Wednesday, October 28, 2009

U2 at the Rose Bowl for Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, October 17, 2009

SITScation '09 Highlights

So the official part of SITScation ’09 is now over, but the dancing continues into the night. As a first-time blogging conference attendee, I’m happy to report that this conference was way more fun and informative than I had dared hope for.

But the real surprise was how warm and friendly my fellow bloggers turned out to be. Absolutely EVERYone, including blogging stars like SITS founders Tiffany and Heather and speakers like PHAT Mommy and Tip Junkie Laurie Turk were utterly approachable and easy to engage.

Even better, they were fun—and a number of them were absolutely gorgeous out there on the dance floor in their feathers and silver tops and wraps.

No divas to be found anywhere at SITScation! The more successful bloggers who were featured speakers unhesitatingly spilled their most valuable secrets and shared their less glorious moments and lessons learned from mistakes, as well.

Search Twitter using #SITScation and you’ll see many of the highlights of the weekend. For my money, the best tips I picked up were these:
• “Please all and you will please none.” Plus: live, blog, and comment “in the light” (my paraphrase). Sugar Jones says there’s plenty of negativity in the world; don’t spend time fueling fires that only destroy.
• Don’t let your blog impact your regular life. Posting can wait; life can’t. –Renee Ross
• Personal branding can’t be fabricated. Brand yourself by identifying your unique qualities and passions. Once you do that, everything else falls into place. –Alli Worthington

Fabulous weekend. Would love to hear from SITSas who were there and may even have been Pokened by me at some point. XO to everyone!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Snagging swag at SITScation '09

OK, I really did not expect the major swag bag I was given at SITScation '09 registration: jewelry, snacks, environmentally friendly laundry systems, t-shirts, Sudoku, and chocolate. But the really exciting news is that I've already gotten inspired by bloggers I've met and by the opening speaker, Jessica Gottlieb and the founder of Spirit Jump--what a story!

More to come after the party tonight.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Yes, I can

Change is coming. New blog posts will arrive no less frequently than weekly. Yes, I can! Stay tuned...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Free Los Angeles: Fast Access to Fun in the City of Angels

There may be no free lunch in America anymore, but there’s plenty of free fun to be had in the greater Los Angeles area. That is, if you know where to look, and that would be between the covers of Free L.A.: The Ultimate Free Fun Guide™ to the City of Angels.

Editor Troy Corley just published this updated trail map through the events, attractions, and entertaining miscellany of America’s second largest urban area.

Into cinema al fresco? Free L.A. has you covered, whether you’re closest to Universal CityWalk Mann’s Chinese Theater, or UCLA.

Favor nature spots? The guide lists 10, from the Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena to the Vasquez Rocks County Park in Agua Dulce, where the legendary bandit Tiburcio Vasquez hid from authorities in the 1870s.

See world-class museums at no charge. Take the family to pitch in on California Coastal Cleanup Day. Try your hand at the Intergenerational Pumpkin Carving Contest in Plummer Park. With so many categories of fee attractions and activities, there’s never a dull moment for those with guide in hand:

  • Annual events organized by month
  • Unique attractions grouped by specific areas of town
  • Art spaces
  • Gardens
  • Historic places
  • Museums
  • Nature sites
  • Art walks
  • Concerts
  • Films
  • Green activities and workshops
  • Theater
  • Tours
  • Odds and ends
You’ll find a short, but savvy description of each event or site, an explanation of whether it’s always free or when it is, the hours, parking information, and whether there’s a historic aspect to it.

But perhaps most useful of all are two things: Metro information and Thomas Guides coordinates. For $14.95, this book is a steal.

Snap one up now and, no matter which way the economy goes, you’ll have all the data you need to keep your family entertained, free and easy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

And the "Sacred Hearts" audio book goes to...

Amy2Boys of Milk Breath and Margaritas fame. Personally, I love historical fiction, so I'm positive well-read Amy will have fun with it.

Look for the name of the next audio book I'm giving away in the Summer Reading Giveaway to be posted later today.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Audio Book Giveaway -- Second Book: Sacred Hearts

Just when you thought I'd fallen off the edge of the earth, never to return, I'm rearing my head like Putin to post the second audio book in MarcomMom's Summer Reading Audio Book Giveaway. It's a thoughtful and well-reviewed novel called Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant, author of The Birth of Venus, and to enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below this post. Just say hello, or tell us what you're reading right now.

The publisher's book description reads:

The year is 1570, and in the convent of Santa Caterina, in the Italian city of Ferrara, noblewomen find space to pursue their lives under God's protection. But any community, however smoothly run, suffers tremors when it takes in someone by force. And the arrival of Santa Caterina's new novice sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the convent to its core.

