Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I heart Santa.

Oh yes he did!

Also? I got a bike. Seriously! I got a bike from Santa! It's a floral printed cruiser with a basket and a bright green cushy seat and I am totally in love. Bill thinks Santa must have seen how happy I was cruising along Manhattan Beach on my cousin's bike and wanted me to have that much fun all of the time. He is one magical son of a gun...

I just wanted to say Merry Christmas really quick and send you an online version of our Christmas card. Just because I'm out of stamps and we may not really know each other know each other doesn't mean you're not on my nice list. Happy everything to you and yours...

Greetings Family and Friends!

Inspired by the great holiday letters we receive each year, we’ve decided to send one of our own.
Who knows? Maybe it will become a new Conran family tradition!

2012 has been mighty good to us. Bill is in his fifth year with UL, selling health and safety software to companies in the North East. That is officially his territory but this year he also traveled to Washington, Florida, North Carolina…you name it. It works out great for us because he’s only gone a handful of days each month but gets lots of frequent flyer miles and doesn’t mind if we tag along when he’s going somewhere fun (like a trade show on the beach in Naples or a meeting at DISNEYLAND!). I even got to sneak off to Vegas with him for his 35th birthday!

We’ve had a lot more freedom to pick up and go ever since we decided to homeschool Liam this year. It’s especially great now that Molly, Erick and Jack live just three hours away in Louisville, Kentucky. We hop in the mini van (yep, that’s right!), pop in a movie (oh yeah!) and before we know it, we’re hanging out with my sister. Woohoo!

So, yeah – homeschool. Crazy, right? Liam started first grade at the school down the street (where he went to Kindergarten) but after a few days we knew we had to make a change. We considered our options and, even though we never thought we could do it, homeschool suddenly became the obvious choice. So we jumped in headfirst and haven’t looked back for a second.

Who knew homeschool could be so much fun?! We signed Liam up for an online math class
(he already passed first grade with a 100%!), a science class at someone’s house, swim club at the Y, American History and Show & Tell with a homeschool enrichment program…and have just about worn out our library card. He’s made new friends, has lots of time to play with Finn, and I no longer have to drag him out of bed every morning. It’s fun for the whole family!

Liam’s favorite things include playing with friends, hosting parties, staying up late reading Calvin & Hobbes, and all things Mario Bros. This year he learned to swim (yes!), earned his yellow belt in Karate, and surprised us all when he fell in love with rollercoasters this summer at Disney World. He’s easily one of the greatest people I have ever known.

Which brings me to Finn. Man oh man, do we love this baby! He turned two this August but shows absolutely no signs of becoming terrible. He’s sweet (if you offer him something good, he’ll ask for two – one for him and one for Liam), sensitive (no sitting on Santa’s lap this year!), funny (he does impressions, tells jokes, makes faces – the works) and surprisingly independent. He loves horsies, drawing, dance parties, Yo Gabba Gabba!, his big brother (he thinks he’s a six year old), and learning songs at story time. This year he gave us our first trip to the ER (three stitches on his forehead!), learned to roll over to his back in the deep end of the pool and hold his breath under water, and FINALLY started sleeping through the night on a regular basis (better late than never!). It’s hard to imagine life without our blue-eyed blondie baby.

Which is exactly how we feel about our new Rhodesian pup, Penny. I definitely didn’t think I was ready for a new dog – losing sweet Cloey was really hard – but the second Bill brought her home last Thanksgiving, I completely fell in love. Our cat Gretchen (or “Miss” as the kids call her) is as sweet as ever (she’ll be 13 this Spring) and will almost let Penny cuddle up to her on the couch.

The boys keep me pretty busy but I still find a bit of time here and there for myself. This year The Tennessean picked up my blog and I finished illustrating my second children’s book,
Just Right Julia. I continue to love staying home with my kids and am beyond grateful that I get to do it.

We hope your year was full of laughter and love. Here’s to a wonderful 2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Redemption song.

I think I figured out why the advent calendar and, frankly, the entire month of December, was making me feel so put out. It's just too much Christmas! I mean, for an entire 31 days (more if you count all the decorations that pop up in October...) we're supposed to infuse everything we see, hear, say and do with the holly jolly spirit? C'mon.

Twelve days of Christmas sounds a little bit more doable. Hey, maybe that's what that wacky song is all about. It would certainly make a lot more sense than maids a-milking.

