Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Best Handmade Stuff I Own

These are a few of my favorite handmade things...


Soon after Sarina was born, I bought a photo pendant of her to wear on my necklace every day. Unfortunately, it fell apart. The silver stem fell out of it, and the finish on the photo itself was sticky and got dirty. Lots of sellers handmake these types of photo pendants, but not all of them know what they're doing. I went through four sellers-- I think-- before finding the one who I will (heart) forever and ever.

I found Rebecca Shaw on etsy. About every three months, I get a new pendant from her... and they keep turning out better and better. She's a perfectionist (like me), so I always know they're going to be cut and finished just right. And even better, she does these for just $9, plus $1.75 shipping and handling. A real labor of love.

Everywhere I go, people stop and ask me where I got my necklace. I actually asked Rebecca to send me business cards with one of my orders, and I ran out of them.

Makes a great gift for moms, grandmas, aunts, and so on. Just visit her at www.love-to-clay.com and request a custom order.


It's Linda Formichelli's fault that I got into handmade soap. She sent me some as a gift, and ever since then, I can't bring myself to go back to the commercial stuff. Good handmade soap is so much richer, more moisturizing, and nicer smelling than the stuff you'll find in big stores.

The very best I've found is also on etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/MartinsvilleEmporium

Martinsville Emporium makes amazing cold process soaps. Try their sampler pack. My favorite scents of theirs are Ginger Lime and Sugared Lime (see the trend?). They stay ever so lightly on your skin, and my skin never feels dry and tight the way it used to with commercial soaps.


I was trying to find an original thing to give my sister last Christmas-- something that could be inscribed with a message, but not the usual suspects at the silver kiosk in the mall. I stumbled onto a brand new etsy shop called Lacewood:


And I had a spoon made. And I was tickled pink. The artisan went back and forth with me to create the perfect gift-- and I'm fairly sure it remains her strangest request. When Sarina was just a year and a half old, she used to wake up many mornings and talk about whether she thought her "Aunt Peeka" was happy or sad that day. One day, she woke up and said, "Maybe Aunt Peeka is happy today because she has fruit snacks and a duck."

It was so extraordinary that I had to capture it forever on a wooden spoon. So Akire made a spoon with flying fruit snacks and a sun on one side, and a rubber ducky and more fruit on the back, with the words written on the handle and the back of the spoon. I'm not sure if you have to be signed in to Facebook to see this-- let me know. Here's the front of the spoon:


and here's the back:


I hope its awesomeness is self-explanatory.


During the lead paint freak-out of 2007-8 (which, by the way, is still ongoing), I wanted a way for my daughter to be able to play with pretend foods, without having to worry about chemicals in plastic or wood sets. So it was etsy to the rescue again, this time: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Creativetouches1.

I bought a really well-made fruit set that's still holding up just fine. Great on the mornings that Sarina decides she's going to make breakfast.

Disclaimer: No, I ain't shillin'. These sellers don't even know I'm writing this. I just think that the world should know about craftspeople who make awesome things.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Imagine you were 18 years old, riding on the back of a pick-up truck as you worked a summer landscaping job with your friends. You're about to go off to college, and this is your last summer all together as a group. Then the unthinkable happens.

Your pick-up truck collides with an 18-wheeler. You're launched out of the back and thrown onto the road, where your leg gets trapped and you get dragged 324 feet along the asphalt.That's what happened to Scott Rigsby, who lost both of his legs as a result of that accident.

For many years, Scott was lost and depressed, and couldn't figure out a purpose for his life. Then, while browsing at a bookstore, he saw two physically challenged athletes on the covers of magazines. Inspiration took hold, and in 2007, Scott became the first-ever double-amputee to complete the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon... yes, the one that's televised every year on NBC. It's a crazy physical challenge that even most able-bodied athletes can't complete. But Scott felt something telling him that God wanted him to do this. He made history, and broke down barriers for other physically challenged people, showing them that sometimes the "impossible" is possible.

Scott and I wrote a book together, Unthinkable, and it's in stock now on Amazon. The book has a lot of heart, and I think it's of interest whether you're into triathlons or not. At its core, it's a story about faith and overcoming the odds. I sure hope you'll read it and let us know what you think. We're eagerly waiting for our first review.


Monday, August 31, 2009

The proof that my child is better than I am

"Mommy, can we find some more of my toys to give away to babies who don't have any?"

She wins.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Conversations with my 2-year-old


"I got a cut on my finger ankle." (Also known as the knuckle.)


