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Go Fly a Kite

Monday, May 31, 2004
I had a great time flying kites over the weekend with my two youngest kids -- something I haven't done in years! We've been trying to encourage all four kids to spend more time playing outdoors and less time zoned out in front of the TV and/or the video game console, so my husband picked up an inexpensive kite at the dollar store and we headed for the empty field behind our local school. We had one near disaster when the kite momentarily got tangled up in a tree, but other than that we all had a blast watching the kite climb sky high.

Our six year old was even inspired to try some kite making of his own and ended up experimenting with a one-of-a-kind design that involved a garbage bag, a grocery bag, and a huge piece of string. Thanks to some gusty winds, it actually managed to get off the ground a few times, much to Ian's delight. If you're looking for a fun way to spend a couple of hours with your kids, I highly recommend that you go fly a kite....literally!

| posted by Ann D @ 5:39 PM

The Walrus, Wood Fires, Etc.

Saturday, May 29, 2004
One of the things I've had time to do during my couple of days up north is to read some of the issues of The Walrus that have been languishing unread in a corner of my office since the magazine launched back in October. (I felt a need to support a magazine that pays its writers well -- something around $2 Cdn/word, reportedly, which makes it one of the best if not the best paying Canadian periodical market.) Anyway, I've really enjoyed sitting by the fire (it's been cold -- 10C or 50F most mornings and evenings) and plunging into all those back issues.

Anyway, while I was reading all those back issues, I came across this one article on punctuation that talks more about the Eats, Shoots and Leaves book. The article is also available on the magazine's website, so check it out if you want to find out more about the book and the author's one-woman crusade to rid the world of grammatical sins. (I love people who are on missions!)

| posted by Ann D @ 11:16 AM

Zen and the Art of Candy Floss

Friday, May 28, 2004
I'm blogging from up north at the cottage, having dialed in via my old laptop (the one that skips keystrokes and that has huge grooves worn into the "s", "d", and "e" keys -- the result of having served as a workhorse while I churned out 14 books during a highly productive phase of my career).

I'm in a less productive and more reflective phase of my career right now. In fact, that's one of the reasons why I'm taking a few days to take stock and to figure out where I want to go from here.

I have tons of opportunities coming at me from all kinds of directions -- all very exciting.

On the other hand, my husband and I have four amazing yet challenging kids that demand tons of time and attention -- also exciting, but sometimes totally exhausting.

On top of all that, I feel this powerful need to spend more time with my really close friends, my three amazing sisters, other family members (especially my Dad and my Grandma, who turns 95 today!), and to generally enjoy life in the middle lane as opposed to the fast lane. (I know I'm not a candidate for the slow lane, so I'm not even going to try to pull into that lane!)

So I guess what I'm trying to do is to map out the next phase of my career -- to figure out which projects I can reasonably take on, and which ones I'm going to have to say "no" to if I want to enjoy a slightly saner pace of life.

It's kind of like being a kid at the amusement park: if you try to go on all the rides, you risk exhausting yourself -- or making yourself throw up. You're far better off zeroing in on the rides that are really worth going on and leaving yourself some time -- and some money -- to splurge on some unexpected delight -- like a gigantic bag of candy floss! :-)

(Okay, my blog gets a bit weird when I've been breathing in too much pine-scented air! We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming next week!)

| posted by Ann D @ 6:29 PM

I Blog, You Blog, We All Blog....

Monday, May 24, 2004
I had no idea that my writer buddy Shelley Divnich Haggert had a blog -- and what a fun and feisty blog it is! Check it out when you have a moment. (BTW -- It's funny how this blogging thing works. You start blogging and then you find out that everyone else you know is blogging too. It's kind of like when you first find out you're pregnant! Suddenly everyone you know is sporting a belly!) :-)

Anyway, speaking of blogging, I was just quoted in an article about parents who blog that ran over the weekend in the New Jersey Star Ledger. The article isn't going to be up long enough for me to bother linking to it, so I'll just tell you where I fit into the article. The reporter, Carrie Stetler, was talking about the appeal of spilling your parenting guts in your blog, and she quoted me as follows: "There's still such pressure to have your parenting act together, especially for moms, and if you take a risk and admit that you're not always perfect, sometimes, in real life, you might live to regret telling a story to someone who wasn't supportive, then you have to live with these people forever more. Online, you can just change your user name," says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother Of all Baby Books. So there you have it -- my two cents on parents and blogging.

