Thursday, March 29, 2012

This is How I'm Going to Write My Next Book.


Both my girls love to write books--like, they sit down with pencils and stacks of paper and, over the course of days or weeks, hand-print pages and pages of original story, with illustrations to match. Genevieve once wrote one that was something like 12 chapters long.

The best part about Genevieve's writing method is that she chooses her book title, and all her chapter titles, prior to deciding on a book topic, characters, or plot line. In other words, she matches her story, later, to the title and chapter titles she's written down before. She actually gets mad at you if, in answer to her (apparently rhetorical) question, "What should my title be?" you say to her, "Well, what is your story going to be about?"

She always starts with a nice long table of contents. And the chapter titles are beyond awesome. It is hilarious to me that she just thinks of random titles and then makes up a part of the story to fit each one. And yet, each chapter has a snappy, appealing title--the kind that makes you want to delve right into the book.

Here's an example of some of her great chapter titles. These are taken from her current work's table of contents:

1. The Rotten Junk
2. The Best Part
3. Rock n Roll!
4. Getting First Prize
5. The Restaurant
6. The Candlelight
7. The Trip Around the World
8. Open House

I mean, don't you want to read that book? It sounds really interesting, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dear Easter Bunny

This is the exact text of a letter Genevieve wrote this morning and handed to me on a plain piece of paper:

Hello, Easter Bunny,

(see you soon!) I bet you will give me more things than this (Remember, you don't have to) I'm just wondering if you could Give me a iPod. if you think i'm to little for it, that's just fine. I'm just wondering. You do not have to Give me an iPod.

Your friend, Genevieve

Never mind that a.) she hardly knows what an iPod is; and b.) she does not listen to nor know of any musicians beyond Raffi, Dan Zanes, and Justin Roberts. Overlooking the fact that I do not believe young children need iPods and in fact I believe young children should not be getting iPods, which are expensive and a luxury, this letter is so heartbreakingly polite and sweet I can hardly stand it.

I sort of wish she could stay five years old forever.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Subversive, 2012 Stay-at-Home Mom

Last week my daughters were off school for spring break, so I was thick in the throes of busy stay-at-home mom-hood. Also, I've been watching a lot of "Mad Men" on DVD, musing on Betty Draper and her early-1960s housewife life. This is what the combination of those two things got me thinking about recently. Sorry it took me a few days to actually write about it.

Several years ago, I wrote an essay for Motherwords Magazine called "Confessions of a Contented Stay-at-Home Mom." It was about how I loved being a stay-at-home mom, felt fulfilled by it, and wished I could stay one forever. (Note: This is not the same thing as saying I love every part of stay-at-home motherhood. No one loves every aspect of her job, no matter what it is.)

I generally didn't voice that feeling aloud, though, because it didn't seem like a very common or popular point of view in the 2000s. But I really did feel just fine being a full-time mom and housewife, and I really didn't yearn to do something else, too, in order to feel fulfilled or happy or valuable. I already felt those things.

All of that is still true. During the Q&A at one of my book readings this past winter, a woman in the audience asked me if I'd ever wanted to return to work during my almost-eight years of being a stay-at-home mom. I answered "no" without a moment's hesitation, probably almost before the woman had completely voiced her question. We all talked about that feeling, and how not everyone (obviously) feels that way, and how it's fine if you do and it's fine if you don't, but I don't know how many moms in the audience felt that way besides me.

It's true that in addition to being a full-time at home mom, I am also a writer and a blogger and a (currently non-practicing but fully licensed) clinical psychologist and a wellness coach. And it's true that writing a book and getting it published was a lifelong goal of mine. So it's not as if there aren't other things that I enjoy and am good at. But if I had one magic wish in the world, it would be that my household be financially comfortable and solvent enough that I could happily immerse myself in at-home mothering without being constantly plagued by worry about the difficulties of living on one income, the bills piling up, and what I'm "supposed" to do once my children are both in full-time school. It's depressing how hard it is to survive with one parent home full-time in this day and age.

Can anyone out there relate to me? I can't be the only modern, postgraduate-educated feminist woman who loves being at home full-time with her kids and has no desire to resume outside work. Am I?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

And How Was Your Spring Break?


