Magic Tricks

Shannon took the girls to a low-key magic show at the library this afternoon, an event put on by Tim Freeland, the town’s only radio impresario/magician. As so often happens, this inspired Genevieve to try her own “magic tricks” when I came home. Specifically, she tried to replicate the magician’s success at guessing the number chosen by a member of the audience. “It was 33! It was amazing!”

So for five minutes after I came in the door, one of us would think of a number and then the other one would try to guess it. We probably tried about thirty times, but only got one right (46). It was still hilarious, which I guess was the magical part.

My Inspiring Wife

Wednesday night, Shannon read from her new book to a bookstore full of friends. As Shannon wrote on her own blog, the reading went very, very well: she read several funny and poignant excerpts, the audience liked those excerpts, the Q&A period included lots of interesting exchanges, and – yes – the bookstore shifted some units, at $14.95 a pop. (Semi-related reflected-glory observations: Shannon has a great voice for this kind of thing, and she looked amazing, despite suffering with the tail end of her yearly mega-cold.)

I expected to enjoy the event, and I sure did. What’s not to like about listening to your smart, wonderful, gorgeous wife reading from the book she wrote? This is pretty much made of win.

What I didn’t expect was to find the event – and Shannon – so inspiring. By the end of the night, I was suffused with pride and happiness and enthusiasm about The Book and The Author. The Book itself has been a big part of our lives for so long now (honestly, mostly Shannon’s, of course) that it had become almost like furniture – nice, and even necessary in some ways, but part of the daily rhythm of our lives. In parallel, The Author’s work on The Book had become almost like any other household responsibility – time-consuming, effortful, but part of what she does as the homemaker.

Wednesday night’s reading, though, brought The Book and the Author into sharp relief, reminding me – pretty much a bystander/enabler to the writing/editing/publishing process – just how hard Shannon has worked, day in and day out for years. As she said at one point at the reading, she willed this book into existence. She got up up at 5 a.m. for weeks and months straight to pound out sentences and paragraphs and chapters. She hunted high and low for a way to publish the manuscript. After she secured a publisher, she toiled for months to revise the manuscript – and then had to redesign the book herself at the last minute. And now she’s working equally hard to publicize and market the book – leading to events like this and other readings.

It’s incredible, honestly. Sitting there on Wednesday night, I was so amazed and impressed and inspired by everything she’s done. She’s an amazing and impressive and inspiring person. I’m glad she’s my wife.

A few photos:

Shannon's Book Reading (2/15/12)
Joking with Jerry, the owner of the bookstore, during his wonderful introduction.

Talking a little bit about the book.

Shannon's Book Reading (2/15/12)
Reading her last excerpt.

Shannon's Book Reading (2/15/12)
Signing books!

Internet Haters

Today I read an incredible essay by Meghan Daum in The Believer – “Haterade.” Equal parts autobiography and social commentary, the article analyzes hater culture on the internet – horrible comment boards on news websites or blogs, vitriolic email criticisms to authors, and so forth.

Maybe I’m naive, but I was shocked by some of the critical comments that Daum quotes. This made me pretty sympathetic to her critique of hater culture on the internet, which not only dumbs down the (often already low) level of discourse on the Web (and, now, in every other medium, since everything’s everywhere), but contributes to what the conservatives rightly call the “coarsening” of our culture. Not that I believe America ever was, or should become, a high-toned society, but really, we are not better off when anonymous haters can tell Daum:

What a pathetic, inept, and uninformed person you are. Your articles are brainless, and when I read them I think of how miserable as a person you must be. Probably a fat ugly little girl who needs to prey on others to feel better…A fat, ugly squashed bug.

Which brings me to my own current experience with internet haters: the anonymous and horrible crap that’s being vented by “readers” on the webpage for Shannon’s book. I won’t quote any of them, for at least four reasons: most are awful (being badly written, cruelly vitriolic, or both), many are stupid (betraying the commenters as very poor readers), at least some of them are coming from a person or people we know, and – most importantly – the negative comments are more than outweighed by the numerous thoughtful comments.

