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The Book Meme Gauntlet Gets Passed Along

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Dani over at The Mothership invited me to do this meme, and since it has to do with books, I couldn't exactly say no. (Of course, I will now mortally offend Marla, who challenged me to do another meme weeks ago, but that meme was much more complicated, so it's still on the back burner, along with a lot of other blogging to do's -- like a lot of Mom University posts that need to go live).

Number of Books I Own: At least 3000 -- probably more. And this only refers to my own books. My husband has at least 1000 and my kids probably have a couple of thousand books, too. I only keep my collection down to this number by giving away books a couple of times each year. If I didn't weed out books, I'd be the book-world equivalent of a "crazy cat lady," living in a house that is totally over-run with books.

Last Book I Bought: It's a three-way tie. I just bought three books simultaneously: Suanne Kelman's All in the Family: A Cultural History of Family Life; Judith Viorst's Necessary Losses; and Harold Kushner's When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters. (I picked up the books at Half-Price Books while running errands this afternoon. They look like they're going to be fabulous reads.)

Last Book I Read: I'm about 95% of the way through Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott, so I'm going to bend the rules slightly and say that this is the last book I've read. This book is the follow up to her earlier book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, which is hilarious and thought-provoking. If you read the Amazon.com reviews for Plan B, you'll see that extreme fundamentalists have a lot of trouble with Anne -- her anti-Bush "rants," her "unrefined distastefulness and disrespect for God," her "anger towards her mother, her son, and God," her "harsh tone," etc. One reviewer had the good sense to suggest that people who don't agree with Anne Lamott's viewpoint should simply steer clear of her books: "Don't call her "mean-spirited," which is an all-purpose catch phrase for people who don't agree with you. Just put the book back. Don't bother with her." Sounds like sensible advice to me.

Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me:

In no particular order....
1. Anne of Green Gables: My Grandma Bolton gave me a copy of this book when I was just learning to read. It was one of the first full-length novels I ever read and definitely the book that got me "hooked" on reading. (It didn't hurt that my Mom took me to see Anne of Green Gables being performed live in Toronto around the same time.)

2. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith: I read this book when I was going through a very tough time in 2003 after my Mom died, and I found it to be really encouraging and inspirational.

3. Finding Your North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live: This book does a great job of encouraging you to think about what you really want out of life, both personally and professionally, and what steps you need to take to create the life you want. It's written by the always witty and engaging Martha Beck.

4. On Writing by Stephen King: While most writing books focus on the "how to" of writing, King's book focuses more on the "why" of writing -- why someone becomes a writer and what it's really like to be a writer. It's a frank, honest, and totally compelling book. (If you thought his horror novels were impossible to put down, wait 'till you dive into this book!)

5. Safe Counsel: I inherited a copy of the 1898 edition of this Victorian advice manual from my Grandma Bolton, along with 13 cartons of her other books. This was the start of my collection of vintage parenting, pregnancy, and marriage manuals. I recently expanded into a new category -- horrible advice books for teenage girls! I tend to add to my collection each time I hit a used bookstore. (And you wonder how I ended up with thousands of books.)

And now I'd like to toss the book meme gauntlet on to these lucky people: Mombie, Running2Ks, and Marla. (Of course, it's quite likely they played this game months ago, since I'm so late to the game. If so, please feel free to shake a dusty book in my general direction.)

| posted by Ann D @ 6:03 PM

Your Chance to Play Headache Detective

This is the first week that all of the kids have been officially out of school.

I have had a killer headache for three days running.

Is it the kids?

Is it the heat?

Is it the blogger template glitches?

Is it the fact that I have to do my (horrible) GST return this week?

Is it the fact that I'm working around the clock on my book?

Is it the fact that I'm trying to train my SPAM filters to vaporize the messages I don't want to receive, but not to gobble up the messages from people I do want to hear from?

