Friday, December 18, 2009

Marching On

Now that I have kids, my days blend together so much that it's hard to remember what month it is. My first guess, based on the weather or the last time I tried to remember the month, could just as easily be February as November, or September instead of December.

So when an editor asked last week if I'd write an article for a March publication, I said "yes." After all, March is months away, isn't it? Not so many months away anymore, actually. Especially when the deadline for the article turns out to be in January!

I'd better get writing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Articles!

Just found out that a local parenting magazine is interested in four of my article queries for next year (two of which got lost in email, lucky I sent a reminder!) The first one, about summer learning, is due Jan 4.

Have you ever tried contacting bookstores in December to ask about their summer reading programs? It's an adventure.

A Writing Mommy

Steps to writing:

--Sat down to work on designing my Christmas cards, when my four-year-old son asked if he could use the computer.
--Said "yes."
--Realized I should go put wet laundry in the dryer.
--Was followed downstairs by children. Remembered that as a responsible mother I should not allow privileges until we'd done some chores. Asked children to help sort laundry.
--Six-year-old daughter asked if she could vacuum the stairs instead. Ran to get the vacuum.
--Daughter warned me the baby needed a diaper change. Boy, did she ever! Ran to the bathroom for emergency derobing and bath.
--Scrubbed floor, scrubbed clothes in sink, scrubbed sink, scrubbed baby in bath, dried baby, dressed baby, scrubbed bath.
--Finished sorting laundry myself while daughter vacuumed and son did "Science club with Legos!" (as initiated by my six-year-old).
--Returned to the computer. Now what was I doing again?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In the Middle

Been working on an article to submit. It always starts out a challenge. I make the query, I get the assignment, I'm sure I can write it, I start...and suddenly I'm wondering how on earth I thought I could do it. I can go round and round on intros and conclusions, I can agonize over content, I can scare myself into wanting to give up entirely. Friday I promised myself I'd finish my draft, so I locked myself in the study with my 18-month-old while my other kids did art projects at the kitchen table, and just worked at it until I had almost the length I needed. Now when I look at it, it's not so bad. But I think, after 10 different ideas for the intro, I'm back to the first one. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Greeting Card Article

Just found out that my article about making your own cards just went online at
The Dollar Stretcher

Greeting cards are a tradition in my family. My grandfather worked photographic magic to make photo collage cards decades before Photoshop was ever invented, and my mother makes cards with illustrations, stamps, pop-ups, and wonderful poems. I've made my own holiday cards for several years now, with an online graphic, a thought or scripture, and a few short tidbits about my family. I can print them on a Xerox and mail them with regular postage, and I probably save $3.00 apiece over Hallmark options. I hope this is an idea that catches on--everybody can use some extra money right about now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kids love Candy Experiments

Well, I've presented candy experiments six times in the last week and a half--at my daughter's class party, my son's preschool, my parents' Halloween party, and here at home. We're planning to have another big bash next Wednesday (with all the people who were going to come last Wednesday and then canceled because they were all sick.) It still amazes me how much fun some kids have with candy experiments. Some of them liked the baking soda acid test, some of them liked sticking candy together, some of them liked experimenting with colors, and some of them just liked throwing candy in the water. None of them tried to eat the candy: after I told them a few times that the candy was for experiments, not for eating, and after they started experimenting with it, I think they mentally transformed it into experiment material instead of treats. Adults were having a harder time with it; one party attendee said "We really can't eat the candy?" and a teacher at one of my presentations was craving candy because she hadn't gotten any for Halloween. Another preschool teacher let her have some, but warned her she'd better eat it out of sight of the kids. So, the candy experiments have been a success all around.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Friends

When I joined a writing group three years ago, I had no idea I would someday start writing about candy experiments. It was just plain luck that one of my fellow writers was a biochemist.

Working on this project, I've been grateful for many connections, including a high school colleague witn a master's degree in chemistry, a nonfiction writer I met through SCBWI, and families who are testing experiments with me.

So make and keep friends for the sake of friendship. You never know where those friendships will lead.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More experiments

We keep experimenting here, although it's harder when Katherine is in school for so long. One of our latest: chewing Wintergreen Lifesavers in the dark. They really do make flashes of light! Try it in a dark bathroom so you can see the flashes in the mirror, and chew with your mouth open; "bad manners chewing," as my four-year-old said.

Candy Experiments news

Here's another article that was written about my family:

http://www.redtri.com/candy-experiments-does-tricks-with-treats/

(The picture is one that I took.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I've Heard Back

Moms, teachers, and community planners love candy experiments. Here's what people have emailed to www.candyexperiments.com:

--"Your site is SOOOOO cool! I read about it in Family Fun and couldn’t wait to check it out for my six-year-old. Now I can’t wait for Halloween and the ability to get rid of all that candy in an educational way. Y’all rock!"