I think Jewish people might be onto something with Hanukkah. Eight days is more than enough time to celebrate any given holiday. It's a good chunk of time but I doubt anyone has a Hanukkah hangover by the end of it.

Christmas on the other hand is almost impossible to enjoy in moderation. We all tend to spend too much, eat too much and listen to SO many Christmas carols that by the time it's over we can't wait to drag the tree out to the curb. That's probably why heavy drinking and resolutions are a trademark of New Year's Eve. "Christmas officially kicked my ass this year. I swear, next year it's going to be different. Now pass the Champagne and let's party!"

Since I somehow managed to go almost the entire month of December without feeling the Christmas spirit take hold (thanks, Global Warming!), I am one of the lucky ones who gets to cram an entire season of Christmassy goodness into the next two days.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Boom! Done.

So, without further ado, I give you an ode to day one of our fabulous two day celebration. On the first day of Christmas my true loves shared with me...

Twelve burnt cookies

Eleven wacky Mad Libs

Ten painted toenails

Nine cards delivered

Eight rounds of UNO

Seven red poinsettias

Six kinds of candy

Five Santa berries

Four matching jammies

Three mild fevers

Too many presents

And a happy Christmas E-eve to YOU!!!

Truthfully? I started writing this much earlier in the day, long before the fevers fully took hold and rendered 3/4 of our family physically incapable of having a good time. I probably should have edited some of the above details (8 rounds of UNO? Sadly, no...) but I'm ready to wrap this thing up and get on with my crossword puzzle and mulled wine. Plus, you know, it's almost Santa time...

Hope Santa got his flu shot!

I hope you're surviving holiday burnout and having a wonderful Christmas Eve.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Is it too late to believe in Santa Claus?

Okay, maybe that's not quite what I mean. I obviously believe in Santa Claus. Believing is way more fun than not believing. What I'm really wondering is if it's too late to rely on him. Heavily. Like just hand him the reins and let him do his thing. And my thing. I basically want Santa to do all the things. Because as fun as it is, I'm starting to think it would be a heck of a lot more fun with a bunch of elves and flying reindeer at my disposal.

For some reason it just feels kind of hard this year. The shopping and wrapping and decorating and all the never ending good cheer and merriment. Making the magic happen for an entire month is just a lot to ask, you know? Maybe too much to ask. I mean, I can make some magic happen, sure. But the epic proportions we've come to expect at Christmas? That's definitely a job for Santa.

I actually got up at four o'clock this morning so I could finish stuffing envelopes and wrapping presents and making toffee and getting everything ready to ship off to our family. Yes, it was absolutely the last possible second. And if I'm honest, the real reason I got up before dawn was NOT to unleash my inner elf but just because I was having trouble sleeping. Finn is sick with a fever (and two ear infections) and super pathetic so he woke up about a million times last night whimpering and needing to be held. It's so sad. And evidently highly contagious.

Because earlier in the night as we were wrapping up dinner with friends I suddenly had the sneaking suspicion my time for making conversation was coming to an abrupt end and I had to GO. HOME. NOW. I said goodbye (or rather, "I think I have what Finn has and I have to leave right now oh my god I don't know I feel really sweaty bye guys merry Christmas..."), walked as fast as I could out the front door and immediately projectile vomited all over the sidewalk.


Fortunately that was my one and only trip to Yakima Valley (so far...) but the whole episode left me feeling pretty lousy. So when Finn kept waking up last night and Bill had already done more than his fair share of rocking and soothing, I got out of bed to hang out with my little hot water bottle and COULD NOT fall back asleep again. So I got up and did my best to get a months worth of good tidings done before anyone else woke up.

But the problem with procrastination is it doesn't take into account things like sick babies or random stomach bugs. It doesn't keep track of things like Scotch tape and how there's not a single roll of it in the entire house. It might know that extreme last minute shipping costs three times as much as the gifts you should have bought three weeks ago but it doesn't care enough to tell you.

Even if I had somewhat of an understanding of things like "dates" and "time" and how none of that stands still when you need it to, I still don't think I would have knocked it out of the park this year. You know those amazing people who do the Elf on the Shelf thing and post pictures of their elf doing clever and hilarious things every single day? Yeah. I'm like the opposite of that this year.