Ripped by her family from an illicit love affair, sixteen-year-old Serafina is willful, emotional, sharp, and defiant-young enough to have a life to look forward to and old enough to know when that life is being cut short. Her first night inside the walls is spent in an incandescent rage so violent that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is dispatched to the girl's cell to sedate her. Thus begins a complex relationship of trust and betrayal between the young rebel and the clever, scholarly nun, for whom the girl becomes the daughter she will never have.

As Serafina rails against her incarceration, others are drawn into the drama: the ancient, mysterious Suora Magdalena-with her history of visions and ecstasies-locked in her cell; the ferociously devout novice mistress Suora Umiliana, who comes to see in the postulant a way to extend her influence; and, watching it all, the abbess, Madonna Chiara, a woman as fluent in politics as she is in prayer. As disorder and rebellion mount, it is the abbess's job to keep the convent stable while, outside its walls, the dictates of the Counter-Reformation begin to purge the Catholic Church and impose on the nunneries a regime of terrible oppression.
Sarah Dunant, the bestselling author of The Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesan, brings this intricate Renaissance world compellingly to life. Amid Sacred Hearts is a rich, engrossing, multifaceted love story, encompassing the passions of the flesh, the exultation of the spirit, and the deep, enduring power of friendship.
I'll randomly pick a winner on Saturday, August 22nd. So don't you feel a comment inside you just burning to be posted below? Inquiring minds want to know... what you're reading now or want to read next.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Back from the land of the walking dead

So I just got over the nastiest flu I've had in years. It came just as I had traveled back east for my high-school reunion -- perfect timing, right? The combination of travel and illness made it difficult to update the blog, but I'm back to tell you that Lora B. won the Barbara Delinsky audio book! I still have a few days of travel, but the audio-book giveaway will resume next Wednesday, with three more still to give away--just for posting a comment.

How have you spent the dog days of summer so far? Traveling? Hanging by the pool? Getting ready to send a child back to school? Do tell.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Reading Audio Book Giveaway

My family of three pulled into the driveway early yesterday evening after a 964-mile drive, and we were not at wits' end and our nine-year-old was not wrestling with backseat lockdown fever. Why not? Bribes, sugar-free soda, smoothies...? Busted. But I must say that our smooth sailing was also helped along greatly by books, both audio and printed.

On our two-week trip, our daughter read four books and listened to short stories by Mark Twain on audio. Even better, a Parenting magazine (@parenting) tweet alerted me to a best-ever vacation tip: many libraries have downloadable audio books.

This was a revelation to me. Audio books are fantastic for keeping up with the latest from a favorite author and just for passing time on the road. But they're not cheap!

So in honor of the boost that books gave us on our trip, I'm giving away one new audio book a week for the next four weeks. To Enter: Just post a comment (I'd especially love to hear the favorite book you've read this year) and I'll randomly choose a winner and mail out that week's audio book each of the four Saturdays. These are straight from the publisher, brand new in their original shrinkwrap.

This week's audio book giveaway: While My Sister Sleeps, by Barbara Delinsky, a $29.95 value.

Come on -- let's get into some great summer reads together. I can't wait to hear what you're reading and loving right now.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Keeping it together on extended-family getaways

There’s nothing like a holiday to bring out the love and the judgmental instinct in all of us. Something about getting together with extended family for a national celebration boosts the expectations of communal family bliss sky-high and fireworks—both real and metaphorical—can turn out to be the spectacular end to the day.

This month my husband, daughter and I drove across three states to get to the city where he was born, where his parents, sister’s family, and assorted nieces still live. It’s a pretty city in a beautiful state, his family are loving and adventurous, and we always look forward to getting together.

Differing family togetherness styles

Let me say from the outset that, at heart, I’m a loner and that, while I like being with the larger family and believe it’s one of the most important, foundational things in life, I have serious needs for alone time when I’m going to be staying in the same house or cabin or hotel with anyone beyond my own family of three. And while my in-laws get this at a certain level, there always seems to be a degree of resistance to it.

So when I heard that my husband’s parents, sister and brother-in-law, niece and her husband, and his other single niece had all scoped out a beautiful vacation house in the mountains, and that they wanted to see if we wanted to go in on an even larger place with them, I panicked.

Explaining that our daughter was easily distracted by late-night card games among the cousins, and that my husband and I both had work to do on our laptops during part of the long getaway weekend, I let them know I’d be finding a hotel with wifi in town, but we’d be spending lots of time together.

