March 30, 2012

Why I Blog

A few months ago, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to bother with blogging. I had never been very good at it after all. Being consistent seemed impossible. Hardly anyone was reading it. I felt like I didn't have anything interesting to write about. So what was the point?

I decided I couldn't discover what the point was if I never gave it an honest effort. Posting 5 times a year? You can't call that blogging. So this year I decided I'd try—really try—to just be consistent. I'm still not sure of what exactly I'm aiming for, but I have hope that I'll ultimately be glad I did it.

Here are a few reasons I blog:

1. I love reading other people's blogs. Do you have a blog? I'd love to read it if I don't already. I follow a whole bunch of blogs, as you can see on my profile, plus others I don't officially follow, but check in on now and then. I use an RSS feed app on my iPad called Feeddler that makes it super easy to see what's going on in my blog world. You know how you have the things you check every day? Facebook, Twitter, email, whatever? It's just one of those routines, and one of my favorites. A Facebook status leaves you wanting more (or not wanting more, as the case may be), but a blog post is more satisfying and can really help you get to know someone better.

2. I suspect that there are a few people (and I love you) who actually care about me and my life. I like to share with you, and this is the way I prefer to do it. And, even if it's not being read, it's encouraging me to keep a journal that probably wouldn't happen otherwise.

3. I have an opinion and I like to express it. Keep in mind I'm usually home with small children. I don't get in a whole lot of socializing these days.

4. I like to create and I want feedback. I love to see what other people come up with, but it's also a lot of fun to show off your work and have people say they love it, right? Maybe this is taboo to admit, but come on, I know you agree.

5. When I blog, I feel more organized. I can't always accomplish putting makeup on or making dinner in a day, but if I can write something I always feel more in control of my life. Instead of getting less done, I actually get more done. After I hit that "Publish" button, I'm suddenly more energized and I want to check the next thing off my to-do list.

6. Technology makes it so easy. I am hardly ever on the computer, but between my phone and iPad, I have a lot of chances to write. When I'm lying down feeding Maren before her nap, like right now, I have something to occupy my mind. When the kids are happy playing without my intervention, I can sit there on the couch comfortably and just write while still feeling involved with my children.

. . . And many more reasons. Money would be a nice one, but that's not my specific goal since I don't see my blog as the money-making type.

To sum it up, it makes life better.

I love this quote about blogging:

"Places on the web for sharing content and ideas often remind me of real life interactions. Facebook is the everlasting high school reunion. Twitter, which I love, is maybe half cocktail party, half party-line. Flickr & Instagram can be the best way to send a postcard, while LinkedIn is the best way to send a fax. To me, there's something sacred about reading a blog post on someone else's site. It's like visiting a friend's house for a quick meal 'round the breakfast table. It's personal—you're in their space, and the environment is uniquely suited for idea exchange and uninterrupted conversation. In many ways, we should be treating our blogs like our breakfast tables. Be welcoming & gracious when you host, and kind & respectful when visiting." 
-Trent Walton

Now do you see why I keep encouraging everyone else to blog?
Come on. You know who you are. {Michelle, Ashley, Jared, Heather, Kristin, Steph, Jen, Jamie, Vie, YOU}

Now go and write a blog post.

P.S. The Live on fire image at the top was actually burned and photographed by Jared.
100% real.

March 28, 2012

New Nephew

Isn't he cute?

Yesterday at about 5:00, I called my sister, Stephanie, just to see what was going on. She had been in a state of labor-limbo* with her pregnancy for about two months. She happened to be in the car on the way to the hospital (for the second time in the past few weeks) to see if these contractions were actually for real. It turns out they were! Her beautiful baby boy was born less than three hours later.

I love him already.

*Seriously, Steph has very unusual pregnancies and births. She has been put on bed rest at about 28 weeks with her last two pregnancies because she has so many contractions. Then over the course of 10 weeks, she slowly goes through labor. When she thinks her contractions feel just a little bit more intense, she goes to the hospital, where she hangs out happily with painless contractions until she suddenly pushes out a baby. I envy her labors, but not her months of bed rest and worry over having a premature baby, so I guess it's a trade-off, right?

