Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Things You May or May Not Know About Me

I've been tagged, and since I love, love, love my dear Snarky Squab, I will be a good girl and actually follow through. I know: miracle.

5 things found in your bag:
1. diaper
2. sunglasses
3. crayons
4. Wet Ones portables
5. emergency granola bar

5 favorite things in your room:
1. framed photo of my girls hugging each other on Christmas Eve '07, ages 3-1/2 and 16 months
2. framed photo of myself having just finished the Chicago Half-Marathon in 1998
3. framed photo of me on my 5th birthday, posing with my grandma, who was celebrating her 61st birthday the next day
4. big, soft, super-comfy, chenille-upholstered nursing rocker, where I nursed Genevieve for 19 months and where I love to sit and read or write
5. The New Yorker sitting on my bedside table (meaning, The New Yorker in general, not just that particular issue)

5 things you have always wanted to do:
1. I must concur with Squab here and say, win the lottery
2. run a marathon
3. get a book published
4. get a suntan
5. successfully run some sort of creative small business

5 things you are currently into:
1. writing
2. running
3. mothering
4. reading funny, creative blogs--mainly, though not exclusively, parenting-/mama-blogs
5. cooking and baking from scratch

5 people you'd like to tag:
1. Christopher
2. Question
3. MN Mom
4. Rob
5. Susan

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Baby Storytime

I'm tempted this week to list, for What-to-Do Wednesday, things like: drive 25 minutes one-way to a decrepit little small-town mall, so the girls can climb on and off those retro coin-operated rides (without actually putting any money in them, of course) and walk into the pet store to gawk at the parakeets, just because you can't think of anything better to do. Or, suggest multiple creative activities only to have each one sulkily rejected by your preschooler. Or even, curse all your boring ideas and wish for real spring, with temperatures around 70 and no need for jackets.

Because that's about all we've been doing around here today.

However, it occurs to me to suggest an oldie but goodie, instead. I know, I know: storytime? Not exactly brilliantly original, right? Who doesn't read stories to their kids? Yeah, yeah. But allow me to elaborate.

In both places we've lived since Julia was born, there have been great free "Baby Storytimes" in town; first, at The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul (across the river from our house in Minneapolis), and now, at our town's public library. The Red Balloon's is my gold standard; it included not just stories (by a very talented children's singer and storyteller), but also puppets, singing, finger games, rhymes, musical instruments, and even acknowledgment of the first birthdays of any babies in attendance who happened to be celebrating such a milestone that particular week. As you might expect, this storytime was a huge hit, known far and wide amongst parents across the city, and always jam-packed. Our current local library's Baby Storytime is a far less extravagant offering, but it's still fun, social, and great enrichment for Genevieve now, and Julia before her.

Before Julia started nursery school, I used to bring both of them to the library's Baby Storytime, because older siblings are always welcome, and Julia loved "helping" the babies and following along. Thus, we started a little home version of Baby Storytime at some point (sometimes referred to by Julia as, sweetly, "Songs and Stories With Genevieve"). Mimicking the best of our Baby Storytime experiences, we include plenty of songs, nursery rhymes, musical-instrument-playing, and action games like "Ring Around the Rosie," interspersed amongst a selection of baby board books and longer stories.

On our best days, Baby Storytime can run a good 20 minutes. Who knows, maybe you can get a whole half hour out of it! You could even pick a theme for each time, picking books and songs that converge on one idea: seasons? flowers? farm animals?

Good luck, and may the force of the best children's librarians everywhere be with you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Homemade Lentil Soup

Normally, come almost-May, I would not be doing a whole lot of soup-cooking. However, since yesterday the high was 37 degrees, and in the past four days it has actually SNOWED, lentil soup sounds just fine. If it's sunny and 70 where you live, sorry for the wintry Tuesday Do-Little Dinner this week. However, consider making it anyway. I LOVE this lentil soup recipe (clipped from a forgotten magazine some six or seven years ago and adapted slightly here). It is simple, but so very tasty. I don't know if it really qualifies as "do-little," because it does require a fair amount of vegetable chopping, but you can easily use frozen carrot coins in lieu of fresh carrots, and anyway, it's just so yummy I think you'll find it worth any effort involved. I love soup as a main course, served with any kind of bread and either salad or fresh fruit.

Lentil-Vegetable Soup
6 servings

1 T. olive oil
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed through a press
1 cup diced carrots (or frozen carrot slices)
8 cups vegetable broth (NOTE: I use 8 cups water plus 4 Knorr extra-large vegetable bouillon cubes)
1-1/4 cups uncooked lentils (the regular greenish-brown variety)
1/2 tsp. salt (optional), or to taste
1/4 tsp. black pepper, or to taste
2 tsp. red wine or balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. dijon or spicy brown mustard

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium heat, then add onion, celery, garlic, and carrots. Saute vegetables until onion is translucent. Add vegetable broth and lentils, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 25 minutes. Just before serving, stir in salt, pepper, vinegar, and mustard.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Happy/Guilty

Hey, I discovered the secret to sleeping all the way through the night rather than waking up at some ungodly pre-dawn hour and then being unable to go back to sleep (I'm talking about myself here, not the baby), thus cheating yourself out of a good hour or so of sleep every night. All you have to do is totally exhaust yourself, far beyond normal levels, beforehand. This morning I slept all the way to Christopher's alarm clock and the babies waking up--which is still plenty early, believe me, but is more than an hour longer than I normally sleep. Interestingly, when the alarm went off I was in the midst of a dream wherein I was having a fellow-mom chat with Angelina Jolie about kids and all the crazy stuff they do.

Anyway. It seems that spending two 12-hour days at a professional conference, getting almost no sleep in the meantime, starting one of those days at 3:30 a.m. due to the baby's rebellious attitude, and then spending a third day doing HUGE, MAJOR POWER-SHOPPING for so many hours in a row that you miss dinner and both girls' bedtimes and actually shut down the store---well, that is the key to getting a good night's sleep afterward. It is also the key to being utterly exhausted on Monday morning.

