Friday, September 30, 2011

The Day the Music Died

Yesterday my friend Courtney and I met at the mall for a stroll.  I needed to get my brand new iPhone fixed (the vibrate button had stopped working after two weeks) and the guy at the Genius Bar, who clearly thought I was no genius, said, "I think I might know what the problem is.  There's a switch under settings..."  Seriously, dude?  You think I didn't check the SETTINGS before I made an appointment?  I just let him look for himself and tried not to smirk when he realized it wasn't the damn settings.  Anyway, after they replaced the motor, Courtney, her daughter Anneliese, Jack and I were on our way to explore the mall.

At 9:45 a.m., almost everything in the mall is closed, so Jack and Anneliese had free reign of the place.  They ran squealing up and down the hallways together.  Jack did his strange little dance and Anneliese chased after Jack, trying to tickle him by waggling her tiny fingers in his face.  When the stores finally opened we shopped for a bit, and then it was time to go home and make lunch so the wee ones could nap.  The mall at Pentagon City is great except for one glaring error - only one floor of the parking garage has a wheelchair (and stroller) accessible entrance.  Clearly no mothers were involved in the making of that structure.  Courtney and I had to travel up to the rarely seen top floor of the mall so we could exit, and there we happened upon an adorable three-child carousel.

What fun, we thought.  How could we not put the kids on the carousel after they had waited so patiently for us to complete our shopping?  Just as we were placing the babies on their mounts, a third mother walked up with a toddler, so she joined in the fun.  Anneliese and Jack were in heaven.  "Look how well they're holding on!" we exclaimed proudly.  I snapped pictures as fast as I could.  Anneliese beamed at Courtney and me while Jack stared in rapture at the colorful lights.  Who knew one dollar could buy so much joy?

It was the best day ever...until it wasn't.
Sixty seconds later, the carousel wound to a stop.

Courtney and I glanced at each other, scarcely hesitating before reaching for our coin purses.  Within moments the carousel started again, and for another sixty seconds, all was right with the world.

And then, once again, the music stopped.

The carousel horse, aka Pure Evil.
The panic slowly crept onto the children's faces.  Jack and Anneliese looked at each other, then at us.  They reached out with their little fingers and frantically pushed the green "start" button.  But Courtney and I had to remain strong.  We had to leave the mall eventually, after all, and we were out of quarters!  What could we do?  Courtney had slightly more success than I did plucking Anneliese from her perch, but both kids were clinging to the carousel as if it was their life raft in a storm-ravaged sea. 
It wasn't long after that the screaming began.  The other mother, whose child had behaved like a rational human being when the ride stopped, quickly hightailed it out of there.  It was clear a scene was coming, and she wanted no part of it.  I plied Jack's fingers off the carousel and tried to shove him into his stroller, but he resisted with all the force available in his remarkably strong body.  By this point, the shrieks had reached a crescendo, and Courtney and I were doubled over in hysterical laughter.  A middle-aged woman walked by just as I was exclaiming, "I have become 'that' mother!"  Her glance suggested she was above it all, but I like to think there was a slight knowing smile there, rather than a sneer of derision.  Besides, I was laughing too hard to care.

Finally we managed to tie the kids down and wheel ourselves out of the mall.  We were both still laughing when we reached the car, and all I could think was how grateful I was to have a friend like Courtney, someone who can laugh at the ridiculousness of it all with me.  Soon enough the carousel was forgotten, and we have some truly priceless photos to show for it all.

Then again, it may be a while before we dare return to the horror that lurks on the top floor of the mall.

*Special thanks to Courtney for the title of this post, and for being such a great friend :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Jane Eyre

Last week, something fabulous happened: "Jane Eyre" came out on DVD.  It had been in my Netflix cue since I saw it at the E Street Cinema earlier this year, and I was thrilled when it arrived in my mailbox.

Before I go into what I love so much about the new version of the film, I should probably tell you a little about my history with the original.

As it is for most kids, watching the Orson Welles 1943 version of "Jane Eyre" was an annual Halloween delight.  Wait, what?  You mean to tell me you DIDN'T watch "Jane Eyre" on Halloween after you came home from trick or treating?  What sort of sad, depraved childhood did you have?  Anyway, when I was a kid, Sarah, our best friend Erin, and I would go trick or treating in Erin's neighborhood, then come back to Erin's house and settle down with our candy, popcorn and Diet Coke for Sarah and me, pretzels and Ginger Ale for Erin, and watch "Jane Eyre."

Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine in the 1943 version of Jane Eyre
I don't know how the tradition got started, but I can remember at least three years where we performed our little ritual: the year I was a spider with a purple hat and some guy asked if I was a Purple People Eater (I was devastated); the year we went as Fifties girls in poodle skirts and cat-eye glasses; and the year Erin went as Cleopatra and Sarah and I went as her "attendants."  For some odd reason, "Jane Eyre" scared the bejesus out of us.  Well, maybe it's not that odd.  First off, it was black and white, which just makes everything scarier.  Then you have Lowood School and the terrible Mr. Brocklehurst (what a great name for a villain!), where Jane's only friend in the world, Helen Burns (played by a young and already beautiful Elizabeth Taylor), dies of typhus in the same bed as Jane.  Yeesh!  Add a creepy mansion, a handsome but cruel master, and a nut-job living in the attic who occasionally goes roaming around in the night, and you've got the makings of a real horror movie.  Am I right?

Peggy Ann Garner and Elizabeth Taylor as Jane Eyre and Helen Burns
At some point in college I read Jane Eyre, but I have to be honest, the novel hasn't stuck with me nearly as much as the film.  I keep meaning to reread it, but first I have to get through the teetering stack of books on my nightstand.

