Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Daughter's Blankie

Dear Frantic Mama friends,

My latest publication is about...well, it's about a lot of things: motherhood, babies, nostalgia, guilt, treasures. And Pavlov's dog [kind of].

You can read it over at Mamalode. I would love it if you did. I would love it even more if you then shared with me what treasures you are hanging onto from your own or your child's babyhood.

Hint: This little lady might take center stage in the essay.

One of my sweethearts.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama 

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Amazon Prime Photos has all new features! Plus an opportunity to win a $500 gift card provided by Amazon.com

Anyone who knows me knows I'm obsessed with taking, sharing, saving, and printing photos, so I'm excited to share with you that Amazon has launched an all-new Prime Photos experience. 

Amazon + Photos = Awesomeness (right?)

Prime members can now share their benefit of unlimited photo storage with up to five family members or friends at no additional cost. Sweet!

The best part is that Prime Photos is FREE for Prime members and makes it easy for family members to safely store and share all their favorite photos.

Additional new features include: Image Search, People view, and Places view. And Prime members can now order photo prints, cards, photo books, and calendars directly from their Prime Photos account. I am so excited to try out the Family Vault and Family Sharing because my family lives all over the country. I LOVE seeing my sister's kids in the photos she shares with me.

The free unlimited photo storage for Prime members is also pretty awesome-- I hate it when I end up with 1,000 photos on my phone and then it won't let me take any more pictures! It always happens at the worst time, too (basketball game, anyone?).

Prime Photos is available to use on computers, iOS and Android phones, and tablets. You can download the Prime Photos app using this link: www.tinyurl.com/PrimePhotos. 

This little video shows Prime Photos in action all across the country:

Now you can enter a giveaway for an opportunity to win a $500 gift card provided by Amazon.com. I hope one of my readers wins!!! Click here to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway.

I'd love to hear if you try out Prime Photos and if you think it's a great as I do.

Thanks to Amazon for sponsoring this post and providing prizes for the giveaway! All opinions are my own.
Amazon, Fire and the Amazon Fire TV logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide :: 2016

Winter is upon us here in Minnesota, which means the holidays are fast approaching. Today I'm sharing five fun, easy gifts that you can find online or at a nearby store for your friends and loved ones.

1. Chatbooks Photo Books

One product I'm obsessed with is Chatbooks. If you are an Instagram fan, this is for you. They compile all of your Instagram photos into adorable little books. They are basically photo books for people who don't have time to make photo books. They do it FOR YOU.

This is an example from the Chatbooks site. 

2. National Geographic Kids Books

It's no secret my kids love animals. So do I. That's why we all love National Geographic Kids books.
Below, you'll see my son and daughter poring over the "Weird But True" book, full of fascinating, random facts about the world [example: "toenail clippings from 100,000 people are stashed in basement freezers at Harvard." What?!]. Their beginning reader books are favorites at our house too. (Available on Amazon).

3. Old Camp Whiskey

I'm a country fan, and Florida Georgia Line is one of my ultimate favorite bands. The best news? They recently developed their very own whiskey, Old Camp. With undercurrents of pecan and peach, it's GOOD right on the rocks. Makes a great gift for...anyone (over 21 of course!).

Image from Old Camp.

4. Sephora Gift Sets 

I luuuuurve Sephora. It's actually a little dangerous for me to spend too much time on their website or in their store. Sometimes, however, you just can't stop me. 
During the holiday season, Sephora has an entire section online devoted to Gifts Under $25, which is a nice price point when shopping for friends, sisters, moms, and any other girly-types you know.

This little "Smashbox Try It" kit is a great example of some of their current gift sets ($22, Sephora).

5. Cookies [of course!]

Last but certainly not least, if you find yourself on a super tight budget this season (we've all been there!), homemade cookies (or, hey, even semi-homemade) always hit the right note, I think, for friends, teachers, neighbors, relatives, mail carriers, school bus drivers, and more.

I made these cute packages for family and teachers last year.
I loved them and I hope the recipients did too!

That's all I've got for now. How about you? What are some of your favorite things to gift? 

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Monday, November 28, 2016

The 5 Stages of Being Sick (When You're a Mom)

No one enjoys getting sick, but when you're a mother, illness is one of the worst things that can happen. Seriously. Life is already busy, challenging, and exhausting, and being sick adds cruel and unusual punishment to the mix. 

When moms get sick, we are forced to experience the following five stages:

1.  Denial: Denial occurs as soon as you begin to feel the slightest itch in your throat or rumble in your belly. You engage in duplicitous self-talk such as “It's just in my head. There's no way I'm sick again." You go on with your daily routine, ignoring the scratchy throat, stuffy nose, and swirling, twirling stomach pain. You have no choice in the matter. Perhaps if I ignore it, it will just go away? you wonder hopefully. It's a strategy that's never worked before-- on anything-- but maybe it will work this time.

Isn't coffee considered a Super Food these days anyway?

2.  Anger: As the illness begins to take a firm hold on your immune system, phrases such as, “No F-ing WAY!” and “I can't afford to be sick!” are hollered from the rooftops. There's a lot of slamming doors and cursing under your breath. “Who is going to take care of me? Who?!” becomes familiar to anyone who will listen. There's no patience to be spared. No one is safe, not even your spouse. Especially not your spouse.

