Saturday, January 28, 2012

The corner office.

Here it is friends. My major promotion. The corner office...

Kind of hard to believe that this space was there all along. Just hanging out, in our house, not being used to one fraction of its potential.

A place for everything...

We've tried, over the years, but this is the first time I can honestly say I LOVE this room (it started here, then went here, then here, then here and now ba-dam!). I think it might be my favorite place in the whole house!

If you ask my family they would say it is definitely my favorite room in the house. Because whenever they can't find me for a few minutes, they know I'm sitting at my desk writing or working on illustrations or simply admiring the view.

What can I say? It's a great place to be. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. This room is very popular. Especially with little helpers...

But no need to worry. Thanks to my nifty new cutting mat that doubles as a laptop pad AND hides away my work if I have to step away before I'm finished (aka, every single time I attempt to do anything), I no longer risk finding my newest illustration in Penny's kennel or Finny's mouth.

And if that's not enough to keep the little fingers and paws away from my stuff, there's always the door.

He pulls a chair over so I can see him while he yells at me.

This room turned out to be a perfect little office but that's hardly all it is. It doubles (triples? quadruples?) as the laundry room, pantry, our one and only storage closet (all behind the curtain), the home of the boat (our 2nd bathroom), and, most importantly, Penny's Palace.

That's one of the main reasons I made my own desk. I needed a space for my legs and a space for my dog. Not even Ikea sells one of those. But this design turned out perfectly. And it was so easy to make, even I could do it!

The top is a door and the legs are untreated cedar fence posts that the helpful young man at Home Depot cut to size for me. I attached the legs to the door with L brackets and screws (plus a little Gorilla Glue for good measure), then stained and polyurethaned the top while leaving the legs bare. Once it dried all I had to do was pop a few pieces of cork under the front legs of the desk to make it look even (the desk is perfectly even but our floors are not...) and voilĂ  - a spacious workstation for me and a cozy new home for Penny's kennel!

(If you didn't need a space for your dog, you could easily use a door for the top of your desk and filing cabinets or pretty shelves for the legs.)

I love my new office and can already tell it's going to make me about a thousand times more productive, creative and happy.

Pretty little things everywhere I look...

It hasn't always been easy for me to treat myself this well but I've realized lately that it's doing me more harm than good not to. If we tell ourselves (with our words or actions or unflattering jeans or lack of work space...) that we don't deserve better, how will we ever figure out that we do? It's human nature to rise to the occasion. So why not raise our expectations? I think by giving myself a beautiful corner office, I've done just that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Good juju for the (Chinese) new year.

Happy Chinese New Year! This is the year of the Dragon which is said to be very auspicious. I'm not going to lie. I actually had to look that one up in the dictionary. It just sounded like one of those words people throw around without really understanding what it means. Like "atrophy" or "pedantic". Anyway, in case you're wondering:

aus-pi-cious [aw-spish-uhs]
adjective
1. promising success; propitious; opportune; favorable.

And here I thought it sounded mysterious!

(PS, propitious means favorable, so that's redundant [unnecessary repetition]. No sense going into these auspicious times pretending to know words we don't!)

The story I heard on NPR yesterday about the Chinese New Year made it sound like so much fun (feasting and family and fireworks, oh my!) I decided we should celebrate too. So I grabbed a few things at World Market (that place is such a gem), looked for an easy sweet & sour tofu recipe, printed out our horoscopes, queued up some traditional Chinese jams on Spotify and got ready to give Liam one heck of an after school surprise.

He was definitely surprised. ("You mean all this stuff is just ours? Like, if we wanted to celebrate the Chinese New Year again next year we could just get these things out and be ready to celebrate?!") He was so excited. At least until I told him that part of our celebration would involve eating Chinese food for dinner...

But (drumroll please...), he actually liked it! He wouldn't admit that he liked it but I know how to read his non-verbal cues.

As for little Finn, he LERVED it. And at one point even tried strapping it to his face like a feed bag.

When I told Liam I thought that was a totally acceptable way to eat in Chinese culture (bringing the bowl close to your mouth and using chopsticks to guide the food in), he was blown away. "You mean Finny knows how to eat like they did in the Chinese times? How does he know that?!"

Maybe it's a Metal Tiger thing...

