Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Never Ending Debate: Stay at home moms vs. Working moms

In the couple of weeks leading up to Mother's Day, you're going to notice a lot of motherhood-related posts here (more than usual). We hope you enjoy them!  

Recently on one of my Facebook posts a debate broke out: Who has it harder, stay at home moms or working moms?

This is, in my humble opinion, one of the hottest debated, and least productive questions I've ever come across.

It began with a silly post about my husband and I bantering about who should make dinner. His well meaning mother joined in, and pointed out that since I chose to stay home and he works, I should make dinner. She then made a comment about how hard he works, and how exhausted he must be at the end of the day. I get it. She is his mother, I made a jab at her son, she needs to come to his defense. But then my husband felt the need to point out that I also work extremely hard and I'm exhausted at the end of the day. He mentioned that he believes between the two of us (he and I) that I have the harder job, being the homemaker, and pregnant mother to two small children is physically and emotionally exhausting after all.

Cue the debate.

Of course, there are no winners in this debate. Only losers. How many times have working moms felt marginalized by stay at home moms, and vice versa? I think in order to understand the debate, we have to know where it is coming from.

Motherhood is often thankless, exhausting, and demoralizing. As mothers, we beat ourselves up about our choices. We question ourselves. We often feel like failures. So often, working mothers feel guilt for not being physically present, though a mother's thoughts are never far from her children. Stay at home mothers also feel guilty when they may feel resentment for their life, isolation, and loneliness. Because motherhood becomes the core of who we are, the yardstick by which our value as human beings is measured, we become defensive of our choices, even if we aren't always sure about them ourselves.

Stay at home moms are often labeled the martyrs of this debate. After all, they don't get the same kind of paycheck, literal or figurative, that working moms get. There is no money rolling in, no validation for the ins and outs of your time. They spend much of their time in isolation, dealing with challenges with little or no support from peers. They long for the day they can use the restroom in peace and quiet. In fact, they long for any sort of peace and quiet. Any ounce of time to themselves is a treasure. There is never reprieve, not even during sleep. Even the very term stay-at-home mom denotes a sort of lesser status, as explained in this recently published Time article. 

Working mothers deal with both the demands of their professional life, and home life simultaneously. They are judged for their choice to leave their family to work outside the home. When they get home, emotional and physical needs of their children still need to be met, dinner still needs to get on the table, and laundry still needs to be folded. They battle with being pulled in two different directions. They are judged by others as putting their careers before their families.  

So obviously, the debate strikes a chord with so many women. Women who feel the need to defend the choices they themselves struggle with on a daily basis. The problem is, the debate pits one hard working woman who constantly sacrifices, against another hard working woman who constantly sacrifices. The debate demeans, demoralizes, marginalizes, and judges others, who are just trying to do the best thing for their most prized treasures: their children.

When I became a mother, I had the fortune of making the choice for myself. For a very short time, it was necessary to work outside the home while I completed my degree in education. I returned to work three weeks after my oldest daughter was born, and completed my semester when she was nearly five months old. I dealt with a lot of guilt, a lot of worry, a lot of questions. I had a newborn to care for, and a classroom of third grade students that I was responsible for. I loved all of those students, and I wanted to do everything possible to create a positive educational experience for them. Yet, my heart was elsewhere. Always. It was excruciating. When I was at home with my daughter all I wanted to do was hold her, tend to her needs, love her. I remember not even letting my husband hold her in church because I missed her all the time. When my semester was over, I spent the entire day holding my baby, crying tears of gratitude for the option that I had to stay home and dedicate my time to being her full time mommy.

Yet, it didn't take long for me to feel completely isolated, alone, worthless.  I no longer had stimulating challenges that allowed me to stretch my talents and intellect. I couldn't enjoy a meal; showering and getting dressed were considered  high achievements. I'd dedicated so much time to developing myself as a professional, and now I might as well have been a nobody. I felt like I'd lost a giant chunk of who I was.

Eventually I found my groove. I was able to recognize talents as a homemaker and mother, and while nobody was validating me, I found an inner peace. Now here I am with two children, sitting on another egg about ready to hatch, and I can appreciate my two different experiences. Both tested me to my limit. Both allowed me to stretch and grow into the mother I am. I would be a different mother if I were a working mother, but that is obvious, because we always have to rise to whatever challenge we are faced with.

 I loved this article recently published at, my favorite comment being "I think the only way you could gain approval for your time-management, as a mother, would be to look after your children all the time," Williams wrote, "as well as working full-time but for some socially useful enterprise (ideally voluntary work), while never relying on a man for money, yet never claiming benefits either."

So why do people debate this? Because people have this inherent need to feel validated, even when it's difficult to validate themselves. What we should do, instead of debating who has it worse, and trying to "one up" another person, is spend our energy validating each other as mothers, even when our choices differ. Motherhood is hard enough without all the competition and judgment. I'll never look down on another woman's choices, because my daughters will one day have to make these same decisions, and I want them to know that, no matter what, I support them, and I validate them in what they chose to do. Because whether or not we stay at home with our families, or work outside the home, motherhood is the toughest job a person can have.

Monday, April 28, 2014

First Pregnancy vs. Second Pregnancy

Guess what guys? I'm pregnant!

I feel like I'm a little late to the party, since I'm the fourth in line to deliver of the currently pregnant Lovely authors. (Amanda is seriously about to deliver any day!)

Pregnancy is weird, but it's a totally different weirdness the second time around, and some of the weirdness is just due to the fact that you've done it all before, and it's just not that weird any more. Here are some examples of the way my first pregnancy and my second are differing so far.