| posted by Ann D @ 9:03 PM

The Mother of All Internet Service Providers

Thursday, May 20, 2004
I have the best Web hosting company in the world. My technical support guy called me first thing this morning to alert me to the fact that my e-mail might not be working when I logged on to my computer because they'd experienced a hard drive crash during the night. Talk about customer service! And this wasn't a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, by the way. This is their typical modus operandi. They know that I am a little obsessive when it comes to receiving and sending e-mail, so they let me know if they're experiencing technical difficulties. Anyway, I really appreciate amazing customer service that I receive from the folks at Emmatt Digital Solutions, so I thought I'd take a moment to say a quick and much overdue thank you to Chris and the rest of the gang.

| posted by Ann D @ 10:22 AM

Need a Break from the Rat Race?

Monday, May 17, 2004
Here are Five Things You Can Do to Bring Silence and Solitude into Daily Life, courtesy of the Center for a New American Dream's highly thought-provoking and inspiring Web site.

| posted by Ann D @ 10:02 AM

Friday Night Fun for Grammarians

Friday, May 14, 2004
If you're less than enthralled by the late-night TV offerings, play this game instead. It's an interactive grammar game based on Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss. (Sure hope I've punctuated that correctly!)

| posted by Ann D @ 10:39 PM

The Mother of All Mothers

Did you know that a mother cockroach is capable of producing up to 2 million offspring per year -- and of giving birth to as many as 35,000 offspring at a time! Gotta wonder what postpartum is like for her....

| posted by Ann D @ 6:42 PM

The Write Stuff: Must-Read Guides for Writers

Thursday, May 13, 2004
I’ve read my fair share of writers’ guides over the years. In fact, during the early years of my career, I read them obsessively, hoping I’d eventually figure out what was involved in making it as a freelancer. (The alternative -- working full-time for someone else -- seemed too horrible to contemplate. Still does.)

So I guess you could say I’ve become somewhat of a guidebook connoisseur over the years. I’ve learned to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. The ones that fall into the latter category, in my opinion, are those that encourage writers to follow “the rules” in the traditional writer-editor courtship dance (you know, those hard-to-stomach rules that say that the magazine editor should hold all the power in the relationship and the writer should simply sit by the phone, waiting for the editor to call). That’s why I was delighted to stumble across a book that is positively overflowing with attitude.

The book is called The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell (Marian Street Press Inc., 2003, paperback, 206 pages). As the title implies, the authors encourage writers to break all the rules (for example, the rules that say that query letters should be kept to one page, simultaneous submissions are a no-no, you should never pitch an editor by phone, and so on). While most of us who’ve been kicking around the freelance business for a while have figured out most of these rules for ourselves, the book still warrants a read, if only to remind you that it’s okay to challenge the rules in the writer-editor playbook every now and again. (Or on a daily basis, if you prefer!) So be sure to check out The Renegade Writer.

The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels
(edited by Timothy Harper, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003, paperback, 314 pages) is another recent book that warrants a read. The book -- which was written by members of the American Association of Journalists and Authors -- contains sage advice on everything from writing successful magazine queries to finding a collaborator for a book project to fine-tuning your research skills. The book is savvy and smart and peppered with the success stories of freelancers who’ve done extremely well for themselves. Even veterans of the freelance life will pick up some new tricks from this well-written and information-packed guide.

Of course, if you’re a Canadian writer trying to make a living as a freelancer in The Great White North, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of the PWAC Guide to Roughing it in the Market: A Survival Toolkit for the Savvy Writer by Angie Gallop (Periodical Writers Association of Canada, 2003, paperback, 91 pages). This compact little volume contains practical advice on everything from mapping out your career to holding your own at contract negotiation time. There’s even a little contribution from me on finding your way to freelancing nirvana. You can order the book directly from the Periodical Writers Association of Canada.

