Sunday, December 23, 2007

New Sarina pics


Mmm! This is the best teething biscuit I've ever had.


I got my hair bow from Mama's Girls Bows over here.


I got my flower clip from Bow Baby Bow over here.


Today, Santa Claus was in my very own house. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him, but he turned out to be pretty cool. He gave me peach puffs.


I love standing. I thought sitting was cool, but man, standing is so awesome. You should try it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When she shares

Sarina is learning things at an astonishing rate right now-- I feel like she's in the middle of another of these "milestone madness" weeks. Among other things, she is now calling the cat "ca." She doesn't yet know that I'm "mama" (she uses the word "mama" all the time, but doesn't associate it particularly with me), but she knows the cat. You know what's funny? I totally predicted that. She's so in love with my cat. I guessed a while back that her first real word would be "cat," (or "kitty," which is what I usually call her).

The beautiful thing, though, is that she's learned to share. She will feed her mommy one of her peach puffs, or share her gummed-up biscuit with me. I never would have thought that I would have accepted a half-eaten teething biscuit from another human being, but you know? When it's your baby, it's just not gross. It's beautiful. Last night, we took turns. She fed me one bite (and cracked up), then took a bite herself, and so on. It was the greatest.

And because I clearly have the greatest little person on the planet, it did not seem at all unreasonable that I managed to spend the better portion of two days searching online for just the RIGHT tutu to buy her for Christmas. I still haven't found it. I've been all over Etsy and eBay, and I'm hopeful that I might have found a woman who can custom-make one for us in just the look I like (classic light pink, nice and full, mid-length). I think it's entirely possible that I will die of cuteness overload when I see her in one. I also don't yet have a Christmas stocking for her (and I want a gorgeous personalized one), so if anyone has suggestions, please post 'em!

Diaper changes are getting tougher and tougher-- she will NOT lie down, and works up a pretty good fit now when she wants to-- so I've finally learned a trick. She loves her sign language DVDs, so I now move the changing pad into the living room in front of the TV and turn on the DVD when she's being really rough. It's as if I've just given her a tranquilizer. She lies there TOTALLY COMPLACENT, totally calm, for as long as that DVD is on. I could go visit with a neighbor and not even worry that she'd move from that changing pad (shush! I wouldn't!). That was my mom's idea when I called to say that the poop was just going to have to stay in Sarina's diaper forever, because I couldn't fathom a way to change her short of something involving a lot of rope and chewing gum.

This little girl has me sooo wrapped around her little finger. Even when it's covered in mashed peas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Me and My Girl (and Marilyn)


I'm hoping and hoping to finish the Marilyn Monroe first draft before Christmas. I'm not sure if it's possible yet, but I'm going to try.

I've interviewed a number of people for it, but am still trying hard for several others. Did you know Gina Lollobrigida and Marilyn were good friends? I'm trying to reach her, and Eli Wallach, and her singing coach, and... well, about 50 others who haven't yet answered me. Time is getting tight. I have enough material already, but it would add a lot to the book if I could speak to people who don't ordinarily speak about Marilyn. I'm aiming to get interesting little anecdotes from people who met her along the way somewhere, even in very limited capacities. (Psst, know anyone who knew Marilyn Monroe? I'll be your BFF.)

I'm so distractable about the actual writing, though. Every night, I tell myself I'll do nothing but write, but I have irresistible impulses to do stupid things online. Like, does eBay have any new finger puppets today? (I already bought Sarina the Wizard of Oz set for Christmas. How many finger puppets does one baby need?)

I wasn't always like this. But I'm still getting my work done. It just means I'm staying up until a million o'clock. I don't really kick into gear until 2 a.m., so to work for a few hours means I'm really messing up my sleep hours. I sure hope I get this figured out before Sarina's in kindergarten. I may have to really cut myself off from all my online time-wasters.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Best Game Ever

We've discovered the best game ever. It goes like this:



1. Mommy sticks a pail on her head.
2. Mommy says, "Hey, Sarina, what do you think of my new hat? Isn't it a lovely hat? I sure hope nobody steals my hat."
3. Sarina steals the hat.
4. Mommy hollers, "Ohh! How did you do it? How did you steal Mommy's hat?"
5. Sarina screams laughing.
6. Repeat, endlessly.

We can do this for hours. It just never gets old.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Baba!

She sure did. Her first word was "mama" during month 6. Last night, she started saying "baba." The adorableness of it is almost too much to bear. I awoke to the sounds of her practicing. "Ba... bama... maba... mbababababa!"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

If you want to do something nice for me...

Please, visit here: http://www.xanga.com/no_Im_not_a_nurse

That's Licia's blog. She runs a rescue center in Haiti.

Before I had Sarina, I felt sympathy for suffering children. Now it's a physical pain that I can barely stand. I see Henrius, the five-year-old in the video, crying... and I think of my daughter and how much it kills me to hear her cry for five minutes because she has teething pain. That boy's skin is peeling off because of malnutrition.

This is a center with 50-60 children in it at a time, not a giant company with corrupt executives. This is a place where you can actually help people save children's lives.

Licia's sister, Lori, also has a blog. She runs the medical clinic next to the rescue center, where they see about 700 patients a week. There's a PayPal link and an address to send donations here: http://xanga.com/haitinurse4life

They're doing the heavy lifting. Let's do the easy part.

Please, spread the word. Let's make sure this center has everything they need to work miracles.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Teeth

Sarina's two front teeth are spaced widely apart so far, which makes me think back to my own youth, in which-- I am not kidding-- my parents had our Christmas card pictures retouched to erase some of my hideously gapped buck teeth. And this was before Photoshop, when you actually had to pay a photo lab to fix things with colored pencils or somesuch.

Ahhh, braces. I would have been such a freak without you.

Other people save for college when their kids are born. We're saving up for the orthodontist.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

An extra hour to write

Michelle tagged me to write a post about what I would write if I had an extra hour every day to write. Hmm.

Now, the real answer is that I'd just use that hour to get my assignments done, but I have to assume that the spirit of this meme is to find out what our "heart projects" are.

Someone else asked me about that by e-mail recently. Well, technically, I asked myself. It went sort of like this: He asked me if there was anything no one ever asked me about my writing before that I wanted to be asked. I said I had never been asked if there was anything I wanted to write but wouldn't. So... he asked.

Anyway, what I explained then was that I had several ideas for books that I'd love to write, but wouldn't be commercial enough to justify the time I'd spend on them. Some Absolute Write readers might remember the time I went searching for a book that would be appropriate to teach my brother (who has Down syndrome) about dating. He had asked me for a book that would teach him how to talk to women, how to kiss... and I found nothing that seemed at all appropriate. There were books for boys just beginning puberty, or books about "how to score" for horndog adults, but nothing that seemed right for his situation.