  • First: Rushed out to buy a pregnancy test the SECOND I thought it was possible I was "late."
    Second: After a few false alarms due to postpartum breastfeeding confusion, I waited for over a week after I was pretty sure to go and buy the test. I was still really excited, but those things are like $7 apiece and I didn't want to waste any more money on them until I was pretty sure it was for real!
  • First: Immediately pulled up that scene from I Love Lucy where Ricky sings "We're Having a Baby, My Baby and Me" and then finds out he's the one whose wife is trying to tell him she's pregnant and I BAWLED.
    Second: Did a little jumping up and down, but was in the middle of dealing with giving my daughter antibiotics for a staph infection and getting ready to move in two days, so there just wasn't a lot of time to sit around and bask in the glow of pregnancy. 
  • First: So. Much. Vomit. For like 19 weeks. (Okay, this probably isn't everyone's experience. Sorry.)
    Second: Less vomit. Lots of general yuckiness. Later onset of symptoms. Lots of predictions that I'm having a boy this time since my symptoms are different. (Also, stomach flu, which made up for the less vomit over the course of a couple of days. Ugh.) 
  • First: Took my prenatal vitamins for MONTHS before and religiously every day during my pregnancy. Checked all of the lists of things to avoid and was terrified of hot tubs, cold cuts, tuna, and about 25 other things that were on various lists.
    Second: Tried really hard to remember to take my vitamins. Remembered most days. Wondered what on earth I was so freaked out about last time. Why was I even looking at those lists? But did make sure that if I ate sushi, it was cooked. 
  • First: Immediately started researching cribs, mattresses, strollers, car seats, nursery ideas, quilt patterns, and childrearing methods. Read ALL THE BOOKS and the blogs and the pregnancy calendars and so on and so forth.
    Second: Well, I've already got the crib and the carseat . . . I suppose if it had been a boy he'd need some clothes, but since we just found out it's another girl, she can wear hand me downs for awhile . . . and as for the nursery, I'm mostly concerned about how we'll fit two beds in the kids' room of our two bedroom apartment. I can worry about decorations a little later on, like when she is ready to move in with big sister a few months after she is born. (Probably before that when nesting goes into full swing - but I'm not obsessively pinning things this time.) 
  • First: Really, really want that nicely defined baby bump to show up quickly so people wouldn't just think I was getting chubby.
    Second: Remembering how miserable carrying that baby bump was toward the end, I am in no hurry for it to pop out. There was no greater relief than being able to bend over to pick something up without wanting to die, once baby number one was born. (Also, has anyone else noticed that something about having kids makes you less concerned about your own appearance? I mean, I care, but I have gone out with spit up on my shoulder because I was too busy checking the diaper bag to check the mirror more times than I can say . . .) 
  • First: Really concerned about getting stretch marks. Listened very careful to all tips about how to avoid them. Thought I had avoided them only to have them pop out in the home stretch.
    Second: Hahahahahahahaha. (Seriously though. Stretch marks are not that big of a deal. Especially if you, like me, have no desire to wear a bikini, but also just generally. Meh. They look scary when they pop put, but mine faded quite a lot and they just don't bother me.
  • First: Broke out the maternity clothes WAY too early. 
  • Second: Holding off on the maternity clothes as long as humanly possible, because I remember how freaking tired of them I was by the time I delivered that baby. 
What do you think? Any of this sounding familiar to any of you? Any tips for the second baby coming up? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How I Learned to Make Dolls (Plus an Unsolicited Plug for Wee Wonderfuls)

For my daughter's first Christmas, I really wanted to make her a doll. I'm not sure why this desire was so strong (although it was probably partly because we were kind of poor and partly because my friend Becky had just posted some doll hair tutorials and some really beautiful dolls that she'd made, and I wanted to be as cool as she is).

The problem was I couldn't really sew. All the tutorials you can find require some kind of knowledge of special stitches and junk like that, and I just couldn't quite figure out what they were talking about. I finally settled on a tutorial for a Black Apple doll for that first attempt. She was cute, but if you looked closely, she was barely holding together. The seams were shabby, the limbs were sewn on badly, I didn't know how to do a ladder stitch so I couldn't make the stitches invisible, etc. I made her a scarf to cover up the mistakes I made sewing her head on. Luckily, CB was only 5 months old and not very discerning.

Despite my only sort of successful attempt, I really enjoyed the process of turning unloved fabric scraps into something cute and lovable. I really wanted to learn to do it well, and I wanted to learn in time for the day when my daughter would have opinions about how they should look. A few months later, after reading lots of reviews and doing lots of searching around for something that I thought would be easy enough for my skill level without being boring,  I ordered Wee Wonderfuls: 24 Dolls to Sew and Love because it had some tutorials on how to do the actual stitches and had lots of different patterns so I could learn some different skills and hopefully start customizing a little someday.

Over the next few months I pulled out scraps here and there and put together a few toys that CB really loves.

 I had to make this bear by hand because I was afraid of trying to sew this fuzzy stuff in my sewing machine. He was made from the leftovers from the less-successful crib covers that I made for my daughter's crib so she wouldn't chew on it. (She still does, but she likes this bear, and the covers make it less evident that the crib looks like a beaver got to it.) He was much cuter when he was new than he is now. She chewed off his nose as well.

Kitty's face took a couple of attempts and her tiny dress was a struggle, but she is well-loved now, despite her terrible seams. I have re-attached her head and legs once, and the head is starting to look a bit loose again. 

These sleepover pals have crazy wide-set eyes, but they get hauled all over the place. CB gives them to her bigger dolls so they can have babies. 

