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25 Days of Bookmas

For the 3rd year in a row, I’m going to do something I call the 25 Days of Bookmas. I originally found the idea on Pinterest. The blog that explains it is here: http://www.ellekeepsmoving.com/2011/12/home-25-christmas-books.html

The basic idea is this: wrap up 25 books and put them under the tree. Each day in December, the kids open 1 book. The blog suggests you can recycle Christmas classics from year to year. Or you could even get books from the library to use.

This is the 3rd year I’ve done this. Each year I do a mix of old and new books. I recycle favorites like  Polar Express and The Snowy Day. On Christmas Eve, they get ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. And I buy new books, of course, because come on, buying books is the best. Also, even though I call it 25 Days of Bookmas, I actually only do 24 days. They get enough stuff on Christmas.

This year I added a new element. Because they kids have more divergent tastes than they did in previous years, for about half the days they each get a book, and half they share the book. I got some fun new books I’m pretty excited about. The 1 thing I also don’t stick with is that the books must be Christmas books. Just books I want them to have.

So for the past few weeks I’ve collected old and new books. MissA helped me make gift tags numbered 1-24, with 2 tags for some of the numbers. She picked out 3 rolls of wrapping paper, 1 for her books, 1 for G-Man’s books, & 1 for shared books. So last night I wrapped them all, 37 books, put the tags on each, and stacked them under the tree. And I can’t wait for Monday, so we can start Bookmas 2014.

If you’re interested in following my books, I post them each day to Instagram & twitter using #25DaysOfBookmas.

25DaysofBookmas

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World’s Okayest Mom: Sometimes Something’s Gotta Give, Preferably Not Your Sanity

A while back, maybe 4 or 5 months, I was browsing Pinterest, and came across this little gem:

http://pinterest.com/pin/410742428485104920/

Like many of my writer friends, I wear multiple hats besides writer. And one of the most prominent hats I wear is Mom. I’ve got 3 1/2 year old MissA and 18 month old G-Man. They’re great kids, and compared to a lot of kids, very well behaved and easy to take carMissA & G-Mane of. But they’re still kids. Which means they require a lot of time and even more energy. And more love than I thought I had in me – which, fortunately, is the easy part. But, as any parent knows, just because you love them beyond compare doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes want to strangle them.

And in this era of Pinterest, where Mommying is a highly competitive, full-contact sport, there’s a lot of pressure on us moms. I try not to, but I feel it, sometimes from family, sometimes from moms I don’t know, occasionally from friends. The one group I’ve never felt it from are my fellow writer-moms. Because as writers, we’re in a unique position. Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or working moms or a combo of the two, our writing is often relegated to spare time status. Sometimes even after we start making money. I’ve yet to meet a full-time writer who works from home who isn’t at least sometimes cast in the role of stay-at-home mom.

And, when you’re trying to build a career in something as difficult and emotionally draining as writing, well, something’s gotta give. Frankly, I think even for non-writer moms, something’s gotta give, because it’s just not possible to be Martha Stewart all the time. Hell, even Martha spent time in prison.

I made the decision pretty much right away that the thing that gives isn’t going to be my sanity. I’m not living up to anyone’s ideal of motherhood except my own. And for me, that ideal means sometimes I have to put myself first. Because the best thing I can give my children is a mom who doesn’t resent the time she spends with them.

In a perfect world I would be independently wealthy so I could feed my children all the “right” foods, prepared by a hired chef so I don’t have to do it. We’d have hired people to clean the house. And, I don’t know, I guess I’d do other things in my quest for perfect momhood.

But reality is my husband and I both work 40+ hours a week. We make just enough money to squeak by. I write on my lunch break and when the kids are asleep. My kids eat french fries and chicken nuggets. If they really want, I’ll let them have pickles and toast for dinner because it’s just not worth fighting over (and hey, it’s whole wheat bread. And pickles are more-or-less vegetables). Yesterday, my husband worked all day. I really wanted some diet Coke but didn’t want to deal with taking them to the grocery store. So we went to (gasp!) McDonalds. We go to Gilles, the local frozen custard and burgers joint 4 blocks away, so often, they know MissA’s regular order.

My house is a mess. We try to pick up and put away and we mostly succeed. We try to do all the dishes before bed, and we sometimes succeed. I won’t talk about how often we dust or vacuum. And I freely admit I’ve never washed the windows in any house or apartment I’ve lived in. It’s all I can do to keep up with the laundry.

