Thursday, February 28, 2008

Don't Give Up On Me

Just a heads up: we've got grandparents coming into town this weekend for a visit and also to stay with Genevieve while Christopher and I take Julia up to the U. hospital (about an hour away) for an outpatient surgical procedure on Monday. It's a relatively minor thing in the grand scheme of medicine (and parenting), but it involves things like way-pre-dawn wake-ups and no breakfast for the toddler undergoing general anesthesia and leaving my still-nursing baby for the day...and all that is a tad stressful and the logistics are messing with my blood pressure. Also, I haven't yet gotten to the store to buy groceries to feed everyone during this upcoming family visit, or even planned any meals.

In other words, I have other things to think about, and I probably won't be writing here until Tuesday or after.

Wish us luck, and send us good thoughts on Monday. Because even when the procedure is simple, brief, and minor (i.e. not involving any sort of incision, thank god), putting your 34-lb. three-year-old under general anesthesia is a scary proposition anyway.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Car Wash


I can see I've been slacking lately, because this is the second week in a row that the Wednesday activity was somebody else's idea (and the same somebody, too! Didn't I say something about hiring this column out?). But hey: you crib when you have to, and you're grateful. Once again, my imaginative fellow mom Connie came up with this one: kiddie car wash! Basically, we rolled our toy cars into the kitchen and I gave the girls a bucket with a very small amount of soapy water in the bottom and a couple of old washcloths. Although I didn't get a photo of the girls in action, they had fun scrubbing the cars with their little wet rags. In the summer this will be great fun outside on the patio, with a lot more water!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Slow-Cooker Salsa Chicken


I cannot take credit for this week's Do-Little Dinner idea. However, the recipe was such a gigantic hit in our house--prompting, of all people, picky-eater Genevieve to inhale a giant quantity of it and actually plaster the bowl to her face in an attempt to lick up every last drop--that I feel compelled to share it here.

This recipe came from the Ordering Disorder blog over at Work It, Mom!. It's incredibly easy, but the best part is, it's way, way better than one might expect from a recipe so simple. In fact, as a mostly-vegetarian who normally only just tolerates chicken, I was surprised to find I could not get enough of this dish. Just try it. I bet you'll like it as much as Genevieve did.

Slow-Cooker Salsa Chicken
4 to 6 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups jarred salsa (this is a lot of salsa, so I recommend "mild")
1 15-oz. can corn, drained

Place chicken in bottom of slow-cooker, then add beans and salsa. Cook on low for 8 hours or so. During last half hour, add corn. When ready to eat, shred the chicken with two forks, then stir the whole thing up really well. Serve in bowls, either over brown rice or with soft tortillas (we favor the wheat kind) on the side. Offer shredded cheddar cheese and/or sour cream as toppings, as well.

Monday, February 25, 2008

So Much for Brevity

OK then! Whew, last week was a whole lot of emotion and angst. I'm ready for a little lighthearted brevity, and I bet you are too. I know, I know--my self-inflicted black eye at the grocery store would fall right into that category. But right now I'm thinking not so much about black eyes at Cub Foods as the Black Hole of Target. Also known as the Target Shopping Bermuda Triangle.

See, on Saturday evening, after I nursed Genevieve, put her to bed, and sang bedtime songs with Julia, I went out for a quick jaunt to Target. I had a few things of my own to shop for, and wanted to be unencumbered by small children so I could do so in peace. I figured I'd run out, try on a few pairs of workout pants, grab some anti-aging eye cream (Oy! A post in itself. I'm old. And have you tried shopping for anti-aging eye cream lately? Did you know there are ten million varieties, and they all cost, like, $23.95 for .5 fluid ounces? What exactly is in eye cream, people?--liquid gold?), and be home in 45 minutes. Tops.

I came home 2-1/2 hours later.

Christopher said he knew I hadn't been killed in a car accident because the cops would have contacted him about 90 minutes prior. He did wonder, however, if I had gone to Target in another town.

I have no explanation. It was as if, since I was not accompanied by an angry baby fussing over being strapped into the cart and therefore did not have to race through the aisles at breakneck speed, madly collecting random brands of whatever I needed in an effort to get out of the store as fast as possible, I somehow got sucked into a vortex of time-warpage where I became more slow-moving with every minute that passed. I stood there comparing mascara tubes and running tights and travel mugs like a woman with nothing but time. I tried on five pairs of workout capris and four pairs of black ballerina flats. Somehow at some point I found myself considering tan suede armchairs. People, it was ridiculous. I could feel the pull of the Target Black Hole, but I was powerless to avoid it, even as I grew more and more tired and dimly aware that the store was soon going to close. When I arrived home, I had to down two big glasses of water and a couple of ibuprofen, as if I'd just come home from a hard run. Christopher just shook his head at me.

Ultimately, I had two major realizations stemming from my Target excursion. First, if you should find yourself compelled to buy your children's Easter basket stuff now, despite the fact that it's not even March yet and there is absolutely no reason to be doing so, there is NO NEED to spend 40 minutes in the Easter section. I know there's a lot to look at; I realize all the plush chickies and rabbit-shaped bubble bottles and pastel sidewalk chalk and jelly beans are entrancing (and paralyzing). But seriously: just grab your chocolate eggs and go. YOU WILL BE BETTER OFF. Trust me on this one.

Second: the Liz Lange Maternity clothes at Target right now are SO UNBELIEVABLY CUTE, cuter than the regular clothes. For a moment you may wish you were pregnant just so you could wear them. That's fine, as long as you don't actually go and act on that thought.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Genevieve Finally Starts Talking


As good a Quote of the Day as any:

Julia: My little sister just said 'boot'!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Food for the Soul

[*Edited to add: I wrote the following post over the course of two different days, and neglected to revise all the tenses and whatnot when I hit "publish." Sorry if I confused any regular readers! I fixed it, below. I meant that THURSDAY I was glad I looked presentable, and TODAY (Friday) I went to an all-day conference. Sigh. The foggy mothering brain strikes again.]