I bet none of those elf on the shelfers have ever forgotten to water the Christmas tree when their husbands were out of town. Yes. I'm finally admitting it. The reason our tree looks like it's melting and could easily take an eye out shish kabob style because it's so dry and spiky is because I totally forgot to water it the entire time Bill was in Chicago earlier this month. I've been denying it pretty heavily these last couple of weeks but that's just because I'm not even half as awesome as Santa.

You know what else I did this year? Or rather, didn't do? The advent calendar. Just completely let that one slide. Even though my kid (who is seriously awesome and deserves a tiny stocking full of sugary crap at least once a day) reminded me a hundred times a day for an entire week, I still just couldn't make it happen. How Scrooge is that? When I apologized for it he said, "Yeah, it seems like maybe you're so busy hanging out with me and teaching me and stuff that you don't have as much time for the calendar this year." I was like, "Yeah, I guess so," and then totally let myself off the hook.

No Santa ever did that.

When Liam met Santa earlier this week in Louisville, he told him he wanted an angry bird for Christmas. Or more specifically, "The really big softies they have at Costco." As much as I'm sure Santa appreciated the specifics, he asked Liam if it would be okay if he just got a little one. Like the dozens he has already? No way, dude! Liam wants a huge softy! He's "desperate for it"! But much to my surprise Liam said, "Well, sure. That'd be great!" I couldn't believe it - I, er, Santa - was off the hook once again. I would no longer have to weigh my options and decide which was worse - a couch sized Angry Bird in my house or a slightly less than magical Christmas morning.

And that's why I am so glad I believe in Santa. I can just leave it up to the big guy in red and let him make the call. Is he going to let himself off easy or take this one last chance to make Christmas 2012 merry and bright? I for one am hoping for some magic. We are definitely ready for it.

PS - For the record I did not actually get anything except Christmas cards shipped off on time to arrive by Christmas. My house is a total wreck, my tree is sincerely ugly and I still have a million presents to wrap (okay, not really a million, it just feels that way because it takes me so long to wrap them). I'm actually considering going to the mall tomorrow which sounds completely insane but procrastination don't care. I'm still not feeling as heavy metal as I'd like to and - this is the worst of the worst - now Bill is sick too. We are seriously in need of a Santavention. C'mon big guy! We're ready and waiting. On the couch. Watching Pump up the Volume and debating if we should have seconds on mashed potatoes...

Friday, December 14, 2012


I am heart broken by this latest school shooting. Latest school shooting...what an awful thing to say. Such a category should never have to exist. And yet, it does. Why? Because GUNS KILL PEOPLE. I know, I know. People help. But without guns in the hands of people who shouldn't have them? Tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting would NEVER happen.

Because no one, no matter how desperate or mentally ill or angry or misguided, could ever go into a public place and kill TWENTY SEVEN PEOPLE without a firearm. It's just not possible.

Guns might not kill person but they absolutely kill people. Mass killings like this (again, what a disgusting thing to say...) would be unfathomable without them.

If the Connecticut tragedy doesn't lead to gun control, I can't begin to imagine what it will take.

I hope for the sake of the families who lost loved ones, the parents who lost children (I can't even think about this without crying...), something good comes from this horrific day.

My heart goes out to all those affected. Which, in a way, is all of us. We are all grieving and shaking our heads and hugging our babies and crying together. Let's hope we can stay that way long enough to fix what is broken and move ahead to a time when things like this are as unusual as they are unimaginable.

"We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."  -  Nelson Mandela 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book smart.

As a parent, there is no greater compliment than seeing your child do something clearly inspired by you. Of course, this can also be one of the most embarrassing parts about parenthood (Gee, I don't know where he could have learned such language...) but when the stars align and everything goes well, there is no better feeling in the world.

It's why they say reading to your kids isn't actually as important as being a reader yourself. Because kids learn more from who you are than from what you do. I have to say, that's really good news for a stay-at-home-mom like me who doesn't do a whole heck of a lot (professionally speaking that is, as in - for a paycheck).

But I still make sure to do the things I love - like reading, writing, making books - so I can be a better me. And, apparently (woohoo!), a better mom as well.

So, recently when Liam started making books, I felt completely justified in taking every last bit of  credit. I started making books because of him and now he's making books because of me (or, at least, that's what I like to tell myself). It's a beautiful thing we've got going on here.