3.  Bargaining: You begin to repeat solemn promises and devout prayers in your head; we'll call it Internal Bargaining. Promises such as “I will never order a venti mocha Frappucino ever again if I can just get over this stomach bug!” and “Please Lord, let me wake up feeling better, and I'll take the kids to any park they want. We'll explore all the parks in the city-- every single one!” You will probably also resort to more begging, er, External Bargaining, than usual, as in, “If you stop fighting with your brother for 10 minutes, you can have the entire bag of Skittles,” and “I swear when I'm feeling better I'll play hide-and-seek with you all day. Anything you want! Just let me lie down for 5 minutes.” And the sad thing is that you really believe it too.

I try REALLY HARD not to feel guilty about extra screen time.

4. Depression: There's no joy in life, no happiness to be found. When your mom advises you over the phone-- from 300 miles away-- to “get some rest,” you simply whimper at the impossibility of it. Crueler words have never been spoken, you think, staring longingly at the couch where your 3 year old is busy eating Goldfish in her pajamas and your 5 year old is busy hitting her with a sword/pillow.

5. Acceptance: The final stage. A sad, lonely place, best faced by drinking extra coffee and encouraging your children to indulge in extra electronic time. The recommended limit of two hours of screen time per day now feels laughable. We reach that limit by breakfast, you think, shrugging your shoulders, blowing your nose, and handing over the iPad to your 4 year old. At this point in the struggle, you are advised to avoid looking in the mirror or checking Facebook; nothing good will come of it.

You see, few things are quite as hard as life for a mom when she is sick. How are we expected to take care of everyone else when we can't even function? Repeat after me: It's not fair! It's NOT FAIR!

This message brought to you by Julia herself, presently wallowing in Stage 2.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Consider giving this book to a mom friend this holiday season! I'm in it!
It's hilarious!
It's available on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Minnesota Nice & Organizer Burnout

Pet Peeve Alert. No, wait-- Double...actually... Triple Pet Peeve Alert!

I occasionally suffer from a mild, self-invented and self-inflicted disorder I've dubbed "Organizer Burnout." It basically means I get tired of being the Reacher-Outter.

While I like to sometimes organize a lunch date, play date, or outing, I don't always want to be the one who does it. I do my part, but ever since I moved to Minnesota, it feels like I get stuck in a rut where once I start a friendship being the Organizer with a capital "O," everyone kind of depends on me to continue that role indefinitely.

Well, that's a lot of pressure, and after enough time in the role, I start to feel taken for granted and a little wounded. While I might often reach out to new people-- that's just who I am-- I certainly wouldn't mind it if someone reached out to me now and then. I would be thrilled!

[Which brings me to a secondary pet peeve: when people run into you and say "hi stranger!" as a not-so-subtle accusation. Um, what? How do people not see that friendships go both ways? If you haven't reached out to me either in the last few months, why am I cast aside as the "stranger?" Why is it always the Other Person who has to initiate contact? It gets old.]

This brings me to my final peeve: the Minnesota Nice misnomer.

Minnesota Nice is a thing, kind of, sort of. People around the country think of Minnesotans as sooooo nice, with our quaint accented O's and our cozy sweaters and our Caribou coffee. And Minnesotans are nice, for the most part. I don't run into mean, grumpy people very often. Most people smile and nod; they enjoy surface-level chatting in the check-out line.

However, as for truly reaching out to non-Minnesotans, no, I don't think there's a lot of that going on here. It just doesn't seem to be naturally embedded in the local culture of those who were born-and-raised here. In that sense, I don't "blame" anyone. This is just how it is here, but it' been a steep learning curve for me as a non-native.

Of course, there are exceptions. I have a few lifelong-Minnesotan friends who have always been welcoming and warm. I really appreciate them. But in general, if I've wanted to break into a group of friends or meet someone new here, the onus is on me. I need to be the one to put myself out there, to plan All The Things, and to be, yes, The Organizer.

In the summer here especially, when there aren't any preschool drop-offs and pick ups, or any sociable school functions, it feels like almost everyone retreats into their private Minnesota comfort zones-- to their family cabins, to their siblings and cousins who live down the street, and to wherever "up north" is. It's as if the friendships I thought was forming all year, go poof!  and vanish from June-August.

Where does everyone go?!

I believe in cutting people slack, so no, I try not to hold grudges against those who fade in and out of my life. We all have our stuff-- our battles. Still, it can be lonely navigating the social world and the subtle cultural differences in this state, even though I've now lived here for 12 years.

My other tactic in making friends is building relationships with other non-native transplants. Several of my friends have moved here from other parts of the country.

The holidays are fast approaching, and it's easy to forget in all our busy-ness that many people around us do not have family nearby. Maybe they are from out of state, like me, or even from out of the country. Consider reaching out to them. When was the last time you invited someone new to your house?

For my part, I'm making an effort to reach out to the women I've recently met who have moved across the world to live here. The ones who may struggle with the language and culture, and on top of that of course want to make friends and feel secure in this new place they call home. This season, I am putting myself out there to be truly Minnesota Nice while balancing my tendency towards Reacher-Outter burnout.

Please note: I am not trying to rail against Minnesotans. After all, I have made this state my home and there are aspects about it that I love. It is possible the Reacher-Outter role is required of a newcomer in any state; I am just speaking from my own experience.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Opposing Political Views Won't Destroy My Marriage

Don't worry, I'm not contributing to the incessant Internet ranting. I'm not ripping anyone to shreds here. I won't be telling you who I voted for, and I won't tell you which party I affiliate with.