I wanted to write that book. I know I could have interviewed psychologists who specialize in helping adults with intellectual disabilities and come up with something good, but the audience for it is just too small-- I'd wind up with a small advance from a specialized publisher, and that would take away from the time I have to spend writing "bigger" books and making a living. So I can't do it.

There's another project, though, that falls on the cusp of commercialism in my mind-- a "positive thoughts for pregnancy" book. I was terrified toward the end of pregnancy, and had to really find ways to stay positive. I mostly did so by asking people for good pregnancy stories, and by trying to focus on the "good" statistics (most babies are born healthy, most women don't have long-lasting complications from labor, etc.). But so many of the books I read, even the ones that were supposed to be inspirational, were totally scary. They contained labor horror stories, and because the baby wound up okay, it was supposed to be a positive story.

Anyway, that's probably what I'd work on if I had extra time. A pregnancy book that contains only happy thoughts for women who are scared about pregnancy. I do tend to write books that I wished I had myself when I was going through something (panic disorder, beginning a writing career, etc.).

For this meme, I tag Lori, Frank, and anyone else who wants to write about this topic!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Halloween









Yes, she did have (ahem) more than one costume. What can I say? Babies 'R' Us had a clearance sale, and her dad got excited.

Thank you, creepy professor

So where was I? (Read the previous post first if you haven't already. I'm writing about how I became a writer. I'll wait here.)

Right, so I was now an advertising major, and as such, had to take writing courses. That was cool by me because I had always enjoyed writing and had taken elective writing courses as an art major. I had even tried to take an advanced workshop in poetry, but I was turned down. What a disappointment that was! I remember waiting outside the class when the list was posted, and searching and searching for my name. I remember, too, the poem I used as an "audition," and how stupid I felt afterwards. Dumb poem! Why did I write you? Why did I think you were any good?

I had a slightly weird writing history in school. Very early on-- I'm talking first grade, I think-- my teacher wrote on my report card that she expected to see my name on the New York Times Bestseller List. My mom, who was an English teacher and thrilled! thrilled! thrilled! by this notation, saved that report card and mentioned it roughly every three days for the remainder of my life to the present day.

I loved books. Loved reading under the covers after I was supposed to be in bed. Joined all the summer library reading clubs. Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Shel Silverstein... I remember writing to Ann Landers once, too, asking for her advice about where I could be hired as a writer. I was maybe 8 or 9 and wanted to know if she knew of any newspapers where they would "let kids in."

But along the way, and I can't point to when or why, exactly, I dropped the idea of becoming a writer. Although I did well in English classes, only one or two of my teachers really seemed to see anything special in me. I didn't do wonderfully on my AP test. I wrote a lot of bad poetry and short stories, but I stopped reading for pleasure when the required reading selections in junior high and high school sucked the joy right out of it for me. I'm really not fond of "the classics," and overanalyzing literatures kills any of the magic it might contain, in my mind.

More than anything, my passion was always the theatre. I was a good stage actress, and that's really what I always hoped to do. Everything else I studied and worked on sheerly as "fall-back" options, because I knew how unsteady acting was as a career.

I had begun college as an art major only because my father wouldn't let me major in theatre. He thought it would be a bad life for me, and that you didn't need college to become an actress anyway. I'm really not sure why he thought art would be more stable, but he didn't complain about it. He was happy when I switched to advertising, though.

So. Advertising. Writing courses. Right. It was my introduction to writing for mass communication class, or some title like that, and the professor taught me more in the very first class than I had ever learned in any other class. Primarily, he taught me to analyze every word I wrote to make sure each word was necessary. He asked us to write about ourselves during the first 15 minutes or so of that first class, then said, "Now take out every unnecessary adverb, adjective and every word that isn't essential to the meaning of your essay." It was so enlightening to me to see all the cross-outs. And, I'll be darned if he wasn't right-- getting rid of all those pretty adjectives and adverbs made it a much stronger piece. He taught us about strong nouns and verbs, and about the discipline of rewriting.

Our first real assignment, though, was to write about a turning point in our lives. I agonized over my essay all week, mostly writing fairly trivial things until I gave in and wrote the thing I knew I had to write about. On the last day before class, in an all-night sort of frenzy, I wrote about being raped. I was scared to death to turn it in, and scared into the afterlife when he handed back all the papers but mine and instead told me to see him after class.

What he wanted to do, though, was to literally shake me by the lapels and tell me I was going to be a writer. I told him that I wasn't, but he insisted. It was a nice feeling, even though I was sure he was wrong.

I've told that part before in interviews. It's the next part I don't think I've ever mentioned.

He followed me home.

Not that day. It was a growing crush he developed. First, he paired himself with me during a profile-writing exercise. After I finished "interviewing" him, he told me I had left off a question. "What?" I asked. "You didn't ask if I'm married." "Oh. Are you?" "No," he said with a smile.

Oh.

We met on the subway by chance one day, and he sat next to me and told me he was a hobbyist photographer and would love to take my picture one day because I had such an interesting face. It made me squirm a little. But it was the following-home episode that really almost had me calling campus security.

He often talked with me after class, and we sometimes walked out together. Usually, he wanted to recommend that I read certain books, or he wanted to comment more on a piece I had written. This day, he had brought Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground and he wanted to read it to me. Seriously. He began reading... and when I told him I had to go home to change for work, he simply got on the subway with me and kept right on going. When I said, "This is my stop," he got up and walked with me as if I had invited him to.

It was all very weird because I had no idea where to draw the line. He hadn't ever tried anything physical on me, nor said anything sexual, but I was pretty sure professors weren't supposed to follow their students home. When we got there, the power in my house was out, and only one of my roommates (out of TWELVE) was there. The professor followed me to my bedroom, and that's where I finally told him he'd have to leave because I had to change and go to work.

He never tried that again, and I never saw him again after that year was over, but as I reflected on it later, there was a giant compliment in all of it: I had been hit on and stalked before, by men of varying ages and marital statuses, because of my looks. I had never been hit on because of my brain.

And that's really what this was. There were plenty of attractive women in that class, I'm sure several more attractive than I was. But it was my writing that did it for him. He was completely infatuated with my way with words.

I had always wanted to be great at something.

Maybe I could be a great writer.

I took more writing courses, and found out that I got similar reactions from two more professors. Not the hitting on me or following me home stuff, but the pulling me aside after class and telling me I was meant to write kind of stuff. One wrote, "You humbled me" on my first assignment, which was my favorite compliment. I knew he had expected me to be... not very good. I came in with daisies in my hair and an eyebrow ring, and I understood he thought I was an airhead. Another taught my favorite workshop, and encouraged me to intern with the university's literary magazine (I did). He e-mailed me a couple of years back and let me know he wasn't at all surprised that I became a successful writer.

