Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Smart

(photo courtesy Amazon.com)

February is "I Love to Read" Month at my daughters' school. Yesterday Julia came home with a notice from her 2nd-grade teacher about an upcoming literature assignment. Everyone gets to write a "love letter" to a favorite book.

First of all, can I just say how much I love that idea? I mean, this is the best school assignment ever. As a former English major and current writer, I would be hard pressed to name anything that's been more influential in my life than books (you know, after parents and love and all that), and I know that's true for my daughters as well.

But there's more! The second part of the assignment is for everyone's parents to write a love letter to a favorite book, too! I got so excited when I read that. I gasped and started musing out loud to my daughter about which book I would pick.

"Ooh, ooh! I will do Our Nest, that's my all-time favorite," I exclaimed. "Or wait! "I'll do Momma, Will You? I love that one so much; it's so sweet and that bedtime page still reminds me of you and Genevieve. Or maybe Our Kindergarten, something by Rosemary Wells? I have such a soft spot in my heart for that book because I really feel it helped you both be ready for school. It's so sweet and comforting, that cute little school on Cranberry Island. Of course then there's Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse--that Mr. Slinger and his little note about tomorrow being a better day, you have to love that..."

[And here I may have sighed happily.]

"... Or Little House in the Big Woods, because of that part at the very end, that peaceful, zen ending with Laura snuggled in bed listening to Pa play "Auld Lang Syne" on his fiddle, and she's thinking about the fact that it can never be long ago, that it's always now? I love that."

[More sighing.]

And then Julia said, "Mama? I think the parent love letter is supposed to be to a GROWN-UP BOOK."

Oh. Right. Books for grown-ups. Those still exist, don't they?

Read any good books lately?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Run Seven Miles and Call Me in the Morning.

My brain doesn't like winter. Not even a mild winter like this one (although this one is about a kazillion times better than a typical one). My brain likes my little blue light box, but even that doesn't always fully do its job. Mid-winter is just a sort of no-man's-land for my brain; it's a dopamine and norepinephrine desert. Then June comes and the pool re-opens and my babies are home from school and there's no more multiple-times-a-day bus stop obligation and I run a lot and lose the winter weight and life is good.

Ah, June. Sigh.

I ran 7-1/2 miles yesterday. Sundays are my long-run days, as they are for many runners. For a very long time (nine months, to be exact), I wasn't able to do any long runs--was hardly able to do any runs at all, actually, but THANK GOD my hip problem seems to be in remission, and I can again build up my mileage.

I know many people cannot relate to this, but long running makes me feel FANTASTIC. I don't mean because I'm proud of myself or because I'm burning calories or that I feel fantastic after it's over because it's over. (Although all of those are true.) I mean that if I run an hour or more, I literally come home with my brain feeling different than it did before I left, even different from how I feel at 15 or 30 or 45 minutes. I swear some sort of chemical payoff kicks in at about six miles. Running at least an hour gives me a sort of instant injection of calm and contentment. I feel it as distinctly as if it were some other post-run consequence--muscle soreness, or a blister, or thirst. Except this consequence is a positive one. I honestly feel addicted to it, except I can't give myself a fix as often as I'd like. After all, who has time?

I was talking to my fellow-runner friend Connie about it this morning. I told her that I honestly think that if I could just run six to eight miles every single day, I would be in a consistently better mood. It's like a psychotropic medication, only much more effective! It would smooth out all the rough edges, make me less irritable and naturally moody, and calm me down overall. (My inborn temperament, in general, tends toward the irritable and moody.) With a daily long run, I'd be less cranky. My brain would be much happier.

"Yes but then your body would be hurting," she said. True enough.

Later in the day I talked to her again and tried to explain why my Monday has been blue and blah. I told her that I hate all my Monday chores. (I clean on a schedule; read my book! There's an entire chapter on it!) I have a lot of chores designated for Monday, and it makes me cranky. Mondays aren't great anyway, and winter Mondays? Ugh. Winter Mondays with chores?! Ugh times three.

So then I came to the brilliant conclusion that I should change my chore schedule to make Mondays less onerous. Aha! Why have I not thought of that before, you all?

This is the perfect example of an easy behavioral solution staring you right in the face. It's just that sometimes you have to have a conversation with someone else before you think of it. (This is why life/wellness coaches are so effective, by the way.)

Here is where I confess that I am also sad because I miss "Friday Night Lights." I know; I'm a dork. It's been about a month since we finished watching all five seasons on DVD. (Recall that I had already seen them all, on the actual television, when the show was actually on and needed viewers, and that I repeatedly attempted to convince my husband to give the show a chance, in response to which he scoffed at me, and that at some point last summer he finally gave in, only to go on and on and on about what a brilliant show it is and how I was right in every way and how yes he should have listened to me and started watching it in 2006 like I did. And then he admitted that I am actually pretty much always right, about everything. Except loading the dishwasher. (Although I am.))

