Thursday, February 21, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Woodland Critters for Grown-Ups

Over the past few years, the whole "woodland creatures" theme has become very popular, and not just for nurseries. I love me a wee barn owl, baby raccoon, or wily fox, and having a small child has certainly allowed me to indulge in the cuteness. But the other day, my friend Leigh shared an Etsy page full of adorable jewelry that was actually wearable for someone in her thirties - let's face it, I just can't pull off a cartoon owl T-shirt the way I used to. (A bunny iPhone case, on the other hand, is TOTALLY mature, right?) The following items are things I think I might actually be able to get away with. What do you think?

Rustic hedgehog necklace from iamabird (thanks to Leigh for the link!).

Raccoon and ermine pillow from Coral and Tusk.

Badger print from wintersmoke.

Temporary tattoos from BurrowingHome.

Woodland Creatures print from Hello!Lucky.

Antler necklace from paperfacestudio (reminds me of Shadow and Bone too!).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Glimpse Into the Mind of a Three-Year-Old

This isn't a Mommy Monday, and I don't have anything particularly writerly to write about for tomorrow. So today I'm just doing a random Jack post, because sometimes the stuff he does is too good not to write down. For those of you with kids (hell, for those of you without kids), it might not sound like anything spectacular. But he's mine, and I think he's adorable, so I hope you'll indulge me today.

I'm not sure if it was spending the last ten days in Paris with English-speaking family members (yeah, it was awesome, and yes, it's hard to be back), but Jack's speech has exploded even more over the last few days. I mean, the kid has always been a talker, but he's having full-on conversations now, and even though I don't know what he's talking about half of the time, it's hilarious to try to follow the thought process of a three-year-old.

Nevermind the creepy arterial blob above Mary's head; it's the naked baby that Jack wants to hear about!

For example, I was just in the bathroom folding laundry when Jack took his little red fleece jacket, draped it around my neck, and said I was going to the doctor. What started out as a stethoscope (I think) somehow morphed into a hair dresser's smock. Jack got a haircut in Paris, so apparently it was my turn to get my hair cut "short like Daddy." He picked up one of his monkey socks and placed it in the palm of his hand, then proceeded to run my hair through the folded sock, which I guess was his idea of cutting my hair. I tried to ignore the crazy amounts of static he was generating (and the occasional yanked strand) because he was so earnest about it. He alternated between saying he was cutting my hair short and that he was giving me a big, big doctor (still confused about that one). Then he used a pair of my folded socks to wave over my head like a blow dryer. Finally, he grabbed a pair of pants and brushed my hair with them before proclaiming that I was "all done." Best haircut of my life.

While we were eating brunch at my sister's house the other day, Jack decided to recount the story of his injured eye from Christmas Eve, over and over and over. "Mommy, remember in the Montana house when I fell and hit my eye on the bar stool and had a booboo and put ice on it and, and, remember Mommy?" We heard variations of that for about five minutes straight, until his cousins had decided Jack was insane and I started to wonder if the episode had scarred him for life. (Seriously, I was just proofing this post and Jack started talking about his eye again. WTF?!)

Yesterday Jack created an elaborate scene with his Clipo blocks involving a family of matryoshka dolls eating pizza together, with the tiniest one in a high chair and the biggest one (the mommy), sitting next to it. When it was time for "ta-zert," Jack started flinging Lego people, animals, and vehicles into a giant pile. The elephant was a gray birthday cake; the brown bear was chocolate. Duh.

Jack's favorite part of Notre Dame? The bells. And the train Grammy bought him before our tour.

I know these are the kinds of things all kids this age do, and Jack has been playing pretend for a long time, the way all toddlers do. But now that he can actually describe what he's doing, I get to really see things through his eyes, to understand what is going on in that ever-developing brain of his. Potty training may be making me insane; his occasional post-bedtime "I'm thirsty" routine is so cliche I feel like I must have inadvertently given him the idea; and I do occasionally worry about his bizarre fixations (is it normal for a kid this age to continue to be obsessed with fans? And he was REALLY into that baby Jesus...). But mostly, I love the funny, thoughtful, curious little boy Jack is becoming, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: Ode to a CP

This week's Writing Wednesday also happens to be a Thing I Love (or Person I Love, more accurately). I've been meaning to write about my awesome critique partner, who shall remain anonymous because she likes it that way, for a while now. She has seriously changed my writing life over the past year, and she deserves a shout-out for not only reading every novel, query, pitch, and false start I throw at her, but for always being there with a damn good pep talk when I really need one (which is often).

