, rich and poor, to dance together as equals in the darkness. Bones rattle as wind whips through the trees, sending leaves swirling, until, suddenly, there is the faintest hint of light. Death is first sorrowful, then defiant, leading the dead into another frenzied burst of dance. Only when the cock crows, signaling the break of dawn, do the dead finally scury back to their tombs, bringing the festivities to a close for yet another year.

Click below if you wish to give it a listen:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Losing My Marbles: A Progress Report

It's been an interesting almost two weeks. I'm down to 16 marbles from 45--excellent progress considering we've just come off of a week's holiday with few, if any, time constraints. The words, 'supper's ready,' are now consistently followed by a singsong-y, "Okay, Mommy!" from Mouse. That's not to say she immediately drops what she's doing, but it's a huge improvement over the ear-splitting 'no's' of yore. Even Emma's jumped into the fray, insisting on an empty jar of her own. To be truthful, I hesitated at first. After all, I perceived Emma to be a transition champion, particularly at mealtimes when Mouse was at her worst. But in the end I caved. Why not? There were only marbles to lose.

Here's a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the marbles in action:

Emma the Brave comes into the kitchen after having brushed her teeth before bed. Mouse is still dawdling, singing to herself instead of doing her bedtime washing up. As Emma brings our jars to the table, Mouse snaps back into reality and runs to bathroom to finish getting ready.

Earlier in the evening I'd listed the specific instances when I'd said, "It's time..." during the day and posted them on the kitchen chalk board:
  • leaving for school in the morning
  • leaving for school after lunch
  • turning off the video
  • bath time
  • dinner time
  • getting ready for bed
I show Emma what I've written and within seconds she's read it and done the math. "I get six marbles," she says, reaching for my jar.

"Not so fast," I say, sliding my jar away. "Let's go through them one by one. How did you do at leaving for school in the morning?"

"Good," she says.

I nod and hold up one finger. "And after lunch?"

"Good again."

Two fingers. "You're right. How about turning off the video?"

Emma holds up a hand, palm down, and rocks it back and forth. "Not so good."

"I would agree." She'd been really enjoying Lazy Town. It took multiple requests for her to turn it off after her one episode had finished. "And bath time?"

"Good." Three fingers.

"And the last two?"

"Good and good," she says and helps herself to five marbles.

At this point Mouse pads into the kitchen. "Now me," she says.

Mouse and I go through the same procedure as I'd done with Emma. In the end, she gets five out of a possible six marbles, having missed one thanks to her after dinner dawdle which comes as no surprise. With their marbles safely tucked away, the two compare notes and are relieved to discover that, in the end, they were the same, at least in the marble department.

There's a lot I like about this experiment in parenting. It demands that I be clear about my requests and pick my battles. There are times when I am open to negotiation and times when I'm not. These times are now far more clearly divided. It also allows the girls and I to reflect back on our day together, accounting for all successes and opportunities for improvement in a calm and relatively objective manner. Last but not least, it ensures the Captain and I are on the same page in the expectations department. Nothing undermines child-rearing faster than a weak link in the parental chain.

So here's the question: do I keep up with the marble jars once they earn their reward? We'll see. If so, I'll have to get bigger jars or smaller marbles. They're just getting to damn good!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Vultures Are Circling

This picture I caught of a bearded vulture feels rather fitting at the moment...

Panique pas!

Two weeks ago I came home to two men sitting at my kitchen table. One was my landlord, the other, a real estate agent.

"Paniques pas," said my ever-charming proprietaire. He assured me he was only thinking about selling the house. Thinking about it? There was a realtor sitting in Emma's chair with official looking forms sprawled where she normally eats her cereal. Don't panic? Too late.

A week later two workmen arrived to repair the roof. Today painters are erecting their scaffolding outside my kitchen window. As the place has been left virtually untouched since the mid '70's, this does not bode well. It's one thing to move because you want to; it's quite another to be evicted. While I've been assured that the local laws favour us locateurs, I can't help but be worried. It may not be our house, but it's our home.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Queen of All She Surveys

Honey tends to believe that all she sees from our garden belongs to her. This amounts to a great deal of senseless barking at perfectly respectable farm vehicles. All I can say is that it's a good thing we don't live up here!