Now, don’t misunderstand me and think that I am (or think my wife is) a delicate flower who can’t stand being criticized. To the contrary: both of us learned in grad school to take some hard knocks and profit from them. I have to be similarly flexible (or bulletproof – pick your metaphor) to do my grantwriting at Carleton. And Shannon’s been a blogger for a long time, in which role she’s received some pretty awful comments.

But but but, there is a huge difference between, say, redlined comments on a grant-proposal draft and a “review” on Shannon’s B& page such as

I truly expected a really helpful read, the answer to my many answers. Failed to live up to its title and expectations I had. :(”

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one quote.) Constructive criticism exists to improve the writing to which it responds, and the writer and the critic are in a relationship that assumes the value of the writing. On the other hand, a half-literate “review” on B& exists only to tear down the writer. It actually prevents any sort of meaningful connection between the reader and the writer, and rests, as another couple reviewers say, on the readers’ idiotic evaluation of the writing as a “joke.”

Thankfully, Shannon knows all this. A few days ago she called out the negative commenters in a post on her blog. In addition to requesting that anyone who’s read and liked the book post a comment to that effect on the book’s page, Shannon said (in part):

If you’ve been following along at home, you know that there’s been quite a bit of drama over at my book’s Barnes & Noble page. I’ve been blessed to get a ton of super-great, five-star reviews over there, which is thrilling and exciting. I’m grateful for every one. However, I’m being dogged by a troll reviewer who has been putting up hateful “reviews” for every good review that goes up, from the very first day of release.

Many of these comments have been flagged as abusive, off-topic, or inappropriate. My publisher and book marketing manager are in contact with Barnes & Noble regarding an investigation. But in the meantime, this person or persons is/are intent on continuing to bring down my ratings average by putting up a 1-star review for every 4- or 5-star review that goes up. (Fortunately, most potential buyers and reviewers are smart enough to notice the suspicious nature of these troll reviews, and more than one have actually mentioned it in the comments.)

As you should expect, the fact that my talented, hardworking wife has been attacked like this on the internet angers me, and I applaud Shannon for standing up to them. I (we!) value the exchange of views, even opposite ones, but I think the hate by the comment trolls is beyond the pale of normalcy or value. Which is probably why I felt such a strong jolt of satisfaction when Daum wrote in her Believer essay, “These days, being attacked isn’t just the result of saying something badly, it’s the result of saying anything at all.”

We’re all lucky that some of us are brave enough to say something good anyhow.

Shameless Plug + Shameless Request (Or, Did I mention my wife just published a book?)

All right, friends. This blog has been awfully quiet for a while now, but I’m going to break the silence with another post on Shannon’s book.

As you know if you’ve recently read this blog or her own blog, you know that her book – The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual – was published last month. Right now it’s available only through Barnes & Noble as an e-book for their “Nook” reader, but later this month the book will also be published in the traditional format (and be available in other e-book formats). Right now, the Nook version is available for just $5, which is a great price (if I do say so myself).

That’s the plug. Here’s the request: if you are a stay-at-home-mother or know one (maybe you’re married to one!), please go buy the book! Like I said, it’s pretty inexpensive, and I think you’ll enjoy the book on several levels – for advice, for tips and tricks, for hearing a voice that knows the experience of a stay-at-home mom. And if you do buy it and like it, please post a brief review on the book’s B&N webpage. Positive reviews will help raise the book’s profile as we get closer to the full launch (and, frankly, stick it to the jerks who are posting illiterate, uninformed negative reviews. Constructive criticism or polite disagreement, we can handle, but five-word smears? No thanks).

Thank you!

In return, I promise I’ll help you (or your loved ones) when you publish a book, okay?

Authoress in the House!

Over our lives together, Shannon and I have enjoyed some everyday accomplishments – buying houses, having kids – and some less-ordinary ones – earning doctorates. Yesterday was a day for a very un-ordinary accomplishment: the publication of Shannon’s first book. This is the culmination of a lifelong dream and a lot of hard work. It’s an amazing thing to see your wife’s book on the Barnes & Noble website. (Check Shannon’s blog for more details. )

Shannon's book on B&!

More Big Book News from Shannon!

Uh, wow. Big honking news!

Holiday Gift-Buying for all the Moms You Know (Including Yourself)

Faithful readers!