"Mommy, what are some of the situations when we might feel exasperated face?"
"Well, if we wanted to color, but all our markers were dried out, we might feel exasperated."
"And if we came home and found out that Kira ate our whole house, we might feel exasperated."
"Well... yes. Yes, we definitely would."


"Mommy, if you did poopies in your diaper, I would change you."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Holy Pineapples, I Own a Dyson

It started about 10 years ago, when I became a homeowner for the first time. I inherited my grandparents' old Electrolux canister vacuum-- which worked just fine, but was a serious pain to lug around and vaguely smelly, and by the end, was being held together with duct tape. May it rest in peace.

What I had heard was that there was this magical vacuum called a Dyson that made people-- otherwise sane people-- actually like vacuuming. It was the strangest thing I'd ever read. First I figured they were members of Mr. Dyson's immediate family, but it was just too widespread. His family would have to be speed-typing insomniacs to write all those reviews.

How in the world could anyone actually write out loud that they LIKE vacuuming?, thought I. And it went even further than that; people actually wrote words like "I love my vacuum!" and "Vacuuming is fun now!" It was just crazy enough that I decided then and there that someday I had to own a Dyson.

A neighbor got one. I coveted it from afar.

It became a status thing in my mind. One day, when I was very, very rich, I was going to buy a Hawaiian island... and a Dyson.

Problem was, then I became a single mom to a toddler and Dysonland seemed even farther away. I bought a very cheap, but well-reviewed Hoover for my new place, and I tried so darn hard to like the beast. There HAD to be a reason why other people liked it, but I couldn't figure it out. The thing clogged every single time I used it, and I wound up spending more time taking it apart, poking wiry things through the hose, re-vacuuming after knocking the dust out, etc. than any human should ever spend on any cleaning activity.

One of the main problems was that I have fairly new carpets that are still shedding, and the cheap vacuum could not handle that at all. Each time I used it, I imagined it crying out to me, "For God's sake, woman! I cost $60! What did you expect of me?"

That's where Dyson stepped in... and sent me a vaccuum to review.

*cue: clouds parting. Insert sounds of Hallelujah chorus here*

What they sent me was this:

It is the Dyson DC25 Animal, their latest Ball vacuum.

I believe that this vacuum and I were meant to be together, and it has taken destiny this long to make it happen because destiny is a putz. Where were you last year, destiny?

The first time I used it, I had to empty the canister literally every room (and I had vacuumed using El Cheapo Piece of Junko about three days earlier). There were entire cats in that canister. It is so oddly satisfying SEEING the junk in your carpet in a clear canister rather than having it all hidden away in a bag, where one can only wonder what disgustingness might have lurked.

So, yeah, it took care of the cat hair and the shedding carpet. And it's lightweight and very manueverable: the ball means that you can turn it any which way you want while you're pushing this thing around. It's a very neat feature.

Then comes the coolest part for me: it's certified asthma-friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. I'm lucky enough to be blessed with both asthma and allergies, and vacuuming has been a particular nightmare this allergy season. It has always seemed that my vacuums kicked up more stuff than they took care of. Not so with the Dyson, which has a lifetime HEPA filer that traps allergens.

The wand attachment is built right into the handle-- you just open a cap on top and the wand extends out from there. Very simple.

There are no bags to worry about, and it's easy to empty and put back together. The handle is ergonomic, and there's no need to change settings when switching from bare floors to carpet. The machine just knows.

Also, it's freakin' purple.

There are three details I'd love to see improved: 1. a larger canister, 2. a little more room to maneuver the wand-- it's kind of awkward as is, and 3. a retractable cord. All corded things in life should have retractable cords. Cords are very cordy.

Even soulmates, however, are not expected to be perfect. My love for my Dyson is unconditional and everlasting. I (heart) U, DC25 Animal.

But as far as the whole "Vacuuming is fun now" thing goes? Well, let's not get crazy. Let us draw the line at "significantly more tolerable than ever before."


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'll tell you what's a little surreal...

...to see something about Nick Markowitz on TMZ. I tend to forget that this is a "media-interest" case because it's become very personal to me. But it was a movie, and stuff that gets made into movies... winds up on TMZ, I suppose.

It's just an odd clashing of cultures. I watch TMZ and other such entertainment shows from time to time when I need to completely turn off my brain and feel jealous of some celebrity in a bikini, or feel smug because I have my life put together better than Amy Winehouse and have not yet had my nose fractured by walking into scenery at the Tony awards. I check in on Brangelina's brood and find out what antics Richard Simmons is up to.

