Friday, May 30, 2008

Is It September Yet?

The title of this post is a direct quote from my fellow SAHM friend Connie. She uttered it at seven this morning so, you know, Lord have mercy on her. And on me too, because that's exactly how I feel this morning, a morning which is still, I remind you, ONLY THE FIRST FULL WEEK SINCE PRESCHOOL LET OUT. I need pharmaceuticals.

So far this morning I have spent pretty much every waking moment arguing with Julia about not watching TV today (update: she is currently watching TV. Because OTHERWISE I WILL LOSE MY EVER-LOVING MIND. Don't bother reminding me that it's not good to tell your children no TV today, and then later on give in and let them watch TV. I know this. I also know that I am THIS CLOSE to running out the front door), about how no it is not snacktime yet simply because she is bored, and about how she can possibly be bored already at 8 a.m. during the first full week since preschool let out. Then there's Genevieve, who has thrown tantrums today about: getting cleaned up after breakfast; washing her face and brushing her teeth; getting her diaper changed; getting dressed; and NO IT IS NOT SNACKTIME YET.

Seriously, I know I'm supposed to be all about the Gratitude today, and though my blood pressure is rising and I'm considering running away from home, I'm going to give it a quick, sweaty try:

lilacs, coffee, mercy playdates ("Please come over and play with us today and save us from ourselves"), running, "The Office" on DVD.

What are you grateful for today? The fact that you're not currently arguing with a three-year-old and listening to a baby scream about getting dressed? Or maybe that's EXACTLY what you're doing today, too, in which case I say, Thank you for letting me know I'm not alone in this.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Homemade Finger Paint

I put off making homemade finger paint for a long time, I guess because I feared it would be too difficult or complicated, or that one would need a special Homemade Finger Paint Talent Gene, which I wasn't sure I possessed.

Let me assure you, one does not. It is easy, and even if you screw up a little bit and overcook it, ending up with an art material that is a bit on the....gelatinous side (some, upon arriving home from work and surveying the results of our art project, would say mucous-like, only they would use a much ruder word accompanied by an also-rude miming gesture meant to bring to mind nasty head colds, and they would be glared at for their impolite behavior), it still works just fine and guess what? One- and three-year-olds don't even care. And they LOVE stirring up the ingredients (the non-cooking parts, of course) and squeezing in the food coloring. Even Genevieve helped!

So have at it! Here's what you do:

1. Mix 1/2 cup cornstarch and 4 T. sugar in a large pot.
2. Add 2 c. cold water and stir.
3. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until it becomes thick. (Here is where I overdid things, people. I don't know how thick it should be. Not as thick as I let it get.)
4. Remove pot from heat and let cool.
5. When cool, divide mixture into small plastic containers and add food coloring.
6. Use to finger-paint on paper, paper plates, or cookie sheets.

See how pretty!


See how messy! And happy!




See end result!


I do have to say that quite a bit ended up in Genevieve's mouth. Mmmmm, colored cornstarch goop...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Narcissistic Ramblings--I Mean, Cogent Updates

I can tell you need a few updates.

I mean, first of all, aren't you wondering if my Quest for a New Swimsuit has ended? Well, it has. It ended well in the sense that I found a swimsuit that fits, is not black, and is cute and flattering; but not well in the sense that I had to take out a second mortgage in order to pay for it. OK, not really, but for the love of God, people, swimsuits are expensive these days. Particularly if you actually care that the suit fits, does not make you look any paler than you naturally are (hello, near-100% Scandinavian heritage!), and is age-appropriate but not scarily frumpy. (Actually, who knows? My "appropriate" may be your "scarily frumpy." That's fine. )

Onward!

So on Saturday we taped aluminum foil on the nursery window. Desperate times call for desperate measures, people, and several straight weeks of Genevieve waking up at 5:30 a.m. = desperate times. Did you know that aluminum foil taped to the inside of a window is supposed to make the room really, really dark? Way darker than those crappy "room-darkening" roller shades from Home Depot that make the room about as dark as, oh, A ROOM WITH THE SUN COMING UP AT 5:30 A.M. DIRECTLY OUTSIDE OF IT?

Well. We tried it. Only we just taped up a border around the edge of the window because we still wanted to be able to see out the window during the day. Did it work? Well, out of the three nights since foil application, Genevieve has slept in until 6:15 or later twice. It's not super dark, especially on sunny days, but it is definitely darker than it was before. Oh, but did I mention? This is the most visible window in our house, the one facing the street, directly over the garage. Do you know what aluminum foil taped to a window looks like from the outside? Let's just say I have a feeling our townhouse association is going to have a word with us quite soon. People, I am desperate. I need total black-out blinds, and I need them fast, and I no longer care that it will cost way more than my ridiculously expensive swimsuit.

I'm still stewing on the state of the world, the economy, and my meager retirement savings, and I have a major spending hangover from all the shopping of this '08 spring, with its wardrobe needs and birthday preparations and new injections of outdoor toddler toys. That's how I am; to me, shopping isn't so much an opportunity for simple pleasure as it is an invitation to low-level depression and a sense of unease. Good times! I know, I'm crazy. Buying too many things (and my "too many" may be your "are you kidding me, that's nothing!"; or it may be your "ouch, WAY too many." Who knows?), even if they are things I pretty clearly need (but: my "need" may be your "want"; or it may be your "Good God woman, get thee to a hair salon and FAST."), eventually really gets me down. Consumerism and materialism depress me. And yet! I cannot live without my partial highlights! Discuss.