I am sad that "Friday Night Lights" is over. I have given "Mad Men" a chance, oh yes I have; an entire season's worth so far, but people...it is just not the same. It makes me very depressed. Not depressed like how I cried through every episode in "Friday Night Lights" Season Four. Depressed like "I do not like any of these characters whatsoever except that poor sad Betty Draper whose husband is cheating on her."

So there you have it. The lessons learned: Run more. Don't do onerous chores on Monday. "Mad Men" will never, ever feed your soul. Start "Friday Night Lights" over with Season One.

Patience, Patience

You're being patient about the release of my book, right?

It's coming. I promise. Soon. Stay the course with me. Please.

While you're waiting, why don't you go listen to my radio interview from the other day? It's fun! I've decided I love being on the radio. It's the perfect medium for me (after writing). I'm a great talker, and on the radio you don't have to worry about your appearance. Dark circles under your eyes from being awake at an ungodly hour with your children? No worries! Shadowy hair because you're way past due for your usual highlights? Who cares! A pale and wan January Scandinavian complexion? No one need know you're paler than those vampires in the Twilight series. And those five or six extra winter pounds? It's your own little secret.

Seriously, I love it. Plus I've been told I have a great radio voice. You should go and judge for yourself.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Want to Hear My Radio Interview?

Hey, friends!

I had an awesome morning today, as the guest on "Art Zany," an arts show on my town's local radio station. Radio host and mom-of-twins Paula Granquist, whom I absolutely adore, interviewed me about my book, stay-at-home motherhood, taking better care of yourself, making friends with fellow moms, and making homemade soft pretzels with toddlers--among many, many other things.

We had a great time, and I think you'll enjoy it too.

Click here to listen to the interview (it's about 35 minutes long) to learn more about The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual and to hear what my voice sounds like. Aren't you curious?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Now if Only I Could Get Out of All My Other Chores, Too.

For years, my husband has been unloading the dishwasher at the end of the day when he's cleaning up after dinner, and rearranging things, one dirty dish or cup or knife at a time, until the dishwasher is reloaded to his liking. All day long, when he's at work and I'm cooking and baking and serving meals and snacks, I load the dishwasher as I go along. And then after dinner he goes in there and uses who knows what amount of precious time undoing all the loading I have done all day and redoing the whole thing. This drives me absolutely insane, because I read an article about proper dishwasher-loading once, one that referred to Martha Stewart herself for the correct instructions for dishwasher-loading, and this is the method I have been using since then.

Who is my husband to second-guess Martha Stewart, people?

So anyway, for a very long time, until just recently in fact, this undoing and redoing of my Martha-Stewart-approved dishwasher-loading every day made me CRAZY. And don't go saying something like, "You should be grateful your sweet, amazing husband loads the dishwasher or does the dishes at all!" You know very well that it would drive you crazy too.

The other day I had a brilliant thought. Which was, what am I doing loading the dishwasher all day if it just gets reloaded at the end of the day anyway? Why not just toss everything willy-nilly into the sink each time I use a plate or bowl or spoon, and let him load it just how he likes it at the end of the day? Aren't I just wasting my time putting anything in the dishwasher at all?

So I asked Christopher what he thought of this idea. He said it was fine with him. So now I don't bother with the dishwasher at all. Oh sure, the sink becomes piled high and it's hard to run water and it looks like a hoarder lives here, but that is a small price to pay for never having to take the extra effort to open the dishwasher door and place something inside it in the Martha-Stewart-approved manner, only to watch it be adjusted by someone else later on, someone who does not read magazine articles about Martha Stewart's proper way to load the dishwasher.

At first I kept washing the things that don't go in the dishwasher, like the skillets and coffeemaker carafe and the Ziplocs we wash out to use again, but after awhile I sort of lost interest. Things got buried in the sink under other things and I didn't feel like fishing out the things to wash. I'd have to hand-wash everything in order to get to the things that don't go in the dishwasher, and what good would that be? I'd be doing more work than before. So now I just sort of leave everything sitting there.

I figure I came out on top with this one. Thanks, Martha.

Where's the Booooook????

OK, friends. People have been asking me daily for weeks when my book is coming out "for real." By which they mean, in a hard copy they can buy or order and then hold in their hands and turn the paper pages and all that retro old-fashioned book-reading stuff. (I'm with you, retro fans. A book is not a book unless it's on my shelf, to my mind.)

I know I told you that the Barnes & Noble NookFirst promotion ends today, and that after that, like tomorrow, you'd be able to buy The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual [insert long subtitle here] as a physical, hold-in-your-hands book.

And that was true at the time.

But the publishing industry is a little unpredictable at times. Which is my gentle way of saying the book release date has been delayed just a little bit.

You can wait, right, Wonderland readers? Just a few more days?