A lot of people out there have a whole group of CPs, and for the record, I do have six or seven CPs/betas who have always been amazingly generous with their time. But I don't have the relationship with them I have with my one true CP. For one thing, we met online, so when she first read Forever Friday, she didn't know me from Eve. She's the one CP I have who is truly objective (although now she knows I'm sensitive so it's possible she tempers her comments a little more, but I don't think so). We have very different writing styles, but she's an AMAZING writer who doesn't put herself out there nearly enough in my humble opinion, because if she did, she'd have an agent by now. But she's not competitive, which I love, and she's incredibly knowledgeable about YA, so she can always tell me if an idea is fresh or overdone.

My CP's comments are always fair and balanced - she doesn't hold back with criticism or compliments. She reads quickly, never leaving me waiting for very long. And even though there's a 13 hour time difference between us, she always emails me back right away. Unlike my non-writing friends and family members, she GETS IT, which is probably the most important thing about having CPs who are writers. She's the cheerleader who's always ready with another cheer, who always has a word of inspiration handy, who reminds me of my successes when all I see are failures. She's someone I consider a best friend, even though we've never even spoken on the phone. I've already decided that if I ever get an agent, I'm flying out to where she lives so we can celebrate together, in person, because it will be her accomplishment as much as mine (and because I hear she's an amazing cook.)

So, thank you to my lovely, patient, wonderful CP. I don't know where I'd be on this journey if it wasn't for you, but I know it would be way more lonely, and a heck of a lot less fun.

Monday, February 4, 2013

An Evening at the Banya

First, before I launch into this post, I am in the Bouncer Round over at Cupid's Literary Connection (#119). Leave me a comment and earn a little good karma, won't you?

As some of you know, I made the rather bold decision to visit a traditional Russian banya a few weeks ago. A banya, for those of you who don't know, is sort of like a bath house/sauna/torture chamber. It sounded right up my alley, so I said, "Sure, why not?" Actually, it sounded like my own personal version of hell, so I said, "Sure, why not?" Because I'm crazy like that.

There were originally supposed to be four or five of us going, but one girl had to work and the other chickened out (in retrospect, I don't blame her), so there were only three of us left: my friend K and her friend who works in St. Pete, A, and yours truly. K had been to this very banya a month ago, so I figured it was a good sign she was willingly returning. A was a banya newbie, like me. We took a cab out of the city (the cabbie sweetly proclaimed, "Americans are all fat, but you are small." - I like to think we did our part to shatter American stereotypes that day) and arrived at the quaintest little Russian village I'd ever seen.

I should have known that such a charming exterior could only house pure evil.

We went into our own little cottage, where there was a wooden table and a couch along one wall (I shudder now to think how many a naked, sweaty ass has perched on that couch) and a doorway leading to an anteroom. One more door took you to the sauna itself, aka Hades.

While we waited for our personal banya dude to prepare, we started nibbling on the snacks K and A had brought with them. When banya dude, who we'll call G (because that was the only part of his name I understood), saw us, he told us not to eat too much before our treatments, which we chose from a long menu that I couldn't read. K recommended the honey and coffee scrub, so we all went with that (it also only involved one trip into the snow, which was plenty from what I could surmise). K offered to go first so we could get an idea of what we were in for. Just as I regretted watching Sarah undergo her LASIK procedure before I did mine, I would come to realize that perhaps watching K wasn't such a good idea. But we'll get to that in a bit.

I mentioned previously that the banya generally involves nudity. You're provided with these fancy little cloth, well, cloths, to wear, but once inside the sauna, any extraneous clothing only makes things more unbearable. Whilst strategizing with Sarah ahead of time, we decided I should take a pair of bikini bottoms ("I draw the line at vag," were Sarah's exact words, and I was inclined to agree). However, K and A made it clear that I was being overly prudent, so I gingerly stripped out of my clothing and wrapped myself tightly in a lovely leopard printed frock while I awaited my turn. We all walked into the sauna together, which was already a steamy inferno when we arrived. K laid herself out on the wooden platform atop a thin foam mat and A and I watched in awe as a nude K was pummeled with various foliage, our nostril hair immediately singed in the extreme heat and our eyeballs melting down our faces. Eventually G told us to get the hell out, since we'd have our own turn soon enough and we needed to have something left to sweat out when the time came. At that point, I wasn't sure I actually still wanted the treatment, but it seemed too late to back out now, and anyway, I was morbidly curious about the whole thing.