Late last fall, after a string of very trying weeks of at-home mothering, a local fellow parent--a writer who lives in my town, an at-home dad to two boys (now in their teens), and someone I didn't even know--began reading my blog and one day wrote a post on his own blog in which he, in my honor, linked to one of his published essays, a lovely and funny account of, well, the efforts and absurdities of parenting--and nourishing--young children. And he wished me a better month to come, and hoped we'd meet sometime in person. After all, we live in a small town; our spouses work at the same college. But at the same time, our children are far apart in age, so we don't move in the same parenting circles; we don't run into each other at library storytime or the playground, because Rob's era of parenting toddlers is long past--which is exactly why I cherish his occasional comments on my blog. Those times when I'm losing my mind, it helps for someone who's definitely been there and done that--who really knows exactly what it's like, and who has survived it all!--to simply say, Yep. I remember that. It was RIDICULOUS.

Yesterday afternoon when I was wiping the remains of homemade berry smoothie off two tiny faces, there was a knock at the door. And Rob Hardy was outside with a loaf of homemade bread in his hands. Someone I'd never met, but who reads about my life online and sympathizes, who read my post yesterday and knows I'm at my wits' end these days with all this 18-month-old tantruming, who made me a big gorgeous loaf of homemade bread, looked up my address, and brought it to my door, leaving the girls and me open-mouthed and awestruck in his kindly wake.

And things suddenly seemed a whole lot more tolerable. Because is that not just about the nicest thing you've ever heard? Do you know what it means to close the door and smell the bread and think, Someone who had never even met me before this moment cared enough to offer this compassionate gesture of support and nourishment! It boggles the mind.

Thank you, Rob. The bread is delicious. I ate so much of it at dinnertime that I gave myself a stomachache.

Today I am off to an all-day conference in the Cities to earn some licensure CEUs, and while it's one of those dreary gotta-do-it endeavors, a day of professional presentations on a topic I'm not even interested in, but which I registered for because it fit my budget, my location, and my gotta-get-home-in-time-to-nurse schedule--well, this morning all I can think is, At least today I will be sitting peacefully in a baby-free environment, sipping coffee, and NOT changing diapers, wiping noses, or listening to anyone scream "MAMA!" At least, I certainly hope not.

And can I just add one thing? That I am very glad yesterday was not one of those days I was running around in dirty yoga pants and with uncombed hair? And that I was actually wearing makeup, which artfully concealed THE BLACK EYE I GAVE MYSELF WHILE GROCERY-SHOPPING the other week? Oh, didn't I tell you about that? Well, next time, then. But people! You never know when your Internet guardian angel is going to show up on your doorstep! Dress nicely!

See you next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm Sure There's a Bright Side in There Somewhere

Genevieve's screaming through naptime again today. She did it on Sunday, too, but at least that was a weekend, when I had reinforcements around (read: Christopher) and could basically hand her off and say, "Get her out of my sight and hearing" as soon as we'd given up and lifted her out of her bed.

It is hard to describe just how difficult it is to be home alone with a baby who is screaming nonstop for long periods of time. Words don't do a great job of explaining how torturous it really is, how desperate and miserable it can make a person. Particularly when the screaming baby prevents the preschooler from taking a nap, either. Particularly when both girls were actually so tired during the morning that they were yawning on our WAY to a playdate, so of course I expected good, solid naps from both.

When Julia was a newborn, she cried nonstop--unless nursing--all night long for her first four weeks of life. Until three, four, five a.m. Every single night. I used to get stomachaches at about four or five p.m., dreading the night to come. I remember once being in the bath at suppertime, in tears, crying, "It's almost ee--ee--evening!" That was terrible. And then when she'd stopped the night crying, she refused to sleep at all during the day, for months on end, and by the time she was four and five and six months old, my days were largely a solitary misery of constant infant-care, and I thought I'd never make it. That was incredibly difficult too.

When Genevieve was a newborn, she had gastric reflux and colic and, until she was about two months old and started medication and I discovered that if I refrained from ingesting chocolate, dairy, and caffeine, her colic would go away, she cried--SCREAMED, actually--three to four evenings a week for anywhere from two to four hours on end. That was terribly hard, too, although the second time around you can stand the crying a tiny bit better.

Now it's an interminable, bitterly cold winter, and we've run out of things to do, and some days I don't have a vehicle available to me to get out of the house with the girls, and Genevieve is so often a raging mass of runny-nosed, bawling fury, and she's embarked on this pattern of screaming through her naps---at the very time I need her to nap the most, because I need the break from all her fussing and crying and whining and pulling at me. And it doesn't really sound THAT bad--even to me: the baby crying through her naptime instead of sleeping. But it really is. It's terrible. It's terribly stressful. It's infuriating. It's exhausting. And I realize, is it any wonder I don't sleep well at night, that I've gained a few pounds, that I've got all these random aches and pains that are interfering with my workout schedule, that I can't focus enough to get serious about training for a 10K OR working on a book proposal, that I'm on caffeine-and-sugar overload just trying to cope and get through each day? That at the end of the day I don't feel unburdened, or relaxed, or refreshed for the next day to come, but instead I just feel a profound lack of pleasure in my daily, my weekly life; I just think, Well, tomorrow there's more of the same?

