Friday, July 29, 2011

Fan Club Friday - Where I Belong

Let me say that you know you're into a book when it makes you homesick. That's just what Gwendolyn Heasley's book Where I Belong did to me. Readers Beware: As if having a baby doesn't make you miss your folks and grandparents enough, as if sweltering subways and crowded sidewalks don't make you long for winding roads with the windows rolled down, and as if pizza slices and bagels don't make you yearn for fried chicken and biscuits, you pick up a novel like Where I Belong and start to ponder the book title yourself.

This YA novel follows Corrinne, a New York City Upper East Sider who's life is full of "shopping sprees at Barney's" and "open access to the best clubs and parties." She's got it all, from designer clothes to an expensive education, and she takes it all for granted because, hey! Why shouldn't she? Her lifestyle may seem unbelievable to me, but to her, it's the way things have always been.

But then, her father is laid off and their family takes a powerful blow from the recession. They lose their entire savings and are forced to sell their sprawling Manhattan apartment. Corrinne is forced to move to Texas to live with her little brother and grandparents, attend public school, and leave behind her horse and best friends. She has to shop at the mall (gasp!), lose her spot at boarding school, and get a job... shoveling manure! It may not sound bad to you, (okay, the horse poop might), but remember, the small town lifestyle is some kind of alternate universe for her. She may as well have moved to Mars.

Now, I was worried that maybe I wouldn't feel for somebody like Corrinne. When we first meet her, she is snobby and stuck up, selfish and immature, and to put it plainly, not the kind of person I would want as a friend. (Heasley pens a letter from Corrinne at the jump off asking us to give her a chance, which I think was really smart. I mean, I grew up in the kind of place where driving an hour away to shop at the mall was a luxury!) But then throughout the course of the novel, this character really grows on you. You find yourself cracking along with her as she loosens up and starts eating those deliciously described southern foods. You smile at Grandpa's peace-making efforts and laugh at Grandma's sassy attitude. And as cute as Rider is and as sexy as musicians are, you can't help but like a good ol' boy like Bubby. The fact that we're actually rooting for Corrinne by the end says a lot about the author's talent.

Where I Belong was a fun read and a good time. I still think about Corrinne every now and then. I wonder how much of her southern roots she brought back with her to the big city; cause the post-Texas Corrinne had a heckuva lot more self-confidence and surprisingly turned out to be a girl I would call a friend after all.

You can follow Gwendolyn Heasley at where_I_belong on Twitter.

Also, check out this amazing blurb she wrote for my book, The Queen of Kentucky:

"Whitaker's debut sparkles as she takes the reader on a tour of two unforgettable places: small town Kentucky and the heart of our charming and hilarious narrator, Ricki Jo."
- Gwendolyn Heasley, author of Where I Belong

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Throwback Thursday - One year ago

My son, Knox, just turned one. We had an awesome birthday party for him, complete with cake, kiddie pool, parachute, beach balls, and other babies. He was overwhelmed and cranky at the beginning, but boy did he rally. He scooted all around that pool like he couldn't get enough. After the party, he took a two hour nap, exhausted by the amount of fun present at the first shindig in his honor of his life. 

Funny thing is that one year prior, he had also been swimming... in my belly. I look back at the pictures of this amazing little newborn and am in awe. When the doctor first held him up, he took my breath away. He look liked he'd been dipped in baby oil the way his skin glistened. He had a full head of coal black hair, so thick that we couldn't see his scalp. He had deep blue eyes and a scrunched up face. His little hands and feet looked like an old man's. He was momma's boy from the very beginning.

And now, he's this little man. I mean, this kid grew like a superhuman, tripling in size! His hair has lightened up to a light brown and his (super expressive) face has stretched into that of a toddler. His hands and feet are no longer wrinkled, but dimpled. He claps and scoots and kicks and stacks. He giggles all of the time and has a smile that will melt your heart. Okay, okay, I just realized that this is turning into a lovefest.

Point is, a lot has changed in a year. 

