Friday, March 2, 2012

I Didn’t Like Pinterest. Then I Joined.

I finally took the plunge—I signed up for Pinterest, the online pinboard where people can "pin" and share what they’re pining for. Basically, it’s a streaming visual jumble of trends, recipes, home ideas, and crafts. (From what I can gather on Pinterest, I’m forecasting a spring filled with ombre, ruffles, candy-bar inspired baked treats, slouchy bags, and savory foods baked in muffin tins.)

It took months of emailed “invitations,” hints from friends, and nonstop Pinterest chatter on Facebook and Twitter to get me to jump in. I didn’t bite. From where I sat, everyone's latest obsession seemed like a time-sucking repository for intricate craft projects and homemade teacher gifts. I'm an avid baker, and I get crafty from time to time. All the more reason I don't need a reminder of all the projects I'm not doing. Thanks, I'll pass.

What eventually made me cave: our old, dingy countertop. Let me back up. I’m dreaming of a kitchen remodel (still in the dreaming stage right now) and I wanted to be able to collect ideas and inspiration. Pinterest lets me search and collect gorgeous kitchen layouts in one place, without bugging my Facebook friends about the wonders of walnut countertops and farmhouse sinks.

Plus, my sister is getting married later this year, and Pinterest is proving useful there, too. I’m something of a professional bridesmaid—in 2010 I was in three weddings in a three-month span. Not to brag or anything, but I can rock a dyed-to-match shoe like nobody's business. Back then, pre-Pinterest, I was flooded with wedding-related emails laden with photos of bridesmaid gowns, flowers, and color swatches (not that I didn’t love and cherish every last one, brides!). Now, my sis can showcase her amazing wedding taste on her Pinterest board instead of attaching photos to emails. Pinterest for the win.

So come join me in the Pinterest madness! Trust me, resistance is futile...

(But for the record, I'm fully planning to ignore whatever comes after Pinterest. Care to join me? Let's be honest, nobody has time for any more social media commitments. Especially now that our free time will be spent on "amazing!" "super cute!" and "delish!" Pinterest-inspired projects. )

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day Flashback

My, how things change in four years. The last time the calendar showed February 29, I still worked in an office, we still lived on the other side of the state, and there was still just one little running around our house.

I barely recognize the munchkin in these photos from early 2008. Was Bianca ever this tiny? Now, she reads and writes and (still) wants a cell-phone and pierced ears. Sigh.

Bianca in February 2008: 2 years old

Even crazier--when the next leap year rolls around in 2016, I'll have a nine-year-old and a six-year-old. As the kids get older, life gets busier and more complicated, so I know the next four years will fly. I can't say what they'll hold or what my life will look like or what our kids will be into the next time February 29 arrives, but I know one thing: We won't be bored.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Birthday to me

Last weekend, I celebrated a birthday. Thirty-three (and you’ll note just one candle—I’ve officially reached the age where the cake will no longer accommodate the correct number of candles).

It was a simple day. Family party, followed by a long-awaited date night and Thai food at our favorite place. My favorite part was having my kids wish me a happy birthday.

And it was a happy birthday. I’m in a good place. I’m happy. Not a cheesy, maniacal, glued-on smile sort of happiness, but…content. I’m happy with who I am and where I am. I’m happy with my family and my career. I haven’t achieved all of my goals yet, but I’m happy with where I am on the trajectory, as my friend and writing coach Christina Katz would say.

So, happy birthday to me. I think it’s going to be a good year. For you too, I hope.


The cake! The one in the photo is a lovely, traditional chocolate cake made by my mom. I also made a cake, that I unfortunately gobbled up before I had the chance to take a photo. Yes, it was that good. It was a coconut pound cake made with coconut flour. Backstory: I love all things coconut, and I work coconut oil into lots of recipes. I've had less success with coconut flour. It's wonderfully fragrant--and healthy--but it's also dense and heavy. A few scoops of coconut flour will turn most batters into glue. I've found that coconut-flour recipes need to be built from the ground up to accommodate its quirks.

I adapted my cake from this recipe. Instead of honey, I used coconut nectar, which is lower-gycelmic. It's also darker than honey, with richer flavor, so my cake was a bit darker than the cake in the photo. I didn't have orange extract, and I accidentally spilled way too much coconut extract into the batter (which is very representative of my cooking style--a little of this, a bit too much of that, and oh, I forgot to buy that so we'll try this instead....).

I found it odd to make a pound cake without butter or oil, but it was excellent. Even better after a day or two in the fridge, which dried it out a tad. (I prefer my cakes dense and on the drier side.) I increased the recipe by 50 percent and made a traditional round layer cake iced with coconut-infused whipped cream and topped with flaked coconut. (It's true, the ingredients to this masterpiece weren't cheap. Steve called it my 30-dollar cake. But it was worth every dollar.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Candy Day!

I learned something new today: Valentine's Day is Halloween Part II. After B's "Friendship Day" celebration at school, she hauled home a collection of sweets that rivals her stash from Oct. 31. Sure, I know chocolates and candy hearts are V-day staples, but I had no idea that candy is now mandatory for kids' classroom valentines. The little paper scratch-and-sniff Valentines we gave B's classmates were one of the few--I mean, like maybe two or three--that didn't have candy taped to the paper. I guess we're the Valentine's scrooges of the class!