I don't go there to find out about a 15-year-old murder victim. And when I saw an online caption, I secretly worried-- were they going to say something tasteless as usual? Nope-- just the quick facts about Jesse James Hollywood's guilty verdict. What a relief. Same with the other entertainment sites; they mostly just reported it straight, aside from a little discussion about how none of this would have happened if Jesse James Hollywood had a name like George Smith.

The Honoring Nick Markowitz Facebook group is closing in on 1000 members in just about 2 weeks. I'm so glad it's bringing his family some happiness to see that people are remembering Nick.


Thursday, July 09, 2009


The last picture taken of Nick Markowitz

Today, a jury convicted Jesse James Hollywood of first degree murder and kidnapping.

This conviction comes nine years after the crime: the murder of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz.

He will be sentenced next week, and the only options are life in prison, or the death penalty.

Given those options, I can say just one thing:


All the way on the opposite end of the country from the courtroom in California, I couldn't be there. Instead, I stayed on the computer, with 85 tabs open so I could refresh, refresh, refresh every potential source that might break the news first. A woman on the Honoring Nick Markowitz group announced it first... I cried when I saw the word "Guilty."

Nick's parents, Susan and Jeff, have had to wait nine long years to talk about this publicly; all that time, either a judge or the DA's office had asked them to remain silent. There were four other trials before this one, all resulting in convictions. The shooter, Ryan Hoyt, is on death row. The gag order will be lifted as soon as the sentence is pronounced. It will mark the final trial, the final step in the quest for justice for Nick.

Now they get to move on to the rest of their lives. Now that the "justice" part is done, they get to honor Nick's memory without the constant weight of courtroom trials hanging over them. I'm not sure that Susan even knows what "normal" feels like anymore-- I hope it's a time of positive rediscovery for her.

Sharlene Martin is representing the book deal for Susan's story. I'm hopeful that we'll have the manuscript finished in a few months. You'd think that this would be such a depressing subject to write about, but Susan is such an upbeat and funny person that it makes it much easier. Even though I make her talk about difficult things a lot, we still spend most of our conversations laughing.

I'm just thrilled to have a bit of my faith restored in the justice system. The jury got it.

So in case any of them read this post at some point, I want to thank the person who informed police about Jesse's whereabouts in Brazil, the DA's office, the detectives who were there in the courtroom nine years later, the victim's advocate who has been so good to Susan, Susan and Jeff's family and friends who've been there with them in court and in spirit, and everyone who works to keep Nick's memory alive.

I hope today brings you all a sense of peace.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Honoring Nick Markowitz

Several months ago, Susan Markowitz contacted me to ask if I'd help her write her memoir. Her only son, Nick, was kidnapped and murdered when he was 15 years old. This was the basis of the movie Alpha Dog, which starred Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis. After seeing the movie and reading about her story, I knew this could be the most important book I'd ever write.

Susan spent several years in and out of mental hospitals and attempting suicide. As she explained it, each time she told her story in a group, suddenly everyone else realized they didn't have any real problems. Susan's first letter came to me one day after I was in court fighting for custody of my daughter, and I was very down. It was as if God was flicking me in the head and saying, "Here's some perspective for you."

I hate that Susan has to be that perspective. But nine years after losing her son, she is remarkably strong and put together, and ready to do great things.

This week marked the end of the murder trial of Jesse James Hollywood. Jesse was a drug dealer who had a falling out with Nick's half-brother, Ben. He and his cronies snatched Nick for revenge, and held onto him for three days before executing him and buring him in a shallow grave on a hiking trail in California.

After Nick's body was found, Jesse ran off to Brazil. The other kidnappers and murderers were caught and convicted, but Jesse stayed on the run for 5 years before someone turned him in for the reward money. While in Brazil, he fathered a child, believing he could not be extradited if he had a Brazilian-born child.

The trial lasted a month and a half, and it's in the jury's hands right now.

I created a Facebook group to honor Nick and to provide a place for people to show support for his family. I'd love it if you'd join: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=99705960901

We just accepted a book deal from Berkley and will have details soon about when the book should be released. I hope to do it justice, because I think this is a story that might just change a lot of lives.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

I gardened.

Why does no one use the past tense of the verb "garden?" Seriously. No one says, "I gardened today." Everyone says, "I did some gardening today." Well, because I am a linguistic rebel, I shall tell you that I gardened.

And what I did when I gardened should truly astound and impress you, enough that I expect at least a few "ooohs" and "ahhhs" at the end of this post.

I removed a shrub using nothing but a pair of old kitchen scissors and my bare hands.

This is the shrub.

These are the scissors.

These are my bare hands.