The Tiger symbolizes bravery, competitiveness and unpredictability. Tigers love to be challenged and don’t worry about the outcome because they know they’ll always land on their feet. Tigers are generous, intelligent and born to lead. They are also very charming and are well-liked by others.

Metal Tigers (2010) are assertive, competitive and sharp. Once Metal Tigers set their sights on their goals there’s no stopping them. They prefer to be in the center of attention and will do whatever they need to do to stay there.


Ain't no party like a Metal Tiger party...

Liam was born in the year of the Dog. Specifically, the year of the Fire Dog...

The Dog symbolizes loyalty, compatibility and kindness. Dogs are great friends, frequently offering kind words and useful advice. Dogs are determined, always wanting to master something before moving on. Dogs are honest, trustworthy, reliable, and have strong morals and ethics. A happy Dog is a healthy Dog.

Fire Dogs (2006) are true leaders. Others enjoy being in the company of Fire Dogs. They’re attractive, charismatic, vibrant and confident.

Bill and I are both Snakes (although he had to miss our celebration because he was out of town, boo).

My chopsticks smelled funny so I put them in my hair.

The Snake symbolizes intelligence, gracefulness and materialism. Snakes are extremely analytical and don’t like to jump in to decisions without much thought. Snakes are effective at getting what they want. They prefer to surround themselves with the finest that life has to offer as it helps them seek the peace they need in order to thrive. Snakes prefer to live a life of calmness.

Fire Snakes (1977) are more extroverted, offering opinions and telling others what’s on their minds. Even so, others enjoy listening to Fire Snakes. They’re persuasive and good at convincing others that their ways are best.

Whether or not you believe in stuff like that, it definitely makes for good dinner conversation. As do fortune cookies...

(Especially fortune cookies covered in dark chocolate.)

After we ate and cleaned up and put Finn to bed, Liam and I went out back to light a few sparklers. Fireworks are supposed to scare away evil spirits and misfortunes, preventing them from coming into the new year. We already did this on New Year's Eve but had plenty left over for our Chinese celebration.

(American) new year.

We enjoyed celebrating the Chinese New Year so much, we're going to do it again tonight (with Dada, woohoo!). I think throwing a little positive energy toward something so auspicious will earn us heaps of good juju all year long (plus, what a fun tradition!). Not that we need it or anything...

"While the Snake may have enjoyed comfortable happiness last year, this year will offer much more success."

Bring it.

Wishing you prosperity, longevity, happiness and success!

{PS - aren't Metal Tiger and Fire Dog the best band names EVER?!}

Thursday, January 19, 2012

If I could have one super power.

Sometimes I wish I could take pictures with my eyes.

This morning in the shower was one of those times. I was holding Finn just right so the water would rain down his shoulders and over his round little belly, keeping him warm but not too warm, and being extra careful not to let him slip. His face was close to mine and his long, beautiful eyelashes were collecting tiny drop of water. He was captivated by it. By all of it. The warmth, the water, the steam, the bubbles, his skin, my hair...all of it.

With his face so close to mine, he looked different than usual. More perfect somehow. His quiet eyes, wide and curious, looked from me to the water and back to me as if to say, "Do you see how awesome this is?" When I'd look back at him like, "Yes! It's amazing!" his perfect lips would curl into a sly smile revealing those beautiful big teeth with all the gaps situated just so. Then he'd smack the pool of water that gathered in the space where his body met mine and splash and splash and splash until it was all gone and he could watch it fill up again.

Each second that passed was a moment I wanted to hang onto forever. "If only I had a camera," I thought. But I knew it wouldn't capture it. Not all of it. And probably not the way I wanted it captured.

I love pictures but sometimes they are supremely bad at capturing the moment you want captured. I guess that's what the memory is for. I just wish it was more dependable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Loud and clear.

The other night Finn woke up screaming. He does this sometimes. Not every night like he used to, but enough that we're hardly surprised by it. We usually "ignore" him so he can fall back to sleep on his own (otherwise it tends to become a habit) but this isn't a hard and fast rule (is anything when it comes to parenting?).

On this particular night his screams were so shrill and desperate that I had to go to him. He sounded terrified or hurt or like something was definitely wrong. Why else would someone go from sound asleep to screaming without so much as a pause in between?

I opened the door to his warm room cooing, "Baby, baby, baby, what is it?" He caught his breath and stood up and reached for me in the dark. I lifted him out of his crib and held his tiny body close to mine as he wailed and squirmed and patted my back. "Finny, honey, you're okay. You're okay. Mama's here. Mama's here..."