So after I'd made a few of these projects, I really wanted something I could customize a bit more. I downloaded another pattern (again from Wee Wonderfuls because I'd had good luck with her patterns in the book and had been drooling over her amazing doll hair for more than a year) and made a doll to match CB's Easter dress using the scraps. 

A side note: sewing round things (like heads) is hard. Now that I've done three of these dolls it's a little less intimidating, but good heavens it was scary the first time. 

The tricky part about making a doll for a toddler is that they know before you even make it into an actual doll what the parts are going to be, and then they steal the doll before you are finished. I've given up on hiding this baby until Easter. 

Doing the doll hair is fast becoming my favorite part of this process. It's lots of painstaking pinning and stitching (which took some time to figure out, especially the first time around - eventually I kind of sewed out from the center like spokes of a wheel to do the back of the head) but I love the results and the process of making it come together.

I used this brief tutorial and many others I'd been reading on this website and others to get this hair style.  I was going for this look. 

Faces are still a work in progress for me. I didn't like how the ones on the pattern were turning out for me, so I did my own. I want to play with the look a little more, but my limited embroidery skills make trying out anything fancy on a finished doll when a mistake could ruin the whole thing pretty terrifying. 

After finishing CB's doll, I made these big sister/little sister dolls for a friend who has a 5 year old and is expecting another little girl. Keeping them away from CB was extra tricky. 

Little sister's hair came from this tutorial, big sister's from this picture, because by then I had kind of figured out how to make it work. My doll's hair turned out totally different because the yarn was a different texture, but I think I ultimately decided I like it. 

I never could decide whether or not these ladies needed noses, so in the end I left them off. 

CB is now in the throes of major stuffed animal love, and she ADORES these babies and animals, especially the latest one. She makes them dance and hauls them all over the house, and I love the feeling of knowing I made her something that she enjoys - especially because I made pretty much all of them out of leftover scraps from various projects my mom and I have worked on over the years. I like using little bits of old projects to make something new. 

Mostly though, I love that I can still learn new things. Three plus years out of college, sometimes it feels like I am stagnating, even though I know I'm learning a lot about taking care of children, and I still read and learn things every day. It's nice to feel like I can pick up a new skill just because I decide to do it, and I can create something that makes me and at least one tiny person happy, and I can make actual, visible progress at something. 

What new things are you learning to do? (And if you decide to learn to make dolls and want to talk about it, shoot me a comment or an email!) 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Because I Can.

Five years ago, the movie The Wizard of Oz celebrated its 70th year of its existence. That year they re-released a special version in theaters for one night and my grad school roommates (including our Lovely Author Meg) and I spent a magical evening with Dorothy and her crew.

A few nights ago my husband and I were watching TV when a commercial touting The Wizard of Oz's 75th anniversary came on. It triggered memories of that 70th anniversary and I filled Sam in on what a fabulous experience it was. As we chatted about what a great experience it was for a few minutes, a thought popped into my head. "Why exactly did I decide to go in the first place, though?" The answer, luckily, popped into my head almost instantly:

Because I could.

I do not have the luxury in my life to do any little passing whim or fancy that enters my head. I do, however, have the luxury of acting on quite a few of them. Why?

Because I can.

Last week I took my eight-month old son to the National Gallery of Art and spent almost the entire time sitting on a couch in one room with him. Why? Because I could.

One night in college, my roommates and I ate dinner while sitting on the floor around our coffee table, in an attempt to recreate a scene from the movie Sabrina. Why? Because we could.

From the ages of 2-3, I have been told that I used to eat finger-fulls of straight butter. Why? This one I don't actually remember too well myself, but I am assuming it was because I was two and I could get away with things like that. In other words, because I could.

I made my own wedding bouquet. Why? Because I could.

For about 3/4 of my life I slept with my head at the foot of my bed (I only stopped when I got married and things would have gotten weird snuggling with my husband's feet). Why? Because I could.

When my sisters and I were younger, we insisted on sleeping outside on our trampoline at least once a week in the summers, even though we would all inevitably roll to the middle and sleep on top of each other and our dad notoriously "forgot" to turn the sprinklers off (set on a timer for some unholy hour of the morning) every single time. Why? Because we could.

This past presidential election, I voted. Why? Because I could.

In grad school I used to time myself running down the stairs from my office on the 7th floor of the library down to the ground floor. Why? Because I could.

The night that my son was born, I refused to put him down for more than seven hours after I finally got to hold him. Why? Because I could.

There is so much in life that we simply cannot do. There isn't enough money, enough time, enough space, enough skill, enough energy, enough anything to do the things that we want. But rather than dwell on the things we can't do, why can we not remember the things we do get to do- the things we get to do just because we can!

Friday, April 18, 2014

So You're Cooking Dinner For Your Mother-In-Law: Dos and Don'ts and Recipe Ideas

The other day I was talking to my friend who is living with her in-laws for a few weeks while she waits for her apartment to be renovated. I asked her how it was going and she said she had been working hard to cook for them every night but could tell that her mother-in-law didn't like anything she made.

That's something I think everyone can relate to. It's a high pressure situation, cooking for someone who spent 18 years making homemade bread for their precious son to whom you are now feeding frozen pizzas. Last time I cooked for my mother-in-law she told me she liked how "simple" all my meals were. I think that was probably the nicest thing she could find to say about my cooking.

So I came up with a fabulous idea to collect recipes that are sure to impress someone that's a much better cook than you are, but are secretly very easy to make. I've also included a few dos and don'ts for cooking for your mother-in-law to help the process go a little smoother.