While I was performing this undeniably astounding feat (don't deny it, you denier), some form of beetle crashed into my ear, so hard that it drew blood, which I did not notice until I tried to pull my hair into a ponytail later and wondered how I got blood all over my ear. Furthermore proving, of course, just how much of an action-adventure heroine I am becoming.

I am considering retitling this blog "Adventures of One Bad-Ass Momma." But I so rarely curse, and "Bad-Butt" lacks the proper punch.


Monday, April 27, 2009

She learned her "l" and that makes me sad

You remember how, just a few posts ago, I said my favorite part of the song "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" was when Sarina sang "I'm never gonna stop the rain by compwaining?" Well, without even warning me, she decided to start pronouncing her "l"s correctly now, so it's "complaining." It took all I had not to tell her she was saying it wrong and should go back to saying "compwaining." Darn you, progress! Darn you to heck!

Her new favorite is when I sing "Anything You Want (You Got It)" to her. The other day, my dad said "You can have anything you want" when asking her what she wanted for a snack, and she said, "Roy Orbison sings that."

But one of my new favorite Sarina moments came when we went to what was supposed to be a consignment sale at a community center, but when we got there, all the doors were locked. I had her in a carrier, facing me. I spotted a dad and young boy playing ball in the field nearby, and told Sarina that we'd go ask them if they knew what was going on. When we were about 20 feet away, she turned herself around and called out-- I swear--

"Excuse me! There seems to be a problem. We are lost in the parking lot, and every single door is locked."

She just turned 2.

And I've heard it said before, but I'm only just experiencing for myself the way you will say things as a parent that you cannot imagine ever saying in any other context, such as yesterday's topper: "I cannot paint your toenails if you keep sticking cheese between your toes."

How I entertained myself before her birth remains a mystery to me.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

If I were to lose my ability to write

...here are the jobs I could do instead:

-Personal sticker applicator. I am tremendous at applying decals to things that need decals. I got this train table set yesterday, and it came with about 8 thousand stickers to put all over the board. Depending on your point of view, it's either impressive or scary how anal I am about getting those stickers exactly right.

-Children's audio book narrator. I inherited this gene from my mom. We read children's books with great enthusiasm, voicing all of the dialogue with appropriately timbers.

-Expiration date checker at the grocery store.

-Chocolate chip cookie taster.

-The person who happens to be standing around at tourist spots so people can say, "Excuse me, can you take a picture of us?" and hand me their cameras. I really like doing this. I take great shots, and I imagine them later saying, "We totally asked the right woman to take this picture. Best picture ever."

-Baby hugger.

-American Idol judge. What? I can get qualifications. I can't possibly do worse than Randy. ("It was just aiight for me, dog.")

-Professional hula hooper. As a child, I beat the Guiness Book of World Records and no one even knew it. I told my mom, but I don't think she believed me.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

I fixed the dryer.

I fixed the dryer today. Well, not so much the dryer as the dryer door. And not so much "fix" as just realign it and screw it in properly, which the repairman failed to do when he made it stop sounding like someone was lighting off fire crackers in it.

Sometimes, it's the simplest things that cause the most consternation about getting divorced. You sit there on that first day after the big decision, thinking, "How am I ever going to do this? I have never put air in my own tires. I don't know when recycling day is. How do I make sure my pipes don't burst over the winter?"

And it all looks huge and overwhelming, and then you just close your eyes and trust that you're going to find a way. And day after day, you do. If you let yourself feel it, each thing-- each stupid little thing-- feels like a victory. It shows you that you're more capable than you knew.

Maybe especially if you have kids, there's the extra impetus to become more capable. I want Sarina to know her momma as someone who gets her hands dirty-- someone who can change a tire, fix a boo-boo, plant a garden, assemble do-it-yourself furniture, and play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on the guitar.

Yesterday, I put air in my tires. Today, I fixed the dryer. Tomorrow, I'm considering re-shingling the roof. (Er, just kidding.)

I'm Sarina's momma. I rule.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A little about Sarina

She thanked me today...
for changing the sheets on the bed
for removing her socks
for changing her diaper
for taking her out to play

"Thank you, Mommy," she says. "Thank you for changing the sheets."

She wants to know what rhymes with "Joe" and "Blue," and where Meatball the Lion went, and if Aunt Peeka will come to our house soon. She wakes up from her nap and recaps her day for me down to the last detail-- such as that she was sitting on the Skee-Ball machine when she did poopies in her diaper.

"I need to be held in the carrier," she says, and "I need my hair"-- which is actually my hair, which has been her security blanket since she was born. She tugs on my hair and wraps it around her fingers while she sucks her thumb when she needs comfort. So I haven't used hair products in almost two years.