My banya ensemble, sure to be all the rage next season.

I could go into a lengthy description about what it was like watching K experience the treatment, but I think it will be more effective if I describe what it was like for me as it was happening. Ready folks? Here goes.

G, who spoke enough basic English that I felt confident he'd understand simple phrases like "too hot," "I'm dying," and "get those goddamn birch branches away from me NOW," instructed me to lie down on the platform as Krisi had done, face down. He placed a bundle of cold-water soaked pine branches under me head and another on top, to keep my head cool. (By the way, I do not recommend the banya to anyone with claustrophobia, as I felt like I was trapped inside a giant, burning bush for the majority of the treatment.) As I tried to blink dripping water out of my eye and extricate a pine needle from my lips, G threw some water on the hot coals, picked up his bundle of birch branches, and got to work.

The birch branches are mostly leaves, so it felt a bit like having wet chickens smacked up and down my body. G waved the birch branches vigorously, creating little eddies of molten heat, and then smacked again, paying special attention to my feet and lower back. Occasionally he'd redip my pine boughs so I didn't roast to death, but it was so hot in the sauna I was afraid to open my eyes, which was just as well considering I was buck naked and didn't really want to think about the fact that a large, sweaty man in transparent clothing was standing next to me. Several times, G paused in his whapping to throw buckets of ice cold (literally - a direct line from the snow) water onto my body and head, leaving me spluttering and gasping for air.

After a while I flipped over, which was when I really started to regret going fully nude, and the process was repeated. When I seemed thoroughly beaten and oxygen-starved, G took my hand and led me outside. I should mention that once outside, anyone who happened to be walking by would have had a full-on show. Fortunately, it was after 8 pm by this point so I had darkness on my side. When I realized I was actually expected to run out into the snow barefoot, I looked at K and A (who had come out to witness my humiliation) with disbelief. But G was nudging me forward, so I dashed out into the snow as fast as possible, waited for about fifteen seconds while G rubbed snow into my shoulders and back, screamed something along the lines of "MOTHER F%&*ER," and sprinted back into the house.

There was also a tea break in there somewhere, but the exact sequence of events seems to have escaped me.

Then it was back into the sauna for more birch branches, followed by a thorough scrubbing with pine branches (which hurt even more than the birch branches but slightly less than the snow), and then came the fresh coffee grounds and honey, which G slathered all over my body until I was sticky, gritty, and ready for the whole thing to be over. "Finished?" G asked me. I mumbled something along the lines of "da" and G took me to the anteroom, where I was literally hosed down with more of the freezing water. And that, my friends, was that.

All in all, the process lasted about 45 minutes, in temperatures ranging from 190F to somewhere around 0 (it wasn't a particularly cold day, thank goodness). I was assured I could expect to feel invigorated and as soft as a baby the next day, but somehow I woke up with a sore throat and a rash over most of my torso (I blame the pine needles, but it could just as easily have been the coffee grounds; it's hard to say). Today, I'm sick with a cold. I seem to be the only person in world history who got sick from going to the banya, since most people apparently get BETTER when they visit. Perhaps my immune system wasn't ready to tackle so many extremes after just getting over the stomach flu? Whatever the case, I'm not at all sorry I went to the banya, but I can't say it's something I plan to do on a regular basis (aka ever again). As I told John, I can't imagine anyone actually enjoying the banya, but I suppose if you're Russian and you really believe that sweating profusely and experiencing extreme temperature fluctuations is good for you, it might be something you come to look forward to. You know, in the way some people look forward to a good enema every now and again.

I will say this: I'm proud of myself. While I was lying in my nest of pine needles, hyperventilating as I listened to G go about his preparations, I had to give myself an honest-to-goodness pep-talk: "You are stronger than the banya, Mara." I faced several fears that evening. A fear of saunas, a fear of flagellation, and a fear of public nudity. This is what living abroad is all about, people.

That, and finding out just how far you're willing to go for a good blog post.    

Friday, February 1, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Home Sick

A detailed account of life in the trenches (aka surviving the stomach flu in Russia) can be found here. I am so ready for this week to be over it's not even funny. Happy Friday everyone. And stay healthy!