Depending on who you're cooking for and how many pounds of red meat they're used to consuming daily you could switch it up and add less tortellini and throw some sausage in there instead. Hide your crockpot and pretend you slaved all day over this delicious soup. Leave your pasta maker on the counter for her to see and silently wonder if you made your own tortellinis.

Don't go vegetarian. This is of course subjective to the particular party but in my general experience, in-laws, especially fathers-in-law, don't appreciate going from red meat to tofu wraps and a side of kale chips.

Another recipe to hide your crockpot for.  The turkey comes out so juicy, tender, and flavorful, your mother-in-law will think you started a marinade the night before. Go ahead and let her think it.

Do keep calm and collected like the Barefoot Contessa at all times. You don't want your mother in law hearing you curse from the kitchen while you try to whisk egg whites.

Italian Chicken, Potatoes, and Green Beans

This one can be tricky.  If your mother-in-law is an avid pinterest-er she may have seen this recipe floating around and your cover will be blown. Spend the hour that this dish bakes in the kitchen clanging around pots and pans and shouting stuff like, "Just de-boning this free range, organic chicken!" and "Tenderizing meat is hard work!" The end result will taste so good, she'll believe everything you were saying in there.

This one doesn't have a link but is really not much of a recipe, just throw 4 raw chicken breasts, raw cubed red potatoes and green beans in a 9x13 dish. Sprinkle with a packet of Italian Seasoning and top with a melted stick of butter. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for one hour.

Don't serve ethnic food. Maybe some mothers-in-law out there love ethnic food but, in my experience, their generation didn't cook a lot of ethnic food. Plus, there's nothing more humiliating than watching your mother-in-law sweat over a spicy tikka masala that you probably shouldn't have served but she's too polite not to finish.

It's nice to go with a classic staple meal that has a bit of a twist that makes it not so ordinary. You can say lofty, superior things like, "We don't make spaghetti for our kids. Everyone eats spaghetti. We eat bowtie lasagna."

Do pull your husband into the bathroom before dinner and threaten him into lavishly complimenting your cooking during the entire meal. If necessary, make him a list of acceptable compliments to read out every five minutes. Example: "Wow, I didn't know my wife could be talented at everything but I guess she is!"

This would go well with any of the meals listed above and is one step above garlic bread so you can't be faulted with preparing boring side dishes. Also it's smothered in cheese so you really can't go wrong. Everyone loves cheese.

Do remember to prepare side dishes and a dessert. This way your mother-in-law might be fooled into thinking this is something you regularly do for your family. Instruct children not to question the presence of extra dishes and pretend you roast asparagus as a side dish for them every night.

This is my favorite cake recipe because it's just a cake mix from the store with a few extra things thrown in but it tastes so good. Bury the cake mix box deep in the garbage and no will ever know the difference.

Don't try out a recipe for the first time when cooking for your mother-in-law. Last time I tried this, my dessert exploded in her oven.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Guest Post: Kristi's Five Fantastical Lessons on Life

Today's guest post is by Kristi, Meg's totally awesome sister-in-law. She lives in Texas and is a computer programmer, but she's also an awesome chef, a sci-fi fan, and a mom to a very cute toddler. She and Megan sometimes post recipes on Sisters-in-Long, although not lately (probably Megan's fault for being lazy about taking food pictures). Enjoy! 

I had this fantastic opportunity to stay home with my baby for the first few months of her life, and I loved absolutely every minute. I’ve worked consistently since I was fourteen, so a chance to set my own schedule, have all the laundry clean at the same time, and to take a nap every day was sort of like a home-run for me. Then, suddenly and without warning (pause for dramatic effect), two horrible things happened! I had to return to work AND my child stopped sleeping for 20 hours a day.

As you may imagine, the inevitable happened – gone was the closet of clean laundry, gone were the carefully sculpted meals with coordinating desserts, gone were the (it must be said) naps. Let’s all take a moment of silence for the downfall of my beloved naps. …. Very quickly, I had to learn to adapt to my increased time constraints in order to avoid drowning in my husband’s dirty socks. I’m actually kidding about the dirty socks -he rarely wears socks. The following are five lessons I learned the hard way that are applicable to all of us, regardless of where we are in our lives:

1. Plan to Fail
I know people generally plan in order to succeed, but one day, you’re going to be [sick|cold|tired|busy|bored|angry|sad|hungry|purple|allergic to everything|late|the other kind of late|generally unwilling to keep calm and carry on]. It is going to happen. In these moments of weakness, we tend to blow budgets on conveniences, fall behind on housework, and generally don’t function as we might otherwise. The key is to prepare for these times of need. Do the laundry before you need it. Keep a stack of paper plates and silverware in case of “If I have to do dishes, I will have to start kicking people” moments. Hide chocolate in places no one else in the family will look (like the bottom of a box of feminine products). When you cook, try to think of ways to use leftovers to reduce your kitchen time – our chicken fajita leftovers go into a jar of curry for Indian food the next night. Leftover roasted chicken becomes chicken salad. This tip leads directly into the next:

2. The Freezer is your Best Friend
I know you thought it was that friend you’ve been through hail and high water with, but you are completely wrong. Can your friend have dinner on your table in about fifteen minutes? Probably not. Your freezer, however, is there for you in your time of greatest need. Keep at least two freezer meals on hand, and it will actually be faster than making a run to the nearest fast food place. For my family, it’s frozen turkey meatballs for spaghetti and delicious breakfast sausage for ‘breakfast for dinner’. I don’t plan to make either of these meals, but I know that any given day is going to turn into a nightmare, so it’s good to know that the freezer has my back. Also, ice cream.