Six degrees of separation

After arriving in our favorite low-key mountain resort town, I at first avoided even telling my mother-in-law our hotel room number, because she has a propensity for showing up at all hours and pressuring us to do certain group activities, whether we’ve previously stated that we have other plans or not.

However, after my evil plan worked quite well for the first day and a half--meaning my husband and daughter were able to sleep in, I was able to slip away for a walk to the lake or the bookstore or the coffee house, and I had some precious hours to work or keep my sanity before joining the frenetic group activities—I became more welcoming, allowing the in-laws into the room while our daughter changed into her swimsuit in the bathroom, serving cold drinks between activities, etc.

So on the third and final day, anticipating the need to pack and check out within about 90 minutes, I opened my hotel-room door with the “Do not disturb” sign poised to slip over the handle, when whom should I see in the hallway, with Sunday paper spread out over the floor and a bag full of curlers she’d taken out of her hair so as to style it IN THE HALLWAY, but my mother-in-law.

She said, “I was going to slip a note under the door, but the bottom of the door doesn’t have any room.” So…she…just…waited? This is 9:00 a.m. on the Sunday morning after a very late night on the lake watching the town’s fireworks display. The nine-year-old and the 47-year-old in the room need to sleep in. But my mother-in-law is there to ask me whether the three of us would like to drive the 35 minutes out of town and up the other mountain to their vacation house, where the rest of the clan were making breakfast.

I explained that we couldn’t possibly do that and still pack and check out by 11:00, whereupon a few teardrops slid down her cheek and she lamented how little time she’d had with all of us.

Now, bear in mind that we had and have at least 10 more days in her own house coming immediately on the heels of this weekend. I reminded her of this, and she nodded and seemed somewhat mollified.

Retreat and advance… the eternal dance

To my mother-in-law, constant togetherness feels comforting. Every minute of the day, from the time you get up and she pressures you to eat what she thinks is best for breakfast (“Are you sure you can’t eat French toast? Are there carbs in bread?”) to outings with family members she’s invited over on one of your workdays, to lunch and dinner and every step you take in between—more is better.

For myself, being so close to each other all day for days on end, inhaling each other’s exhale, literally feels suffocating to me. I have gotten to the point that I have told her straight out, “I need some time to work, to read, and to nap. This is not personal. I am exactly the same at my mother’s house. This is who I am. The way you are is fine and the way I am is fine and we’re just different.”

She seems to hear this. For awhile.

So, at this point in our 13-year relationship, the precious progress I’ve made has been by simply being open and honest about my needs. However, that does not mean that family members truly like it and I do still feel judged when I skip out on a group movie outing or let my daughter and husband explain my absence at one out of five family events. There comes a time when a woman has to say, whether anyone likes this or not, this is about my mental health, my emotional survival, and I’m going to take care of my own needs.

Emotional growth is so exhausting. I think I’ll take a nap.

P.S. If any of you fellow alone-time lovers out there have tips, drop me a comment below. I need them!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The concrete jungle: bullying and grace

Like most parents, I'm crazy about my kid. Since we graduated from the challenging toddler years, every day--even a tough day--has one or two moments when I see our daughter for the miracle, the grace of heaven, that she really is and get lost in that love.

It's been a joy to watch her blossom academically, at play with friends, in her voracious reading, in her creative activities. There have been struggles in each area, yes. Especially on the school playground.

Beginning in second grade, three girls began bullying her in that nasty way females sometimes do. With girls, it tends to be called "relational aggression," because they don't act physically aggressive as often as they try to take the wind out of another girl's sails. "Your shoes are ugly." "Andrea says your dress is ugly." "Sarena says you're a loser."

Never mind that none of that is true, that she's doing very well in school and has plenty of friends for playdates and lots of cute, non-show-offy clothes for school. I'm being totally honest when I tell you that worrying about the next day's playground time has kept me up at night off and on the past two school years.


We've found some ways to bolster her self-confidence in these situations (although progress here seems to proceed at a glacial pace), and things have gotten better. So it was with a feeling of wonder that I listened to her account of her first day at summer daycamp this past Monday.

She said, "A girl was being really mean to Jasmine today. She was being a bully to her." I remarked on how unfair that was and asked if she had been the victim, too. She said, "No, Savannah and another girl just picked on Jasmine, but I told her I was on her side."

Can I tell you that at that moment, my heart swelled? It wasn't that long ago that someone told me that the challenges my daughter has faced from the mean girls at school were only going to build character in her, that she's a strong girl who "gets" what's going on and she'll be fine.