You be the judge....

| posted by Ann D @ 12:42 PM

Electronic Mom

I suggested to my thirteen year old that he use his new digital camera to take 20 second clips of me issuing common reminders (e.g., "Put your dishes in the dishwasher"), and then turn those clips into screensavers for the family computer. That way, I'd be saved the aggravation of having to say the same thing over and over again, all summer long. The "electronic mom" would do it for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't get him to buy into the sheer brilliance of my idea. I guess the thought of being subjected to an endless loop of mom reminders (I thought we could splice together a whole bunch of different reminders) didn't mesh with his vision of the perfect summer.

| posted by Ann D @ 12:32 PM

Pregnancy After Infertility Article at WebMD

Here's the article I wrote on pregnancy after infertility for WebMD. If you read it, you'll see that it features some frequent visitors to this blog.

| posted by Ann D @ 11:24 AM

No, This Page Is Not Blank.... Scroll Down, Way Down....

Monday, June 27, 2005
Blogger has started to insert a huge space into my top post, for some reason.

In some browers (Explorer), it shows up at the top of the post.

In other browsers (Firefox), it shows up at the bottom of the post.

And in still other browsers (Netscape), the posts seem to displaying just fine.

I'm not sure what's going on, but I haven't figured out a way to solve the problem. It's happening with both long and short posts and it's making me a little crazy.... So scroll down, way down, to read this the rest of the entries on this page.

Is anyone else having this problem?

I'm wondering if my custom template is interfering with some new Blogger enhancement.


Update: I did some research over at the Blogger Forums and found out that Blogger's latest system enhancement is causing a lot of people grief. If you want to read more, drop by this thread. Apparently, Blogger is aware of the problem and is working on a fix.

| posted by Ann D @ 12:47 PM

Author University: Your Working Table of Contents -- A "Birth Plan" for Your Book

Your working table of contents is basically a "birth plan" for your book. It's a work in progress that details how you intend to write your book, assuming that all everything according to plan. What it isn't is a blueprint for your finished book.

Here are the steps involved in creating a working table of contents.

Brainstorm. Think of anything and everything that should find its way into your book. Jot down ideas on napkins, the backs of envelopes, and other random pieces of paper (e.g., price tags from clothing, roadmaps, etc.) Because you will find that your best ideas come to you at the least convenient times (when you just got out of the shower, when you're driving down the highway), try to have a notebook within grabbing distance at all times).

Research widely. Find out what everyone else who has written about your topic and related topics has talked about. Interview members of your target audience to find out what would be helpful to them in a book on your particular topic. Let your ideas take you on a wild and crazy ride. Print out tons of paper while you surf the Internet in every direction possible. Flip through all the books you have purchased on this topic, and hit the library to borrow more. When you find yourself running around in research circles, it's time to stop.

Drink lots and lots of coffee. Think about how you want to organize your table of contents. How would your book be most useful to your readers? Should it be organized thematically, chronologically, in a question and answer format, or using some other method (or combination of methods) entirely? Think some more.

Start slicing and dicing your materials into chapters. If you find that a particular chapter is becoming enormous, you may have to divide it into two chapters. That may necessitate rethinking the overall method of organization for your book.

Come up with catchy chapter headings that are still intuitive enough that the reader can figure out what the chapter is about. (Subheadings can be useful in helping the reader to put the pieces together.)

Decide that you hate what you've come up with so far. Decide that you will flip a coin to decide what to do next. If you get "heads" you will listen to Alanis Morissette's Excuses and take the rest of the day off. If you get "tails," you will pour yourself more coffee and go back to step 3. It's tails.

Come up with a working table of contents that you feel good about. Actually, not just good about -- excited about. Get so pumped about your working table of contents that you can't wait to dive into the writing stage. (Momentarily pause to ask yourself if this is bonafide enthusiasm or caffeine overload. Then decide to go with the flow.)

Be prepared to revise your table of contents as you continue to research and begin the writing process. If you try to stick to your original table of contents too rigidly, you'll be depriving your readers of the opportunity to benefit from all the new material you manage to unearth during the research and writing phases.