I don't know the date yet. I will tell you THE SECOND THE BOOK IS OUT. You'll be able to order it from Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com and I really, really hope you will. Let's show those troll reviewers/haters where they can put their phony troll reviews!

Until then, if you'd like to hear what my voice sounds like, tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. CST I am going to be on a local arts radio show in my town, Art Zany, talking about the book and whatnot with super-awesome host Paula Granquist. And--yay!--it streams online, so you can go to kymnradio.net and listen to it live. (It will also be archived so you can listen later if you'd prefer.)

Happy almost-Friday! Be patient.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Crying Like a Baby.

Oh, hello there.

Excuse me while I stumble around and squint at the sun and rub my eyes and ask what day it is.

I've been MIA for awhile. Oh, I've been here, at my house, writing and working and taking care of children (who were off school AGAIN yesterday, believe it or not) and cooking and running and all that. But I seem to have lost all the time in between to reading Momastery.

A couple of weeks ago someone passed around the essay Don't Carpe Diem on Facebook, and then it sort of went viral and suddenly it was everywhere: on Huffington Post, on everyone's FB Wall, in conversation at the coffee shop. Awhile later I decided I'd better investigate this Momastery blog and its author. And I've been down in the deep ever since.

I can't help it. I'm hooked. I'm completely obsessed. One incredible post leads to another and another and another and I look up and it's time to meet the school bus and I realize I just spent the entire afternoon reading Glennon. I keep following her links back to old posts and combing the archives and trying to find it all out at once: who is she, what's her story, how can she be so amazing, why does she make me cry every freaking time I read her? I'm a woman obsessed. I keep linking to her posts on Facebook and sending her posts to my husband at work and my friends while they are trying to get things done around the house. Then I demand that they tell me if they cried.

So now I've done it to you. You're welcome. I'll see you in a week or two when you come up for air.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Last Laugh

Yesterday my publisher sent me the most HILARIOUS e-mail. It was a compilation of quotes from actual Amazon reviews of some of the most wildly successful, bestselling books in existence (think: authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Terry McMillan, etc.). I was seriously howling with laughter.

For instance, this:

About How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan:

"WHAT A WASTE!!! I found this book to be soooo boring...What a waste of my time. The run-on sentences make the book very hard going, but the worst part was the people."

Or, how about this? About Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling:

"You know what I always used to think was the worst thing in the world. Mosquito Season. It's infested with millions of biting, potentially deadly, nuisances that leave ...couple million dollars. But the least the woman could do is try..." [Note from me: what the...???]

And then there's this analysis of The Brethren, by John Grisham:

"Total garbage...made me want to vomit. The book was probably the worst piece of writing I have ever read. The story was equally terrible. I can not believe it was published."

And this, about Riptide, by Catherine Coulter:

"Worst book ever...this may be the worst book ever written! The characters, story line, and dialogue were terrible and extremely unbelievable. Don't bother picking this up. It stinks!"

OMG, I can't stop, you have to read this one, about The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks:

"Yuck!...I hated this book. I consider it to be one of the worst that I've ever read, and I've read a lot of bad books..."


DYING! That "I've read a lot of bad books" line? Oh my. I was wiping my eyes. And this is just a tiny selection. You all, this went on and on and on, each one more hilarious than the last, considering that these books sold millions of copies and made millions of dollars. My publisher's point: Regarding my crazy troll reviews, I am in good company, yo. And also? Crazy troll reviews do not negatively affect book sales. If they did, the most famous authors in the world would have gone broke by now.

In other news, I'm going to say this in a whisper, just in case crowing about it too loudly would evoke the wrath of the universe and cause an unseen presence to strike down my hubris by immediately giving me lice, but I'm pretty sure we escaped the lice. Really! I mean, this is nothing short of a miracle. Someone up there loves me, and it's not my troll reviewers. (By the way: in a choice between lice and troll reviews? Would totally take troll reviews. Bring 'em on. No problem with them whatsoever.)

And now I have to go, because although I have lots more I could talk about, I am hosting a party tonight at my house and have just a few wee preparations to take care of.

Carry on, fellow warriors!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Let's Talk About Online Bullying

One day at school not long ago, my seven-year-old daughter told some people that her "mommy is being bullied on the computer."

My daughter is in the second grade. She goes to an elementary school with a strict no-bullying policy, a place where respect for others, kindness, and the use of appropriate words are discussed on a regular basis and are part of the school's mission statement and motto. Calling names is not acceptable at her school. Spreading malicious lies about others is not acceptable. Speaking in a hateful or derogatory tone, denigrating others' work, and impugning someone else's character is not acceptable. In fact, all these things are bullying behavior.