I'm tired of the intense wave of negativity flooding social media.

[For the record, I didn't "hate" either candidate. Like we teach our children, hate is a strong word. I reserve it for truly horrible people who hurt children and/or murder people. I don't hate someone trying to run for president. I'm not going to use it hypocritically right under my kids' noses.]

Anyway, when I met my husband back in college, we found ourselves on very opposite sides of the political spectrum. You would think our relationship was doomed from the start, but it wasn't. We've now been married for 9 years, and together for 15. We still disagree about certain political decisions, especially when it comes to social issues and constitutional amendments.

But do we fight like cats and dogs, and "hate" each other for holding opposing views? No.

During and after the recent election, I've thought a lot about how politics impacts our relationship and here's what I've decided: while it would certainly be easier to agree on everything on the ballot, we wouldn't have learned or grown nearly as much as we have over the past decade or so if we did.

Being forced to snuggle up on the couch with someone who on the surface appears to have completely different political views forces you to ask questions and learn-- and most important-- listen. There is so little listening going on in the world.

I think my husband is smart and educated, and hopefully he thinks the same of me. Seeing an intelligent person who you love in action, defending their views, makes you think much harder. It humanizes the 'other side,' and it also makes us look at ways to support our own beliefs or perhaps even question them. Something I think would do us all some good.

More than anything, I think what helps us stay relatively afloat is that underneath it all, my husband and I do share the same priorities and values-- the value of family and hard work, the importance of keeping people safe, and the necessity of a good education-- we just sometimes think different paths will get us there.

Plus, a roomful of interesting people who all agree with each other can quickly spiral into a roomful of holier-than-thou know-it-alls. No thanks. 

Politics won't be wrecking my marriage anytime soon. Our situation has made me more open-minded and less judgmental. I hope my husband feels the same way. Politics shouldn't be based on constantly trying to change someone's mind to agree with you; to me, it's about opening up our own minds.

My marriage has made me look at things through more than one lens, and I feel lucky for that opportunity. And underlying and despite all of it, I can always admire how passionate my husband is in his beliefs.

Hopefully we can continue to weather life's storms. 

How about you? Do you and your spouse agree politically? If not, how does it affect you?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Magic Potions and Flying Machines

When I was a little kid, I remember trying to prove that that old saying, "anything is possible," was true. I believed it; all the books and stories and fairy tales purported it as fact, so it must be true, right?

When my older siblings tried to stump me on my quest to find solutions and abilities for anything, they would state the impossible (say, flying up to the moon without a rocket), and my final answer-- my trump card and old standby-- was always "you could make a magic potion for that!"

Ha! Top that!

There's nothing a magic potion can't solve.

Somewhere along the way, I must have realized that magic potions-- especially ones that enable humans to spring up from the earth and blast into space-- aren't real. I must have realized that some things really are impossible. Well that sucks.

I feel a little ripped off about this whole magic potion thing. Same with anything we saw in The Jetsons, and of course the flying cars we were promised in the 80's. Where are those, I ask you?

As parents, are we to purport the glorious, wonderful, impossible idea that anything is possible, when in fact, no, not every single thing you can think of is possible? Time travel? Tooth fairies? Yoda? Turning invisible? I kind of hate that none of that exists, because it would be awesome, but as far as I know, they don't.

OMG! I had forgotten about their adorable little pet. I WANT ONE OF THOSE!

So do we squash that imagination in our children as a way for them to understand the difference between fiction and reality? To protect them from the streetwise kid on the playground (who has older siblings) who gleefully informs them there is no Santa, and there is certainly no Easter Bunny or Superman.

Or do we insouciantly encourage it, knowing that they'll find out the truth later on. It's fun while it lasts and all? How sad that day will be!

I have no answers. No magic book kept for centuries in a crumbling old castle, and no wise old elf, that tells me the right thing to do. I wish we could let our children believe it all until one day it all really does come true.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Yes My Kids are Picky Eaters, Now Mind Your Own Beeswax

"Your kid doesn't like pizza?!"
"He won't eat mac n cheese?!"
"Just let them go hungry if they won't eat!"
"What kid doesn't like chocolate milk?"

No. No. Nope. And NO!! Just shut up.

Sorry. That sounds harsh, but ugh, I'm just so sick of other people caring so much about what food goes into my children's stomachs.

Seriously. It's weird if you think about it. Why on earth are some people so fascinated about the fact that my kids are, ehem, discerning eaters?

Sure, I would love it if they would eat whatever I made them, but that's not happening. So let's quit the judgment and the scandalized ooohs and ahhhhs right there, folks. They're my kids, not yours. Simmer down.

I'm quite certain some of their pickiness is my fault. [Every 'problem behavior' is the mom's fault, right? (insert half-hearted chuckle)]. Sigh. I serve my children the foods they like, which happen to be simple, rather plain ones; my theory has been and currently still is this: a fed child is a happy child. (Or, at least, a tolerable one).

Would I rather them be hungry and crabby because they wouldn't eat the angel-hair pasta/vegan stir fry/vegetable melange, or would I rather them be decent human beings because I fed them the plain grilled chicken they like with a side of grapes and carrot sticks? The second option. Absolutely the second option.