March 26, 2012

Baby Wearing

Since I always seem to be wearing a baby, I've had a lot of people ask me which baby wraps and slings I like best. I know not everyone gets hooked on them, but I think they're too useful, and even essential, to live without.

1. Your toddler is throwing a tantrum at the playground. You need to pick her up and carry her home because she won't walk. But you're holding a baby too. There's a wrap for that.
2. Your baby doesn't love being in the stroller, or you have two kids and no double stroller. There's a wrap for that.
3. You're out hiking on uneven terrain and you don't want to risk dropping your baby, and a stroller obviously won't work. There's a wrap for that.
4. Your baby is being fussy and won't let you put her down to get anything done. You either have to just let her cry or . . . There's a wrap for that.
5. You're grocery shopping and your baby hates being in the carseat or there's no room for it in the cart. There's a wrap for that.

Okay, I'm obviously getting a little repetitive. But you get the point. There are unlimited circumstances that would be greatly facilitated with the help of a baby wrap.
So, what are your choices?

Wrapsody Bali Stretch
Wrapsody wraps are made of a 5-6 yard x 23 inch piece of fabric with just the right amount of stretch to support your baby and your back comfortably. What's amazing to me is that Maren is about 14 pounds, but when I wear this wrap, I can hardly even feel her weight because it's so well distributed on my back and shoulders. I go on long walks with her wrapped in front and it's not tiring at all.

The other thing that I love most about this wrap is all the different ways you can position your baby inside it:
Front, facing toward you, legs in (great for newborns)
Front, facing toward you, legs out
Front, facing forward, legs in (my current favorite for Maren's age)
Front, facing forward, legs out
Back, hip, one baby on front, one on back . . . Your choices are almost unlimited.

I love my Wrapsody. Definitely my favorite.

I bought my Wrapsody used, but in perfect condition, for $45, but they're usually about $80. The similar Moby wrap is $40 and up. I know several people who really love it. I chose this over the Moby because it was made of a thinner, more breathable material. They also have a higher weight limit and are supposedly the only stretchy wrap supportive enough for using on your back as well as your front. There are woven wraps (like the Bali Breeze) that have higher weight limits and are even more light and breathable. The material just isn't as soft and there's no stretch, so it could be harder to get the baby in and out. You could also get the right kind of fabric and make your own, which I'll definitely be trying sometime.

Cons: Although it's not difficult once you watch someone do it (like this video) and get the hang of it, tying it is hard to do if you're out somewhere and you don't want it to touch the ground. It might take a little while to get it right at first when you're still learning.

Ivy in the Baby Hawk

Baby Hawk Mei Tai
I used a Baby Hawk a lot when Ivy was a newborn. They are super cute and customizable. Just about any fabric can be chosen for them. They're comfortable on the shoulders, but the weight isn't quite as well-distributed as a Wrapsody. My back was more likely to ache, but they're still great over all and very quick and easy to tie.

Ivy in the Baby Hawk

Cons: Makes your back and shoulders sore after wearing it for a while. They're not that versatile in wearing positions. I really was only able to do front, facing in, legs in with it. There's no way to face a baby forward in it. You can only have the legs out with a larger baby because it stretches them uncomfortably far apart on a baby younger than six months. A bigger baby (or toddler) can be worn on the back, but I didn't use it long enough to try that.

Forward facing with Ivy in a Hotsling
Hotslings Ring Sling
If you are interested in a sling that's very small and portable, easy to make yourself, and super quick to put on, the Hotsling fits the bill. It's pretty versatile in wearing positions: cradle, facing in, facing forward, on a hip with legs out, etc. If you want to get your baby in and out fast for a quick trip, a ring sling is ideal.

Cons: Since it's only worn on one shoulder, it naturally can't be as supportive or comfortable as the type worn on two. When your baby gets heavier, you won't want to wear it for very long at all or your shoulder and back won't be happy.

