My Jurassic World: Why Jurassic Park is in my DNA

In an interview, Chris Pratt called Jurassic Park his Star Wars. I can totally relate. Except Jurassic Park was not just Star Wars to me in the sense that it was an endemic cultural phenomenon — it also influenced me in tangible ways well into adulthood. I read Jurassic Park (the book) several times before and after seeing the movie, which I also saw nearly a dozen times in the theater, thanks to its summer-long run at my local dollar cinema. The book and movie are forever merged in my subconscious.

The book was an introduction to genetics for me. The pages of genetic code, ATCG over and over again, were fascinatingly obscure (though I recently had a laugh wondering whether those parts are read aloud in the audiobook version). As an identical twin, I was predisposed to an interest in genetics — people were always talking about the science of twinning around me. So, the science in Jurassic Park (and Andromeda Strain, another Michael Crichton favorite) took it to the next level for me. When it came time for me to choose my major in college, molecular biology seemed an obvious choice. (Also: A family friend had an iguana named “Crichtey” — he is now a mathematics professor. I wonder how many other STEM careers Crichton has inspired).

Jurassic Park also influenced me as a writer. My first novel (a trial run, forever shelved) was an amateur hybrid of Crichton and Douglas Adams, featuring a rogue geneticist and a cadre of ghosts. I always admired Crichton’s ability to weave complex storylines and to make science interesting (although I lost some respect for him when he trivialized climate science in State of Fear, Jurassic Park-era Crichton holds a special place in my heart).

Not to mention the fact that Jurassic Park has DINOSAURS! I mean, c’mon — who doesn’t love some dinosaurs? Even Jurassic Park II and III, with their less-than-worthy plot lines, also had DINOSAURS. I can’t not enjoy that. I remember when King Kong came out I said to someone, “I will see any movie with realistic CG dinosaurs in it.” That is still true for me today.

So, I saw Jurassic World on opening day in digital 3D and it was AWESOME. It was everything a sequel to Jurassic Park should have been. I know, I know, it wasn’t PERFECT… The characters had some issues and the dinosaurs didn’t have feathers and whatever else. But it had science and dinosaurs and good acting and awesomeness (and the final fight scene — OMG!). There really isn’t much about it for me to hate on.

I guess you can consider this my review of Jurassic World — it rocked MY Jurassic World.

Five velociraptors (the big, scary, unrealistic kind) out of five.

Keeping Up with My Novel in 10 Minutes a Day

I’ve been working on the same novel for about two years. I also have two small children, one of whom is younger than my novel. I have a full-time job, an active social life, and a number of extracurriculars, hobbies and obligations. I’m busy.

So, it’s hard to keep tabs on my novel sometimes. I’ll take a break from it and then realize a month has passed. After a break, I need to do a lot of catch-up to pick up where I left off, and that means that I’m wasting time that I actually could have spent writing.

My Wonderful Goals App

A screenshot from the My Wonderful Goals app calendar.

I have a new strategy to prevent that. It’s called WORK ON YOUR NOVEL FOR AT LEAST TEN MINUTES PER DAY. And it’s totally working.

The key here is the AT LEAST. Ideally, I should work on it for at least a few hours per week, which I generally do. But, since I spend at least ten minutes on a day hanging out with my novel, I’m not always trying to catch up.

I found a great productivity tool to help me. It’s an iPhone app called My Wonderful Goals, and it reminds me every day that I need to work on my novel. I usually work on it at night, so I have my alarm set to go off at 11PM to ask me whether I worked on my novel yet. If I haven’t, I make sure to get a little noveling done before bed. The app gives me a star on my calendar every day I made my goal. (I only missed one day this month!)

The other way I’ve managed this is to make it really easy to work on my novel. I don’t need to be in my office or in front of my computer or even in a quiet place. I’ve put my entire novel on my iPhone for quick access. When I need to, I can literally work on it in the palm of my hand.

The next step is to add to my daily goal. I think I’ll add WRITE AT LEAST 1,000 WORDS PER WEEK as an additional goal in a month or so. The key is to have attainable goals that will enable me to slowly and steadily get my novel written.

I’m also planning to attempt NaNoWriMo next month by working on my existing manuscript instead of starting a new one. I’m just hammering away one nail at a time, hoping to have this novel built eventually!

