Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Turtle's Tale

I'm just cross posting from my surrogacy blog, but I wanted to update and say how excited I am to announce the publication of my first children's book! Here's a little backstory...

The Birth of a Book

I started my journey to surrogacy two years ago this month, and it's been a life changing process that has been filled with so much knowledge and patience and hope. During the matching process with Baby Mama and Baby Daddy I began to talk about what surrogacy was with my friends, family and my children.

Everyone always asks me what my kids think about all this. Do they understand that this baby isn't a sibling for them? Do I think they'll be sad when we don't bring this baby home? Do they get upset when I can't do things with them because I'm pregnant?

Surrogacy is a complicated subject to discuss with lots of adults. They question the ethics of it. They question my attachment to the baby. A lot of grown ups just can't wrap their minds around why a person would do such a thing. Women tell me they could never "give up the baby". They'd want to keep anything growing in their wombs. And I totally get it! But kids are surprisingly easy to talk to.

Our conversation basically just went "Hey you know how I grew you in my uterus?" They looked up from their cereal and  confirmed, yeah they remember me saying something about that once. (Sunshine asked about a tampon sign in the bathroom of our favorite burger joint once and got a 3 minute description of the menstrual cycle.)

"Well," I told them. "There's a mommy who wants a baby, but she doesn't have a uterus." They asked why and I told them she got it taken out because she had cancer. They wanted to know if they would get cancer. I told them I didn't know.

Then I told them my uterus was still working, but that I only wanted two babies. They asked if I would give them an older brother, and I told them if I had another kid it would be a baby and probably a girl baby since that's what their daddy makes. Then I asked who wanted to ride by themselves at Disney World because if we got another baby that would mean we'd have 5 people, and that's an odd number. They decided the dog we have is all the additional siblings they need.

Then Sunshine said "Well if your uterus works why don't you grow a baby for Miss (Baby Mama)?" I asked if she'd be okay with that and she looked at me like I was nuts. "Um yeah that would be the nice thing to do," she told me. Jeez don't be an ass. You're not even using that dusty ol' uterus.

And that was that. As far as they were concerned I had a uterus that I wasn't using that was perfectly capable of growing a baby for a mommy who really needed help. Why not?

Still I heard other surrogates asking for tips about talking to their kids about their journey, and it got me thinking that maybe they just needed a story. And wouldn't you know it...story telling is my specialty.

I wanted to write a story that was simply about family. It didn't need to scream surrogacy or IVF or explain what a uterus was. I just wanted it to be a universally sweet story about families helping one another. Kids don't like to be preached to. They like to be entertained.

So I sat down and hammered out a little story about a chicken taking care of a duck egg. But the story fell flat. I couldn't get into the characters, and it seemed forced. I scrapped it and just sat on the idea for a while. In the mean time I was signing contracts and getting ready to cycle for our first transfer.

Then as I got to know Baby Mama the story kept coming back to me. She did work rescuing sea turtles, and I thought it was so cool that she was protecting baby sea turtles while I was working to grow and protect her own baby.

The idea for the book kept sloshing around until one night I woke up from a dead sleep with the entire thing written in my head. I got my phone out and jotted down some extensive notes and crashed back out.

The next day I shaped the story and soon sent it off to P.C. Zick, my editor, for some honest feedback. She'd worked with Florida Fish & Wildlife, so I wanted to make sure I wasn't making any glaring technical errors with my setting or characters. I chose gators as a nod to my alma mater, and of course I chose turtles as a nod to Baby Mama.

I loved the story, but the ending just It was missing something.

I based the story off of our own journey. We started with 10 embryos, much like the turtles started with 10 eggs in their nest. I researched to make sure that 10 eggs was a reasonable clutch for snapping turtles. It was. I used snapping turtles because I couldn't think of a scenario where sea turtles would be hanging out near alligators. Maybe they do, but I couldn't get past it being kind of weird. I also had a really horrible cheesy ending where the Mama Turtle names her baby Ally Gator Snapping Turtle. I'm super glad I killed that darling. After I slept on it I realized that it was constipation-inducing level of cheese.