So do I sometimes let my kids skip bath night? Sure. Do I sometimes let Curious George or Yo Gabba Gabba babysit so I can squeeze in 200 more words? Yep. Do I suggest MissA and I sit at the table and color together so I can work on a character sketch? Absolutely.

Am I going to win any World’s Greatest Mom trophies from the PTA? Probably not. Do I care? Not a bit. Because I love my kids, and there is no

doubt in my mind that they know that. I encourage them to be independent and have fun. With or without Mommy. They’re healthy and happy and smart and funny and all the other positive adjectives I can think of (with obvious moments of more negative adjectives).

So, after I saw the pinterest mug above, I looked for somewhere to buy one. Because I absolutely am a candidate for World’s Okayest Mom (but dammit, I am the okayest okay mom there is). When I couldn’t find one, I decided to check out the possibility of making one. I went to VistaPrint and ordered 1 for myself and 1 for my husband.

image

A bit later, after a few conversations with Andee Hannah and Leigh Ann Kopans, along with one of my BFFs, Ambha Lessard, it was clear the 3 of them needed mugs, so I sent

Leigh Ann with her mug

Leigh Ann with her mug

them on. And in that time, a number of us had started using the hashtag #worldsokayestmom on Twitter. And people would respond “Oh my gosh, I need that mug!” or “I need a t-shirt with that!” Well, far be it from me to deny the public their wants. Since you can’t set up a store on VistaPrint, I moved to Cafepress. Because of pesky things like copyright, I couldn’t use the exact same image as I had at VP. But I’m happy with the

Andrea and her mug.

Andrea and her mug.

new one. It has the same sort of geek-girl comic book feel. And, of course, CP allows me to expand beyond mugs to shirts, notebooks, and the ever-important flask (because every Okay Mom needs to get her drink on from time to time).

So, for every mom out there who has felt judged for not being perfect, for every mom out there who is barely hanging on, I’m giving you permission to embrace your okayness. Even revel in it like Andee, Leigh Ann, Ambha and I do. And shout it to the world!

http://www.cafepress.com/worldsokayestmoms

It should be noted, since I first looked for an OK Mom mug, it appears others have had the same idea on Cafepress. There’s even a store with almost the same name, which is why Moms is plural on my store. But in my completely biased opinion, this one is the best design.

And feel free to check back. I’ll play around with other designs (hell, if you have design skills, let me know). I’ll probably add Dad, maybe even kid/son/daughter, aunt/uncle or other various people. And I’m totally open to suggestion.

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Miracles: Dave & Carole’s 16th Annual Miracle Marathon

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the past few days I’ve retweeted a bunch of things from the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Specifically about why you should give to the Miracle Marathon.

A little background. Growing up, I wasn’t sick enough to be what I think of as a “sick kid” – always with a runny nose, or wheezing as I fumbled for my inhaler. I certainly wasn’t as sick as the classmate who underwent chemo and an eventual bone marrow transplant for leukemia, or my friend’s sister who was born with a heart defect that required multiple surgeries. But I wasn’t quite healthy, either.

I always had some phantom pain. I self-diagnosed a zillion sprains when I’d never actually injured myself. I know my friends, teachers and parents wrote me off as an attention-seeking kid. But when I was 14, after a several months of body-wide pain, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). Fortunately the doctor put me on methotrexate and the pain went away. I had no lasting damage to my joints, and – thankfully – like the majority of kids with JRA, I outgrew it when I was 20.

But, during that same timeframe, I was also diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma, aka thyroid cancer. So at 16 I had my thyroid removed. Since then, I’ve had multiple body scans and doses of radioactive iodine. Thankfully, every scan shows nothing and of all the cancers out there, PTC has about the best prognosis of all of them.

So I think of myself not as someone who was a sick kid, but as someone who had health problems.

MissA Years later, my beautiful little girl, MissA was born. I had placenta previa, which has a risk of the placenta rupturing and causing massive bleeding if you go into labor. So I had a scheduled c-section at 37 weeks. So when MissA was born, she had gunk in her lungs that normally is squeezed out during labor and childbirth. She was born at Froedtert Hospital, and was shortly transferred to the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which is attached to Froedtert. It was scary for my husband and me, but we knew she was in good hands at Children’s. And they assured us that after they got her through this little blip, she’d be fine, with no lasting health problems. One of the hardest things I’ve done in my life was go home from the hospital without my baby girl. Fortunately, she came home 3 days later, after a week in the NICU. But during our short experience there, what really impressed me was not just how well they took care of my daughter, but how well they took care of my husband and me, and of our parents. They made the experience as painless and low-stress as it could possibly be.