I love creating tables of contents for books. It's a really fun, inspiring phase of the book-writing phase -- not unlike the "conception" phase of babymaking when you're full of hope and optimism about becoming a parent. And then the really hard (and even more creative) work begins!

| posted by Ann D @ 12:40 PM

Sex During Pregnancy

A journalist I know is working on an article for a leading American magazine and she is interested in interviewing moms who are currently pregnant or who recently gave birth, and who are willing to speak frankly about sex during pregnancy and during the early weeks/months postpartum. Drop her a line at jslatus at cox.net if you have words of wisdom to share on this topic. Note: She needs to hear from you by tomorrow morning if you're interested in being interviewed.

| posted by Ann D @ 12:37 PM

Playing the Role of the Decluttering Diva

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
I spent the weekend decluttering the kitchen in a major way.

Instead of keeping mismatched lids and plastic containers in the hope that they'd ultimately do well at some plastic containers singles dance and find a mate, I pitched them in the recycling bin. (It feels so good to be able to open my plastic container cupboard without triggering an avalanche.)

And, of course, I'm pretty pleased with my snazzy stackable recycling bins, the black-handled cutlery I picked up at Winners, and the green, yellow, and red dishes I purchased at Canadian Tire in order to get rid of our 1980s/1990s mismatched miscellaneous sets of cutlery, dishware, and mystery items that were basically making the kitchen a nightmarish place to be.

Of course, the coffee cupboard is my favorite cupboard. It's stocked with caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee from that place I mention far too often, plus herbal teas, a stove-top latte maker, and an assortment of non-tacky travel mugs that we've had forever, but couldn't find in all the clutter. (The tacky ones that don't have any lids met their demise during the last big kitchen cleanup.)

Who knew that decluttering could be so much fun?

| posted by Ann D @ 3:19 AM

Now It Can Be Told

Sunday, June 19, 2005
This is the gift that I got my Dad for Father's Day. (Actually, it was part of his gift. I am one of the shareholders in his new kitchen tap.) :-)

Anyway, I am sure you will all agree it is an objet d'art worthy of envy -- at least by any true admirer of Boston Terriers. Everyone in my family is crazy about these dogs, especially my Dad, so I hope he enjoys his gift.

| posted by Ann D @ 5:15 PM

The Kinsey Report for Canadian Parents

Friday, June 17, 2005
This certainly makes for interesting reading. I bet it will lead to many lively discussions in the bedrooms of the nation. (My apologies to Pierre Trudeau for piggybacking on his famous quote.)

| posted by Ann D @ 2:39 PM

The Boreds of Summer

My latest GoAheadGetDirty Club column has gone live.

At the top of the page, you'll notice an activity search window and a pull-down activity menu that allows you to choose activities by category. So if you figure it's only a matter of time before you hear the first "I'm bored" of summer, you may want to bookmark this page.

| posted by Ann D @ 1:45 PM

Baby Names: The Mother of All Disasters in the Making

Thursday, June 16, 2005
I stumbled across this website today which contains a compendium of really, really bad baby names. We're talking names like Sharmonica, Wadine, D'Artagnan, Maxigan, Cinsere, and Cam'ron. But what makes the website even more fun to read are the deliciously sarcastic comments the webmistress adds after noting some of the really bad names she's stumbled across during her travels.

While you'll get a kick out of the entire site (unless, of course, you're humor-challenged or exceptionally politically correct, in which case you probably already hate my blog), I particularly enjoyed the mailbag. Bookmark this page and insist that your pregnant girlfriend read it before she saddles her poor, unsuspecting offspring with some unspeakably awful name made up of letters from random Scrabble tiles -- baby naming advice that is apparently dished out in one recent baby naming book!

| posted by Ann D @ 11:18 AM

Roots of Empathy Continues to Work Its Magic

Did anyone else catch the fabulous piece about Roots of Empathy on CBC TV's The National last night? Roots of Empathy is a really innovative program designed "to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults." The program brings babies into the classroom so that children can learn how babies feel in various situations and -- by extension -- how other people feel. My friend Kim has been involved with the program out in Vancouver, BC, and she can't say enough good things about it.