Speaking of all things spendy and blonde, I couldn't do it, people: I couldn't leave up that new, updated blog photo, the one with the poor lighting and bad exposure that made me look like I was sporting a yucky spray of Britney-esque dark roots. I swear to you, it was the lighting. Really! At any rate, I have reverted to the former photo, even though it is two years old and from a time when my hair was not just (naturally) blonder but a lot shorter too, and my big girl was a toddler with pin-straight platinum locks that are now honey-colored and wavy-thick as all get-out, totally untameable. But that photo was taken by a talented photographer who knew what she was doing, so, you know: no overexposed craziness.

Which would be a really good name for a blog, wouldn't it? Overexposed Craziness?

On a cheerier note, weren't some of you looking for a photo of my wavy-haired daughter on her last day of preschool? (A note: there will be a second year of preschool, coming in the fall.) Maybe some Memorial-weekend summer-toddler action? Enjoy. And please: pass on your wisdom about black-out blinds, consumerism-induced mood disorders, and the state of the world. If not the state of my retirement savings.



Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: (Vegetarian) Taco Salad

Ah, (almost-) summer. Warm days, sweaty children, dinner on the patio. Of course you want a cool supper at this time of year, right?

Over Memorial Weekend--amidst the family bike ride and the picnic at the park and the ice cream cones downtown and the backyard bubble-blowing and the patio water-painting and the flower planting--I was reminded of one of my favorite Do-Little Dinners that fits the summer-supper bill just perfectly: a vegetarian taco salad of my own creation. It's a dream: there's no real recipe, you can make as many or as few servings as you need, and it requires zero cooking. It's practically a Do-Nothing Dinner!

All you need is a bag of prewashed salad greens; a can of black beans; some frozen or canned corn; any chopped vegetables you like such as tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and green pepper; salsa; lowfat sour cream (or, heck, use the full-fat if you so desire); shredded cheddar cheese, and perhaps some avocado.

Drain and rinse the beans, and nuke the frozen corn just until thawed or drain the canned corn. Then place salad greens, beans, corn, and chopped veggies on individual plates and sprinkle each serving with some of the cheddar cheese. Top each salad with sour cream, salsa, and avocado, and serve with a side of soft tortillas, tortilla chips, or corn muffins.

The perfect easy summer dinner. I think I'll make it all season long. You?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Difference Between a Three-Year-Old and a Normal Person

Never underestimate the potential silliness of a three- (almost four-) year-old. Julia tends toward the solemn, hyper-self-aware, and mildly obsessive (hello, gene pool!), but even she has her moments of sheer, shrug-your-shoulders-in-confusion zaniness. To wit:

Recently she began, laughingly and with much good-hearted glee, to refer to Genevieve as "a pida-baby" (spelling?). That's pronounced "pie-duh-baby," by the way. And it goes something like this: In the bath, while giggling maniacally: "Genevieve, you're a pida-baby. You're such a pida-baby! What is a pida-baby, anyway? She's a pida-baby! ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!" (Repeat.) No one knows what it means. So far, Genevieve does not mind.

The other day, while drinking her lunch milk, Julia asked me, "Are there Legos in milk?" "Huh?" I asked her, and she repeated her question, to which I then replied, "HUH???" This went on for awhile. Finally I said, "WHY do you think there are Legos in MILK?" "Because my milk tastes like Legos," she answered. Um, OK.

Today Julia accompanied Christopher to the grocery store and, upon returning home, informed me that "we never did find any shredded beet balls for you, Mama." Christopher said that during the shopping trip, Julia for some reason decided to hunt for "shredded beet balls," apparently a fantasy item that I would particularly enjoy, or that I had specifically requested. Shredded beet balls! Talk about a questionable grocery item! Can you imagine? No? But think: a three-year-old DEFINITELY CAN.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Gratitude Friday


(above: Julia preparing to do the sack race at Track & Field Day on the second-to-last day of preschool, last week)

The state of the world is getting to me, people--let alone the state of my own household, ha ha. The other night I read a New Yorker article about the seriously shocking state of the world's food system, and I was never more glad that for an entire week straight we have not eaten meat in this house. However, the article makes it clear that pretty much any manner of modern eating, vegetarianism included, has its own sobering flaws when it comes to the environment, the economy, feeding the world's population, and the health of every living thing on this planet. Sooooo depressing. (If you can stand it, click the link and read the article. I was very enlightened, and I thought I was already pretty knowledgeable about this issue.)

Then there's the war, and the fact that countless people come back from deployment with intolerable psychological after-effects--and of course, how could it be any other way? And then there's the prohibitive cost of gas, and the insane price of groceries--never before have I cooked so many dinners in a row centering on cheap, filling ingredients like potatoes--, and all I can think is, How can this go on? What is going to happen to us? All of us, I mean, but particularly those of us in the marginal middle class, who support an entire family on a modest five figures, and for whom these increasing grocery and gas bills are a real problem?

Naturally, when you're a parent, you add to all that global worry the typical anxieties about the babies you're raising in an unstable world. And you don't just worry about the big picture (will the planet self-destruct in their lifetimes?) but about the upfront, day-to-day minutiae of parenthood (will they ever sleep past 5:30 a.m. again? will I? why the nonstop whining and disobeying? what if she falls from the top of that jungle gym at the Toddler Playground of Doom?)

All of which is why I need--maybe you do too?--a weekly reminder of all that is good in (my) life. Because I wouldn't want to send you out into a holiday weekend feeling grim.

Here's my g-list for this week; what's yours?

coffee, coffee, coffee; successfully running eight miles in two days to keep my running schedule on track during a busy week; the hilarity of hearing Genevieve say the word "broccoli" for the first time; a loyal friend taking my big girl for a playdate in Minneapolis while I took the baby to the hospital for her tests; and the same loyal friend feeding us a delicious lunch afterward; hours of playing outside at the park and in our own and friends' backyards; sweet blog comments; wonderful Internet friends; preschoolers with ice cream; lovely, lovely May (finally!); and, though it happened last week, a poem written just for me.