Hip carry with Ivy in a Hotsling

If I decide to try another type of baby carrier, I'd get an Ergo (or something similar since they're so expensive). These are better for babies past the newborn stage, but they are supposed to be very quick to put on and supportive too. They don't have lots of fabric or tying. They're also more masculine looking, so dads might feel more comfortable in something like this (although Jared has worn every type that I have. He doesn't mind--much).

Jared with Ivy in a Hotsling

Jared with Maren in the Wrapsody

I'm always open to using other types of wraps and slings, but these are what I've liked so far.

What about you? If you're a baby wearer, I'd love to know what you like!

March 23, 2012

Odds & Ends

First off, The Hunger Games tonight! I don't usually love book to movie adaptations as much as I hope to, but I can't help but be excited for this one. Jared just barely finished the book today in time for the movie, which reminds me: Jared's brother, Daren, once texted him recommending The Hunger Games. Jared's response: "A diet book? I'm offended!" (Jared had already heard of the book, but poor Daren didn't know and thought he really offended him.) Wouldn't that be a great/terrible name for a diet book though?

People who are super fans of the books do cool things, like put together hypothetical maps of Panem. I can't say I'm that obsessed, but I admire their passion.

Cool map found here 

The kids get to go to Grandma's tonight. Ivy looooves to go, but Maren? not so much. Her grandma Vie watched her for an hour when I got my hair cut last week and she cried the whole time. This is our first date in 5 months though, so it's necessary, don't you think?

My sister-in-law, Heather, moved to St. George from Phoenix last year. She sent this beautiful picture recently of her back yard. Seriously, her back yard! As in, she sees this whenever she looks out the window. I've been there and her house is amazing. If only she still blogged so everyone could see it (hint, hint, Heather).

I dyed my hair nearly black yesterday. It looks pretty dramatic and too bold right now, but I had to go that dark in order to get the color I really wanted since my hair always tends to fade back to my natural color, no matter what. I posted a picture of it on Facebook, but the truth is, I'm not too keen on looking at it again, so I'll wait for it to fade more before I post one here.

On a more serious note, I found out from Jen's blog that my great aunt Norma died this morning. She was my Grandpa Ricks' sister and she was as sweet as they come. I'm thinking of her and her family today. I hope they can get through this time without too much sadness. I love you, Brackens!

I hope you all have a good weekend.

March 19, 2012

Writing for Charity

On Saturday, I had my first day out without kids for about five months. Let me tell you, it was well worth the trouble.

Writing for Charity is an excellent writing conference held at the Provo Library that features major published authors from the area. As the name suggests, all proceeds go to charities. I first became aware of it by reading Shannon Hale's blog. She's one of my favorite authors, so even if she had been the only one presenting, I still would have wanted to go. But, as luck would have it, a whole group of great writers donated their time and energy to the conference. We have more awesome authors per capita in Utah than anywhere in the world (*not a verified statistic). Brandon Sanderson is another writer/genius that I couldn't wait to hear. I've listened to his podcast, Writing Excuses, so I already knew he has a lot of helpful tips. I wasn't as familiar with the other authors attending, but after hearing some of them speak, my to-read list has grown exponentially.

One appealing part of the conference is that authors do critiques on the first couple of pages of manuscripts for us hopeful writers out there. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't prepared with anything good enough to allow a real live author to critique. BUT, I got super lucky and was able to sneak get into Shannon Hale's critique group to listen. It was completely eye-opening. I was surprised at how much I learned, even without bringing my own manuscript.