I never power-shop. I hardly ever even shop. Yes, I know I've been talking about those pants I bought a few months ago--the ones that are already too big, argh! get me to a tailor!--but in reality, the last time I did any serious shopping was probably when I was buying my first maternity wardrobe back in 2003-2004. As I discovered when I spent way too much time on Thursday night trying to find appropriate outfits in my closet to wear to the conference, in the meantime my wardrobe had dwindled to such a pathetic level that I was down to: one pair of well-fitting jeans that aren't falling apart; one pair of non-denim, casual-ish pants--my beloved Gap khakis that are no longer being manufactured--that sadly are not only becoming too big but also have a faint bleach stain on the thigh; one pair of (also too big) khaki capris; zero proper dresses; zero short-sleeved tops that aren't t-shirts. Throw in a few skirts--thank goodness for my skirts--tank tops, and well-worn cardigans, and that's pretty much it for my current wardrobe. Obviously, lacking in a few necessities. Or not so few.

Thus, I spent FIVE HOURS at a discount department store yesterday afternoon and evening. I needed a ton of stuff, but I'm still on a budget, you know. And this store was having a HUGE, everything-in-the-store sale. But this kind of shopping is totally foreign to me. Five hours? Multiple trips to the dressing rooms? Trying on, like, fifty things? Shopping for swimsuits and pants and shirts and dresses and shoes, all in one trip? Coming home with a GIANT bag? Yikes. I have a serious shopping hangover this morning, but the shopping trip did inspire me to clean out my closet of all the pre-motherhood items I no longer wear and that no longer fit, and to create a pile of things I do wear but that need to go to the tailor to be taken in so that I can properly continue to wear them.

In the end, though I'm happy with my purchases ("relieved" might be a better word; I had spent more than three months trying to find a weekend with time enough for me to do this) and, as I mentioned the other day, had a FANTASTIC time at the conference (amazing! who knew it was even possible???), I feel sad today too, because I was away from my girls for the vast majority of three straight days. I missed (among other things, of course) three dinners and three bedtimes in a row, and the third was of my own choice, not a mandatory absence because of the conference. I must admit that, as much as I really did need and deserve this shopping trip, I feel guilty and sad about that last part. I've never been away from my girls for 12 hours at a time, let alone more than one day in a row. (Note: big thanks for Christopher for being mostly-solo-dad for the past three days.)

Oh, and dang! I DIDN'T FIND A SWIMSUIT. More shopping to come! Lord help me. I don't know if I have it in me.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Planning Ahead

Yesterday I left my house at 6:30 a.m. to drive up to Minneapolis for day one of the annual convention of the main professional organization for psychologists in MN. Happily, and totally surprisingly, I had a great time. I ran into five or six friends, acquaintances, and former colleagues from different phases of my life, most of whom I did not know would be there and all of whom I enjoy but have not been in touch with for years. It was truly a "This is Your Life" scenario---somewhat jarring to see such faces from the past all together in one place (look, a former college professor! a family friend who's known you since you were 19! the chair of your undergrad psychology department! your postdoctoral supervisor!), but genuinely fun. And, unlike many, many professional workshops I have attended for CEUs in recent years, this conference was actually mostly INTERESTING.

I got back into town around 6:30 in the evening, only to go to bed early to get up at 5:30 this morning to drive back up for day two. Unfortunately, I was up with the baby from 3:30 to 5 a.m. Also unfortunately, it is currently snowing. You heard me.

Now is the time it might occur to you to ask, Why in the world didn't you book yourself a room at the very lovely Marriott where the convention is taking place, and stay over at the conference rather than driving up and back both days, thus saving yourself more than four hours of driving time and allowing you to not only tipsily socialize at the post-meeting wine reception with all your old friends and colleagues, but to also enjoy your first night away from your babies EVER and sleep in a big, luxurious bed in a dark, quiet room, all by yourself with no baby monitors but plenty of cable TV? And then you could have slept until 7:30 a.m. this morning instead of 5:30? After all, isn't Genevieve weaned now, so you could actually have done this? Couldn't you have justified the not insubstantial cost of the room by writing it off as a business expense?

And I would reply, Why, GOOD QUESTION! And, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT BEFORE, OH, TODAY? And also, AM NOW PLANNING AHEAD ALREADY FOR NEXT YEAR.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Never Say Never

This morning I packed up both girls and dragged the three of us out in the pouring rain before 8:30 a.m. to do a major grocery shop. I'm not sure you appreciate what a big deal this is. I try to avoid, at all costs, taking both girls with me alone to the "big" grocery store to do heavy-duty shopping. I mean, the potential for disaster is enormous. The store is huge; therefore, it takes a lot of time to cover the necessary ground--and everyone knows that when you're shopping with a preschooler and a baby, time is of the essence. Also, you have to bag your own groceries there. Yup, that's just what I need when I finally make it, sweating and frenzied, up to the checkout with my huge cart of food and two children still young enough to do things like discard their shoes in the produce section and experience sudden potty emergencies: a mountain of groceries piled up on the conveyer belt and the strangely impossible task of fitting them all into bags that then also fit back into my cart, while other shoppers line up behind me impatiently, eyeing the river of saliva my baby is wiping all over the cart handle with the hand she has been sucking on while she cries over her emerging teeth.

Which is why I generally either a.) do the big grocery shopping alone, myself, on a weekend, or b.) duck into the small, manageable, neighborhood grocery store (where they bag FOR you) during the week with one or both girls, picking up just a few things at a time, even though it's more expensive.

Today, though, I needed to stock up on everything, and it couldn't wait, so off we went to Cub. Did I mention the rain? And when we got there, they were out of "driving carts", the ones that allow the girls to sit up front in a big plastic ride-in car hooked onto the cart, turning their little plastic steering wheels happily while I work really hard at not running everyone down in the aisles. So no fun was to be had; Genevieve had to sit in the front of a cart the normal way, and Julia had to walk. And we ran all over the store hunting down catfood and crackers and sunscreen and string cheese--just about every item you could possibly imagine--stuffing our cart top and bottom while I willed myself not to think about the self-bagging ordeal to come, and we did it all in less than an hour, while the rain poured down outside and I also willed myself not to think about getting us all back out of the store and to our car through the rain, no hands free for umbrellas this time, rain pouring down on babies and bananas alike.