I've said it before: no matter how much a person values and generally enjoys being a full-time stay-at-home mom, no matter how good she may be at it most of the time, no matter how glad and thankful and relieved she is to be her children's daily caregiver, because it's really what she feels, deep down, is right for the whole family---well, a person gets burned out when her job involves no vacations, ever; no co-workers during the workday; no routine adult conversation and interaction; no change in environment between "work place" and "home"; no help (during the workday, I mean) with the tasks at hand. Can you imagine any "regular" job like that?

The only solutions I can think of for this problem are a.) to have (grand)parents nearby who are willing to help out occasionally, and b.) to hire a regular sitter for a couple of hours a week so as not to lose one's mind completely before the children reach kindergarten. However, a.) we have no nearby family, and b.) as a dear, in-town friend said the other day, "It would cost me $100 a month to hire a sitter to watch my two kids for two hours a week; there is no way I can afford that kind of expense when we're living on one salary!" Exactly. Someone once suggested to me something about organizing a regularly-scheduled babysitting trade-off system, where fellow moms would take turns watching each other's kids so we could each get time alone; but, the reality is that all my close friends have multiple small children of their own, and no one--myself included--is willing to take on four or more children under four years old for an afternoon, even with the promise of an eventual turn being the one who gets to drop the kids off and go. I mean, can you imagine? I can hardly handle my own two.

Is there no solution, then? Do we all just suffer through these early SAHM years when the babies go through their patience-testing stages and everyone needs you to do everything for them and there's so much crying and fussing and teething and nursing and diaper-changing and "help me with this!" and "watch me!" and "MAMAAAAA!!!!!"? And no one naps? And Mama slowly goes insane?

Encouragement, tips, solidarity, ideas, and winning lottery tickets welcome.

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Fun With Crib Mattresses!


My dear friend Connie is the genius behind this week's activity, and I really should hire her to write What-to-Do Wednesdays, except I'd have to pay her in, like, used Kleenexes or soggy Cheerios. And I'm not sure she'd take that job.

Anyway, thanks to Connie's great idea, the other day I pulled the currently unused crib mattress out of the currently unused baby crib (yes, in fact, I DO have a baby! No, in fact, she doesn't sleep in the crib! Would you like to hear that whole painful story? No? Good, because I'm not up to it. Though I'm sure the tale will be continued eventually) and laid it on the floor in the master bedroom, in the hopes of keeping the girls entertained while I got ready for the day. I propped the currently unused crib bumper pads around the mattress and told the girls it was a meadow, with a fence around it, and they were sheep. So now this new game is called "Sheep in the Meadow." We corralled the little plastic Fisher Price sheep from the toy farm, too, and Julia even dragged her big rocking sheep down the hall from the nursery to join the other sheep. Success! Thanks, Connie.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Cheesy Polenta with White Bean and Tomato Sauce

Are you ready for the next installment of Do-Little Dinners? This week's recipe, one I clipped out of some now-forgotten magazine several years ago, is a Do-Little superstar: it has got to be the easiest dinner ever. Truly--it's not much more work than opening up a frozen pizza, and it's a lot healthier. Plus, in our house, even the pickiest of eaters gobbles it up. Kids love polenta! Happy eating!

[Note: the microwaving times are approximates. They work great for my current microwave, but with a lower-powered microwave you may need to increase the time in order to get all the water absorbed. You want to end up with a nice thick, creamy polenta the consistency of mashed potatoes. Also--you MUST use a wire whisk for the stirring. A spoon or fork will NOT work for polenta.]

Cheesy Polenta with White Bean and Tomato Sauce
4 servings

1 cup yellow cornmeal
3-1/2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 15-oz. can white northern (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed
1 T. fresh basil, chopped---or 1 tsp. dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large microwave-safe mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, salt, and water with a wire whisk, whisking until there are no lumps. Cover with a large microwaveable plate. Microwave on high for 7 minutes. Remove from microwave, uncover, and whisk again (it will still be very watery). Return to microwave; cook for 5 more minutes. At that point, remove bowl from microwave and stir with whisk again. Polenta should be thick but soft, like mashed potatoes. Whisk in cheese.

While polenta cooks, combine undrained tomatoes, drained/rinsed beans, and basil in medium saucepan and simmer until polenta is done. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, put a generous scoop of cheesy polenta in a bowl. Top with a ladle or two of sauce.

Add a salad or some fruit and you've got a yummy, balanced, vegetarian meal that only took 12 minutes. You can't beat that!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mama, Ph.D.

Being home full-time with small children during the winter is like running a marathon except without the cheering hordes of encouraging onlookers. I once used the same analogy to describe the Ph.D. program I was in at the time, so does that mean that winter with small children is like a Ph.D. program? I suppose in some ways, on some days, it is: the crushing boredom strangely mixed with never-ending, energy-requiring work; the lack of timely positive reinforcement for anything you are currently doing; the angst. THANK GOD raising one's children does not ultimately result in low-paying jobs and massive amounts of debt. Oh, wait a minute...

Let's change topic, shall we?

I eliminated one of Genevieve's remaining three nursings over the weekend (the mid-afternoon, post-nap one). I chose that one because it's her "least important" nursing (the others being morning wake-up and bedtime), but it's a shame because that nursing is actually my favorite one of the day. She's always groggy from her nap and there's none of the twisting and poking and general shenanigans she tends to engage in during her other nursings these days; instead, she'd kind of sack out in my lap like a warm bear cub. So cozy and snuggly. I'll really miss it.