The adults at my daughters' school present these rules to the children there; they provide a guidebook for behavior, they post signs in the halls, they have discussions in the classrooms about the unacceptability of all the things that fall under the heading of "bullying." My daughter and her schoolmates look up to the adults they know as examples for how to behave with respect for each other in this world.

Imagine how confusing and upsetting it is for her to know that, in the mysterious world of "grown-ups on the computer," her writer mama is being bullied. What must little kids think of such a thing?

So, online bullying, right? Wow. What in the world?

A long time ago I thought it might be a good idea to write a book for moms who had decided to be at-home moms, discussing our common joys and struggles, and providing professional insight into ways we can all manage stress, our crazy moods, and life-work-family obligations, a little bit better. I'm a psychologist, see, so I've helped plenty of clients over the years tackle those very issues. And I'm a mom, so I totally get what you're saying when you say that yes you love your kids more than life itself, but yes you also sometimes count down the minutes until naptime or bed.

I wasn't interested in comparing at-home moms to working moms to see who's better. What kind of a question is that? It's ridiculous. I wasn't interested in "the mommy wars" (even though other people sometimes seemed intent on dragging me into their own private battles). All I knew was that I loved being a stay-at-home mom but sometimes hated parts of it, I was human and imperfect and certainly no supermom, and my favorite, most admired and adored people in the whole world included both moms who stayed home like me, and moms who rocked the professional-working-mom gig like nobody's business.

I wrote the book for the at-home moms I knew (and the ones I don't know). I combined personal experience, self-deprecating humor, and real clinical strategies for being healthy and happy. I thought it was pretty much the most uncontroversial material anyone could write.

And then my publisher and I titled it The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos, and certain nameless faceless individuals out there in the ether apparently got really, REALLY offended. And started sending me bullying anonymous blog comments. And leaving slanderous, bullying "reviews."

Why do we do this, people? What drives someone to anonymously bully a stranger on the Internet? What's going on inside a person, when he or she does that? It's an interesting topic, to a clinical psychologist like me, and to many others, too.

Maybe by now you've read Meghan Daum's recent essay on modern-day hater "commenting culture." (And if not, you really should; it's fascinating.) She really goes deep into exploring this relatively new phenomenon, where anyone, anywhere, can say anything--whether they're educated about the topic or not, whether they're raving lunatic bullies or not--and there it is, published online, with a life of its own. You see, back in the day, the only people who reviewed books, and published those words of review, were....get this...book reviewers. You know, educated literary professionals who had read the book and provided thoughtful analysis about its strengths and weaknesses? Rather than random anonymous bullies calling the writer a phony, eating-disordered plagiarist? Hmmm. That latter situation sounds an awful lot like slander, to me. I'm really glad that commenters' IP addresses are recorded for all posterity and available for investigation when such comments are posted.

So, what do we tell our children, when adults--ADULTS!--engage in bullying behavior "on the computer"? How do we explain why a grown-up would do such a crazy, unreasonable thing?

You tell me. Because I've got a seven-year-old waiting for an answer.

This photo is from over a year ago. But I just thought it was super cute.

Easy Winter Craft for Kids: Cornstarch-Clay Sculptures

So, on Monday my children were home from school for the MLK Day holiday. I had high hopes for a lovely, lazy morning in our pj's, with me drinking coffee laced with plenty of cream, and my daughters harmoniously playing dollhouse together, like a scene from a Pottery Barn Kids magazine. Only with shabbier furniture.

Unfortunately, my daughters' idea of a proper morning off school involved moping around, refusing any activity suggestion I offered, and bickering with each other. By 11, I could tell that if emergency intervention didn't occur FAST, the entire day was in danger of going off the rails.

To the rescue: a book of winter craft ideas for kids that I found in the Target dollar section a few weeks ago. Holla! (This book is by Family Fun magazine; it's called Wintertime Fun: Warm and Cozy Treats and Crafts, and it cost $2.50 at Target. (Once again: not a dollar.) I can't find it listed anywhere online but IT. IS. AWESOME. Get thee to Target immediately to see if you can still find it.)

I used up every grain of salt I had left in the house to make this recipe, but it was well worth it.

Here's the recipe, courtesy of Disney's Family Fun magazine. You should still buy the book if you can, though, because it has many more craft and recipe ideas in it for keeping kids busy on a cold winter day.

Cornstarch-Clay Sculptures

(Feel free to double this recipe for more kids/more clay)

2/3 cup salt
1/3 cup baking soda
1/2 cornstarch
decorative hardware

1. In a small saucepan, mix the salt and baking soda with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil.

2. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and 1/4 cup water and stir well.

3. When salt mixture boils, remove from heat and add cornstarch mixture. Stir for a few minutes until it thickens into clay. (This took a long time for me, and I had to put the pot back on the heat for a few seconds to get it to thicken. Experiment, but watch closely.)

