Monday, July 30, 2012

Mommy Mondays: What I'd Do Differently

This weekend, we took a trip south to visit our dear friends in Norfolk, who recently had their second baby boy. We're not sure if we'll get to see them again before we move, and I couldn't leave the country without meeting Baby Rhys, who is perfect and adorable and astonishingly tiny. (It's amazing how quickly one forgets what a one-week-old looks like.) On Saturday, the women gathered at a friend's house for a baby shower, while the men looked after the older kids (sorry about that, John). One advantage of having a shower post-birth is there are no annoying games involving balloons or diapers. Instead we sat around and drank sangria and talked about - what else? - kids.

It's a cliche, but it's true. Get a bunch of moms together in a room and they will inevitably talk about their children, even on the rare occasion they get to be without them. It's the one thing we all have in common, no matter where we're from or what we do. (I think there was only one poor soul at the party who didn't have kids, but she listened to us talk about breastfeeding and pacifiers and blow-outs like a saint.) It was funny hearing all the different opinions on things, but one thing we all agreed on was that my friend should NOT wake her baby up every two and a half hours at night to feed him, despite what the pediatrician said. As a first time mom, I did everything I was told by people who knew more on the subject of raising a human than me (i.e., everybody). Next time around, there are a few things I'd do differently.

#1 Buy a swing: How did I not have one of these with Jack? Every time we went to a friend's house who had one, I would marvel out how well their babies (and Jack) napped in the damn thing. Why didn't I buy myself one? The world may never know. I will not make that mistake again.

Baby Rhys napping like a champ - IN HIS SWING!
#2 Don't allow breastfeeding to rule my life: Like my friend, I was worried about Jack's weight loss as an infant. Like my friend, I was told to wake him up every two hours to feed him, even at night. Of course, ask any mother and they will tell you the same thing: never wake a sleeping baby! Unless they have health issues to begin with, they're probably not going to starve themselves. Ice packs on a naked infant in December are a bad idea, no matter what some 20-year-old RN tells you. Also, don't pump unless you need to. Otherwise you'll end up with over-supply issues and want to kill yourself.

#3 Take help wherever I can get it: I was always reluctant to take friends up on babysitting offers. After all, I did want to remain friends with them. But next time, if a friend wants to make me lasagna or watch Jack for a couple hours while I do pretty much anything, I'll know not to turn them down. Friends, you have been warned.

#4 Join a mom's group ASAP: I waited until Jack was six months old to join a mom's group. I wish I'd done it sooner. I made a few great friends that way, and it got my out of the house far more often. At the same time, don't think you have to be friends with someone just because you both gave birth. It may be enough common ground for a baby shower; it's not always a basis for a friendship.

#5 Don't compare myself to everyone: This is a life lesson for me, not just a mom lesson. Every kid is different, every mom is different. Find what works for you and try not to worry so much about everyone else.

#6 Stop obsessing over the damn pacifier: The kid will probably give it up when he's ready. Even if you have to take it from him, you'll both survive. Either way, your children will inherit your overbite, so let it go.

#7 Travel as much as possible before the baby can walk: We actually did a good job of this (20 flights in one year), but I wish we'd done even more traveling when Jack was tiny. It was so much easier then. Sigh.

#8 Get an Ergo: Unless you're a man, the Bjorn sucks. If baby number 2 is anything like baby number 1, you'll just end up carrying him like a sack of potatoes half the time. It's not pretty. Spend the money.

#9 If I'm going to work from home, get a nanny: I think this one is pretty self explanatory, which is why it's kind of troubling that I didn't figure it out sooner. No one will be happy if you half-ass everything, most especially you.

#10 Trust my instincts: Jack is still alive and well. I am still alive and well. I must have done something right.


What about you? Anything you would do (or did do) differently with number two?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: The Health Insurance Dilemma

A new post is up at Most Eligible Family. It won't be relevant to most of you. I hope you'll stop by anyway.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: "North and South"

Thanks to the summer lull in television, I've had to do some major Netflix scouring to find something to watch while I work out. As you may have realized by now, I have a thing for period dramas, so since "Downton Abby" ended, I've been watching (and rewatching) some of my favorites - "Pride and Prejudice," "Emma," "Jane Eyre," "Lost in Austen," etc. When Netflix recommended "North and South" to me, I was skeptical, but I was also desperate. So I started the four-part 2004 BBC miniseries hopeful but ready to continue scouring. All I can say is, god bless Richard Armitage.