A big box of my books arrived in the mail today just in time for our home school field trip to East Side Story tomorrow. I set the whole thing up which is one of the really fun things about homeschool. You like something? Great! Set up a field trip. You want to learn about something? Great! Teach it. There will be four local authors (including myself) who will read to the kids and talk to them about the bookmaking process (as well as anything else they want to know). I think it's going to be really fun.

Anyway, when Liam saw my new books it reminded him about his new book, A Green World.

"Mama!" he gasped. "You haven't scanned my book yet! How am I supposed to sell any copies if you never help me?"

Totally valid point. The only trouble was...how do I even say this without sounding like a total jerk? It's a kid's book. You know, like something he made in two minutes with mostly misspelled words and staples holding it together. It's great, don't get me wrong, it's really great. Just not the kind of thing you would normally see in a store.

I know. Total jerk.

It's even worse considering I'm not only his mother but a fellow self-published author. Of children's books! Sure, I spelled all my words correctly and spent a helluva lot longer than two minutes throwing it together, but other than that we're pretty much in the same boat. Right? How would I feel if my inspiration was like, "Um, yeah. That book you just made is okay just not exactly scanner material..."

So I attempted to offer some constructive criticism.

"Liam, remember in Kindergarten when you would make a first draft? What was it called again?"

"A sloppy copy?"

"Yes! Exactly. A sloppy copy. Well, I just wanted to check before I scanned this - is it your final draft or your sloppy copy?"


"Well. I just noticed some things that you might want to change before we make copies. I mean, if this is your sloppy copy."

"Like what?" he said defensively. "It's great the way it is!"

"No, no. Of course it is. I just mean... well, like this for example. Shouldn't the title be capitalized? And what about punctuation? Are you sure all of the words are spelled correctly?"

He looked through the book with me but I could tell he was getting annoyed. Finally he grabbed his marker and snatched the book away from me.

"Here we go..." Woah, he was actually making some edits. "Yep. That should do it. Now it's my final copy."

He handed me the book. At the top, in parenthesis, he had written: "by a kid."

"That way if anyone is wondering why things aren't spelled right or anything like that they'll see that note on the cover and understand. I also wrote '5 copies' and 'share' so everyone will know there are only five of these books so they're gonna have to share if they want everyone to read it."

Okay, NOW he's my inspiration.

I laughed and hugged him and told him he was a really good teacher and marched my butt to the scanner and got to work. Then I said, "Hey! I have an idea. Since I just got some more of my books I'll ask people on my website if they want to buy one. If they do, I'll send them a copy of yours as well!"

"And if they would rather buy a copy of mine?"

Touche! "Well, then I will throw in a copy of mine for free."

"Sounds like a plan," he said nodding. "That's a win-win for everyone."

So! If you would like to buy a copy of A Green World by Liam Conran (a different version, still misspelled and half-assed but in crayon this time so it's way harder to see) I will gladly throw in a copy of Christmastime to Me from A to Z or Just Right Julia FOR FREE! Just, um, use the regular Paypal buttons to the left so I'll know which free gift you would like. There are only five copies of A Green World though so if you want one, you better act fact. Otherwise, you'll have to find someone to share with you.

Medical mysteries.

Last night before bed I noticed a small bump behind Finn's right ear. It looked exactly like a fresh mosquito bite - sort of raised and hivey - but since I haven't seen one of those buggers in at least a few weeks, I was stumped. It didn't seem to be bothering him too much, but when I touched it and asked if it hurt he did sort of a fake pathetic face, nodded and said, "Hurts." (He's so damn cute.) Since he seemed otherwise fine I just sort of shrugged it off and got him to bed.

But this morning when he woke up, I noticed the bump was still there. And it had company. Lots of company.

He was pretty much covered in hives. He still didn't seem bothered  (other than pointing and saying "hurts" when I asked him about it) but I knew I would feel much better once a doctor took a look.

Before I was even able to call the office (they open at 9), Liam decided he was sick too. No hives, thankfully, just that cruddy feeling that comes with a fever and cough. I did notice he was sniffling a lot before he fell asleep last night (he sleeps with me when Bill's out of town). I guess the Fall kid crud finally caught up with him.

