Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Squat on Me! Plus a Paper Doll in Progress

I got cybersquatted.

And it made me cranky. Very, very, very cranky - but it all worked out in the end. Phew!

So here's what happened. I finally decided to get working on my website that is actually listed on the jacket flap of my book but doesn't exist yet. Oops.

To be fair to myself, this was a crazy busy year, the kind where I didn't have time to do frivolous things like: going to the bathroom (at least not until I was doing the pee dance), sleeping, grocery shopping, cooking meals for my family, shaving my legs, doing laundry, buying new underwear which I desperately needed since I wasn't doing laundry, posting on my blog, learning how to create a website, etc.

But anyway, I went to bluehost.com to buy my domain name and have them host my site, carolbaickermckee.com, which my lawyer husband had assured me could not be used by anyone else as my name is utterly unique, thanks to some Ellis Island goofy spelling plus the magic of marital hyphenation. (I think there are only about 30 people in the entire world with "Baicker" in their name, all related to us, and I'm certain there are only 5 Baicker-McKees and they all live in my house.) And it's against the law to buy someone else's name that you have no legitimate connection to. But someone had already bought my name anyhow! And put up a horrible website that was all links to commercial websites, including from the homepage some porn-ish sights about cheating wives and Russian girls.

I about had a heart attack. Then I called my husband and told him he was in BIG trouble. (Not that I have much leverage as an Angry Woman anymore, not since I gave up stuff like grocery shopping, shaving my legs, and washing the family's underwear. What could I threaten to do? Lose the number of our favorite take out pizza place? Convince Kmart to stop selling him new Fruit of the Looms?)

So then I didn't know what to do! But now I've figured it out, and I'll tell you, in case it happens to you. First, go to a whois site, like betterwhois.com and it will tell you who has registered your domain name and who owns the website. And then use the contact info to visit the owners' websites, in my case a giant buy-lots-of-domain-sites company. And then write them a fierce letter telling them they are violating Section 43(d) of the Lanham Act (read about it here), and that you'd like them to immediately shut down the website and un-register the domain name. Next, get your husband to take out all the inflammatory language so that the email is merely firm but polite. Then wait a few hours for an email that says, "Don't know what you're talking about. We don't own that domain name." And then check and discover your name is now magically available and the horrid website has disappeared and no one has to sue anyone! And your husband isn't it deep doo-doo anymore! Finally, quick, quick, quick, register the name, get someone to host it, and start working away on your site (more on the adventures of that soon).

In more fun news, I'm working on content for my website, including a printable Mimi paperdoll. This is because I have always loved paperdolls. My plan is to have one page to print on cardstock that will have Mimi, Bunny and Frank dolls, as well as other things that work well on stiffer paper, like a yogurt cup that Frank can be inserted into after assembly, a book cover or two, a bowl of cereal with a separate teeny tiny spoon and a banana, complete with smidge, maybe a twinkle star night light, some forks - stuff like that. And then another page that can be printed on regular paper (or maybe a lightweight photo paper - that might be nice) with outfits for Mimi and Bunny (and maybe a collar and leash for Frank?), and interior pages that can be assembled with the book covers on the previous page to make little miniature books, which I also love. Any other great ideas/requests for cool features?

Off to my tree house to work on revisions to my parenting book!

Monday, July 28, 2008

In Memory of a Tigger: Randy Pausch, 1960-2008

  • Randy Pausch, husband, father, computer scientist, teacher, recovering jerk, inspiration to millions, and self-professed Tigger died on Friday, and the world is a poorer place for that.

    If you don't know who Randy Pausch is, you can read this thorough tribute to him that appeared in my local paper, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Or google him and be prepared to be overwhelmed. But an even better way to get to know him (and it will be well worth the effort) is to watch his youtube phenom last lecture "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" here, and then order a copy of his book based on it that he wrote with Jeffrey Zaslow. And then stick up little post-it notes all over your house to remind you of the particular lessons that will help you live a better, more matter-y (and more fun) life.

    First, I have to confess that I usually hate all those schmaltzy, feel-good, life-lesson bestsellers (even though they do reliably make me feel senimental or teary anyway). But this one has hit home. It's not that the lessons are necessarily novel - you've heard much of the same advice, about showing gratitude, working hard, apologizing when you've done wrong, etc., countless times before. Partly it's more effective because of Randy's delivery: funny, honest, self-deprecating. And partly it's because he's a Pittsburgher like me (by virtue of having taught for many years at Carnegie Mellon University and delivered his last lecture here), and we Pittsburghers are an intensely loyal, proud-to-claim-each-other people. And partly it's because he uses metaphors from children's literature, like naming his virtual reality teaching program after Alice in Wonderland. But mostly, it's because I know he has really lived his advice, learning it the hard way and sometimes having to learn it repeatedly.