So, really, I was the only one who was surprised I became a successful writer. I thought it would be a hobby, but it was the panic disorder that fixed my wagon. I was acting in a children's theatre at the time, then became housebound and had to find something to do from home. I wondered if I could really earn any money as a writer. I set out to find out. Obsessively.

I had nothing and no one in my life at the time outside my immediate family. I couldn't go out-- the panic attacks would just take over. So for years, I had nothing else but this desperate hope to make it as a writer, to prove that I still had some kind of worth.

I got a couple of magazine assignments quickly, but it was beginner's luck. It took at least two or three years until I had steady magazine work, and another couple of years to make my mark in book publishing. My "big break" actually came in the form of several smaller breaks that I can trace all the way back to my earliest work-- some of which I did for little e-zines for minimal payment. I wrote whatever anyone wanted me to write in those first few years, regardless of what I got paid, and I don't regret it for a second.

I hinted a couple of posts back about the things I learned from Celine Dion, and the biggest lesson for me was this: I spent an awful lot of time feeling cheated that I never got to take my big shot at acting. I had planned on moving to LA with a friend and seeking out my fame and fortune, but that was when the agoraphobia hit. Celine and I talked through the middle of the night again and again about fame, about her life, about the paths we choose and the dreams we create and how the things we think we want as children aren't always the things we want as adults. She wistfully talked about how she wanted to be "owned" by her son, but often felt "owned" by the public.

I could never have handled fame. It would have been entirely wrong for me. And as I sat there on the floor with this marvelous woman, I realized that I was happy exactly where I was. I didn't feel restless anymore. I was doing what I was always meant to do, and I was enjoying it. Telling other people's stories was becoming a real blessing in my life-- it meant that I got to meet some really interesting people and learn from them, and I got to feel good about helping them. I'm a good listener, and good at writing in others' voices.

So it's a bit like that song-- what is it? About going around the world before realizing that the person you love lives right next door? Writing was my "guy next door."

And Sarina owns me.

And I'm glad.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Art school dropout

Don't think I've ever told the whole real story of how I came to be a writer. I'll start today. This could take a while.

I entered Furman University in South Carolina as an art major. After just a semester, though, I realized that the school was not the right fit for me. (The cafeteria was segregated, for a start.) I transfered to a community college for the remainder of the year because I had missed the deadlines to transfer to any of the other schools I was interested in.

My big hope was to go to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), but I applied to several other schools "just in case." The acceptances came in quickly-- Pratt, Parsons, I don't even remember where else. I took a trip into the city by myself one day to see how it felt, though, and a man followed me from the subway to Parsons. I ended up hiding in a bathroom for at least an hour until he left. Decided the city was not the place for me. So I eagerly awaited the response from RISD. I watched the school video, reread the brochures, and plotted how great my life was going to be when I painted my way through Rhode Island.

Then I got the rejection. The only rejection I had ever received from a college, and it had to be that one. I was devastated. My little sister and her best friend even made a sign that they stuck on my door that said something like, "RISD is dumb! They don't know what they're missing! You are sooo good at art!" It was super-sweet.

Anyway, then, like the reasonable person I am, I went to a psychic, who told me I was going to school in Boston. Considering I had not applied to any schools in Boston, I left chiding myself for wasting $20.

The following morning, my dad's cousin, an artist, called out of nowhere to say, "Has Jen considered Boston University?"

That was all it took for me. My best friend and I drove to Boston pronto, and I knew I was in the right place. I transfered as an art major, and had to go to the department chairman with my portfolio to determine if my freshmen credits would count.

He gave me a condescending smirk as he looked through my portfolio, and told me that, no, I would not receive any credit. I'd have to start all over with the intro classes. I was disappointed because the message was clear: my work wasn't good enough. I felt like I was being left back. Well, I sort of was.

On the very first day of classes, I watched in amusement as a young man drew himself a bracelet "tattoo" in Sharpie marker while we waited outside the building for the professor to arrive. We struck up conversation and ended up deciding to go shopping for art supplies together that night. He became my closest friend right away.

Which was rather unfortunate for me, seeing as he was far and away the best artist in our class.

See, I stood next to him every day, and as I drew my not-quite-right noses and painted my slightly distorted apples, he made masterpieces effortlessly in half the time.

It did eventually occur to me that maybe I wasn't very good after all. So at the end of the year, I approached the toughest professor. He liked me, and he knew I was serious about working at my craft, and I figured he'd give it to me straight.

"Am I good enough?" I asked. "Tell it like it is. Can I make a living at this?"

I don't remember his words at this point, but I remember what he did NOT say. He did not say, "Don't quit! You are fantastic! The world will be losing a great talent!" It was more like, "Well, a lot of people discover they're not really cut out for this, and you don't have to consider it a failure if you decide..."

'Kay.

A bit deflated (of course I was hoping he'd tell me my fantasticness was waiting just around the corner), but glad for the truth, I switched majors. I switched to advertising mostly because I figured I could still use my art training, but in graphic design rather than fine art. As part of the advertising major, though, we all had to take some writing courses.

And that's where I met the professor who sexually harrassed me and made me a writer.

Tune in next post for part II.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Crazy 8s and Random 8s

Just noticed Christine also tagged me for Crazy 8s. I accept. :)

8 things I'm passionate about
1. Being a mom
2. Chocolate chip cookies and milk
3. Disability issues, specifically Down syndrome
4. Music with excellent lyrics-- try Counting Crows and Indigo Girls
5. Musical theatre, in all its forms
6. Children's books
7. Fighting injustice, defending underdogs
8. Homemade things

8 things I want to do before I die
1. Have more children
2. Make more crafts
3. Take vacations, pretty much anywhere
4. Go to more Renaissance Faires
5. Learn to cook
6. Get smarter
7. See scammers put out of business
8. Get back to the theatre in some capacity... maybe backstage

8 things I say often
1. I love you
2. You are the sweetest baby in the whole world
3. Are we out of milk?
4. I have to go to the post office
5. People are weird
6. Have you seen my shoes?
7. Awesome
8. I have to get some work done

8 books I've recently read
1. All the Available Light
2. Marilyn Monroe
3. Marilyn Among Friends
4. The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe
5. Norma Jean
6. Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed
7. The Marilyn Encyclopedia
...what? I'm writing a Marilyn Monroe book! ;)
8. What to Expect: The First Year

8 songs I could listen to over and over
1. Yesterday
2. Anna Begins
3. Galileo
4. Time After Time
5. Kid Inside
6. Home
7. The Wind
8. Never Tear Us Apart

8 things that attract me to my best friends
1. Down-to-earthness
2. Sense of humor
3. Kindness
4. Loyalty
5. Intelligence
6. Lack of drama
7. Honesty
8. Non-judgmental attitude

8 people I think should do Crazy 8s
1. Sara
2. Lori
3. Cynthia
4. Amy
5. Manic Mom
6. Dawno
7. Misti
8. Astonwest

Ooh, and Misti also tagged me for Random 8s-- 8 random things that people may not know about me. OK.