4. Give each child a lump of clay to shape into little snowmen, animals, etc.

5. Let the children decorate their clay creatures with various embellishments, using items you have around the house. I put out a mini-muffin tin and filled the cups with sequins, googly eyes, screws, nuts, washers, tiny foam circles from some long-ago craft, and pushpins. Use whatever you have lying around!

6. Place sculptures on wax paper to dry overnight.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Can Busy Moms Stick With an Exercise Plan?

Since it's mid-January, it's safe to assume that many people have already fallen off the New Year's resolutions wagon. Statistics show that most of us slip up and abandon our efforts by February--and often much sooner.

I didn't make any resolutions this year, but I have my behavioral weak spots just like anyone else. As I've illustrated on this blog many times, a doctorate in clinical psychology, a specialty in women's health, and experience helping others reach their health and life goals does not make one immune to bad habits or the occasional willpower deficit.

However, one thing I don't struggle with at all is exercise. I mean, sure--there are days I have to talk myself into working out. Maybe it's 90 degrees outside, or five degrees, or the wind is gusting to 40 mph. (Most of my willpower failure stems from weather. That's what happens when you live in Northern Plains territory. We have WEATHER.) But in general, being active brings me joy. (When I'm not waylaid by running injuries, that is.)

But I know that many (most?) people find it extreeeeemely challenging to muster the motivation to work out regularly. So I thought I'd share some of the tricks that work for me and keep me feeling happy about exercising. These may not all resonate with you, but perhaps one or two will be the difference, some day, between a completed workout and an evening on the couch.

  • Don't think, just go. Does anyone else recall that years-ago Nike ad that showed a photo of an office cubicle and a desktop computer adorned with a note that said, "Gone running. Back in half an hour"? The ad copy said something like, "If you'd gone running when you first started thinking that you should, you'd be back by now." You can talk yourself out of anything. So don't give your brain the chance.
  • Use your tunes. Not everyone is into listening to music while exercising, I know. But my iPod is very often the thing that gets me out the door. An hour to be by myself and peacefully listen to my own tunes? Yes, please. Plus, music can be very motivating mid-workout. Certain songs can keep me running--I swear, even increase my energy and muscle power--when otherwise I'd probably stop.
  • Relatedly, give yourself a new tune or two. When I've heard my playlist a thousand times, one new MP3 download makes a huge difference. If you've heard a great new song somewhere, track it down and spring for it. It'll be waiting on your iPod the next time you're slated for a walk or run.
  • Buy some new workout clothes. Only if you can afford them, of course. It might sound odd, but cute, new workout gear really is motivating.
  • Plan a post-workout reward. I'm often guilty of choosing a bowl of ice cream or slice of cake as my after-run treat, and you know what? That's perfectly fine if you're not trying to lose weight or address some nutrition-related health issue. But if dessert would undo all the progress you just made by working out, choose something else. Before you head out for a run or fire up that at-home workout DVD, tell yourself that when you're done, a hot bath, fat novel, new nail polish color on your toes, favorite DVR'd TV show, Netflix movie, or whatever else floats your boat, will be waiting for you when you're done.
  • Start thinking of your workout time as a luxurious chunk of alone-time. I talk about this one in the fitness chapter of my book. As moms, most of us are in serious me-time debt. So, when you can get to the gym or out the door by yourself in the evening or on the weekend (or any other time you have alternate childcare), consider that time a valuable commodity. Before Genevieve started half-day kindergarten, my runs were typically the only me-time I got in a given week; even now, the three-hour chunks of kid-free weekday afternoons, though solitary, are usually packed with endeavors that support my household--errands, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, meal planning, freelance writing. When I head out the door at 5:30 p.m. for my evening run, I'm doing something solely for me, and I view it as a well-deserved break from the happy chaos of family life. That hour of peace and quiet is priceless!

Let me know if you try any of these motivational tricks, and how they work for you. Even better, if you have any of your own, fill me in! Busy moms can never have too many tools in our fitness-motivation arsenals.

Oh, and remember--it's not too late to re-make your New Year's resolutions. Resolutions don't have to be tied to January 1st--you can make them, or start over with them, any day. Maybe even today.

My Book is on Healthy Tipping Point! Awesome.

Hey, you guys! Caitlin Boyle, of Operation Beautiful and Healthy Tipping Point fame, mentioned my book on her site yesterday! Check out the third photo down.

Thanks, Caitlin! I'm honored. (Truly, I read HTP every day. Caitlin writes an awesome blog, people! You should check it out.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Monday, January 16, 2012

What's in Your Closet, Mamas?

So, I don't have a lot of "dressy" clothes. I haven't worked outside my home full-time for 7-1/2 years (nor part-time for 5-1/2 years), and let's just say that, as a full-time stay-at-home mom, I'm not going to a lot of places that require dressing up.

