Saturday, April 28, 2012

BlogHer Asks: Internet = Happiness?

Well, I'm back, but only because I'm using a laptop computer that my husband borrowed from work so that I could get a few things done this weekend. Because I'm a member of BlogHer's Life Well Lived panel of bloggers, one of those things is to write a post answering this week's question: How does blogging, journaling, writing and connecting online help to increase your happiness?

Such a good question.

I've written this blog for nearly six years now, and in that time I've experienced so many life changes I've lost track of them all. Having a second child, closing my private psychotherapy practice, starting and building a career as a writer, serving as the president of the Board of Directors for my daughters' co-op preschool, volunteering regularly at their elementary school, joining our CSA farm, making new friends and carefully backing away from others, writing a book and getting it published, planning a wellness coaching practice, raising my girls from babies to kids--these are just a few of the numerous challenging transitions that have come my way in recent years. And through it all, writing here has played a huge role in my life, serving as a constant through the changes.

Some of the friendships I have formed via Internet communication alone have been vital to my sanity and happiness in recent years, as strange as that would have sounded eight or 10 years ago. And many of my online connections have influenced my attitude, world view, or approach to daily life as a busy stay-at-home mom in very important ways. Reading other blogs, and getting to know their authors, has been enormously entertaining, helpful, and stress-relieving--and also just a whole lot of fun. In addition to all that, connecting with other, unknown and often anonymous moms via my blog has given me so much joy and satisfaction. (Not counting the mean anonymous commenters who sometimes crop up as part and parcel of the experience.)

Why is this type of communication so important to happiness? Because women especially, I think, crave friendship and social connection, and because "real-life" friends are often far away and not available for an in-person chat at the many odd hours you may need the comfort and support one could give. Because none of us wants to feel alone. Because the life of a modern stay-at-home mom is isolating and stressful, and often doesn't include much adult contact during the day.

I've considered giving up my blog many times, and have more seriously considered cutting down on the time I spend online. I still think the latter is probably a good idea; like anything else, it can eat up time I could and should be using for other endeavors. Then again, the essays and articles I have had published online have fueled my career as a writer and even padded my bank account at times--not to mention, my blog ultimately inspired and developed into my book.

What about you? Do you value your friendships and casual connections you form online? Is blog-reading or -writing a hobby that's fun and stress-relieving for you? Head on over to BlogHer's main Life Well Lived post to read how other bloggers answer this question, and be sure to enter the sweepstakes!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Absence Explained

Hi, friends. Just a quick note to let you know that my computer is in the shop right now, which means I am typing this on my phone. In other words, this is why I'm not writing anything here these days, nor posting much on Facebook or twitter, if you happen to care about those things. Stay tuned; I'll be back as soon as I can.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stretching



When my girls were very small, my godmother gave them a little children's dance DVD called "Baby Dance." It was an under-30-minutes collection of adult-led dance segments like "Freeze Dance," "Maraca Dance," and "Stretching." (You can order it here, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It was developed and created by a professional dancer and dance teacher, and it's wonderful.)

My daughters did "Baby Dance" literally every day for years when they were toddlers. I'd put it on while I made their lunch each day, and the DVD's music became the soundtrack of my life as a stay-at-home mom of two little girls. My favorite section was "Ballet," which had a sweet, high, lilting piano accompaniment that even now I can hum for you by heart, and which brings immediately to mind two little bodies, round bellies puffed out, tiny arms held high, twirling on tiptoe in attempted pirouettes, the kind of sweet sight that embodies the very best of mothering babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, in all their heart-achingly poignant innocence and joy. When I'm eighty, if you turn on that music from "Ballet" in my presence, I'll be immediately transported to the time in my life when my daughters were both under five.

After awhile our lives, ages, and schedules changed, and we gradually stopped doing "Baby Dance." I missed it but rarely thought about it. But on Saturday, with dreary rain falling outside, I decided to put it on. Why not? We couldn't go out to play. We hadn't gotten any exercise yet that day.

"Girls!" I said excitedly. "Let's do 'Baby Dance!'"

Genevieve and I located the necessary props, pushed the coffee table aside. Julia remained skeptical, recovering from a cold and tired from an afternoon playdate, but I talked it up anyway.

When I turned on the DVD, Genevieve went crazy for it, jumping around and throwing herself wildly into the "Freeze Dance" segment, with its stop-and-start music. I reveled in nostalgia and joined Vivi when she asked.

From the couch, chapter book open in her hands, Julia sighed and said, "Mama, you look ridiculous, will you please stop that?"

Right on cue. She turns eight in five weeks.

But oh! How things have changed since both my baby dancers tiptoed around the living room with plastic jingly giraffes as maracas. I confess an inward sigh and a mental sniffle or two.