And I couldn't help but think about how, back when I had just one baby, I would have told you I could never take two little ones to a huge superstore by myself, load up on three weeks' worth of groceries, keep everyone happy and accounted for, bag everything and heft everyone back to the car in the pouring rain. I would have told you I could barely get out the door once per day with my colicky infant to go around the block in the stroller. I would have told you that the mundane events of motherhood were beyond my capabilities, and that it felt as though it would never be any different. And yet here I am today, and it's not as though taking two kids to the store is such a remarkable feat--truly, parents everywhere do it every day--but when you stop and reflect on the long view, even those daily non-events have something to say about never saying never.

And here's another thing: the only way I was able to do all that shopping with both girls in tow is that I had a spare chewy granola bar in my bag, that in desperation I scrounged up and unwrapped and gave to Genevieve so she would stop crying about being strapped into the cart WITHIN FIVE MINUTES OF ENTERING THE STORE. If you think I was letting Julia snack on processed, sugary, packaged granola bars (with nuts! NUTS, people!) in the grocery store at 8:40 in the morning when SHE was 20 months old, you didn't know me then. So there you have it. Never say never.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Swimming in the Bathtub


I know I've mentioned this activity tangentially in the past. Here are the girls, in swimsuits, preparing to go "swimming" in the bathtub the other day. The best part of this game is how Mama gets to sit in the hall just out the doorway, back to the wall, reading a magazine while the girlies splash. Because isn't that what mamas do at the beach or the pool? Sit in a beach chair, lounging with some summer reading? Sure, with my girls, swimming in the bathtub only lasts, say, 15 minutes, but I'll take what I can get.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Think I Need a Calming Mantra

Late this afternoon the girls and I were readying to play outside. Because Genevieve was out on the patio yesterday (a much warmer day) in barefeet, she decided she should be able to go out with barefeet again today. When I informed her that she needed to wear shoes to go outside this time, she began screaming. We were in no hurry--Julia wasn't ready yet and we were sort of waiting for Christopher to get home from work to take them out, because Julia had already decreed that she wanted to go out with DADDY--so I puttered around, picking up toys and finding socks and sunglasses, while Genevieve continued to rage. She first screamed nonstop for 20 minutes (I checked the clock). Then she decided fine, she would wear her shoes, but only if SHE COULD PUT THEM ON HERSELF. Only, naturally, she is not yet able to successfully put tennis shoes on her little 20-month-old feet, not even cute toddler sneakers with funky stretchy laces and Velcro. Therefore, the screaming shifted from being about NO SHOES to being about CAN'T DO THE SHOES. Of course I tried repeatedly to assist her, but this threw her into even more of a rage (DON'T HELP ME WITH THE SHOES).

So there we were: Julia lolling on the floor, sighing; Genevieve with tears and snot pouring down her sweaty, red face, screaming those clogged, wailing baby sobs at the top of her lungs as she tried repeatedly to step into her little baby sneaks and each time failed; me, shrugging at her helplessly and shaking my head with exasperation and disbelief, saying, "Vivi, just let me HELP YOU WITH YOUR SHOES!"; Genevieve, shrieking, "BEE-BEE! BEE-BEEEEEEE!" (roughly translated: "VIVI! VIVI!", or: "Let me do it MYSELF OR MY WORLD WILL END DESPITE THE FACT THAT ACTUALLY IT'S ALREADY ENDING SINCE I CAN'T SEEM TO DO IT MYSELF!"), shaking her head violently at me, and trying once again to stuff her feet into her confounding shoes. This went on for 25 additional minutes. I felt like I was in the eighth circle of hell. At some point I'm pretty sure I had an out-of-body experience wherein I was floating above myself, watching the whole theatre-of-the-absurd scenario with competing reactions of amusement and an intense desire to poke my own eye out with a stick.

At 4:30, we finally got outside, at which point Genevieve resumed screaming because the ball she wished to play with kept blowing away, thus requiring me to toss it inside and replace it with a heavier ball more appropriate for our windy, unfenced backyard. After ten minutes of that screaming, we heard Christopher arrive home.

At which point I shrieked hysterically through the patio screen door, "SAVE ME! SAVE ME!", and Julia yelled, "DADDYYYYYYY! HELP MAMA! HURRYYYYY!"

I can only imagine what our poor, very near neighbors must think.

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Eggs-in-Toast

Dinner doesn't get any do-littler than this. Remember "Toad in a Hole"? Did you ever eat that when you were a kid? Well, guess what--it's still tasty, economical, popular with the kiddos, and, best of all, extremely fast. Remember, I told you at the start that these dinners weren't going to be fancy. When you're feeding preschoolers, toddlers, and/or babies, who has time for fancy? Just cook it up and go. (Hint: if you top the eggs-in-toast with grown-up garnishes such as salsa, avocado, crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes, or shredded fresh basil, even the adults in the house might overlook what it really is--that is, Toad in a Hole.)

Serve with fresh fruit salad and steamed broccoli or spring asparagus. Not bad for a five-minute dinner.

Eggs-in-Toast

Wheat bread, 1-2 slices per person, depending on appetites
Eggs--1 per slice of bread
Butter for spreading on bread
Shredded cheddar cheese
Any desired garnishes/toppings (see above)

Butter each piece of bread on both sides. With a small round cookie cutter or juice glass, cut a hole out of the center of each bread slice. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and place bread slices in the skillet. (My girls like me to fry up their little bread cut-outs, too; they get a big kick out of those little extra toast circles on the side.) Crack an egg into the hole in each slice of bread. Fry a couple of minutes, until the egg is starting to look like a proper fried egg on the bottom. Flip each toast over and cook the other side of the eggs. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the eggs and let melt. Serve eggs-in-toast (and extra mini toast circles!) with desired toppings.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Updates

We're a busy family these days. Yesterday we were out of town at a fantastic birthday bash for some very dear friends' two-year-old; later this week I'm (unhappily) going up to the city for two long and tedious days at a conference in order to get more of the ridiculously large number of CEUs required each year for my professional license. Blogging may be light this week. However, a few updates are in order:

My bruise is almost gone! Hallelujah. Just in time for short-sleeve weather, which came very, very late this spring.