--"I just wanted to let you know when I read your article in my Family Fun magazine, I instantly ripped it out to give to my best friend. Her 5 year old son has recently been diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. The website you created is full of great ideas for all kids and especially for those who can't eat candy, like kids with JD. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tradition and know that it will be new tradition for my family and many others."

--"I am a Special Education teacher. My current students are ages 12 - 17, but function at approximately the first grade level. Finding science experiments that are age appropriate while engaging has always been difficult. I your experiments in a magazine and wanted to say thank you for sharing them. I have done a few of them with my students and they love them, They are learning, making predictions and suggesting changes and other variations of the projects you suggested.
Thank you again."

--"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I recently read about your Halloween candy experiments in Family Fun. Since last Halloween, we have drastically changed our eating habits to be very much whole foods, with very little added anything.
This, of course, poses a problem with Halloween traditions and the candy we collect at Fall Festival parades.

I thought, "What a great idea!" when I read about your experiments...then I showed it to my 4 and 5 year olds. They are so excited to experiment with candy. They want have a candy experimenting party and invite other kids. My five year old tells everyone what his plans are with the candy we collect. They don't seem to be upset about not eating all of it.

Thank you for helping us eat healthier!"


In the interests of candy science, my kids and I continue to experiment. We're looking forward to collecting new test material come Halloween.

If William Carlos William was a mother of three

So much depends...
No, I haven't seen your plums.
So much depends...
Who let the chickens out? Can't you see it's raining out there?
So much depends...
I don't care if you were going to eat them for breakfast, I haven't seen them.
So much depends...
Wait, did you say plums?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Family Fun Publication

The article about my family's candy experiments just appeared in the October issue of Family Fun. What's been especially fun is when other people find it and tell me--apparently one of Alex's preschool classmates is very excited to be in class with somebody who was in a magazine. I've also had friends call to congratulate me and ask whether my new-found fame has turned my head.

The magazine did not have the room to include many instructions for the experiments, but I've put a lot of that online at www.candyexperiments.com.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Mentos Experiment

Spent the afternoon with my kids conducting research into the various methods of making Sprite bubble. Mentos came out on top, testing better than Nerds, Skittles, Runts, Tootsie Roll, mints, Laffy Taffy, regular taffy, or Smarties. The biggest problem with making the Mentos soda fountain is the delivery--getting all the candy into the pop bottle before the erupting soda blocks the mouth of the bottle. Turns out somebody has actually invented a gadget for this very purpose, a Mentos loading tube, selling for $4.98 (http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/product/2072?gclid=CPjW34z4v5wCFQ6jagod23qhnA.)

I'll stick to paper funnels for now.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Photographs

When I sold my first nonfiction article to a magazine, I didn't realize that I was responsible for finding the supporting artwork as well. When they offered to accept if if I located photographs, I found some available for sale and assumed I had done my job. But when the magazine was preparing for publication, the editor realized they couldn't afford any of the photographs I had found for them, or was able to find in newspapers. I had only a few days to locate a cheap photo before they pulled the article. It wasn't an easy task, either--I had to find a photograph of a boy who had been the unofficial mayor of an unofficial Texan town (i.e. not on the map), whose family had since moved, and who had since died. Furthermore, I'd just had a baby. After hours online and on the phone I managed to connect with somebody who was able to find the family in a phone book, and they were kind enough to send a picture so that my article could be printed. That was the hardest $29 I've ever earned!

Now, when I'm working on a project I research (or take) photos BEFORE I submit the article. It's more professional, and a lot less stressful.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Writing Groups

It took me years to find a really good writing group, and now it seems as if it takes years to set up a writing group meeting. But I stick with it. I love my group, and it has helped me improve my writing tremendously. I've learned so much! (Probably no coincidence that a Scholastic editor at an SCBWI manuscript critique asked if if I was in a critique group--I wasn't at the time, and it showed.)

For anybody looking to join or start a group: find people who aren't afraid to tell you what needs improvement. Find people who will listen courteously to what you say (as you will listen courteously to them. Find people who will support you in your writing, instead of tearing you down, and rejoice at your good news. Above all, find people you like to be with!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dollar Stretcher Publication

My latest article, "Freezing Fruit," just appeared in the August issue of The Dollar Stretcher. Check it out at

http://www.stretcher.com/stories/09/09jun29g.cfm

The kids and I just picked our first batch of blackberries today--they're freezing on a cookie sheet right now. We're starting early!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chocolate dissolves!