I've got a fourth book to tell you about -- but this part of the review almost didn’t get written! When I went looking for my copy of Publicize Your Book: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book the Attention it Deserves by Jacqueline Deval (Perigree, 2003, paperback, 320 pages), I discovered that my copy has disappeared from my office—again. I have no doubt lent it out to one of my many writer-buddies (I know I’ve easily recommended it to a half-dozen people since I finished reading it last summer), so I had to scramble to order a replacement copy. Do I mind owning two copies of this book? Not really. I’m sure that they’ll both be in circulation before I know it. You see, Deval’s book is a must-read if you’re serious about selling truckloads of books. She tells you everything the book publicist at your publishing company is too busy -- or exhausted -- to tell you about the weird yet wonderful world of book publicity. Self-publishers will find the book to be an invaluable resource, too. So if you’re interested in learning more about what makes certain books fly of the bookstore shelves, pick up a copy of this book. (On second thought, pick up two. You may find that your copy has a tendency to wander, too.)

| posted by Ann D @ 4:19 PM

The Joy of Gardening -- and Play!

Wednesday, May 12, 2004
My May column for Sunlight's GoAheadGetDirty Club talks about getting kids hooked on gardening. If you haven't stumbled across Sunlight's GoAheadGetDirty.com Web site yet, you might want to check out the Play Library, which features a bunch of different articles related to play. I've written a lot of the articles, but you'll also find articles by other writers, including many regular contributors to Today's Parent.com. Note: This is a Canadian Web site. American visitors may be amazed to discover that Sunlight is a laundry detergent brand in Canada, not just a dish soap. :-)

| posted by Ann D @ 4:37 PM

Spree Living

Tuesday, May 11, 2004
The latest issue of spree living is finally hitting the street. I write a parenting column for the magazine. I just stumbled across an online version of the magazine, which is very cool because now I can share my column with friends and relatives outside of Canada. Check it out!

| posted by Ann D @ 5:25 PM

Time for a Heart-to-Heart Talk

One of my much-loved aunts suffered a heart attack over the weekend. She wouldn't be here today if she hadn't paid attention to the warning signs that she was having a heart attack and sought proper medical attention fast.

Her close call is a reminder that we women owe it to ourselves and our families to commit these heart attack warning signs to memory, so if you haven't reviewed this list of warning signs recently, do it for the sake of those you care about most. Thank you.

| posted by Ann D @ 12:48 PM

The Grade School Years Aren't a Cakewalk for Every Parent

Monday, May 10, 2004
I've been thinking a lot lately about the concerns faced by grade schoolers and their parents -- mainly because I was asked to speak at a Middle Years Conference in Toronto on Friday, but also because a lot of grade-school issues seem to be showing up on my radar screen these days. When I did a mall event in Mississauga on Friday night, for example, it was parents of grade-schoolers -- not parents of babies and toddlers -- who seemed to be facing the biggest struggles with their kids.

I think we do a great job of heaping tons of support on new parents -- and of acknowledging that parents of teens don't exactly have it easy (how's that for an understatement?) -- but is it possible that we sometimes forget that the grade school years aren't necessarily a cakewalk for every parent? If your gradeschooler is struggling academically, acting out in class, wrestling with attention deficit disorder, bullying or being bullied by other kids, or all of the above, you may be wondering why other parents seem to be coasting through stage of parenthood when it's a constant struggle for you -- something that can leave you feeling really bad about yourself and your kid. Something to think about on the day after Mother's Day....

| posted by Ann D @ 1:16 PM

Happy Woman Magazine on Super Model Moms-to-be

Thursday, May 06, 2004
Happy Woman Magazine has this fun piece on super model moms-to-be. Check it out. :-) (Of course, if you're a super model mom-to-be or you're easily offended by politically incorrect humor, you may want to visit another less offensive link on this page. Then again, if you're really politically correct, you'll probably be offended by some of the other links on this page, too. My apologies.)

| posted by Ann D @ 1:34 PM

The Birth Stories We Do (and Do Not) Tell

Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Andrea Buchanan asks an interesting question over at Mother Shock: what parts of your labor/birth stories you've told, or whether -- in fact -- you've ever written those stories at all. It's funny, I've never published the birth stories of any of my living children, mainly, I suppose, because there'd be four stories to write and (being me) I'd want to get each story just right. (Do I set the bar impossibly high for myself or what?)