During the day I'm consumed with child-wrangling and bus stop runs and laundry and errands and playdates and park meet-ups and baking bread with small children. Squeeze a little writing in there and that's pretty much my day. During the evenings, I run, and after that I'm so tired from my day that the only thing I'm changing into is my pajamas. I'm certainly not dressing up to go anywhere nice.

Whether that's fairly typical for a stay-at-home mom or terribly sad, I don't know, but my version of looking nice involves a basic uniform of a solid-colored or sailor-striped tee, skinny jeans tucked into boots, and a bright scarf--plus my Ellington bag and a trench or wool jacket if I'm going out. During the warmer months, I swap the jeans for skirts and sundresses, and the boots for sandals or ballet flats. All well and good, but certainly nothing too dressed up, and nothing I can't throw into the washer without a second thought.

So I'm doing pretty well in the "mom style basics" department, but there's one thing I'm missing, something discussed on Facebook recently. You didn't know that if you comment on Susan's Working Closet Facebook page, you risk getting a style column written about you, did you? Well, now you know.

Let me know what your version of "looking nice" entails, then click over to Susan's column to see what I need to add to my closet. Maybe you do too?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Because Life Had Been Too Boring Lately.

My oh my, where have I been? I'm not sure you even want to know.

Mostly I've been checking for lice. Last week I helped out my dear sweet friend and neighbor, who is solo-parenting for 16 days (16 days, you all!) while her husband is away on a work trip, and who is mom to three kids ranging in age from two to eight. Terrifyingly, her middle child had a medical emergency, so I took her oldest, who plays with my daughters sometimes, to stay at our house for awhile. I met her at the school bus and fed her and kept her overnight and got her off to school the next morning. The girls had a fantastic time and thought it was the greatest adventure ever--their bus-stop buddy bedded down on the floor between their beds while they all giggled and whispered, the three of them drinking hot chocolate at breakfast the next morning.

Later that day my friend called to say she had JUST FOUND LICE ON HER DAUGHTER. You know, the child who slept in my house and whose hair I brushed into a ponytail for school--using my own hairbrush. OMG.

I can write all this because my friend already has, and she knows I'm not mad. I mean, when you're a mom, lice is sort of part of the deal. You expect it to invade your house at some point or another during the school years--it's more a "when" than an "if." Plus, my solo-parenting, sick-child-managing friend is suffering far more than I. It's just sort of ironic that lice should appear the first time--the one time!--we have another child sleep over.

We did all the usual--vacuumed the whole house, washed all the bed linens and winter hats and dress-up clothes in hot, sterilized the hairbrushes and combs, bagged up the unwashable dress-up hats and put them in the garage to stay for a week--so now it's just a matter of checking ourselves and each other daily for two weeks or so. In case you didn't know, lice eggs are almost impossible to see in blonde hair. Which my daughters and I all have. Sigh. I have a feeling it's only a matter of time until we all discover that we're infected.

In which case, I plan to go here. I'm sure they take credit cards.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


My five-year-old daughter refuses to let me throw away the gingerbread house she made in kindergarten in mid-December.

She says there are still things on it she wants to eat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Feel like President of the Joy Luck Club.

Might you appreciate a brief update on a few things? Perhaps only if you're my mother, but that's never stopped me before, so here you go!

On Sunday afternoon when I took my daughters to swimming lessons, I ran into my sports medicine doctor. You know, the one who gave me a cortisone injection in my rear last fall? And I was able to tell him that I ran 7.5 miles the night before. He was thrilled. (So was I, not least to run into my handsome and charming sports medicine doctor! Awesome.)

The truth is, my running injury still bothers me. It's not as if it's completely resolved. Advil is my favorite running buddy. But if I'm running 7.5 miles at a time, ever, believe me--I'm thrilled too. And that's a big change from November. Every mom needs an outlet for parenting stress and an escape from the constant demands of family management, and running is mine. Everyone's a lot happier here when Mama gets her runs in, so hallelujah. I'll put up with a little pain.

In other news, it's supposed to be 52 degrees here today. You would never know it's January in Minnesota if you glanced outside.

In our backyard, over Christmas break

And, we moved the giant dollhouse from the upstairs playroom back down into the living room, where the girls prefer to be in the center of the "playing house" action.

Totally worth it, doesn't bother me at all

Finally, the stream of suspected sham reviews of my book seems to have been halted--at least for now--by my last blog post. That's nice, and I'm sure my publisher and Barnes & Noble will continue to communicate and keep an eye on things over there.

Oddly, I recently heard that a working-mom friend-of-a-friend (no one I know, no one nearby, and no one ever mentioned here) read my book and stated that it denigrates working moms. What in the world?