But outwardly, I danced all the crazier. Because I'm the mom of an almost-tween; isn't that my new job?

I thought so.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Chocolate Chip Walnut Squares


photo courtesy bettycrocker.com


Today Genevieve and I made this recipe out of the Betty Crocker Cookie Book for a dear friend's birthday. I had been planning on making my signature brownies, but I forgot I only had one egg left in the house (crazy!) and I didn't feel like going to the store. Then, in anticipation of the brownies, I had only softened one stick of butter, so I couldn't make any other recipe that called for just one egg but a whole cup of butter.

Genevieve and I combed pretty much the entire cookbook to find a recipe we deemed birthday-suitable (read: not just some boring regular chocolate chip cookie or anything like that) and for which we had all the ingredients. (Actually, we didn't have all the ingredients, so I used walnuts in place of the original pecans, and mini-chocolate chips and white chocolate chips in place of the original regular chocolate chips and/or butterscotch chips.)

I'm telling you all this to impress upon you that, despite all this ingredient-wrangling and recipe-searching, these sweets are so unbelievably delicious that they were well worth the trouble. Because yes, we DID keep a few for ourselves. And then I gave myself a stomachache by "sampling" too much of them at one time. OMG rich. OMG to die for.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Squares
makes 24 to 36

Crust Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 T. softened butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Filling Ingredients:
1 stick softened butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts

Topping:
1/2 cup chocolate, butterscotch, and/or white chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, mix flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 3 T. softened butter until mixed and crumbly. Press this mixture into an ungreased 8" x 8" or 9" x 9" pan.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar until boiling, stirring constantly. Let boil for 1 minute. Take off heat and add vanilla and walnuts. Stir to combine. Pour mixture over the crust.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until filling is bubbly. Sprinkle with chocolate or butterscotch chips, then put back into oven for 2 minutes, until chips are softened. DO NOT SPREAD. Let pan cool for 10 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan. Let cool the rest of the way, and cut into small squares or rectangles. Store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Controversy & Guilt


Hard at work as a stay-at-home mom?






Or hard at work as a stay-at-home mom?


Yesterday I spent the entire day in workout clothes. I'd like to say that's the first time it's ever happened to me in my nearly eight years of stay-at-home mom-hood, but, while I can't specifically recall another instance, I know they exist. They must. Those early days? When even pulling on a pair of jeans seemed ambitious? I'm not saying I was wearing workout clothes because I was working out all day back then, but let's just say that stretchy yoga pants and tanks feel an awful lot like pajamas. Which, when you're anything under, say, two years postpartum, is a big selling point.

Anyway. Yesterday I actually DID work out all day. Well, not all day exactly, but Genevieve had a drop-off playdate for a couple of hours in the morning, during which I decided to get my run in--and why get dressed in real clothes at seven if you're going to be changing into workout clothes at nine? And then my weekly Moms' Walk was scheduled for 12:45 in the afternoon after our kindergartners left on the bus, so why change out of running clothes at ten if I'm going to go walking at one? And then after the walk, the only place I was going was to take my daughters to our friends' after school to play outside with their new puppy, and why wear nice clothes for that?

So I didn't. I stayed in workout clothes all day. But truth be told, I felt a little guilty about it. Because it meant that for two different parts of the day, I was doing something "recreational," just for myself. Keep in mind that those two parts of the day totaled 80 minutes, out of a day that began at five a.m. And also that I've written a whole book about the need for stay-at-home moms to value and prioritize their health and well-being, including finding time to exercise and see friends. But I still felt a little bit guilty. Because aren't stay-at-home moms supposed to be working our rears off every waking minute for the good of our households and families? Aren't we supposed to be proving to all the working-outside-the-home-for-pay adults in the world that stay-at-home moms don't just sit around doing what they please? (Or, go for walks and runs in the middle of the day?)

In my heart and in the logical part of my brain, I know full well that I work harder as a stay-at-home mom than many a working professional, and that any brief and occasional break to get some fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and adult contact scheduled into my eight years at home full-time with children is deeply deserved. I know this because I've been both a stay-at-home mom and a working professional, and while my profession was not easy or without stress and exhaustion, it was nothing compared to my work as a stay-at-home mom. And I don't say that to lord it over any working-for-pay people out there. I say it because it's flat-out true.

Sure, it's nice to not have a commute, to be able to wear workout clothes all day if I really want to, and even to take a walk or go for a run once in awhile once my babes are finally old enough to go somewhere without me for a bit during the day. But believe me, the around-the-clock duties and lack of sleep and wear and tear on your body, mind, and emotions more than make up for the occasional day when you can steal away for a walk or spend the afternoon doing something fun rather than something anyone would call "work." The patience and wherewithal required to parent small children all day every day with nary a break is beyond description.