The only birth story I've ever written is the account of my daughter Laura's stillbirth. I wrote that story because I wanted to describe how the experience of stillbirth changes a person forever. It's certainly changed me -- made me appreciate the good times in life all the more and given me the courage to face the difficult times too, like my Mom's death last year. (As excrutiatingly painful as it was to lose my Mom, I knew I'd find my way through the black tunnel of grief once again because I'd already survived the unthinkable before -- my daughter's stillbirth.)

Anyway, Andi's post got me thinking, so I thought I'd post my two cents on this subject.

| posted by Ann D @ 11:54 AM

Multi-tasking Revisited

Tuesday, May 04, 2004
I've been fighting a losing battle with my "to do" list for a couple of weeks -- the result of too much time spent out of the office and too little time spent at my computer. And now that I'm actually back at my desk, I'm having a hard time prioritizing the million-and-one tasks that are simultaneously screaming out for my attention. And I thought that motherhood had done such a fabulous job of teaching me how to multi-task....

But wait -- maybe multi-tasking is at the heart of the problem. I am just in the middle of reading Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt's book The Power of Focus, and the authors make the point that if you lose your focus, you lose your effectiveness. Makes sense to me. I know from first-hand experience that when I try to make dinner, pay bills, and talk to my kids at the same time, I risk burning dinner, putting the checks in the wrong envelopes, and only half-listening to my kids (or, gulp, not listening to them at all). The same thing applies to my professional life. I can't do a good job writing an article or a book if I'm trying to pay bills or make phone calls at the same time.

Martha Beck makes a similar point in a recent article in O Magazine when she talks about the limits of human attention: "If we try to multi-task in too many directions, our brains begin to act exactly like what they are: overloaded electrical circuits."

So multi-tasking is officially out of vogue. That means you can enjoy that cup of coffee guilt-free, without feeling like you should be balancing your checkbook at the same time. (Well, at least in theory.)

And I guess we'll have to change that slogan, "You, go girl" to something a little less action-oriented -- perhaps, "Plant it, girlfriend" or something -- to reflect the fact that we're actually allowed to do one thing at a time. (The experts have given us permission -- remember?)

| posted by Ann D @ 11:09 PM

Question for You Long-term Bloggers

Okay, veteran bloggers: How the heck do you get any work done? I have been reading other people's blogs all day. I seriously think I am going to have to start writing my magazine articles with a pen and a pad of paper in order to keep myself away from the computer when I'm supposed to be working. How pathetic is that?

By the way, I added links to a few of the blogs that I spent a fair bit of time reading today. I'll keep adding to my list over time. There are hundreds more I want to check out in my, um, spare time.

| posted by Ann D @ 9:16 PM

The Mother of All Quizzes, etc.

If you'd like to test your knowledge of all things mother-related, you may want to check out The Mother of All Quizzes -- a quiz that I've written in honor of Mother's Day.

If you're a Canadian mom, you may also enjoy reading A Mother Lode of Advice -- an article I wrote for Today's Parent magazine. It summarizes some of the worst advice given to Canadian mothers over the years (a topic I also write about in my book Canuck Chicks and Maple Leaf Mamas).

| posted by Ann D @ 11:23 AM

Cereal Rights Deal

Monday, May 03, 2004
The Canadian Cheerios box featuring me and the Canadian edition of my book The Mother of All Toddler Books is starting to show up in grocery stores across Canada. I know this because I'm getting e-mails from friends and family members as they spot the boxes. Thanks for the cereal aisle surveillance efforts on my behalf, everyone. :-)

| posted by Ann D @ 9:04 AM

Late to the Party....

Sunday, May 02, 2004
I'm a little late arriving at the blogging party, but what else is new?

"Start Blog" has been languishing on my "to do" list for at least three years along with other must-do-someday items like updating the family photo album (I think I got sidetracked back around 1995), switching accounting software packages (something that absolutely has to happen this year because my current software package is no longer compatible with my new computer), and re-writing my business plan so that it reflects what I'm actually doing career-wise these days (as opposed to what I was doing a decade-and-a-half ago when I first hung out my writing shingle).

So raise a mug of your favorite caffeinated beverage and toast my late arrival to the Land of Bloggers. With the number of kids I've got to take care of (four) and the number of books I have to promote (27, minus the handful that have gone out of print over the past year or two), it's a small miracle this blog ever happened at all!

| posted by Ann D @ 8:29 PM