But then, in March, something wonderful happened: Cary Fukunaga decided to direct a remake.  And then something even more wonderful happened: A casting genius chose Michael Fassbender to play Mr. Rochester.

Well helloooooo, Mr. Rochester.
Now, I already knew Michael Fassbender was a good-looking chap from seeing him in "300" and "Inglourious Basterds," but I didn't realize his full potential for hotness until "Jane Eyre."  Mia Wasikowska, who you may remember from Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," was also a brilliant casting move.  She somehow manages to be plain and beautiful at the same time. 

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
Unfortunately, John does not seem to share my enthusiasm for this remake.  Perhaps it's because he never saw the original, or read the book, or just isn't into the whole Gothic romance thing (I can't fathom why not, but there it is), but during what I consider the (dare I say) sexiest scene of the film, John turns to me and says, "I'm just not buying that she's into him."

Excuse me?  Are we not watching the same film?  Who WOULDN'T be into him???

Sigh.  I suppose shouldn't hold my breath for John to pull off a line like, "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you--especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly."

Still, it's not all bad.  Once I buy the DVD, I'll be able to watch Michael -- I mean Jane -- any time I please.

Monday, September 26, 2011

You Need This. Now.

Run, don't walk, to your nearest Trader Joe's and pick up this ridiculously delicious bar of chocolate.  I don't even like dark chocolate and it was amazing.  Salty, sweet, melty goodness, all in a beautiful package, I might add.  The Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar (Caramel with Black Sea Salt) may be my new obsession.

Ahoy, mateys! It's awesome, in a box.
But just in case you're worried that I've abandoned the other love of my life, The Majestic's coconut cake, fear not.  I had some of that on Saturday night.  When it comes to dessert, I get around.

Don't worry, lover - there's room for both of you in my life.  Er, stomach.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

An Extra Hit of Inspiration

"Books are the most potent weapon against the assholes of the world." -- Stephen King

The past couple of weeks have been hard from a writing perspective.  While my beta readers are doing their thing, there's not a whole lot for me to work on.  I get itchy and antsy when I'm not working on a project.  I need that feeling of forward momentum (even if I'm not actually moving forward).  But sometimes the universe sends you inspiration just when you need it most.  This week, it was in the form of Stephen King, receiving the Mason award last night at GMU's Fall for the Book Festival, followed by Sarah Dessen this morning, speaking at the National Book Festival.  Hooray for books!

First of all, Stephen King last night was AMAZING!  I didn't expect him to be nearly as funny as he was, or as inspiring as he was.  Sarah and I had a ridiculous time getting to the festival in Fairfax (thank you, traffic), and we ended up in literally the last row, two seats from the end, but I was just so happy we made it.  I tried to take notes in the dark so I'm not sure how much I'll be able to translate, but there were some funny bits I'll try to recapture...

First, Stephen King addressed that question you know everyone (including me) is wondering:  "What f*&#ed you up?"

King didn't really have an answer, except for the fact that his mom read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to him as a bedtime story when he was eight or nine.  Yeah, that would probably do it.

When asked where he gets his ideas from him (another burning question we all have) he said that he likes to think of the worst thing that could possibly happen and go from there.  The idea for The Stand (about the battle between good and evil after a disease kills almost the entire human population) came about when King had a cold.  He went on to say that sales of the book always go up when a disease breaks out.

See that thing in the red shirt?  That's Stephen King as seen from a very great distance.

King talked about how strange it is for an author to be famous, when authors are generally thought of as the mysterious people behind the curtain.  I think the entire concert hall filled with fans proves that in this day and age, that simply isn't the case.  King told the story of when he was at a baseball game with his son, who said, "You're always being recognized when we go out in public.  Why don't you just put on some sunglasses."  So Stephen King put on his sunglasses.  A few minutes later, an eight-year-old boy turned to his mother and said, "Look Ma, it's Stephen King in sunglasses."

At the end, he read from a new project, about a group of RV people who roam the country, sucking the essence out of people, known as "the Tribe."  The last line he read was so good it gave me chills.  Definitely inspiring.  I was also amazed how King was able to read from the manuscript without ever stumbling over a word.  I thought it was interesting that he doesn't keep a notebook full of ideas, the way Anne Lamott does, for example, because the bad ideas slip away if he doesn't write them down, and the good ones stay with him.  Clearly, he doesn't have any trouble coming up with great ideas.

This morning we headed to the National Book Festival (it's been on my calendar for months, because for the past two years, I have somehow managed to miss it).  I expected it to be more like Book Expo of America for some reason, with tents set up by publishers and free books, but alas, there were none.  The entire festival is mostly authors speaking and signing their books, which is still pretty cool.  After perusing the tents, we headed over to the Teen tent to hear author Sarah Dessen speak.  I've never read any of her novels (contemporary Young Adult) but I think I will now.  Not only did she seem like a genuinely nice person, but she was very funny and charming, and she clearly has many adoring fans.  Most of her time was spent answering questions from members of the audience, in this case, teenage girls.  I loved them all.  As Dessen said, YA authors have the best fans; they come to book signings and squeal with delight (and sometimes cry) at meeting their favorite author.  Surrounding yourself with that kind of enthusiasm has to be amazing.

I am definitely feeling inspired and ready to get to work editing my new book, come what may.  After all, as Stephen King says, if you think of the worst thing that could possibly happen, whatever happens will be better than that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Friendship

This Sunday, some of our very best friends in the world are moving to Italy for a year.  I'm trying not to dwell on it too much.  It's only a year, after all, and I really should be used to people coming and going at this point in my life.

But I'm not.