Recently Genevieve suddenly and mysteriously decided to drink milk. Truth be told, she's still a bit hit-or-miss about it, but she IS drinking at least some milk from a cup with most meals, and eating cereal and milk with a spoon at breakfast, so much progress has been made. (She also eats yogurt now, and hasn't refused string cheese in several weeks.)

The girls' room-sharing continues. We have them nap in separate rooms--Julia, at almost 4, probably won't be napping much longer anyway--and on evenings when Genevieve hasn't yet fallen asleep when Julia's bedtime rolls around, we do need to let Julia fall asleep elsewhere and then move her into her own bed in the nursery later on, because we have learned the hard way that Genevieve is not yet able to ignore Julia's presence, stop yelling and jabbering, and go to sleep. But all in all, they are spending most of their sleeping hours in the same room, leaving us with a mostly functional guest room and fewer issues with noise and sleep (the nursery is farther away from the main living areas of the house than the guest room is). It's a work in progress, but it's still progress.

That's all. Sorry, not too exciting. I'm too tired to be clever today. The baby's on another one of her pre-dawn wake-up kicks, and I never fall back to sleep once she's up. Bring on the French Roast!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Parenting Rule #729

Never dare state aloud that things in your daily parenting life are going well and you are no longer tempted to sell your crabby baby to the gypsies nor run away to warmer climes. If you do dare make such claims, the following morning the baby will wake up with a runny nose (another cold? surely a cruel joke. it CAN'T be true, can it?) and will scream nonstop starting the moment Daddy leaves for work, until by only 8:30 in the morning you are already sweating and your heartbeat feels irregular and you are gulping coffee like water (energy! energy!) and frantically thinking what can be done, what can be done, to get everyone through this day in one piece.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shape-Shifting

Four weeks ago, I unexpectedly weaned Genevieve. Since then, I have magically lost five pounds. (This happened the last time I weaned a baby too. It's crazy. I have nothing to do with it. It just happens.)

Normally I wouldn't complain, but...I did just buy, in mid-winter, new dressy trousers and new Title Nine workout pants, both of which were moderately expensive, at least for my habits, and both of which are now bordering on too loose. Because I wasn't thinking, then, about weaning. Nor was I thinking that, more than 4-1/2 years after conceiving my first baby, I would still be in the throes of various baby-related body-size-and-shape changes. I mean, really? Is there ever a safe time to assume one might be back to one's NORMAL, STABLE clothing size, after gestating and birthing and nursing and weaning? Is it now, five weeks after weaning the last baby? Is it a month from now? Six months? A year?

Have you ever thought about how men get off incredibly easy in this whole process? Sure, of course--the labor and breastfeeding, such a brutally unequal division of labor, we all know about that. But also--they don't have to suffer through round after round of body-size changes in a matter of a few years, now do they? You don't see them having to go and re-create their wardrobes every six months. IT'S JUST A LITTLE BIT IRRITATING.

Despite that, don't go and think I'm still all sick and crabby and ready to run away to the circus in order to escape Genevieve's surly attitude. I'm not. Spring is here, sort of; I'm running again after that ill and sedentary month of March; I heard a rumor that the "park" near our house (really an empty expanse of grass with a path around it) may be finally getting some playground equipment, a development that would change my stay-at-home-mom life, for the better, to a degree you can't imagine. Winter was long and hard, but things are looking up. Weaning or no weaning.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Bake (a Cake?!)



Many people are put off by the idea of baking with young children; they think it's too difficult, too much mess, a recipe (ha!) for disaster. But I ask you to reconsider. Children LOVE to bake. Baking is fun, time-consuming (a good thing when you're trying to fill many a stay-at-home-parent hour), brain-stimulating (the scooping, the dumping, the stirring, the counting, the discussion about half-cups and fourth-cups and three-fourths of a teaspoon), and gratifying in both the immediate (lick the stirring spoon at the end?) and the delayed (wait for the muffins to bake and cool before you can eat one!) sense. Messy? Well, sure. But put on an apron and grab a sponge when you're done, and it's really not too big of a deal.

And as for baking being difficult, in my experience--and Julia and I have come to do quite a lot of baking and cooking together--it's really not. Truly, the hardest part about cooking or baking with a three-year-old is figuring out how to keep her one-year-old sister happy while you do it. And people, I'm no expert on that one.

On Sunday, Julia and I made a homemade chocolate layer cake--with buttercream icing--for Christopher's birthday, and it wasn't hard at all. Really. But you don't need a birthday to bake a cake. How about baking a homemade cake with your child to celebrate May Day? Friday? The first daffodil sighting? Just because? It's something to do, and best of all...it's delicious.

I'll even give you my recipe, if you want.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Vivi at 20 Months




Genevieve Rose is 20 months old today. Words don't do her justice, and I can tell that they never will. She's a spitfire and she severely tests our patience. (Last night, for instance, I was up from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., because she for some reason decided not to sleep during those hours, leaving me looking like death--TIRED death--today. Lovely.) But she also has so few words for her age (37 at latest count) and so little hair that she seems endearingly babyish, much younger at this age than Julia seemed, and she does things like follow Julia around the house, begging her sister to read to her by saying politely, "Boo-wah, bee [Julia, please]? Boo-wah, bee?" until Julia gives in and says things like, "Genevieve, you're so cute!" and, to me, "Mama, even when Genevieve is rough with me, I still love her."

So we're won over, of course, already. Again. Always. Forever.