In just a few short weeks, in mid-December (exact date to be determined; I will update you!), my first book will be released by Booktrope Publishing. (OMG! Insert screaming and jumping up and down here.)

A comprehensive handbook for happy and healthy stay-at-home motherhood, The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos is a combination of professional self-help advice for taking better care of yourself, and real-life anecdotes and practical strategies for making your life as a stay-at-home mom easier and more fun. It’s for stay-at-home moms of all kinds (total novices or experienced SAHMs), with kids of all ages, and includes plenty of ideas and resources for any mom who could use some help keeping her kids entertained, her house reasonably tidy, and her sanity intact.

Originally, my book stemmed from this blog, but it expanded into a much larger project when I decided to use my expertise as a clinical health psychologist to address the parts of at-home motherhood that seem to trip women up the most (time for yourself; sleep; fitness; nutrition; mood; taking care of yourself and not just your kids; balancing parenting with other relationships; stress). Who doesn’t need help with all that, right? But don’t worry–it’s also a fun and funny read about life in the trenches of motherhood, with excerpts from this blog as well as examples of mothering craziness from my own life and the lives of other moms I know.

Plus, if you buy my book, you’ll get to read about just how grim my life was during my first year of motherhood, before this blog and before I had any other mom friends. Wouldn’t you love to find out just how much chocolate I consumed that year? And how much I cried? And how crazy I was? Sure you do.

My book comes out right before Christmas, so bookmark and get your mouse ready to click. I’m sure you know a mom or two who could use this book. Maybe you.

Big Book News from Shannon!

Yesterday, Shannon passed a pretty cool milestone for her book, and wrote it up in her usual, wonderful way. As her biggest fan, I say, “Congratulations!” and ask, “Is it time to crack that bottle of Champagne yet?”

Wondrous Life
Yesterday I saw my book, The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos, fully laid out for the first time. On the computer, I mean, but still! The designer sent me a file of the entire thing, every page, laid out how it will look in print, and with the cover mocked up and everything. How cool is that? It was definitely one of the most significant and exciting moments of my life.

Of course, I had that significant moment while also preparing to go volunteer in Genevieve’s kindergarten classroom and fielding an e-mail from Julia’s teacher about the fact that she had cried at school because she was scared about having a substitute teacher for the afternoon. So I couldn’t exactly drink in the moment and reflect on the hard work and events of the past two years that have led to the imminent publication of my book–you know, how it’s the culmination of a lifelong dream and all that? I was a little too busy e-mailing Julia’s 2nd-grade teacher and making sure the soup for dinner was started before I went over to volunteer in kindergarten. Which is the exact sort of thing the book is all about, really. So it’s all kind of fitting and wonderful.

Sweeping the Nobel Prizes

I think this is technically called "rocking it."

So the Nobel Prizes have been announced over the last couple weeks. I’m sure all of the winners are deserving of this enormous honor, but I’d like to point out to the prize committees that they are full of Nordic crap. Clearly, my wife should have won each and every one of the prizes. A brief summary of why this is so:

Nobel Prize in Physics – Shannon has long understood the intricate chaotic system that is the pre-tween brain, and can even explain it to others (i.e., me).

Nobel Prize in Chemistry – In mastering the kitchen, she long ago mastered a field of laboratory chemistry that has defied many of the greatest scientists. Do you think Mr. Nobel cooked meals every day for years for a family of four?

Nobel Prize in Medicine – Three word: elementary school germs. It’s a wonder the girls are ever healthy, but they are, thanks to my wife and her deep commitment to Purell.

Nobel Prize in Literature – Any layabout can write a bunch of angsty poems, but Shannon wrote a book while working full time as a stay-at-home mom.

Nobel Peace Prize – War, schmwar. Each day (on a bad day, each hour), Shannon effortlessly manages outbreaks of civil unrest, if not outright rebellion, and (almost always) gives the combatants a hug and a kiss goodnight.

Prize in Economic Sciences – Just look at our bank accounts and you’ll see why she’s a genius in this area.

Runner Girls

Thursday afternoon, the girls decided that they’d finish Shannon’s run with her. They duly changed into their own running skirts and tee shirts, then joined their mom for a lap around the block. They actually ran with her, every step, and enjoyed it. I managed to take this shot just as they finished.