Making friends as an adult is no easy feat.  As children, we go to class every day with thirty-something kids our own age who share similar interests: coloring, for example, or unicorns.  Even in junior high and high school, when we have started to discriminate people based on their taste in clothing, or their unpleasant odor, we generally share commonalities with the people around us.  In college, we all start over once again, this time living in the same building as people our age, with no grown-ups around to tell us we can't stay up all night talking about the latest episode of Dawson's Creek.  Life up until adulthood is full of friend-making potential.

And then we grow up.  We enter the work force, where we may or may not have a single thing in common with the person in the next cubicle, let alone time enough to get to know each other on a personal level.  We have families, husbands and children who tell us we can't stay up all night talking about the latest episode of America's Next Top Model (the selfish bastards; who do they think they are?!).  Throw the whole military thing into the mix, where you're destined to move every two or three years for the next ten to twenty, and it becomes almost inconceivable that we can ever make friends at all.

But somehow we do.  We manage to find that one rare gem of a person willing to get Greek food and Baskin Robbins every single Tuesday while your husbands are deployed (and later, when yours is and hers isn't).  Or the couple who has moved as many times as you have over the past ten years and you haven't seen in at least three, who wants to Skype with you even though it's six a.m. in Okinawa. 

Or the couple who is willing to store a gallon of your breast milk in their freezer during a power outage without ever having met you.

Thus begins the story of my introduction to Mike and Alexis.

John and Alexis met at work.  Not only did John take over Alexis's job, but they were the only Marines working in their office.  They had both deployed with Hornet squadrons (John as a pilot, of course, and Alexis as an intel officer).  They both shared a love of endurance sports.

Let me rephrase that: John and Alexis's then-fiance, Mike, shared a love of endurance sports.  And so the epic bromance between Mike and John was formed.

But it wasn't until a fateful storm led to a power outage that I got to know Mike and Alexis.  As any nursing mother will tell you, a freezer full of frozen breast milk is like a freezer full of gold.  Those little six-ounce bags were freedom in liquid form, and I would be damned if I was going to see them go to waste.  I begged John to find someone who would store the milk for us, and salvation appeared in the form of Mike and Alexis (actually, it was in the form of a freezer, but Mike and Alexis were the lucky owners of that freezer).

When we arrived at Mike and Alexis's house to pass off the goods, I was pretty much humiliated.  Mike and Alexis don't have kids, and I think most men will agree that until you have experienced the whole breastfeeding thing firsthand, it's slightly intimidating (if not downright off-putting).  But Mike bravely held open the freezer door for me, even rearranging some frozen waffles to make room.  We ended up staying with Mike and Alexis for the next two nights (this was mid-summer, and without air conditioning our house was completely unbearable), and during those evenings, after we'd put Jack to bed, we sat around for hours getting to know each other.  It's hard to believe it was only a little over a year ago.  I feel like we've known Mike and Alexis for years.

Maybe it's because in the past year, we've shared some truly memorable experiences.  Not long after we met, I found out that Alexis didn't have a bachelorette party planned.  So, with Sarah's help, I threw together a surprise Cocktail Dresses and Cowboy Boots party for Alexis.  There's nothing quite like booze and chocolate for sealing a lifelong bond between girlfriends.

We attended the Marine Corps Birthday Ball together, where we spent most of the evening snarking about the food and our lousy seats.

The boys raced together on several occasions, Western States in particular.  I don't think John (or I) could have done it without them.

We spent a now-infamous week together in Deep Creek.

But I think even more important than all of our adventures is the fact that we don't have to be doing anything exciting to have a great time together.  Even though Mike and Alexis don't have kids yet, they don't mind hanging out with ours (and that's saying something), or coming over for dinner on a weeknight and speaking in hushed tones after Jack goes to bed.  Sometimes we go to their house for an impromptu Sunday brunch, and they always make sure to have something special for Jack (usually enough extra chocolate chip scones and raspberries to feed an army).

Mike and Alexis's bond with Jack is particularly special to me.  They truly are like an aunt and uncle to Jack, and it's so evident in their interactions.  I don't know what I'm going to say to Jack when he asks for Mike next week (which is bound to happen, since he talks about him every freaking day).  And knowing I have a friend like Alexis here, who has actually volunteered to watch Jack overnight (I haven't been cruel enough to take advantage of her kindness...yet...), is such a comfort.  I honestly don't know what we're going to do without them.

So, my dear, dear friends, I just want you to know how missed you will be by all of the Rutherfords.  Thank you for reminding me that all of this moving around has been worth it, because it has led us to amazing people like you.  Thank you for always being there for us when we needed you (middle of the night construction, airport pickups and dropoffs, etc. ), for being incredibly generous in every way, for making us laugh and eating copious amounts of frozen custard with us.  We know you guys are going to have a wonderful year, and we can't wait to come and visit you soon!  Eat lots of cheese and pasta for us, and remember that there is a very small, very fat little pirate waiting at the door for you (just in case you decide to fall in love with some chubby Italian baby in the meantime).

And finally, for the love of Jack, get a Facebook account!  Otherwise you're going to miss out on Halloween photos of Jack in his bear suit, and I KNOW you don't want to miss out on that.

We love you guys!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sarah and Mara for President!

Okay, so not president, exactly, but pretty close.  As you all know by now, Sarah and I are participating in the Lucky Lifestyle Contributor Contest.  I'm sure this seems like one of those "My Baby is the Cutest Baby in World History" contests, but it's a writing competition, one we actually have a chance at winning (there are 140-something current contestants, and we don't know how many will make it to the next round, but we're assuming at least thirty or forty).  If we do make it to the next round, we'll need as many votes as possible to put us in the top 10 or 20, in order to move on to the final round (at which point the judges will FINALLY weigh in). 