That's my choice. It's what works best for us, even though it isn't always easy, convenient, or very popular. Let's all just exhale and remember that all families are different, and that I'm not judging you for your choices, and those of us living with picky eaters would appreciate the same treatment.

Like the old saying goes, what goes around comes around. We can all be on our high horses until we're the ones picking our way along a precarious path.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Getting My Feet Wet

Let me just tell you, glancing at your resume for the first time in...oh...6 years or so can make your stomach drop.

Because though I've been slowly and surely developing a freelance writing resume for some time now, I've pretty much ignored my teaching resume. I can only do so much, after all! They are two totally different resumes.

Before I had my son, I taught high school students with learning disabilities and attention disorders. I enjoyed it, especially the progress I helped my students make, but we decided it worked best for our family for me to stay home with our children while they were babies.

Fast forward six years. What in the world? They are not babies anymore.

My son is now in 1st grade (!!!!), and my daughter is in preschool. As any teacher knows, teaching is more of a calling than a profession. You don't make a lot of money, and it's much harder than people think it is, but if you are born to be one, you simply can't stay away from it for too long.

This summer, I started to get my feet just the slightest bit wet again in the teaching world. I tutored three different high school students, juggling it all around when my kids were occupied at camp or with sitters. Even though it took a lot of childcare and scheduling organization, it felt so good to get back in touch with that part of my life again!

So now I'm wading in the waters again, just a little deeper-- tutoring students with reading issues during the school year. That's when I decided to peak at my teaching resume and update it, as I hope to find something part-time at a local school in the next year or so. Guess what? I couldn't find my resume! HAHAHAHA! (<------ maniacal, nervous laughter).

Commence searching the net for what a teaching resume even looks like...

That's where I am right now, folks. It's fun, overwhelming, exciting, nerve-wracking, and who knows what else, all churned into one big knot in my stomach. Mostly exciting though.

I'll be sure to keep you posted! In the meantime:
How about you? Do you work full-time or part-time, or stay at home with the kids? Have you re-entered the work world recently? How did it go?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Close to Home

There's this t.v. show I like; I've mentioned it before-- 90 Day Fiance. I know, I know. Even the name sounds ridiculous.

[1st Side Note: The premise of the show is this: Each couple has 90 days (regulated by U.S. law) to get married once they are granted a K-1 Visa. Most of these couples meet online or on a trip and then one of them moves to the U.S. during that 90 Day period. The show documents the process. Kind of fascinating, right?].

[2nd Side Note: At some point, we must truly own who we are to live our best lives (at least, that's what I believe). We all do things that aren't glamorous, so let's just let it all hang out. This is one of my things.]

Hey, I never said I was too cool to watch TLC.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing about the show is this: I recently realized a major reason why I like it so much, and it has nothing to do with it being crazy or juicy or unrealistic. It's because, in many ways, I can relate to it. It's actually not unrealistic. It's real people, doing what some consider 'crazy,' and others consider... life.

I didn't meet my husband online. I'm not from another country than he is, and neither of us needed to get special Visas to get married. In that way, I feel fortunate. How lucky I am to have met my husband at the mere age of 20, in college! How quaint!

As I watch the women on the show, however, the ones who have traveled across the world to [hopefully] be with the person they love, well, it gives me pause. These women from all parts of the globe may have thick accents and may be struggling to assimilate to a new culture, but when I watch them talk to their families on Skype, it hit me: they are me. I am them.

I live across the country from my family. I am homesick every day. Yes, seriously. Every. Day.

I hate flying, and yet I've done it every single year of my life, countless times.
Because that's what you do for family.

I try to Facetime with one of them at least a couple of times a week. Just like the women on the show, I chose to move here to be with my now-husband, and I had to make a life for myself in a new land. I did choose it, and with no regrets. But that doesn't mean it was an easy decision to make, and that it isn't still hard.

I did have it easier than the women on the show do. I speak English. I have a driver's license and a college degree. I don't experience culture shock (wait, that's not entirely true-- I do experience Minnesota culture shock now and then, even after living here for 12 years), but not in the extreme amounts the women on the show do).

Still, I understand their vulnerability, and despite all our differences, I feel a surprising sense of kinship with them. Sitting on our big yellow couch in the evenings, I find myself rooting for these couples, even though my heart has been calloused against all the failing "reality show couples." I want it to work out for them.

Because while their trials and tribulations are televised to entertain, they have also connected to me in another way. Say what you will about 'reality shows,' but they aren't always as "unreal" as we all like to say.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Everyone's Fighting a Battle

I was checking out of the library with my daughter last week when I happened to see a little sign posted above one of the librarian's desks. It read: "Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

[The origin of this quote is uncertain, but according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, author Ian Maclaren originally wrote it as: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle;" he's also quoted as writing in 1897, “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”]

Whoever wrote it (and whatever version you read), wow. 

I've seen it before, and I think remembering its message is one of the keys to compassion and kindness. It's so easy for us, all caught up in our own lives, to forget that every single person around us also has their challenges-- whether they let you see them or not.

And no, most people won't let you see their hardships. Especially the person you assume "has it all"-- trust me, they're fighting battles just like the rest of us. Ones we know nothing about.