I hadn't really planned on it--this preliminary weaning business, I mean--but after taking her to the pediatrician on Friday and getting some feedback about her continued (cow's) milk refusal and ideas about how to handle it, I guess it felt like time to start thinking about weaning. As you might imagine, after being either pregnant or nursing for all but two months out of the past 4-1/2 years, it's sort of hard to imagine being completely done. I'm not ready yet to wean her completely, but my main motivation is the realization that once I do, I have at least the CHANCE of talking my parents into driving down to stay with the girls overnight so Christopher and I can, at some point, enjoy a weekend--or even half a weekend--away. Since we've never been apart from our babies for even one night in the 3-1/2+ years we've been parents, this would be a real treat. But we can't do it while I'm still nursing.

Genevieve was a TOTAL BEAR this morning, pretty much hanging onto my knees and crying nonstop until and unless I picked her up--all morning long--and now that she's napping and my brain is functioning normally again, I wonder: is she mad about that nursing? Maybe she misses it too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Half-Birthday


Genevieve is 18 months old today! Seriously--how unbelievable is that? We ran into some friends at her pediatrician well-visit today, a family with a newborn in the house, and towering over that little seven-week-old snug in his infant carseat, she looked mighty tall.

Speaking of tall, Genevieve is my long and lean baby, it seems. Stats for the grandparents: She's only gained a bit over a pound in the last three months, putting her now at 23 lbs., 13 oz., the 43rd percentile for her age. At the same time, she shot up nearly three inches (!), putting her at 32-3/4 inches tall, the 82nd percentile (up from the 65th percentile at 15 months old). Wow!

We discussed the usual: how she's still nursing because she won't drink milk, how she's a picky eater, how she hardly talks but then comes forth the other day--completely on her own, completely out of the blue--with the three-syallable "animal", as if she'd been practicing it in her mind for weeks on end (and she probably was). How she's my climber, my tantrummer, my mad girl. How she screams and yells and gets insulted at the slightest thing, running away from you with a dismissive wave of her arm like she thinks you're just about the most infuriating--or ridiculous--person she's ever met. How she's busy, busy, busy, and knows how to do things like climb steps half her height and scale the sofa on her first try. How she went through that phase the other week when she screamed through all her naps and nearly drove her mama to drink.

We didn't talk about the fact that she's hilarious, wildly entertaining, and the cutest baby in the entire universe. Because! It's SO OBVIOUS!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Feel the Love

Oh my Lord, I was SERIOUSLY harried today. Let's just give that "harried" a capital H, shall we? Because truly---seriously Harried. At 6 p.m., my last meal had been at 7:30 this morning. During the day, I consumed, on the run, three caffeinated beverages--and only one glass of water. I sat down for just 15 minutes--not including driving--the entire day.

Why, you ask? Well, no dramatic or exciting reason. Just, I don't know--preschool drop-off and Target and the gas station and baby class and preschool pick-up and an unexpected visit from a neighbor just as I was getting the girls their lunch; short naps; phone calls to return; three loads of laundry; bags of stuff from the store to unpack and put away; floors to sweep; Valentine cupcakes to frost, decorate, and deliver; and, finally, in the late afternoon, a dentist appointment.

OK, but...in spite of all that harriedness, it's Valentine's Day, so check out the two little valentines below and feel the love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Language Lessons

Poor Genevieve's enraged, mostly unsuccessful (hence the rage) attempts to talk continue apace. She is beyond frustrated. She's getting better: she says "Vivi" now! But she still throws around a couple of all-purpose nonsense "words" all day long (naming things: "bapdah, bapdah, bapdah...."; demanding with desperate urgency: "dizzzzza! dizzzza! DDDDIZZZZA!", cursing you--and herself, probably--out for not understanding what she's trying to say. Oof. It's totally exhausting to watch and deal with, so I can only imagine how exhausting it must be to live it.

For a long while now, Genevieve's favorite book has been a sweet colorful hard-cover called Raindrop, Plop! The whole book echoes the three-syllable "rhyme" of the title, repeating counting and rhyming phrases in an appealing, hippity-hop rhythm. Vivi calls it "Dot Dot Dot!" and asks for it by name.

Today at naptime we were picking out pre-bed stories. Genevieve reached for the nursery bookshelf, enthusiastically yelling, "Eee, eee, eee!" I misunderstood her sounds for general "I want that!" fussiness, and tried to offer her some books. When I didn't understand her right away, Genevieve's voice grew urgent, then angry. "Eee, eee, eee!" she shouted. "This one?" I kept asking her, slipping books I know she likes off the shelf to show her. "This one?" "EEE! EEE! EEE!" she continued to yell, becoming more and more frustrated, until she finally pushed me aside, lunged at the bookcase, and grabbed, furiously, another recent favorite, shoving it in my face as if to say, "You IDIOT. I SAID THE NAME OF THE BOOK FIFTY TIMES."

Which story was it? Easy Street.

What-to-Do-Wednesdays: Table Fort!


Sometimes activity ideas are so obvious they go unconsidered for months. And then one day you go, Of course! A fort!

Today, I present the dining-room table fort: it's simple, it's classic, it's loved by all--except for baby Genevieve, who was inexplicably too scared to enter. Oh well; Julia had a great time busily constructing block villages inside.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ponderings

1. If Genevieve's FIRST baby photo album is just now close to filled, when she is almost 18 months old, and Julia had THREE (giant) full photo albums by 18 months, does that mean Genevieve is going to be mad at us when she's older?

2. If I have recently increased my runs from three miles to four, but today at my first doctor check-up since I was postpartum with Genevieve (1-1/2 years ago, people!) I found out I have GAINED two pounds, does that mean I should exercise less and lie around on the sofa more?

3. Am I a bad person for not having any recent photos of my girls in my wallet, when my OB/GYN asked at my appointment today? Why don't I? Do you?