But his screams didn't stop and he was practically throwing himself out of my arms. Did something hurt? Maybe he was getting another tooth? Or that milkshake he stole from his brother was hurting his tummy? Could it be another ear ache? Do kids this age have nightmares? Maybe he was scared? Or half asleep and confused? Was he too warm? Too cold? Did he need a diaper?

I held him closer and bounced and whispered into his feathery soft hair, "You're okay, baby. You're okay." But it only made him scream more. Finally, in the still of the night, I heard him. Loud and clear. He wasn't okay. I may not have known what was wrong but no one screams like that if they're okay. How frustrating it must be to feel one thing and have someone you love and trust keep telling you the opposite. So I switched sides.

"Finny's sad," I said in my most matter-of-fact voice. "Finn hurts." As I spoke to him, he instantly quieted down. He rested his head softly on my shoulder as I continued to put words to what he might be feeling. "Finn's so upset. Finny's scared..."

It felt like as soon as I stopped fighting him ("You're okay" vs "NO I'M NOT!"), he was able to come to terms with what he was feeling and let it go.

This is something we do with Liam quite a bit and it works remarkably well. It's one of the things I forget to do as often as I remember. I'll find myself in a classic tug-of-war when suddenly I'll remember - just repeat after him until he feels heard.

This is how it went the other night: "Liam, it's late. Go back to bed. It's just a dream, honey. It can't hurt you. Dreams are not real. Just...GO TO BED. I'm serious. If you get up one more time..." The more I discounted what he was saying, the more he held his ground. There was no way he was going to give in. Then I remembered - if I take his side, there's nothing for him to fight against. So I took a deep breath and said, "You're really thinking about that dream. It's bothering you a lot tonight. You're scared you might have it again. You're so scared you don't want to go back to bed..." It sounds crazy, I know, but as soon as he felt heard, he was able to LET GO. Without any further prodding from me he said, "If that dream comes back, I think I'll just change it. I mean, it's my dream. I can control it if I want." Then he said goodnight and walked back to his room to tuck himself in.

I'm not even kidding.

So of course it would be the same with his brother. Not because they're brothers but because they're HUMAN. Who doesn't want to feel heard?

What adorable humans they are...

All any feeling wants is to be welcomed with tenderness. It wants room to unfold. It wants to relax and tell it's story. It wants to dissolve like a thousand writhing snakes that with a flick of kindness become harmless strands of rope.
-Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Office of dreams.

Remember that baseball movie, Field of Dreams, where the ominous voice in the corn field is all, "If you build it, they will come..."? I do. Because we were a big baseball family (my parents met playing softball together) and my dad's a big sap so when we all saw it together in the movie theater he was doing that thing that dads do when they're pretending not to be choked up when really it's so obvious that they're like two seconds from bawling their eyes out and you almost wish they would just DO IT AND GET IT OVER WITH because the whole pretending not to notice thing is getting really awkward and all the weird sounds they're making trying to hold it in are starting to draw attention.

Those moments tend to stick with a kid.

But that line is crazy famous so even if you didn't see Field of Dreams in the theater with your dad boohooing all over himself, you still probably remember it and have even thrown it into conversation once or twice for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

"Hey, cool swing set!"

"Thanks! If you build it, they will come, right?"

"Totally!"

Anyway. It's fresh in my mind because I saw it on a billboard the other day. There was a picture of a big burger and the sign said, "We've built it. Now come." I thought, "How funny is it that this one little line from a movie became this thing that we think and say and even do." And then for the rest of the day I repeated in my head, "If you build it, they will come..."

Now here's where stuff gets crazy.

Monday morning I walked into the laundry room to let the dog out of her kennel and all of a sudden was overcome with the idea that I had to turn it into an office. I've toyed with the idea many times before but suddenly it was like, "No. I need to turn it into an office NOW." Then, rather than thinking about it or talking to my husband about it or thumbing through magazines for inspiration, I just went for it.

I started pulling things off shelves and cleaning and reorganizing. I went through the big plastic box of papers I've been using as my "filing cabinet" ever since we got rid of our office to make room for Finn. I made labels and consolidated craft supplies and recycled lots and lots of trash.