This hit home recently: We have a rather grumpy postal worker. She never smiles at a greeting, never says hello. She looks angry. My son, ever-attuned to rudeness or injustice, exclaimed loudly "I hate that lady!" Hey, he's aware of subtleties, but it doesn't mean he can use them [yet]! Yikes.

Anyway, he went on to ask me why she was so "mean." It would be easy to write her off as just a nasty person, right? But how many people are truly and inherently mean? Who at their core doesn't have a good soul? Very few. I think it's probably more accurate that she, like all of us, is fighting a battle of her own, and hers is likely a very hard one.

I took a deep breath and explained to my son that some people have extremely hard lives, and that she must be going through something difficult (I didn't think it was necessary to list all of the true possibilities of hardship-- those would rest too heavily on his soul). He actually did seem to understand what I meant, at just age 6. I think little ones understand it more than we think. I was proud of that moment. I was proud I took the time to explain it, and that my son took it in. 

I want to teach my children compassion and the ability to look beyond initial impressions and assumptions. I hope that instance was one small step towards reaching that goal. 

How do you teach your children the meaning and importance of kindness?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Monday, September 19, 2016

Working at Home Is Not an Adorable Hobby

Being a freelance writer is a funny thing. There are thousands of us out there, but I don't know a single one in my own hood or on my list of acquaintances. I've only met writer-friends through the good old interwebs.

So when I tell people I'm a writer, an unusual thing happens-- people often seem to take that to mean sitting on my butt watching The Today Show, or "lunching," or taking yoga classes whenever I want. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Despite the fact that I'm trying to squeeze in work whenever I possibly can, it's not uncommon for me to hear something patronizing like, "How cute" or "Fun!" or "Do you make money doing that?" I've even had people laugh IN MY FACE. How would a lawyer or engineer like it if I said their job was "fun" or if I chuckled at their cuteness and asked how much they get paid? Notsomuch. And sorry guys, but men are especially prone to thinking my job is an adorable hobby.

If you need a label, you can call me a "Work at Home Mom," as every day, I attempt to care for my kids without full-time childcare while cramming in research, writing, interviewing, editing, submitting, and promoting whenever I can. I have actual deadlines and actual assignments. Despite the fact that I work A LOT, it appears that many people take that to mean Nonworking. Huh?

Don't get me wrong, Stay at Home moms work HARD. I've been there. Work Outside the Home Moms work very hard too. We are all working hard!

Also, I should note: some people do get it. These are usually the people who like reading, so they tend to like and appreciate writers.

So, yes, I usually work on my couch, doing what I love (writing and editing), hunched over my trusty laptop whenever I can sneak it in-- during the lickety-split two hour overlap while my kids are at preschool and school, during that precious time when the kids are finally asleep at night, or occasionally during times when they are out with my husband running an errand on the weekends. I LOVE WRITING. I sometimes always wish I had more time to do it, though.

My cubicle is conveniently located on a big yellow couch adjacent to my refrigerator and without anyone slurping soup or coffee in the next cubicle. At times, I thoroughly enjoy working at home, and I'm grateful to be the one who greets my son when he gets off the bus after a long day at school and to be the one having lunch with my preschooler.

Other times, especially when I'm trying to reply to an important e-mail or partake in a conference call while Dora is playing in the background and/or someone is asking for another snack, a quiet office sounds positively dreamy.

Anyway, the rant is basically this: working at home does not equal doing nothing. We are working!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Parenting Decisions & Second-Guessing Ourselves

As parents, every day-- every minute-- we make decisions. We decide to react this way or that way, and it has to happen immediately. Split second decisions are commonplace. Our first level of decision-making is to keep our children safe. It's in our biological make-up-- to protect our brood.

The rest fall into murkier territory. These are the decisions that can be made differently by a million different people. These are the choices that aren't life or death, but on some level reflect our goals and values.

I've been thinking about a non-life-or-death, murky decision I recently made.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my kids to a rare lunch outing at a McDonald's with a Play Place [bring on the Advil and hand sanitizer!]. My daughter (almost 4) had been begging to go, and sometimes I throw my hands up, surrender, and try to have some fun with the kids (that's part of the point, right?).

My two littles scarfed their Happy Meals, and then I watched them like a hawk as they winded their way around the primary-colored tunnels. Or, I watched as much as I could, as the tubes they crawl through are opaque. I heard mixtures of shouts, laughs, cries, and whatever other noises children make. Par for the course.

I was cleaning up our table, feeling pretty happy, when a little girl came over and communicated that my son (age 6) had hurt her on the nose and it still hurt.

Oh. Okay. Deep breath.

Well, of course, that's not good. I don't want my son to be physically aggressive. I hate violence. I quickly apologized for his behavior and assured her I would talk to him about it.

Case closed, right?

I had a split-second decision to make, and that's what I decided based on my son's personality, his intensity level (high), and my values (we don't hit people). I would talk with him. I would also get his take on what happened, as I hadn't seen it. Most of all, I would use it as an opportunity to help him improve his social skills.

I realize not every one would take this tactic. Some might immediately find their child and march them up to the girl to apologize. That might be the right choice for them, but I knew that wouldn't work for us. I knew deep down my son would throw a huge fit and learn nothing from the incident. If I tried to force him, the girl would not get the sincere apology she was hoping for.