1 year and 364 years later, MissA’s little brother, G-Man, joined our family (yes, my kids’ birthdays are a day apart). gmanI had another scheduled c-section. And starting a trend that continues, of wanting to do everything his big sister does, my son had gunk in his lungs and was admitted to the NICU. It was a lot less stressful for us this time since we knew he would be OK. Again, the staff, especially the nurses, took as good of care of us as they did my son. And what really impressed me was how much they went out of their way to make sure my daughter was comfortable. One nurse spent almost an hour helping MissA get comfortable with first just looking at and later holding her new baby brother, even though he was connected to all kinds of wires. When they found out her birthday was the day after G was born, the nurses got her a balloon from the gift shop and gave her a teddy bear. It was one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately, the doctors were right. Now 17 months and 3 1/2, G-Man and MissA are perfectly healthy.

now2

This is all my long-winded way of saying I have a special place in my heart for children’s hospitals, and especially for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. In addition to my kids’ experiences at CHW, my sister is finishing up her 3rd year of residency there, and next year will be a Chief Resident. I also work at Froedtert, and have cause at least once a week to walk through CHW. I’m always touched by the great care I see while also so thankful that (so far) my kids haven’t had to go back.

So, what’s my point? Every Thursday and Friday before Memorial Day for the past 16 years, the local classic rock station, WKLH 96.5, has the Dave & Carole Miracle Marathon for Children’s Hospital. The usual morning show hosts broadcast for 2 days straight – fueled only by coffee and compassion – sharing the stories of the kids this hospital serves. They talk to the parents, the doctors and most of all the kids. These brave little warriors share their stories. Dave & Carole bring back some of the same families year after year. Sometimes it’s the parents returning, even if their children didn’t make it. They sit in the lobby of CHW to broadcast, and nearby is a phone bank of volunteers. You can make a 1-time donation, or join the Miracle Club with a monthly donation. The stories are touching, sometimes hopeful, sometimes heartbreaking, always inspiring.

I joined the Miracle Club a few years before my kids were born, when the idea of having kids someday was just starting to form in my mind. When my motivation was more abstract, more related to my own experiences as a kid than the idea that someday my own hypothnow3etical kids would be patients at CHW. And I admit, when they told us MissA needed to go to the NICU, in the back of my mind it registered that I was glad I’d made that small investment in the care my baby girl would receive. My $25 each month doesn’t make a huge impact on its own. But my money, along with all the other people who donate to the Miracle Club and the Miracle Marathon, combine to add over $1 million each year to CHW’s budget. That goes a long way toward improving the care there. It buys couches for stressed parents to relax on. It pays the salary of Child Life Specialists who help kids adjust to having a serious illness. It funds the lab of the geneticist who does groundbreaking research that solves the puzzle of a seemingly untreatable illness. It’s part of the mix that makes CHW the 4th best children’s hospital in the country.

It buys a balloon as a birthday present for a little girl whose newborn brother is in the NICU.

nowThis blog isn’t asking you to donate to CHW and the Miracle Marathon (although by all means, if you’re inclined, please do). I just wanted to acknowledge this amazing thing this radio station does every year. They don’t have to. But it’s part of the reason they’re my go-to radio station – that and playing awesome music.

I know my little blog is barely a blip on the internet radar, but I still wanted to give Dave and Carole a shout out for this incredible thing they do each year. Most mornings they make me laugh, but during the Miracle Marathon they also make me ache, they make me cry, they make me love.

Most of all, they inspire me.

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Writing Through The Pain

Some days just suck. It’s part of life, whether you write or not. For me, today was one of those days. I had pain coming at me from every direction.

There was the physical pain. I’ve been in physical therapy for a few months from the muscle weakness that results from 2 c-sections then hauling around a pair of kids. This was exacerbated by somehow injuring my back yesterday doing the ever-dangerous task of…napping. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a new mattress. This new back pain is fairly staggering. Breathtaking at times. Painkillers didn’t take even a bite out of it. The heating pad makes it tolerable. Icy Hot just makes it tingle and hurt. So, I dealt with this. And, in true writer form, part of my brain is registering “so this is what pain this bad feels like.”