My goals for the day:
Be inspired. 
Learn something new. 
Make a friend. 
Make it through without a desperate phone call from Jared to come home and feed the baby. 
Don't get engorged and leak milk all over the place. (TMI? Probably) 
Decide if the particular story that's begging me to write it is worth the time. 
Have fun and laugh often. 
Become best buddies with all the writers. (Fail)
Don't make a fool of myself. (Fail)

Favorite quotes of the day:
(Some of these were during the authors' panel and I didn't always know who said it. Sorry. Some are paraphrased.)
"Writer's block is a myth." -Shannon Hale
"Art is never finished, only abandoned." -Unknown
"Traditional publishing is dying. Adapt or die." -Unknown (Possibly Tracy Hickman?)
"You can improve on any writing, no matter how bad, but you can't improve on no writing." -Funny man
"The more we treat our characters as real people, the better they become." -Jennifer Nielsen
"If you think there's any chance you can succeed at something, say 'I can do that.' And do it." -Smart dark haired woman
"Every bit of dialogue should count. Remove anything in a sentence you don't need." -Shannon Hale
"Writing is about will, not the muse." -Unknown
"All writers are liars and thieves." -Mette Ivie Harrison
"Chasing the market is a dangerous thing to do. Write what you like to write." -Brandon Sanderson
"I am a bag of rice." -Dean Hale

Shannon Hale, Critique Group
Here, Shannon read the first page or two of about ten people's stories and offered suggestions and tips. There was so much good advice, but it made me realize how much I have to learn about writing.
Here are a few of her guidelines she so generously shared:

Introduce characters in the first paragraph if possible.
Don't introduce backstory in the first chapter.
Make sure you're beginning the story in the right place.
Avoid flashbacks as much as possible.
Dialogue shouldn't do the job of the narrator.
Set a scene in the beginning and introduce action early.
Try not to use the same words too repetitively, especially in the beginning of the story.
Remove anything in a sentence you don't need.
Check the first pages of other books you like to see how they're constructed.
The main purpose of dialogue is to build a relationship between characters, rather than move the story along.
Try to reveal exactly what's happening in the moment without just describing. Show, don't tell!
Reveal only the immediate details and needs of the current scene in the beginning. If a detail isn't important yet, save it for later.

Books I've read of Shannon's: The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, Princess Academy, Book of a Thousand Days, Rapunzel's Revenge, Austenland
To read next: Forest Born, Midnight in Austenland

Jennifer Nielsen, The Psychology of Characterization
This session had some incredibly helpful tips and techniques. Jennifer used to work with a wilderness retreat group for troubled teens. They gave tests to the teens in order to figure out their needs. She came up with her own test specifically for characters in order to know them better.
Here are a few examples of open-ended sentences included in her test:

I was happiest when--
When I'm pushed too far--
Real love is--
It was a mistake to--
To me, freedom is--
Other people think of me as--
The worst thing that could happen to me--
Someday I will--

She had us go through it and answer the questions from a character's perspective. I will absolutely be using this in the future.
She's willing to share the complete test with other writers. Isn't she nice?
On my to-read list by Jennifer: The False Prince and others

Dean and Shannon Hale, Rewriting the Crap Out of It
In this session, Dean and Shannon (husband and wife, btw) came up with a story on the spot and then revised it a few times. They were hilarious. I couldn't always understand Dean when his deep voice boomed through the microphone, but he made me laugh anyway. I was quite amused by their banter, including the "Screw you" that Shannon threw at Dean.
Their tips:

First draft: vomit up a story (imagery is one of Shannon's strong points)
Second or third draft: rework the plot
Third or fourth draft: focus on character relationships, motives, settings, details
Ninth or tenth draft: read it through, mark it up
You can always write something. It just may need to be rewritten later.
Question and analyze every word in the story.
Not one sentence really remains the same from the first draft to the last.
Focus on making your weaknesses your strengths.

Brandon Sanderson, Advanced Plot Structure
Discover your own writing style. What works for one author doesn't work for every writer.
Some writers like to think of an interesting situation, drop characters in, and let stuff happen.
If you want a more intricate plot line, outlining is usually helpful. If you want lightness and spontaneity, you might not need an outline.
The point of a plot is making promises that there will be resolutions.
Ask yourself "Wouldn't that be awesome if?" and turn that idea into a story.
Combining genres can make something old seem new. (e.g. heist/fantasy, sport story/sci-fi)
When the separate ideas in your head stick together and work, they can create an interesting, original story.
"Surprising but inevitable" twists are the best kind. You don't see it coming, but you couldn't see it any other way.
Break stories down into smaller pieces and tell each sub-story at a time.