Below are our first two entries for the competition, just so you can get a feel of the work we've been doing.  Sarah has worked particularly hard on this and is going slightly insane trying to get votes for us.  I'm using a more passive aggressive approach, but hopefully you'll vote nonetheless.  It really isn't that difficult - just a few minutes of your valuable time. 

Sarah and I genuinely love Lucky Magazine.  It's the only magazine I pay to subscribe too, because it's the only magazine that features items I can actually afford.   Writing for a magazine like Lucky would be huge for my writing career, and it would allow Sarah to live in her fashion fantasy world for a few glorious months.

Sarah's goal is 75 votes by the end of the day - we have 68 right now!  Here's the link to vote:

Thanks to everyone who has helped out so far - we really appreciate it!

Round One Challenge: My Career, My Way

Style for Two
Style for Two
We're identical twins with very different lives, and very different styles.  But despite the fact that Mara is a writer and stay-at-home mom, and Sarah is an associate producer at a major documentary production company, neither of which lends itself to cutting-edge fashion, we both love clothing and try to maintain our own personal style every day.  As kids, we almost always wore matching outfits in different colors, but today our tastes reflect our unique lifestyles and personalities (although Mara still likes blue and Sarah still likes pink - go figure).
Mara: For me, working from home and taking care of my son requires that I be comfortable, first and foremost.  I also don't have a lot of time to get dressed in the morning with a toddler squawking in my ear, so one of the first things I did when I became a new mom was adopt a "uniform."  I figure if it's good enough for Vera Wang, it's good enough for me!  Skinny jeans and extra-soft T-shirts (I have my eye on several of the new designs from Style Mint) are a staple in my wardrobe.  In the winter I wear a lot of cozy vintage sweaters and accesorize with colorful scarves I've collected over the years.
Sarah:  My background is in wildlife biology, and I currently work as a natural history filmmaker  - educating people about animals and the environment is my big passion, and I try to live as eco-consciously as possible even though I'm based in a big city.  I don't own a car and walk to work every day, so practical footwear is key.  I think my TOMS make a far more stylish choice than gym shoes; they're super comfortable, and socially responsible - you can't beat that!  Living in Washington, D.C., is expensive, and TV production doesn't pay all that well, so I don't have a ton of expendable income to dedicate to my wardrobe.  To keep things updated, I layer like it's nobody's business.  I call Mara every day on my walk to work, and often describe what I'm wearing; one day I think I literally had four pieces just on my top half!  Anthropologie carries surprisingly inexpensive belts, which I love to put over a vest (over a blouse, over a get the idea).  And for unexpected afternoon thunderstorms, my J. Crew wellies are a lifesaver.
Mara: Maintaining personal style as a stay-at-home mom can be a challenge.  For the first year of my son's life I was breastfeeding, so I wore a lot of henleys in the winter and button-down blouses in the spring and summer.  I also had to stop wearing many of my accessories because my son found them so intriguing (i.e., he tried to eat them).  I have to wash my clothing frequently - I would estimate I end up wearing an entire meal's worth of food by the end of the day - so nothing I wear on a daily basis can be too precious.  Fortunately, there are so many great affordable options these days, from Target to H&M, that I can indulge in the latest trends without breaking the bank.  When I get to go out with Sarah and my girlfriends, or on a rare date night with my husband, I take the opportunity to break out a dress (I bought several from ModCloth and French Connection this year) and a pair of heels.  My personal style signifiers are my black and gold Ray Bans and the large stainless steel watch my husband gave me for our first wedding anniversary.  And my Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag, of course.
Sarah: My company's dress code is virtually non-existent - it's common to see editors in shorts and flip-flops - so the fashion bar is set pretty low.  But after years of working outdoors with animals and wearing jeans and T-shirts on a daily basis, I do kind of relish the opportunity to dress up for work, even if I'm the only one paying attention.  I've got a stash of high-heels neatly organized on a shoe rack under my desk (I've been teased more than a few times for that, I assure you), but it's also great to know that I can wear my skinny jeans and Frye motorcycle boots all day if I want to and no one will bat an eyelash.  With all the pavement pounding I do, I quickly learned to invest in quality footwear and resole as needed.  I also love tribal prints, and Urban Outfitters is a great source for items like ikat shorts or Pendleton bags.
Mara: I happen to be friends with quite a few stylish moms, which is great.  It gives me ideas on how to keep my look fresh without sacrificing comfort.  One of my friends is always on the go, so she wears comfortable workout clothes that also happen to be stylish (think Stella McCartney for Adidas).  Another friend wears tunics and leggings with big, bold necklaces from Anthropologie and
Sarah: I work with a lot of men (all of whom vaguely resemble lumber jacks these days...), but amidst the sea of beards and flannel, there are a few very stylish women at my office.  One friend goes for an "ethnic chic" look, with large earrings and scarves from both her travels and one of her favorite stores, H&M.  Another is more polished, preferring structured Ann Taylor dresses (that she gets for a steal on eBay), heels, and bold accessories.
Mara: I admit it - sometimes I get lazy.  While I almost always make sure I'm "dressed" when I go out, occasionally I'll dash out to run an errand in my workout clothes (I have a treadmill in the basement, so I can stay fit while my son naps; it also doubles as my office, where I do most of my writing).  I learned my lesson last month, however, when I realized about half-way down the street that one of the leg flaps on my running shorts was tucked into the attached underwear.  I'd just given a gardener a lovely peek of cheek.  Oops!
Sarah: I'm finally getting to travel more for work as a field producer, which is awesome.  But maintaining personal style in some of the most remote places on Earth has its own challenges.  Just two weeks ago I was on a shoot in the Arctic, and my producer decided she wanted me on camera with the gorgeous biologist we were interviewing for one of the scenes.  I was already looking less than fashionable in a giant orange puffer coat, black ski pants, and bright blue hiking boots (circa 2001), when my boots started to literally fall apart at the seams.  I hobbled off camera crying, "Wardrobe malfunction!"  A bit of duct tape and I was back "on set," feeling seriously un-camera worthy.