There were all levels of emotional pain. In the form of parenting. MissA, my 3 year old, threw what I’ve referred to as the Epic Tantrum. It started because I wouldn’t let her put on her swimming suit and get in her kiddie pool. Because it was 55 degrees out. The crying and screaming and thrashing went on for over an hour until she finally passed out on her bedroom floor. She woke up and picked up right where she left off, until my wonderful husband finally got her to pass out again and put her to bed.

There was the pain of getting my first real rejection on my book. And by “real” I mean a rejection of the book itself and not just the query. I’ll be waxing philosophical on rejection in an upcoming post.

There was the pain that often comes with my job, meeting a patient who is far too young to be as sick as he is. And has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And finding out that another patient has died from that same disease. Add to that the news that Roger Ebert died today, also from cancer. Twitter and Facebook were full of 2 sentiments – RIP to a good man, and Fuck Cancer.

And there was the pain, or at least frustration of being 3,000 words behind on my April writing goals. I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, which is essentially NaNo in April. I set my goal at 30k, which means 1000 words/day. And I started out with exactly 0 words on the first 3 days.

So, with all this pain, from all different angles, it would have been easy to let myself slide for a 4th day, make excuses about how today was just too hard, too busy, too painful. And write no words. Again. But life is always going to happen. 3 year olds will always have tantrums, cancer will always take my patients. And rejection will always, always be part of being a writer. But that’s what I am. A writer. I have been on some level since I was 7. And if I want to continue to be, if I want to continue to be serious about writing, then there’s no choice. I have to write through the pain. There’s no magic potion that makes it go away. You have to find a way that works for you, so you can compartmentalize your brain and your life. Turn the rest off and climb into the world of your story. Maybe this is easy for you. Maybe you need to do meditation first, or read from a favorite book. Maybe music helps you get in the right mindset. Maybe you just need to reward yourself with something like this (oh yeah, my husband and I earned these).

Bad Day Cookie Sundaes

Whatever it is, find it. Waiting for the right mood and the right mindset and the right circumstances and the right day will leave you waiting forever.

I’m an optimist, but also a realist. There will always be plenty of pain coming at you to make excuses for why you can’t get those words down today. But they’re mostly that. Excuses. Do you want to make excuses? Or do you want to write a book?

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Homemade Peeps-How Writers Waste Time When Not Writing

In a perfect world, I would have 29 hours a day, my kids would still be in daycare full time and I would write and craft to my heart’s content. Like most of my friends, I have re-pinned all the DIY stuff on Pinterest. And have tried about 3 of them. But the other day, MissA made a request I couldn’t deny her. Because it sounded like sticky, messy, ooey-gooey fun.

She loves Peeps. Which is really going out on a limb for a 3 year old, I know. She has also recently developed a love of Star Wars, much to my husband’s delight. Darth Vader is her favorite and she insists he’s a “nice guy.” Because he’s tall and strong. We have some SW cookie cutters, and one of her favorite meals is a Darth Vader sandwich (butter, ketchup and cheese. Awesome). Sometime this week, we were at Target and bought regular old Peeps, the chick kind. And she asked if we could make Darth Vader ones.

I looked on the vast interwebs, and, whaddaya know. There’s a recipe for make-your-own Peeps. Several, in fact. This one seemed the most adaptable to cookie cutters, so I used it:
http://www.52kitchenadventures.com/2012/03/25/homemade-marshmallow-peeps-2/

I thought I’d have to make my own black sugar for Vader, but a trip to the Michaels’ baking aisle proved me wrong. So, we whipped up a batch of homemade Peeps. We now have Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Storm Trooper and Yoda. I’m not going to try to sell them at the next bake sale, but they’re not too bad. Plus we got to play with marshmallow goo. And they taste pretty good.

The kicker is, MissA has decided they are a present for her cousin who is getting baptized tomorrow. Because what better way to represent the cleansing of original sin than a gift of the Lord of the Dark Side?

Colored sugars and cookie cutters all set to go.

Colored sugars and cookie cutters all set to go.

Boiling the sugar-water.

Boiling the sugar-water.

Whipping the marshmallow goo.

Whipping the marshmallow goo.

MissA cutting out a Boba Fet.

MissA cutting out a Boba Fett.

My messy hands.

My messy hands.

The spread.

The spread.