1. I'm 5'4".
2. Most people tell me I don't have any particular accent, though I do seem to absorb other people's accents when I'm talking to them.
3. I can't sleep without socks on. If you ever want to wake me up, take one of my socks off. It drives me batty.
4. I'm a great hula hooper. I've won contests.
5. I somehow stopped biting my nails, by accident, after being a lifelong nail biter.
6. I am allergic to rain. I'm not kidding. When it's about to rain, I get very stupid and feel like I'm going to faint.
7. I was voted "Most Cheerful" in 6th grade, and "Most Corrupting" in college.
8. I just participated in a 9-wipe diaper change. Nine wipes. Pity me.

For this one, I'm tagging Linda, Michele, GlassQuill, and Rebecca.

What was your favorite birthday?

Christine over at the blog From Dates to Diapers is having a birthday bash this week, and as is the nature of cool people, giving other people presents for her birthday.

One of the ways to win is to respond to her blog prompts, and I'm going to take her up on this one-- an unforgettable birthday surprise.

I was in college. My roommate had a thing about birthdays-- she always wanted to make sure that no one was forgotten on their birthdays, even if they were people on the floor who we didn't know very well. I thought that was a special thing about her. Can't remember now whether or not she actually bought everyone little presents... I think it was just a card, but still. Most of the people on our floor were freshmen, away from home for the first time, and knowing someone remembered your birthday is a good thing.

Anyway.

I had a favorite a cappella band at school. I'm kind of an a cappella junkie, if you must know. But The Dear Abbeys were the ones I actually followed around like a proper little groupie. (But I never threw undergarments on stage, honest.)

On my birthday in my junior year, my roommate convinced me that a good friend of ours was having his artwork exhibited in one of the buildings on campus, so we all traipsed over to see. To get to this supposed gallery exhibit, we had to walk through a performance hall where the Dear Abbeys were rehearsing. I said something like, "Oh, no, we can't disrupt them." They said there was no other way to get to the room, so we tried to walk through very, very quietly.

When the singers broke out in "Happy Birthday," it still took me a minute to realize that this had been arranged for me. A private concert! I don't think I could have been happier had it been, say, Sting. It was a real rush and a real honor.

I think all my favorite gifts have been ones of effort and time, more than money. There's something so nice about knowing you have the kinds of friends who are paying attention, who understand exactly what it is that could make you feel wonderful.

So... you're up next. Got a favorite birthday surprise?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reflections on pumping

Well, here we are at 7 months, and I'm still a "full-time pumper," meaning that I use a breast pump every 3 hours. I had planned on doing it for 6 months, and to be honest, thought that was rather heroic. But then I joined an online group called "PumpMoms," and the first couple of messages I read were sobering: there were two messages from moms who had been exclusive pumpers for a year, and were writing to say they were finally calling it quits.

Damn. A year.

Well, if they could do it... I felt wimpy for stopping at 6 months. The APA recommends breastmilk for a year, so these women were determined to provide it. It was like coasting along at the end of a race, only to have someone pass you and tell you they're going to run the race again.

A personal challenge. Or peer pressure, depending on how you look at it. Either way, I decided I would try to make it to a year, too.

I can't pretend that it's fun, though. I've pumped in the oddest places-- including in the middle of a McDonald's, when the manager refused to let me into any private space at a rest stop. The car's cigarette lighter didn't work, so I was unable to use my adapter, and I was on a 5-hour trip. I had no choice but to stop somewhere to "hook up," so I seriously found myself plugging in at a crowded McDonald's with a blanket covering whatever I could. People still could see what I was up to, though.

I've also pumped at a funeral, in other people's houses, in the car...

Sometimes I feel frustrated because of my low supply-- it's really quite sad now. I just pumped for 16 minutes and got an ounce and a half. I understand that most normal women would take that as the sign that it's time to give up, but I think, "That's an ounce and a half more than she'd get if I didn't do it."

She eats solids three times a day, and usually 1-2 formula bottles, depending on how much I was able to pump that day.

The thing that gets conflicting, though, is that I want time to move faster so I can be done with pumping... but I want time to stand still so my daughter doesn't grow up too fast. Every time I catch myself counting down the days until 12 months, I have that moment of, "No! Don't even wish that!" I'm already nostalgic for her newborn days. It's already all going way too fast.

She has four teeth. Two on bottom, two on top.

She crawls up steps.

She's cruising. (Walking, holding onto furniture.)

It's all so exciting, and I wish I could make it last much longer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Recycled notebooks

For just about every book I've written, I've kept a large looseleaf notebook filled with notes, correspondence, photocopied medical studies, etc. If I kept all these notebooks on my shelves, though, they'd crowd me out of my office eventually-- so I reuse them. I have two big ones (1 1/2 inch ring binders) and two smaller ones that I keep swapping out when it's time for a new book.

It's always a strange feeling, though, tossing out the old. Each of those notebooks represents several months of my life. But when I look through them, I realize I'm done-- there's no need to hold on to a hundred newspaper articles about bullying when the book is already in bookstores. So I throw the notebook contents in the recycling bin and put a new label on the spine of the notebook... but it's still hard to do.

Only once did I regret it, and that was my Celine notebook. I still know which one it was. I replaced it with notes for another book, but every time I look at it, I think, "That's my Celine book. That's the green binder I lugged around to Vegas, the one I carried with me through the casinos and shows and hotels. The one I read and reread in the hotel hallway at 5 in the morning so I wouldn't wake anyone." I tried to distance myself from it and pretend it was just another job and that it was time to move on just the same as I always do, but I was faking it. That was an experience.

Maybe this next book will be, too. If so, I promise to let myself keep the notebook in tact for sentimental reasons.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

I had a dream of Sarina's first words

and they were, "I have to go to work."

I asked her to repeat it in the dream, and she did: "I haf-ta go to work." I was so excited that she was talking, and so sad that that's what she was saying. I knew it meant that she had heard me say that too many times.