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Oven-Baked Frittata

The best kind of dinner option is one that you can throw together with whatever you have on hand and know that it will never fail you. Today's Do-Little Dinner is one of my best go-to suppers: I almost always have the basic ingredients (eggs, milk, cheese, onions) on hand, and the rest is flexible--meaning, I can finally use up that bendy celery or that barely-hanging-on spinach in the crisper drawer, and no one will be the wiser. In fact, they'll gobble it up!

Traditionally, frittatas are egg dishes that are cooked start-to-finish in an ovenproof skillet--first, on top of the stove; then, in the oven--and served cut into pie-shaped wedges. But if you're like me, you don't have time to hang out in the kitchen monitoring the broiler, and to do so would no doubt invite a visit from the fire department, seeing as how you'd be called away at a crucial moment to empty the potty chair or rescue the baby from tipping headfirst over the back of the couch, and, well--those broilers go from bubbly-brown-and-delicious to flaming-kitchen-accident in about ten seconds flat. All of which is a long way of saying I've adapted this recipe into a walk-away-and-do-something-else kind of baked egg casserole.

I routinely make this recipe during the girls' naptime and just reheat it at the dinner hour; our family currently follows a crazy schedule that involves squeezing my run, dinner, the baby's bath, and nursing all into a 90-minute period when Christopher gets home from work, and having a pre-cooked entree ready to go helps me out a lot. It works just fine to do that. Leftovers are tasty for lunch the next day too.

**An important note about servings and ingredients:
How many does this recipe serve? I don't know; it depends on how many eggs you put into it and how big you like your pieces. Use 1/2 cup milk for every four eggs, and go from there to your liking. I generally use six eggs and 3/4 cup milk; I cut the pan into six or eight pieces. You do what you like.

And the ingredients? Truly, whatever you have and like, in whatever quantities you prefer. The ingredients list below is a suggestion--the basics, as it were. Feel free to add just about any chopped fresh vegetable (except tomatoes--they will be very watery in your eggs) and/or any frozen veggie you have around. I routinely throw in things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, carrots, green beans, broccoli, etc.--and have even used frozen corn and peas. It's all good. Really. The more vegetables you add, the bigger, thicker, and heartier your frittata will be. But you can make it with just onions, potatoes, garlic, eggs, milk, and cheese, and that works just as well. And if you don't have potatoes on hand, you don't have to use them, either--just go with the other veggies you have, and it will simply be lighter fare.

Oven-Baked Frittata

1 T. olive oil or butter
2 onions, sliced thinly
2 potatoes, sliced lengthwise and then crosswise into thin pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
Any other fresh or frozen vegetables you like (see note above), in smallish pieces--such as carrots, celery, bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, spinach....pretty much anything, in any amount as long as it all fits into your skillet
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste--you'll get a feel for this with time, but don't skimp on the salt, especially if you're using potatoes. I don't measure, I just dump some in, so I don't know an exact amount, but I'd say it's probably at least a tsp. if not more.
Eggs: I recommend 6 or 8
Milk: use 1/2 cup milk for every 4 eggs
1/2 cup any variety shredded or crumbled cheese (we like cheddar or feta the best)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil or butter in large skillet over medium heat and add all vegetables, garlic, and spices. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft--you can cover the skillet if you like to make this go more quickly. The time involved will depend on what and how much you are cooking--maybe 10-15 minutes?

Spread vegetable mixture into an oiled 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Beat eggs and milk together in medium bowl, then pour over vegetables. Sprinkle with cheese, and a little extra salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the egg is set and the top is golden and bubbly.

Serve with something easy--bread and butter, a green salad, or some fresh fruit.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Much Better


Yes! I got my relaxing morning yesterday, thank you for asking! And, thanks to my sweet birthday-wish-granting husband, it was wonderful! Can't you just feel the relaxation emanating from the photo above? I bet you can. Sorry that I'm not actually in the photo; relaxation comes with a price, and that price includes wrinkled pj's, bed-head, and the absence of makeup.

But that's OK! Because later in the day, after sleeping in (post-5:45-a.m.-nursing, of course), drinking two large mugs of very strong, perfectly creamy coffee while reading the latest issue of The Atlantic and part of the new book I got for my birthday, and, eventually, going for a great run in a sudden snowstorm (oops!)---well, I washed my hair, got all pretty, and went to a multi-family pizza party at the home of one of our playgroup families, where I was surprised with a birthday cake complete with lit candles AND singing. So! The perfect day! Sleep, coffee, magazines, running, good grooming, no cooking, cake. Does it get any better?

Oh! And for my birthday, Christopher gave me the cutest pair of shoes you've ever seen! Aren't they? Don't they look just about perfect for a spring full of preschool drop-offs and a summer full of chasing a 4-year-old and an almost-2-year-old at the playground every day? While still looking kind of cute? I think so. Unfortunately they're a half-size too big so I'm awaiting a shipped exchange. Let's hope the smaller size fits because! They're so cute!

In the end, it's a good thing that yesterday was so relaxing. Because today we're beset by some sort of crazy arctic windstorm, we're out of groceries so someone has to brave the forty-below-zero windchill to hit the supermarket, and between the four of us this week, we've got two dentist appointments, two doctor appointments, two ECFE classes, preschool volunteering, and....I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Like, oh, I don't know, numerous screaming tantrums and things like that. Because, you know, Vivi doesn't care that I'm a year closer to forty and therefore need everyone to, rather than scream my name nonstop for 45 minutes during nap, instead be extra nice to me and tell me that my wrinkles look lovely.

Friday, February 08, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering

Listening to a baby literally SCREAM my name nonstop for going on 40 minutes now, when she's supposed to be napping--and yes, I checked on her to make sure she's not wet or poopy or feverish or anything else, and she's not--IS NOT MY IDEA OF THE IDEAL BIRTHDAY ACTIVITY.