The other day I was pawing through my "forever box" (as we call them in my house)---you know, a box of mementos I keep in a closet--and came across a clipped-out quote that was my treasured favorite for years, that I'd kept pinned to various bulletin boards above various desks during college and graduate school and work, but that I'd completely forgotten about in the years since.

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exaltation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--this is to have succeeded."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


I was an English major, so gorgeous quotes by Emerson held substantial sway with me. Still do, actually.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Break From Some Things, Not a Break From Others

I promise a real blog post is coming soon.

My children are on spring break and thus I'm on "vacation" from non-SAHM-related work this week. Let me tell you, it's a real luxury to be able to "just" mother and run the household this week rather than mother, run the household, and do all the other things I do as a writer and blogger and wellness-coaching-practice-developer.

We've been having loads of fun and I've absolutely cherished the things we've done so far this week: hosted playdates, painted our nails, made cookies, attended a magic show, watched movies, visited a giant playground in a nearby Mississippi River-bluffs town, enjoyed ice cream at Dairy Queen, had an outdoor dolly tea party, read chapters of Anne of Green Gables aloud, created sidewalk-chalk obstacle courses on the driveway, and just hung out together.

But I understand that I've been largely absent here, and for that I apologize. I do have some other things to say, and those will be coming soon. But until then, here's an image and quote I found on Pinterest this morning, that I love immensely. It truly sums up the values I try to instill in my daughters, how I try to treat others, and the way I try to live in the world. Don't you love it too?

Monday, March 19, 2012

One of my Fave Mom-Bloggers Reviews My Book


I've been reading Brooklyn-based Mom and Kiddo, over at the super-useful urban kids'-activities-and-books blog What Do We Do All Day?, for a long time--years, in fact. So I am extremely honored to have my book reviewed over on her site today. Check it out, and be sure to enter the giveaway to win a copy of The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual. Surely you or someone you know could use a copy!

Happy Monday, everyone! And thanks, Mom and Kiddo!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Give Me a Break

Spring break started for us last Friday after school, and since it's been ultra-unseasonably warm for a week or so already (read: sunny and in the 60s and 70s), it really does feel like spring. Usually during the kids' spring break it's gray, cold, and snowy or sleeting. There is always snow on the ground. Except this year.

We kicked off spring break by heading over to my friend Kathy's house as soon as the kids got off the school bus on Friday. She's got this great house with a big, dark-hued driveway (perfect for sidewalk chalking) and a backyard to die for (playset, playhouse, sandbox) on a quiet street (perfect for biking, triking, and scootering with no fear of cars). Our combined five girls ran around chalking, biking, flying kites, blowing bubbles, swinging, and climbing the playset in the sun and wind and 77-degree air, and it was just heaven. Parenting life is so like that. The lows are so challenging and disagreeable, yet the highs--which must often look inconsequential to non-parents, just playing outside in good weather, after all--are extraordinary. There just aren't words to describe the contentment and joy that come from moments like Friday afternoon.

Yesterday Julia and Genevieve each had one of their best friends over, and we did a special Girls' Movie Night/pizza dinner playdate (Christopher escaped for a three-hour bike ride). I made popcorn and pizza and served green accompaniments in honor of St. Patrick's Day (grapes, cucumber slices, green-tinted milk, mint chip ice cream for dessert), and the girls played and then watched a Barbie movie in their pajamas. As soon as the movie ended they ran outside in their nightgowns and played the plot of the movie in the backyard until the sun went down and my friends came to pick up their daughters. I sat by the open windows and watched them dancing and leaping all over the yard and the hill and under the trees, enthusiastically acting out "The 12 Dancing Princesses" in full view of all the neighbors and anyone driving by on the county road, so wonderfully un-self-consciously. I just wished they could stay that way forever.

Those kinds of moments are what make the interrupted sleep and the epic meltdowns and the wet sheets of motherhood worth it. But it's the latter things that make me too tired to write anything more than this today, despite a brim-full life and no end of material. We're off on a little road trip to the best playground in southern Minnesota later, and Dairy Queen after that, and I need to ingest a lot of coffee right now. Surely you fellow parents understand.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When Things Go Right

a long-ago summer "field trip"

Whew, where am I? I've been busy; hence the one-photo posts recently. Between school volunteering, all the kids' activities, lots of outdoor playtime (spring weather has arrived in earnest here, at least for the time being), running, work, and more, I feel like I'm constantly out of breath. But I have ten minutes now, to say hello, so I'll inhale and say hello.