    My post-it notes say:
    "Sometimes all you have to do is ask." I am terrible at asking for help or what I want from other people; I feel awkward, shy, and like I'm imposing - and I'm always sure I'll be turned down - but Randy is right, that much of the time when you just ask, the answer is "sure."
    "Anybody out there who is a parent, if your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let them do it. It'll be okay." Sometimes I need a reminder, to stop and think about it before I automatically say "no" to my kids (or my husband or myself). It's a powerful thing to have faith in someone, to let them take a risk and try something that may not seem entirely wise. Recently, I let my 16-year-old daughter stay home all by herself for an entire week while the rest of us were a 9-hour drive away. Not only was my cautious, responsible daughter fine, but she proved to me and herself how capable and self-sufficient she can be. (And my sister was only 5-minutes away, in case she wasn't - not a bad idea to have a safety net!)

And finally:

  • "Make a decision: Tigger or Eeyore." I'm always tempted to be an Eeyore. But how much better to be a very Bouncy Animal who will try new things without hesitation and who trusts that others will like you and that someone will be there to cushion your fall when you accidentally bounce a wee bit too high.

If you can't be a Tigger, you don't have to be an Eeyore - maybe try being a Piglet or Kanga instead. (Piglet has always been my favorite.)

"Piglet was still a little anxious about Tigger, who was a very Bouncy Animal, with a way of saying How-do-you-do, which always left your ears full of sand, even after Kanga had said "Gently, Tigger Dear," and had helped you up again."

A.A. Milne

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Room of My Own, Summer Style

I have always been a sucker for playhouses, beginning with some serious coveting of a cardboard house my older sister got for her birthday when we were little. (To be fair, she was very gracious and let me play in it nearly any time I wanted, but I wanted to own it myself. I'm not sure I'd have been as welcoming to her, if I'd been landlord.) From then on, I was the queen of forts and hidey-holes - under my bed, with piles of sofa cushions and sheets in the living room, in the little hollowed out place in the middle of the forsythia bushes - any place I could squeeze into.

I also think one of my secret motivations for becoming a mother was to have another shot at having a really cool playhouse, which is how I came to force my handy husband to build the one above in our backyard. I think the kids did love it as much as I did. In its heyday, it was well furnished with a little kitchen center thingie, a child-sized table and chairs, and comfy cushions - and outfitted with essential features like a basket attached to a pulley for hauling up snacks, a secret exit to the monkey bars, a double dutch door, and slide.

The years unfortunately, have not been entirely kind to it; it's full of cobwebs, half-painted as the result of an overly ambitious project undertaken by my daughter and her buddies right about the time they lost interest in make-believe and helping with chores (age 11, for those of you at that stage). I can no longer entice anyone to play in it, not even by offering to bring them a super nice snack or promising to leave them alone and not eavesdrop even a little bit. (Okay, not surprising since they're now 20, 18 and 16. But still.) Now it stores the lawn furniture over the winter and shelters chipmunks and squirrels and far too many spiders, but I always feel wistful when I catch a glimpse of it out the window.

So yesterday, when I was moping around after yet another rainstorm (with still another threatening) and fishing around for a way to avoid some little projects I needed to work on, I decided to do what I've been threatening to do for years: I fixed it up as a playhouse for me!

Pretty nice, huh! I rehung the curtains, even though they're very faded, brushed ALL the cobwebs away and asked the spiders and buzzy bees very nicely to relocate, and spruced up the furniture (nearly all scrounged from the garbage back when I could sometimes persuade my tweens to hang out in the house), and added my grown up necessities, like a snack, citronella candles, a small rug, a jam jar of flowers, and a LONG extension cord with a surge protector to plug my laptop into. (I've even managed to get intermittent internet reception, something I can't even get reliably on my crappy laptop when I'm sitting right next to my wireless router. Grr.) And then I was a good girl and worked out there the rest of the afternoon. And in the evening had my glass of wine up there in the rocking chair I lugged up (barely visible in the lower right hand corner). I had to read my book while I sipped my shiraz since I couldn't quite persuade my husband to join me. He had "more important" things to do.

By the way, I'm reading Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth (for my book club), and I'm enjoying it very much, even though I find the writing style and some of the characterization painfully clumsy at times. (Why do writers of adult fiction always seem to get away with faux pas that would brand someone attempting to write for kids as a rank amateur?)

There are still some glitches I need to iron out, such as the dog above, who not only insists on joining me (which means I have to carry her up and down the rickety ramp that is the only access I can remotely manage) but also refuses to vacate the best seat for working. And her attention span is annoying short, plus she drank some of my iced tea when I put it on the floor so I wouldn't risk spilling it on my laptop. And the half-painted look is already getting to me so I'm likely to end up hunting down the rollers and leftover house paint before long. And I need a fan. And some Off! because the citronella candles weren't really adequate. But on the whole, so satisfying. Maybe it will be enough to inspire me to finish the novel I started more than a year ago.

If you're craving a playhouse too, check out this book with lots of cool ideas. I'm already trying to plot how to convince my husband to just "update" my playhouse with a few little things, like real wiring, glass windows, maybe some heating for the winter...