Last fall, I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Mary Gordon -- the program's creator -- during a teleconference we were both involved in. Her enthusiasm about the program was infectious. Clearly this is what she was put on the planet to do.

You can find out more about how the program works by reading this article, this TV interview summary, and this parenting curriculum review.

| posted by Ann D @ 10:40 AM

The Secret to Holding it All Together

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
I just had the nicest email from Julie Cole, one of the mama-geniuses behind Mabel's Labels. I had dropped by Julie's booth when I was at Babytime last month, but we were like two toy boats passing in the Giant Wading Pool of Life....

Anyway, Julie told me she's had a lot going on in the production department lately. Think both labels and babies. Julie and her family welcomed baby number four early in May. Given that Julie's oldest is five years old, I think it's amazing that she's holding it all together. Maybe those amazing super-sticky labels help with that....

Congratulations, Julie!

Mabel's Labels

| posted by Ann D @ 6:08 PM

Ho Ho Ho

Tuesday, June 14, 2005
When I take all the prize packages to the post office, do you think I should ask the woman who works there if I've missed the Christmas parcel cutoff?

| posted by Ann D @ 3:32 PM

Proud Daughter Department

My Dad just emailed me a photo of a trophy he was given by the Go Home Lake Cottage Owners' Association in recognition of all the hard work that he and his co-author Gwen Robinson put into writing Reflections: The Story of Go Home Lake.

Way to go, Dad. I am so proud of you!

| posted by Ann D @ 1:42 PM

Play it Again, SPAM: Music to Delete SPAM By

Guess what I'm having for breakfast this morning. A delicious SPAM omelette. I have 2063 messages in my SPAM folder (two weeks worth of SPAM), so I am trying to quickly blast through and see if any messages from any non-Viagra-pushers have landed in there by mistake. To make the process less painful, I have created the following playlist of songs to delete SPAM by:

Excuses -- Alanis Morissette (Could there be a reason why I'm deleting SPAM instead of doing something more productive?)

Fall for Everything -- Jeremy Fisher (Do people actually believe the claims in these email come-ons? I mean COME ON!)

Out is Through -- Alanis Morissette (There's only way to get rid of this SPAM, dammit.)

Takin' Care of Business -- Bachman Turner Overdrive (Deleting SPAM must be part of what BTO is talking about when they sing about the self-employed "doing nothing all day." Maybe they want to come over here and delete SPAM, too.)

If Looks Could Kill -- Heart (My non-love letter to the SPAM Kings.)

Another One Bites the Dust -- Queen (The feeling of satisfaction I get as each piece of SPAM gets devoured by the delete key.)

Asylum -- Supertramp (Where I could end up if it takes much longer to get through this SPAM.)

Coming Around Again by Carly Simon (But wait! There will be more SPAM the moment I check my in-box!)

Have I missed your favorite SPAM-deleting tune?

| posted by Ann D @ 12:33 PM

Paging Anna J.!

You've been upgraded to prize-winner status in my recent hotel contest. (One of the other contestants hasn't emailed me to claim her prize and I've got to get the prizes in the mail.) So please email me your snail mail address and I'll get the prize off to you instead.

| posted by Ann D @ 12:32 AM

Back from My Super-Secret Writing Sabbatical

Monday, June 13, 2005
I spent the past five days at the cottage, hibernating by myself so that I could make some serious in-roads into the sleep book. It was great. The weather co-operated, which means that there were major rainstorms about three times a day, so that I didn't mind being inside the cottage, surrounded by books and other research materials. If it had been gloriously sunny, I might have been tempted to grab a novel and head outdoors.

I only hit a couple of minor rough spot.