Sometimes my dreams are really on the nose.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The whole publishing world moved

Oh, yeah, and a PS to my last post: the whole publishing world played musical chairs while I was off in babyland. Two of my favorite agents have left publishing altogether (one's opening a retail store and the other is in nursing school), one of my favorite editors moved houses and I found out only by accident, another is now a freelance writer... I know I was out of the loop for a while, but was it really that long? Who moved my cheese?

(I actually have no idea if that's an appropriate use of that phrase, seeing as I've never read the book. It just felt right.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How will I write again?

I didn't expect it to be this hard to reconcile motherhood and writing. I figured all along that I was so lucky to be in the position I'm in-- I work from home and make my own schedule, so I always thought I'd be able to continue fairly easily once baby arrived.

I've hesitated to write a post like this, because it brings up another issue bloggers face: my editors could read this. My editors could read this and think, "She's not going to be committed to her work." But for the past 7 years, I've been telling the truth about my career and what I know about publishing in the hopes that it might help other writers, and I don't want to give that up now because it's a riskier topic. So I'll tell it.

Somewhere around halfway through my pregnancy, I stopped actively looking for work. I continued the projects I was already contracted for, and took on some small work here and there, but took a "wait and see" approach to the bigger work. I didn't want to sign on for a new book before I felt secure about being able to handle it.

I've now signed on for my next book, and have offers for several others. Normally, I'd work on at least two books at a time (I've done up to four at a time, but vowed not to do that again), but not now. I want to stick to one. So I have been telling the agents and editors who call on me that I'm booked until February, which is when that next book is due. None of them balked, so I'm still in talks and deciding which project (if any) I want to take on after that.

It's an awesome position to be in. I'm sure that if I were a struggling new writer reading this, I'd hate myself and warn myself to shut up now. But the feelings of "OMG, I get paid to write all day" do fade after a while, and even though it's a great job, it is still a job. So I continue...

Lots of offers. Several that really interest me. But I'm so torn. All I really want to do is make my daughter laugh all day. That's it. Right now, I want to be asleep next to her, instead of researching on the computer. I want to be a well-rested mommy so I can always be at my best for her.

We can't make it on one salary, though, so there isn't much of a choice: I do have to go back to work. My total earnings in the last seven months are about $200 for a couple of reprints. (I am waiting for other checks to arrive from more recent work, but I've depleted my savings paying the bills.) The question becomes how much work to take on, how soon, and how to figure out completely new time management.

Used to be that I'd work 16-hour days much of the time, especially as deadlines came nearer. I didn't have to worry about scheduling interviews far in advance; I could basically tell people that I could be ready whenever they wanted. Now I need advance warning, and I need to make sure Anthony or my mom is around to watch Sarina while I'm on the phone.

Wouldn't be a big deal if it was an occasional thing, but for a biographer, phone interviews take up a lot of time. And you really can't say, "Let me call you back... the baby needs a bottle" more than once.

The unpredictability of naps is tough to work around, too. I'm so used to sitting at the computer for hours, checking e-mails and Absolute Write and whatever before settling in to do whatever writing needed to be done. Then I'd have the liberty to "get in the groove" and write all night long. Now I may have 15 minutes in a stretch where baby is napping, I've finished the dishes and the pumping, and I'm hoping she doesn't wake up before I've come up with at least one new paragraph.

By the time I have another 15 minutes, the groove is blown, I've forgotten what I wanted to write next, and I lose hope of ever finishing anything.

I'm in this uncertain place, and it makes me edgy. I don't like not having a handle on my time, not feeling sure that I can work out a schedule that'll work on my short deadline. I have to do it, yet I worry that I might screw this up. I want to give 100 percent of my attention to my daughter, but writing a major book in 4 months is going to take a lot more than 0 percent of my attention.

And what if I get it done, but nearly lose my marbles in the process? I'll already be committed to one or more other books after that, no break in between. On the one hand, that's a good feeling because it makes me feel secure that we'll be able to afford what we need, but on the other, it makes me feel trapped on the same overachieving wheel that landed me with a panic disorder a decade ago.

I wrote an article last night. It felt good. Maybe it's just going to take some small "mommy steps" to get me back to a semblance of balance again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More lead paint toy recalls

I can't believe this is happening again, but it is. Parents, if you haven't already, check out this handy toy recall finder. Mattel has announced its third recall this summer for lead paint in children's toys. This time it's Barbie accessories, Geo Trax locomotive toys, and Big, Big World 6-in-1 Bongo Band drums.

I was blissfully unaware of how poorly regulated products for children are until I had a baby of my own. Now I'm just mad. Bottles, sippy cups, and breast pumps that leach toxic chemicals (BPA) into baby's milk, botullism in baby food, lead paint in toys... Sarina's just 6 months old, and these things have all happened just since she's been born.

Mums The Word is collecting comments to send to the FDA, and they're promoting Natural Pod, a company that manufactures wooden and natural textile toys and clothing for babies and kids.

I hope this is the end of the lead paint recalls. Somehow I fear there's much more to come.

Babywearing sling contest

Ooooh, I so want to win this. If you do, too, hurry on over before 10:00 tonight. It's a Strawberry Fields Forever sling from Rockin' Baby, and the contest is here.

And in keeping with the theme, here's a new Sarina-n-me pic with our wrap on.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

4 major milestones in 5 days

Clearly, the child is going to be the sort who needs the gauntlet to be thrown down before she acts.

As if to mock my second to last post, she has decided to hit all her milestones at once (like astonwest's niece).

Three days before her 6-month birthday, she sat up by herself. No real warning. I didn't think she was ready to do it. But she did it-- and then stuck her arms in the air and bellowed "Aaahhhhhh!" in a victory cry.

Two days later, she started kneeling.

The next day, she stood up in her crib (and gave Mom a case of the vapors. Mom was about to get in the shower, saw vertical legs in the video monitor, and ran in to see what was going on-- promptly scaring the heck out of the poor baby, who bit down hard on the crib rail that she was gumming).

Today, she crawled.

She crawled! At Aunt Michelle and future Uncle Jimmy's house. She had been in a crabby mood most of the day, but made up for it about an hour before we went home, when she began crawling to reach her beloved blue cow.