Friday, July 04, 2008

My "Studio," Before and After

Things get a little "untidy" around here when I'm finishing up a big project. The two pieces and all the "stuff" are from illustrations for An Apple Pie for Dinner by Susan VanHecke. Actually the "before" picture looks better than it might, as there's about a square foot of table there with nothing on it -- rare that you can see any actual table when I'm working frantically. The really sad thing is I do have a studio space upstairs, but it's always such a disaster before I even reach the halfway point of a book that I have to branch out to my favorite spot, which just is the kitchen table. Much closer to the chocolate supply.
Guess how I got the table so clean? Yep, that's right. I just threw everything in a box and carted it upstairs where it's still sitting, waiting for me to sort it all out. Soon.
See the "trays" holding illustrations? I made those for this book, one per page, from foamcore scraps left over from my last book. Best organizational strategy I've used yet. They were perfect for holding all the little bits in progress, they stacked easily, and were light and easy to tote from place to place. I also put together a binder "Bible" that held a couple copies of my dummy and all my checklists, notes, and reminders (I think it was on the chair, just out of view). I promise to show all this organizational stuff better in another post soon. Oh, and see the little wax paper bag taped to the edge of the table? After battling zillions of little thread scraps around the sewing machine and little scraps of paper and smidges of clay everywhere else, I suddenly remembered that my junior high sewing teacher used to make us tape waxed paper lunch bags to our workstations to corral all the snippets. And I had this box of pretty little waxed bags I bought one day in a fit of nostalgia and "green" urges, but which my kids totally rejected as uncool, plus no good at keeping their sandwiches from going stale. So I taped up little bags everywhere I worked, and voila! No more scraps all over the floor! Well, fewer scraps...
One thing that was constant between both scenes (even though you can't see outside in the upper photo) was RAIN! I cannot believe how much it has rained this year in Pittsburgh. Pretty much every weekend. Plus lots of the week days. And naturally it' s raining here for the 4th, and supposed to keep it up Saturday and Sunday too. Sigh. I miss the sunshine we had on vacation.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I'm Ba-a-a-ack! With Mimi!

Here's Mimi! She made her official debut last Wednesday, and I'm as excited as a new mommy. Well, probably even more excited since she's very well behaved and doesn't keep me up all night like my human children did or make a colossal mess of the house. (Though now that I think about it, she did make me lose a lot of sleep last summer when I was slaving over the illustrations. And the mess! It was truly epic. Just ask my family - or anyone foolish enough to stop by my house during those last weeks.)

Like any new mom, I'm having a lovely time wallowing in compliments about how cute my little one is. And checking her amazon ranking obsessively - but I figure that's the author equivalent of checking every five minutes to make sure your newborn is still breathing. My favorite review so far is this very sweet one by five year old Kaya Wheatley on cnn.com, who likes the book because it's weird and happy. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, she also said it had "bad stuff" because Mimi wants her pet bug Frank to get some kisses and you shouldn't kiss bugs because they've been in dirt. And I also got a nice review from someone at Kirkus, who apparently didn't notice about the dirt, but who did say stuff like this that makes me blush and squirm in a happy, embarrassed way: "A satisfying plot, whimsical illustrations and a beguiling main character add up to a delightful treat that even younger preschoolers will enjoy. Baicker-McKee is an author-illustrator to watch.” And there were other nothing-but-nice reviews like this and this and this, (geez, I hope these links work -- scroll down if you don't see Mimi at first and you're actually reading them...) and Parenting Magazine has a nice write-up in the July issue and is giving away 100 free copies (you can register here).

I don't really know any great way to sign copies that people buy (or win). I'm going to see if I can find an independent bookseller that will stock some for me to sign on an as-bought basis and then ship them (man, do I miss the children's bookstore that used to be just up the street from here). But meanwhile, if anyone's interested I'll be happy to personalize a bookplate and mail that to you.

Oh, and I had a request from a blog reader for a Mimi doll. I wish I had some to send you! But the Mimi in the book isn't really quite a doll-- I made each one individually (yes, there were an awful lot of them. The number of limbs was quite staggering) in an insanely time consuming process that involves wrapping fabric around illustration board and pipecleaners, and stuffing it and sewing little clothes and making features from polymer clay, beads and felt, and so on. I am thinking about making a handful of stuffed animal Mimis, if I can figure out how, for gifts (stop reading this Melanie. And Deb.) If I get good at it, I'll make an extra and have a contest for it -- but at this point it's the best Ican do!

Well, enough avoiding the apologies. Sorry I've been away from blogging for so long. I've been struggling to finish a book (yes, that SAME book about the apple pie and Granny) and it's finally nearly done! And dealing with the many obligations of a son graduating from high school, and um, a vacation last week (ah! It was paradise.) But now I'm back. Really and truly. No more excuses. My new theme this year is "Balance." Last year it was "Risk." (I picked that theme after the fact when I realized I kept putting myself in situations where I was over my head...) At any rate, my plan is to set the timer several times a week and just put something down. No more mammoth essays like, well, this one. Short and sweet -- and pictures. Now just pray at least some of my techno stuff keeps working so I can do it.

I leave you with this lovely picture of my messy, messy studio, aka the kitchen table. (I cleaned it up today! There's a tablecloth! And flowers! And already little piles of clutter!) Oops. I'll have to add the photo later. Just remembered it's on my husband's laptop and I forgot to email it here...