First of all, I didn't have any Starbucks decaf with me, which forced me to drink the most horrible bargain brand decaf imaginable. (This was after I decided I'd pretty had to much caffeine and it was time to switch to decaf for the day.) I have no idea why Neil bought this horrible decaf in the first place, but I think I'm going to bury the rest in the ground as soon as I get up north. Of course, I'll make sure that I bring some Starbucks decaf with me so Neil isn't tempted to buy anymore rot-your-gut brand decaf. This stuff was disgusting.

Secondly, I forgot to bring spare tapes for my label maker and the firewire for recharging my iPod. Fortunately, my knight in shining armour (a.k.a. Neil) decided to drive up to the cottage for date night, and he brought me both items. What a guy!

All in all, I had a great time. My definition of total paradise (well, at least for a couple of days)? Being schedule-free and alone. How pathetic am I?


On the way home, I found a really neat Father's Day gift for my Dad. I would link to the gift, but even if I said "Don't click on the link, Dad," my Dad would click on the link. So I can't blog about the gift until next week.

| posted by Ann D @ 3:12 PM

Diet Pepsi + Tom and Katie = The Number of The Beast

Thursday, June 09, 2005
Yesterday, I purchased a bottle of Diet Pepsi and the June 13th issue of that high-brow literary journal US Weekly so that I could read this article about Hollywood lovebirds Tom and Katie. (Just attribute it to my long-standing fascination with abnormal psychology.)

Anyway, my bill came to $6.66.

I think there's a hidden message here.

| posted by Ann D @ 2:07 AM

Author University: How to Research a Non-Fiction Book

Tuesday, June 07, 2005
This is the first in an occasional series of musings about the art and science of writing a book, as seen through the eyes of Ann Douglas, who is in the process of writing her 28th book.

Part 1: How to Research a Non-Fiction Book

1. Treat yourself to your beverage of choice at Starbucks. It will help you to get your head in the writerly frame of mind.

2. Swing by your favourite office supply store. Pick up essentials (paper, print cartridges, files, file boxes) and frills (fun pens, a cool labeller, and other writers' toys that will make it easier to soldier on once the book-writing process stops being fun -- as it must).

3. Go through half a box of paper and a good portion of a mega-expensive print cartridge in a single weekend by printing out research materials galore from websites, full-text article databases, and other online resources.

4. Hire your teenagers to staple, collate, and otherwise organize your research materials. If you don't have teenagers of your own, borrow some.

5. Drop $1000 on books, journal subscriptions, and other research materials.

6. Line up interviews galore. Not only will the interviews give you great material for your book: you'll get to be in touch with real, live human beings. (It's hard to get that same warm, fuzzy feeling from an online database, you know!)

7. Refuse to buy into that myth that says that your writing space has to be lonely or a garrett. Feel free to venture out to your favourite coffee establishment if the words tend to flow better (1) when you're away from your phone, fax, and/or email -- or (2) when there's always a fresh cup of coffee to be had. It's possible to surf the Internet from many coffee shops, so you can have your java and be working, too.

8. Get so excited about your book project that you have to remind yourself to eat and sleep. (Of course, the gallon of coffee you just consumed may contribute to the lack of appetite and the insomnia.)

9. Become increasingly absent-minded as you get further and further into your book research. (You'll know you're reaching book research nirvana the day you miss a credit card payment or forget to pick up your child at school. Unfortunately, you'll look like an incompetent dweeb and/or a neglectful parent to the rest of the world.)

10. Send enthusiastic emails to your editor, your friends, your family members, and anyone else who has not yet blocked your email address. Tell them how happy you are to be working on your book. (Warning: These very same people may save these emails and forward them back to you in a few weeks' time when you're not exactly living on book-writing happy street, so choose your correspondents with care.)

11. Enjoy the honeymoon stage of book-writing -- that glorious "I'm so in love with my book" stage -- while it lasts. At some point, you're going to have to get down to the hard work of making this book-writing relationship work for real.