Photo taken from the top of the Schilthorn in the the Bernese Oberland.

Friday, October 24, 2008


We're heading out on a short road trip in just a few hours. To circumvent any last minute packing offenses, I called the girls to the kitchen table so we could compose a list of all needed items for a two-night excursion. Emma the Brave spoke up first.

"We'll need pajamas and two day-time outfits."

"And toys," added Mouse.

I reminded them that daytime outfits must include socks and underwear and gave Mouse a knowing look. She giggled. "What else?"

"A night light." This was Emma.

"And toys," said Mouse.

With a little coaching they finally rattled off such inessentials like toothbrushes and toothpaste, dog food and bowls, toques, scarves, gloves, water bottles and rain gear.

"But then we won't have room for any toys!" Mouse cried.

"We'll see," I assured her, then sent them off to pack--or, rather, repack.

Ten minutes later the pair arrived at check-in, conveniently located in the kitchen. Emma was first, wheeling her Winnie the Pooh suitcase to the spot on the floor in front of me. In the crook of her arm she carried her one permitted carry-on--her favourite stuffed bear. Quick inspection revealed everything was in order. Not only had she managed to include all required items, but also a blanket, two notebooks, a pen, and four small soft toys. Next up was Mouse.

Immediately I sensed trouble. Mouse's suitcase bulged so much that Piglet's stomach looked like something out of Alien. To make matters worse, over its handle were three small hand bags, all stuffed to capacity. Without a word, I broke out the list.

"Pajamas? Check. Two day-time outfits? Check and check." Together we went down the list, unearthing her essentials from an assortment of nine soft toys, a deck of playing cards, 2 blankets, two journals and a pen. Calmly, I suggested we scale back on the toys, leaving behind the heaviest ones, and keeping it to one small blanket so her bag would close without difficulty. "But no handbags, Mouse. Sorry."

I waited. Historically speaking, a wail was imminent.

Mouse looked pensively down at her handbags. "Okay, Mommy," she said, then carried the handbags and four of her soft toys back to her room. I almost fell out of my check-in chair. When she came back, I had her roll her suitcase to the loading zone a.k.a. the dining room. "No touching your bag until we go. Got it, Short Stuff?"

She smiled up at me. "Got it!"

Yes, I think she has.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah Freeman is 12-years-old and 'fra-gile.' It doesn't take much to spook him and he's about as gullible as they come. But one thing's for certain, he wants to 'growned.' The first child born free to the Elgin Settlement at Raleigh in Canada West, Elijah must learn for himself the true meaning of respect, freedom and love.

This book brought me to tears like no book has in a very long time. I was outraged, heart-broken and overjoyed, sometimes all at once. Other than the story revolving around the issue of slavery, I will not elaborate. I don't want to spoil it for you. All I can say is that Elijah of Buxton will evoke an emotional response within any reader and thereby shape them. When my girls are about Elijah's age, we'll read it together. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Elijah of Buxton is a book that should be read and not forgotten.

Thank you, Mr. Curtis. Thank you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's Time

Historically speaking, Mighty Mouse and I have always struggled with time-limited transitions. Once engaged in an activity she enjoys, Mouse fights redirection harder than a drunk in a conga line. Requests to come to the table or to get ready to leave for school have been known to either fall on deaf ears or be met with ear-splitting rage. Most of the time, it's the former; lately it's the latter.

For both our sakes I've invoked the marble jars: a full one for me; an empty one for her. Every time she pleasantly stops what she's doing to do something that must happen immediately, a marble moves from my jar to hers. Once her jar is full, she's decided we'll all go to Parc de la Grange, a park in the city, for an afternoon snack and play.

Twenty-four hours in, we've both made excellent progress. Mouse is getting credit for all her pleasant transitions, even those that may have gone unrecognized in the past. I figure that in a week I will have lost all my marbles. Better figuratively than literally!

Now, I wonder if this would work on the Captain?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Life of Mighty Mom in the style of Julia Donaldson

There was a young woman with a husband and pup
who had almost no time to do all she thought up.

A wise old man heard her grumble and gripe,
"There's not enough time in my life.
Wise old man, would you help me please?
My life is a squash and a squeeze."