Last night I went to my daughters' parent-teacher conferences. Julia's 2nd-grade state assessment reading score reflected middle-school-level reading ability. Genevieve's too little to be tested that far, but since she can read almost everything Julia can, I assume my kindergartner is also reading at or close to middle-school-level. Her teacher asked me what my secret was, noting only half-jokingly that she could use it to advise other parents on how to help their children get better at reading; but I had to tell her in all seriousness, "I did nothing. I can take no credit. She came this way."

But then I went to my other daughter's conference, where the conversation went similarly at some moments. And when I mentioned that I feel lucky to not have to worry about my children's academic abilities, Julia's teacher gently reminded me that while it may seem like luck to me, and while some of it is surely inborn and genetic (also luck!), much of it--without my even really thinking about it--is the result of the values I hold dear for my children: things like lots of books in the house, plenty of read-aloud and independent-reading time, the hundreds of hours of individual attention the children get from me after school, and during homework time, and all summer long when we go on field trips together. It was nice to be reminded to take credit when things are going well. So often moms mostly just feel guilty when something goes wrong.

Refreshing.

It's a busy spring already, friends, and I'm off right now to take Genevieve to indoor gym playtime at the Y. These are her last three months of being little enough for it. I have to squeeze every drop of joy and love out of these wee-one playtime mornings that I can.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ready for School


Just had to post this quick a.m. snap. I think the pigtails, double-breasted pea coat, bright aqua leggings and green froggy boots may just tip the balance into cuteness overload.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Off to Tea

annual tea party; ages 5 and 7

On Saturday the girls and I went to my amazing friend Laura's annual mother-daughter tea party. We've been going to this tea party--which is fancy and formal, with a real tea service and the best darjeeling tea and all sorts of goodies like currant scones with creme fraiche that Laura makes herself--since both my babies were in diapers. Laura is a fantastic cook and a gracious hostess; she leaves no detail unplanned. All my best local girlfriends are always in attendance, with their daughters, who are my daughters' closest playmates. We look forward to it all year. Our memories of Laura's mother-daughter tea parties during my girls' childhoods will be among our most treasured for the rest of our lives, I just know it.

The photo above was snapped just before we left for the party. It's rare to find a photo that includes me along with my children--I'm usually the one snapping the pics, of course--AND everyone's smiling, so I figured I'd better post this one. We fancy ladies had a wonderful time.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Interview at MyBabyExperience.com

Recently, blogger and new mom Melainie Duckworth and her husband Jonathan, who run the site MyBabyExperience.com, interviewed me in conjunction with Melainie's review of my book. Melainie had some great questions about stress and coping, online resources for parents, psychological aspects of mothers' well-being, and other topics related to motherhood and health. You can read the interview here, and don't forget to enter Melainie's giveaway to win a copy of my book!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway at MyBabyExperience.com!


I am so excited to announce that my book, The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos, is the subject of a review and giveaway over at the mommy-blog My Baby Experience today! Head on over to read what mama Melainie has to say about my book, and enter to win a copy of the book for yourself (or to give to a mama or mom-to-be in your life). Then visit her site again tomorrow to read an interview Melainie and her nice husband Jonathan did with me last week.

Thank you so much, Melainie and Jonathan! I've really enjoyed getting to know you and your site!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Spring Style: Color


I'm no style maven, but I do enjoy freshening up my wardrobe a little bit at the beginning of each season. I mean, who can resist the cute new shoes and bags, the scarves and dresses and boots? Not me. But I'm a stay-at-home mom on a budget, and I can't fulfill all my shopping fantasies every three months. So my strategy is generally to stick with my existing basics while adding in a few bright pieces here and there to add a jolt of "new."

Recently, BlogHer invited me, as a member of the BlogHer Life Well Lived panel, to answer the question, What will you be wearing this year? What are your spring trends? for their BlogHer feature on bloggers' tips for looking your best.