Happy holiday weekend, all. Consider your own gratitudes today. I know it's hard sometimes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Try Not to Lose Your Mind

Oh, wait a minute: "what-to-do" is supposed to refer to the CHILDREN, isn't it? Not the frazzled mom? Oops. Well, in that case, here's an idea from my friend Connie, something I grew up doing but that we have not yet done in this household due to a lack of paintbrushes---a problem to be ameliorated this weekend with a trip to Menard's. So, what's the idea, you ask? Oh yes. Um....WATER-PAINTING OUTSIDE ON THE DRIVEWAY. With big fat paintbrushes and buckets of water. Fun in the sun. Go for it!

More later. I'm busy---took the babe up to the children's hospital this morning for some medical tests and she--damnit!--fell asleep in the car on the way home during OUR LAST 15 MINUTES OF THE DRIVE. You know what that means, don't you? No more nap after that. Yes, that's right. Even though the child woke up, as usual, at 5:30 this morning, she seems to feel that a 15-minute surprise cat-nap in the car is sufficient sleep for one day (Gotcha, Mama! I know; I NEVER sleep in the car! Never in my whole life! But today I did! At the very last moment! So now you don't get a nap out of me at home, even though it's naptime! Ha!). I, on the other hand, am shaking my head at the gods above, because: Seriously? THIS is the day she chooses to "nap" in the car? Not on a 300-mile road trip that spans the entire day, but on the way home from the hospital, 15 minutes before I can pull into my driveway and hustle them both to bed? Seriously?

Sigh. Go do some water-painting for me. Have fun. Talk later.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Last Day of School

This was Julia on her first day of preschool last September:



Doesn't she look tiny?

Today is the last day of school, celebrated with a Family Ice Cream Social on the playground during the last half-hour of class. Can't you just picture it? A bunch of three- and four-year-olds and their baby sisters and brothers, chowing down on ice cream sundaes at eleven in the morning in the May sunshine? What's not to love, really? I mean, we all have a lot to celebrate: our toddlers now big kids, everyone joyful and in love with school, a dreamy summer ahead.

Of course, it's also going to be a LONG summer. I'll be the one tearing my hair out in June, trying to fill all those sunny mornings. Wish me--and all the other mamas--luck.

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Olive, Tomato, & Scallion Polenta Loaf

I made a new vegetarian recipe over the weekend, and not only was it a huge hit, but it's perfect for Do-Little Dinners. Sure, at first it seems a little complicated; but here's the key: you can make the whole thing ahead of time, like during afternoon nap or the evening before, and then pop it in the fridge for the chill. Then when dinnertime rolls around, all you have to do is the pan-frying, which takes less than five minutes.

Don't be scared of polenta, if the food and the word are unfamiliar to you. It's just cornmeal, prepared in a classic Italian manner, and it's both easy to make and easy to like. You can serve it many different ways, with a variety of embellishments. You can make it firm, like meatloaf, as shown here, or soft like mashed potatoes to be eaten in a bowl with a spoon. It's endlessly adaptable! And as I've said before, in my experience children love it. Seriously, Genevieve couldn't inhale her portion of this recipe fast enough.

As usual, I found this recipe awhile back in some random magazine passed on to me and now forgotten, so I can't properly give credit. But I will say this: YUM. This would be good with roasted root vegetables, a fresh green salad, or even as a side dish for a protein-based entree.

Olive, Tomato, & Scallion Polenta Loaf
8 slices = 4-8 servings, depending on appetites

5 cups water
1-1/3 cups yellow cornmeal (coarse-ground if available; I just use regular)
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup sliced green or black olives
2/3 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 large clove garlic, minced or crushed through a press
1 T. olive oil

Heat the water to boiling in a large pot. Begin stirring the water clockwise with a whisk (mandatory!), then slowly pour in the cornmeal in a thin steady stream while you continue to stir continuously. Quickly lower heat and keep stirring constantly at a low boil, until water is absorbed and polenta becomes thick. (It will sputter quite a bit here; do your best.) With regular, fine-ground cornmeal, this will happen quickly, i.e. 3-5 minutes. With coarser cornmeal, cook 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately stir in all other ingredients. Pour into an oiled, standard-sized (9 x 4 or so) loaf pan. Let sit until cooled to room temperature, then cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

After chilling, invert the pan onto a large cutting board and slice the loaf into 8 equal pieces. Pan-fry on medium-high in a bit of oil or cooking spray until warmed and crisp-toasty-golden-brown on the outside (takes just a few minutes). Then just TRY to limit yourself to one serving.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Interim

Sign that maaaaaybe you've been out of the working world too long:

You're told to "bring your calendar" to the nursery school board meeting, so that you, as the new board president, can properly schedule the next one, and when you unearth your old Dayplanner--the one in which you used to log client appointments and consultation phone calls and staff meetings--and turn to the "calendar" section, there are several pages from 2004 and then nothing else. Because your life recently, this strange, hazy interlude between go-go career and whatever comes next? It hasn't really called for a Dayplanner.

And then you consider bringing the kitchen wall calendar that hangs on the side of the fridge, with its little boxes filled with "library books due!" and "J. to pediatrician" and "birthday party" on it, because surely this is your real lifeline these days, this is your working-girl calendar: the agenda of a working-girl whose work is running the household. Only you're not sure it's really appropriate for a Board Meeting, even one made up of fellow moms. And so you bring a small notepad and a pen, and when you get to the meeting you see that everyone else at least thought to bring a folder to put their papers in.