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Curried Chicken Salad

It's Tuesday--do you have enough easy dinner recipes for the rest of the week? Normally I like a hot dinner (unless it's July and 90 degrees outside, of course); I'm not a big fan of sandwiches. But sometimes a cold supper is inevitable (even if it's not summer). And instead of resorting to the true bottom of the barrel--good old PB & J--throw together this tasty chicken salad instead. With a side of sweet potato fries and a pickle--or any handy fresh vegetable or fruit--it's a perfectly respectable dinner when you're short on time and long on kids. It's great stuffed into wheat tortillas or soft flatbread for a wrap, but slap it onto some regular bread and that does the trick too. Feel free to substitute apple or peach for the nectarine, white onion or scallions for the red onion, raisins for the dried cranberries. You get the idea.

Spicy Curried Chicken Salad Wraps
4-6 servings

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or in chunks (confession: I used canned white-meat chicken)
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1 tsp. curry powder
1/4 cup slivered red onion
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnut pieces
1 small nectarine, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
lettuce leaves
wheat tortillas or soft flatbreads

Mix the curry powder into the mayonnaise. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine all other ingredients. Add the curried mayonnaise and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Layer lettuce leaves onto tortillas or bread; top with scoops of chicken salad. Wrap tightly and serve.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Caught on Film

Two amazing-but-true moments from the weekend:

1.) The first picture taken of Christopher and me in nearly four years with no children included in the shot (Happy Birthday, dear!):



and 2.) Genevieve actually letting me cuddle her:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Looking Forward to My Massage Tomorrow

Genevieve is busy these days working my very last nerve. Today she got three time-outs, which is more than her nearly-four-year-old sister has had in her entire life. She also got up this morning at 5:30, so clearly she's trying to kill me. She likes to slap, grin, and, when scolded, smirk and slap again, harder, just to see what you're going to do about it. She goes up to Julia and pushes her, hits her, sits on her. When you make her "say" she's sorry (she can't actually say it, but we make her sign it, with an impromptu motion we made up for that very purpose), she does, smiling, and then when you tell her to give her sister a hug or a kiss, she leans in and then hits her again, still smiling. She throws the dried pasta she is playing with all over the kitchen even though you just told her no throwing the pasta all over the kitchen. She is surly as all get-out, except when she's being sassy. Those are her two current states: surly and sassy. What is she, fourteen?

I'm posting these photos here for the sole purpose of reminding myself how cute she really is. Under all that surly sassiness, I mean.





It's not really related, but we've got this Explanation of Benefits statement sitting on our desk by the computer--a listing of all the charges for Julia's outpatient surgery and the annoyingly low amount actually covered by insurance. Under "Description" it says, "SURG/ANEST"--for surgery and anesthesiology, I guess--and when I see it out of the corner of my eye I keep thinking it says "Sheer Angst." Which I guess is pretty much the same thing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

(In)Capabilities

Yesterday Julia had her post-surgery follow-up at the metro children's hospital an hour from our town: a renal ultrasound and then a checkup with the pediatric urologist who performed her surgery in early March. The morning involved an hour's drive each way, appointments at two different busy urban medical practices in two separate locations (including negotiating parking situations at each), and a 50-minute wait between the ultrasound and the follow-up consultation. Total time involved was nearly six hours (leaving the house at 7:45 a.m., arriving home at 1:30), and covered both morning snack and lunch.

When this appointment was scheduled shortly after Julia's surgery, I planned to deal with it all myself. In the past, with both girls having this particular congenital urinary-tract abnormality, Christopher has been forced to take MANY half-days (or longer) off from work as we dealt with multiple medical appointments for pediatric tests, check-ups, and, of course, Julia's surgery itself. For most of these time-consuming, out-of-town appointments, Christopher has been the one to take Julia to see the doctors, because I've been nursing an infant and therefore needed to be the one to stay home with Genevieve. (When Genevieve went through her own tests last May, I took her so that I could nurse her, and Christopher stayed home that day with Julia.)

Because that's how it is in our house: with no local grandparents and no nanny, there's just Christopher and me. It's up to us. One of us takes one child to whatever appointment it is that day, the other one of us stays home with the other child. That means missing work. It doesn't help that our small town does not have medical care in this particular specialty (pediatric urology), so every time we're due for a test or consult or procedure, we have to make a two-hour trip for it. Even if we did have a regular sitter for our girls, she'd have high-school or college classes to attend; no teenage sitter is going to be free for 2/3 of a regular weekday. What other choice do we have?

In a fit of guilt and worry over all the time Christopher has taken off work already this year (remember those 15 medical and dental appointments in February and March? remember those days I was a non-functional zombie with a killer sinus infection? the days I had to attend professional conferences to collect CEUs to keep up my psychologist's license? our trip up north for Easter? and on and on and on?), and in some kind of temporary-insanity delusion about all the things I should be able to do on my own, as a stay-at-home-mom--what's wrong with me, anyway, that I keep making my poor hard-working salaried husband take time off from his own job to come and help me with mine?--I had decided that Christopher should stay at work yesterday and I would take both girls up to St. Paul for Julia's appointments. I could do it. I would do it. I would figure it out.

Only, I started lying awake at night, weeks in advance, worrying about how in the world I was going to do it. Get Julia up early, get both girls ready to leave the house before 8 a.m.? Drive alone for an hour with no one else in the car to entertain Genevieve, retrieve dropped sippy cups, stem the tide of a 19-month-old's tantrums? Find the hospital (a different one from the other two we've been to previously)? Find the correct parking ramp? Get both girls down the ramp and into a large urban medical center and up to Radiology on time? Keep Genevieve occupied during the ultrasound itself, while also attempting to comfort and be near Julia? Deal with potty visits and diaper changes and snack amidst all this? (When would I have time to do that?) Get out, back to the car, and across several blocks to find the next building and repeat much of the above scenario? Entertain both girls in two different waiting rooms at two different times? Get through the consult with the surgeon with even a trace of lucidity, while keeping the baby from spilling Cheerios all over his exam-room floor (and then picking them up and eating them)? Get done and then need to find someplace to obtain lunch food, and feed them? Get everyone changed, bathroomed, and back to the car in the far-away parking deck, and then drive an hour back home at naptime, with two tired, grumpy girls who never sleep in the car?