We looked like this one year ago:

And now we look like this:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Momma Mondays - Birthday Planning

So all I've been doing the past few days is planning Knox's birthday party. I keep trying to remember what last summer was like, and it seems light years away. Was my belly really so big that it sweat on my thighs? According to past Facebook Status Updates, yes it was. And now I watch this amazing little man scoot and crawl around the room (whoa, and at this very moment, squeeze my big toe - attention seeking anyone?). Again I will succumb to the clich e: They grow up too fast.

And what a hypocrite this little tyke has turned me into! We live in a small one-bedroom apartment in Queens and when I was pregnant with Knox, I repeatedly encouraged the grandparents not to go hog wild with toys. Even in those early newborn months, I reminded them that great Christmas presents could be diapers, onesies, things the baby needed. And I've told my husband that his birthday party should be a small gathering where we shouldn't spend much money since he won't remember it anyway. And yet, all I've done every day this week since Saturday is buy the baby a birthday present. All of a sudden, he needs blocks. He needs not just one, but four new board books. He needs a colorful parachute and polka dot beach ball and kiddie splash pool and baby friends to come over Saturday and his own cake and colorful balloons. What?!

I can't stop myself. I'm a monster. There's no room for any of this stuff. Heat wave + internet = bad news for both the small confines of the apartment as well as our bank account. Whoops!

But I can't help myself. I just love watching Knox's mind work. Love watching him stack and move his toys, organize everything just so, then change it all up again. I love that he plays so well by himself, but checks in with me often, crawling over and pulling up to his knees to give me a big open mouth kiss on the cheek. I love that he talks and talks, nonstop. I love his squeals and I love the face he makes when he passes gas, almost as if he has startled even himself. And I loooooove his sweet giggle.

He's the greatest person to ever come into my life. You know what? Now that I think about it, a guy this great deserves another present. Now let me see...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Tweeps - Rebecca Rouse

Rebecca Rouse is a friend I've made up here in New York and is also the person who taught me how to use Twitter! She has two little girls, her youngest being only 6 weeks older than my son, Knox, and we love meeting up at the park and watching our babies watch each other. Originally from North Carolina, she and I bond over missing the South while making our way in the big city.

Me:  What's your favorite book? I'm talking all time here.
Rebecca:  My favorite book? I don't read! Really? I guess I'd have to say The Red Ripe Strawberry and Big Hungry Bear. Its a childrens book, and I used to love reading it when I was little, the pictures were what really drew me in. Now as an adult I'd have to say that I'm really enjoying Francine Rivers - I'm on my second book of hers and I LOVE what I've read so far. 

Me:  I'm visiting your hometown today, one day only. What can't I miss?
Rebecca:  Wilmington NC is a small town, a beach community. You'll have to stop by the beach or course! Wrightsville beach, right by the Blockaid Runner there's a beach access and that's a great place to go. The river front is a nice are to visit, all historic and cute little shops to walk in and out of. If you're up for a walk, the loop at Wrightsville beach is a nice route. There are some great small town restaurants w/ great south eastern BBQ - pulled pork to be exact - and some good ole fried sea food as well. 

Me:  Who are you following on Twitter right now that would surprise your friends:   #GuiltyPleasures
Rebecca:  Twitter - I guess Bethenny Frankel and Kendra Wilkinson would be my secret indulgences - i love them both! 

Thanks so much, Rebecca! You know I love BBQ and it being by the beach is an added bonus! I yes, I'll have to look into The Red Ripe Strawberry and Big Hungry Bear (although for Knox, not me).  :)  And I KNEW you'd be following Bethenny Frankel! We sure love our Housewives!

Follow Rebecca @rebeccaarouse

Monday, July 11, 2011

Momma Mondays - First Blood

Seems like every time I sit down to write a blog post about my baby, he senses it and does something to provide me with new material. This time, it was nose diving into his wooden blocks and busting his lip. A new crawler, he can sometimes get ahead of himself. He also doesn't want to sacrifice the toys already in his hands in order to crawl across the room to acquire other toys, hence the occasional tumble.