And then you think, I like my Dayplannerless life, thank you very much, and you go ahead and schedule that next meeting blind.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's the Dress

Today I am wearing one of the new spring dresses I bought last month during my epic new-clothes-shopping expedition. I am taking Julia to a dance recital this afternoon, and I told her that lots of people like to dress up a little bit when they go to arts performances like recitals and concerts and plays, because it shows respect to the performers for their hard work and willingness to share their talents with the audience. Needless to say, it didn't take much for Julia to jump on this bandwagon. The girl is three, after all: an excuse to wear a dress? Right with ya!

Anyway, what I was going to say was this: my new dress is one of those soft and comfy jersey knits that are so popular right now, with a trendy yet classic allover small geometric print. And I really like it, even though I realized earlier that it's one of those currently-ubiquitous empire-waist pieces that ARE PRECISELY THE KIND OF DRESSES THAT SHOW UP IN THOSE CELEBRITY "IS SHE OR ISN'T SHE PREGNANT?" GOSSIP-MAGAZINE PHOTOS.

So I am telling you right now: No. I am not pregnant. IT'S JUST THE DRESS.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Will Not Be Petty. I Will Not Be Petty. I Will Not Be Petty.

One of my favorite bloggers, Sheri Reed of happinest and today is pretty (oh! such lovely photos! especially of those boys of hers!), calls it a g-list. G for Gratitude. You know, the things you're thankful for. I'm thinking maybe I need to end every week with a little g-list action. Gratitude Saturday? Gratitude Friday?

Today was an easy day in which to call up some gratitude. Sleeping in (sort of) till 7 a.m. (thanks to a little Tylenol PM. I can now see that I could easily become addicted to sleep aids. It is nice to sleep past 4:30.) Sunny and 70. Errands on foot, downtown, in the May sunshine. Taking tiny girls to touch the fountain. Family bike ride to the park. Hard run. Dramatic wind, clouds, sky, fields.

Speaking of hard runs, I did my old hill run today, out on the country roads near my house, the route I ran all last summer and into the fall until it got dark too early and I became afraid I'd be run down by trucks. Seriously, could Spring Creek Road/Hall Avenue have any more hills? How in the world did I ever power up those inclines three times a week last summer in 90+ degree heat? These days, after sacrificing a full third of my spring to a sinus infection, I can barely make it out and back in a lovely, dry 65 degrees. I keep expecting the cars that pass me near Highway 19 to stop and ask if I need medical assistance. That's OK, though; I'm having fun. The thing about hard, hilly runs is that, once you shut out all the inner running commentary about everything you think you should be worried about, reflectiveness kicks in and, particularly if the sun is setting or the deer are out or you can see a squall of rain on the horizon like a watercolor painting, your old, tired Ingratitude List might even get kicked right out of your head. You might even make a vow to never again engage in petty thoughts about what others have, and what you don't. You might remember that such concerns are really not indicative of your truest nature, and therefore they might not be what you really want to project to the world. You might decide to formulate a g-list for the past week. Which would surely include: spring weather. iced soy lattes. backyard play. the hilarious season finale of "The Office." the ability to run. good health. personal mail. green grass. the leaves coming out, at last.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reminder; Meditation; Affirmation

In the 2+ years I have lived in this cool little college town, the one frustration I've had is that everyone I meet, every family I hang out with, seems to enjoy, um....how shall I put it?....a more financially comfortable lifestyle than we do. Bigger, nicer, newer houses, gorgeously decorated rooms, acreage or nice yards with huge expensive playsets out back. It's been a new experience for me, living in a wealthy little community. I grew up with little money, then I became a poor student, then lived in the (poor part of the) city. I'm not used to being surrounded on all sides by wealth, or what I consider wealth.

Now, let me be clear, here. I am very, very grateful for what I have. I know people, including several members of my own immediate family, who make do with far less than Christopher and I have in the way of income, and could never consider paying for salon highlights, even if only twice a year, or buying things like brand-new ride-on toddler toys and preschool scooters instead of secondhand toys from a local garage sale.

Also: in my heart of hearts, and during most of my waking hours, I am truly--I swear!--pretty anti-materialistic, modest in my tastes, and more concerned with inner peace and happiness than with the kind of car anyone drives or house they live in. I try hard to be a good person, to be fully happy for others' successes and hard work, to not begrudge anyone their own happinesses, to be thankful for and joyful about my healthy, beautiful girls and the larger fortunes in life.

But I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me to live in such an affluent community, where it's hard to feel "normal" among many circles of family social life, unless you have....more. Not that anyone I've met has EVER made me feel inadequate. The families in this town are extraordinarily friendly and supportive. I adore the moms I've met and befriended through baby class and preschool; I've had such fun with them, and each one is genuinely kind and lovely. This is all about me, I'll be the first to say.

I love this town, but sometimes I miss living in a modest, blue-collar working-family neighborhood in the city where four-bedroom houses with custom cabinetry and granite countertops aren't the norm. I don't like the idea that there's really nothing much Christopher and I can do to substantially increase our income; even if I went back to work full-time--something I am totally opposed to while I am raising children, which isn't to say I'm against working PART-TIME--a huge portion of my salary would have to go for daycare. Christopher and I will never earn the kind of salaries many of our friends and relations earn. We just don't have those kinds of careers. Which is fine, in one way: obviously we made our own choices for better or worse, and the folks around me with the gorgeous houses and wooded lots made others, for their own better or worse. What's hard about it is not so much the fact that we don't make much money; it's that we don't make much money and yet we live in a town where a lot of people make a lot of money. There's research about this--about how dissatisfaction with one's economic situation has less to do with the financial facts of one's family income than it does with who one is surrounded by: others with similar financial situations, or others with significantly higher incomes.