3. Nobody cares if your House is Dirty 
And if they do care, you shouldn’t care about them. I’m serious. Take them off the Christmas card list, defriend them on Facebook, and otherwise pretend they don’t exist. Very rarely are all of the rooms in my house clean simultaneously. They get cleaned, yes, but on a rotating schedule. For some people, this is a sign of failure, a sign that the world is ending. To those people, I have this to say: stop. Just stop. Take a deep, relaxing breath, and let go of your 1950’s photo-opportunity home. If it is making you ill to get it, if your children are being ignored in pursuit of magazine cleanliness – let it go. Housework is important, but let’s all be a little more Zen about it. If you are able to successfully juggle all of your commitments AND keep a spotless home, well, shut up – no one likes you anyway and we all talk about you behind your back.

4. Be Honest with Yourself 
I have an ‘Almost No Crafts’ policy. People are sometimes taken aback by this. I’ll go to a church or social function with crafts, and I will often refuse to participate and opt to sit around and chat and do nothing. The reason is simple – if it isn’t a craft I can finish in a short time span, I KNOW I will never finish it. Ever. It will sit in a closet and fill me with guilt and anger and hatred, and I will rue the sight of pom poms and pipe cleaners and reclaimed toilet paper rolls. I derive no joy from the craft itself and frustration from incomplete ones – so I rarely, rarely craft. In so doing, I have freed myself from a needless time suck and sore spot in my life – Pinterest be darned.

We all have things like this in our life. Maybe it’s starting a reorganization project you know you won’t finish, or redoing a bathroom. Perhaps it’s an exercise class you rarely attend, vegetables you buy because they are healthy but you hate, or sending Christmas cards to the people you stopped caring about in Item 3. Be honest – if something isn’t adding value to your life, and more especially if it’s costing money, time, or happy thoughts, let it go. 

5. Opportunity Cost is Still Cost
We all need peace. People who don’t find peace generally end up on the evening news, and not in positive stories. In an accounting class, we learned about opportunity cost – the value/cost you miss out on by doing something else. If you have chocolate cake instead of ice cream, that delicious bowl of frozen goodness was your opportunity cost. If you decide to take a nap instead of going out with your friends, the fun bonding time with your girlfriends was the opportunity cost. Get it?

 If you start looking at your life in terms of opportunity cost, you can become better equipped to make decisions. Yes – that home-cooked kale vegan something or other meal would be healthier for your family than meatballs and spaghetti, but if you’ve had a horrible day or are generally tired, think about the opportunity cost. Kale (which I love btw) or extra time to read stories with your toddler? Maybe the toddler time will add more value to your life. Kale (I really do love it, I’m not lying) or non-relaxing time watching crap on television? Maybe the kale (still loving it) is a better use of your time.

 I can’t tell you what’s more important for yourself, but if you take a minute to think about the opportunity cost of your daily activities, you’ll do a better job of getting some of that much-needed peace and making sure your life is filled with value-added activities.

So, there you have it. Five lessons I learned quickly when life sort of threw me in the blender. When all else fails, just emulate the British and Keep Calm and Carry On. Also, ice cream.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Feel All the Things

I've always been the type of person who doesn't just like things.  I kind of LOVE things.  I find something I like and I delve in deep until I know everything there is to know about that thing or until I get distracted by a new thing to love or until I get a little lazy.  In this way, my laziness actually keeps me sane.  It's all about balance.

I also have always been the type of person who doesn't just feel things.  I FEEL ALL THE THINGS. If you cry, I cry.  If you're happy, I'm happy.  I want everyone around me to be comfortable because that's what makes me comfortable.  I can't watch American Idol (or most other reality TV contests) because I become physically uncomfortable watching other people embarrass themselves.

Recently, thanks to some crazy good books and television, I've been worried about how involved I get with certain fictional people and situations.  I read something or watch something that is so good and so REAL and so intense that I spend more of my real life time than I should processing what happened and why it happened and whether or not the reactions of certain characters was plausible (I'm looking at you, Sherlock) and so on and so forth.  Really, I think a lot of this is because the creators and authors of these fictional worlds and characters have gotten so good at what they do that it can be difficult to separate the real world and the land of fiction.  But, a part of me was definitely thinking that my obsessiveness was due, in part, to my singledom.  I convinced myself that I have time to over-think all the fake stuff because I don't have enough real stuff to over-think (this post, if anything, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am an over-thinker). 

All this changed after talking to my friend, Jamie, and having a spirited conversation about the merits of Logan Echolls and why Veronica and Logan are MFEO.

 Do you see that look?  That's true love, people.

We also talked a bit about this article. It talks about how fictional characters are unhealthy love interests.  I don't agree with all of it because I think it's casting a pretty wide net.  I don't think ALL women who obsess over Mr. Darcy or Edward Cullen or The Doctor are unable to develop stable relationships.  They are out there, but they are not me.  Also, this quote:

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Website, from statistics published by the Romance Writers of America, “the three primary traits that readers look for in heroes are muscles, handsomeness, and intelligence”.

"Muscles, handsomeness, and intelligence?" In that order?  I am intrigued by the study that produced such statistics, but I digress. There are those fictional characters, though, that are kind of irresistible, and as this article points out, most of the time they are dark, brooding men reformed by love (once again, I'm looking at you, Sherlock).  There may be nothing more exciting than that.  That isn't to say I want to meet a dark, brooding man (who is usually also egotistical, maniacal, or has some history of violence or the tendency to lose his temper) in real life and reform him.  That actually sounds like the worst thing and really difficult and kind of heart breaking just working through the drama that would be involved.  Living vicariously is part of the excitement.  Excitement once removed?  Sure.  That could be a thing.