She made her public singing debut at my brother's 30th birthday party, using the Elvis impersonator's microphone. She sang "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" and didn't want to stop, so she just kept repeating all the verses. "I'm never gonna stop the rain by compwaining" is my favorite part.

She recites her own versions of poems and stories. "This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had chicken nuggets..."

When she bounces in the inflatable bouncer with her 8-year-old friend "Miss Gina," she likes to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" at the top of her lungs. I've never seen her be physical with another child anywhere except in this bouncer, where she actually grabbed a little girl by her waist and tackled her backwards because Sarina was having too much fun with her and didn't want the girl to leave. "You get back in here, Miss Ashley!" she said, giggling. She believes that everyone who enters the "Mommy and Me" building is "Miss" Somebody, even when that person is 4 years old.

Her favorite colors are pink and purple, and she's also growing a fondness for red.

She likes songs about rain and night. When she watches the tap dancing number for "Singing in the Rain," she exclaims, "That's Gene Kelly!"

She likes to strum my guitar when she sings, and she's delicate enough that I can let her do so.

Lately, she begins every other sentence with "Actually." "Actually, let's go to the bakery." Nearly every story she makes up involves a bakery. Every now and then she switches it up and makes the setting a deli or a diner instead. You'd think this means she's a big eater, but she's not. I go through every trick I know every meal just to get her to eat a decent amount. But she has a serious sweet tooth that I have to keep in check.

She likes to climb hills, play with Play-Doh, paint, wear lip gloss, jump on the bed, comb my hair, pretend various large and small household objects are Mommy and Sarina and make them "hug," and make snowballs.

After using the big girl potty for the first time, she announced, "I need a crown."

Several times a day, she tells me, "This is gonna be great!"

She is the coolest girl I've ever met.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Hello, World!

On New Year's Eve, I found a link to the video on Kelly Corrigan's homepage. It was a tough day for me; in addition to the holiday, it was my brother's 30th birthday and my daughter wasn't with us. So you could blame it on that, but I think it was something more. I watched that little video and the tears just came to the surface. Like I needed them to. Sometimes, it's a gift to help someone cry.

I loved Kelly. Watching that video made me want to know more about her, so I read pretty much everything on her site. She talks about her father, a relentlessly positive person who welcomes each day by opening the windows and shouting "Hello, world!" And she talks about its effects on her as a child, feeling like the universe was actively rooting for her.

I thought this sounded like a good thing, so the next morning I had Sarina, I asked her, "What do you think? Should we open the windows and say 'Hello, world'?"

She grinned. "No, Mommy," she said. But I did it anyway. (The back window, if you're wondering. I'm not that brave yet-- I am still the new girl on the block, and I'd rather not have them suspect I'm nuts just yet.)

I told myself that I was going to learn to be more like Kelly's father, to help my daughter see all the good things in life. But then she turned the tables on me.

Suddenly, she wants to tell me how great everything is. We watch a homemade video of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," and she tells me, "What a great song!" She eats ice cream and proclaims it to be "awesome." I help her with a craft, and she says, "Good job, Mommy! That was perfect!" A grumpy-looking worker in a convenience store surprises me by giving Sarina a banana, and she says, "That was nice of him. What a nice man."

And she looks for ways to brighten my day. Every day, she gives me whatever flowers she finds around the house (an artificial silk arrangement, or ones made of paper or felt) and tells me, "I brought you a present, Mommy. These are for you, from Sarina!" She also tackle-hugs me and says, "It's Mommy Time!"

But tonight was the killer. After a day filled with family and fun, where she made everyone feel a little more special, we drove back to our new home. It's a townhouse in a nice little development. There's still so much to be done. Nothing left that needs to be done, but lots of aesthetic stuff that would make it nicer. The structure is perfect for us, though, and the place has a lot of potential. I can't afford to fix up everything at once, but I've been tackling what I can in order of importance. Some days it feels like I'll never get to it all, and others, I think, "This place is pretty nice even as it is."

As I pulled up, Sarina said, "Wow. What a great house."

"Yeah?" I asked. "You think it's great?"

"What a cool house. I have fun here."

"I'm so happy to hear you say that."

"It's going to be beautiful."

I hoisted her up and out of the car, and she looked for the moon-- Luna. Luna must have been behind clouds, though, because she was nowhere to be found.

"Maybe she's hiding in the snow," Sarina tells me.

"Maybe," I agree.

And we walk into our house, hugging tight against the wind. I think about the new year, and new beginnings, and how much life we both have still to live.

It's going to be beautiful.