When I heard the crash on the other side of my desk, I knew it was a bad fall. My husband and I tend to laugh or smile when Knox takes a spill because usually, he is more startled than hurt and he looks to us to determine his emotional reaction. But as I leapt from my chair and circled the desk this morning, I knew before he even started screaming that this fall was different. I scooped him up immediately and felt the wetness of his tears on my shoulder, soaking through my shirt. I shushed him and rubbed his head, trying to lift his face to see where he was hurt. That's when I saw all of the blood.

Seriously. A lot of blood.

He was crying so hard that I couldn't tell if he'd lost a tooth or busted his lip. He clung to me so tightly that I could feel his little fingers dig into my neck and arm. I couldn't do anything at first but walk and comfort him. I took him into the bathroom to distract him with the mirrors in order to take a peek. I couldn't see the cut but the blood on my shirt and bra made me worried. 

So what did I do? I called my mom. Of course I called my mom. With the phone on speaker, I ran cold water over a washcloth to put on his lip and maybe stop the bleeding. I was searching my brain, What do I do? It's just a busted lip, I'm sure. But what do I do? The phone rang and rang. Knox cried and cried. I tried putting the washrag to his lip, but he wouldn't have it. I went to the kitchen and wrapped an ice cube in the cloth and placed it on his lip, which made him berserk. 

So back in the bathroom, I called my dad. The phone rang and rang on speaker as I laid Knox across my knees on my lap (a difficult task as he tried desperately to cling to my shirt). I needed to see in his mouth, though. It was a cut, on the inside of his lip by one of his top teeth. The lip was already starting to swell. The poor baby had tears and snot streaming down his reddening face and looked at me pleadingly to make it all better. What do I do? I held him close again and rubbed his back and hair. I tried to get him to chew on the cold cloth. Nothing doing. The phone rang and rang.

So I called my mother-in-law. She'd raised five boys, so I was confident that she'd know what to do about a busted lip. 

"Hello?" she answered right away. 

And Knox stopped crying. Knox stopped bleeding. In that instant.

The good thing about finally getting to talk to someone was just hearing that I was doing okay. That, in the event of a busted lip, a cold wet washcloth is exactly what I needed. That using ice to stop the swelling was a good attempt. That I'm not an idiot after all. That maybe, just maybe, my maternal instinct is firing on all cylinders.

She did offer one piece of advice I hadn't thought of: a popsicle. She said, "He'll eat that for sure. He won't even realize you're trying to stop the swelling cause he'll love that popsicle so much. And make it fun! You eat one, too, so he sees you doing it and wants to mimic you."

Now, Knox being almost one year old, I can see where this would sound like a feasible suggestion. A popsicle is just frozen juice, for Pete's sake. But Knox is a picky guy and only likes his food finely pureed and given to him on a spoon. I've been working with him every day on eating a Cheerio or graham cracker. I've tried thickening his baby food, offering him a banana or piece of my toast. This kid, with a mouthful of teeth, is just not interested.

But I tried. I happened to have one Flav-or-ice in the fridge (green, not even my fave color). I sat Knox on the countertop to face me and took a bite out of that lime popsicle like it was pure glory in my mouth. A still upset, but calming down Knox watched me warily. I offered him the popsicle and he touched it with his tongue. Game over. He pushed me away with both dimpled hands and reached instead for a much more appealing dirty popcorn bowl, and every time I offered him the popsicle, this baby actually looked offended. 

So finally, I sat him back on his play mat, stroked his back, and wondered in amazement at how quickly that lip stopped bleeding. When he was a baby and would scratch himself with his fingernails, his wounds healed crazy fast; but when he scratched me, the mark stayed for a couple of days. Now, looking at the amount of blood on my shoulder and no sign of blood anywhere on his face or clothes, I found myself thinking of Knox as The Wolverine from X-men whose wounds heal in a flash. Oh man, if my son is a superhero mutant, that's gonna be so boss.

I sat with him for a while and watched his lip swell to the size of a grape while he played with a new toy: plastic measuring cups he found while we were in the kitchen. It was a rough morning to say the least, but we both lived through another milestone: first blood. And hey, I even got a popsicle out of the deal!