12. Recognize when it's time to stop researching and start writing. Before that book deadline rolls around, you're going to have to stare down that blank screen and get that first paragraph, that first sentence, that first word on the screen. You can't carry on your love affair with the research stage forever. (Sorry.)

| posted by Ann D @ 7:16 PM

Hotel From Hell Winners

Okay, you guys. I am very happy to be staying home for at least the foreseeable future. You couldn't pay me to step foot in a hotel after re-reading your hotel from hell contest entries.

Blech. Gag. Yuck.

Anyway, without any further gagging from me, I am pleased to announce the winners.

[Drum roll]

Here goes:

1. Sharbean (near-death experiences always get first prize)
2. Bec (for the grossest towel story EVER)
3. Marla (for disgustingly vivid details about fellow hotel occupants, even though I wonder if I should be encouraging Marla to share such details on her blog).

Winners, please send me your snail mail addresses so that I can get your prizes off to you pronto! I know you'll want to receive your cockroaches -- I mean your nice hotel stuff -- as soon as possible.

| posted by Ann D @ 7:02 PM

Attention Laptop Ladies: Sasha, Marla, Kat, Jen (MUBAR)

As I noted in my comment post of May 24th, I owe "laptop birthday" prizes to Sasha, Marla, Kat, and Jen (MUBAR).

I know I have a snail-mail address for Marla and I'm pretty sure I have one for Jen (I just have to double-check the disaster that passes for my "blogging buddies e-mail folder"!), but I don't think I've received emails from Sasha or Kat, passing along their snail mail info. Naturally, you are afraid that I am going to package up some of my office clutter and mail it to your house, disguised as a "prize." I would be afraid, too, if I were in your shoes. I will try emailing you both to see if I can provide adequate reassurance that I'm giving out legitimate prizes (not junk), and that I'm not an Internet stalker. Watch your in-box.

| posted by Ann D @ 6:47 PM

WebMD -- Online Pregnancy Course

My latest WebMD course -- Four Weeks to a Healthy Pregnancy -- has started. You can sign up here. The course is sponsored by Blue Cross of Massachusetts. It's free.

| posted by Ann D @ 3:20 PM

Hey, the Aliens Haven't Grabbed Me!

Monday, June 06, 2005
But you might assume that they've scooped me up and whisked me off to a place where moms with postpartum depression are judged harshly, given my silence of the past few days.

It's not that at all, you'll be relieved to hear. (And good thing for those aliens, because they'd be in for a lot of trouble once the doors of the spaceship closed. I'm not at all easy on people who get off on dissing other moms.) I've simply been working hard on the new book. I'm determined to get the first sleep book questionnaire out today, so I've had to focus on that pretty intensely.

Once I'm finished doing that, I can focus on other things, like responding to my blogmail, catching up on my email, updating my to do list (a very scary thought), posting the hotel contest winners' names, chasing after the laptop birthday prize winners to get their mailing addresses, etc.

I did manage to accomplish a few non-book things over the past few days, however.

1. I picked up the new Honda Pilot. Neil took a photo. I'll post it as soon as he uploads it from the camera.
2. I cleaned some parts of my office that haven't been explored since 2004.
3. I bought a bunch of organizing paraphernalia from Staples. (Hey, hope springs eternal.)

So how have you been?

| posted by Ann D @ 4:36 PM

The Aliens Have Definitely Got Tom

True Blue Semi-Crunchy Mama has some choice words for Tom Cruise.

She is reacting, of course, to the former Top Gun's moronic comments about actress Brooke Shield's postpartum depression and how postpartum depression should be treated with vitamins rather than medication.

Personally, I loved Brooke's alien comment comeback: "Tom should stick to saving the world from aliens and let women who are experiencing postpartum depression decide what treatment options are best for them."

Hey, anyone who minimalizes postpartum depression to that degree deserves what he gets -- and then some.

| posted by Ann D @ 4:20 PM

Today Isn't Just June 1st....

Wednesday, June 01, 2005
It's the day I really dive into my sleep book.

I'm really excited and happy about being back in "book mode" again.

It's been far too long.

| posted by Ann D @ 10:01 AM