Friday, April 18, 2014

Like A Virgin "Getting to Know You" Blog Hop

As part of the Like a Virgin Writing Contest I'm entered in, I'm participating in the Getting to Know You blog hop. Here are the questions, and my (hopefully not too boring) answers.

1. How do you remember your first kiss?
Let's ignore the fact that my first actual kiss didn't happen until college and focus on a much more charming story. Technically, my first kiss was in fourth grade, when I had my brother lead my crush (a freckle-faced, red-headed boy named Tim) under the mistletoe with his eyes closed. Tim pretended to be horrified, but he was my boyfriend for the next two years, so I must have done something right. Also, I think I deserve some kind of award for having the longest elementary school relationship ever.

2. What was your first favorite love song?
I can't really think of the answer to this one, although I was definitely partial to "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid

3. What's the first thing you do when you begin writing for the day?
Aside from having something to drink on hand (generally water - exciting, I know), I don't have a real writing ritual. I like to re-read what I wrote the previous day and go from there.

4. Who's the first writer who truly inspired you to become a writer?
There are many writers who have inspired me over the years, but the real credit belongs to my best friend from childhood, Erin. She wrote a book when we were in sixth grade, and she read constantly. Now Erin is an agented writer and one of the smartest and most well-read people I know. If she hadn’t been my best friend growing up, I’m not sure books and writing would have become such a big part of my life.

5. Did the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?
Revision of my first book? Ha! I didn't even know what revision was back then. But the final revision of my first REAL book does have the original first chapter.


6. For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot or setting?
Plot is almost always first for me, followed closely by characters and setting. They all kind of go hand in hand, don't they?

7. What's the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone's tongue when they think of your writing?




I don’t care if a reader thinks I’m the funniest, or the smartest, or the best, as long as they get sucked into my stories enough to want to keep reading! That’s certainly what I look for in a book – one that grabs my attention and refuses to let me put it down.

I'm having trouble getting the linky list to show up here (which I'm sure is entirely my fault) but here's the link:
http://www.linkytools.com/wordpress_list.aspx?id=229928&type=basic







4. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mommy Mondays: No Filter

I've been considering writing this post for a while, but after the hell of potty training, I'm slightly less likely to share every embarrassing parenting moment on this blog.

But only slightly, so here goes.

Recently, Jack has been asking questions. The tough ones. It probably started right around his fourth birthday and it doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon. In fact, one of the more difficult topics came up today, at Target. Here's how the convo went:

Jack: "Where are Great Grandma and Great Grandpa?" (side note: This is not the first time he has asked me this since my grandparents died last year. It's just the first time that my evasion technique failed miserably.)

Me: "Uh, they're gone, sweetie."
Jack: "Where did they go."
Me: "Far, far away?"
Jack: "So we need to get on an airplane and go see them?"
Me: "Weeeeell... We'll talk about this in the car."
Jack: "I don't want to talk about it in the car."
Me (glancing sheepishly at the woman ahead of us in line): "They died, sweetie."
Jack: "Why?"
Me: "They were just really old."
Jack: "I'm dead. I'm really old. My legs don't work. Can I have my new toothbrush now?"

If I was a religious person and believed in heaven, I guess this whole topic would be much easier to deal with. I suppose I could tell him about heaven anyway (after all, I know for a fact Santa isn't real and I happily go along with that), but to me this seems like a much weightier thing to lie about. Jack knows what "dead" means to some extent (thanks to all the dead flies in my parents house in Montana), but I haven't had to explain the finality of death yet, or why things die. I'm dreading that conversation. Maybe it's time to buy a gold fish...

Then there are the other awkward topics that come up fairly regularly (and generally at the least opportune moments). I made the mistake of telling Jack that the baby is growing in my womb and for weeks afterward it seemed like it was all he could talk about. Every time he spoke to a woman he felt compelled to tell them about my womb and ask about theirs. That was special. I have been avoiding the topic of breastfeeding like the coward I am because I'm afraid he'll start asking women inappropriate questions about their boobs. I know it's coming, so I may as well put it off for as long as possible, right?