Also, the part about how her hysterics are keeping awake her sister, who is also supposed to be napping, and who was extremely tired all morning due to skipping her nap yesterday? Also not ideal birthday happenings.

I'll tell you what Mama wants for her #$%@!@ birthday, people. A VACATION.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Almost a Year Older

Julia is super-excited about my birthday tomorrow. Though I suspect it is because we get to eat cake, it's still pretty sweet. All day today she kept crowing, "Tomorrow is Mama's BIRTHDAY!" and "I'm so excited about Mama's BIRTHDAY tomorrow!", and once she said quietly, "I sure am looking forward to your birthday, Mama." (Again: cake.) She even pranced into her nursery school room this morning and announced enthusiastically to her teacher, "Tomorrow is my mama's BIRTHDAY!"

I guess I've trained her pretty well in the last few weeks, because if asked, Julia will readily recite that all Mama really wants for her birthday this year is "one relaxing morning." (I mean Saturday morning, of course; I'm not unrealistic enough to expect a relaxing morning on a weekday.) And today when I quizzed her, "What's a relaxing morning, honey?", she turned up her palms and said carelessly, "Oh, you know, lying in your bed, reading the newspaper, relaxing in your jammies, no one FUSSING AT you. You know." She smiled happily, as if she herself were a harried stay-at-home mom envisioning her own longed-for Relaxing Morning.

I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out if one's birthday is reason enough to wash one's hair. Keep in mind I'm not actually doing anything for my birthday other than eating cake with my dinner and hopefully opening a present or two. Ideally, watching the season premiere of "What Not to Wear" on the sofa in the evening while ingesting chocolate and browsing spring clothes catalogs. Kinda seems like a dirty-ponytail kind of birthday, doesn't it?

Don't get me wrong. I mean that in the best possible way.

SAHM Style Low Point

The other morning, I was preparing to bring Julia to preschool when she asked me to play a pretend game in which she sat in her old baby-crib and pretended she was a lifeguard, watching me while I "swam" down below. Evidently I was not swimming correctly, because she asked me to actually lie down on the rug and "swim" down there, rather than doing my lame swimming motions while standing looking out the window. To tell the truth, I just didn't feel like lying down on the floor and rolling around, having just combed my hair and gotten dressed in clothes that did not include yoga pants, a workout bra or running socks (miracle!).

"Honey, I don't want to lie down on the floor right now," I told her.

"But WHY?" Julia asked.

"Because I just got dressed and I don't feel like getting all wrinkled," I explained.

Julia paused, gazed at my long-sleeved t-shirt and too-worn jeans in a dubious manner, and commented with a decided air of distaste, "Mama....your clothes are already all wrinkled."

Sigh.

Quoted

This morning, as Christopher left for work, leaving me with a screaming baby who had already thrown at least three major tantrums since waking up:

"Good luck, babe. I suggest medicating early and often. And I don't mean the baby."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Homemade Play-Doh

Even if you have a lot of store-bought Play-Doh in your house (as we do), making Play-Doh at home is great fun, and it helps answer that awful winter-time (anytime?) question, "What should we do today?" I mentioned this easy, classic small-children's activity the other week, and posted the recipe in the comments. For those who missed it there, here it is again. True, the stovetop stirring is parents-only, and even the mixing is too hard for babies like Genevieve, but toddlers and preschoolers love to help where they can, and all ages can enjoy the playing after it has cooled. Just make sure the babes don't decide to eat it. (I admit, this is tough.)

Here you go:

Homemade Play-Doh

1 c. flour
1/2 c. salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar (find it in the spice aisle)
1 c. water
1 T. vegetable oil
Food coloring, scented extracts such as almond or peppermint

Combine flour, salt, and cream of tartar in a saucepan. In a small bowl, combine water, oil, food coloring, and peppermint or almond extract (optional). Gradually stir wet ingredients into the dry ones until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until a ball forms. Remove from stove. Cool before playing. Store in airtight container.

Recipe can be easily doubled, or repeated to make multiple colors.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What She Said.

I just read one of my favorite blogs, Not That You Asked, and Emily just said it all, people. Exactly how I feel these days, about Genevieve and my life as a stay-at-home mom. Plus she's funny. Go read.

It's Important

The Mothers Movement Online has officially endorsed a presidential candidate. Editor Judith Stadtman Tucker's thoughtful, important essay on who, and why, cemented my own leanings toward Obama. She's right. We're mothers; we have small children, to whom we are leaving this country one day. We need a change. And I agree with what Stadtman Tucker has to say about Obama's morals and a "caring society." Anyway, if you're interested, here's the link.

And even if you think celebrities having any sort of power over who one votes for is stupid, like I do, and tend to think things like this are a bit sentimental and sappy, you might still want to check out the "Yes We Can" video making its way all over the blogosphere right now. Because it IS moving. And inspiring. And if you set aside your normal cynicism, it might even make you feel hopeful that change in this country could actually happen.

Oh, Are They Doing That Now, Writing and Cutting and Such?

I am not, in the least, the type of person to worry about what my child is doing, developmentally, compared to other children. You'll never see me whipping out alphabet flash cards or encouraging Spanish vocabulary. It's just not in me, and I don't think it has much place in anyone else, either, to tell you the truth. But every now and then I wonder if I'm a little too laid-back about what the girls are learning--or not learning, as the case may be.

I don't mean Genevieve; I could write a whole other post, and I'm sure I will, about how neglected she is, being baby number two and all that. Teach her the ABC song? Read her ten books a day? Quiz her on colors, or body parts, or animal sounds? Uh...maybe after I finish doing all the million things per minute I'm doing around the house and actually go and FIND her, wherever she may be, playing happily, and busily, all by herself for two hours straight.