I want to make it crystal clear that I've never, EVER made any statements here or in my book bashing or judging working moms. You can hunt around all you want if you disagree, but you won't find that kind of sentiment, because it's not how I feel or what I think. (I suspect that my friend Rob's comment on my last post is correct about this sort of reaction.) I wrote my book specifically for stay-at-home moms, about and for the problems all stay-at-home moms I know struggle with on a daily basis. I never expected any working moms to read it. That said, there are working parents out there who have read my book, liked it, and feel it is helpful to parents of any sort. So that is truly a lovely bonus.

Life is good here. An easy winter, running again, little girls playing dollhouse, a published book generating buzz. If this isn't the exact opposite of last year's winter from hell, I don't know what is! Clearly I earned this year.

And that's my happy update.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

High Road, Low Road

Well, friends. I guess it's time to get off the high road.

As most of you know, my book, The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos," which was selected by Barnes & Noble for special promotion in its exclusive Nook First program, has been out since just before Christmas as an electronic book for e-readers. In just under three weeks, it comes out in paper form and then becomes available at any bookseller.

If you've been following along at home, you know that there's been quite a bit of drama over at my book's Barnes & Noble page. I've been blessed to get a ton of super-great, five-star reviews over there, which is thrilling and exciting. I'm grateful for every one. However, I'm being dogged by a troll reviewer who has been putting up hateful "reviews" for every good review that goes up, from the very first day of release.

(There are multiple reasons, most of which I will not go into here, that make it clear to me and my publisher that these are not valid negative reviews. Yes, authors get poor reviews. No, I don't expect every person to like my writing and my book. These are not typical, believable, appropriate negative reviews.)

For numerous reasons, I have a pretty good idea who is responsible, and if you know me very well and/or have been reading this blog for a long time, like before I learned to moderate comments, you probably do too.

At first these "reviews" were all posted anonymously, as fast as possible, and involved content that mainly trashed my character and made clear that the reviewer(s) had not even read the book. After those became way too suspicious-looking, the commenter(s) adopted various screen names--some totally transparent to me, some simply meaningless.

The latest one accuses me of plagiarism, so that gives you some idea of how low certain spiteful and jealous people will go when they've got nothing better to do.

Many of these comments have been flagged as abusive, off-topic, or inappropriate. My publisher and book marketing manager are in contact with Barnes & Noble regarding an investigation. But in the meantime, this person or persons is/are intent on continuing to bring down my ratings average by putting up a 1-star review for every 4- or 5-star review that goes up. (Fortunately, most potential buyers and reviewers are smart enough to notice the suspicious nature of these troll reviews, and more than one have actually mentioned it in the comments.)

If you are so inclined, and have bought my book in Nook format (also works on an iPad, your computer, or a Nook app for your smartphone) and read all or part of it and liked it, you might consider going over to Barnes & Noble and saying so in a review.

Even if you have not bought and read the book, if you are so inclined, you can go over to the Barnes & Noble page and report the harassing bogus reviews as inappropriate. You can also click "yes" in response to the question "was this review helpful?" underneath the appropriate reviews, and click "no" in response to the same question underneath the 1-star troll reviews. This pushes the bogus reviews to the bottom of the review list and pushes the valid, appropriate reviews to the top.

Yes, you have to "create an account" in order to write a review, report an inappropriate review, or click yes or no to the question (I'm pretty sure). That is a pain in the rear, I agree. But in all honesty, it takes less than a minute. I hope that will not stop you if you are leaning toward taking action against Troll Reviewer(s).

Of course, in the end, good, nice, honest, hard-working, talented people prevail in this world. We all know that. But meanwhile it would be nice if my book's ratings weren't being manipulated downward by a person or persons with serious psychological problems.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Undeck Those Halls!

Sob. I miss it.

I still haven't taken down the Christmas tree. There just doesn't seem to be any time. I thought I'd get it done some weekday, but so far I've been too busy making up recipes with Genevieve (pumpkin banana bread; started out strong, ended up sinking in the middle) and creating finger puppets out of sponges (she loved it). I mean, I suppose I could do what most people probably do, and actually use my evenings to accomplish something, but I prefer to be in my pajamas by 6:30 p.m. and sit around idly window-shopping the after-Christmas sales on the Internet and moping about having gone through all five seasons of "Friday Night Lights" on DVD, the completion of which has left me bereft. (An aside: My obsession with that show over the past five years has had the unlikely and unexpected effect of leaving me with a true soft spot in my heart for both Texas and football. CRAZY.)

Then I go to bed early because "back to the usual routine" is fairly exhausting. Before you're a stay-at-home mom to school-agers (or, at least, partial school-agers), you think the daytime hours must be a gaping hole of empty time. Then when you become one you realize those hours are the same as any other job's daytime hours: filled with tasks that need to be done. The only difference is that you don't get paid for doing them.