There are also questions about what fat means, or ugly, or (worst of all) why it's rude to talk about people's skin color in front of them. It was super fun when he asked me why our concierge was brown a few weeks ago, in front of the concierge. I know this is typical of a kid his age, especially one who has spent the last year and a half in two of the least racially diverse places on earth, but that doesn't make it any less awkward.

For now I'll probably continue to avoid difficult topics when I can and try to confront them honestly when I can't. So what if my kid thinks his baby brother is going to pop out of my belly button or that he crawled up into my womb? It's bad enough that total strangers have to be made aware of my uterus. I'd like to keep other parts of my anatomy out of it, thank you very much.

For the most part, I love that my kid has no verbal filter. Every question stems from a genuine desire to understand and learn about the world around him. And I'll be honest, it makes for some pretty hilarious conversations. I'd just prefer they take place in the privacy of my own home, not the stall of a public restroom.

What about you? How do you handle uncomfortable questions from your preschooler?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Minted

Okay, so I'm probably the last person on earth to know about Minted, but can I just say: adorable! So many cute prints for kids, and really great prices even with a frame! I love that so many of them are customizable too. I've got my eye on several, but I've decided I need to wait until I actually have a house before I acquire anything else. There are too many I love to share them all, but here are some of my favorites.

These are the girly colors, but dammit, I'm sick of posting boy stuff!

The obligatory fox. They have a lot of good fox ones!

I love the retro vibe of this one, and that you can choose your initial.

Perfect for the baby's room, and I like that it's not TOO babyish.

I LURVE the tree ring idea. I'm going to try to do this as embroidery though.


They also do signs. Since I'm considering an outdoor/camping theme for Jack, I may have to get this.

I'm also pretty obsessed with their birth announcements. They have some of the best designs I've seen, and the prices are reasonable.



Have any of you purchased from Mint before? Any thoughts? I see myself wasting a lot of time on this site...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: The End of an Era

I am sad to say a truly wonderful era is coming to an end, and I'm not ready. Yesterday, Laini Taylor's third book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy came out. I'm sure Dreams of Gods and Monsters will be just as phenomenal as the first two, and that's why I haven't bought it yet. I don't want this series to end. They are my favorite books of the last few years and I highly recommend them to anyone who loves YA, urban fantasy, and damn good writing.


Congratulations to Laini for finishing such an epic trilogy! I can't wait to read it. Or maybe I can, just a little longer...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Tell Me Your Mommy Must-Haves

Four years ago when I had Jack, there were a few key products that made my life as a new mom easier. For example, the BOB stroller made it possible for me to start running a few months after Jack was born and train for a marathon. I know there are other jogging strollers out there, but I really feel like the BOB is the best. It's also amazing for traveling and handled Yekaterinburg's post-apocalyptic sideways like a champ.

Other items I loved: my My Breast Friend nursing pillow - a terribly named product that really did make nursing easier in the early days; my Petunia Pickle Bottom Boxy Backpack - pricey, yes, but that sucker held up beautifully for over two years of daily use; Sophie the giraffe - she lives up to the hype. Kids love that overpriced piece of rubber like nothing else; the Angel Care monitor - it lets you know if your baby stops breathing. Worth its weight in gold as far as peace-of-mind is concerned; Kirkland baby wipes from Costco - just the right amount of softness and strength, at a great price. And let's face it, wipes are pretty much vital to motherhood.

There were other products that came highly recommended that simply didn't work for me: the Moby wrap - I felt like I was drowning in fabric. One size does NOT fit all; the Bjorn carrier - apparently there are better models now, but that thing killed my back; the bouncy seat - true, it was something to stick the baby in when I needed to shower, but it just seemed like it should be able to bounce without my help; Johnsons Nursing Pads - does anyone really need a nipple bump on the outside of a nursing pad?