"North and South" is based on the 1855 Elizabeth Gaskell novel (which I had never heard of). It's the story of a young lady, Margaret Hale, who moves from the south of England with her family to the (fake) industrial city of Milton. There she meets John Thornton, who runs a large cotton mill and is known to be a tough but fair boss, at least compared to the other bosses. There is some major Pride and Prejudice stuff going on here - which I looooove. You know, she thinks he's a jerk, his family thinks he's too good for her, lots of lingering fingertips and angsty glances. I am a major sucker for this stuff. Of course, none of it would matter if the hero weren't such a hotty. Ladies and...well, ladies, I give you Richard Armitage as John Thornton.

Photo from author Merry Farmer's website.

(And here he is in one of the best on-screen kisses I've seen in a while).

Photo from the Russian fan site; looks like I'll fit in just fine there.

So now you know, this Things I Love Thursday is really just a thinly veiled excuse to ogle Mr. Armitage. I'm off to work out and watch the BBC version of Robin Hood on Netflix. I *swear* it's pure coincidence that Richard happens to be in it.

And happy, happy birthday to my dear friend Kim! I hope it's a great one!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: The Waiting Place

The best children's books, in my opinion, are the ones that resonate not just with children but with adults. I have a similar theory about cartoons, but we'll stick with books for the moment. Recently, our friends gave us a copy of Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss. It was meant as a "Congratulations, you're moving to Russia!" gift, and also as something Jack could enjoy. I don't think my friends had anything else in mind, but every time I read it, I can't help but think about my writing career instead of our impending Russian adventure.

The part that really resonates with me at the moment? The Waiting Place. Just in case you're not familiar with it:

The Waiting Place...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Some of these things might ring a bell with you, too. Waiting for a Yes or No? Hello! A Better Break? Another Chance? Check and check. (Of course if you're waiting around for a pair of pants we've got bigger problems, my friend.)

I know the waiting is part of the process. But let's be honest, the Waiting Place is a bitch. Because you never know what's coming next (or if anything is coming at all!). It's hard not to feel like you're going to be stuck here forever.

According to Dr. Seuss, however, I will "escape all that waiting and staying." (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed). There are Boom Bands playing out there, apparently, and I'd really like to know just what the hell a Boom Band is. And I suppose at the end of the day if I fail to move mountains, I can at least move TO the mountains. Siberia, here I come!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Kids Say (And Do) The Darndest Things

Now that Jack has the ability to form complete, coherent sentences, he's constantly coming up with new phrases that he likes to share at a loud volume, generally in polite company. Sometimes, these statements are completely innocent and benign, like during his bath the other day when he farted, then looked at John and me and said, "I...I...I durst!" with such enthusiasm that we both cracked up. But there are also the times when he says, "Big man, Mommy," loud enough that I'm pretty sure the "big man" in question couldn't have missed it, or when he says, "Like Grandma," about a woman in her thirties.

On the one hand, it's nice to know that I have a constant source of comic relief living right under my roof. On the other hand, I can't help but feel like I'm participating in a high-stakes game of verbal Russian roulette every time I step foot outside the house.

On Saturday night, we were invited to a friend's house to celebrate the fact that she successfully defended her PhD dissertation (go Dr. Lauren!). I knew that there would be mostly adults at the party, but I also knew that since it started at 6:00 and we're moving to Russia in five weeks and likely won't get another chance to see our friend and her husband, it would probably be okay for us to bring Jack along. (I asked ahead of time, just in case.) But for the hour we were there, Jack ran around like a wild animal, screeching about "GOING TO RUSSIA!" and jumping up and down on the couch like I'd pumped sugar directly into his veins before our arrival. All of the adults at the party pretended to think Jack was adorable, but while Sarah and John held normal conversations with other adults, I was watching Jack like a hawk to make sure he wasn't sucking on honey roasted peanuts and sticking them back into the bowl (caught that one just in time, let me tell you). It's times like those where I realize that any control I think I have over Jack is really just an illusion.

Fortunately, Lauren's husband brought out a recent souvenir and that kept Jack busy for about thirty seconds.