So, there’s my productivity tool of the month — what’s yours?

5 Silly But Effective NaNoWriMo Prep Tips

This November will be the seventh year I’ve done NaNoWriMo — I’ve even won a few times! I’ve read all kinds of NaNoWriMo prep posts, but I have a few fun NaNo tips I haven’t seen elsewhere. Here’s my list of silly but effective NaNoWriMo prep tips:

  1. Shower Smart. The shower is a great place to get some thinking done. Instead of just zoning out while you wash out the suds, set yourself to the task of planning out your novel. Think about the characters as if they were real people — what kinds of things do they do and feel in the morning? Think about your setting or plot points that you haven’t yet decided on. The more time you spend focused on the world of your novel, the more comfortable you’ll be spending the whole month of November there.
  2. Trim Your Fingernails. It sounds silly, but it helps. Unless you trained yourself to speed-type with acrylics, fingernails that are too long will likely slow you down. If you’re not a nail-biter, trim your fingernails on Halloween for optimal speed when November 1st rolls around.
  3. Practice Word Processing on Your Smartphone. You would never write a novel on your smartphone, right? You say that now, but you might change your mind when you’re hell bent on hammering out 1,667 words per day and stuck on the slow train home, wishing you could figure out how to work on your novel on the fly. Trust me, I’ve been there.
  4. Practice Improv. Thinking on your toes is imperative to successfully completing a novel in a month. Remember that a skilled improv actor never drops an idea — he always asks, “Yes, and?” Learn some improv techniques to get your creative juices flowing.
  5. Study This Chart.

emotion wheel

It seems simplistic to resort to a list of emotions, but the more feelings you can empathize with, the more easily you can write about them. This chart (or anything similar) lists a full range of emotions, which you can use to narrow down a particular feeling. For example, if your character is angry, what kind of angry is it? Insecure and irritated are two entirely different ways to be angry. Thinking about the different ways emotion can manifest will help you to better understand your characters.

So, those are my unconventional NaNoWriMo tips — got any for me?


Note: I don’t know where the image above came from. If you do, please let me know so I can add image credit. Thanks!

Knock-Knock Jokes for a Two-Year-Old

That moment when you realize you should’ve taught your toddler something months ago:

That’s how I felt when I realized my two-year-old didn’t know any good jokes.

I decided to start with something basic. Something timeless. Something with puns. I decided to start with the knock-knock joke. (I’m assuming that knock-knock jokes are timeless, but I suppose a time could come when we no longer have doors, or knocking, or not knowing who’s there, or not asking, “Who’s there who?” I digress.)

But searching for “knock-knock jokes for kids” brought up some knock-knock jokes that were at more at the level of the three- to five-year-old. I was looking for something more basic. So, I pared them down and made up some knock-knock jokes for my two-year-old. Here are some of his favorites:

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in!

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Orange who?
Orange you gonna open the door?

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Police who?
Police let me in!

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Leaf who?
Leaf me alone!

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Apple who?
Apple-ease a-let me in! [In a horrible fake Italian accent. On second thought, maybe this one is inappropriate.]

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Red, who?
Reddy to let me in?

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Ben who?
Ben waiting out here forever!

Sometimes I make them up as we go. And sometimes he has requests. “Who’s there? Purple!”, he’ll say. And I’ll be purpl-exed (get it?). He also says, “Who’s at the door?” instead of “Who’s there?” sometimes and I just melt from all the adorableness.

So, what I’m asking here is, got any good knock-knock jokes?


Awkward Moments in Breastfeeding

Before a woman begins breastfeeding, she wonders whether it’s going to be weird. Let me tell you, breastfeeding is totally natural and normal — it’s not weird. Except when it is. Below is a short list of some of these moments.

At birth: The early days. Learning to breastfeed is totally natural, right? Sure, nothing beats having a nurse grab your boob with one hand and force your tiny infant’s head onto it with the other, all while you’re caught in that giddy hit-by-a-bus-but-it’s-adorable post-partum fugue.

Month 1: Latching everywhere. “Latching” is the term for when a baby attaches his mouth onto a woman’s nipple. Or onto her chin, or knee, or husband, or mom, or colleague who dropped by with flowers.

Month 2: Accidental motorboat. A baby who is looking to latch may rapidly turn his head from side to side. This adorable gesture may result in motorboating mom’s brand-new, nursing-boob cleavage.

Month 3: Mis-latch hickey. By month three, a baby’s suction has improved quite a bit. Sleepy three-month-old + sleepy mommy can equal near-nipple hickeys you’d rather not explain.

Month 4: Distractosaurus. Your baby wants to eat. Theoretically. He also wants to look out the window, smile at you, practice rolling over, put the blanket in his mouth, and play with his feet. Unfortunately for mommy, that means popping off your nipple, often painfully, and possibly resulting in breastmilk shooting across the room.

Month 5: Nipple raspberries. Five-month-old babies love to blow raspberries. It’s silly. It’s funny. It’s adorable. When they do it to your nipple, it’s just weird.

Month 6: Grabby hands. Your little guy is learning the pincer grasp! He is grabbing everything with his thumb and forefinger and you couldn’t be prouder. Until he grabs your nipple between his little fingers. Then it’s time to start him on solid food.

Related posts:

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease as an Adult — The Gory Details

Adults don't get HFMD, they said. It will be fine, they said.

I hadn’t even heard of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease till I was pregnant the first time. Someone told me a friend’s baby had it. “No way,” I said. “Only cows get Foot and Mouth.”

It’s true — only livestock get Foot and Mouth Disease. However, Hand, Foot and Mouth is caused by different viruses and mostly affects young children. Adults don’t usually get it — so they say. This lulls you into a false sense of security. Adults can get it. And it sucks.

But HFMD causes a complex progression of symptoms that are a little different in everyone. Not to fear — I have four case studies right under my roof. Here’s the timeline of our outbreak:

Day 0 — Monday, June 16
Walking home from dinner, we decided to let our two-year-old, Max, run around the spray park near our house. He’s not that into the fountains, but we figure we might as well keep trying — the spray park is right near our house. This time, there was water pooling on one side of the fountain — likely because the drains were blocked. He splashed in the puddles, along with about a dozen other kids.

In retrospect, that pooled water was a public health disaster waiting to happen. You’ve got kids playing in the fountain, peeing and pooping in their swim diapers, which was rinsing into the puddled water at their feet. We even noticed a princess band-aid floating in the water. A little girl fished it out with her fingers. We gave Max a bath the second he got home — we should never have let him play there in the first place.

We’re almost certain that this is where Max got HFMD. He played with other kids the week before coming down with it, but we know all those kids and none of them got sick. If he got it from kids, this is where he got it.

[Click “read more” for the rest of the story.]

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In with the New!

So, I haven’t blogged in a while. My excuse is totally legit: I had another baby! He was born on January 5 and he’s wonderful. Beck is five and a half months old now and he’s an enormous baby. He wears 18-month size clothes. But he’s a gentle giant—he just likes to smile and laugh and grab everything. Here’s a photo of my two little sweethearts:


They’re the best.

In other news, I’ve been writing! I actually got back to writing after having the baby pretty quickly this time, but didn’t get back to my novel until the last month or so. I wrote a book for preschoolers about microbiology (admittedly, a tricky concept!) and a short story about a man who is haunted by imaginary whales (both are still in draft form).

Now, I’m gearing up to get serious about my novel and it’s going pretty well. I’m aiming to write for at least 30 minutes a day—which doesn’t seem like much, but it definitely helps to get the project moving. In July, I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a more flexible version of NaNoWriMo and happens twice in the summer. I’m planning to write 10,000 words of my manuscript, currently titled The Fortunes Market. I’m getting close to finishing the first draft—whoo!

I have some mommy blog posts coming soon. Bear with me—I’ve got two kids now! Other stuff is coming too. Someday, I’ll even finish this novel!

My Maternity Tower of Mordor Costume and the Tolkien VILLAINZ!

This was another pregnant Halloween for me! At almost seven months pregnant, I felt like my belly was big enough to rock a proper belly-busting maternity costume. I was only about five months along for my last pregnant Halloween, so I went another route that time.

I was trying to think of some kind of hilarious thing to do with my belly that I hadn’t seen before. Inspiration struck one day in the shower (doesn’t it always?) and I couldn’t stop laughing at the idea, so I knew I had found THE ONE: The Eye of Sauron. I decided that I’d frame The Eye with a Tower of Mordor-like outfit.

Since I was going to be The Eye, my husband decided to be Saruman the White and we dressed our toddler up as Smaug the dragon. We were Tolkien VILLAINZ!!

Family Tolkien Costumes: Eye of Sauron maternity costume, Saruman the White and Smaug the dragon

[Click “read more” for more photos and to see how I made my costume!]

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Real Things an Expecting Mom Can Do to Prepare for Having a Baby

There are thousands of guides on how to prepare for having a baby. If you’re expecting, you’ve read them. Then you skimmed them once you realized most of them are the same. Go ahead and get your nursery ready — your baby might sleep in the room with you for several months. Watch birthing videos to your heart’s desire — delivery will probably be less than a single day of your life. Get plenty of sleep — Ha! You haven’t slept a full night since your first trimester.

I’m writing this guide to provide you with some extra tidbits I haven’t read everywhere. Maybe you’ll find them helpful. I’m organizing them into a few categories and leaving out the more mundane ones. Here goes!

Real Things an Expecting Mom Can Do to Prepare for Having a Baby

Social Things:

  • Hang out with your friends. Call the ones who aren’t nearby. No matter how tired or miserable or boring you feel, you will miss the uninterrupted conversations that go along with being child-free. Also, when your baby is almost three months old, you’ll realize that it’s been only three months since you hung out with that one friend, and not five months since you saw her at your baby shower.
  • Have a social media plan. Are you going to announce your birth on Facebook? From the hospital or when you get home? Do you have a family member who posts their every movement on Twitter? If you’d rather not have photos of your baby showing up on Instagram before you’ve even mentioned to your friends that you went to the hospital, you might want to send some guidelines out to your immediate family, telling them when and how much they are allowed to post about you and your baby.
  • Decide on baby announcements. This is obvious, but collect email addresses for any email baby announcements, and home addresses for paper announcements (if you’re sending them). You can pick out a baby announcement template, but you might change your mind once you have baby photos. At the least, you can decide which company you’re going to order your announcements from and how much you’re willing to spend on them. Bonus: Buy stamps.
  • Have your boss’s contact info handy. If you’re working up until your due date, decide when and how to tell your boss you’re starting maternity leave (email? text?) in case you go into labor early.

[Click “read more” to see the rest of the list!]

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NaNoWriYear: Progress!

Last November, I posted that I was embarking on a [not exactly National] Novel Writing Year, which really just means that I’m trying to finish one novel in a year. (I emphasize one because I’ve heard of a few people doing a “NaNoWriYear” challenge wherein they write twelve novels in a year. Good for them. That is not what I’m doing.)

Well, I offer you a short update: The novel is being written! Hooray for me.

It’s going slower than I expected, but I’ve managed to bump up my word count during Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July. Camp NaNoWriMo is sort of a bonus writing challenge run by the NaNoWriMo folks where the word count challenge can be anything greater than 10,000 words.

In the interest of keeping up my progress so I can finish this novel by November, I’m trying to write at least 15,000 words per month. Since I’m addicted to Writing Months, I signed up for AugNoWriMo.


I shall do SeptNoWriMo and OctNoWriMo too, if that’s what it takes (even if one of those isn’t a real thing). I’m going to write this novel.

If any of you WriMo types are working on your own writing challenges, may I recommend WriteTrack? It’s a great site that keeps track of your word count goal and progress, making handy charts for those of us who like that sort of thing. (It’s a free site, but if you dig it, consider donating to help with the expense of hosting!)

3-Day Novel ContestAnd if you’re much, much crazier than me, and more eager to get that novel down, check out the 3-Day Novel Contest, in which writers compete to write a novel over the Canadian Labour Day weekend (Aug. 31 – Sept. 2, 2013). This insane goal fortunately comes with extra incentives: One publishing contract up for grabs, and cash prizes! If you’re capable of staying conscious and coherent for 72 hours straight, this might be for you.

So, there you go. The writing is happening here. There’s probably more I should tell you, but I really need to get back to my manuscript! Thanks for checking in.