But it's so hard to look at these situations long-term, when you're living your day aware that in ten minutes it's recess over at school four blocks away and hoping that this is a good recess and that you won't hear an upsetting story after school that you push away until it wakes you up at 2:00 a.m. and lose another 90 minutes of sleep...

So when my kid told me that she told this poor bullied girl that she would stand by her, it seemed like the most profound kind of grace. For her, for her new friend. I'm not one of those people who has a Bible verse for every occasion, but I know in my bones that this is Romans 8:28 in action: "All things work together for good to them that love the Lord," and I told my daughter that, and she smiled a powerful little smile.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The importance of play

When your child has more regular weekly appointments than you do, it may be time to step back and evaluate. Ask yourself, "Does my child get enough unstructured, unscheduled time for play?" Several key areas of a child's development are helped along by open-ended playtime.

Recently, I answered a Twitter request for guest bloggers from Princess Time Toys, and you can read the article here. While you're there, click over to the store for some terrific toys and dress-up clothes that can help boost imaginative playtime.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Keeping kids happy while you work at home

Take it from someone who was working on email newsletter deadlines six days after her C-section with her baby on a Boppy next to her on the couch: you need a strategy or at least a few great tips to be able to handle the work-at-home mom (WAHM) life. I thought this article had some very good ideas, and I say this after nine years of WAHMhood.

Before I post the link, my own tips include these:

  • Be sure you spend some quality time with the kids an hour or so before any conference calls where silence is critical.

  • Set the expectations early about when silence is needed and when interruptions are OK. Have a hand signal or a sign right at hand that each child knows means the equivalent of, "I love you, but you must wait until I'm done with this call before I can answer you or else I'll lose this client and you won't be able to go to gymnastics camp. Thank you! Did I mention that I love you?"

  • Train with your li'l darlings so you're not trying desperately to communicate and teach a rule while dealing with a deadline or phone-based crisis. By the time my daughter was four, she was able to understand the signals and wait patiently (most of the time).

The article I'm mentioning here is from and is called, How to Have Happy Kids while You Work at Home. Enjoy! Then get some work done.

What are your best WAHM tips? I'd love to see your pearls of wisdom in the comments below.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Literary characters you just can't quit

My mother was a young and overwhelmed mother of four when I was a kid, so I often felt her attention was elsewhere. (Don't cry for me, Argentina; I think many middle kids can relate.) But I do have a few very clear, specific memories of expressions of her love for me and of attention she paid me.

One memory is of being in Lawrence, Kansas, where we had to go for the day for some reason having to do with my father and the University of Kansas, where he was a grad student. It was an extremely hot day, crayons were melting tragically in the car, and she and I (and presumably, my siblings) were killing time in a bookstore. And it was there that she bought me what may have been my first Nancy Drew book.

You have to understand that my daughter had in her room, by age four, more possessions than I accumulated in my life until about age 18. So this was a significant gift.

More importantly, that was the start of (and the continuation of, ancestrally speaking) a lifelong love of the Nancy Drew character and, in fact, of all sleuths. Others I've loved include author Jonathan Kellerman's psychologist/protagonist Alex Delaware; Sue Grafton's adorable minimalist, Kinsey Millhone; and, more recently, the various and sundry characters in the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child series of books.

Especially Agent Pendergast (sigh...). On the one hand, he's James Bond. On the other, he's kind of a freaky dude who has silvery-blue eyes, super-pale skin and descends from a wealthy New Orleans family with a very checkered past. But if you were ever trapped in the Museum of Natural History in New York with a bizarre creature from the rainforest chasing you through the vast underground storage areas, Agent Aloysius Pendergast is the one you'd want running alongside you.

Trust me.

So it's always with a mixture of thrill and despair that I greet the publication of the latest in these two authors' series. This past week, I got my copy of "Cemetery Dance" in the mail and now I'm writing this blog post so that I won't have to finish the last 1/6 of it and shut the covers, knowing I have to wait another 18 months or so for the next one to appear.

Isn't that the greatest thing about reading? Discovering characters who come to permanently inhabit the mind?

Post a comment if you've had a similar experience. Come on...share! Maybe we'll all fall in love with a new fictional character, and you can be the matchmaker.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tackle-It Tuesday

Hmmm... Thinking seriously about joining the other bloggers who have tasks they've been putting off indefinitely who will spend 15 minutes attacking it today. Not sure about posting before-and-after photos, but I can tell you that there's a big pile of STUFF on the antique desk in the master bedroom that has been there since the dawn of time. (I think it should seriously be considered a candidate for the place Jimmy Hoffa may have been laid to rest.)