I've already partaken in the major spring 2012 trend of color, color, color, by snatching up a pair of fire-engine-red, patent leather loafers on sale at Target for $12. Yes, $12. They look purposely-super-preppy with dark-wash jeans and a navy-and-white striped sailor top, and equally as classic with cropped chinos and a white tee. I also found an always-stylish pair of leapoard-print ballets, which can be paired with any bright spring basics, from jeans and a tee to ankle pants, a crisp chino skirt, or a solid-colored shirtdress. Once the warm weather hits, I plan to add more trendy color to my closet by snagging a vivid, cheery sundress or two (I wear them to death all summer) and a cute new coverup for the pool.

So as you can see, the trend of note this year is color. I'm not planning on drastically altering my basic style by shopping for wild florals, peplum jackets, or anything uber-impractical for my busy-mom life. But color is one trend anyone can buy into--and look great doing so, too.

What's on your spring style agenda? Share your style plans, and read about others', at the Life Well Lived page. Then go on over to the BlogHer Life Well Lived sweepstakes and enter to win a Kindle Fire! (Awesome, right?)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sunday Routine

A typical weekend running route

My favorite thing in the New York Times is the Sunday Routines feature. Do you read it? It's merely an outline of the typical weekend activities of someone in New York, generally someone distinctive but not name-famous: a dancer with the New York City Ballet, for example, or the Manhattan borough president.

They're usually not that exciting--brunch and babies and walks and whatnot--but I find them immensely entertaining. I guess it's fun to take a peek into someone else's life, especially someone who's a little like you--not a superstar celebrity like Katie Holmes or Beyonce, with whom your life would clearly have nothing in common--and yet theoretically more interesting, affluent, or dramatic.

As someone who lived for many years in big cities, in particular for a very long time in an uber-urban neighborhood in the heart of Chicago, and wouldn't live in a huge city again if someone paid me (no offense, urban-parent readers; just a personal preference for a simpler life and an actual house), I nevertheless enjoy the glimpse into city living and the memories it brings back. I also get a big kick out of the Sunday Routines of non-parents--the sleeping late, the lounging with coffee, the movies and solo workouts and prolonged brunches--because they're laughably foreign to me now and yet provide some sort of parent porn: OMG, the freeeeee tiiiiiime!

Just for fun, here's my version of Sunday Routine. How does yours compare?

PRE-DAWN KIDDOS AND COFFEE My daughters wake me up around six, which is an hour later than I sleep on weekdays, so I guess it's sleeping "late." I feed the cat and the kids, turn on NPR, and start the coffee. While the girls eat, I drink two giant mugs of coffee with half-and-half, check email and the online weather site, and generally just try to wake up. I might answer messages or check in on Facebook, where my fellow moms are often up as well.

MORNING SHIFT Sunday mornings are "lazy" in the sense that we don't go anywhere, but things are pretty active and noisy by 7 a.m. We tackle some chores, the girls play, and I'll often do some baking--which I love--with public radio on in the background. I've recently stopped working on Sundays; I used to do a lot of writing on the weekends but have found I'm a healthier person when I get a real weekend like most people.

A SWIM, A REST, AND A RUN During the school year, one or both of my daughters has swimming lessons on Sundays. I feed them an early lunch, then bring them to lessons and enjoy a half-hour of "me-time" while I watch them swim and browse a magazine during the lesson. After swimming, we go home and the girls take a rest. Very occasionally I do too, but more likely I'll cook and do laundry, or else go out on my weekly long run (which I sometimes save for later in the afternoon, depending on weather and our schedule).

PLAYTIME + EARLY SUPPER We typically plan something fun for Sunday late afternoons. Often that's for the girls with my husband only while I'm out running or busy cooking dinner, but sometimes we do something as a family like get together with another family, go to the park, or go sledding or for a walk. We try to get the kids active and outside in the afternoons. Because we enforce early bedtime, that means early dinner too, so we're always back by five for a home-cooked family meal, preparations for the next school day, and a bath for the kiddos. If I've just completed a seven- or eight-mile run, I'll soak in a hot bath too. I like quiet Sunday evenings. I find it helps everyone get mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming week.