When we drove, last weekend, to visit some friends with a new baby--friends who live near the medical center in question above--and it took the constant efforts of the non-driving parent, for the entire hour's drive each way, to deal with the wee ones in the car (well, let's just say it: to deal with Genevieve), I realized there was no way I could take both girls to these appointments by myself yesterday. And so, I stayed home with Genevieve, and Christopher once again took most of a day off from work to bring Julia up for her renal ultrasound. She's got one more test scheduled in June, and most likely he'll be doing it again then. And next month Genevieve will be due for HER next round of yearly tests, so we've got that, too.

I don't know what to think about all this. Part of me still believes I should be able to do this myself; that, as the at-home parent, it's my job to handle the children's appointments so that my spouse can attend to HIS job. That's it's unfair to Christopher's boss and co-workers that every other week there's some new family need that requires leeway in terms of his in-office hours. That regular people--people going to work every day and STAYING THERE for eight hours, five days in a row--are looking askance at our household and thinking, What's her problem? Can't she handle mothering on her own?

And then there's the part of me that throws up my hands and says, not right now I can't. Not with two children this young, and this close in age, neither of them in real school yet, no hours at all, ever, free of the care of both of them at the same time when it would be easy to schedule myself a dental visit and have no need for alternate childcare. Not with atypical (though, thankfully, not dangerous) medical needs that require ongoing professional consultation in a city an hour away. Less than a year ago, they were both still in diapers, after all; a month ago, one was still nursing. Both of those factors made things even more complicated.

It's hard and time-consuming, for both parents, to have children this small and have no back-up for help with the childcare, no "net" for all those real-world occasions when grown-up life does not mesh with full-time parenting. Most days I feel like a very capable parent, and most days I don't give a thought to what anyone else might be thinking about what I can and can't do. And then there are times I think, Good Lord, I need a wife of my own, to help me with everything I'm trying to do at home by myself!

And I wonder, did at-home moms/housewives have more of a support system in generations past, for circumstances such as these? Did more of them live near extended family, so there was always a grandma or auntie across town to help with the occasional no-children-allowed dentist appointment or other obligation? Were there more women at home all day with their own kids, so if you needed to drop your baby with a neighbor while you brought your older child to the doctor, it was easy and expected? My at-home-mom friends are all way too busy--all with their differing preschool and early-childhood-class schedules, toddler tumbling and baby swim--to be free to take one my kids for a half-day while I ferry the other one out of town for a medical procedure. Everyone's got their own toddler and babies; everyone's trying to get through their own weeks, fantasizing about having their OWN nanny or in-town relatives for help now and then. It seems harder, these days, to be home full-time with one's children, because many of us who are seem to have less help doing it.

Are we incapable, or super-capable? Does it depend on the day, the month, the year? Also: when does Mary Poppins float down out of the sky to help out?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Brrrr. Also: Hot! And, Brrrr.

So last Saturday, the day I went to the ER, it was 70 degrees here. Yes, that was a mere five days after a six-inch snowfall (the one that almost sent me over the edge). Tomorrow, a mere five days after the 70-degree high last Saturday, it's supposed to start snowing and continue on for "18 to 24 hours of heavy snow in this area" (according to the weather report I heard on MPR this morning).

In case you're not from here, rest assured that, while this year may be a bit more extreme than usual--we haven't had a winter this long or snowy in eight years--weather like this is par for the course for spring (and, often, autumn) in Minnesota. Any state that can routinely sport 40-below windchills in January and 97 degree temps in July is a land of extremes, and the transition seasons tend to rocket back and forth between balmy and wintry with a swiftness that can leave one highly disoriented. It's why, even though I ran in a short workout skirt and a skimpy running tee on Saturday afternoon, I hadn't yet packed away the girls' snowpants and boots. Good thing.

But, you see, what will also happen is that sometime soon, just days (hours?!) after some kind of ice storm or blizzard or bone-chilling windchill factor, it will suddenly be 85 degrees, and no one will be ready for it even though it happens every year, and I'll be scrambling around upstairs in the nursery trying to find clothes for preschool, looking for nonexistent size 4T shorts, or sleeveless shirts, or sandals, and a sundress for the baby besides. And all that will be in their little-girl drawers will be baby jeans and fleece pullovers. It happens every year.

In other news, Genevieve decided to try a little milk with her meals on occasion. She kinda likes it, the little rascal. But don't let her hear you say that.

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Pillow Pond


The other day Julia invented this game. She piled the couch cushions and pillows on the living room floor, dragged her stepstool out of the bathroom, and pretended she was a penguin jumping off an iceberg into "a penguin pond." Then she'd waddle back, penguin-style, to her diving board and do it again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Since Genevieve of course wanted to join in the action, we fashioned a lower "diving board" for her out of the girls' soft puppy-shaped floor cushion. Both girls played "penguins jumping into the pond" for a long time, and, miraculously, no one landed on anyone else's head.

The girls played a similar version of this game last week when I was changing sheets on our bed; the comforter was lying, spread-out, on the floor, and four bed pillows were scattered on top of it. When Julia discovered this scenario, she immediately dove into the bedclothes. The girls had a grand time leaping onto the pillows and comforters, squealing like little piglets and rolling around amidst the fluffiness. I killed two birds with one stone that day: completed a household chore AND entertained the girls at the same time! You try it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Pasta with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce


OK, so I promised some more delicious vegetarian entrees for Tuesday Do-Little Dinners. You're in luck; today's recipe, adapted slightly from Jeanne Lemlin's Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, is sure to please. I've been making it for approximately 12 years, and it's still a favorite--tasty and relatively quick to prepare. Super garlicky! Enjoy!