So, life is pretty exciting around here right now. I tried to post a laughing video in that last post, but it uploaded all night and never went through. I'll work on that for next time. Meanwhile, have another cutie pic:

Sunday, September 02, 2007

An incomplete list of things that make my baby laugh

1. When I touch her nose and shout, "BOOP!"
2. When I talk like Donald Duck.
3. When I lie on my back and put her on my knees and help her "fly."
4. When I kiss her feet.
5. When I raspberry or kiss her belly.
6. When I whisper "shooshooshooshoo" and turn my head back and forth (um, maybe you have to see this one in person. It's a laugh riot).
7. When Anthony sings "Cotton Eyed Joe."
8. When she's sucking her pacifier and I pretend to suck the handle end.
9. When I imitate the way she grabs my face and slobbers on my cheek.
10. When I use hand puppets.
11. When I lie behind the cat and pretend the cat is saying "BEEP."
12. When I kiss from cheek to cheek as fast as I can a quazillion times.
13. When I slap my face like the Home Alone poster.
14. When I make it look like any toy is flying toward her nose.
15. When I quietly pop up on the side of her crib, surprising her.
16. When I move her around in a circle, imitating a ferris wheel.
17. The vowel sound "eee."
18. Whenever the cat looks her in the eye.
19. When Anthony plays the "tent game," where he drops a sheet over her and lifts it off (making a quasi-tent) over and over.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stalled on the milestones

Sarina was so ahead of schedule for her first three months-- she was holding in her own pacifier on day three, reliably flipping over from back to front and holding up her head by month three, vocalizing, holding on to toys, and so on-- that nothing could have surprised me. Walking and speaking in full sentences by six months? Sure.

By month four, when she was rocking back and forth and hurling herself around the room by dragging her head while she quasi-crawled, we all took bets on how much longer it would be until she really crawled. My bet was three more days; no one bet longer than two weeks. But here we are, closing in on six months, and she's actually made no progress since then.

She also makes exactly the same vocalizations as she did at three months. No consonants. Just a steady stream of "ahhhh"s and "eh"s and the occasional "ooh." She doesn't sit up well, even with pillows. She doesn't "razz" or mimic my faces. (On the other hand, she does go after her toys, laughs at all sorts of things, and other good stuff.)

None of this concerned me until I began reading about developmental milestones again and realized that she's no longer ahead of the game, but maybe even a little behind in some areas. Now, before anyone reassures me, I know full well that there's nothing to fear if a baby doesn't hit all the milestones at the "prescribed" times and that there's a wide range of normal. I'm sure she's fine. It just strikes me as a little odd to realize that she hasn't made much progress in two months. I would have assumed that an early developer would remain an early developer, a late developer would remain a late developer, and so on.

One of my new favorite pics:

Monday, August 20, 2007

New baby pics, and the lump

Dawno asked for them. And what Dawno wants, Dawno gets. (I fear her sparkly powers.)

















And this one's for psychic Amy Derby, who predicted a few posts ago that Sarina would crawl backwards first. The next day, I took this:
















Yep, that's Sarina stuck under the couch. How she accomplished that is beyond me.

More photos coming soon.

Oh, and by the way, no one ever told me how absolutely tear-your-heart-out miserable it is when your child gets her first injury... on your watch. Sarina is still trying her darnedest to crawl, and she's very mobile now (even if the crawling isn't technically accurate). She sort of just hurls herself forward, dragging her head most of the time. Or she gets up all the way with her butt in the air, leans forward, flops down, and repeats until she reaches the desired toy.

Like this:

Anyway, she was doing this and getting too close to her Pack & Play, so I was spotting her and putting my hand over the plastic bottom piece. Then she suddenly changed course, decided to try to sit up, and smacked her head on the side of the Pack & Play higher than where my hand was protecting.

Almost immediately, a red lump formed on her forehead. A big one. And I wanted to flog myself a thousand times. I was melted bubble gum on the bottom of someone's shoe.

Thank goodness, she was fine and the lump mostly went away within a few hours. But now I want to cover the entire house in foam and cotton balls. (No, no, cotton balls are a choking hazard. I'd have to sew them all together and cover them in foam.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Courageous Blogging Award

Thanks to my friend Dawn Colclasure at Palms to Pines, who recently gave me the Courageous Blogging award. I now get the honor of passing it on, which I am about to do.




I hereby bequeath this award to three lovely ladies:

The first goes to Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, because they kick ass. It's no easy matter sticking your neck out to protect writers the way they do every day. Thanks, literary superheroes.

The second goes to Meryl K. Evans, who has a Bionic Ear Blog, where she detailed her progress when she got a cochlear implant, and has since blogged about CI issues in general there. I found it very interesting reading, and have always been glad she gave us a chance to take that personal journey with her.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Martinis with Mandy Moore

All last week, I called in to a radio station to win tickets to an event where Mandy Moore would sing a few songs, then mingle with the crowd signing autographs and answering questions. The event was called "Martinis with Mandy." I was so goofy with excitement when I won that the DJ asked me how old I was, because he was pretty sure I was a kid who could not drink martinis with Mandy.

Yeah, my voice does that. I have to consciously NOT sound like a 12-year-old, particularly when I'm excited. I don't have a high-pitched voice, but for whatever reason, it sounds young. This is one of the reasons I'm wary of doing radio interviews. But anyway.

I've admired Mandy Moore since A Walk to Remember. Didn't know her early albums, which is apparently a good thing, because she thinks they were pretty lousy. Her latest, though, Wild Hope, is a folk album. That's my stuff.

So today was the big day and I, of course, brought my brother-- best audience member in the world. Unfortunately, several things went wrong. The place was hot and there were no chairs, and we stood for two full hours waiting for the show to start. One of those hours was because the radio people told us to come early so they could check IDs and such, and the other hour was because Mandy's flight was delayed and she came straight to us from the airport. It seemed she must have had someplace else to go right afterward, too, because she was there for only half an hour and then jetted out the door. The people from the radio station said that she'd sign stuff for all of us and we could pick it up at the station next week; I guess whoever did the scheduling made it all too close for comfort.

She took a few group photos before she sang, then did four songs from the new album (I loved Gardenia). She's beautiful in person, and her voice sounded super. Wish we had gotten to speak with her, but it was still nice to see her in such an intimate setting (a small room with maybe 70 people in the audience. We were right up front).

Here's the group shot-- I trimmed it down, but there's still someone I don't know in there (hi, person! Hope you don't mind being on my blog!). The photo on top of this post is one of the few clear photos I took. Don't know why I'm doomed to take fuzzy pictures whenever it's important.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

We interrupt this blog with an important message...

She's sleeping through the niiiiiight! Extra exclamation points all around!!! O joyous day!

This is her, practicing her pout.



I'm still staying up half the night, though, because I have several more books to read for the Writer's Digest Self-Published Books competition in the next couple of weeks. I guess I thought I was a faster reader than I am; it's taking me a long time to get through them. It's worth it, though. I really like the idea that at least one book is going to get plucked out of relative obscurity and get some big attention. I interviewed a fellow a couple of years back who won the contest and wound up with a 2-book deal with-- HarperCollins, I think. I keep hoping the big winner will be one of the ones in my pile, though the odds of that are low (there are thousands of entries; I'm reading about 65 of them).