Round Two: My Go-To Beauty

Style for Two: My Go-To Beauty
Day to Night: One Item, Two Ways
When it comes to fashion, being an identical twin has its perks.  We wear the same size, so we basically have double the wardrobe at our fingertips. Sometimes we'll love a piece so much that we both buy it; other times, one of us buys the item under the proviso the other gets to borrow it.  But despite the fact that we often gravitate towards the same pieces, we generally end up styling that one item in very different ways.
Mara: I fell in love with the ikat/peacock feather print on this blouse, and the price was right at $29.  As a stay-at-home mom and writer, I love that I can style this blouse as casually or dressy as I want.  For daytime, I'd pair it with skinny gray jeans from the GAP and a black tank.  The necklace is one of Sarah's many vintage pieces, and this one happens to be sturdy enough to withstand my toddler's remarkably strong grip.  The shoes are also Sarah's, a pair she had custom-made in Cambodia that I have long coveted.  The platform wedge makes them comfy enough for every day.
Summer in D.C. is brutally hot and humid, and Sarah and I have naturally wavy hair, so it's a struggle to keep it straight (my preferred look).  I wear a ponytail when I don't have time to style it (I buy elastic hair ties from Etsy - they come in fun colors and don't crease your hair), and the John Frieda 3-Day Straight really does seem to keep my hair from getting frizzy on the second day.  When my son was born, I made a vow to never leave the house without at least putting on concealer, mascara, and lip gloss.  I think you can pretty much get away with anything if you have those three items. I buy most of my makeup at the drugstore (Maybelline Great Lash is still my favorite, and the e.l.f. Cosmetics sold at Target are great), but for concealer, foundation, and blush, I prefer Origins or Clinique.
Sarah: As soon as I saw Mara's new blouse, I was envious.  Thank goodness Mara is pretty generous when it comes to sharing.  Every item I'm wearing was $30 or less; the skirt is from Forever 21, the belt is from Anthropologie, and the shoes are vintage.  The bracelet is from Cambodia (the same trip where I had my custom shoes made!).
I'm usually rushing around in the morning before work, so I often put my hair in a ponytail and just blow-dry my bangs.  I'm also super low-maintenance in the makeup department - for this look, just some Wet N' Wild red lipstick, cover-up, Maybelline Great Lash mascara, and some eyeliner on the top lid only.   

Mara: The second item is a dress I bought on earlier this year.  I loved the geometric print, the pocket details, and the fact that it could be dressed up or down.  The waist calls for a belt, in this case red leather.  The belt, shoes, necklace (all less than $5 each), and clutch are all Sarah's, and all vintage.  Sarah and I ride horses, hence the Bakelite horsehead brooch.
At night, I generally just try to smooth out any frizzies and add a little lift with volume spray.  If I have time I'll curl my hair, but my transition time is usually the thirty minutes between putting my son to bed and the babysitter's arrival.  I'll add a little more eye makeup for the evening (I use dark brown eyeshadow as liner unless I'm going for a really dramatic eye) and lipstick, like this fun pinky-red I borrowed from Sarah.

Sarah: Another piece from Mara's wardrobe that I've got my eye on - this cute Modcloth dress.  For evening, I usually amp up the eyeliner for a smoky look and keep the lips simple.  My belt and blazer are both from Urban Outfitters, and the ankle boots are from MaxStudio (a bit of a splurge for me, but they are super comfy).  The silver clutch was handmade by a friend.
Unlike Mara, I lack the patience to flatiron my hair 99% of the time, so I scrunch my towel-dried hair with some Redken Nature's Rescue Radiant Sea Spray (this stuff is awesome), followed by a dab of MoroccanOil curl cream.

Follow this link to see our photos:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Putting it Out There

As you know, last week was Jack's first week of school.  This week, I sent another one of my babies out into the world: my rough draft of my most recent manuscript.

Writing this novel was pure joy - I finished it in six weeks, not because I was rushing, but because I actually wanted to write for two to three hours a day (even on weekends).  I'm proud of this one, which is what makes it so scary to send it to my "beta readers."  If they hate it, I'm not sure what I'll do.  Of course, I've upped my odds of success by choosing my twin sister and one of my best friends as readers - they know how I write, and they know just how critical they can be without sending me into a shame spiral which eventually leads me to cutting off my own ear, or leaves me rocking on my heels in a corner, peeling wallpaper off the walls and licking the glue.

I have no idea where all that came from.

Anyhoo, after I get their feedback and incorporate what I agree with (or what they both agree on, which means I'm generally overruled), I'll send the novel to a few more friends and get their feedback, incorporate that, and then probably begin the long and soul-crushing querying process.  I'm aiming for November but it will depend entirely on the feedback I get.  With Jack in preschool, I'll have more time to spend with this baby, so hopefully the edits will be relatively quick. 

But what all this means, really, is that the honeymoon is over.  I can no longer live in my little dream bubble where my novel is wonderful and bound to impress all who see it.  What this means, in short, is that the hard work is only about to begin.  Now is the time to steel myself for the inevitable criticism, for the moment when some cruel person (most likely Sarah) tells me that my baby, while not exactly ugly, isn't nearly as cute as I thought it was.

It's a good thing my REAL baby is freaking adorable!

Jack's new pet snail, courtesy of Charles - thanks Charles!  Also, note Jack's horrible nap hair.