Pasta with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce
6 servings

1 lb. penne or rotini (I use wheat pasta for more protein and fiber)
1 10-oz. bag baby spinach leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced or crushed through a press
1/4 tsp. dried red hot pepper flakes (more if you like it spicier)
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tomatoes, diced (substitute canned diced tomatoes if you like; you can include the juice and it works fine)
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt (recipe calls for 1/4 tsp. but since I never remember to salt the pasta water, I prefer 1/2 tsp. for a bit more flavor)
1/4 cup of the boiling pasta water
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Rinse the spinach, then place in a large skillet with only the water that clings to the leaves (or sprinkle in a little water if your spinach is prewashed). Cover and cook over medium heat just until spinach begins to wilt (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, drain any excess water, and set aside.

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in large skillet and add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes. Add chickpeas and tomatoes and cook 2 more minutes. Add spinach, salt, and 1/4 cup of the boiling pasta water. Cook until fully heated through, about 3 more minutes.

When pasta is done, drain and return to pot or place in a large serving bowl. Top with the sauce and stir to combine. Add cheese and stir again. (Occasionally I like to throw in some green olives too. Yum!)

Monday, April 07, 2008

9 on the Hideousness Scale

I'm starting to think I should devise a Bruise-o-Meter to rate the severity of my adverse reaction to that ill-fated tetanus shot. Maybe a Hideousness Scale? 1 to 10, with 10 garnering shrieks of "My eyes! My eyes!" upon the happenstance sighting of said bruise?

Because truly, if this bruise seemed alarming on Saturday, when I dutifully went to the ER, it is far worse-looking now. It changes every half-day! It's now two inches longer, stretching fully from my shoulder to my elbow, and wide enough to cover my entire upper arm, the part that faces out when I'm standing normally. Where it used to be mainly red, with some blue thrown in for good measure, it is now yellow and dark purple. Mainly, it's HUGE. Maybe a 9 on the Hideousness Scale? Perhaps, even, a 10? Although I'm afraid to say that, because who knows what the next day or so might bring? I might have to extend my scale, and that's just bad measurement.

After MNmom's comment the other day about her own sporting of a severe bruise for roughly THREE MONTHS last summer, I'm starting to worry about a spring/early summer of long sleeves. Argh! Either that or traumatizing the entire town by wearing my beloved strappy tanks and cap-sleeved tees. My eyes! (Or, rather, everyone else's.)

The up side: it doesn't hurt much anymore.

You know...I didn't even need to get that tetanus shot when I did. I had all of 2008 to get it done! Were there any way to know that my antibiotics would cause this insane reaction if the nurse accidentally nicked a blood vessel upon shot administration, I could easily have waited until the meds were out of my system. I was just trying to be on top of things. Just as I always suspected: procrastination generally works JUST FINE.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Saturday Night at the ER

Reason #512 that this past winter and early spring have been, um...less than ideal: a Saturday night visit to the local Emergency Room because of a CRAZY adverse reaction to my recent tetanus booster.

(Here is where I considered posting a photo of the 8-inch-long, splotchy, red and purple, very painful bruise that stretches from my left shoulder nearly to my elbow. Then I came to my senses and realized: No one wants to see my arm right now. Trust me on this one. You really don't. Seriously: HID-E-OUS.)

So, what happened? Well, I got a routine tetanus shot on Tuesday morning, and every day thereafter my arm hurt more and my bruise became larger and more freaky-looking, which I blithely ignored until yesterday, when a.) Christopher totally freaked out about how much larger it had grown in the past 24 hours, the fact that it was red, and its linear migration up and down my arm, which in his mind suggested LIFE-THREATENING INFECTION GOOD LORD WOMAN GET YOURSELF TO THE DOCTOR NOW!, b.) I realized the soreness had extended up my arm to my shoulder and all the way up the left side of my neck, and c.) my good friend the nurse, who kindly donated a good hour or more of her Saturday late-afternoon to the project of examining my arm, trying not to use an alarmed tone of voice, and considering, with me, whether this all could wait until Monday morning, pronounced, "Well...it's certainly not normal!"

By dinnertime yesterday, an after-hours nurse-line professional thought this all sounded quite serious, and since both the bruise and the soreness were worsening by the hour, I didn't argue. "You need to be seen tonight," she said. "I mean at the ER." OK then. As I readied myself to leave, Christopher said, "Honey, I feel so bad for you! I mean, you just got over that insane sinus infection, and now you have to go off to the ER for a severe reaction to a routine tetanus shot? This bad luck is ridiculous."

I grabbed a copy of The New Yorker for waiting-room reading, sighed, shrugged, and said, "Well....it's bloggable." Because, you know, you have to be philosophical when you're about to go and get your left arm amputated.

Just kidding. I'm going to be just fine. It turns out that, although both the triage nurse and the ER doc proclaimed my tetanus reaction to be "CRAZY"--you should have seen all the head-shaking going on--my arm does not appear infected and it's not dangerous. It seems that the nurse who administered my shot likely hit a blood vessel, and that unfortunate occurrence, combined with the fact that I was on a very strong antibiotic at the time with the unique and mysterious side effect of causing unusually intense bleeding and bruising and other extreme skin reactions to injury, resulted in this enormous, hideous, painful, long-lasting bruise (rather than the typical one-day bump and small discoloration). Mystery solved. But: YIKES.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Sleep Schedule is Going All to Hell

The girls have been sharing a room now for almost two weeks, and I think it's fair to say that we're ALL getting less sleep. I mean, it's going much, much better than it did when we first tried it early last fall, so obviously Genevieve at 19 months is ready to change rooms in a way that Genevieve at 13 months was not. She doesn't sit up in the crib for hours at bedtime this time, gazing around the nursery and sobbing until she falls asleep upright in her baby vigil.

But the fact of the matter is that nothing is simple when it comes to babies or small children--especially, I think, in these pre-K years when their little brains are so unformed and they can't be reasoned with, they often can't even use words to tell you what is wrong in the way that older children can. It doesn't help that Genevieve is also going through the infamous 1-1/2-year-old baby sleep regression you read about so often in the child-development books; she's been doing all sorts of previously uncharacteristic bedtime crying and screaming, even before we moved her to the nursery. Of course, now that she's there, such ongoing crying and fussing interferes with Julia's bedtime. (Overheard on the monitor too many times in the past two weeks, "Gen-e-VIEVE! Why are you TALKING?!"; and, whimperingly, "Genevieve, go to SLEEP!")