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Motherhood and Patronizing Twits

I'll tell you the single most frustrating thing I've encountered as a new mom: hand-washing and the arguments that ensue over it.

No, seriously.

As I've learned in various places, one of the most important things you can do to protect a baby is to make sure that anyone who handles her washes his or her hands first. So I do my best to uphold that. And I'm sad to say that after four months, I'm still having the same arguments with people. I have no idea what's so difficult or traumatic about hand-washing, but there are people-- in my family-- who are determined never to do it. And who manage to seem freshly shocked each time I ask for it. (What? I'm supposed to wash my hands? I washed them last week when I came to visit! Isn't that good enough?)

There are also people who can't seem to resist saying patronizing things after hearing me ask someone to wash his or her hands. The most common one is:

I can tell you're a first-time mom.

or

It's because she's your first.

No, it's because I'd rather not have your fecal matter on my daughter, thanks. And even if she were my 16th child, I promise you I'd still want you to wash your hands before holding her.

I hereby vow not to ever become complacent about basic hygiene rules that could keep a baby safe, no matter how many kids I get to have. I wish that was just a given, and that I wouldn't have to tell people that. I'm really surprised to learn that so many people think it's so overly protective to ask for simple hand-washing. (Oh, and if I hear the tired old excuses about how the baby needs to get smothered in germs so she can develop her immune system one more time, I'll whack someone with my diaper bag.)

P.S. Sara, no way am I showing off my bald spots. But here's a fun one from today where you really can't tell what my hair looks like...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hair Today

There's a lot of stuff no one tells you about pregnancy until it's too late. I have run headlong into the latest one this week: somewhere around month 3 of your baby's life, YOU GO FRICKIN' BALD.

I had learned that you lose hair after giving birth, but thought that was no big deal because you actually hold onto a lot of hair during pregnancy, making it super-full. I had great pregnancy hair. Only fair to lose it afterwards, I figured. But no. I'm not just losing the extra hair I gained. I have two actual, factual bald spots now, right above my temples. The rest of my hair is breaking and looks horribly damaged and thin all of a sudden, so I went ahead and did the cliched thing-- I got a "mom cut." I didn't mean to. The stylist actually apologized while cutting it. And it looks... bad.

That's the sad thing about hair-- it takes so long to grow it back if you want it long (and I do). I need to cut it even shorter to get past the damaged parts, but it would take at least a year and a half to get it back to where it was a few weeks ago (halfway down my back).

Ah, well. Maybe bald spots will get trendy...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Mail Woes

This is one of those deflating moments you never really think about when you're in the honeymoon stage of book publishing-- you know, the time between when you sign the contract and the first month or so after the book comes out. Those months are so full of possibilities. Then, there you are five years later with an unearned-out advance and a statement showing that you've managed to lose money in the last 6 months.

How, you ask? Simple: the number of returns exceed the number of sales.

"Returns" doesn't mean that a customer returned the book. It means that the book was sitting around on the bookstore shelf and someone who works in the bookstore finally decided it was just taking up space there and probably would never sell, so they get to return it to the publisher for full credit at any time. I guess some of those stores have been hanging onto the book for the full five years. Nice of them, really.

Anyway, there does come a point-- maybe after the first two or three royalty cycles-- where you pretty well figure out whether you're ever going to earn out. If so, then the countdown begins. You think to yourself, "Cool! I just have $340 to go before I start getting royalty checks." And you predict when that'll happen, and you fantasize about how big the check might be and for how many years you'll get to sit back and collect on the title. But if you realize it's never going to earn out, then it just feels mean for them to keep sending you statements. It's like a quarterly or biannual reminder of your failure. By about the fifth statement, you just want to say, "Okay, I get the point already! Quit rubbing it in."

"Earn out" days are always glorious, even when the checks aren't very big, because they represent the potential for lots more checks. I should probably knock on wood before I say this, but none of my books are out of print yet. Nonfiction has a longer shelf life than fiction, in most cases. So some of them have been earning modest royalties for me for several years.

But alas, today. Today the mail just taunted me, showing me that not only would I never earn out on this particular title, but that I had managed to go backward instead of forward, "owing" the publisher more money than last time. (I put "owing" in quotation marks because you don't actually pay back the publisher if the title doesn't sell enough to cover the advance. But they do show you in each statement how far you have to go to "pay back" the advance before you begin getting additional payments.)

Luckily, I accidentally sold a reprint yesterday, which cushioned the blow somewhat. Reprints are the other great bonus in a writer's life. You don't have to actually do anything except send the article out again (or, in this case, not even that-- the editor contacted me instead of the other way around), and presto: a free check. Cool, huh?

Friday, June 22, 2007

If I'm back to my pre-preg weight, why am I still fat?

I'm actually two pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight, yet there's still this jolly little belly hanging around. I had refused to buy jeans in a bigger size because I was sure I'd be back to normal soon enough, but I gave in yesterday. Now I have fatty jeans. I also ordered a corset on eBay. What, me exercise? Pfaw!

So it's been three and a half months since I became Momma Jenna, and I still can't get anything done. The advice I got most often when I was pregnant was, "Sleep when the baby sleeps." As I think I mentioned a few posts ago, that's not always possible when you're a "pumper." When she sleeps, I break out the breast pump. Then I have to wash it and get the bottles ready for the next time. And even though it sounds lovely to follow the advice of all the magazines that say things like, "The dishes can wait! Just take a nap!", they can't always wait. Eventually, you run out of things to eat on.

So the practical truth is that I don't nap. Pretty much ever. I need those times when she's sleeping to do things like eat, shower, fold stuff... I'm really not working yet. I am very, very slowly adding to a book I began about halfway through my pregnancy, and I'm about to be a judge for the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards, which means I have a lot of reading to do over the next month or two. But that's it for now.

I have no idea how other moms do it, especially those who have more than one child. If I'm this exhausted caring for one baby, how in the world do people do this when they have two, three, or more little ones underfoot? Do they just never sleep at all?

I'm not one to admit this lightly, but the sleep deprivation is getting to me. It's not making me love this fantastic little lovebug any less, but it's making me grouchy overall. I haven't had a full night's sleep since about the second trimester (when I started having to wake up to use the bathroom sixty-five times a night).

On the plus side, we found a pediatrician who seems so warm and kind. And I've figured out a new way to make Sarina crack up (jazz hands over her head, while we look in the mirror). Good God, parents, you all knew this secret all along... hearing your baby laugh is the BEST THING EVAHHH! There is just nothing in this world that I've ever heard or seen that compares. It's the proof that life is good. When she smiles or laughs, the whole world could be exploding around me and I wouldn't notice. I'd just be grinning like an idiot and making Muppet faces at her.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New Pictures of the Greatest Baby on the Planet

First off, you'll be thrilled to hear, I'm sure, that the day after I posted my reviews, we picked up a pack of Pampers Swaddlers and haven't looked back. What a huge difference! The blowout ratio has gone way down and Mommy doesn't feel like retching nearly as often.