I've spent the last week trying to induce chocolate bloom, for the sake of science. For some reason, the microwave never seemed to melt the chocolate enough, but my nice sunny windowsill has worked nicely. My test Hershey bar is now mottled with a pale crust, which when scraped into vegetable oil dissolves almost completely. Chemistry in action.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Brave

When searching for information, I've learned one thing about writing: you have to be brave.

I've been researching candy chemistry to learn more about candy experiments (see www.candyexperiments.com, which will continue to be updated). My three years of high school chemistry were enough to get me started, but not enough to answer all my questions. My latest question: why do candy makers put hydrogenated palm kernel oil in candy? I put out a query on profnet.com but got no answers, so I had to be more creative. After emailing a few universities, I decided to go write to the source: Herve This, author of Molecular Gastronomy and science editor for Cook's Illustrated, but fully expected to be ignored. To my surprise, he promptly wrote back! He didn't have much of an answer for me, but a food scientist at BYU did. So, note to self: learn the material, exhaust local resources...then don't be afraid to reach out and ask!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Paper Questions

While researching an article on the cost of Christmas cards, I called Arvey paper to check prices there. I have a box of blank cards that I wanted to price, but apparently that brand has been discontinued. So I asked the saleslady to find any box of white cards, describe it, and tell me the price. It took her a few minutes to understand what I was asking for (she kept saying "Do you want this kind or this kind?), but eventually she got one for me. The result: a box of 100 pearl-bordered panel cards with an inset panel for $15.99.

Now I know.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Family Fun

(June 2008)

Since Family Fun magazine will be publishing a piece on our candy experiments in their October issue, we spent this afternoon getting photographed. Two photographers came to our house, (arriving early, before I'd changed and applied makeup--greeting the photographers in my clean-up clothes felt as weird as wearing pants to church). They lugged in all sorts of gear and spent half an hour just setting up light screens and positioning everything. Then they asked how long they'd have to photograph the kids--would their attention spans last more than half an hour? Ha, I wanted to say. You just watch.

Even though it turned out my job was pretty much to stay out of the way, I'm still recovering from the strain. Were Katherine and Alex listening to instructions to move closer together, stir their bowls, look at the camera (no, no, and no). Would I ruin a potentially brilliant shot if I ducked in to pour more water, lay out more bowls, wipe up spilled candy-water? Would I miss an important scientific discovery that I couldn't see from across the room? Would they ever get the lighting right? (The first half-hour of photos seemed to be discovery after discovery that the light was too dim). Would any of the shots work? Would they all work? Would they be so brilliant that my children's faces would be splashed across the web forevermore? Would this be a bad thing? Not to mention unquenchable concerns about the number of dishes I'd have to wash!

After an hour and a half of experiments (Alex managed to ruin my crowning achievement, a five-color density rainbow, by "helping" to pour), the experiments had been duly recorded and the photographers were ready to shoot a family photo. Photographing a herd of monkeys would have been easier! After so much prolonged concentration, my kids were ready to split, with Alex racing away after baseballs and Katherine hiding behind Laramie's back and in the wisteria. You would have thought they'd been eating all the candy they'd dissolved, they were that crazy. As for me, all those seasons watching America's Next Top Model helped me not at all--I could feel my smile straining (especially since I was wrestling to keep Rebecca in the picture). To top it off, it started to rain. Ah, Seattle. Maybe they can do one of those photo collages and paste our faces onto the bodies of people who are actually holding still.

At last it was all over. With Mom's help (she raced to the store for another pack of Skittles and stirred frantically while we were all posing for the family photo), Lar poured two more density rainbows with clear enough color striation that the photographer got a few pictures. ("Look, your tripod only has one leg," said Alex). Then they were gone.

But the kids weren't done yet. Katherine embarked on art projects, painting flowers onto paper towel with M&M color, while Alex (unwatched) dumped candy into his biggest bowl until the water level reached the top. There must be two pounds of M&Ms, Runts, Milky Ways, Snickers, Sweet Tarts, and Laffy Taffy still in there (he wouldn't let me dump it out). He calls it "candy soup." Goodbye, candy stash.

My dining room table is still sticky after three scrubs, I'm running my second load of dishes, entropy is overtaking my recently-spotless living room, and the rest of the house is a mess. But now we're famous. And I've learned a valuable lesson: I was never meant to be a model.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Here I am

I decided I need a way to share what I've been working on...without spamming all my friends. Find article listings, publishing credits, and updates here.