The following morning some friends we haven't seen in over a year brought their new baby by for a visit. The first words out of Jack's mouth were something about Baby Owen not touching Jackie's tower (it was hard to tell exactly what he said, given the volume and pitch of the statement). In fact, it worked to our advantage that our friends couldn't understand half of what Jack was saying, because at brunch they were still calling him beautiful and hilarious (and they actually seemed to mean it). And along with screaming about having to let Baby Owen use his room for a little while, Jack did tell some engaging stories about Russia ("GOING TO RUSSIA!") and declare that he "loves Baby Owen."

I have a feeling Jack is going to continue to be completely unpredictable for the time being. But on the bright side, I can rest assured that almost no one in Yekaterinburg will understand what Jack is saying, even the big man who looks like grandma. His actions, on the other hand, are another story.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Yeah Baby! Or, John Got a 3/3

To see John's good news, check out Most Eligible Family today. And happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Sherlock and Sea Salt Caramel Gelato

What do the BBC series Sherlock and Talenti's Sea Salt Caramel gelato have in common?

Not a damn thing, except I love them both.

John and I have only watched one and a half episodes of Season 1 of Sherlock, but I'm loving it so far. Benedict Cumberbatch (best. name. ever.) plays a creepy-yet-brilliant 21st century Sherlock Holmes. It took me a moment to recognize him from his role in Atonement (another creepy character), but I instantly recognized Martin Freeman from Love Actually and The Hobbit (now THERE'S a movie I'm seriously excited for!). I'm not normally a big fan of crime/detective shows, but the humor is so great in Sherlock that I'll definitely keep watching.

Cumberbatch and Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
So what goes perfectly with an episode of a new favorite show? Gelato, of course! Talenti makes all kinds of awesome gelato, but this is the first time I've purchased the Sea Salt Caramel, and it is deeelicious. So smooth and creamy, plus there are these amazing little chocolate-covered sea salt caramel chunks in there. Seriously, how can you go wrong?

One pint of yum. Where's my spoon?

Hookers and Hangers Blogfest: Hangers

Hi all! It's time for Part Two of the Hookers and Hangers Blogfest, and I'm happy to say that my hangers are a lot better than my hookers (at least I *think* they are). I've decided to go with the same structure as last time, so here are the last lines of the first chapter of my three WIPs.

Forever Friday:
"It's okay, senorita," the woman said, slowly prying my fingers free of her arm. "We've landed."

Needle's Eye:
Her father's footsteps had faded down the hallway before she found her voice again. "They don't."

And we never, ever bite the hand that feeds us.

What a fun blogfest! Thanks to everyone at Falling For Fiction for hosting!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hookers and Hangers Blogfest: Hookers

I'm interrupting my normal blogging schedule today to participate in the Hookers and Hangers Blogfest hosted by the lovely ladies at Falling For Fiction!

We're supposed to post at least three "hookers" today - first lines of chapters from a WIP. So here are the first lines from all three of my WIPs (doing this has made me realize a lot of my hookers suck. I might need to work on that).

Forever Friday:
Un milagro, they called me. A miracle.

Needle's Eye:
When Akira was very small, her grandfather told her stories of Koschei the Deathless.

"Happy half-birthday, Calypso!" My roommate, Violet, leaps onto my bed with far too much enthusiasm for seven a.m.

(Okay, so I cheated on a couple of those, but they're short enough that I figured I could sneak 'em in.)

I don't know how to add the links to everyone else's blogs, so go to Falling For Fiction for the complete list!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: John's Big Day

Please hop on over to Most Eligible Family and wish John luck on his language test next Thursday!

And have a very happy Friday the 13th! I'm declaring it a day of good luck instead of bad :)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Brave

On Sunday afternoon I FINALLY got the opportunity to see the new Pixar movie, Brave. I had been waiting to see this film for what seemed like years, ever since I saw the artwork for it. I love a redhaired heroine (when we were little and played make believe, I always had red hair; I blame Ariel), and I love horses, so there was little doubt that Brave would be an instant favorite.