Jack's new hat, purchased to cover said horrible nap hair

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lucky Lifestyle Contributor Contest

Hello all!  Please help Sarah and me win a chance to write for Lucky Magazine by voting for us in their Lucky Lifestyle Contributor Contest.  Making it to the next round depends entirely on your votes!  You can only vote once per email account.
Thanks everyone!  Click on the link below to go to our page:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Rudyard Kipling

First off, I need to say a giant HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my mommy.  I am apparently going for "Worst (insert title here)" in all categories this week, and since I already claimed my prize for Worst Mom, I thought I'd add Worst Daughter to the list.  My mom's birthday was yesterday, and I somehow totally forgot.  I'd like to blame the fact that my brain still thinks it's August, but really there's no excuse.  So happy birthday, Mom. I love you so much!

And John, keep an eye out.  The week isn't over yet and I still have a Worst Wife crown to claim.

It's been a while since I've done one of my Weekly Inspirations, so I thought I'd leave you all with one for the weekend.  Technically, this would have been better for last week, since I read The Jungle Book on my way home from Santa Barbara, but better late than never, no?

One of the things I love about my Kindle is the free classics.  I am still finding it difficult to shell out $8.99 for an e-book when I could buy the paperback off Amazon for the same price (and then be able to pass it on to a friend or loan it to Sarah) but many classics are available for free on the Kindle, which affords me the opportunity to catch up on all the reading I would have done if I'd been an English major in college.  I went through a phase about six years ago where I tried to read as many of the books from the 100 Books Everyone Should Read list as possible, but I've still got about forty to go.  There are just too many good books in the world!

Anyway, on the flight home from Cali I downloaded The Jungle Book.  I'm probably an idiot for not realizing that stories like "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and "The White Seal" were part of The Jungle Book (although I blame Disney partially for that).  Back when I was young, we watched the Chuck Jones cartoons of both of those stories.  I was amazed at how true to the book the films were (at least from what I remember).

What I really loved about The Jungle Book was Kipling's truly brilliant anthropomorphizing, as well as his humor.  For example, this passage about Darzee, the tailorbird, from "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi":

"Darzee was a feather-brained little fellow who could never hold more than one idea at a time in his head...But his wife was a sensible bird...So she flew off from the nest, and left Darzee to keep the babies warm, and continue his song about the death of Nag.  Darzee was very like a man in some ways."

I read "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" out loud to John as we were driving to our vacation last week, and he particularly liked this line: "The motto of all the mongoose family is 'Run and find out.'"  I asked John if we could have a pet mongoose if we move to India, but he didn't seem nearly as enthused at the idea as I was.  Can't you just see Jack running around with a pet mongoose??  Ah well, perhaps an elephant, then...

And lastly, Kipling's poem, If:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More Photos From Our Trip!

I just wanted to share some of Mike's awesome photos from our vacation.  I have got to get me an SLR!

Hope you enjoy!

John, Jack, and Alexis

Me, being an idiot

Safety first, people

Somewhere along the way, Jack learned how to drive

I have this strange feeling someone is watching me...

Note the contours on the belly fat.  I swear there's muscle under there.

Naked baby in the lake: priceless.  Mike realizing he's swimming in that very same lake next week: extra priceless.

Come on in, the water's fine!

Jack sports his war wounds.  No pain, no glory.


Second Day, Same as the First...

But a whole lot louder and a whole lot worse.

It started out well enough.

Surveying the landscape.  Looks like a good day for school!
Sure, Jack's backpack weighs as much as he does, but it's so stinking cute on him!  I even packed his lunch in John's Western States bag, which I thought might make a great ice breaker on the playground.

Jack calls shotgun.
Unfortunately, the second I took him through the front door of school, he started crying.  Mind you everyone else is on their second week of school, so I probably looked like the mom of the child who is STILL crying during week two.  I'll be blacklisted for sure.

Once I put Jack's backpack on its little hook, he lost it completely.  He was screaming for his "pack pack" and clinging to me like a spider monkey, so I walked him back towards the entrance, afraid he might start a riot.  I noticed the preschool director looking at me with disdain and kindly asked her if she had any suggestions.

"Just leave him.  It's like pulling off a Band-Aid."

Excuse me, I wanted to say, but the last time I checked Band-Aids don't have imploring blue eyes or scream "mommy" when you rip them off.  But I stifled my tears, handed Jack to his teacher, and marched bravely out.  I immediately called John for moral support but he didn't answer, so I called Sarah instead.

"It was awful!" I moaned as I pulled out of the parking lot, the evil headmistress glaring at me as I passed.  "He was screaming and crying when I left him.  I'm the worst mother in the world!"

"I guess you finally got that goodbye you were hoping for," Sarah said sweetly.

No words can adequately capture my expression, but I believe my face looked something like this.

At least we have all weekend to recover.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Vacation Made of Cheese

As some of you may have heard, we recently participated in what may be the craziest adventure of our lives.  Here's how it came about:

Several months ago, our good friend Mike entered a contest for a free vacation.  The entry was an essay describing why you and a group of friends and family members deserved a luxury vacation together.  We didn't know anything about it until Mike emailed us to give us the good news - he was one of three finalists for the week-long get-away at a nearby vacation destination, and we had been included in his entry essay.  The catch?  Four days of the trip would be filmed for a reality television show.  Hmmm...

John and I were skeptical.  Neither of us had any desire to be on television (I already knew that my acting skills were less than stellar, if my 9th grade production of The Princess Bride was any indication), but how could we pass up the opportunity to stay in a nine-bedroom house on a lake with our good friends, just two weeks before they moved to Italy for a year?  Besides, we reasoned, Mike probably wouldn't win the contest anyway.  Sure, we told Mike.  Go for it.

It was this exact same kind of reasoning that got us into the Foreign Service.