Doing something useful with all of that candy: B's teacher sent home a neat counting/sorting game to do with heart candy. She liked it so much, she didn't want to eat any of her heart candy. And she DEFINITELY didn't want her sister eating it, either!

Miss Mia and Milo, her reluctant Valentine.

The cutest card ever. Bianca was busy working on her dad's card this morning while I made breakfast. I walked over and just about died from cuteness overload when I saw what she'd written--all by herself! Sigh. Maybe all of this candy will stunt her growth, so I can keep her this age forever.

Happy Candy, I mean, Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Making Time to Blog: Q&A With Abigail Green

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve had a hard time keeping up with my blog over the last few months. Life, work, and these darn (I mean, darling) kids keep getting in the way. As much as I enjoy blogging, sometimes it’s tough to fit it in alongside my regular work and the piles of dishes and laundry that never seem to go away.

So I thought I’d interview longtime successful blogger Abigail Green of Abby Off The Record to find out how she does it. Over the past 5 years Abby has maintained a remarkably consistent blogging schedule—posting two or three times per week—while working as a freelance writer and raising two small boys. Since many of you are also busy mom bloggers, I hope you get as much out of her advice as I do.

Abby, thanks for being here. I’m eager to pick your brain for tips on balancing blogging and life. Here are my questions:

Blogging is usually a side gig—most home-based bloggers are either raising kids, holding down a job, or both, so there are always other things competing for their time. As a work-at-home mom with two young kids, how do you make time for blogging?

First of all, I love that you asked how do I MAKE time, not FIND time. This is an important distinction. For me, blogging is as important as working out and getting enough sleep. Though it has taken me a while to realize it, blogging is not a hobby for me. I consider it part of my job as a writer. Let me explain.

To be a writer, you have to write, right? (This is not a riddle.) But when you’re a freelancer, you’re usually waiting to get assignments, and only then writing the article that’s assigned. After awhile, I realized I wasn’t actually writing anything except for publication. Which, as you know, is never a sure thing. I also wanted to write about what *I* wanted, not just what an editor wanted. So I started to write more personal essays, but even then, I was waiting around a lot for them to get published.

I started a blog for a few reasons. 1) I like to write, and I wanted my writing to be read, and not just if and when someone decided to publish it, 2) I wanted to record my life while it was happening (specifically, pregnancy and new motherhood), and 3) I wanted to build up my author platform in order to be more attractive to agents and publishers. Basically, no one wants to publish your book unless you already have an established audience. Blogging is a great way to do that, but you’ve got to commit to it.

As for WHEN I blog, I don’t have a set time. Sometimes I write at 7pm with a glass of wine next to me while my husband is giving the kids baths and putting them to bed. Sometimes I write during naptime, or on a weekend morning when I have the house to myself.

There’s no getting around the fact that regular blogging is a big time commitment. But there have to be ways to keep blogging hours under control, right? Do you have any tips for blogging more efficiently? Do you “batch” your blog posts (writing several of them in one sitting)?

I have gotten MUCH faster at writing blog posts over the years. When I started, I’d approach each one like an essay, doing draft after draft, proofreading them and finally publishing them. Now, I do much more off-the-cuff writing, though I still try to structure each post like an essay and proof them as much as possible. I can write, revise, and publish a blog post in about an hour. My experience has been, the more you write, the easier it gets.

I also keep an idea file, either on paper or in a Word doc, so that if I’m ever at a loss for ideas, I can use that as a prompt. It may be as simple as “kid in Starbucks; If I had a nanny; family dinner fails.” If I relied on my memory or inspiration every time I sat down to write a blog post, I’d never write a thing.

Sometimes I will write 2-3 blog posts at one time if I’m feeling particularly inspired, but I’ve never gotten more than a week ahead. I like to write about what’s going on in my life as it’s happening.

I find that I have plenty of ideas of posts and not enough time to write them all. How do you manage your ideas for blog posts? How much time do you spend taking a post from idea to published blog?

As I said above, I keep an idea file. Then you can pick your best ideas or whatever ones strike your fancy at the time, and save the rest for later. Sometimes I start a post and it doesn’t work out the way I thought. I’ll either scrap it or set it aside for later. I try not to spend much more than an hour on any post, a little longer if it includes lots of links or facts.

Sometimes blogging is a pleasure, and other times it feels like a chore (and I already have way too many of those). How do you keep yourself motivated to post regularly? Any tips for keeping blogging fun and interesting?

My readers keep me motivated. Even if it’s just knowing that my mom, my aunt, and my couple of regular commenters are waiting for that post every Mon., Weds., and Fri., that’s enough to keep me writing. I also cut myself some slack, though. If I’m feeling unmotivated or having a super-busy week, I’ll post a photo or my kid’s drawing for Wordless Wednesday or repost something from my archives.