But there's a happy lesson here, amidst all the sleep-deprivation-fueled pessimism and transient dissatisfaction with my lot in life. The other morning I went on some walking errands with Julia and Genevieve, visiting shops and sites across our sweet little downtown, and encountered a post office employee who is familiar with my girls and me. As she weighed my package, she smiled at us and chatted with me, asking if I am home full-time with my babies, saying that the fact that she couldn't stay home longer with her own when they were small is her only major regret in life. I casually commented that I'm so glad to be able to be with them each day, but that it's not easy. The postal worker nodded sympathetically and said, "That's for sure, honey. Of course it isn't! I remember what that's like, when dinner at Subway is a big deal!" She chuckled. "Good for you, hon. It's worth it for those babies."

What a nice thing to say. Of course I know it's true, myself. I say it all the time. But it's still nice to be reminded in such a sweet, supportive tone, from a kind, grandmotherly stranger, no less. It was just a nice moment. It made me feel better about everything.

Did I mention that I really do love this town, and the people in it? I really do.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

21 Months of Genevieve Rose


Genevieve turns 21 months old today. In the last month, she's eaten pretty much nonstop, fueling some mysterious almost-two growth spurt and going from long and lean to toddler-roly-poly, and added, among others, the words "Ernie," "Zoe," "oval," "undies," and "potty" to her vocabulary. OK, so you sort of have to be her parents to understand what she's actually saying, but take my word for it: she's actually saying Ernie, Zoe, oval, undies, and potty.

About that potty thing. Just this week she's become fascinated by the potty chair, insisting on trying it out whenever Julia's in the bathroom, and progressing in two days from sitting on it fully clothed to, now, sitting on it with her diaper off and--this part is crucial, don't you dare get it wrong--her pants put back on after diaper removal so she can pool them around her ankles as she sits. Then she makes you give her a little square of toilet paper, which she crumples up in her chubby, dimply hand and pats in the vague vicinity of her backside. Not that she actually does anything in the potty, of course. But having an older sibling around seems to be a boon when it comes to interest in a diaper-free existence.

On a less positive note, the last month has also brought a VERY ANNOYING, VERY FRUSTRATING, long-lasting bedtime-rebellion trend, which manifests itself in prolonged crying, screaming, and calling for Christopher and/or me to go in and save her from her nightly fate. I know I've complained about this behavior from Genevieve before, but until now it hasn't gone on for weeks on end. Also, for many, many months--a year or more--Genevieve went to bed at nighttime with no real protest (not counting that awful falling-asleep-sitting-up phase she went through last spring when she first learned to sit herself up from a prone position; remember those fun times?). I'd nurse her, sing to her, put her down, and she'd grin up at me and then talk softly to herself for a few minutes before falling asleep. This recent prolonged screaming--the angst, the tears, the raging against the dying of the light--it's so terribly maddening. Who wants to listen to a screaming baby all evening long? After listening to a cranky baby all day? Not me.

To be fair, Genevieve's spirits have improved this past month. The nonstop tantrums aren't quite so nonstop. The teething has waned. The few new words have helped a lot. But Genevieve's still a firebrand, and she tends toward the surly. Look at her wrong, ask to kiss her, and she's likely to wrinkle up her nose at you and yell, "NAAAAH!" If you're particularly offensive, you'll probably get a swat or a shove. The other mamas at our new baby playgroup don't believe this, because in large groups Genevieve is typically mute and unanimated, but truly: get in her way, once she knows you, and she'll let you know you'd better STEP BACK. And FORGET ABOUT THE KISSES AND CUDDLES, TOO.

It's all OK, though, because she is who she is. Christopher made up a rhyme not too long ago: "Vivi, Vivi, you're so nice! Can I kiss you once or twice?", and Julia loves Genevieve so much that she has reinterpreted it, adding a line so that the last part isn't a yes or no question. Julia says to her, "Vivi, Vivi, you're so nice! Can I kiss you once or twice? Can I kiss you once? Or twice?"

Because who wants to take no for an answer from Genevieve? Not me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: You Tell Me

OK, so What-to-Do Wednesdays is supposed to be a weekly idea for a fun activity to keep the wee ones busy for a few minutes while Mama drinks some coffee (or, more frequently, helps with the activity).

But people, this week I'm lying down on the job. (I wish I were ACTUALLY lying down, but whatever.) And I'm sorry about that.

We had a terrible day here yesterday, the kind of day you wish you could erase from your parenting memory forever. No one got hurt, no one ran away (though I was sorely tempted), and I'm sure no permanent damage was done to any of our psyches. But it left me so stressed and exhausted that it was probably not a coincidence that at my last-evening hair appointment up in the suburbs, I not only spent a ridiculous amount of money for my hairdresser to pretty me up with way more blonde highlights than usual, I also had her chop off nearly three inches of my (previously very long) hair. I think I was searching for some kind of liberation, and thought that a little less blowdrying might serve me well. Or maybe I was just craving some self-care.

Every now and then I feel like I'll go crazy if I don't get, say, a night in a hotel with black-out curtains, or a parents' weekend away without the babies, or even just eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. But I always feel too broke (please, no comments about the highlights, above; I can't take it today) or too confused or too tired or too babysitter-less to make it happen. But then I end up more tired, more stressed, and with even less relief in sight.