I had the first draft written right before we transferred the one surviving embryo Baby Mama and Baby Daddy had from her retrieval. When that transfer ended in miscarriage I realized that was the missing piece of the turtle's journey. Surrogacy isn't just about a woman grabbing an embryo, sticking it in there then popping out a baby like it's some kind of easy bake oven. Loss is a big part of infertility, and there are often several bumps in the road. But those bumps shape the ending.

So I changed it up a bit, and I had Mother Gator carrying two eggs back to the turtles. And although both eggs don't make it back, the ending meant that much more because Mama and Papa Turtle were overjoyed just to be parents. They got the baby they were meant to have. 

Rewriting the ending to the story was just the beginning of the real work. I had to now figure out where the heck I was going to find an illustrator. I've got another book I wrote for my kids that I illustrated. It's just a silly story meant just for them, so I really didn't care about having beautiful artwork to accompany it. I haven't even published it because it's just something I pull out for them from time to time.

But the Turtle's Tale needed art. And I just so happened to know a lovely girl who just finished art school at SCAD. I've known Victoria Allen since she was just a wee thing in high school. She's been BFFs with my brother-in-law since my first baby was just a baby.

It also just so happened that she grew up in Louisiana, and my book was set in the swamp. It's like this book was made for her to illustrate. I sent her the manuscript, and the sketches she sent back blew me away. It was almost scary how close to my own ideas they were.

I also didn't realize how lucky I was that she said yes, because not only did she crawl inside my head and pull out the most breathtaking illustrations for this story. But she also did all the design work for the book with only minimal nitpicky feedback from me. (minimal right Vicky?! The hyphens!? The damn trim!)

It was a long road, and at times it seemed to crawl at a turtle's pace. We hit our own snags and hangups with production and printing. But right around Christmas she sent me an email titled FINAL. I couldn't believe it was actually this close.

And so...just about a month before I'm set to bring this sweet little baby into the world and into the loving arms of his parents, we pushed out this amazing story of surrogacy and familial love.

I hope you enjoy A Turtle's Tale as much as I do. I hope it can help surrogates and intended parents to open up communication about what surrogacy is. And at the very least I hope it's just a good read.

Thanks for coming along on this journey. We are just about 6 short weeks away from my due date, so that means we are really headed into the home stretch here! Things should get pretty interesting in the next few weeks as we go on BABY WATCH 2016!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Meeting and Greeting

My first book signing and book launch at Flour Blooms Bakery was a smash! I'm so grateful for all the support.

I am so excited to announce my homecoming book signing in Odessa is slated for Saturday, Nov. 1 at Rosa's Cafe. Those who are a part of the cult understand why I chose this location. Those who aren't should come just to experience the magic that is the #14 chicken. 

I spent the majority of my high school years at that Rosa's, and I'm so excited to see all my old high school pals. If I know Odessa, it'll be a successful debut simply because Rosa's comprises 75% of the Odessan diet. 

I'm also working to schedule my second San Antonio book signing with my mentor, former editor and my friend P.C. Zick. She was kind enough to feature me on Author Wednesday, and she is launching a few fabulous books of her own this fall, so stay tuned for details!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Naked Salsa News

Exactly one week shy of my 30th birthday I published my very first book. For nearly a decade I've been writing a column called Naked Salsa for Our Town magazine, and I'm so excited to announce that Naked Salsa the book is now available on Amazon! My mom always said it takes 10 years of hard work to achieve success, and in this case she was dead on. 

To celebrate I'd like to announce my first giveaway! Just download the Kindle version of Naked Salsa, and leave a review on Amazon. I'll put all those names (even those who leave scathing reviews) in a generator and select one lucky reader to receive an autographed paperback copy. (Scathing reviewers are welcome to use it in their bathrooms or birdcages as they see fit.)

I want to thank everyone who has helped get this project off the ground, especially P.C. Zick and Albert Isaac, who were not only my editors but also my inspiration to put this thing together.

And I'd like to thank all of you! A book without readers is like a burger without bacon. It exists, but what's the point?

So thank you my bacon bits.

I'll be taking a little time off the Naked Salsa blog to concentrate on my #preschoolproblems and Surrogacy blog. So check them out! 