Think they're related?

Happy Birthday, Vivi!

Vivi turns five on Monday, August 15! Today, we held a great little party for her; three friends came and Julia joined in too. Everything went very smoothly: the amazing Cat in the Hat cake, games (including “Pin the Hat on the Cat,” drawn by Julia!), presents, and general festivity. And best of all, Vivi is a great (almost) five year old!
Cake! - 4

Copper Country To-Dos

In our three days in the Copper Country, I want more than anything else to soak up the atmosphere – warm days, cool nights, forests, the lake, lots of stars, surprisingly cool towns – and to hang out with my mom, my sister, and her two kids.

But I also want to make sure that Julia and Genevieve get to have a few particular experiences of the Copper Country:

  • See two of the houses that I lived in – one in Ironwood, on the way north, the other in Hancock.
  • Drive over and admire the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, which is pretty amazing.
  • Walk in some real woods – not one of these little ten-acre thickets down here.
  • Enjoy the Big Lake: look at it, dip their feet in it, collect rocks (maybe even agates) created by it…
  • Eat square-cut pizza at the Ambassador in Houghton.
  • Stop at the lookout on Quincy Hill.
  • Eat pasties where they were perfected. (Sorry, Cornwall.)

Father’s Day Details

All in all, today was a pretty good Father’s Day, weirdly crummy weather notwithstanding. Shannon gave me a great book of photos from the last year, Julia made a wonderful book about me (scans to come!), and all three gave me some new swim trunks to replace my faded, out-of-style old pair and show off my beach body. (Ha.) We did a whole bunch of things, too: bike riding and some easy home improvement in the morning, a nap and ice cream after lunch, visits to the swimming pool and the playground in the afternoon, hot dogs for dinner (alas, I did not grill), and now “date night” (two more episodes of Friday Night Lights, plus beer plus more ice cream) this evening.

Playing hide and seek at the playground, I snapped this photo, which I rather like and which will stand in for my fading ability to do a sketch every day for the 30 Days of Creativity:
Playground Detail

Kind of a Big Deal

I think this is technically called "rocking it."

Today is a pretty big day in the Tassava family: Shannon signed a contract for the book she’s written about modern stay-at-home motherhood. Some of the details are still being ironed out, but the arrangements are firm enough that we can look forward to seeing the book in print sometime in the next year or so.

This accomplishment of Shannon’s is the culmination of years of very hard work, and I think I’ve only been more proud of my wife three other times in our 16-plus years together: when she gave me my daughters and when she finished her PhD. And that’s not to say that Shannon hasn’t done a lot of other amazing stuff – only that this book contract is up there with the very biggest deals.

If nothing else, I think that realizing this goal has required more work over a longer time than anything else Shannon’s ever done. I’ve known that she wanted to be a “writer” for as long as I’ve known her; I remember her telling me when we were first going out that she wanted to write for a living. Unlike the many liberal-arts grads who say that but don’t act on it, Shannon did.

True, her dream was mostly dormant during the years of going to grad school and starting a career, but it reemerged when Shannon began her second career as a stay-at-home mother, during which she discovered that she had something unique to say about the trials and rewards of that job. She started blogging, published essays in a couple of edited anthologies, worked incessantly on her own book, and strived to find a way to get the book published.

This last task was – is – the hardest one. Shannon ran into roughly one million dead ends (the modern publishing industry is a horrible place), but she never gave up, and finally it’s paid off: her book is going to be published! Julia and Genevieve couldn’t be happier for her, in their kid-enthusiastic way. Little do they know that they’re absorbing many important lessons from their mother’s perseverance and tirelessness.

For my part, I couldn’t be more proud. Congratulations, babe! When can we pop that bottle of Champagne?

Happy Mother’s Day

I’m lucky, this Mother’s Day, to be spending it in the company of the two women who have had the biggest and best effects on my life: my own mother (here in 2005 with her mother and father – my late grandparents)

Mom and Grandparents (2005)
Mom and Grandparents (2005)

and Shannon, the mother of my wonderful girls.

Shannon and the Girls (July 2010)
Shannon and the Girls (July 2010)

Happy Mother’s Day, mothers!