I actually almost always find blogging a pleasure. It’s my fun writing, my outlet for expressing whatever I want, however I want. Reading and responding to other blogs is a great way to stay engaged. While my blog is mostly dedicated to parenting, writing, and finding balance as a work at home mom, I give myself permission to write about celebrity gossip if I want, or post a bunch of funny quotes from my kids. The great thing about blogging is that it can be whatever YOU want it to be, and it can change over time. That’s what’s kept it fun and interesting for me for almost 6 years.


If you want to be inspired to blog more regularly, check out Abby's blog. Right now, she's compiling her considerable blogging experience into a series of helpful posts for bloggers, and posting them at Abby Off The Record each Monday. I can't promise I'll blog 3 times a week, but I'll work on it. Thanks, Abby!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Law and Order

Barely two months into parenting a five-year-old, I’ve learned an important lesson: Five-year-olds like order. Suddenly, my little girl is the sheriff in a town of hooligans. (The parts of the unruly townspeople are usually played by me, her father, and her sister. Especially her sister.)

This sudden focus on rules and order is pretty reasonable, really. Hers is a world of mandatory activities like sitting in her booster seat, eating her vegetables, waiting her turn, coloring only on paper—rules are everywhere she turns. She’s still learning how the world works, and so far, it appears to her that rules are the things keeping our little civilization chugging along. So lately, B’s been drawing signs and other things to help us maintain order in our household.

Every home needs a girls' bathroom pass:

Likewise, every big sister needs a "No Babies" sign for her bedroom door. Because babies aren't good with the reading, she took the trouble to cross out the baby with the universal symbol for "no," a red circle with a line through it. (Note the tears on the baby's face--let that be a warning to all babies who dare to trespass.) She also has a "babies allowed" sign that she uses when she's feeling loving toward Mia, which is most of the time, fortunately.

Thankfully, babies are allowed to eat in our house. The menu for her restaurant clearly states who is welcome: People, kids and babies. (But don't try to order something not on the menu, like coffee or string cheese. Substitutions are forbidden.)

Thank goodness I have her to help me keep this crazy bunch under control. Otherwise, who knows what would happen. We would have babies in bedrooms and people using the bathroom WITHOUT A PASS. In other words, chaos. Pure chaos.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Holiday hits and misses

The holiday lights are packed away, the tree is long gone, and I’ve caught my annual post-Christmas cold: It must be January! I’ve been absent lately, because December completely knocked me on my duff. With Steve’s basketball coaching season in full swing, time to myself is pretty scarce these days (and I’ve been busy with work…didja happen to catch me on TV?).

Now that the holidays have passed, the tangled mess that is our family calendar is starting to smooth out a bit. I may not be posting all that much until basketball season ends, but in the meantime, here are some hits and misses of Holiday Season 2011. Hope your holiday season was merry and bright...ours was!

HIT: Princess Fishing Pole

Bianca’s favorite holiday present was a real fishing pole (which, to be clear, is NOT to be used in concert with her other gift, the goldfish.) She is perfectly aware that she won’t be able to use the fishing pole until this summer, when it’s warm enough to fish outside. That doesn’t diminish her love for the thing; she’s content to admire it in its packaging and wait patiently to fish with her daddy. This girl can delay gratification better than most adults I know.

MISS: Goldfish

Bianca asked Santa for a pet of her own, and he obliged by bringing her the most low-maintenance pet we could think of: Two fifty-cent goldfish from the neighborhood pet shop. Except we were wrong about the low-maintenance part. These things need to be fed THREE times a day and their water turns murky without daily cleaning. I'm telling you, they're as much work as the cats, without the lovable factor. And they're...loud. Imagine someone making a constant pop-pop-pop sound with their lips, or the drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet, combined with the occasional—I swear—chirping noise. It’s bizarre! Lucky for these two ("Starra" and "Nia," and no, I don't know which is which) the kids like them, so they're staying. For now.

HIT: Play shopping cart

Santa brought Mia a new Melissa and Doug shopping cart, and the thing is freaking adorable. I love it. It’s all stainless steel, perfectly proportioned for a toddler, and it handles better than 99 percent of the shopping carts I end up with in grocery stores. I know this because I’ve been playing “store” with my girls almost every day since Christmas. Another win was B's new solar-powered toy cash register. It teaches addition and subtraction, holds all of our play money, and accepts (fake) credit cards with a satisfying beep: What's not to love?

MISS: Last-minute shopping

After spending one long, brutal 9-hour day shopping for Christmas gifts, I decided that I’ve had enough of last-minute holiday prep. There is absolutely no reason to try to cram all Christmas preparation into the month between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. So I’m DONE with the last-minute craziness. In 2012 I’ll be preparing for Christmas year-round. Look for my “12 Month Holiday To-Do List” in an upcoming post. I’m serious—no more last minute shopping for me! And to prove it, I’ve already bought next year’s holiday cards and a few stocking stuffers, too (shopping for stockings is always the proverbial last straw for me).

Our Christmas was great, and I'm thinking next year will be even better, what with my exceptional preparation and my new knowledge about the pitfalls of goldfish. Happy New Year, all!