SNUGGLES WITH BOOKS One of my daughters' favorite things to do before bedtime is to join me up on our big king-sized bed, get under a snuggly blanket, and read with me. Because they're avid independent readers, we all read our own things, cuddled up together. It's very relaxing and soothing. But I actually miss reading storybooks aloud to them. At seven, my husband tucks them into bed, and then it's always an unknown whether bedtime will go smoothly or if there will be multiple protests, calls, tears, and requests for water or a blankie that's gone lost. It's gotten better over the years, but Genevieve, our five-year-old, still fights bedtime most nights. It takes superhuman endurance to deal with it, but eventually everyone's quiet.

EARLY TO BED Christopher and I like to watch a series on DVD as a little in-home "date." Right now we're working our way through "Mad Men." We might pop some popcorn. But I like to get to bed early; my lights are out by nine at the latest most nights. Morning comes early in my house.

Your turn!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Scenes From a Meltdown

She's astute, this one.

As every parent knows, sometimes the only way to survive a young child's tantrum is to laugh. That was made considerably easier than usual this week with the following quotes from Genevieve, each spouted in wailing, screaming sobs, mid-meltdown:

"Everybody hates me! Even Santa!"

and, in response to my telling her that "There's always tomorrow to play," when she was crying about having to go to bed (and therefore, end her playtime):

"You always say there's always tomorrow! Not if I die, there isn't! One day you'll be WRONG!"

(About the latter: Oh my.)

Carry on, fellow warriors.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

MN Parent Feature

So, I've been reading Minnesota Parent magazine since...well, since becoming a parent. I love it. Imagine how flattered I was to be interviewed for their popular back page "Real Life" feature--a monthly profile of a Minnesota parent of note. (Very flattered!)

So today I picked up the new (March) issue, and there I was, hugging my daughters on the last page of the magazine and talking about writing my book, running with--and away from--my children, and why my stay-at-home mom days start at five a.m. If you're not in Minnesota or otherwise don't have access to a paper copy of the issue, you can read the interview online right here.

Playing Catch-Up

Oh my, friends. You have been so patient with me as I've been sick and busy with other things and not writing here as often as usual. I so appreciate it.

I wish I had all sort of glamorous and dramatic and interesting things to tell you today. I mean, maybe some of them are interesting to you. If not, I apologize in advance.

So what's been going on around Wonderland these days? Well, I was sick for about 2-1/2 weeks, after which I was well for about two days, then sick again for another four. (Blah, blah, boring, boring.) My daughter got sick too, only she had a serious fever, and because both my children have a congenital urinary tract abnormality, fevers for them are substantially more worrisome than fevers might otherwise be. (She's fine.) She and I spent a lot of time lying on the couch together, watching PBS Kids and cartoon movies. Actually I've been concentrating on spending more time with my children in general, and less time online, because Genevieve will be in all-day school in just six short months, and you never get those months back. I've been thinking about that a lot lately--looking at their little bodies and rounded faces and realizing that it's my job to be here with them and fully experience this time with them right now, because once it's gone I will never see it again.

But even so, there is book promotion to do, so I lost some time to Pinterest, and if you're into that kind of thing and would like to follow me there, you can click here. I created a Facebook page for The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual, and you can Like that here, if you are so inclined (and I hope you are).

What else? I was offered a blogger position for a fun women's magazine in my area (I said YES). I was approached about another job, one I am still in discussions about and won't go into right now. I updated my new professional website, because I'm developing my part-time private coaching practice (check over there for more info). I got a book reading in April at a Minneapolis-area bookstore called The Bookcase, which is super exciting because this bookstore gets major, famous authors like Jodi Picoult. The fact that they want little old me to read at their store this spring is mind-boggling, and it's going to be really fun, so if you're from the Twin Cities, consider coming to meet me! I'd love it.

And then my friend Rita--whom I adored even before she did this--said wonderful things about my book on her blog, which is all the nicer considering the fact that she and her kids have been horribly sick, which, as we all know, makes everything ten times harder and more exhausting. And yet she still has time to plug my book. Rita told me last year to ignore the winter/stress weight I'd gained, consider it necessary extra resources, and quit torturing myself by trying on swimsuits that reminded me of the winter/stress weight I'd gained, so, you know: LOVE. HER. (She also has the most gorgeous hair you've ever seen.)

I'm sure there's more--there's always more--but I'll leave you with this for now. And if this post wasn't entertaining enough for you, go back and re-read this one, from Monday, because it is hilarious.