Merida and Angus
Brave did not disappoint. Merida is a spunky tomboy with the best hairdo of all time. I loved the texture of it. And her little triplet brothers, Harris, Hubert, and Hamish, were too cute.
Merida's "brothers" and the witch and her crow star in some of Brave's funniest scenes.
But as it turned out, I had no idea what Brave was really about, which is Merida's relationship with her mother. The queen wants Merida to behave like a proper princess and marry one of the princes from the other clans, but Merida wants to follow her heart (and when we see her prospective suitors, we can't really blame her). When Merida discovers a witch's cottage in the forest, she asks the witch for a spell - to change her mother in order to change her fate.

Go here to see an awesome Brave poster!

I won't go into too much detail, just in case some of you haven't seen it yet, but I really loved the message in Brave. It was a little weird to see a "princess movie" (Sarah informed me that this isn't a typical princess movie because it's not Disney, it's Pixar, and in fact Merida is their first female lead) without any romance, and I guess I'm just hardwired to expect it. But that's not what this movie is about, and it's better for it. Merida is her own hero - she doesn't need any rescuing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: The Book Collector, Revisited

Have any of you picked up something you wrote and haven't read for a while and thought, "Wow, I wrote this?"

In this case, the "wow" isn't because I'm so impressed with my story. It's more because it's so completely different from anything I've written since that I hardly recognize it. I wrote The Book Collector several years ago and haven't looked at it in a year. I'm rereading it because an agent who passed on Friday said to feel free to query her with anything else I have, and my new YA projects are nowhere near ready. I was a little worried that the main character in The Book Collector, Alice, didn't have a distinctive voice, but that turns out not to be the case. In fact, she's so quirky that I'm worried she won't appeal to the masses.

I actually got some very positive feedback on this novel when I queried it originally, but I got to a point I'm approaching with Friday - the point where I get a lot of requests, and some very kind rejections, but no real helpful feedback. On the one hand, it's nice to know there aren't any glaring issues with my novels. But when you keep hearing, "I just didn't connect with it the way I need to," over and over and over, it can get very frustrating. I try to remind myself that this just means I haven't found the right agent yet. But there's a part of me that can't help wondering if I ever will.

On the bright side, the novel doesn't suck completely, and there's no harm sending it out one more time. Maybe I'll learn something I didn't know before. And at the very least, it's helped me to realize that with each novel I think is the one, somewhere down the line I'll recover and write a new one I love just as much, if not more.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Great Pacifier Dilemma: Solved!

About seven months ago, I wrote a post about taking Jack's pacifier away. You may recall that I had a lot of concerns about getting rid of the sucky, namely that Jack's awesome sleeping would be disrupted. The fear continued as Jack's awesome sleep continued, and I really wasn't sure how I'd ever get rid of the darn thing. At his 30 month appointment, the doctor actually told me I might want to wait until after our big move, since there were a lot of changes coming up and it might be useful on the airplane. The three year deadline was rapidly approaching, and with potty training and moving Jack to a big boy bed still on the horizon, I was feeling a little overwhelmed (the move to Russia in eight weeks probably wasn't helping).

And then, last week, Jack decided to take matters into his own hands. Er, teeth.

It was around 9:30 pm and Jack was being unusually loud and whiny in his crib (he "goes to bed" at 7:30 but it usually takes him until around 9 to fall asleep). When I went up to see what he was doing, Jack handed me his pacifier and said, "Wash the sucky, Mommy." That seemed like an odd request, even for a child as eccentric as mine. When I glanced down at the pacifier, it was clear that no amount of washing was going to fix this problem. Jack had ripped the tip of the sucky off with his teeth.

"Well," I said to Jack, "it's 9:30, we have no other pacifiers, and you broke this one. So I guess you just have to sleep without it for tonight." Jack didn't have much to say to that. I got him some cold water, sang him a song, and left. About half an hour later, Jack went to sleep.

Still, I figured he'd wake up at some point during the night and freak out when he noticed his sucky was gone. But 7 am rolled around and I realized I hadn't heard a peep from Jack. When I went into his room to get him up, he told me the sucky was broken and needed to be thrown away. So he marched to the trash can, opened the lid, and threw it out himself.

Sarah and I throwing our suckies into the trash compactor on our 4th birthday.  
It all seemed a little too easy. Surely nap time would be a disaster, I told myself. But lo and behold, after fifteen minutes of fussing, Jack fell asleep. The same thing that night. And the next nap. And that night. Etc. Here we are on night day five, and Jack just went down for his nap without a hitch.  He asked about his sucky a few times the first two days, but I reminded him that he'd thrown it away, and that was that.