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Tis the season for stuffing my gullet. I dropped some mega baby weight since I'm nursing BeeBop with her dairy allergy. So I really have some work to do if I want to maintain that lovely fanny pack gut that I so proudly earned while I was pregs.
This year The Hubs and I are taking the girls on a whirlwind adventure to the South! We'll be haulin' our turkey butts down to Loosianner (Louisiana for the non-natives) for Thanksgiving. The 12 hour car trip should be a delight since BeeBop has decided the car is a torture chamber designed to cause her misery and harm. So I'll probably spend the entire trip in the back seat soothing the beast. She is our sweet and laid-back darling, but she turns into a complete fed-her-after-midnight gremlin when she's strapped into her carseat.
My mother-in-law will be preparing a small feast for Thanksgiving, but we're keeping it minimal since we're all leaving for a cruise the Sunday after Turkey Day. (Woot!) The word cruise has Latin roots meaning "endless food vessel", so we'll pregame with some turkey, pork roast, cornbread dressing, etc. But it will just be me, BeeBop, Sweet Potato, The Hubs, my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. So we won't have a mega meal like most folks do.

My history with Thanksgiving is a happy one. It's my all-time favorite holiday because its sole focus is noshing. There are no gifts involved, no commercialized nonsense. All that garbage starts on Black Friday. But Thanksgiving is a day to be with family and get completely miserable by gorging yourself on carbs and starches smothered in gravies. It's not Thanksgiving until my food climbs into my ribcage.
At first my MIL said we weren't going to have turkey at all. It's not really her favorite, and she's not super sentimental on traditions. But I'm super sappy and sentimental about the bird, so I guilted her into at least doing a turkey breast.
But I was going to miss out on the stuffing and gorging and the beautiful way the gravy runs together with the cranberry sauce under the dressing to make a cacophony of sloppy magic that puts me in a food coma until I muster the strength for round 3 of the turkeypalooza.
So I sent out an email blast to a handful of my pals to gauge interest in a Friend Thanksgiving I celebrity name mashed into Franksgiving. And to my delight they were all on board!

So last night I gathered with 5 of my closest gal pals and their husbands and all of our kids. It was loud and obnoxious, none of the toddlers touched a bite of food, baby J smeared cranberry sauce into the carpet, Sweet Potato peed her pants and my kitchen was a complete disaster since I was inspired rendered insane by my new apron from The Hubs and made three dishes to bring. But it was deliciously perfect.
My good pal Curly Q offered to host since her house would accommodate all of us, and it was an excuse to use all the place settings from her wedding china! She said she had to actually take tags off of some of the settings because it was their maiden voyage.
The kids had their own table, and although they were all too excited to eat, it was pretty precious seeing all our little Peanuts gathered 'round the table together.
As I miserably stuffed the last bits of my second pumpkin muffin down my throat I sat back and smiled at the beautiful mess of it all. Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday as a child because I knew it was a time I could be with the people I loved. When we moved to Indiana I wrestled with the fact that I'd no longer be able to share this special holiday with my family because of the distance. But as the tryptophan coursed through my veins I gazed over the chaos with contentment. I met all these wonderful people before Sweet Potato could walk. Our kids are growing up together. We've all been pregnant together, and now our babies are growing up together too.
Curly Q was my rock when BeeBop was born. She came and got Sweet Potato when I went into labor and kept her for two days straight while she was snotty and sick, on top of caring for her three kids until my mom could get here. And Sweet Potato was in hog heaven the whole time.
When Veggie Mama's husband was deployed I took Sweet Potato over for slumber parties. After the girls went to bed we crafted into the wee hours of the morning and got deliriously silly over baked goodies and trashy novels.
Cupcake is the one I call when The Hubs says something super intelligent like "What did you do all day?" She's always up for a girls night and you'd be hard pressed to find a more generous or loyal friend.
Sharpshooter is my inspiration. Her blog Arrows Sent Forth, inspires me to keep writing. Deadlines loom and I think "Oh dear Lord! Why don't I just quit!?" But she does it with two kiddos, and she does it damn well. So when I need a little encouragement I have a kindred spirit of the written word.
And on those late nights when BeeBop's hot sweaty little head is nestled in my armpit, and Sweet Potato groggily climbs into my bed, I know I can always count on the Stitch Witch to lend a sympathetic ear the next day. She knows that not all of us were blessed with good sleepers, and sometimes being the meat of a kid sandwich is the only way you get any shut eye.
Each of these women have become a staple in my life and the key to my sanity here. We're all in it together, and they just get me and I get them. So on Franksgiving, while cleaning BeeBop's barf off of Curly Q's wing back chair, I was happy to be surrounded by my new family in the place I call home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Staycation Around the Globe