A friend just told me that she and another friend were talking recently about how it seems like any minute now this day-to-day parenting life should start feeling easier--fewer diapers, after all; less nursing; more self-dressing skills, right?!--and yet it doesn't. More accurately, surely sometimes it does. But the day-in, day-out fog of taking care of preschoolers-and-under is certainly still in full form, and we're all still in the thick of it. I've been told several times in the last few months alone, by moms of children older than mine, that I'm "right in the middle of the hardest part", and that "it gets way, way easier." I don't doubt that "easier" is a relative term, and that five-year-olds and seven-year-olds and, good lord, fifteen-year-olds--are difficult to parent in their own ways. But I do take seriously the affirming smiles and nods of the kindergartners' moms, the moms of second-graders, when they express relief that they're no longer "in the thick of it," whatever that thick of it happens to be for all of us. It means maybe I won't always be this tired and desperate for self-care.

You tell me, Internet. How do YOU take care of yourself, when the nights are too short and you can't sleep past five and your to-do list is too long and you've got birthdays to plan and errands to run and cooking to do and that damn salmon pasta salad that's going to go bad before anyone can stomach making another meal out of it? You tell me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

(Nearly) The End of Year One



Next week is Julia's last day of preschool for the year. I kind of thought that I'd be wearing short sleeves, and going coat-less, by the penultimate week of preschool.

It's hard to believe that my oldest child's first year of school--if only the neighborhood co-op nursery school--is ending. To me, she and her little classmates look the same as always; but then I see home video of last September, when preschool began, and see that she looks completely different now: so much taller, so much of the toddler belly and the plump baby cheeks and chubby arms gone! Her classmates, upon closer inspection, are all longer and leaner as well, with different eyes, more confident smiles. They're all little kids now, no toddler left in them. How did that happen?

We've all changed, even the parents. As for myself, I came to this first preschool experience cautious and concerned ("Remember preschool orientation and how nervous we all were?!" a friend of mine asked laughingly the other day, and yes, I do. "I was a wreck! By the end of the line of forms and sign-up sheets and the tables of t-shirts for sale, I was sweaty!"), and I'm leaving as the president of the board. I have three more years ahead of me with girls in this school; I'm happy and relieved that it feels like home, a safe place to leave my babies for a few hours a week, to learn, among other things, who else can love them.

The preschool year closes out with "Track and Field Day" this Thursday (wouldn't you just LOVE to see that?!), and with a family ice cream social next week on the last day of school. Where I'm sure a few other mamas will get a little nostalgic too, thinking of that week last September--those tables of forms and t-shirts, the sign-up sheets, the nerves.

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Salmon Pasta Salad

Over the weekend Christopher accidentally bought a gigantic salmon fillet. I mean, he meant to buy salmon (on the grocery list); it's just that he didn't realize how huge the salmon fillet he was buying actually was. I made two meals with regular baked salmon as an entree, and yesterday I decided to use up the leftover fillet by tossing it with some pasta. However, in doing so, I accidentally made way too much pasta, forgetting that a.) Genevieve hates pasta, and b.) we weren't having an entire other family over for dinner last night. Apparently we are going to be eating salmon for the rest of our natural lives. Because that bowl of salmon pasta salad I threw together yesterday afternoon? ENORMOUS.

Anyway, I might as well use my culinary experiment as fodder for Tuesday Do-Little Dinners, no? If YOU happen to have any leftover salmon at your house, you might try tossing it (cooked and flaked, of course) with cooked pasta, green peas (frozen, but thawed), chopped tomatoes (use canned until it's proper tomato season, but drain WELL), green olives, and a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, dried or fresh dill, minced/pressed garlic, dijon mustard, salt, and pepper, and then chill the whole thing before supper. If you were me, you would then wish you had also included slivered red onion and/or more garlic and pepper. You would also toss some grated Parmesan cheese into the bowl.

Sorry, I don't have exact amounts for you. It doesn't really matter; just use as much or as little of everything as looks good to you. Although if you're using a full box of pasta (my fatal error), for the dressing you might try something like 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1-2 T. mustard, 1 tsp. dried dill, 1-2 cloves garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Whisk together, then taste it and adjust to your own liking. You may like more dressing than this amount, also. Do as you please; it's easily expandable.

Serve with a green salad and some breadsticks, and although it's tasty, hope you don't have to eat it for the next three days straight. Yikes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

And This is Why I Am Mostly Vegetarian

Apparently this morning at the grocery store, Julia and Christopher had a little conversation in the meat department. About things like, oh, where meat comes from. And how the meat and fish we eat were once living animals.

I don't think the whole idea bothered Julia all that much. Tonight at dinner, as we were tucking into the salmon fillet I had broiled with Parmesan cheese, lemon, and dill, Julia exclaimed enthusiastically, "Mama, yum! This is REALLY GOOD dead fish!"

Um, thanks?

The Quest Continues

I have been busy with my continued quest for a new swimsuit. People, it hasn't been pretty. Yesterday the one I ordered from Land's End arrived in the mail. Despite the fact that I dutifully went by my measurements when picking a size, the suit was so small it actually hurt. IT HURT, PEOPLE.

Um, yeah, the Land's End swimsuit is going back.

That is all.

Friday, May 09, 2008

To Be Published

I LOVED my undergraduate alma mater (still do). Seriously, I'm loyal to an embarrassing degree; I have dreams about being back in college far more frequently than is normal or probably healthy. Therefore, I couldn't be more thrilled with the recent news that an essay of mine is going to be published in the fall issue of the college's gorgeous, glossy alumni magazine, Macalester Today. I know; autumn is a long way off. But I'm still really excited about it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Election

Tonight Julia asked to go to bed at 6:15. Since for several weeks now she's been staying awake in her bed until 9 p.m., talking and calling and complaining about not being able to fall asleep, thus causing me great trauma as I consider the fact that the afternoon nap may need to be eliminated, I looked at her like she was crazy. Then I put her to bed, headed off to the nursery school spring parent meeting, and recalled, on my way there, that four families I know have kids home sick right now with fevers and vomiting. I would have banged my forehead against the steering wheel, had I not been driving at the time. Let's just say I really, really hope Julia was just inexplicably tired this evening, and not coming down with something.