Tackle It Tuesday Meme

Anyone with me? What will you spend 15 minutes doing that should have been done long ago? If I'm successful, I'll post a photo. Cheers!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Insanely creative homeowners, please post here

So my journalist husband and I are thinking about bailing out of L.A. after 25-30 years each, including over 10 together and nine with our daughter. Even with the housing downturn and my husband's layoff from a national magazine--a kind of job that's gone forever--our house is still worth enough due to the previous bubble that we can afford to get something a level above our current house if we move to Nashville.

What amazes me as I take virtual house tours online is not that Nashville is full of creative urban types, but by how many of these houses are decorated in an insanely great way. Gorgeous paint on the walls, fabulous bathrooms full of new features that harken back to the 20's and 30's. It seems that each and every house I look at has been tastefully redone in a way I admire.

Just today on Facebook I saw some photos posted by a friend from high school back in West Virginia. Now working for a high-tech company in North Carolina, she is a crazy-good artist in her spare time. Check out the painting she recently did around her house:

I could never do this in a trillion years, but it thrills and humbles me to see Kathy doing this with her home. Anyone out there do something gorgeous or deranged or cool or all three in her own home? I'd love a link, so post in the comments below.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The morning after a sleepover

I'm wondering whether it's possible that one thing that happens to parents of "only" children is that they never grow past the caution of the early days of the first baby, because their first baby is always their first, and last...

Well, whatever the reason, our daughter, who's nine, had her first-ever sleepover with a friend last night. The friend came here (note the caution: we'll try it on the home field first, then see if she's ready to sleep away from us in a strange place without even a grandparent or cousin around).

They had a blast last night, playing Rock Band (the old songs like "Eye of the Tiger" that don't have suggestive lyrics) and watching the brand-new Barbie movie, Thumbelina (which they loved), but here's the rub: the sleepover friend can survive on five hours of sleep, and our daughter can't. She's a 10-1/-hours-of-sleep-a-night girl. Last night they went to sleep at 1:00 and the friend was up at 6:10 while our daughter said "I'm up" about five times and went right back to sleep like a good little narcoleptic.

Right now, after successfully rousing and dressing her and heading to IHOP, our daughter is clearly knackered. Mad Libs have been a disaster. (And DH and I didn't get as much sleep as we should have, either, due to the boisterous activities echoing down the hall.)

Any of you experienced sleepover parents have advice? Do they grow out of their sleep-needs differences? How do you handle the morning after a sleepover?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Burger King's "square butts" ad -- in prime time?

OK, every day I wonder whether I'm the most freakish, old-fashioned, throwback of a mother on the planet. But! I was seriously miffed when that Carl's Jr. "Flat Buns" ad was shown before 7:00 p.m. last year--the one with the teacher gyrating on top of her desk in front of those teenaged boys.

Just now I saw a Burger King ad set to the tune of "I like big butts...," only they were singing, "I like square butts and I cannot lie..." and there were pictures of SpongeBob and the Burger King rocking out alongside these girls in tiny shorts with phone books stuffed in the back to give them big, square behinds.

Should my nine-year-old be exposed to this hyper-sexualizing of women in a cartoon featuring her favorite (normally sweet and innocent) cartoon character? Do I have to turn the TV off before 6:00 at night? And would that even work?

Look, I don't even let my daughter say "butt," preferring "bottom," much less let her watch people dancing suggestively. When did crude language become so completely and thoroughly EVERYWHERE during daylight hours and on kids' TV channels?

Does this concern others, too? Am I such a throwback? I don't need to go live with the sister wives on a farm in Colorado to find other people who care about this, do I? Tell me your thoughts below.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Co-sleeping -- dangerous?

Just saw a tweet from the LATimesCityDesk that 42 deaths of young children in L.A. in 2007 were blamed on "co-sleeping." When our daughter was an infant, there were times we were so exhausted that she slept in our bed all night, but most times I'd roll over and put her in the bassinet next to our bed.

However, I did have times when she lay between my husband and me that I'd think, "Boy, all I'd have to do is roll over and, in my complete exhaustion, not even notice I was on top of her face and that would be IT." Fortunately, being the hyper-alert light sleeper I am, it never happened.

The pros and cons of co-sleeping and the family bed are really passionate issues for many parents. As a fan of Ferber (and a slow learner who had to start the process twice before it took SO WELL), I still maintain that families should do whatever works best for them.

But that begs the question, ARE there dangers that came with co-sleeping? Any of you moms out there who might stumble over this blog and have some knowledge to share, please do so. I'd love to hear from you. And in the meantime, I'll be googling this issue myself.

Even one little infant is too many to lose.