"Have a child," he said, "maybe two, if you can."

"Have a child? Or two? What a curious plan."

So they first had a girl, then a second soon after,
and, surely enough, time began to move faster.

The young lady cried, "Oh, what shall I do?
One baby takes time. It's double with two!
I hardly have time to properly sneeze.
My life is a squash and a squeeze."
She said, "Wise old man, would you help me please?
My life is a squash and a squeeze."

"Move house," said the man, "to Europe, if you can."

"Move house? To Europe? What a curious plan."

So move house they did, to Europe, no less.
Brushing up on her French brought her no end of stress.

The young woman cried as she slumped on a bench,
"Things were harder in English, but horrid in French!
The baby is sick. The toddler won't eat.
To make matters worse, they barely will sleep.
Wise old man, would you help me please?
My life is a squash and a squeeze."

"Go back to school," said the wise old man.

"Go back to school? What a curious plan."

So she signed up online and studied at night.
and, surely enough, it was sleep she would fight.
The woman, she cried, "What's with this old man?
Is he trying to kill with these curious plans?"

In a sleep-deprived moment, as she lay on the floor,
against her best judgment, she called out once more:
"Wise old man, would you help me please?
My life is a squash and a squeeze."

He said, "Join a committee and start up a blog,
volunteer at a school and make time to jog.
Edit a novel and write one yourself,
but do not forget to take care of your health."

"And when, may I ask, can I throw them all out?"

"Whenever you want, though I do have my doubts."

I thought for a spell.
He knew me too well.

"My life is a squash and a squeeze, old man,
full of frolicks and fun and fiddle-dee-dees,
a perfect squash and a squeeze."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Book Review: The Blue Stone by Jimmy Liao

Mighty Mom has become a guest reviewer at The Well-Read Child, the terrific children's literature blog created by Jill Tullo. The following is an excerpt from my debut review. If you wish to read it in full, click here.

An enormous blue stone lies peacefully in the forest until the day it is discovered by people. The people split the stone in two, leaving one half undisturbed while taking the other to a sculptor's workshop to be carved. There, the artist turns the stone into a massive grey elephant. The people delight in sculptor's creation, but the stone is not happy. It mourns for its forest home and crumbles. The largest remaining piece is delivered to a new artist. This time it is shaped into bird for an old lady's garden. The lady is quite happy with her bird, but the stone is not. Again, it falls to pieces. And so the pattern continues: the stone, transformed repeatedly by humans, crumbles each time it remembers its true home. Only when it finally turns to dust can a breath of wind bring it back to where it belongs. There, in the forest, the stone finds peace.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Windows, Doors and Ironing

It's been just over three months since I didn't get the job, the one that would have thrust me back into the land of pay stubs, dry cleaning and cafeteria lunches this past August.

"There's a time for everything," a good friend reminded me. I shrugged and smiled, doing my best to swallow past my disappointment and relief. In an instant, life just got whole lot simpler. No job meant no Wednesday child care to arrange, a task I was dreading worse than a trip to the gynecologist. My kids have been everything to me for so long, the thought of delegating their care to someone else hurt more than I was ready to admit.

In the weeks that followed, I decided to put my name on the replacement teaching assitant rota and leave fate in the hands of the benign seasonal viruses of Geneva. As luck would have it, child birth got the upper hand. I'm working all this week, save Wednesday, replacing a woman who's just become a granny. And what will I be doing Wednesday, you ask? Taking care of my kids, of course. Yippee! I couldn't have arranged it better if I tried.

That said, I've got some ironing to do.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Here are a few tasty images from this year's Fete de la Courge in Corsier:

Chicken Wings


Gateau Bordelais

You can appreciate why I'm beginning to regret my saucisse and bread...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008


I'm tucking Emma the Brave into bed when she asks, "Why do you have a writers' group, Mommy?"

The Birkenstocks, my every other Friday night writers' group are expected to arrive at any moment.

I sit down on the edge of her bed. "Because it's hard work to write something down the way you feel it inside. It takes lots of practice. It's a bit like school, I guess. I check that their writing makes sense and they check mine."

Emma pulls the covers up to her chin and nods. She understands completely.