Books I've read by Brandon: Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages, The Alloy of Law
To read next: Warbreaker

Obviously, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, considering the fact that I tried to write down every bit of advice I heard. My only regret is that I couldn't go to every presentation since I lack the aid of a time-turner. I can't stress enough how much I recommend Writing for Charity to anyone else who loves to write. Assuming they do this again next year, I will definitely be attending. But next time, my goal will be to have a first draft of an entire story ready before the conference. I feel inspired, but more importantly, I've learned that it's all about putting in the work and not making excuses. If I can simply take the time to write, I know I can do it.

March 18, 2012

The 9 Lives of Cocoa the Wonder Dog

My uncle, Stan Ricks, used to have a dog that he loved more than just about anything. After his beloved dog died, he wrote a story about the life (or I guess I should say lives) of the little cocker spaniel. He paid someone to illustrate the book, but didn't feel like the illustrations were right for the story. Luckily for me, he gave me the job next. Not only did this contribute to my college education fund, which was oh so necessary at that time, but it gave me an experience that I never would have accomplished without someone else pressuring me to get it done.

A little over 5 years ago, he printed a few hundred copies of the book to give to friends and relatives as a gift. And now, with the simplicity of ebooks, I've decided to make an iPad version to release in iBooks. We're hoping to get it out soon. It will be in the $3 range, I'm thinking. I'm not expecting to make much money or anything, but what's the harm in releasing it when it doesn't cost us a thing?

When I started illustrating this book, I had never touched watercolor. It wasn't my favorite medium to work with. I'm much more into the rich, bold, malleable material of oil paint. But, I think the lighter, less serious look of watercolor suits the source material.

March 15, 2012

New Hair

I cut off about 14 or more inches of hair yesterday.

I feel ultra lame posting these, but I was messing around in Photo Booth trying to get a decent picture, so whatever. Here they are, although they're more weird than good.

I hope I'm one of those old ladies who goes white instead of gray.

I posted this before/after picture to Facebook. I have to say, I'm super surprised at how sweet everyone was in their praise. Either I just have a lot of ridiculously nice friends (which is true), or other people probably like my haircut even more than I do.

I promised myself I would cut my hair short after baby number two because I just hated the way my hair looked for so long after it fell out after having Ivy. And now it's done. When I pass a mirror, I'm very surprised and not entirely convinced I like what I see. But, either way, it's fun and it feels good. Oh, also, I'll be dying it today or tomorrow a darker, warmer shade of brown.

P.S. I went to Mark at Shatter Salon in Draper. He was great (which is REALLY something coming from  someone who has only liked my own haircuts for the past 7-8 years). The last time I tried going to a hairstylist a few years ago, I left the salon looking like I just came out of Small Town, Utah. I ended up going home and chopping off about four inches to save the haircut and my dignity. Plus, Mark told me I looked like Natalie Portman when he was done cutting my hair. Who doesn't want to hear that?

P.P.S. Jared didn't think he'd like it this short. Turns out he does.

March 13, 2012

The Solid Food Challenge

I know Maren's not quite ready for solids, but I'm starting to think about the daunting endeavor of getting a baby to like new foods.

Ivy wasn't a very good eater until she was about a year old. Until then, she got nearly all her calories from breast milk. I started feeding her solids when she was six months old. We learned very quickly that canned baby food was a no-go. She really hated it. I pretty much gave her mashed bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, and other sweet-ish types of food. Cereals and most vegetables were always rejected.

I've got a few things now that I didn't have when I first started feeding Ivy, like this baby puree recipe book and these little containers for freezing food. Maybe they'll help me out.

I'm hoping, of course, that Maren will take to solids better than Ivy did at first, but if not, I need some advice. Moms, what did you do to make introducing solids easier and more successful? Also, when did you start? I know you've got an opinion, so please share!