Actually, he probably caught it from his brother. Finn's nose has been running down his face all week and he's been coughing off and on. But he's not a big complainer so until Liam flopped onto the couch all pathetic like and started asking for ice cream, I never even considered Finny might be feeling bad. And now he's covered in hives? Poor buddy.

Our doctor ruled out allergies since Finn hadn't been exposed to any new foods, soaps, etc. and decided it was probably just a reaction to the virus. The virus I didn't even think to mention.

"Anything out of the ordinary recently?" she asked me after ruling out an allergic reaction.

"No..." I racked my brain. "Nothing unusual I can think of. Well. Except one thing..." Why was I even bringing this up? "The night before last he found a marble from Hungry Hungry Hippos in his crib and choked on it. I mean, he almost choked on it. Thankfully my husband happened to hear him choking from the next room and ran in to save him. Anyway. Probably nothing to do with the rash but it was very unusual..."

(And terrifying.)

As the doctor (not our regular doctor, thankfully, although she was writing an awful lot of stuff in our chart while I willingly admitted my toddler had A MARBLE IN HIS CRIB...) told me she always counts all the pieces after her kids play a game and keeps everything locked in a Ziplock bag on a high shelf (ouch), she happened to notice Finn had some dried boogies around his nose. I was like, "Oh yeah! He has been sick for like a week or so..."

I guess that just didn't seem unusual enough to mention? Or maybe I just wasn't thinking. Either way, definitely not my finest parenting moment. I mean, better than the marble in the crib incident (how does that even happen?) but in no way the highlight of my week.

I did my best to make up for it by renting the boys a movie, serving them ice cream for lunch and letting everyone take a knee for the day. By bedtime I felt like I had officially put the doctor's visit behind us.

And then I totally hit one out of the park.

While brushing the boys teeth (I had to do Liam's because that's how he rolls when he's sick), I almost put face wash on their toothbrushes.

But I didn't - a miracle, I know - and that's not even the best part!

I was like, "Oh my gosh, you guys, these look exactly alike. I can't believe you've never accidentally brushed your teeth with my face wash."

"Wait a minute," Liam said seriously. "Mama! I think you just figured out why everything tasted awful and my mouth felt so weird the other day."

"Seriously? You brushed your teeth with face wash?"

Okay, maybe that's not exactly a highlight either. But it did solve the second biggest medical mystery of the Conran house this week. At least, I think that was the second biggest medical mystery at the Conran house this week...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My art + The Frist = one heck of a good Tuesday!

Got a sec? Go check out The Frist Center for the Visual Art's Facebook page and see if anything looks familiar. Here's a link:


Well, how do you like that? (And I hope you *liked* it!) Cut paper art from the cover of my children's book Christmastime to Me on the Facebook page of Nashville's biggest and best visual arts center. What a trip!

There were four winners who will share the glory one week at a time for the month of December. I can't wait to see the other art that was chosen ("like" the Frist's Facebook page if you want to see their updates, too).

When things like this happen, I have to remind myself that Nashville is a pretty good sized city. I spend the majority of my time in a cozy, tight-knit community so it feels more like a small town than anything. It feels...easy. Friendly and helpful and familiar and not unlike Cheers. The kind of place you could easily move and shake or rub elbows or whatever else they say.

I'm so comfortable here that it took me a minute to realize what a big deal it is for the city's major art gallery/museum to choose my work to display on their Facebook page. Kind of like when The Tennessean started running my blog. It was exciting, of course, but also felt kind of normal. Like if your fifth grade class put on a talent show and you got to be in it, you wouldn't necessarily think you were on your way to American Idol, right? Bill keeps reminding me that Nashville is a lot bigger than my fifth grade class. And he's right. I mean, this is the kind of place they make TV shows about!

But when the stars of those shows (cough, cough, Connie Britton) show up at your two year old's birthday party, it makes it hard to remember not to shout, "Norm!" when you walk into the grocery store.

I guess I just need to stop thinking that it needs to be so hard. Didn't Oprah always say that when you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, life gets really easy? Like once you get in the flow you just have to keep doing your thing and enjoy the ride? I could be terribly misquoting her - she's been off the air for a while. But I do know a thing or two about momentum (thanks Bill Nye!) and feel like things around here are definitely starting to pick up speed.

As always, my books are available right over here to the left and can also be found on Amazon and in Nashville at East Side Story, Fairytales, The TN State Museum and Parnassus. Cheers! (Norm!)