There are days--many of them--when the job of stay-at-home motherhood itself is absolutely blissful--think hanging out at the city pool in the summer with your gaggle of mom friends and their children--but that doesn't mean that even on those blissful days the work you're doing at the same time isn't incredibly challenging. Hanging out at the city pool in the summer with a gaggle of friends while monitoring toddlers and changing swim diapers and feeding snacks and applying sunblock to squirming kids and handling public tantrums and never sitting down or sitting still is a not at all what many non-stay-at-home moms probably think hanging out at the pool in the middle of a weekday must really be like.

And, of course, most days involve a heck of a lot more I'm stuck at home with a teething baby and a stubborn two-year-old and they're both still in diapers and one of them has the stomach flu and I haven't combed my hair yet or talked to another adult in nine hours nor did I ever get to eat my lunch--or, at the very least, I've got two free hours this entire week and I'm choosing to spend them volunteering in my children's classrooms because it's important to me even though I always leave with a headache--than they do hanging out at the city pool with friends. The days at the city pool, like the days during which you can go for a run or a walk, are the job rewards for all those other days.

Hilary Rosen may have meant "hasn't worked a day outside the home for a paycheck" when referring to Ann Romney rather than what she really said, but the truth is, "hasn't worked a day in her life" are fighting words to stay-at-home moms. Because it's downright rude to suggest that what we're doing all day, all night, all weekend, and every holiday isn't a ton of work. If you go to work outside the home for pay, and have someone else do all the things we do, you pay them, don't you? And don't you call that work?

I realize what she probably meant. My point is that even if that's what she meant, the words she actually said are inexcusable. They make anyone who utters them sound like a class-A jerk. Those are the kinds of words that make some of the hardest-working women you'll ever meet feel, for a moment, guilty about going for a walk in the middle of the day. Because heaven forbid we give anyone else a reason to say we don't work hard enough--or don't work at all.

In the end, I believe that, if you're a stay-at-home mom, it doesn't truly matter in your day to day life what Hilary Rosen thinks about your chosen work. The only thing that matters in that regard is if the other adult in your household who financially supports the family thinks you're working hard. If he or she thinks your job is a cop-out from hard work because it doesn't draw a paycheck, you're going to have problems. But if he or she believes, as my husband does, that you work harder than he or she likely ever could--and that the work you do, while unpaid, contributes an unimaginable amount to the good of the family, even if you occasionally go for a run or a walk or read a magazine or meet a friend for lunch (likely because he or she does that during his or her work day occasionally, too), you're good.

But Hilary Rosen still sounded like a real jerk.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Time Does Not Stop Passing, Not Even for Sentimental Moms. Discuss.

Just a few thoughts for this rainy, stormy, tornado-y early morning. (Actually, the severe weather and tornadoes that dogged us last evening and overnight are gone. In their place is a forecast that includes words like "50% chance of snow" and "high of 45 degrees" and "winds gusting to 30+mph.)

I have been crazy busy. We had the big literacy fair at my daughters' school late last week:


She read her poem out loud with a microphone in front of the whole school at the end of the evening.


Then my mother-in-law came to visit (and is still here), Christopher's birthday was on Friday (homemade cake, yo), and both my daughters plus the cat developed strange medical afflictions. (Genevieve: infected thumb; Julia: mysterious swollen gland on one side of her neck; cat: hyperactive thyroid disorder which has caused her to become seriously underweight, requires pill twice a day). I keep thinking and saying that life is calming down and I'm going to relax now, but the reality is, life never calms down for moms. (Must. Keep. Reminding. Self.)

I have scheduled four more book readings for upcoming weeks. Two are at moms' clubs in the suburbs north of my town, two are at coffeehouses in a town a couple of hours away from here. Oh, and remember my hometown paper, the one that did a feature on me and my book and put the story on the homepage of their online version? Well, my mom wasn't exaggerating when she told me that in the print version, it took the entire front page of the relevant section of the paper:


Where is the last word of the book's title? It's a mystery.


Crazy, you all! Wow.

Lastly, I am starting to get a horrible sad-stomachache over the sudden, shocking realization that there is only a month and a half left in the school year. This is horrible not for the reason you may suspect. I happen to adore summer vacation with my daughters; I'm the crazy mom who wishes it was more than three months long. But six weeks left of the second grade and (especially) kindergarten? Is the universe trying to break my heart? In six weeks my children will be on their way to the THIRD--which seems so, so "big kid"--and FIRST GRADES (i.e., my last baby goes to all-day school for the first time, never to be home with me during the school year for any part of the day again, and will be a big six-year-old by the time she climbs the school bus next September, which, as every mom will understand, makes me want to cry with my head in my hands).

So there's all that. Which is plenty.