We tried out the highchair for the first time today

March 10, 2012

Sushi Addict in the Making

With how much I craved sushi when I was pregnant with Ivy, it's no wonder that she loves it now. She eats every last bite, from the fish to the seaweed.

March 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Jen!

In celebration of my sister Jennifer's 19th birthday, I'd like to write a bit about how cool she is.

Jen started out as a quirky child, which are the most promising children, in my opinion. She was somehow blessed with silky white hair that was usually cut in a blunt shoulder length bob when she was little. This striking and unusual feature, at least in our family of brunettes, led us to make comparisons to an albino--particularly the albino from The Princess Bride. (You know: "Welcome to the pit of despair!") Jen, never being one to accept the things she finds unjust, was quite unhappy with this observation when she got old enough to realize it. Now, however, she appreciates her own uniqueness in our family and she definitely has the sense of humor to laugh it off.

Jen was a dreamy, off-in-her-own-world type of child. I'd say she's still a dreamer now. The good kind, though, who finds beauty and whimsy in everyday things. She's the type of dreamer who makes her dreams happen and won't accept no for an answer. And she's been told no a couple bajillion times in her life, too, but she continues to do what she believes in.

How many people do you know who have dressed up as
this many Harry Potter characters?

Jen is a talented artist. She won the Sterling Scholar for visual arts during her senior year of high school. This would be a great accomplishment for any kid, but Jen did it with no parental encouragement. She's had to do many things on her own initiative, because that's what happens when your mother dies when you're only eight years old. She's had a lot of hard times, but I believe they've only made her stronger and more compassionate. She's always been fiery and spirited. The Elizabeth Bennets and Katnisses of the literary world have nothing on Jen.

As one man in Spain said, Jen is "the perfect American." Strong. Smart. Beautiful. Blonde. Everything. She's probably the only girl in our family who's never dated an idiot (so far, crossing my fingers!) and I commend her for that. She's intimidating and Amazonian at 5'10" and I suspect many of the idiots are too afraid of her. Oh, and don't forget that she's super smart. I'm sure that will help repel idiots too.

I suppose I should also mention that Jen and I didn't get along so well growing up. We were just both too headstrong. Plus, I was a bratty tyrant. I hope she's forgiven me for all the times I was truly unkind. But, I also hope she can re-remember some of the times with humor, like the time she cried when I told her she looked like David Bowie from the Labyrinth.

There's plenty more to say about her because Jen is exceptional. Do I even need I say that by now? I bet you're convinced. I know I am.

Jen's mini-me, our niece Audrey
I just had to throw it in because I love it.

March 6, 2012

My Friend Yoda

Ever since Jared bought Ivy a Yoda Pez dispenser, she's been a little crazy about Star Wars. When Yoda's on the screen, she can hardly contain herself. Just watch!

March 5, 2012

Maren's Blessing Day

Our sweet little Maren received her baby blessing yesterday at church. She is four months old now and as cute as ever. She is very, very loved.

We had a great time with our family and friends afterwards. Everyone brought excellent food. The only part I didn't like was when they all went home. I never get tired of hanging out with the people I love. (Although I'm quite sure they get tired of me.)

Some of my adorable nieces & one handsome nephew
My sister Jamie is getting married next month.
My baby brother is all grown up!

Marci & Cody
Oh, and foot-in-mouth moment of the day? Cause I always have those, so there just had to be one. My friend Marci mentioned that she didn't get any pumpkin cookies. I told her, "Oh, these ginger ones are better anyway. They're homemade. The pumpkin ones aren't." Marci didn't say much. Then later, I saw that Marci was leaving with a plate and I asked her what she had brought because I hadn't noticed in the bustle of things. "The pumpkin cookies." Oops.

Sorry, Marci. For the record, I love those cookies. And I swear I'm not a homemade food snob, despite how it may appear.  I bought sandwiches from Kneaders, after all. And most of all, I just love to talk with you, whether you bake your own cookies or not.

Thanks so much to everyone who came. And a special thanks to my sister-in-law Ashley for the cute pictures!
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