So, as you have by now realized, Mike won the contest.  Along for the ride would be Mike's parents, Alexis's parents, Mike's best friend and his seven-year-old twins, and John, Jack, and yours truly.  Over the past few weeks the details started to trickle in: this would be a "working vacation."  We should plan on leaving tired, since the crew had a very full schedule planned for us.  We were to pack for outdoor activities (and lots of them), to wear bright, solid colors, and to prepare ourselves for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The view from the deck
We arrived at the house, about three hours outside of D.C., on Wednesday afternoon (less than 24 hours after getting home from Santa Barbara).  True to the producer's word, the house was ginormous.  The main level featured a master bedroom, a large living and dining area with a fireplace, a kitchen with two refrigerators and two dishwashers, and a deck with two barbecues (there were a lot of doubles in this house, as you will start to notice).  Upstairs were two more bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and a game area with a pool table, shuffleboard, and a really loud and obnoxious arcade-style video game.  Downstairs there was another large living area, four bedrooms and three bathrooms, and a bar.  That pretty much made up the main house.

Living room
Of course, there was a second house attached to the first one.  It featured a laundry area, two more bedrooms with bathrooms, and an indoor pool and hot tub, as well as a sauna.  About fifty feet away from the indoor hot tub was an outdoor hot tub, as well as an outdoor pool and a large backyard.  I think that about sums it up.

On the first evening, we met with the director, two producers, and the makeup artist.  The first person who spoke to me was the producer.  "And who do you belong to?" she asked sweetly.
"I'm the wife of him," I said, pointing to John, "and the mother of that."  I pointed to Jack.  The director came over.  "And who is this cute young girl?"
Aw crap, I thought to myself.  They think I'm someone's daughter.  Sure enough, the makeup artist said cheerfully, "I thought you were a teenager!"  It was three days later when the producer and the makeup artist confirmed that I was thirty-one, not twenty-one.  They assured me it was a compliment and that I would appreciate it one day.  "And don't worry," the producer added, "you'll get boobs one day, too."

This is exactly the kind of behavior that makes people think I'm twelve, isn't it?
After we discussed what we could expect in the coming days, as well as the following day's schedule, the crew left us to watch a previous episode from the series.  I think that was when we all realized how much trouble we were in - this wasn't going to be a "reality show," per se, but more of a staged show with non-actors.  We were going to be given rough instructions on what to do and say.  The panic set in around that time, and didn't leave until four days later, when the director finally uttered the words I'd been longing to hear: "That's a wrap."

Jack kept himself busy by hugging inanimate objects...

I particularly loved how this one was located two feet from the ash tray.
But, there were still four days of taping to get through.  The first morning, John, Jack, and I headed to a ski resort to film Jack playing on a playground.  That went well enough, and the twins got suited up for the ropes course while we gave our lunch order to the PA and then "cheered on" the twins.  After that, the rest of the group headed over to a mountain coaster while I chased Jack all over the damn place.  Just as John was about to head out on the coaster, Jack fell on the gravel and hit his head, and I knew that was my cue to get home.  Jack was exhausted by the time he took his nap.  We missed out on the mountain coaster and the buggy rides (more like small Jeeps that you drive through the mud) and I can't say I was entirely sorry.

Once again lowering my maturity level; at least I have an accomplice.
Later that afternoon, the entire crew (in addition to the director, producers, makeup lady, and PA, there was a camera man, a still photographer, a sound guy, and a grip) came over to the house to film our "arrival scene."

Jack checks out the "dog on a stick," aka the microphone thingy.
First they filmed us pulling into the driveway, caravan style, about four times.  After that, we rushed up the steps and embraced each other like we hadn't seen each other in years.  Then we walked into the house, marveling at its beauty, and headed out to the deck to marvel at the view.  There was a lot of marveling over the course of those four days, let me tell you.  And I am not a natural marveler.  I prefer to keep my marveling to myself, thank you.  But when the director tells you to marvel, you marvel.  During all of this, John mentioned something about the house being made of cheese, and our inside joke for the trip developed.  It actually helped during the rest of the fake enthusiasm scenes, because it made us all laugh.

This family is made of cheese.
The next day John, Mike, Alexis, Mike's friend and the twins went to an ice cream factory and watched ice cream being made.  I stayed home with Jack and chased him over roughly 6,000 feet of living space (that's a total guess - it may have been larger for all I know).  We were scheduled to go river rafting that afternoon, the one activity I really wanted to participate in, but unless someone stayed home with a napping Jack, it wasn't going to happen.  Fortunately, the very kind makeup lady came over to babysit, and we all climbed into our cars and headed to the river rafting center.  I was a little worried that a man-made river wasn't going to make for very interesting rafting, but I was wrong.  We were given jackets, life preservers, helmets, and booties, and then divided into two groups.  I knew I was in trouble the second our guide mentioned he drinks six Red Bulls a day.  We weren't in the raft for five minutes before he said, "Odds are you will end up in the water today."  I've been river rafting before, several times, and the only time I've fallen out was when the guide got us into a hole.  The more the guide said we were likely going to fall out, the more I realized he had every intention of getting us to fall out, whether we liked it or not.  I no like.

Only Jack would dare take a moment to stop and smell the flowers.
My raft consisted of John, me, Alexis, and her parents.  I was at the back left by myself (which I realized was the kiddy seat once I looked over at the twins at the back of their raft).  Our guide had a camera strapped to his helmet, and it became evident rather quickly that he was a total show-off and intended to make as much use of the helmet as possible.  Within our first run Alexis's step-mom had fallen out.  On the next run, she fell out again, along with Alexis.  On our third go-round, the guide flipped himself out of the raft.  I believe it was our fourth trip when the guide informed us we were going "surfing" in a hole.  We managed to stay afloat for a good stretch, but pretty soon the raft was filled up with water and starting to capsize.  We all rushed to one side of the boat at the guide's command, which meant that the other side immediately filled up with water and the raft flipped.