So have I mentioned I'm going to be the president of Julia's nursery school's board next year? If you know me well, you may not be all that surprised. I kind of like a project.

Way Too Early

This morning I was maddeningly awakened very early by birds chirping outside and dawn light seeping in around the window shade. I laid there in bed for a long, LONG time before I finally checked the clock, thinking it would be at least 6:15, time for the alarm clock to ring and 15 minutes past the time the girls often start to stir--at least, now that it gets light so early and now that they share a room, both of which have caused Julia to abandon her previous 7-7:30 wake-up time.

Alas, when I checked the clock, it was only FIVE-THIRTY. Did I mention that I had already been lying there awake for a LONG TIME? This is why I constantly have the dark circles of the overtired under my eyes, despite the fact that I haven't had a night-nursing baby in over a year. This is also why I have recurrent fantasies about a night in an upscale hotel, where the draperies are heavy-duty black-outs and the room is silent.

A few minutes after I discovered it was only 5:30, Genevieve woke up too. She probably noticed the light and the birds too. I have a feeling the summer days are going to be long ones.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Hottest New Exercise Program: Run Around with Children All Day Long


This morning I pushed a combined 60 lbs. of children in a double stroller (= ? more pounds) for a verrrrry long, chilly walk around our subdivision--a walk which included a few mild inclines (which, FYI, turn into severe inclines when you are pushing 60 lbs. of children in a double stroller). This was because I was trying to kill time on a day when we don't have access to the car, and the only way both girls would acquiesce to an hour-long walk was if they got to ride most of the way and I agreed to do all the hard labor.

I also spent a fair amount of time doing things like running from the upstairs playroom down to the kitchen ten million times to retrieve more pencils, workbooks, and notebooks for my little pupils when we were playing "homework." Oh, and racing up and down the stairs to get all the bathrooms cleaned before "Dragon Tales" ended. I think I may have also boosted a toddler up onto the bed a few times, and also lifted her in and out of the crib.

I'm starting to realize that maybe my magically shrinking waistline may not be so magical after all. Perhaps it's just a simple equation: energy in --> energy exploding all over the house in the form of two children under four.

If there were ever an excuse for an upcoming summer filled with many a DQ Blizzard, this is it.

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Muffin Tin


Admittedly, this week's What-to-Do activity is more baby- than preschooler-centered. That shouldn't surprise anyone, since it's far easier for me to entertain my baby (or for her to entertain herself) than my almost-four-year-old, who requires near-constant adult interaction and seems to abhor playing by herself, no matter what I do. Please don't suggest what I should do to cure her of this problem. I've already done it. It doesn't work.

Anyway! Did you know that babies and toddlers love muffin tins? And they especially love scouring the house to locate enough just-the-right-size balls or other tin-able objects to place in each little muffin cup? And that bouncy balls from the hair salon, wooden egg shakers from the musical instrument set, plastic balls from the Pound-A-Ball toy and the swirly summer outdoor sprinkler, and little rubber animal bath toys all fit just perfectly? And that, on other days, Fisher Price Peek-A-Blocks and individual large plastic baby snap-on beads are fun to plop in the tin as well? And that taking them out and putting them back in, over and over, is half the fun? But that you can also do things like pretend the little toys are muffins to eat, or sort the balls by color and size, or play bakery?

Happy baby play!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Love From the Blogosphere


How sweet is this? My dear blogging friend Rob was in a bad mood today, so what did he do? Having recently been the lucky recipient of the Blogging Friends Forever Award (see above--so cute!), Rob kept the love circulating and picked me to be the next recipient of this happy little trophy. If that weren't nice enough, he also wrote some very kind and generous words about me on his own blog. Rob says this award has been passed from one admiring blogger to another since last February, and I am honored and flattered to receive it from such a great fellow-writer friend. Seriously---to be called a "heroic blogging mama"? Nicest thing ever. Thank you, Rob!

Of course the best part about a blog award is passing it on. Rob said he was bestowing this award in a highly selective manner by giving it only to a stay-at-home-mom. I like this idea. Being a SAHM is never easy, but I think it goes without saying that managing even one complete thought is hard enough when surrounded by the constant demands of small children, let alone stringing together enough sentences to compose a lucid online essay. OK, maybe blog posts aren't always profound, but sometimes they are, and to me, they're always a way to connect with other people going this challenging road. Yesterday I read Heather Armstrong's dooce.com post addressing the current negative buzz about all us parent-bloggers "exploiting" our children and violating their privacy by writing about them online. Athough these worries sometimes keep me up at night too, I love what Heather has to say here about the emotional value of this mommy-blog mega-trend: how it's a revolution in social connection during what is so often an isolating, overwhelming stage of life, and how all of us parent-bloggers are part of a giant movement toward talking about the hard parts of parenting small children, which is not only a good thing, but, perhaps more importantly, is also a radical act.

I guess that's all a long and convoluted way to say I'm giving the Blogging Friends Forever Award to my brilliant, talented, beautiful, and hilarious friend Snarky Squab. I'm lucky enough to have her as a real-world friend as well as a blogging one, and if anyone (else) is a heroic blogging mama, it's her.

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Vegetable Couscous

OK, everyone, ready to cook? It's Tuesday, remember? This week's recipe is an old family favorite, culled once again from my well-worn copy of Jeanne Lemlin's Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. It does require some prep work, but you can make the vegetable-chickpea part ahead of time and reheat it when you make the couscous (a 10-minute process) at dinnertime, if you wish. Or, at the very least, you could chop the veggies ahead of time and/or use frozen green beans, frozen carrots, or fresh tiny baby carrots (unsliced) instead of the zucchini--all of which are workable shortcuts. This recipe is sort of North African-esque in flavor, with its great blend of curry spices, chickpeas, raisins, vegetables, and couscous. Even Genevieve loves it. You don't really need much alongside, but some toasted pita bread is always good. Enjoy!