I'd like to say this all went so smoothly because I'm some kind of parenting genius, but let's be honest: it was luck. Or maybe a combination of Jack being ready and being personally responsible for the sucky's demise. Whatever the case, it's a good reminder that the things I spend so much time and energy worrying about -- and believe me, there are a lot -- usually work out just fine on their own.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Next Month, We'll Be Living in Russia

I think the title of this week's Most Eligible Family post says it all! But there's also a photo of Sarah and Minky you probably won't want to miss...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Jozef Wilkon

I'm keeping things simple around here this week, since we were without power for three days and then stayed at a friend's house the night before last. Last night was our first night back at home and it was great to sleep in my own bed. Now that I'm writing again (rather than just editing/querying/fretting), I'm trying to use whatever free time I have to do just that: write.

But, I couldn't resist sharing something wonderful with you guys today. So here are some fabulous illustrations by the Polish artist Jozef Wilkon. Enjoy!

From "The Story of the Kind Wolf"

From “Oom Tonktonkie en sy maats”

Peacocks that remind me of Kim for some reason

And is it just me, or does this look like it galloped straight out of the pages of The Scorpio Races?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Three's Company

So as I mentioned last week, Saturday night was supposed to be a romantic escape for John and me, while our friends Mark and Lauren watched Jack at our house. This was going to be our first night together without Jack in a year, and probably our last for the next two years, since we'll be in Russia soon. We had a lovely hotel room in Annapolis booked, dinner for two at a stylish restaurant reserved, and plans to sleep in, eat in peace, and generally enjoy one another's company without the constant disturbance of a wily two-year-old.

All week I felt like the fates were conspiring against us. First Jackie was acting miserable because of his teeth, and I love Mark and Lauren too much to leave them with an unhappy child. But then he seemed to feel better, and all was well until Tuesday morning when Jack woke up with a terrible rash on his face that turned out to be impetigo (basically a common skin infection) and required a prescription cream application three times a day. Still, by Friday it was nearly cleared up, so I had my fingers and toes crossed that nothing else would stand in our way.

But on Friday night around 10 pm, after Jack was asleep and John and I were just getting ready for bed, the storm from hell hit. The power was out within minutes (not really surprising where we live; the infrastructure here is just crap) and John and I watched from the window as various objects (trash cans, roof shingles, Jack's pool) went flying. I just knew we were in for it. Lo and behold, the power did not come back on that night. I slept sprawled on top of the covers like a starfish. John slept on the couch. By morning the house was like a sauna.

When nap time rolled around our power was still out, we had to accept that we'd be taking Jack to Annapolis with us. Romantic escape indeed. Jack, clearly oblivious to everything (except for the fact that his beloved ceiling fans refused to spin), trooped along amiably, enjoying an ice cream cone with daddy, a swim in the hotel pool, and several trolley rides.

Jack "driving" the trolley with his new penguin, Chickie Chickie.
We cancelled our original reservations and went to dinner across the street from our hotel, at a lovely Italian restaurant that was fortunately crowded and loud, since Jack was definitely not on his best behavior. By the time our entrees came Jack was "done," so I had the waitress cut a piece of chocolate cake in half and bring some to Jack while we ate our dinner and put the rest in a box for us to eat later. It bought us enough time to eat our entrees, but I can't help but wonder what our neighboring diners thought of us feeding chocolate cake to our two-year-old for dinner. Hey, at least he wasn't screaming.

John, Jack, and someone's very patriotic abode.
By some miracle we managed to score an accessible room, so we were able to fit Jack's pack n' play in the bathroom. This worked well enough until 5:30 a.m., when Jack woke up crying. I brought him into bed with us and attempted for an hour and a half to coax him to sleep, but as he rolled into me for the umpteenth time, his pacifier pressed to my nose and his chubby arms draped around my neck, I couldn't help but laugh at the situation. Sure, it wasn't the romantic getaway we'd been hoping for, but there are worse places to be than in a king-size Heavenly bed with your husband and son. And air conditioning. Eventually I put Jack back in the pack n' play with some blocks and John and I managed to get another hour of sleep. Then we did some shopping, packed our car full of fresh groceries, and arrived home to a house without power.

A few hours later, we checked into another hotel. On the bright side, this one has a second bedroom.