This weekend we emerged ourselves in nature and culture without even leaving city limits. A pal of mine suggested taking a camping trip this weekend since the cold is creeping in and our camping days are numbered. Sounded like a fine idea to me since she suggested Ceraland, a delightful little place just on the outskirts of Columbus with campsites, mini golf, playgrounds, a little lake and a gun range. What more could a girl want?
Since The Hubs and I were bestowed a giant camper trailer from his benevolent father, we don't really go camping anymore so much as campering. When we were first married we'd take camping trips hundreds of miles into the Smoky Mountains with nothing but our tent, some freeze-dried food and one sleeping bag strapped to the back of our motorcycle. We were regular bad-As. (Although it only took one night of below freezing temperatures to teach us that one sleeping bag is not so much romantic as it is impractical for two grown adults.)
But now with Sweet Potato and BeeBop we just don't have the cajones to rough it like we used to. We need indoor plumbing and a fridge in order to enjoy nature.
The Hubs is in a softball league that plays on Thursday nights at Ceraland anyway, so we decided to start our camping adventure on Thursday. I got mega bonus points for keeping the girls because he had a 9 o'clock game, which meant I was solely responsible for bedtime...with both a camper. Double bonus points were awarded. All I can assume is that a talent scout was there searching for the next middle-aged beer bellied softball star to sweep up to the big leagues, and so I bid The Hubs good luck and bravely faced bed time alone. He stumbled in the camper well after 10:30, and lamented his choice of sliding into third base. I helped doctor his skinned knees and went to bed.
The next day The Hubs got all gussied up and went into work while the girls and I enjoyed a lovely breakfast gazing out over the hazy lake. I have to admit that waking up to the quiet songs of the morning in the woods was a nice change from my cranky alarm clock. Once we were fed and dressed we headed into town for some mundane errands. The Hubs couldn't understand why I wouldn't just stay out at the campground with the girls all day, but library books don't return themselves and I really had ulterior motives.
For those who are unfamiliar, Ethnic Expo is one of the most magical street fairs to ever befall a town. It is two city blocks of food tents represented by nationalities from around the globe. I wasn't about to forage in the woods rifle through the camper pantry for food when there was an international smorgasbord downtown. So I nonchalantly suggested that while I was in town taking care of things, we should hit up the expo.
Oh. My. Lanta.
On a typical weekday, these forgotten roads at the far end of downtown are barren and quiet. On the first day of Ethnic Expo they are electric. Smoke pillars waft above tent after tent of foreign deliciousness. It's meat sticks and fried delicacies galore. There are also some interesting choices, such as the sweaty chicken Vietnam was peddling.

I passed, since I can get spring rolls and sweaty chicken at China Buffet all year. Our personal favorite is always Pakistan. We take the obligatory stroll past all the countries, but our hearts will always belong to Pakistan. When we ordered the Mega Platter, the guy looked up and said "Hey I think I remember you guys from last year." When we requested our samosa smothered in tamarind sauce he confirmed our identities. "You know your Paki food!" he told us and gave us free halva for being such loyal customers.
We sampled other fares. The pirogi from Poland was tasty as were the fried plantains from Ghana.
Sadly our food disappeared down our piggy gullets so fast there was barely time to snap a quick pic of the plantains before they too vanished. But ahhh I'm still drooling over that Pakistani food porn.
We headed back to the camper after lunch, and spent the afternoon fishing on the lake and playing at the playground that had a RAINBOW SLIDE!!! Sweet Potato almost pulled a muscle when she spotted said slide on the way into the campground. Once we got to the playground she barely mustered the courage to slide down the rainbow tunnel once before she decided it wasn't worth the risk of certain death and resigned herself to the Yogi Bear teeter totter.
The next day after a hearty campfire breakfast, we headed back into town for the Ethnic Expo parade. BeeBop had just fallen asleep when we arrived and was less than thrilled to be woken up for such trivial things as parades. But Sweet Potato was pretty jazzed, especially once she found out they throw candy. The entire parade she stood up and waved as sweet treats rained down. She filled her entire camper chair sleeve with loot and shoveled Sweet Tarts and Double Bubble in her mouth faster than we could confiscate it. She saw Brazilian dancers, and Shriners and clowns and even got to snuggle the State Farm Bear.