Vegetable Couscous
4-6 servings

1 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed through a press
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you like it hotter)
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (or see my note above about substitutions)
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 15-oz. can chopped tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup raisins
1-1/2 cups vegetable stock/broth (I use Knorr vegetable bouillon cubes with water)
1/2 tsp. salt (omit if using bouillon for your vegetable broth)
1 cup couscous

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion, saute 2 minutes. Sprinkle in all spices, cook 2 minutes more, stirring often.

Stir in zucchini (or substitute), chickpeas, tomatoes with juice, and raisins. Cover pan and lower heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes).

Meanwhile, prepare couscous. Bring vegetable stock or broth and salt (if using) to a boil. Stir in the couscous and immediately remove from heat and cover. Let sit 5 minutes (or up to 20). Fluff with a fork.

Serve couscous with vegetable mixture on top.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Tough Day to be a Baby


Genevieve is having a rough day. She started out with a mega-tantrum at 7 a.m., which never bodes well, does it? Christopher guessed by her sour mood that she is teething, and gave her some baby Tylenol. I think he was right, because at naptime, amidst tears and drama, she was chewing on her entire thumb and drooling. In between breakfast and nap, she threw a big tantrum on the steps of the post office, screamed about the stroller until I bribed her with dry cereal, and threw another tantrum at home about having to wait five minutes for lunch. Oh, and also about her shoes. Always the shoes.

To make matters worse, at the library this morning another baby--a boy about her age, I would guess--knocked her down, making her cry. His mom bid me a quick, fairly mortified "Sorry!", but mainly just whisked him away as fast as possible and didn't say another word to me or Genevieve about it, even when her son tried to do it again just moments later. Here's my judgmental rant for the day, by the way. If MY baby hurts another child, even if it's by accident (and this didn't seem to be), here's what I do: I react with shocked concern and an appropriate level of upset, look the other toddler in the eye and apologize, apologize to the fellow parent with actual eye contact, ask if the child is okay, and take my baby by the arm over to the child she harmed to "say" she's sorry. I would never, EVER pick up my baby and run away as fast as possible to escape the situation, no matter how mortified I might be. What about teaching small children about empathy and making things right when they hurt someone else? Sorry, but I'm fully comfortable being totally annoyed by and judgmental about that little fellow-parenting incident. Poor Genevieve!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Just Keeping Score

This morning I told Julia that I was going to the tailor for a bit to get a bunch of my clothes taken in and would be back in half an hour, and she and Genevieve would play with Daddy while I was gone. I then reminded her that later on, I would be off volunteering for a nursery school fundraiser and that, again, they would be home with Daddy.

Julia looked at me sternly, leaned in, and said, "Mama! First the conference, and then the conference again, and then the mall, and then the tailor, and then the fundraiser?!"

Is she keeping a log, or what?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Observations

Nothing coherent to say this foggy, drizzly November-oops-I-mean-May Friday, so here are just a few thoughts and observations from the week:

1. Julia went on her first field trip on Tuesday. Her nursery school went on a big yellow bus to a nearby nature center for a field walk and some muddy exploration. I would have loved to have accompanied the group as a parent volunteer, but I couldn't bring Genevieve, so that was out. Julia seemed too little to send off on a big bus like that "by herself"--no seatbelts!--, but she had a good time and talked the rest of the day about slugs, duckweed, and how to hold a worm "so that you don't pinch." Not that she actually held a worm.

2. Genevieve has begun correctly identifying several letters of the alphabet by sight. I don't remember Julia doing that at one-and-a-half, although maybe she did. It's a good reminder that, though she may not say a whole lot (other than the nonstop whining and screaming, I mean), there's a lot going on inside Genevieve's little brain.

3. These days when I rock Genevieve in my arms and sing her naptime lullaby, she softly joins in, making all sorts of sweetly hilarious "la la" sounds to my "Rockabye, Baby" rhythm. She even holds out the last note as long as I stretch out the "all" at the end. Then she chuckles, as if she knows how clever and adorable she is.

4. Last night there was a big thunderstorm overnight, with clattering hail and howling wind and the din of pounding rain amidst the thunderclaps. Julia was very frightened and had to sleep for awhile between Christopher and me in our bed. That was pretty cute.

5. Once in a blue moon, both girls will take a really good nap--let's say, oh, two hours long--on the same day, at the same time. Wait a minute, did I say "once in a blue moon"? I meant to say "pretty much never, but it did miraculously occur the other day, and I just about fainted in shock."

Anyway, when that happens--heck, even when just ONE of them takes a two-hour nap!--the difference in how that day is experienced compared to every other day is absolutely shocking. The day takes on an entirely different feel: easygoing, unfrenzied, just...unremarkable. As opposed to most days, when the nap break is simply not long enough to both complete all my non-kid-friendly household tasks AND re-charge my parenting batteries.
It occurs to me that a predictable, two-hour (at least!) daily nap break is the norm for many parents of small children, and maybe that's why sometimes it seems to me that other people are more patient and less hysterical as full-time at-home parents than I am. I think I would be a far different parent if I had ever had babies who took regular long naps. And by "long," I mean a daily total of more than 90 minutes.

6. Tomorrow I am volunteering at a fundraiser event for Julia's preschool. As a friend of mine said, "Welcome to 'Intro to School Fundraising, Part One of Eighteen.'" Indeed.