And then there are mornings like today, when Genevieve woke up at 5:10 a.m. and immediately began screaming for us, resolutely refusing to a.) quiet down, or b.) go back to sleep. Naturally, unless we wanted TWO children up for the day at five a.m., we had to remove Genevieve from the nursery ASAP. And since we don't have children who go back to sleep in early pre-dawn hours, not even if it is still dark outside and they are snuggled into their parents' bed--let me re-phrase that to say, ESPECIALLY when they are snuggled into their parents' bed--well, that brings me back to my first sentence up there about all of us getting less sleep.

Dang this parenting gig is hard.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Guess She's Feeling Better

Today for lunch, Genevieve ate six bowls of homemade minestrone, leftover from last night's dinner. Yes, I said six. OK, they were Gerber baby bowls, but still. She also ate 1-1/2 biscuits and 1/4 cup green peas. Sheesh, do you think she's bouncing back from her sinus infection? Good Lord. Suddenly she doesn't seem so small anymore.

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Floor Mural


Every now and then I find myself in possession of a very large piece of paper, generally brown packing paper from a giant package or some such. Rather than throw it in the recycling, I save it for a fun activity: making a floor "mural" by flattening out the paper, taping it down on the linoleum, and letting the children loose with crayons. I just make sure the crayons are of the "washable" variety, because Genevieve isn't always so good about sticking to the paper.

The girls love the novelty of making a GIANT picture--and on the floor, no less! It's like sidewalk-chalking for bad-weather days!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

She's a Sentimental, Nostalgic Mama Already, and She's Only Three


This morning, in the waiting room of the hospital's women's health clinic, where I was waiting for an appointment to get my tetanus booster, with both girls by my side:

Julia: Is this where Daddy brought me to see you, and you were in a bed?
Me: When Genevieve was born, you mean? Yes, in a different part of this building.
Julia: This is where Genevieve was born?
Me: Yes.
Julia, turning to smile at Genevieve, and then sighing: Oh Mama, I miss Genevieve when she was a tiny baby. Don't you?

Super sweet. Or, wait--do you think she meant, "...Because back then she couldn't swat me and laugh about it, grab my toys out of my hands and run down the hall, or scream "uh-UH!" at me every time I try to tell her something, just to be contrary"?

Longest Winter of my LIFE


I think everyone who reads this blog knows that I've had a tough winter. I'm well aware that most of my writing in the past five months has been negative and complaining. However, if it helps me get through the day, I don't worry about it too much. As far as I'm concerned, there are three types of blog readers: the ones who can relate to everything I'm going through because they're going through the same things, and for whom, therefore, my entries are a source of solace and/or humor for themselves; the ones who have been through it all already, and who feel compelled to offer me the kindness of a sympathetic comment promising me I will survive these baby years (and all the while understanding that beneath the angst is so much love and pre-nostalgia for these same baby years); and those who think I'm a whiny annoyance, who therefore should simply stop reading. So, with that in mind, let's get on with it. And by "it," of course, I mean the nonstop negativity. Ha!

So, yesterday we got a snowstorm! On March 31st, when pretty much all the snow around here had finally melted and moms all over town had begun rejoicing at the idea of daily playground visits. It snowed all day, and we got maybe six inches (?), but truly, it didn't seem bad enough for the public schools to close early. Which they did. Which meant that all the early-childhood classes were cancelled too, because they're part of the school district. Which meant that Julia missed her final music-and-movement class of the session, after waiting all last week (spring break) for the last class session and eagerly talking about the class all morning. That was disappointing, especially because there have been several days of far worse weather this winter when nothing was closed, but we salvaged the afternoon by playing "ballet class" in our playroom instead.

This morning both girls woke up cranky and uncooperative, having kept one another awake way too late (have I told you about the great room-sharing experiment, take two? no? another time, then) and awakened today way too early. At the last minute, we realized we needed to drive Christopher to work so he could snag a campus car (because I needed our sole vehicle today, to bring Julia to and from preschool) to attend an out-of-town meeting. Slippery roads, snow, slush, etc: not a fun day to bike to campus (nor a fun day to drive an hour away for a meeting, but as far as he could tell, the meeting was still on, and he needed to pick up the rental car right away). We hurried and scurried and battled the forces of dawdling toddler and cranky baby, everyone had meltdowns, but we got Daddy to work on time. Outside, the sun was coming out and the streets weren't too terrible; certainly nothing worse than we've encountered several times since December. Then we rushed home to complete our own preschool preparations, which naturally included more dawdling and meltdowns. By the time we frantically rushed out the door for school, I was officially Crabby Mom (not that I have been much else for some time). We drove down the street, around a few corners, and pulled into....a suspiciously empty nursery school parking lot.

Preschool was cancelled, because the public schools were closed this morning.

Longest winter of my life.

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: BBQ Turkey Meatloaf

I know I said we're a mostly-vegetarian family; we are. Even though it seems that all I post for Tuesday Do-Little Dinners are poultry recipes. Don't worry--more vegetarian yums are coming in the future. Just not today.

This week's recipe is a healthier version of traditional ground-beef meatloaf. It comes out moist and tasty, and it's so easy anyone can make it. Julia routinely helps me with this recipe, and is always so proud of the results.

Great with baked sweet potatoes or a pan of roasted veggies!

BBQ Turkey Meatloaf
4-6 servings

1-1/4 lb. ground turkey (thawed)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 egg
1/3-1/2 cup bread crumbs or crushed saltine crackers (enough to hold the meat mixture together)
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
1 T. Worcestershire sauce (confession: I usually substitute ketchup, dijon mustard, or skip this altogether because I do not keep Worcestershire on hand)
1 tsp. salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. black pepper
A bit more barbecue sauce for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. On the sheet, form the mixture into a loaf, approximately 8 inches by 4 inches. Pour a little extra barbecue sauce on the top and spread it around. Bake for 1 hour. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.