This time, I'm excited to try out some new products. I ordered the Beco carrier from the Honest Company (thirty dollars cheaper than normal) and I hope I love it. I'm definitely going to invest in a swing for this baby - I didn't have one with Jack and every time I went to a friend's house and put him in one, I kicked myself for it! I've got my six-pack of Bamboobies ready and waiting, and while the heart shape doesn't really seem all that practical, 500 Amazon reviewers can't be wrong!

So my question for you is, what must-have mommy products do you recommend? I know some great new products must have come out in the past four years. Or maybe there's a classic out there I missed somehow. I'm all ears (and running out of time until this baby shows up!).

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Almost Famous

Before we get into today's story, a little background info: As many of you know, my sister Sarah works at National Geographic. Sarah's friend, Sarah A., also works at Nat Geo and is currently involved with a project about Jane Goodall. Sarah A. asked me and some other parents she knows to send in videos of our kids talking about Jane Goodall. Jack, being four, had no idea who Jane Goodall was, but I don't like to disappoint, and besides, I figured it couldn't be that hard to feed Jack a couple of lines about chimpanzees and the illustrious Jane.

As usual, I was wrong.

First we watched a video about Jane for context. Jack enjoyed the chimpanzees. Then we moved onto the lines: "I really like chimpanzees. I want to be like Jane Goodall when I grow up." This took slightly longer to master than I anticipated.

video

Eventually, though, we got a decent take, which I sent to the Sarahs. Sarah A. said it was great, but my Sarah told me it would never work.  I hadn't filmed it horizontally, and my camera skills sucked. I assured her it was fine with Sarah A., and that was what mattered. But then Sarah A. sent me an email: Could I please film it horizontally? I was more annoyed that my sister was right than that I had to re-film it. Plus, by the time I got the email it was bath time. Oh well. Nothing wrong with a kid talking about Jane Goodall in the bath tub, right? So I shot a couple more takes.

video

But when I sent that to my Sarah, she told me the bath tub thing wasn't going to cut it. Argh! So I got Jack dressed in his monkey pjs and chose a neutral background with bright lighting, as instructed. Then something weird happened.

video

Whoops! Didn't even know there was a slo mo option on my iPhone. After I figured THAT out, I got what I thought was a pretty good result.

video

Done and done! I sent the final product to my sister. She immediately wrote back to tell me it was no good.

Now just for a minute, imagine this scenario: it's 7:30, which is bed time. We've shot at least a dozen takes of the same scene, and Jack is getting pretty fed up. So, as it turns out, am I. I have bribed him with the last of the Cadbury mini eggs, and I'm feeling pretty awesome about giving my kid a bunch of candy right before bed. But, Sarah assures me, all I need to do is set up the shot EXACTLY like she tells me, and it will be fine.

Here are my parameters: hold my phone horizontal, use some kind of background for depth (like a couch), prop my arms on something so the image is steady, use the brightest light I can find (mind you we have one lamp next to our couch and no overhead lights in our temporary lodging), Jack should be looking at someone sitting next to me so his eyes don't wander but he's not staring right at the camera, he should be about a third of the way into the shot, I should talk to him before and after we get the lines to leave room for editing, I need to be at the same level as Jack, and it would be really fabulous if I had a book about chimps I could use in the scene. Because you know, I have tons of those lying around.

It is admittedly a rocky start, but it ends on what I think is a pretty good note.

video


I send the video in and declare myself well and done. Sarah, sensing my frustration, agrees that it will probably do, and I finally get to put the poor little reality television star to bed.

And then I see Sarah A. on Saturday. "How was it?" I ask, since I hadn't heard back about the final video.

Sarah A. looks at me sympathetically. "He didn't make the cut."

What the what?! How can this be? I followed all the rules (which by the way weren't actually provided). My child was adorable. I spent close to an hour on this utter nonsense! I suddenly understand why all those stage moms get so nuts when their kids don't win the beauty pageant. What could possibly be cuter than MY KID?!?!

I'll tell you what. The producer's kid.

And so began - and ended - Jack's acting career. Some of us just aren't made for this kind of cut-throat competition. It's a chimp-eat-chimp world out there. And no one understands that better than Jane.