Edited to add: I am reminded of what my friend Amy always says: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." I will be smiling an awful lot at the end of kindergarten and second grade.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mommy Memory Deficit

The other day Rita over at Surrender, Dorothy was talking about the fact that she is terrible at remembering names. I can totally relate to this because I, too, have a horrible memory--for most things, actually, but especially names (and sometimes even faces!) of people I've met once or twice but don't know well. Actually, I can meet someone more than once or twice and, if I don't see them often or hang out with them on a regular basis, I can still forget their names and sometimes their faces. I know, it's awful.

It especially happens at school. We live in a small town, and there's tons of overlap: half of my husband's colleagues at the college have kids that go to the same school our daughters do; the Spanish teacher grew up in my hometown and knows some of the same native-northerners in town that I do; my sports medicine doctor's older daughters are playmates with our next-door neighbor, who happens to be one of my daughters' best friends. And on and on and on. There are all these times when I see acquaintances from one area of my life at a different venue, which throws my brain for a loop.

I'm always getting into situations at the school where it's fairly obvious that I should know someone but I'm at a loss. It's worst at all-school events like the annual arts and literacy festival that took place last night, when the hallways are literally jam-packed and everyone's snaking by everyone else and it's just constant "hello"s and "oh, hi"s and "hey, how are you?"s.

I can't tell you how many times someone looked me right in the face, smiled a meaningful smile, and said a sincere hello to me like they knew me. Usually it's the dads. Last night at every crowded classroom some dad I faintly recognized or didn't recognize at all greeted me with intention, and I was all like, "....Hhhhhhiiiii!" while I hurried past with a daughter in each hand, hoping they didn't notice the blank smile on my face. Ay yi yi.

Don't be offended, local dads. It's not you; it's me. I have no excuse. I'm not even night-nursing anymore so I can't use extreme sleep deprivation as the explanation for my sieve-like brain. Next time you see me, feel free to start with, "You probably don't remember me, but..." I promise I'll stop, smile, and be glad you (and I) did.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: Train Like a Mother


courtesy anothermotherrunner.com


If you're a mom who runs, you've likely already heard of Run Like a Mother, the first book by runner-mom-writers Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea. (And if you haven't, get up to speed, mama! Hey, that was a nice unintentional pun, wasn't it?)

Dimity and Sarah both have essays in the anthology P.S. What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, as do I, so I like to think of them as close personal friends. Even though we've never met. We're also all moms, writers, and runners, so clearly we're BFFs. Hi, Dimity and Sarah!

Run Like a Mother was so successful that these two turned the book into a franchise and launched a website called another mother runner--which you should really check out, if you haven't yet--and wrote book number two, the newly-released Train Like a Mother. (That is some awesome entrepreneurship, ladies.) When I was offered the opportunity to review this latest installment in what I hope will be a mom-running trilogy (?), I jumped at the chance.

Train Like a Mother's subtitle says it all: How to Get Across Any Finish Line--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity. While Run Like a Mother focused on moms and running in general, Train Like a Mother delves into the world of racing (and I use that word loosely; we're not necessarily talking about racing to win or even be fast, but racing in all its various forms, from running a marathon or setting a PR to simply getting through your first 5K).

The speed at which I read this book speaks volumes about how much I liked it--and I'm not even a racer. Dimity and Sarah resurrect their signature down-to-earth, friendly, conversational tone of the first book, and the book itself appealingly follows the design formula of book number one, including the bright color, clever line drawing, and pleasing matte finish of the cover; the fun inside format with its lists and every-mama-runner quotes sprinkled throughout; and the easy-to-read sidebars and visuals. Nice!

Oh, but maybe you read books for more than just their appearance. OK! Well, let me tell you, if you're a mom runner who is batting around the idea of signing up for a race or is already a race fanatic, this book is for you. You'll love it. It's chock-full of every piece of information you'd ever want, from tons of training plans (ranging from beginner to advanced) and nutrition advice to wardrobe recommendations and running-with-the-baby-jogger tips.

But if you're a mom runner who is not a racer, like me, you'll love it too--and you may just turn into a racer by the end of the book. Dimity and Sarah make 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons sound pretty fun and doable. Marathons too, for you ambitious types! (For the record, I've done a few 5Ks and even the Chicago Half-Marathon in my running past, just not within, like, the last 15 years.)

Because here's the thing: some of us non-racers like training plans anyway, for their structure and challenge and defined way to ease back into running after an injury, for example (as I'm doing right now). And even non-racers benefit from chapters on nutrition, running gear, balancing running time with family time, coping with running injuries, and all the rest. So don't pass up this book just because you don't do races. If you're a mom who loves to run, you'll still get a lot out of this book--and enjoy yourself while you read it, too. It's funny and entertaining and enlightening. (I'm not sure I really ever wanted to know about runners who intentionally pee their pants while racing to avoid the time delay of using the Porta-Potties, though. Some things you can never un-learn.)