And then, just as suddenly as I started, I stopped. I just stood there. In the middle of the room. Quietly looking around. Then, I heard a rustle. In the field out back! And suddenly an ominous voice floated in on the wind...

"If you build it, they will come."

Okay, there wasn't really a voice. Or a rustle in the field. There wasn't even a field. But I did suddenly think, "This room needs a really big desk. I'm going to make one right now!" Which might not sound all that crazy but I swear, me building a desk is just as hard to believe as an ominous voice predicting dead baseball players hanging out in a corn field.

I don't make things. I mean, I barely even buy things. I usually just think about things. Like, "This room needs a desk. Yeah, that would be cool. I like desks. Is it lunchtime yet? I'm hungry..." But this time was different. As soon as the idea popped into my head, I could tell I was really serious. The next thing you know I was measuring things and popping my kids in the car and heading off to Home Depot and asking friendly people in orange aprons for help and buying lumber and coming home and making a desk!

Which is totally nuts and awesome and like dead baseball players hanging out in a corn field.

And as soon as the stain dries and I can place things atop my lovely new desk, I will take lots of pictures and share them with you and you'll tell your friends in a hushed voice, "You'll never believe it but that used to be a messy laundry room until a voice told her to build a desk and, my hand to God, WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT DESK!?!"

In the meantime, I'll ponder who "they" might be. I mean, I built it, you know? So... they could be anyone! Friends, family, overnight guests, Benjamins (it is the wealth corner of our house in feng shui...), readers, characters, ideas, publishers, agents... Whoever "they" are, I'm (almost) ready for them!

p.s. - Please forgive my insanity. I stained my desk inside and the fumes are, well, really fumey. What can I say? I not really a builder.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hmmm.

I don't really have anything to write at the moment but I was just reading an article on the Oprah website and it suggested saying, "hmmm" out loud to yourself when you feel stuck and need some direction.

I don't think it's working.

Oh, wait. I'm supposed to say it out loud. Lemme try this again.

Hmmm...

Well that was awkward. I'm at the TN State Museum right now and I'm pretty sure nobody can hear me all tucked away in this little office but you never can tell. I can definitely hear the guy in the gift shop whistling (ALL THE TIME) but I don't think I hmmmed as loud as he whistles. Then again, a hmmm and a whistle are pretty much in the same boat. No one is going to fault me for a hmmm. It's annoying, sure, but (apparently) perfectly acceptable public behavior.

Besides, I'm pretty sure this is my last day working here so it's okay if people think I'm weird.

When I told Liam that before I left the house this afternoon he couldn't have been more excited.

"Are you kidding me? Why?! I mean, why can't you just keep working there forever?"

"Oh. Um, well. I was just working a particular exhibit and it's about to close."

"But...I mean...aren't there any other exhibits you could do? What about all our boy time? We'll have to figure out somewhere else to send you on Sundays..."

Fortunately, I was eating super delish migas and drinking coffee while we were chatting so the blow of rejection barely left a mark. Besides, I totally get it. Our Sunday afternoon arrangement is kinda great. I get to go sit in a quiet room behind a computer for 4 rarely interrupted hours while he gets to do whatever the heck he wants with Dada and Finn. That's all around awesomeness.

As I finished up my coffee, it dawned on me - I don't need the museum in order to disappear for a few hours on Sunday. I can just LEAVE! (You'll have to forgive my delayed reaction time - I was out honkytonkin' until 4:30 in the morning...) I'll call Sunday my "work" day and either go somewhere to write or work on some goals or just chain myself to the kitchen table so I can finally finish illustrating my book.

I guess motivation can come from just about anywhere. Thanks for the push, Liam!

Wait a minute. That hmmm trick may have worked! I know it's not fantastic but I did write something just now and that's kind of a relief. See, whenever I go more than a few days without posting, I start to think that the next thing I write has to be really good. You know, to make up for all the days of not writing. So then not only am I a bit rusty, I've also put all this pressure on myself to do a really really great job. Which I quickly convince myself is impossible because, hello!?, if I was any good at this I probably wouldn't have gone a whole week without posting in the first place! Then the pressure builds and builds and I get rustier and rustier and then days become weeks and suddenly it feels next to impossible to put words on a page. But once I write something (anything!) I can go back to posting as I please without worrying so much if it will be good enough or not.

Let's hope a regularly scheduled work day will have a similar effect.