No, mainly I'm talking here about Julia. This girl is--strictly objectively speaking, here--intellectually precocious. She used three-word sentences at 17 months. She had over 130 words in her vocabulary at 18 months. She knew all her colors, her letters, and many songs and simple books by heart before age two. Because of all that, I totally let her be. It doesn't occur to me to coach any sort of learning; if anything, much of her life I have wished she would slow down a bit, because she is so smart she also becomes easily bored, and because her intelligence drives her to constant conversation and question-asking, and sometimes that's tiring.

But then Christopher came home from Visitor's Day at Julia's nursery school last week to comment that a little classmate of hers was already writing her name. And I recalled Julia's teacher, at fall conferences, mentioning that Julia couldn't yet cut with little-kid scissors. And I realize that we never do those things at home, ever. We have toddler scissors at home; we have paper and pencils, obviously. But we never "work on" writing or cutting. And it seems strange that this child who, to us, is so obviously incredibly bright, might appear perfectly average, or even lagging behind, to her teachers or other outside adults. And it's not that the idea of "average" (or "below" average!) bothers me; it's that I wonder if the reason she can't do these things is that I am being too lazy about teaching her how.

The main reason we don't do these activities is that Julia never wants to, when I suggest them. She has no interest in taking out safety-scissors and construction paper and practicing cutting. Nor even in copying capital J's on paper. And, on my end, I'm all, Meh, okay, forget it. I'm not motivated enough to argue the point. She's hard enough to keep entertained and happy at home; why argue about practicing with scissors and pencils? BOR-ING.

But the other part of it is that Genevieve can't do these things. And it's really hard--tantrum-inviting, even--to set Julia up with an activity that Genevieve is too little to do too. Sure, I can give Genevieve crayons and paper, while Julia writes. But Genevieve's not that great, even, with crayons---she tends to eat them, throw them, and become inexplicably enraged that they aren't, say, big-girl pencils. Which is just not a whole lot of fun for anyone.

Now that Genevieve's morning nap is gone--the time when Julia and I used to haul out all sorts of things inappropriate for baby sisters: board games with small pieces, messy crafts, and the like--we tend to avoid activities that aren't suitable for one-year-olds. Inevitably, that means Julia gets short-changed out of a lot of fun--and no doubt enriching--endeavors. But I don't have the energy to fight with Genevieve over all that stuff, and she's not docile enough to settle for an alternate project.

I'm not worried that Julia won't one day learn to write her name. I'm worried that I'm supposed to be teaching her--just like I'm supposed to be interacting one-on-one with Genevieve rather than letting her play by herself in the other room while I do laundry and sweep floors--and I'm not.

Is it laid-back, or is it lazy?

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Slow-Cooker Pinto Bean-Sweet Potato Chili

OK, so maybe you don't have a full hour before dinner needs to be on the table. No problem! With today's dinner idea, you can walk in the door to a fully-cooked meal. Add some crusty bread and/or a mixed-green salad sprinkled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a handful of walnuts and/or dried cranberries, and you're good to go. Or, for those of you with toddlers climbing up your legs, feel free to just slice up an apple or something to go with the main dish. That will do just fine as well.

It's true that today's meal--adapted from an old Bon Appetit recipe--requires a little advance preparation, but I promise you it won't take long, and it's worth it; this chili is so scrumptious. If you have time to do the veggie prep in the a.m., great--it's really not very time-consuming; then just dump it all in the crockpot and come back 8-10 hours later. If mornings are way too crazy, you can certainly chop and saute the onion, as well as grate the little bit of required orange zest, the night before and store in the fridge; however, if you try to peel and chop the sweet potatoes in advance, you will notice they will discolor. One partial solution is to substitute small red potatoes for the sweet, and don't bother to peel them. Sure, you still need to cut them up before they go in the crockpot (unless they're really small), but it shouldn't take long at all to halve or quarter a handful of new reds in the morning. And note: the amounts of the ingredients are not set in stone; the slow-cooker is pretty flexible. Oh, and don't be tempted to skip the orange zest--it makes the whole dish. Yum!

Slow-Cooker Pinto Bean-Sweet Potato Chili
Serves 4

1 T. olive oil
1 medium to large onion, chopped finely
2 tsp. chili powder
3 cups vegetable broth (*I use Knorr brand vegetable bouillon cubes added to the appropriate amount of boiling water; mix it up good before adding to pot)
A couple of medium sweet potatoes (peeled), or 5-6 small red potatoes and cut into cubes--size not too important
1 15-oz. can Mexican-style stewed or diced tomatoes, with ALL the juice
1 15-oz. can pinto beans, drained/rinsed (black or kidney beans fine too)
1-1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

Saute the chopped onion in the oil for five minutes or so. Add chili powder and stir one more minute. Put cooked onion into slow-cooker with all other ingredients. Stir well, cover, and turn slow-cooker to low. Chili will be done in 8 hours or so, but can go longer if you can't get to it in time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like, garnish bowls with chopped fresh cilantro.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

You Just Knew it, Didn't You?

Last Thursday and Friday Genevieve refused to nap. Instead, she drove me slowly insane and caused many curse words to pop into my head and tempted me to open the front door and walk away, far away from the crying and tantruming and yelling and screaming. On Thursday, as loyal readers know, she spent her naptime throwing her blankie to the floor and then wailing about it, breaking the zipper on her sleep-sack, and engaging in other unsavory activities, and the shenanigans went on for almost two hours. But at least I had approximately 30 minutes of a "break" (ha!) at the beginning of nap, when I was waiting for her to fall asleep (double ha!) and could at least, I don't know, bang my head against the laptop keyboard while listening to the nonstop crying.