The best part of this entire article and the conversation with Jamie, is that I realized I was not alone in my obsessions.  I no longer feel bad for over-caring about the lives of fake people.  Or for doing a tiny bit (hours) of follow-up research.  This is a real thing and it has nothing to do with what is happening in my real life, but more to do with my character.  I FEEL things and I care about people in real life, it only seems natural that those traits would lead to me feeling things and caring about people in fake life.  So, for those of you out there wondering why you can't stop thinking about the latest episode of amazing television or why you are still emotionally exhausted from reading your latest awesome book, you are not alone.  We are all a little crazy, but it's just because we care.

Friday, April 11, 2014

6 Books That Stuck With Me

I was looking through our archives the other day and realized that my most popular book post was almost entirely full of crazy books. And while I stand by those books, I don't want that to be the only thing you guys think about my book taste.

As I was trying to formulate a theme for this post, books were jumping out at me from my bookshelf as books that I just never forgot because they were beautifully written, compelling, and quietly wonderful. Enjoy!

Digging to America by Anne Tyler. If you've never read an Anne Tyler book, you are missing out. I think this has been my favorite so far, maybe because I read it when my baby was about six weeks old and I really identified with the young mothers in the book. The premise is that two families adopt little girls from Korea on the same day and meet each other in the airport - and they decide to remain in contact so the girls can be friends, even though they have basically nothing in common. One of the families is your typical crazy "all-American" family, the other are Iranian immigrants. Their parenting styles, values, manners, etc. are fascinating, and the idea of what it means to belong really comes out as the relationships grow and change and as the girls grow up.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. This is one of those strange books that didn't have a particularly fast-paced storyline or dramatic characters, but it drew me along anyway because it was just so beautiful and real. It's a sprawling story of two couples who meet when they are young and just starting out and remain friends throughout their lives, and it's sad and happy and wonderful and awful and just feels very true to me. Wallace Stegner's writing style is exquisite.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I read this book because I liked The Kite Runner and my brother picked up a really beautiful copy for me at a used book store in New York. The relationship between the two women in the novel is so beautiful, and the book is just heart-wrenching and wonderful. It's also an accessible way to get some perspective about a culture you may not understand very well (it's set in Afghanistan).

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. This is one of my most-recommended books when people just want a really compelling story with some good romance and some substance. All of Susanna Kearsley's books have a similar premise - the modern-day heroine develops some kind of link with someone from the past (sometimes she's channeling memories, sometimes she has visions when she touches things, but there's always some kind of weird psychic link in her books, and you get used to it). In this one, the heroine begins to have strange dreams about Jacobite sympathizers in the 1700s. She thinks it will make a great topic for her next novel, but as she starts writing, she discovers the things she was dreaming about were true - and she continues having more dreams. She becomes more and more wrapped up in a story that she becomes more and more convinced really happened - and she isn't sure she's going to like where it ends. It's a really fun way to do historical fiction (quite a few of the characters in the ancestral memories really WERE real people) and it's really captivating despite the kind of weird premise. (Side note: if you like it, I just discovered by accident  (12 chapters in) that Kearsley's The Firebird is a followup of sorts, which gave me closure where this book didn't.)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I'm still thinking about this one. Basically, it's a book about a girl who is hired to take care of a quadriplegic, thinking it will be an old man. Instead, she finds a young man who is bitter that his once full, active life has been taken from him, and who no longer wants to live. The relationship between the two main characters is just lovely, and although I still can't decide how I feel about the way it ended, overall I was just wowed.

So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger. This is a book about an author who wrote one wildly popular book and quit his job - and then lost his inspiration. Seven unfinished novels later, he leaves his family at home to follow an old train robber who is trying to settle his life - in the hopes of finding inspiration. (Meanwhile, they're being chased by a dogged lawman as they have one adventure after another - in the least cliche way possible.) It's a really lovely book, and I kind of love the main character's wife, even though she's not present for quite a bit of the book while he's chasing his story.  Lovely writing, lovely story. (I also love this author's Peace Like a River, but more people have heard of it. This one is really fun and not as widely circulated I think.)

Disclosure: This is an affiliate post. The opinions are my own.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finding Peace with the Past

Last year, Lindsey wrote a post titled: Naming my Anxiety, in which she chronicled her recognition and acceptance of her own personal battle with anxiety. I remember reading it and thinking about how brave she was to come forward, and that I could never be that brave.

Then my little sister Megan started a blog for her senior project at BYU-Idaho called: Brave Hearts, which she confronts her own demons with depression and anxiety, and shares other women's stories as they deal with mental illness. Because of my sister's bravery, I decided to share my own story.

The period of my depression is almost completely blocked out in my mind. My memories are only fragments, and of the memories I’ve retained, I try to push them back as much as possible. I try to drown them out of my past. Even though I have very few memories, the feelings remain, and more than a decade later I feel haunted by my depression. In fact, one of my biggest fears is that my depression will return, and I’ll be unable to care for my small family.

It’s hard to really believe but, eleven and a half years ago, depression and mental illness were way more taboo than they are now. I remember when we were kids, my cousin Jeremy said to me once that he couldn't understand being in a wheelchair. He said that if he were ever paralyzed, he would somehow will himself to walk again. I think that's how some people view mental illness, as something that you can think your way out of, which is why it is so taboo. There is a divide between those who understand, and those who never will.

Who knows how long I was carrying my wounds, undiagnosed? It is my personal opinion that I was depressed for almost a year before the idea of seeking professional help was even thought of. For almost a year the feelings of self-loathing, worthlessness, hopelessness, lethargy, and withdrawal were becoming bigger, and less manageable.