I looked around to see if the girl was being supervised. Her mother or caregiver was looking right at the girl and me, smiling with what appeared to be support and approval of the little girl, and perhaps a wee bit suspicious of me. Truthfully, it felt uncomfortable on a lot of levels.

When my son came down from the Play Place, I asked him if he had hit someone; he admitted he had. He also said she was pointing at him over and over and saying "hey you!" I could tell he was frustrated by the whole situation.

Oh geez. Hitting is never okay, but pointing and yelling at my son is definitely not the way to talk to him. Nothing good will come of it. I quickly told him that hitting is never okay, and that even if someone is bothering him, he needs to walk away rather than retaliate. He felt bad. He looked remorseful. I knew I would address it again with him in private later as a follow-up.

I also had a higher purpose in my head: I had gone to lunch with my kids to let them have some fun together and to enjoy them before school started up again, after a rather challenging summer. I didn't want to end it on an awful note.

I was now ready to go, salvaging what was left of our decent mood.

We walked out of the Play Place and, whew!, I've never felt eyes burn into my back as much as they did that day. I could feel the woman's (and girl's) eyes on me, and I'm pretty certain it was in shock and disdain that I didn't march my son right over and force him to apologize. Or maybe I was imagining it.

Was I wrong? Maybe. Something in me also says perhaps my quick decision was okay, even if it wasn't perfect. Would the apology have been sincere? Would he have even done it? I can't make him do something, though I suppose I could threaten or bribe him to do it-- but doesn't that take away the purpose of an apology? Is that the spirit of being sorry I want my son to learn?

I have run through the scenario several times in my head (per usual), and I'm not convinced I did the right thing. I'm not convinced I did the total wrong thing either.

How about you? What murky decisions do you question after the fact? How do we know if we are making the "right" choices, and how do we define "right?"

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Frantic Mama's Five Friday Faves: Fall 2016 Edition

Helloooooo everyone!

There's an ever-so-slight crispness in the morning air and a few leaves are beginning to transform into reds and golds. Fall is coming...and although I love summer, fall can be pretty great too.

On that note, school has also started so I am writing a real, actual blog post! Wooo hoooo!!!

I have some new favorites up my sleeve to share with you-- here and on my new YouTube channel.

1. Tin Whiskers Wheat Stone Bridge Ale (tied with New Belgium's Pumpkick):

YUM! Tin Whiskers is a local St. Paul, Minnesota, brewery, so I tried this wheat ale (spiked with honey and chamomile!) out of loyalty, and I love it.

If you are a pumpkin fan, you need to try Pumpkick beer by New Belgium-- it's delicious!

2. Animal field guides:

I grew up poring these little pocket guides growing up, and I recently found a stash for my kids. It's tons of fun to look at these together. We also have Birds of Minnesota and Trees of Minnesota. Obviously, not all of you live in Minnesota, but if you have a nature lover in your house, I recommend seeing if there's one out there for your state or country!

3. Amy Schumer's new book: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

I love a funny book. This one makes me laugh out loud. Prudes beware: it might be a little too much for you. Sometimes I find myself looking over my shoulder to see if a parent has caught me with this collection of scandalous stories, but then I realize I'm the parent, so it's all good.

4. Toy Cash Register by Learning Resources:

This is a great toy that grows with your kids. Both of mine enjoy playing with it, and I love an educational toy that also encourages pretend play.

5.  TAZO Chai Tea. 

Spicy and warm...perfect served hot with a splash of milk on a fall afternoon!

Want to see me chat about these faves on YouTube? Check it out here!

What are your favorite things this fall?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Friday, September 2, 2016

I'm on Scary Mommy!

Hi everyone!

I'm excited to tell you that one of my essays is up on uber-site Scary Mommy starting today. I'm especially thrilled (and a little nervous) because it's not just any post-- it's one that's deeply personal to me.

If you are a regular reader, you may remember the one about my son and the challenges and joys of having an emotionally intense child. That's the one they're sharing.

The comments on big sites like Scary Mommy can be both supportive and horrendous, so I'm trying to resist reading any on the site or on Facebook. It's hard to resist, though...

If you would like to read the essay, you can check it out here.

**If my kid sounds like yours, please know you are not alone! Thousands of people have read, commented, and/or liked the post on Facebook. Follow Frantic Mama on there to hear updates on emotionally intense children, high sensitivity, and the challenges and joys of it all!

I also created a YouTube video to help parents like me. Check it out, here.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Surviving a Stomach Bug with Kids!

I've been missing in action for a while because I was battling a heinous stomach bug. So were my kids! Enough said.

But I'm back to the land of the living (Hallelujah!) and I created a video to help prepare those of you who may encounter illness in your house in the future (which is everyone, right?).

I've written about these before. Worth it!

Here's the link to my latest and greatest YouTube Video.

Stay healthy, everyone!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Hard Ones: Parenting an Emotionally Intense Child

Let's talk about something no one really talks about: the hard kids. The ones people say are badly behaved, poorly disciplined, overly demanding, etc., etc.

The kids who don't offer a constant stream of easygoing smiles, giving hugs to any newcomer who asks, and who certainly won't just sit there and go with the flo in new situations.

No, they won't eat the new brand of pizza you bought, and no, they probably don't want to go to that new camp you've signed them up for. They have bad dreams, big worries, they yell and cry easily, they are often anxious or appear angry.

Intense is the best word to describe them.