But on Friday, the non-napping took place while Julia was still awake, because I actually had to remove Genevieve from her highchair during lunch, due to a high-voltage, food-throwing tantrum, and deposit her in her crib while Julia was still up. Naturally, napping did not occur. And when Julia went down, I had to get Vivi back up. So, there were no breaks, at all, from caring for small bodies (with big voices), even though it was already one of the worst parenting days I have ever experienced.

Yesterday afternoon, a dear friend, knowing what I'd been through at week's end, called and invited me to ride with her to a nearby mall, where she had a little shopping to do, so I could leave the naptime drama to Christopher and escape the hell of the prior two days. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. We left just before one, as the girls were headed to their beds, and I got home near four--a much needed three-hour break from dealing with babies and crying.

And when I walked in the door, GENEVIEVE WAS STILL NAPPING.

Of course she was.

A three-hour, cry-free nap, from my baby who has NEVER TAKEN A THREE-HOUR NAP IN HER LIFE--dear Lord even a two-hour nap from her would be a miracle--and on a day that I am not even the one at home.

And today? The day that Christopher is out of town for a sporting event up in Minneapolis? What is Genevieve doing right now, during nap?

Why, screaming, of course.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Essence of Modern Motherhood

The other week I checked out a new(ish) book from the library, I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood. I thought it was great and I recommend it to every modern mother out there--as well as, perhaps, their spouses. A big theme of the book is how to find one's own balance within motherhood, and I won't go into what all that means here--you should go and read the book, really--but I will say that the book got me thinking a lot more about this tough job of motherhood and housewifery (though the book discusses all mothering scenarios, not just stay-at-home-momhood), about what it takes out of a person and about what it has to give. About how exhausted we all are, many of us without the historically more prevalent support systems of nearby extended family. About why moms always put themselves last, and then end up shortchanged on sleep, good grooming, time alone, time "off."

Let's just say that after reading this book, I've been giving more and more thought to treating myself to some expensive makeup without feeling guilty in the slightest. Oh, and I've also begun extending my usual three-mile, half-hour runs to 40 minutes/four miles, chanting, "They can live without me for 40 minutes, even if I'm late for dinner and they have to start without me and someone else has to figure out what would be a good starch to go with the chili in the crock-pot" the whole time, beating back the familiar time-crunch anxiety that generally begins when my running watch shows five p.m. and I'm not yet home though supper should be on the table right then and the baby needs to nurse before too long. I'm practicing; I'm working on it.

But then last night I had a distressing nightmare in which I was a student at the local college, the semester was half over, and I had just remembered, with a start, that I was taking a math class but, after attending a class meeting or two, had forgotten about it completely. Couldn't even remember what day and time it met; had forgotten about it completely! And here it was, halfway through the term! I hadn't been there in months! Panic, panic--what to do? As if that wasn't bad enough, I needed to get back to my dorm room, quickly, to find my class schedule and figure this all out, yet it was snowing outside and someone had stolen my shoes. Overstuffed, unorganized backpack, stocking-feet, crumpled papers and notes with no information about this math class that had slipped my mind for weeks on end: talk about stress!

So: practicing occasional pampering, practicing giving myself 40 minutes three times a week without worrying about who is falling apart at home. And yet: stress dreams about (not) keeping all the balls in the air.

Hmmmm....modern motherhood, anyone?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Choc-o-Gram

Yesterday when I put the girls down for nap at one, Genevieve proceeded to begin talking, fussing, yelling, singing, and then, ultimately, crying and screaming. She has been going through a phase of crying and screaming every time she is put to bed, especially for naps. The only solution is to ignore her; generally, there is nothing wrong other than a whole lot of hard-headedness. She has been known, however, even at her tender age of 17 months, to SKIP HER NAP altogether. And, you understand, this is her only nap. There is no more morning nap, and has not been for a couple of months. (An aside: I actually have no idea how long ago it was that she dropped her morning nap. Isn't that insane? I mean, we're talking sometime in RECENT HISTORY. But was it December? October? Earlier in January? I have no idea. This strikes me as alarming, and also hilarious. When I had only one child, I knew exactly when she dropped her morning nap.)

Yesterday, however, after about 30 or 40 minutes of nap protestation, I was forced to go in and check on her because she had become a bit hysterical. You know, the nonstop screaming and all. When I went in, Genevieve was standing up in her crib, her sleep-sack unzipped and her arms out of the sleeves, her teddy bear and her Silky thrown onto the floor, and her diaper leaked all the way through her clothes. Dang.

So I changed her, which necessitated taking her with me down to the laundry room, naked, to get dry clothes since Julia was asleep in the nursery where the girls' dressers are. After that, I decided to nurse her for a minute or two to calm her down before putting her back down. By now, of course, it was nearing two o'clock, and Julia was due awake at any moment. When I nursed Genevieve, she fell asleep within seconds. But naturally when I put her back into her bed, she woke up and began sobbing. I left the room.

Eventually the hysterical shrieking resumed. So I went in to check on her again. She had thrown her Silky and bear onto the floor again and was once again standing up in bed, pointing down at them and yelling. She also HAD A POOPY DIAPER. (Are you keeping score at home?)

So of course I changed her (again), nursed her (again), and, since she STILL had not gotten any sleep, put her down (again).

At 2:40, with Julia awake, I gave in and got Genevieve up after an hour and 40 minutes, total, of screaming. Naturally she spent the rest of the afternoon fussing and crying over everything, overtired as she was.

And just when I was about to poke my own eyes out with a stick, a package arrived at my door from my best friend in Texas, full of chocolate fudge Lava Cake from Red Envelope for my birthday, sent a week early so as to surprise me.

And now any doubts about the existence of a higher power have been eradicated.