Because nobody knew what was going on, the effects of my depression wreaked havoc on my seventeen-year-old self. I lost all of my friends. Every one of them. I was having trouble at home with my parents. I was struggling in school to keep up. It felt like I was on a hamster wheel going nowhere while everyone passed me by.

I remember the feeling of wanting to scream, just so that I could be heard, and maybe someone would turn their head and look at me, to stave off the feeling of invisibility and utter loneliness I felt. The best way I can describe how I felt socially is that I was the only one aware of myself, and that made me feel certifiably insane.

Recovery for me is a blur. I remember seeing a counselor. I remember taking Zoloft and then Wellbutrin before the medicine started taking effect. There are only a few things I remember:

            I remember a doctor explaining to me that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain that could be fixed using prescription drugs, much like medication could heal someone with a physical illness. For some reason, even though I’d just been told that I had an uncontrollable (by me) imbalance, it was superbly comforting.
             I remember right after I started the medication I opened up to a friend. While most of my memories are blurred and fragmented, this one is perfectly clear. We were sitting in a parking lot and I explained that I was taking medication and talking to a counselor. He was disgusted with me, and berated me for not having faith in Jesus Christ. He believed if my faith was strong enough, I wouldn’t have to resort to medication. He basically told me I should repent of my illness! Even now, the memory brings such pain it’s difficult to think about.
            I remember the few people who stood by me. My mom advised me not to tell anyone about the depression, because she wanted to protect me from the stigma of mental illness, but a few people knew.  My parents were always there for me. My dad has always been ready and willing to be a listening ear and provide priesthood blessings, but my mom was especially proactive and a huge source of stability. My school counselor Mr. Malcolm Johnson, who was like a professional friend. I went to him extremely frequently, and even after graduation I kept in touch for a few years. My grandparents Bea and Alan Marsden, who I confided in, and allowed me to spend a couple weekends at their house to be pampered and loved. They never tried to do anything, but just wrapped me in their love and support and I’ll never forget that.  The ONE friend I had in the world, Logan Benhard. She was a bright ray of sunshine in my life, and the only peer who wholly accepted me. She somehow understood me in a way that nobody else did, or cared to try, and was a constant listening ear and shoulder to cry on. 

The healing was slow and nearly imperceptible, even by me. One day, I was driving down the street with my mom and she noticed I was singing in the car, something that I used to do frequently but hadn’t done in more than two years. The rays of hope were slowly coming through, and though it would be a while before I would bathe in the warmth of the light, there was hope smiling brightly before me, and I knew that deliverance was nigh.

Over a year and a half after I was diagnosed, I was able to wean slowly off the medication. I remember my mom driving me up to BYU-Idaho to begin college. As we drove out of town I played for her my anthem, “I’m Moving On” by Rascal Flatts:

I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once I'm at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin' on

Though I’m STILL afraid that I will one day succumb to the anxieties and emotions that still so often beset me, and that I will not be able to cope with life once again, I know there is hope. 

My depression is always at the back of my mind, and I don’t know if there will ever be a time when it will go away and I’ll be completely free, but for now it serves as a reminder of unseen battles being waged inside those around me, and that I should never judge another person’s actions or reactions because I cannot know their heart. This is difficult at times, when other’s actions are hurtful to me or my family, but I try to remind myself that I am not the judge and that my patience is required.

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Reasons to Love a Toddler

Toddlers often get a bad rap. It might be because of the tantrums, the biting, the kicking, the shoving crayons into body cavities, the public meltdowns, the unrolling of toilet paper, the spitting of food, the flushing large objects down the toilet... But toddlers also have wonderful beautiful qualities that no other age group possesses! So let's take a moment to revel in the wisdom of the tot.

1. They're terrible at hide and seek.
Nothing makes hide and seek and other games more fun than playing with someone who is adorably clueless. Sometimes my son is just standing in the middle of the room with his eyes closed giggling uncontrollably. Or if he's really bringing his A game he stands in the middle of the room with a dish towel over his face. Now tell me that's not better than playing with someone who actually understands how to hide.

2. They'll believe anything you tell them.
I tried for months to convince my toddler to stop trying to climb the stairs to the attic. Nothing worked, not baby gates, not positive reinforcement, not consequences. Finally one day I pried him off the stairs and told him he shouldn't climb those because Elmo lives up there. (Elmo is my son's nemesis.) It worked like a charm. It's been months and he still thinks an inanimate object is renting out our attic bedroom.

3. They think you're awesome.
Who in your life is going to be impressed with you when you burp? A toddler. End of list. Every time I burp my son gives me a high five. He boosts my self-esteem every day and makes me feel much cooler than I actually am.

4. They have the best physique.
There's nothing like a short little person with a giant bowling ball head and a protruding pot belly waddling around on some stubby legs with rolls and cankles. No one looks better in a swim suit than a toddler. Not even Kim Kardashian.

An example of their fine physique. Also of their work ethic.

5. They are easily entertained.
Can anyone else be entertained by garbage? Empty cardboard boxes? Watching cars drive by? You don't have to pack toys to entertain a toddler, just pull out a gum wrapper and you've bought yourself 20 minutes of play time.

An empty paper towel tube, one of the finest toys ever made.

6. They are brutally honest.
One time I bought a hideous yellow nail polish and the only person with the courage to tell me it was ugly was of course, a toddler.
Toddler: Why are your nails yellow?
Me: Because I painted them.
Toddler: Um didn't you have any other colors like red or pink?
Me: Yes but I just got this color and I wanted to try it.
Toddler: Oh. Well it's weird. Plus it's chipping so maybe you should take it off now.
We all need a toddler in our life to tell us the honest truth.