Falling out of a raft in the middle of a class 4 rapid isn't my idea of fun.  It's incredibly disorienting, especially if, like me, you end up underneath the raft.  After feeling two bodies fall on me, I struggled to the surface, only to find the raft on top of me.  Once I popped up into an air pocket and could see, I calmed down a little, pushed out from under the raft, and tried to swim for shore.  I had swallowed a lot of water (no doubt from screaming like a mad woman as the raft flipped) and the current was way too strong for the likes of me.  Fortunately John was swimming nearby and managed to pull me to shore.  Ugh.

A few minutes later, a very happy director ordered us all back into the water, so that we could climb out of the water again, this time smiling and waving and saying how much fun it all was.  "Is the river made of cheese?" Alexis asked.  "Melted cheese!" John answered.  All I could think about were the eight ways I'd like to kill our guide.  And how badly my mascara was running, natch.

"Hey - no monkeying around!  Don't you know we're shooting a reality show, kid!"
We got home and immediately resumed filming.  Fortunately I was a very minor character in this whole thing, so aside from a scene of John and I sitting on the porch with Jack, I wasn't on camera.  They filmed the twins swimming at some point, as well as Mike and Alexis "choosing" our vacation home.  We wrapped in time to put Jack to bed and eat dinner.  I slept like a baby that night.

The next morning the girls got to go to the local farmer's market.  This was probably my favorite scene of the whole thing.  It didn't feel nearly as contrived, and I also wasn't thinking about Jack the whole time.  There was what I can only imagine will be a hideously unflattering shot of me eating a whoopie pie, which fortunately really was delicious so I didn't have to fake it.  The farmers at the market were great sports about the whole thing, and we only filmed for an hour or so.

Yummy produce at the market

I die
After that I went home for Jack's nap while everyone else went to a wine and art festival.  I got three whole hours to myself, which was lovely, and actually got some editing in.  After that we went straight to an outdoor bar on the lake.  They filmed us flopping around on the lawn, then eating at the bar.

Jackie and the Whale
The last scene of the day was supposed to be us arriving at the bar in a pontoon boat, but unfortunately they didn't have a baby life preserver, so we stayed ashore.  Then the producer kindly offered to watch Jack so John and I could go on the same boat as the crew.  The weather was perfect, it was close to sunset, and Jack was in the safe hands of someone else for a few minutes.  As we got off the boat, the man they'd randomly hired to captain it said to me and John, "So are you guys models or something?"
John and I looked at each other.  "No, we just couldn't go on the boat because we have our son here."
The man nodded.  "So they hired you because you have a kid?"
"No," I said, "we are actually friends with these people."
I'm still not sure the man was convinced.  I suppose I should be flattered.  It was probably the only time in my life I'll be mistaken for a model!

The cameraman said we staged this scene, but I maintain that Alexis and I really are that wholesome.
The next morning was September 11th, and Mike had already told the producers we wanted the morning to ourselves.  We went to the lake and Alexis's dad said a prayer, and then we observed a moment of silence during the time of first impact.  It was an emotional time and I think we were all really glad the crew wasn't there.

Jack explores the woods.
Afterward, Jack insisted on getting in the lake, so John and I finally broke down and let him loose (sort of - he didn't go in past his belly).  He loved every moment of it, until we had to yank him away so we could get home for the next scene.

Jack tests out the water...

"I'm the king of the world!"

We were supposed to be filming more of our arrival scene, but the weather was good so the crew decided to film us hiking to a waterfall.

A thirty second break in filming
That went pretty quickly, but unfortunately it was nearly one by the time we got home.  Jack had a hard time falling asleep, and I'm not sure what woke him up half an hour later (the crew, people walking upstairs, the fact that the thermostat was set to 66 and it was absolutely freezing in his room), but the poor guy had finally had enough.  Thus ensued the worst meltdown in Jack history (far worse than the popsicle, even).  We had to remove him from the premises because the crew was shooting interviews, so John and I took him for a walk.  He finally calmed down about 45 minutes later.  Yeesh.

I guess I can't blame the poor kid for losing his mind.
By that point, I'd had enough too.  I tried to maintain my sanity when we had to do four takes of John, Jack, and I "discovering" our room and marveling at the view.  It wasn't even the room we stayed in.  Three more hours of interviews later, the director finally called it a day (it was almost nine pm).
And thus ended my brief television career.  All I can say is, "Snooki: Respect."

Aaaaand I'm done.
As the crew put away their equipment, the sound guy started talking to me about writing, and I realized that I was actually kind of sad the whole thing was over.  This always happens to me on group vacations - the cattle drive, our riding trip in Ireland, Israel; as exhausting as the whole experience had been, it's hard to say goodbye to a group of people you've spent so many hours with, knowing you'll probably never see most of them again.

Hanging in a giant chair, as you do.
The hardest part was saying goodbye to Mike and Alexis.  Jack is absolutely obsessed with Mike - every morning, first thing, we heard "Mike!"  Every time Mike walked into a room: "Mike!"  Every time Mike left a room: "Mike!"  You get the idea.
And the truth is, John and I are just as attached to Uncle Mike and Auntie Cupcakes as Jack is.  We'll probably see them a couple more times before they leave for Italy, but it was just a preview of what the real goodbye is going to be like.  I have to admit there were moments where I wondered how in the heck Mike had gotten us all into something so out of our comfort zones, but in the end, I'm really glad he did it.  It definitely was a vacation we'll never forget.

Or, as Mike put it, "We had a real gouda time."