Thursday, March 27, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Green and Black's Organic Hot Chocolate

I'm keeping it short and sweet today. This hot chocolate mix from Green and Black's (they also make my favorite 85% dark chocolate bar) is delicious. It's just the right amount of sweet, and it dissolved instantly into the milk I heated on the stove. None of the insane whisking I have to do with cocoa powder. I found it at Cost Plus World Market but it's also available on Amazon. If winter is going to insist on sticking around FOREVER, I'm going to keep on drinking hot chocolate!




Monday, March 24, 2014

Mommy Mondays: One Month Left (and Why I'm Afraid of an Ugly Baby)

Today I'm one month away from my due date. You'd think, what with this not being my first rodeo and all, I'd be pretty comfortable with the idea of having a second kid. After all, I sort of know what to expect in terms of having the baby, and I have a pretty good idea of what sleep deprivation is all about. I know that beyond diapers, a crib, clothes, and a car seat, I don't really need all that baby gear that's still tucked away in storage, and I know that I can pretty much trust my instincts as a mom.

All that being said, I'm still terrified.

And one of the things I'm legitimately scared of is having an ugly baby. There, I said it. And I know what you're thinking: But Mara, you are such a stunningly attractive human being. How could you possibly think you'll produce an ugly child? (Just kidding.) A valid argument to this fear-of-ugly-offspring thing is that we did manage to produce one pretty cute kid already, so I have no reason to think #2 would be any less adorable. But what if all the cuteness got used up on #1? What if Jack was just a fluke? What if the nightmare I had last week comes true (I dreamt I gave birth to a kid with a full head of hair and a full set of teeth to match)?

See, last time I asked for a baby and I got a pony! You just never know...

In all seriousness, I think the ugly-baby fear is a more deeply rooted fear that I won't bond with this baby or love him as much as I love the one I already have. It's just impossible to imagine. Everyone tells me those fears will vanish the moment I see this baby, and I am inclined to believe them.

Just as long as he doesn't have a full set of teeth.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Moon and Stars for Baby

The truth is, folks, that what I'd REALLY love today is a nap, but between my 4-year-old playing LEGO on top of me and the baby giving me terrible rib pain, sleep is not really part of my repertoire at the mo. So I figure I might as well share my latest obsession: celestial everything.

I don't know where this came from. I guess it started with the Lullaby crib bedding from Land of Nod. I finally bit the bullet and ordered the baby's quilt, which helped inspire the mobile I made a couple of months ago.



Most of you know I'm not into really "boyish" stuff, but I do love gray, so I ordered a much cheaper version of the crib seen above which I'm hoping will go well with the quilt and the few other decorations I've managed to collect. Dwell Studio also has a line of "galaxy" themed bedding that I love (and it's also in gray!). How cute is this nursery?




I am obsessed with that rug (and that chair). This pillow is adorable but too expensive for me right now, so I'm going to make a similar version out of felt.




I also love the idea of a print that features the E. E. Cummings quote, "You are my sun, my moon, and all my stars," or something similar, like this adorable print from UhOhPasghettio on Etsy:




Or, something that says, "I love you to the moon and back," a la this decal from Land of Nod:




And the big ticket item I'm hoping for once the baby is born (hint, hint hubby) is this necklace from Catbird NYC. I'd like a silver moon with a "J" for Jack and a gold star with the baby's initial. It's pricey, but I haven't found anything similar anywhere else, and it's the kind of thing I'd wear every day.




Of course I don't want to go overboard on any one thing in the nursery, so it's not all stars all the time. I've got a few fox items, like this Maileg fox I found in a store in Miami for half-price:




And the fox rattle I made:



And other than the fabrics I talked about last week, which I plan on framing in white IKEA frames, that's about it. I've found some nursery rockers I love but they keep selling out, and until we're in our house, I can't get much else. But I promise to post photos when it's all finished!

For now, I should probably focus on other things, like actually having the baby...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Where in the World?

In this week's post on Most Eligible Family, I try to explain geography to a 4-year-old. And fail. Happy Friday everyone!