7. They make every day a surprise.
Some days you put on your shoes to find raisins in them. Some days you get to the store and realize your toddler stole your wallet and hid it somewhere. Some days someone will say hi to them and your toddler will utter for the first time, "you fat." Some days they will transfer every article of clothing they own from their dresser into the garbage can. Your life will never be dull again.

So let's all go out and kiss a toddler today. Don't mind the boogers, they're considered extra protein...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Not really a link post

Here are a few fun links anyway.

Check out HelloGiggles' 10 Female Celebrities Who Have Amazing Views on Body Image.  I think there are so many well known female figures for girls and women to look up to now.  I don't feel like I had that many choices when I was in high school and, really, that wasn't too long ago.  Maybe they just didn't speak out as often or maybe there were fewer places willing to give them the opportunity to do so, but it makes me feel better for the younger generations.  They will have a lot of hard stuff to deal with, hopefully hearing what some of these women have to say will help.

Another awesome quote from one of the ladies featured in the above 10, Kate Winslet, popped up on my newsfeed about a month ago.  I love what Kate Winslet and the author, Kacy Faulconer, had to say on the subject of motherhood and I think it extends to all women.  Here's my favorite part:

"And then Kate Winslet issued the most perfect statement about motherhood. She says, “There’s something really empowering about going, ‘Hell, I can do this! I can do this all!’ That’s the wonderful thing about mothers, you can because you must, and you just DO.”

I don’t have a star on the Walk of Fame, and it’s not just me being modest when I say my chances of winning an Oscar® are zero. But I have felt empowered through mothering. Going through it and just doing it (because, like Kate says, you must) is empowering. You gain confidence and learn that you can do it. I’m not an expert on motherhood, but I’m surviving it and that is a triumph."

This is not an awful thing to be reminded of after a day of battling children.  You do what you do because you must and you can. 

Finally, this article from the director of Frozen, Jennifer Lee. It reminds me a little of the question Joss Whedon has stated he gets from so many people about why he writes strong female characters.  Why are people still asking what it's like to be a female director?  The answer is obviously that it's just the same as being a male director.  It's literally the same job.  Jennifer points out that the differences come when they leave the story room and walk the red carpet.  It's an interesting insight.  Also, I'm really glad I don't have to ever walk a red carpet.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tutorial: Painting on Burlap

I have this habit of seeing something I like online or at a store and instead of buying it, I think "I'll just make that myself!  It'll be easier and cheaper!"  It's usually not easier or cheaper (why do I never consider the cost of my own TIME?), but sometimes it is fun and I end up with a fun gift for someone I like.  Or my mom because she loves everything I make.

This time I set my sights on a burlap wall hanging.  As with most things nowadays, Pinterest is to blame.  I sat down and finished the painting in about half an hour, and it only took that long because I got distracted several times by a rerun of Sherlock.  So, my first tip is to pick a show that is less distracting.

Here's what you need:
Burlap, fabric paint, a sponge brush, and stencils.  This was the pack of stencils that was on sale.  Also, the cheapest sponge brush.  Having dealt with both of them, I would suggest individual letter stencils and a flat, round sponge brush instead of what is pictured.  The paint worked wonderfully.

At this point I improvised because I realized that burlap has holes in it.  I also didn't consider that burlap frays (like insanely).  After I cut the piece out that I wanted to use, I cleaned up all the lovely, tiny pieces and used painters tape to attach the burlap to the table (so it wouldn't move while I painted).  I added a piece of cardboard underneath the burlap and marked the corners so my table wouldn't get marks if the paint bled through. Here's my extremely impromptu and ghetto set up:

The cardboard and corner markers were a great idea, and in this picture it looks like it was super helpful, but in real life I couldn't see any of it so I ended up just guessing anyway.

I painted my chosen phrase (suggested by Megan).  Because my stencils were on one sheet, I kept a damp cloth handy and wiped the stencil clean after each letter.  I also eyeballed all of it, so spacing and straight lines are "abstract" (which is a creative way of saying not even and not straight, but good enough to hang it on a wall).  I started with a beige color and it turned out pretty good:

I wanted it to have a little pop of color so I outlined "fierce" in gold with a small paint brush.

Fast forward six months and I was on to the next phase of this project.  This lovely piece of burlap sat on my desk, waiting to be framed in some way, for six months.  I occasionally picked it up to try to figure out how to finish it and eventually chose to use an embroidery hoop I inherited (with about 20 others in various sizes) from my Grandmother. While I liked the hoop, it was completely unfinished.  I decided to complete the look with some yarn (I also had this on hand) wrapped around the outside of the hoop (the one with the screw on it).  This time I watched CSI while I wrapped and wrapped and wrapped, which requires very little concentration and was not distracting at all.

Here's a close up of the finished look of the hoop:

It made a huge difference and I liked the look of the brown yarn with the burlap.  This would also be another opportunity to add a pop of color if you wanted something brighter.  I put everything together and trimmed around the hoop, leaving about two inches of burlap.  Then I folded the edges in and folded it in again (to make sure none of the frayed edges were exposed) and hot glued it to the inside hoop all the way around.

This is the best looking part of this process, as I got more and more concerned with burning my fingertips on hot glue and less and less concerned with how the back of this would look when no one would ever see the back of it.  Priorities.

And here's the finished product!

It's not perfect, but it was simple and quick (if you take out the distractions and six months of indecisiveness on my part). And now I have a bunch of burlap and plenty of fabric paint that, if we are being completely honest, will probably sit on a shelf in my closet for the foreseeable future.