We also got a new (well, new to us) swing for her on Craigslist. It's the Fisher-Price Ocean Wonders Aquarium one, and boy, is it nice. She looks so comfy in it, and is very interested in the lights and mobile.

But you really just want to see the pictures, don't you? Can't blame you. Here you go!





Monday, June 04, 2007

Baby product roundup: The best, the worst

First off, she's doing great. Still growing at an unbelievable rate (she's 3 months old and now the size of an average 6-month-old). Not sleeping through the night yet, though I hear rumors that this honestly reallyo trulio will happen one day ("Someday my sleep will come..."). Drooling a whole lot. Smiling and laughing. Making her mom melt.

There are two main comments people make when meeting her:
1. She's huge! and
2. She's so fair!

Both of these are surprises, as we're short and Italian. Well, Anthony's half Polish, which is where we assume the fair complexion and light hair comes from. She still lacks eyebrows, too. She looks darker in most photographs than she is, so I'll have to find one that's truer to life. She's the only person in the world who can make ME look tan (I'm mostly translucent).

And now for our product roundup.

While I was pregnant, I joined a pregnancy board where women talked about their "must-have" products for newborns. The top 3 things most moms mentioned were (a) a bouncer, (b) a swing, and (c) the Miracle Blanket. That hasn't held up for me, aside from maybe the Miracle Blanket. Maybe.

Sarina never took to her bouncer, and she's iffy about the Fisher-Price swing. Sometimes she stays in it, but she often fusses after about 10 minutes and wants out. It doesn't seem very comfortable; it's not cushiony. The Miracle Blanket was helpful for about a month, but she soon proved her Houdini Baby capability and managed to squiggle her way out of it every night.

But there are certainly other products I've loved, and a few I loathe. Here they are, not in much of an order.


The Best


The Moby Wrap Baby Carrier: Really just a long piece of slightly stretchy fabric and an instruction manual, this wrap allows me to walk around freely while holding Sarina. It took me 5 minutes to learn how to use it, and she was shorty asleep in my arms. I thought the Baby Bjorn was great until I got this-- big difference. The Bjorn is faster to use (it takes me about 3-4 minutes to get Sarina wrapped right into the Moby each time, versus about a minute for the Bjorn), but it isn't soft, and there are plastic clips and ties and things that could pinch her. The Moby is just fabric. And people really are fascinated by it. The one I have is the one in the picture (in indigo). I plan to splurge soon and get it in another color, too. You kind of need a backup unless you do laundry every 7 seconds.

-Fisher-Price Melodies & Lights Deluxe Gym (also known as the Rainforest Activity Gym): She has adored this since she was just a couple of weeks old. She gets fascinated by different toys each time, but primarily loves to watch the red and yellow lights blink on and off. It's a brightly colored apparatus with things that crinkle, rattle, and spin, plus the ubiquitous mirror. The music is withstandable even after the 100th time it repeats.

-Gerber Nuk Newborn Pacifiers: The only kind she even mildly likes. Small and shaped right for her to hold onto.

-Dr. Brown's Natural Flow Newborn Feeding Set: Definitely noticed an improvement in fussiness after we started using these. No drop-ins to burst (Playtex), no leaks (Vent Aire-- ugh!). A pain in the butt to have to wash the two extra thingamafreds each time, but worth it. Stock up on the skinny brushes that come with the spongy bottle brushes.

-Precious Moments mobile: One of the first things she ever smiled at, this one gets her all excited. Only problem is that it's a wind-up that lasts only about a minute, so I have to stand there winding and winding again.

-Playtex Embrace Breast Pump System: I'm a "full time" pumper, every 2 1/2 hours for the past 3 months, and this is what gets me through. When I researched pumps originally, I was torn because the double electric pumps like this were expensive (to my mind), but reviewers all said that the manual pumps and the single electric ones were pretty frustrating or worthless. So my aunt bought me the Playtex Embrace, and I felt a bit greedy, getting such an expensive piece of machinery for what I assumed I'd need only for rare occasions. Then came the breastfeeding problems, and I unexpectedly needed to use a pump 6 or 7 times daily, and was SOOOOooooOOoooOO glad I didn't go for something cheaper. A belt broke a couple weeks ago and the company sent me a new unit overnight.

-The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD: A lot of filler on the DVD, but the "shushing" and head jiggling techniques worked for us.

-Laura Ashley stroller and car seat (travel system): Pretty, easy to fold and unfold, easy to push around, comfortable for her... very happy with this.

-Prince Lionheart Ultimate Wipes Warmer: Nothing's too good for our baby's butt. Doesn't dry out the wipes, and has worked well.

-Prince Lionheart Complete Drying Station: I keep this next to the sink. Everything fits on it, and it keeps my counter neat and dry.

The Worst

-Diaper Genie II: You have to stick your hand in to push down the diapers and wipes each time, really smushing them in there... which, as you might imagine, gets gross. My parents bought the Baby Trend Diaper Champ for their house. We haven't used it enough for me to be sure if it keeps all the stink away, but it's about a million times nicer to use as far as not having to stick your hands in poop to get rid of the diapers (and you don't need to buy special bags-- you can even use grocery bags).

-My Brest Friend breastfeeding pillow: Someone recommended this to me, but I can't figure out why. It's more expensive than the Boppy, it's hard, it's cumbersome, and you have to fasten yourself into it each time. Didn't fit us right. If I had it to do over, I wish I'd have bought a Boppy instead.

-Little Einstein music CDs: Earplugs just aren't strong enough.

-Mother's Milk tea: Had the opposite of its intended effect on me.

-Fisher-Price Aquarium Bath Center: She hated the hammock thingee, and was pretty much too big for it from birth (read: not good for tall babies). It's also a pain to get the hammock part clean. Now she's in the main part of the tub, but there's a plastic hump that falls in the wrong place for her, and she tries to stand up when it makes her uncomfortable. Egads. I'm always soaked and frazzled after trying to bathe her. I plan to buy a different tub soon.

-Huggies Gentle Care diapers: You've never seen a diaper blowout until you've seen what Sarina can accomplish when wearing these horrible, horrible diapers. I mean, poop everywhere. And I had to be dumb enough to put one on her before putting her in the car seat. I'm going to be cleaning poop out of the car until 2026. (Hey, can anyone recommend a really good diaper? So far the best of the lot for us is Pampers Baby Dry, but she still has about a 50% blowout rate.)