I have two kids. One is hard, just like that. Yes, yes, people always say, "oh mine is hard too! They're all hard!" Well, sure, okay, to some extent, all children add complexity and challenge to our lives. Of course. But only parents with a child like mine really know what I mean.

Parents like me understand the heartbreak of watching their child's personality fall flat of a relative's or friend's expectations:

"Why wouldn't he give me a high five right off the bat?"
"Why won't she eat anything but crackers today?"
"There's something really wrong with that kid."
"Why did he yell at me when I won the race?"
"Why doesn't she want to run along and play with the dollhouse?"
"The kid just needs a slap on the butt; that's what he needs."

I know these sorts of things have been whispered about my son-- sometimes to my face, sometimes when they don't think I hear-- who is just 6 years old. It's exhausting, lonely, and hurtful.

Yes, I know these kids are intense. Trust me-- I KNOW. Not "tantrum every once in a while" intense. Not "oh, she gets fussy when she's hungry." Children like my son are constantly emotionally intense, almost right from the womb, if not before (I still remember the ultrasound technician chuckling at my roly-poly baby rocking out in my uterus).

Children like my son can be demanding, hard to please, anxious. The list goes on.

But here's the thing: they are still children, and if you take the time to peel back their crunchy exterior, they are sweet and have good hearts. Honestly, they haven't been spoiled rotten or ignored or overly-praised.

I don't think I did anything to "make" my son harder than your typical kid (though surely I've made my fair share of mistakes). On a good day, I call him my "grumpy old man," and find him quite charming and funny. In fact, anyone who makes the effort (which I know can be hard) to sit down with him for more than 3 minutes and tries to get to know him will find him to be just that-- a great little guy. A sharp-as-a-tack, interesting, affectionate, funny little person.

To the majority of the world who don't have an intense child, please consider taking a few extra minutes to embrace the quirks of children like mine. Please resist judgment. Resist thinking there's something wrong with them (or their parents). Try not to take their initial outer shell of protection personally; they've had to build that.

You might find they will surprise you. Most of all, please know your patience will not go unnoticed by the child or the parent. I can promise you that.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

P.S. For further reading on emotional intensity and high sensitivity in children, I recommend: 

Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students by Christine Fonseca. Prufrock Press, Inc.

The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron.
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Monday, August 1, 2016

I'm on YouTube!

Yes, it's true: I decided to create my own YouTube Channel. It's about all things Frantic Mama.

You can find it here.

We'll see how it goes... I love to learn new things and to be creative, and making videos is another way to do that. I'm curious to learn more and see if people enjoy it.

If  you subscribe, you'll get updates when I add new videos.

Thank you!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama
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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Is it so bad...

I'm realizing something more than ever this summer. Okay, it's something I've known for a while but haven't admitted to many.

Are you ready?

Are you really, really ready, and willing to withhold judgement?

Here it is: One of my favorite activities to do with my kids is watch shows.

It's out there. I said it.

This is our living room. Just kidding!

Why does that seem taboo to admit? I think it's because of all the "shoulds" I constantly feel. I should be stimulating their brains with puzzles. I should be organizing playdates and social outings for them. I should be working with them to create that impossible-looking Lego set someone gave us. I should...

And I do those things when I can.

But oh, how nice it is after a rushed morning, a difficult mealtime, or a harried trip to the grocery to to sit peacefully with my kids, often on the couch next to my son and with my little daughter on my lap?

It's one of my only my chances during the day to get off my feet. It gives me a chance to hold or lean into them. It's a time with little to no arguing (for a lovely 15 minutes). Are you starting to get it? It's nice.

So here I am readers-- I admit it. Watching a show (or two) with my kids helps keep me sane, especially this summer, as we have had oh so much time together. I urge you to find what keeps you sane too.

P.S. Curious to know what we've been watching this summer? A 1980's favorite of mine, the original Thundercats! It's weird and insane (the characters are half-person half-feline), but also kind of awesome. Add it to your watchlist if you dare!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Getting Older

I have a summer birthday-- June 9th-- so aging is on my mind. I never wanted to be someone who pretends to be another age (younger), or who hates her birthday and pretends it doesn't exist. Why not own who you are and all that you've accomplished?

Now that I'm in my mid-30's, I look at people who lie about their age less critically. Because I get it. There are hard parts of getting older-- physically and emotionally. It's kind of Pollyanna to act like you ABSOLUTELY LOVE getting older every year, isn't it?

I don't think most of us can honestly deny that we wouldn't mind getting rid of a wrinkle here or a sun spot there. I don't think many of us choose to let our hair go totally gray at age 30, do we? And I still flinch when the checkout guy calls me "ma'am."

A photo from my 33rd or 34th birthday (I honestly don't remember! Ha!)

In my 20's, I could pluck out those frizzly stray grays now and then (I started getting them early!) with a satisfying pull of the tweezers, but now if I don't add a bit of color in my hair, there's a definite gray cast around the temples and hairline. I'm not ready to go gray.

So while I own up to how old I am-- 35-- I don't think it's unforgivable to add a little color here, a little extra SPF there. We have to do what feels right to us as we get...older...yes, I said it.

All that said, when I reflect on my current stage of life, there are plenty of challenges (I won't go into those right now), but it's also pretty fantastic. I feel good. Happy. I have a lot of life left in me.