As we were leaving we asked if she had a good time, and through a mouthful of Laffy Taffy she replied, "Yeah, but that bear didn't even give me any candy." I think we'll be switching insurance providers. If you were really a good neighbor you'd give the kid a pack of mini M&Ms.
After round two of Ethnic Expo we headed back to the campsite to enjoy the great outdoors just a bit more before we packed it up and came back to our city life.
It was a perfect little nature-filled getaway and a welcomed distraction from our everyday routine. We were out on the lake in the middle of the woods, but we were close enough to home that I could grab the jalapeno mustard and hot dog buns I left on the counter. It was almost like sleeping in the guest room of your own home. You're not in your bed, so it's like a vacation. But you can still use your own toilet if you want to. And with two little tykes in tow, getting away without being away is sometimes the best way to vacation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Insomnia + Overnight Breakfast Recipes = The Beginning of a Blog

Rather than answering all the incessant calls and emails from my adoring fans (a.k.a. my Nana), I've decided to start a blog to let everyone in on the mind-blowing happenings that go on around here.
I'm quite new to this whole blogging on the interwebs bit, but I was quite inspired by my good friend and fellow mom/writer/blogosphere superstar Nicole Wiltrout of Arrows Sent Forth.
Nicole and I met through the local moms club. I would put the official name of the club, but it requires a special "r" circle trademark thingy, and frankly I don't have time for that crap. But let's just call it the Club.
The Club is comprised of mostly stay-at-home-moms, and while we rationalize to ourselves that we meet for playgroups and what not to socialize our children, it's mostly an excuse to have coffee and tour firestations with other adults.
This week we're having our annual baby shower/community service project. Our club had a baby boom last year with almost every single member getting preggers (most of them with different fathers!), and it's extended into this year as well. Since most of us are on our second or third offspring and it ain't exactly our first rodeo, we don't really need any baby gear. But since we can't really resist the excuse to have muffins and play shower games, we decided to throw a party to honor all the preggo mamas anyway. We still get to shop for adorable baby gifts, but we donate all of them to the local Pregnancy Care center. We get brunch, and they get the loot. It's a win-win.
As a writer I am a procrastinator by nature, so naturally I planned way way ahead for this and decided at 10 p.m. that I'd better think of some sort of brunchy snack to contribute for tomorrow's 10 a.m. soiree. Since grocery store runs are virtually impossible at this hour, and the kitchen needs to be relatively quiet so as not to wake the bears, I scoured Pinterest looking for some easy overnight brunch recipes, and here's what I found.
tgipaleo has a lovely recipe for overnight apple breakfast cobbler in the crock-pot. I used her basic recipe, and just made do with what I had on hand. I only had three apples and no coconut milk so I improvised.
My version:
3 apples, cored and sliced
1T coconut oil
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup apple cider
splash of vanilla
splash of almond extract
1/2 T brown sugar

Coat the bottom of the pot with the coconut oil. Toss the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl then throw it in the crock pot on low overnight. I actually started mine on high because I lack faith in the low settings of crock pots, but after an hour or so of bubbling I decided to kick it down to low and go to bed. I think this would be super stellar served over oatmeal.

Once the apples were going, I decided that my piddly portion of fruit wouldn't be enough in the morning, so I thought I'd try to concoct a savory overnight dish. Do not confuse me for an overachiever. What it really boils down to is that I rarely eat something sweet without wanting a salty chaser. Then I usually want a sweet chaser, followed by a salty chaser. The vicious cycle is why my skinny jeans are on strike.

A few nights ago we had stove top sausage and potatoes, so I wondered if it would work in the crock pot.
I found these amazing little sausages at Aldi that make delish breakfast links. I just threw a pack of those in with four or five red potatoes, a yellow onion, a generous dash of pepper and some Jane's Crazy Mixed up Salt. Put that puppy on high for the first hour or so, and then cranked it down to low and went to bed. I'm sure you could leave it on low the whole time, but issues with crock pots. It's my own cross to bear. If you are at peace with your crock pot settings, don't let my insecurities hamper your relationship.