In other news, my daughters have not played with their giant dollhouse since Christmas Day (when they spent six hours playing with it). According to them, that is because we moved it from directly in front of the fireplace (where Santa left it) in our tiny living room, upstairs to the playroom. You know, where the TOYS GO. Even though they use their playroom all the time, they tell me that they want to play dollhouse "down where YOU are, Mama." Since Santa left a hefty Visa bill in his wake which had better be worth it, I'm considering moving the dollhouse back downstairs. Because nothing says "I will strangle someone if this dollhouse does not get played with every day for the next two years because I am determined to live my personal dream of watching my daughters play with a big beautiful dollhouse, thus prolonging their childhoods as long as possible," like a giant dollhouse in a small room with no space for a dollhouse.

Hey! It could go where the Christmas tree is!

I should really get on that.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Barnes and Noble Features my Book!

Yahoo! Barnes & Noble is featuring my book today on their Nook Book Store homepage. Scroll down a bit and you'll see my book as today's "Compelling Reads from Authors You Need to Know." (Totally flattering, needless to say.) If you're an e-reader owner and haven't bought it yet, wouldn't today be a great day for that? And no worries--in just a few short weeks, my book will also be available in printed form for those of you waiting for something to hold in your hands.

Oh, and hey--if you've made any kind of New Year's resolutions related to eating better, exercising more, lowering your stress level, managing your household more efficiently, parenting with greater mindfulness, or just taking better care of yourself in general, this book is for you. (It's also for anyone who just wants to read about how grim my early days of stay-at-home motherhood were, how flummoxed I can become in the lunchbox aisle at Target, and how tempted I've been to go out to the bus stop in my pajamas--or for anyone who just wants a long list of ways to keep the kids entertained during a long at-home day.) Because it's got all that.

Thanks for listening--and reading--, my dears.

New Year's Bread

My seven-year-old got a "Little House on the Prairie" crafts and activities book for Christmas. It is the perfect present for her. She's obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder (she's read all the books), she dressed up as a "pioneer girl" for Halloween, and her favorite outdoor game is to pretend that she, her sister, and their neighbor friend are members of the Ingalls family, fighting grasshopper plagues and listening to coyotes and trying to save the wheat. Plus she's super artistic and crafty.

Within a few days of Christmas, she'd already (with just a little help) made the special folded "party napkins" (which we used at dinner), the "flower oranges" (which we ate for lunch), and the "button lamps" (for decorative purposes only; not to light afire to provide a few moments of light during a kerosene shortage, thank goodness).

She begged to make "Laura's Golden Wheat-Sheaf Bread." I promised her--on New Year's Day. When we had nothing else going on, and after I'd gone to the store the day before to buy shortening and bread flour. I'd never made homemade yeast-bread before, and I knew it was time-consuming.

We had three false starts with proofing the yeast--note to the book's author: add sugar to the yeast-proofing step, otherwise the yeast will never proof--and there may have been some swearing under my breath, but, eventually, we made the Laura Ingalls bread.

I don't know if it looks like a sheaf of wheat, but my daughter was very proud.

Me too, actually.

Baking bread (for the first time!) seems like a really good way to start off a new year, doesn't it?

Monday, January 02, 2012

Talking 'Bout a Revolution

Last night my daughters learned about New Year's resolutions. They got very excited about the whole concept--which was really refreshing, honestly, because what adult do you know gets truly enthused about the idea of, say, eating more vegetables or exercising every day?--and decided to make some of their own.

Genevieve kept calling them "revolutions." And, since hers involved things like not yelling at her sister so much, I guess that mispronunciation was actually quite appropriate. It would be a revolution, in this house, if someone could get the girls to stop screaming at each other over such important things as who is hogging the stepstool and who won't stop talking in her bed at night when the other is tired and wants to go to sleep.

I have to say, Genevieve's little list and her little voice talking about her list with such earnest sincerity and effort were a bit heartbreaking. She's such a tough little nut to crack, so quiet and compliant in public and so downright mean at home sometimes--the hitter, the pusher, the screamer-in-your-face, and apology-refuser. Whereas Julia is always thinking about how others feel, Genevieve's reflex is to knock you down and not care a bit.

But then here was Vivi, making her "revolutions:" My first one is to be nicer! Like, not be so mean to everyone, and if I push someone, not just run away, but say, 'I'm sorry!' And then she added others, about compromising more and not screaming at the top of her lungs when she's mad. When she scrambled up on my bed to show me her list and read them aloud, she was so genuinely excited and proud. It made me realize that she really does care, when she's mean and nasty to the rest of us. She really does want to be "nicer." Poor little sweets. She wishes her first reaction wasn't to scream at people and hit them, too.

And then there was the resolution to be a better role model. I'm not sure where this one came from, but her example was that, for instance, if she was at school and children were arguing over the toy area, she would suggest that they take turns or compromise. But the best part was how she thought role model was "rule model." She wants to be a good "rule model" in 2012. You know: suggest sharing toys in the play area at school and all that.

A rule model! Of course.

May we all be good rule models in the new year.