On Parent.co, I share 10 Reasons Being in Your 30's Doesn't Suck. I think my reasoning could expand to your 40's and 50's and beyond. I hope you agree!

Happy Birthday to all of you this upcoming year ;).

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Friendly Collaboration

Hello friends!

How is summer (here in the U.S.) treating you?

As you can see from the absence of recent blog posts on my site, summer is keeping me...busy.

Mostly busy in a good way. I love the warmer weather and the chance to spend time outdoors with my kids.

But there's also a lack of structure that my son especially craves, so that's a challenge. (Not to mention, my lack of alone time!)

However, I did have a chance to write and publish an essay, Life Imitates Art, for Mamalode recently.

I worked on it with my artist and writer friend, Swati, who you can find over at Mammabugbitme.

Swati's one-of-a-kind paintings inspired me to write about the experiences so many of us share in Motherhood-- whether we live next door to each other or across the world.

Mamalode's June theme was "You are Not Alone," and I think Swati's artwork exquisitely conveys that message.

See what I mean? Who CAN'T relate to this beautiful art by Swati?

I would love it if you headed over to Mamalode to read it and share it with any of your fellow mom friends who need support and encouragement.

P.S. And if you are in the mood for even more Frantic Mama fun, head over to Parent.co to read my essay, "All the Monsters My Kids Don't Know."

Happy Summer, everyone!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Focusing on the Good

It's so easy-- natural, even-- to obsess about all the challenges in our lives as mothers. Is your kid all the sudden not sleeping? You wonder why. Are your kids in a "I only eat plain hot dogs and Cheez-its stage?" You worry they'll never eat a piece of pizza. Are they struggling with x/y/z? Quick, search Google. Are you frustrated with yourself for losing your patience? Commence feeling guilty.

Not hard to do, right?

I read (and took) some advice in a book recently (I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood) that has added to my daily happiness.

The authors write that one behavior to practice at the end of each day is to think about and feel good about what did go well with your kids that day. It may not sound groundbreaking, but I have to say, regularly doing so has positively influenced me.

I have also started doing this throughout the day-- taking a mental note when I am enjoying my kids during the day, or when I feel that surge of love and pride for them.

Some days, yes, the hard parenting moments may outnumber the joyful ones, but by focusing on the really good ones, I still feel better.

This print was my gift to my husband for Father's Day: A good reminder that having each other is something to feel grateful and happy about every single day.

Since just last week, when I first read this nugget of wisdom, I'm feeling calmer and like a more successful mother. [To me, a successful mom isn't defined by someone else. It simply means that I feel satisfied with how I'm doing with my own children in our own lives.]

Here are a few simple joys I've taken note of in the past week... See if you can start to recognize those little moments of happiness in your day as well.

Reading aloud with each child pressed up next to me on our big yellow couch.

My son and daughter saying the best part of their morning at camp was seeing each other on the playground.

My daughter dancing like a surfer dude to her new CD.

My son making me laugh with his ever-developing and quite hilarious sense of humor.

Watching both of them try (and like!) a new food at breakfast.

Reading together as a whole family in my son's bedroom before bed (they have started sharing a room this week; it's ridiculously adorable though it brings its own challenges...).

Watching my son hit the ball at t-ball and race around the bases as fast as he can.

When my little daughter runs up to each of us and gives us a big kiss.

Letting my son steal the Twizzlers right out of my hand and laughing with him about it.

It feels really good to list all the happy moments from the last week because of course-- certainly-- there were plenty of hard ones too.

I think it's also important to note that none of these moments were earth-shattering-- there were no home runs, no winning of spelling bees or trophies, no life-altering achievements. Those big joys are rare; the real joy of life is hidden in all the tiny moments.

Life is basically a collection of moments, and I'm choosing to focus on the best ones. I'm no Pollyanna-- when there's something serious going on, it's important to figure things out. But obsessing about the countless little bumps in the road doesn't do much good for any of us, does it?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Summer Project Series: Bye Bye Wallpaper!

It's June, which means many things in our home: no school, warmer weather, my birthday, and... house projects!

What have I decided to tackle this summer?

Our kitchen WALLPAPER!

We moved into our house a whopping four years ago. We thought the first thing we would do is strip the green polka dot wallpaper (with floral border), but with two little kids at our feet and the various necessities that crop up (broken well water pumps and hot water heaters take priority, apparently), it simply hadn't gotten done.

Until one day a couple of weeks ago, I just begin ripping at that paper!

The coolest part is that I did all of the removal without using ANY chemicals or any new store-bought tools. It was FREE and nontoxic.

I ripped up the top layer by hand. Then, I soaked the bottom, adhesive layer with a wet sponge, and then scraped it off using a putty knife. It wasn't hard, but it was a long process.*

*[Very long. Because when you are home with little ones, you have to work for 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there. I didn't have, say, a block of several dreamy hours.]

Still, I did it! The bare drywall alone looked better than the wallpaper.

Next was the paint choice. My husband and I both wanted a gray with just the slightest of blue undertones. Harder to find that you may think!

Many test spots later, we settled on Nomadic Travels by Hirshfield's (a paint shop in Minnesota).

Here's one wall!

I'm still painting the walls, but whew, I'm seeing the light! It feels so good to have done it all by myself and to actually like what I see when I walk into our much-used kitchen.

How about you? What projects are you dreaming of tackling this summer?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama