Friday, November 30, 2007
Hi, it's me. I am writing to ask you for your family holiday traditions. Every year of our family's short, but happy existence we have lived in a new house, in a new city (yes, I know, we are crazy) and it feels like every holiday we are spending all of December figuring out where to buy a tree, where to buy gifts, where to go see lights, etc. Every Christmas is like a blank slate that we try to fill with memories, but it's hard to feel like all of these Christmases in different houses are part of the same chain. We need some traditions. Some things that we do no matter if we happen to be camping out that year or living in a high-rise apartment building. (Please, God, don't ever let it come to camping out on Christmas).
Back when I was an English teacher, I used to have certain days where all I did to prepare for class was come up with questions about whatever book we were reading and let the students split up into small groups to discuss. This is the oldest teacher trick in the book. All you have to do is walk around and listen to the groups teach themselves and nod thoughtfully.
So here's today's question: How do you celebrate the holidays? What traditions have you created that help bring you together as a family? I'm looking for crafts, recipes, decorating, gift-giving traditions, anything you can think of. Everyone move their chairs into groups of five or six. You have 30 minutes to discuss. Go! (You don't really have to move your chairs, just click the "Comments" button below.) This is your big chance to share your ideas with everyone in Mommy Town! Don't be shy!
Happy Friday everyone!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A few days ago we were getting ready to visit a friend of Emma and Charlie’s who was in the hospital. It was cold and rainy outside and already starting to get dark at 3:45. I was happily working away in my kitchen on a meal to take to the hospital with us. Emma was carefully gluing plastic jewels on a card to take to her friend. Charlie was upstairs having one of his all-time best naps. Since we were at home doing all this stuff, it can be assumed that Emma was wearing a princess costume. She puts on her princess costume in the morning, before breakfast, before school clothes. When she gets home from school or ballet class or whatever outing we’ve done that morning, she peels off her clothes and immediately puts on a princess costume as soon as we walk in the door.
I told Emma that we needed to think of a present that we could take her friend to help her feel better. Emma disappeared for a while and then came back with her favorite princess crown—a sparkly marabou number that’s a little bit boudoir and a little bit princess. She said that she was sure the princess crown would help her friend feel better. “That’s your favorite crown,” I said. “Are you sure you want to give it away?” I was like the little devil on Emma’s shoulder saying, come on, you don’t want to give away something you love! Think of yourself first! Emma simply replied, “That’s what God wants.” Well, how can you argue with that?
So, this got me thinking about giving and holiday shopping and what makes something a good gift. Does God want me to buy things on sale? To buy things until I can’t afford to pay my rent? To give away my favorite things Oprah-style? When it comes to Christmas presents, what does God want?
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea…Emma has not perfected this giving thing. Just yesterday we were out shopping for her cousin, but she had no interest in picking out other people's gifts. She had her eye on a rolling princess suitcase. She was rolling it all over the store while I was busy trying to keep an eye on her and Charlie and actually try to do some shopping. We had quite the showdown when I made it clear to her that we would not be taking home a princess suitcase that day. Somehow I won. Emma surrendered the suitcase and I did not have to do the walk of shame out of the store with a screaming kid under my arm. The suitcase is one of those really tacky pink and purple guys with the major Disney princesses displayed coquettishly on the front. It really does offend my sense of good taste and decency. It is definitely not what I want her to have for Christmas. But you know what? I can’t wait to buy that princess suitcase for her. The look of pure joy on her face will be better than any gift I can imagine receiving this Christmas. I will try to remember that every time I see those princesses go rolling by. I think that's what God wants.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
So, yesterday we spent most of the day in our jammies because we were motivated to get stuff done and we didn’t want to stop the getting-stuff-done-train in order to change into real clothes. For some reason I always find that I get my best work done in my pajamas (right now is no exception).
Anyway, yesterday Brandon and I were both in a let’s-get-things-done kind of mood. It is rare that we are both in this same mood at the same time, so we rolled up the sleeves on our robes and dug in.
My project yesterday was to somehow pare down our mammoth toy collection. Before yesterday it was like we were running a toy community college. Anyone could get in. McDonald’s happy meal toy? No problem. We have a place for you right next to this bendy plastic horse we got at the doctor’s office. You two will have a blast hanging out in the broken Little People preschool that can only moan in discomfort instead of singing the ABC’s. I don’t consider myself particularly attached to things. I have no problem getting rid of clothes I’m no longer wearing or old furniture that’s falling apart. For some reason I have not been able to use these powers on the toys in my house. I want our toy collection to be more like a small liberal arts school—stimulating, refined, quirky, but interesting. These toys may not have as good of parties, but they’ll be the kind of toys you’ll want to hang on to forever. We definitely had some weeding out to do.
I started by bringing every toy we owned downstairs to the kid’s play area. I felt pretty disgusted with myself. When you see all the toys in a big pile like that you can't help but feel you’re a little like this lady. So then I proceeded to make some piles. The first one was stuff that was broken or missing pieces. At first I really had to convince myself that it was okay to get rid of something that was broken. Then once I got over myself it got kind of fun finding stuff that was broken because I could just immediately put it in the trash pile without thinking about it too much. The next pile was for toys that we either had two of or that the kids have had for a while but never really played with for whatever reason. These things are in perfectly good shape, but they just need to move on to a less, ahem, exclusive playroom.
I won’t bore you with all my toy-cleaning-out details, but I did have at least one revelation while cleaning stuff out. I realized that we have about a million artsy-craftsy kits that we didn’t really think to do because they were buried under coloring books and art smocks and other art supplies. I rescued the artsy-craftsy kits from the bottom of the craft drawer, and put them in my new “rainy day box.” I wish I could say that the rainy day box was my idea, but it’s not. I read about it somewhere. Probably here. Basically, the rainy day box is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a box full of fun things to do when it’s…you guessed it…raining. So, now we have a rainy day box. Wonderful. I didn’t technically have to get rid of something, but it still feels like I have eliminated some of the toy chaos.
While I was doing all of this, Brandon was busy transferring all of our 8 mm video tapes to our computer so that we can make them into DVDs and actually watch them. (What a husband!) It was nostalgia city in here yesterday. While I was taking each stuffed animal for a stroll down memory lane, in the background were the sounds and images of our short, but very full life as a family so far.
We first got the video camera from my parents for Christmas the year before Emma was born. I took a lot of footage that first Christmas. I am mostly behind the camera. I think the only time you can see me is when I do a really artsy shot where I’m filming myself looking the mirror. You can hear me talking a lot, though, and I shudder every time I hear my voice. Is that really what I sound like? It’s a wonder people can listen to me without puking or throwing something at me. Yuck. Anyway, that is the Christmas before we had a baby and it is like looking at old pictures of George Bush before he became president. He looks cute and affable, happily clueless, like, “what’s the big deal with this presidency thing?” When we see our pre-parenting selves on the video I think Brandon and I both want to shout, “life as you know it is about to change. You have no idea, but you will never be this person again so enjoy it while you can!” I also want to shout to my former self, “never, never do that short bangs haircut ever again!”
The tapes progress and so do the years. The next year we have a shiny new Emma who squeals with delight as we film her doing thrilling stuff like crawling across the floor and pulling up on the coffee table. It is mind-boggling to see her juxtaposed to our present-day four-year-old Emma. Tape from just three years ago has the feeling of ancient history. A time before Charlie? How could such a world even exist? If Emma has changed from a wriggly little baby who couldn’t speak into her chatty little self, then how have I changed? How am I going to change in just three more years? You see your life stretching out before you and wonder what’s in store. Maybe at some point you will look back on this current moment as the time of innocence and blissful ignorance.
So, now the playroom is all cute and organized. I feel sort of like Mary Poppins when I walk in there, like I could sing a little song and all the toys would hop back into their appointed spots. My work is not done though. I have a few (several) baskets of toys in toy limbo (dining room). They have been wait listed. They still get played with on a semi-regular basis. There is nothing wrong with them exactly. I can remember like yesterday when they joined our household. One of the kids opened them for Christmas or a birthday or as a special present when a grandparent came to visit. There was the look of surprise and then delight when the wrapping paper was finally peeled off by chubby toddler fingers and the new toy revealed. And then there was a moment when each toy was the only toy in the world—when it was the star of the playroom. I probably have the video tape somewhere if you want to see for yourself.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Somehow they both end up at their respective schools with shoes on and school bags in hand and I drive away by myself. It is the craziest feeling driving away by myself. I feel a little like I did when I was a teenager and I got the keys to the car. Even if I was just going to the grocery store or to return a video, I got to go by myself--a new and exhilarating feeling. Since Charlie started school, I have been making my self drive my self to a Barnes and Noble with a Starbucks attached to it so that I can write during those precious kid-free hours. In our family we call this Barnes and Noble "the Train Thomas store" because it has an awesome train table for the kids. On rainy days you can find a whole crew of mommies there and the children's section looks like a stroller parking lot. The floors are paved with Dora books and there's a Train Thomas for everyone. When Charlie imagines Heaven, it probably looks a lot like the Train Thomas Store.
But on preschool mornings, I bypass the train table completely and head straight for the coffee. There is always a line of people waiting for coffee at this time of day. I am immediately struck by the fact that I am waiting in line and no one is trying to run away from me. I can just stand here and move forward gradually as the line moves without having to count 1....2....3 and make time-out threats to get someone to stand there with me. Waiting in line, I also realize I am fighting the urge to talk to myself. Hmmm....those scones sure look yummy! I think it would be better for me to get a reduced fat turkey bacon thingy....oh, whoops! The line is moving forward. Let's go, everybody! I had no idea how much I think out loud when I'm with the kids.
Once I have my coffee and my reduced fat thingy, I carry everything awkwardly over to find a table where I can work--not always an easy task because there are only about nine tables and I live in the land of the corporate headquarters. There are about a million big office buildings that are home to some of your favorite corporations located a stone's throw from where I'm sitting, but apparently, these buildings just aren't as fun to have meetings in as the Train Thomas Starbucks. So, finding a table is not easy. This is my least favorite part about preschool mornings. It almost keeps me from going to the Train Thomas Starbucks because I hate this part so much. It is the high school cafeteria all over again. For shy people like me, kids are a nice buffer between you and the world. You're invisible when you walk around behind a stroller. I feel naked without someone else to tend to, someone else to guide through the perils of the parking lot or the Starbucks Holiday display. To all these people in the Starbucks, I am not someone's mommy, I'm just me. Little old me with her decaf and her reduced fat breakfast who is trying to write a novel. A novel? I imagine all of the Starbucks customers spitting out their coffee at the hilariousness of that notion.
So, I find a seat eventually and then it is like, whew! What a relief. (I almost say that out loud, but catch myself.) This is the part that I love about preschool mornings. I get my computer all set up and dive back into whatever part of the story I was working on last. I lose myself in the characters and their problems. I'm no longer in Starbucks, I'm at Violet's job, where she is failing miserably. I'm in her bedroom as she cries herself to sleep. Then, without warning, I am jarred out of my novel as someone with one of those scary cyborg ear-piece cell phone things on their head leans over from the table next to me and asks how long does it take my PC to boot up. You'd think this would annoy me, but it doesn't. It turns out there's a group of cyborg-looking guys who are having some sort of meeting about PCs booting up and they want to know my opinion on the matter. I stumble through an answer that probably gives them more information than they really wanted about my computer choices, but to my surprise they nod thoughtfully and then go back to their cyborg PC booting up meeting.
For some reason I get a little thrill out of this. It is just so exciting to be able to pass myself off as a normal person in my own right. A normal person with opinions about something other than organic milk or double strollers. Sometimes I feel like I will never be a "normal" person again. Intellectually I know that my kids will get older and they will need me less. They will go to school for longer days. They will go to summer camp and to slumber parties and I won't be invited. They will also go to college and get married and have their own children. I know this in theory, but sometimes it's hard to believe. They need me so much right now. They need me to rock them before they go to sleep, to massage shampoo in their hair and then pour a bucket of water over their head as they scream in a combination of delight and surprise. They need to hold my hand to walk anywhere, for me to buckle them into a car seat in order to drive anywhere. They need me to get just as excited as they do when a firetruck's siren screams in the distance, to read Things That Go twice a day, every day. They still need to sit on my lap a good portion of the day. Lately Emma and I have been playing a game where we talk about what will happen when she is a mommy and I am a grandma. I play the part of a feeble little old lady and say "Emma? Will you take me for a walk? Emma will you bring me some milky? Emma, read me a book, please." Really, I am less old lady as I am an infant. And Emma plays along, pantomiming tending to all my needs saying, "Yes, mommy. I will take care of you."
Just when I think I have everyone in Starbucks fooled, a little girl walks in with her daddy. They are holding hands and he is navigating the way through the tables and chairs so they can take their place in line. I catch the little girl's eye and she gives me a long, hard look. I can see it in her eyes that she has discovered my secret. She can see the mommy in me. What gave it away? Was it the yogurt smeared on my shoulder? Was it the telltale sweatpants/pony-tail/under-eye circles combo that I am usually sporting? Whatever it is, I'm glad she can see it. It is time to pick up my kids and I can hardly drive there fast enough.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
- What was your favorite day?
- What are you most afraid of?
- Which is your favorite stuffed animal?
- If you could only have two foods for every meal for forever, what two foods would they be?
- Which is better: your birthday or Halloween?
- What would you like to be when you grow up?
- If you had a baby what would you name him or her?
- Who is your best friend? What is it about him or her that you like?
5) Have a clothing-optional tea party. (Clothing is not optional for the grown-up). The other day Emma wanted to have a "real" tea party where she poured real water from her teapot into the cups. That was fun for about two minutes before she couldn't help herself and had to see what would happen if she poured the entire contents of the teapot into one little teacup. So we decided to move the party upstairs into the bathtub. She got to pour tea to her heart's content and I got to read a magazine. Everybody's happy.
6) Think of your child's play area as a display window at a department store. The display window only features a few outfits that are in season and in style. They don't put the whole contents of the store out there just so that passersby won't miss anything. Kids can't see what there is to play with if all their toys are out at the same time, screaming for their attention. I've learned this from seeing how my kids' preschool teachers "market" certain activities to the children. When you enter a preschool classroom there will be one table with painting supplies, another table with a few balls of play dough, and then another area with blocks and that's it. The kids walk into the classroom and know just what they want to play with and then they go to town. If only it were so easy in a department store...
So, those are my ideas, folks. I am going to tape this list to my TV and try to remember to do these things when I'm tired and just want Dora to come on over and do my job for me. It's going to be a long road though...Emma and I both love a little Dora in the afternoon.
****Please add your ideas in the comments section of this post! I know I'm not the only one with ideas out there...
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I'm not suggesting a return to pioneer days here, people. Stay with me... nobody's suggesting that you start sewing your own frocks or churning your own butter. Seriously, it's really easy. Just click over here. Do it. Have you clicked there yet? Are you just being stubborn? Okay, now just put in your zip code where it says "where?" and then it will tell you where you can go buy locally produced food near you. See? That wasn't so hard.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I love these Mom makeover shows as much as the next girl. They tap into the part of my psyche that still enjoys a good Cinderella story or Julia Roberts movie. But, here is my question: What does the made-over Mom do after the hair product is washed out, the contouring shadow has been cold-creamed away, and the kicky outfit is put back on a hanger? I mean, the whole reason she looked like Urkel in the first place was because she didn't have the time (or the cosmetology degree) to put all that junk on her hair and her face to begin with. And the thing that bugs me the most about these shows is that they don't seem to have a clue as to what moms do all day. Can you imagine how hard it would be to clean peanut butter off the bottom of the toilet wearing heels and mini-skirt? (Yes, that's right, I said peanut butter on the bottom of the toilet.)
I need a realistic mom makeover show. I need ideas for looking cute while I chip crusty oatmeal off of my dining room chairs with a butter knife. I need to know how to wear my hair so that it looks feminine, modern and won't get in my way when I'm digging through the trash looking for Charlie's favorite "Train Thomas," which sometimes, just to shake things up, he likes to throw away in his favorite trash can. I can definitely see how the Urkel transformation happens. If you could see me as I write this post then you could make the argument that it has already happened.
So, what's a mom to wear? I've decided these people at Athleta have gotten it right. Judging from the pictures in the catalog, their target audience seems to be yoga instructors and professional surfers--people who spend all day working out and playing touch football on the beach, but I think secretly they are marketing to normal moms. It's just that catalog pictures of a mom hosing down a pukey car seat would probably not sell many clothes. Or would they?
Thursday, November 8, 2007
In April I'm happiest with mud on the knees of my jeans, sitting down to the year's most intoxicating lunch: a plate of greens both crisp and still sun-warmed from thegarden, with a handful of walnuts and some crumbly goat cheese. This is the opening act of real live food.
And just FYI, she didn't pick up the goat cheese at the Whole Foods. She knows that goat. I love it. It's so crazy and extreme what Kingsolver does--picking up her family and moving cross-country to rural Virginia.. But is it so crazy? If you knew the journey that most of your food has taken to get to your plate you might just lose your appetite. It is completely ridiculous the amount of fuel we burn so that we can eat asparagus in December, or lettuce, or strawberries or tomatoes. I've never eaten asparagus straight from the garden, but to hear Kingsolver tell it, it is an ecstatic experience, one worth waiting for until spring comes again.
I really have an urge to grow something, but it seems unlikely in my townhouse with no yard and only a sliver of a balcony. I saw on Martha Stewart the other day that you can grow things in these cold frames all winter long. I would love to try something like that. Martha made it seem like it was really easy--just tap tap tap a few nails into place and you're done. I think it probably involves some sawing and some measuring (probably not in that order) and I am really bad at both of these things. These Chia Pet herb gardens seem like they might be more my speed. That's probably not what Barbara Kingsolver had in mind. The Chia Pet manufacturer does not exactly live in my neighborhood, but it would be a start.
We used to have a plot in a community garden when we lived in DC. It was our foray into gardening and we loved it. The first thing we grew that we were able to eat was a strawberry. One day the kids and I went to the garden and strawberries had magically appeared. We had to lift the leaves of the strawberry plant and look underneath to see them. I felt like I'd stumbled across someone else's birth, seeing those first little ripe berries. I picked the best strawberry--the only one not mushy from where it touched the dirt--carefully tucked it in my diaper bag and pushed my three babies home (Emma, Charlie and the strawberry) in the stroller. I presented it to Brandon on a paper towel when he got home. "Look," I said. "We made this." I ate half in one bite and he ate the rest. I think it will always be the best strawberry I have ever tasted.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
31.4 year-old!!! My body thinks it is still living the life it lived back in my glory days of last September!
Okay, that's not really much of a difference. But at least my Real Age isn't any older than my actual age. Here are some things Dr. Oz says I should do to achieve a younger me:
- INCREASE YOUR INTAKE OF VITAMIN E. (Easy enough)
- EAT MORE FOODS THAT ARE RICH IN POTASSIUM. (No problem)
- INCREASE YOUR DAILY INTAKE OF CALCIUM. (Easy)
- INCREASE YOUR WHOLE GRAIN INTAKE. (I can do this.)
- INCREASE YOUR VEGETABLE INTAKE. (Ditto)
- INCREASE YOUR FRUIT INTAKE. (check)
- DO MORE STRENGTH-BUILDING EXERCISES AND TRY TO KEEP YOUR OVERALL WORKOUT PLAN WELL BALANCED. (Need advice on how to fit this in with no gym membership and two small, crazy people in my face all the time.)
- GRADUALLY WORK UP TO AT LEAST 90 MINUTES OF STRENGTH-BUILDING EXERCISES EACH WEEK. (See above comment.)
- ADD FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES TO YOUR ROUTINE. (Need advice here too. Is Yoga the best way to do this?)
- FLOSS EVERY DAY. (I know, I know. Dr. Oz knows me so well.)
- SPEND MORE TIME BUILDING AND MAINTAINING STRONG, CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS. (Hmmm.... I guess I really am a slacker in this department come to think of it.)
- OWN A DOG IF POSSIBLE. (not going to happen right now, Dr. Oz. I need to get all the humans in my house potty trained before I take on a dog.)
Lastly, Dr. Oz said I needed to become a healthier role model for my kids. Here is a test to take to see how healthy your kids are. Yikes! I'm nervous to take this one. Emma is a very, shall we say, discerning eater. It is really hard to get her to eat new things and I admit to giving into her demands for grilled cheese on too many occasions. Charlie will eat just about anything, but too often I let Emma dictate what they will be eating, so Charlie pretty much eats the same limited diet as Emma. I definitely have lots of room for improvement in this department. I will take the healthy kids test soon, I promise. Right now I have to do an "I Spy" puzzle with my kids.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Well, apparently no one told Emma that it was really 6:30. She just came downstairs with her new best friend "Bunny Fafalle." (I have no idea how she came up with that one.) So, it looks like now I'm going to have to start getting up at 5:30 instead of 6:30 in order to get some of my stuff done. How do you carve out time for yourself? Do you wake up at 3:30 a.m.? Hire a babysitter? I need some advice because my novel isn't writing itself and my abs think they are on permanent vacation. How do you accomplish your personal goals? As I write this, Emma is about 2 inches from my face singing the months of the year song. I need some me time, people. Help!
Saturday, November 3, 2007
I have realized that life runs a lot more smoothly if I figure out what we're having for dinner before say, 5:30 p.m. I had to learn this the hard way...there have been many days where I have taken a hungry toddler to the grocery store sans list, cruising the aisles for inspiration. Not a good plan. So, on the weeks that I'm feeling like I've got my best mom foot forward, I actually come up with a menu for the week and do one mega shopping trip while B is home to watch the kids. Sometimes I even post the menu on the refrigerator, so that we can see what's for dinner on any given day. B loves that for some reason. I guess he likes to look forward to his favorite meals (and know which nights to work late).
So, I am new at this blogging stuff, but I'm going to try to link my menu to recipes and a grocery list to help all my imaginary friends out there do their shopping.
Happy cooking! Let me know if you have any great recipes/menu planning tips to share. I am always in the market for new ideas (no pun intended).
Here's the menu for this week:
Sunday: Chicken Tortilla Soup with Cheese Quesadillas and Guacamole
Monday: Salmon and Couscous with Fruit and Sauteed Spinach (This spinach recipe serves about 3--you might need to double it.)
Tuesday: Talapia Fish Sticks with Sweet Potato Fries and Veggies with Dip
Wednesday: "Butterflies and Trees" with Grilled Chicken (You could save time by picking up a rotisserie chicken, but that will mean an extra trip to the store since you can't buy this ahead of time.)
Thursday: Salmon Croquettes with Cauliflower Mock Mashed Potatoes and peas
Friday: Pizza and movie night! Here's a recipe for easy pizza dough...or call your favorite pizza man and take the night off!
Saturday: Indian Summer Turkey Chili FWIW, I always tweak this recipe a little...I don't do the barbecue sauce because it just seems wrong to me. Instead, I add about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and about a quarter cup of chicken stock to loosen up the tomato paste.
Click here for the Grocery List--Chances are you already have things like salt and olive oil in your pantry, but I'm putting it all on the list just in case...