Friday, July 08, 2011

Fan Club Friday - TIGHTER by Adele Griffin

When seventeen-year-old Jamie arrives on the idyllic New England island of Little Bly to work as a summer au pair, she is stunned to learn of the horror that preceded her. Seeking the truth surrounding a young couple's tragic deaths, Jamie discovers that she herself looks shockingly like the dead girl — and that she has a disturbing ability to sense the two ghosts. Why is Jamie's connection to the couple so intense? What really happened last summer at Little Bly?

As Jamie's perception of the paranormal tests the limits — and expanses — of her core beliefs, she must navigate the increasingly blurred divide between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Are you kidding me? I've been dying to blog about this book since I finished it Monday night. I had to finish it because I started it Thursday night after going to Adele Griffin's event at Books of Wonder and I couldn't put it down; but unlike the days of old (read pre-baby days), I can't stay up all night reading because my hours in the bed are few and precious. Problem with this book is this: just because you stop reading doesn't mean the characters stop talking to you.

Which is pretty appropriate for this story. It was so hard falling to sleep every night over the weekend because I kept thinking about Jamie - the main character - and trying to figure her out. Was she the only one that saw the ghosts? What about the kids she was watching, Isa and Milo? What did they really know? And how did Peter and Jessie die and was that the reason their souls couldn't rest in peace?

Okay, all those questions meant the voices in my head wouldn't die down. Again, quite appropriate for this book.

And listen, y'all know me. I'm not the girl that waltzes into the bookstore and heads for paranormal or fantasy — at all. I tend to be drawn more toward stories that happen in this world similarly to the way I know it; but that's another thing that is just so doggone fan-freakin'-tastic about Tighter! It's not really a ghost story at all. It's a story about a teenage girl struggling with depression and pill popping, looking for love and acceptance in the wrong places, and coming to terms with even the ugly parts of herself.

I like that this thing doesn't read as a cliché suspense novel, but more like a scarf with a loose thread that the reader pulls at bit by bit, slowly unraveling the story until we finally are rewarded with an ah-ha moment as we see the once twisted piece of yarn in its entirety. And if it tells you anything, I'm reading it again already.

Do yourself a favor and go buy this book.
Also, follow Adele on FB and Twitter! I sure do.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Fan Club Friday - The Serial Comma

My husband and I really get irked that many people, publications, and advertisements (notice the comma use?) have been grouping lists of three things or more without a comma between the joining conjunction. I was taught way back in the day to use a serial comma and have clung to this lesson ferociously over the years, even as I've seen the world grow more and more lazy with its use. I know that layouts have changed with the advent of computers and that we live in an entirely different age than when type sets were originally established. I know that word processors took away the need for two spaces between sentences (which is still something I'm grappling with), but I see the lack of serial commas to be just plain lazy and to make lists ambiguous.

And I'm not trying to be stubborn. When I'm wrong, I try to admit it and embrace the new way. When I noticed that my poor copyeditor at Poppy had to go through my entire manuscript and change all of the spacing, I researched the new one-space-after-punctuation thing and gave a hearty, "My bad." Now, I'm a one-spacer.

But I'm still clinging to the serial comma. I can't give it up.

For example, if I write, "I'm going to the store for watermelon, beans, and carrots," it's pretty clear to the reader what I'm getting. You may argue that it is just as clear to you if you read it as, "I'm going to the store for watermelon, beans and carrots." But that groups beans and carrots. Are you looking for beans and carrots that are already packaged together?

By going down that road, you are setting yourself up for confusion. Look how clear things are when I write, "I'm going to the store for watermelon, black and brown beans, and carrots." When ditching the serial comma, it becomes, "I'm going to the store for watermelon, black and brown beans and carrots." The absence of the serial comma implies something unintended about the carrots.

Anyway, you can read about it here real quick because Oxford makes it all much clearer. But please, for the love of God and for my sanity, could we just embrace the serial comma?

Cause seriously -- I'm a super fan. I love you, serial comma!