So what's next, Dimity and Sarah? Is there a number three in your future? How about something about mom-runners introducing their young daughters to the sport? It could include things like age-appropriate training plans, healthy eating, boredom busters, how running affects girls' physical and emotional health (big news right now with all the buzz about early puberty and the research showing that exercise is the only thing that reliably slows premature puberty), how to make running fun, cross-training/active play ideas, and body image issues! Hey, do you need a third writer???

I don't know what it would be called, though. Coach Like a Mother? I don't know. We can think about it. Wink, wink. (Call me.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

That's One Expensive Owie.

Yesterday I spent $50 on my five-year-old's hangnail. She had developed some kind of freaky infection in her thumb which our pediatrician theorized was probably a hangnail or over-bitten thumbnail that was then invaded by bacteria from school or playing outside. It was $35 for the co-pay at the doctor's office, and $15 to get the prescription oral antibiotics she needs to take for a week.

This may be the perfect illustration of how parenthood alters your financial life: be all proud of how you saved a jillion dollars by not running the gas fireplace last winter, then get a $50 bill for a hangnail on your five-year-old's thumb.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Local Girl Makes Good?

The newspaper for the city where I grew up, the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, ran its feature on me and my book today. I'm even on their homepage, which is completely awesome. The population for this entire metro area is roughly 200,000, and while I know they don't all read the paper, it's still far more exposure than I can get in the little town I live in now.

I blame my inability to speak in complete sentences and my numerous run-on thoughts to the fact that I was cooking dinner and watching the clock for the school bus during the phone interview. That's real mom life, right?

Monday, April 09, 2012

After School


Julia's teaching me how to hula hoop, and Genevieve's documenting it.

Go Running, Mama!

photo via Pinterest

Don't you love it? I found it on Pinterest. Do you see what it says? "Go running. Your Facebook friends can wait." Awesome.

Speaking of mamas and running, stay tuned for an upcoming review of the new book Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity, by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea, authors of the first book in this series (it's gonna be a series, right D. and S.?), Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity.

Coming soon.

The Cool Kids All Play "Indoor Swimming Pool for Toys."

I trust that everyone had a lovely holiday weekend. My household does not really celebrate Easter unless we're visiting my parents, so other than the requisite Easter bunny delivery of baskets to discover on Sunday morning and the fact that swimming lessons were cancelled for the day, our Sunday wasn't much different from any other. Although I did make a big egg-and-onion pie and wheat rolls, which seemed rather Easter brunch-y. (OK, so we had it for dinner, so what?)

It was a much-needed relaxing weekend for a change, however. After last weekend's solo-parenting stint (which was fun but exhausting), and a week that included my book reading in another town and all the usual school volunteering and work projects and stay-at-home mom duties, I wanted to minimize my running around and maximize my sitting still while reading library books. True, I took the girls to gymnastics class, and before that I dyed Easter eggs with them, but mainly we hung out at home, reading, playing, and watching The Jungle Book on VHS from the library. (Gotta love the retro vibe.)

At one point during the day yesterday, when lunch wasn't quite ready and the sun hadn't come out yet and boredom and impatience and hunger were setting in, I distracted the children with a kids' activity inspired by one of the ideas in the special bonus chapter ("'So What Do You Do All Day?': Simple At-Home Kid Activities That Won't Break the Bank or Drive You Crazy") of my book.

And here is where I want to prove to you that the clever children's activities that you may believe are only for babies, toddlers, or preschoolers, and which you are sure your older kids have grown out of, can actually entertain far older children than you might think. Do not give up on the ingenious kids' activities you've used in the past but since moved on from, or have seen (in my book?) and passed by.

Here are my five- and seven- (almost eight!) year-olds playing "swimming pool and bath for Barbies and animals":


It may be hard to see, but those are just a large Pyrex baking pan and a Tupperware cupcake keeper, one filled with plain water and one with bubbles, laid out on towels. The lucky pool-and-bathtime participants included two new Barbie fairy dolls, a slew of rubber rats from Halloween, some plastic butterflies and bugs, and a collection of small cat figurines. Just between you and me, if I were Barbie I'd be hightailing it out of the water the second a rubber rat jumped in.

For many more effective children's activities for those times when you need to get lunch on the table without small people whining and pulling at your pants legs, get your hands on a copy of my book. In the meantime, try out the doll swimming pool idea, above.

Have a wonderful week, friends.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Guest Post at What Do We Do All Day?

Don't forget to head on over to What Do We Do All Day? today to check out the guest post I wrote for Mom and Kiddo about a fun outdoor kids' activity idea for spring and summer. And while you're there, click around to avail yourself of all Mom and Kiddo's brilliant children's activities and reviews of the best children's books around.

Last Night at The Bookcase


photo courtesy The Bookcase

Last night was my book reading and signing at the beautiful and historic independent bookshop The Bookcase, which is situated on the main street of shops in downtown Wayzata, overlooking huge Lake Minnetonka, in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. It was a perfect night, with the sun shining and the lake already studded with sailboats.

I love this place; Christopher and I lived around there for a few years long ago when I landed my first post-graduate-school job at a clinic in the area, and we used to drive around the lake to get to Wayzata and get coffees at the Caribou that connects to the store, then browse the bookshelves. I remember sitting at that Caribou with a writing journal, trying to pen something--anything!--that I could one day turn into something publishable. If you had told me then that in ten years I'd be at that same bookstore, but this time as a published author doing a reading of my new book and signing copies, I would have stared at you in disbelief. Isn't life amazing?


The entire evening was completely lovely; one of my closest friends from my own town, who grew up in the Twin Cities western suburbs, drove up with me a few hours early so we could meet some friends of hers for drinks and dinner at a restaurant across the street from the bookstore, overlooking the lake, before the reading. (Although I was tempted, I refrained from ordering a cocktail or glass of wine, and stuck with Diet Coke.)

The bookstore manager, Jane, was wonderfully welcoming and sweet, totally prepared, and nice as can be. Love her. I should have gotten a picture with her. I also wish I had snapped a photo of the bookstore door, which sported a poster of my author photo and book cover, but when you're the author coming to do the reading, you tend to be focused on other things and those things don't occur to you at the time. At least I got the picture of the flyer for my reading and a stack of my books on the store shelf.



Crazily enough, I ended up knowing almost everyone in the audience, because the turnout was, shall we say, less than stellar. My friend and her sister-in-law were there with me, and four good friends and former co-workers from that long-ago job came to see me again. (Suuuuper fun. Hadn't seen most of them for the entire decade since. I swear I am telling the truth when I say everyone looked exactly the same. Seriously.)

For a sizable chunk of the reading, a bookstore patron or two sat at the back and listened, but it was clear neither of them came specifically for the event. (Not a problem! Very happy to have them!) And lovely Jane joined the audience as well. To tell you the truth, I was just relieved that anyone besides my Northfield friend was there at all. I have heard horror stories of authors traveling to unknown bookstores only to have the audience peopled by three listeners, two of whom are bookstore staff.

Huge thanks to my buddies for turning out, to my friend Kathy for accompanying me, organizing dinner, and making the entire evening even more fun, and to The Bookcase for hosting my reading. I still have to pinch myself when I stop and consider that I'm actually the published author of a real book, doing readings at bookstores and signing books for readers. Amazing.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, those of you who celebrate the holiday, and as always, a million thanks for being here, reading what I have to say, and being a part of my tribe.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Reminder!

This is your last-minute reminder! If you're a Twin Cities-area mom, come on out to my reading and book signing tonight at The Bookcase (Wayzata, MN) for The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual. It's at 7 p.m. and is bound to be a lot of fun. Bring your mom friends and introduce yourselves to me! Check the bookstore's website for details and directions.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Moms & Personal Style


OK, I still do the ponytail thing pretty often, I admit.

As readers of my book, The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos, know, it took me a long time after the births of my babies to pull myself back together and cultivate anything resembling a personal style. (Unless you call yoga pants, baggy jeans, nursing tanks, t-shirts, and messy ponytails a "personal style.") And I don't mean a long time after the birth of baby number one, and then a separate long time after the birth of baby number two. I mean the whole damn time between having the first one and, um, the second one becoming a toddler.

My daughters are five and seven now (holy time lapse! how did that happen?!), and though no one would identify me as the most stylish mom in town (that would be this one other mom, the one who wears high-heeled wedges for school drop-off and coordinates her entire outdoor-pool ensembles, and I say that with absolute admiration and envy, swear to God, because OMG the stylishness! does she have superpowers?), these days, if pressed, I could identify my personal style without mentioning workout wear.

This week, BlogHer has asked its Life Well Lived writers (that's me, yo) to answer the question, How do you find your fashion voice and cultivate your personal style? for the latest installment in the BlogHer feature on looking your best.

Because I'm a full-time stay-at-home mom on a budget, my personal style reflects those specifics. Similarly, because I live in a small college town situated in the wholesome countryside, where people are generally more focused on academia, politics, the arts, and/or outdoor sports than on fashion and appearance, my personal style is influenced by the subcultural norms of that particular setting. You wouldn't want to go much farther than wearing high-heeled wedges in the school pick-up line around here, for example; anything more and you'd be straying away from "enviable, stylish mom" and veering into "too unlike everyone else" territory, and it just wouldn't fly.

But that's true for everyone, isn't it? Your fashion voice and personal style are cultivated by your environment, social circle, culture, region, and day-to-day activities, in addition to your own personal likes and dislikes.

When it comes to specifics, I've been strongly influenced by mom-style blogger Susan Wagner, who preaches a classy, grown-up but fun version of preppy style that meshes well with my daily life and is totally doable for most moms. I also like to keep an eye on what 30- and 40-something celebrity moms like Sarah Jessica Parker and Gwyneth Paltrow are wearing in those snaps you see online of them dropping their kids off at school or grabbing an iced coffee at Starbucks. Sure, they're rich and gorgeous, but there's no reason I can't adapt their skinny jeans, boots, scarves, and big sunglasses into a less-rich, less-gorgeous, less-glamorous version for my own school visits and iced coffee runs. You don't see SJP running around in yoga pants and an ill-fitting old nursing tank, do you?

I also think it's crucial to do two related, and sometimes seemingly paradoxical, things when forming my (and your) personal style. Those things are: a.) dress for your body type; but also b.) be confident with whatever shape you have and don't be afraid to wear something that you're not "supposed" to wear with your body shape if you love it and it makes you feel great. Don't let the fashion police tell you that you can't wear a two-piece to the pool this summer just because you've got a little mommy-tummy, or that no one with your curvy hips should be donning skinny jeans. For one thing, there's no actual fashion police. For another, it's your life; if your clothes make you happy, they will be a great component of your personal style, because personal style is all about breezing through your days with an air of confidence and contentment. A confident mom is a stylish mom.

Don't forget to check out the BlogHer main post on personal style for other women's style ideas, and enter the next BlogHer Life Well Lived sweepstakes (beginning April 6), too.

Traumatic Premature Swimsuit Syndrome


photo courtesy Old Navy


Although I have been thrilled with the mild, barely-there "winter" we had and freakishly-early spring we are currently experiencing in MN this year, there is no denying its one major downside: one has been forced to face summery clothes an entire month or two earlier than usual. And let's be frank. That's two months' less time in which to whip one's doughy, neglected body into something resembling an appropriate body-baring shape.

This is when one regrets, for example, the thirteen dozen cookies from the Christmas Cookie Exchange. I mean, whose thighs are ready to be bared to the world in March, or even early April? Seriously? Perhaps a 15-year-old girl's, but definitely NOT a forty-something-year-old wife and mom's. (Wow, that makes me sound really old. For the record, I'm barely forty-something. In fact, I prefer to think of myself as post-thirty-something.)

It doesn't help that I'm once again (or still) an injured runner. I was fine for a couple of months, then I was sick for the entire month of February, and when I resumed running after that, I may have jumped back into my normal running schedule a little too fast, causing my OTHER hip and glute to respond with anger and resentment. So now I'm back to hobbling out a few miles here and there, envying every healthy runner that zips by and experiencing post-traumatic flashbacks of getting cortisone shots in my rear. (NEVER. AGAIN.) In case you were wondering, hobbling two or three miles now and then is not sufficient to undo the damage inflicted by the Christmas Cookie Exchange. And since I'm used to having until late May to solve that problem, well... it's not going well.

On the other hand, having spring in what is normally winter is so unbelievably awesome it leads me to realize that I probably should relocate to a different state. I can't assume that winter in MN is going to be like this from now on, and I've heard there are places you can live that don't snow you in for six months of every year. Intriguing.

What about you? How's the weather where you live? And what are you doing for YOUR Bikini Body Countdown? (Which should more accurately be called Forty-something Mom-Style Swimsuit For Concealing Wobbly Bits Body Countdown, in my case.)

Fill me in, mamas.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Real Parenting Gem, I Know.

Amazing and profound mama-wisdom for the day:

In response to a cry of outrage over someone being hit by someone else with a nightgown:

"Here's a good rule of life. Generally speaking, if you're hit by something so soft that it doesn't even matter anyway, best just to ignore that it happened, say nothing, and move on."

You're welcome.

Did You Win?

Did you check out who won the giveaway of my book over at What Do We Do All Day? You should. It might be you! And if it's not, perhaps this would be a good time to order yourself a copy, or one for that other mom you know. Remember: Mother's Day is coming up! (OK, not for over a month, but it never hurts to get your shopping done early! Even if that shopping is for yourself!)

Stay tuned for an upcoming guest post on What Do We Do All Day?, too. Big thanks to Mom and Kiddo for inviting me to contribute.

Monday, April 02, 2012

My Pulse Rate Has Since Returned to Normal.

I just finished a three-day solo-parenting weekend, and I'm here to say: Such things are much more fun when your daughters are five and seven rather than, say, one and three, but they still require near-constant work. At the very end of the day, when the children are tucked in bed and finally quiet and you're totally exhausted from a day of adventures that began at six a.m., no one else is going to fold that giant pile of sheets and towels or clean up the cat vomit, now are they? So get on that. I know you can barely move. That doesn't matter.

Whew. Yawn. I'm tired. And needless to say, I didn't have time to blog or write anything else, either. But we did have a LOT of fun--during daylight hours, that is.

Genevieve coughed all night both nights, and the cat--whom I'm concerned has feline diabetes--was acting weird, yowling and fussing because no one was staying up late with her downstairs, so a good night's sleep was not on the agenda. But the real reason I barely slept for two nights was because I was afraid someone was going to break into the house and kill me and/or my kids. Someone who could tell Christopher was out of town and that the only people in the house were a defenseless woman and her equally defenseless children. It happens. I watch "Dateline NBC."

This fear was only amplified when, on Saturday night, just a few moments after I turned out the light to go to sleep, a loud crash emanated from somewhere in the house.

Yes. A loud crash occurred, in the dark, in my house, at a time when it could not have been made by me or the children.

After a moment of frozen panic, I decided it was probably the cat knocking down the baby gate that keeps her on the first floor during the night, and I switched on the lamp and put on my glasses and went reluctantly to find out.

I keep a small kitchen light on downstairs when Christopher is out of town, so when I gingerly crept to the stairs and peeked over, I could clearly see that the baby gate was solidly upright.

What? Damn. Now I had to continue downstairs to find out what made that sound.

A little further down the stairs, and I could see that the cat was far from the gate, lying on her bed behind the TV stand as usual--clearly not the source of the crash.

My house has lots of corners and counters and half-walls and closets that an intruder could hide behind, in, and under. And because a.) I was the only adult at home, b.) I could see nothing notably amiss from my view from the stairs--nothing knocked over by the cat, for example; no piles of toys or books that could have slid over on their own--and c.) I had to find out what made the crash, I was forced to look behind, in, and under every one of them. At night. Alone. In the dead quiet. Oops, did I say "dead"? Poor choice of words.

Of course by now I had very nearly had a heart attack. But what could I do? I had to deal with The Crash in the Night.

After peeking around the corner into the kitchen in abject terror (nothing there, whew!), I grabbed the phone and, clutching it so tightly my knuckles went white, I slowly opened every door. The storage closet under the stairs? Good Lord. I even needed to round the closet's corner and peek in the crawl space under the stairs. If you were a murderer, wouldn't this be the perfect place to hide? Of course it would. (Nothing there, thank God.)

The laundry room? OMG, there is a small window that goes straight into it from the front walk. (Nothing there.)

Behind the door of the half-bath? Lord help me. (No one.)

The large utility room that houses the furnace and hot water heater? Ideal for hiding. But no one there.

I double-checked every piece of furniture, every picture hung on every wall, every shelf of books, every overstuffed cabinet. Had anything fallen over? Things like that happen by themselves sometimes, don't they? I knew the loud crash had come from my house, and because I hadn't been asleep yet, I knew it hadn't been a dream. And yet I could find no evidence of its provenance.

All I could do was go back upstairs to my bedroom. You know, to peacefully drift off to sleep. With visions of "Dateline NBC" dancing in my head.

After turning on nearly every light in the house, checking on the girls more than once, and texting Christopher for 20 minutes, I went back to bed. And proceeded to pretty much not sleep all night long.

In the morning I figured I'd see something in the light of day that had escaped me at night. But no. I still found no explanation for the sound in the night.

Much later, when Christopher was back home and I was out on my first run since Thursday, he discovered the source of the loud crash in the night. The big plastic sled and snow saucers, which had been piled together, had slid off their shelf in the (attached) garage and crashed into the boxes below and into the garage wall--the wall that is, of course, also the wall of the house. The large crash in the night, that sounded like it was right there in the house, was three winter sleds crashing down on their own in the garage. That's all.

But the story doesn't end there. Because astute readers will remember that this very thing happened to me once before, two winters ago, when I was home alone in the evening while Christopher was out having a beer with a friend downtown. I was watching TV on the first floor when a series of loud crashes came from the attached garage--mere feet from where I was sitting. Holy heart attack! That time I called Christopher and made him come home immediately, even though his friend had just arrived to meet him. When he drove in, he discovered the toppled sleds, which had made a few stops on their way to the floor, thus maximizing the number of crashes--which sounded exactly like people crashing around in my garage. Because, WTF? What else would make a series of loud crashes in my garage at night?

Surely my household can figure out a way to store our sleds that does not invite a result so terrifying it nearly kills me. Wouldn't you say?

But of course all this begs the questions: Why does this only happen when Christopher is out of the house? And why only at night???

Sweet dreams.