Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Three Years Later

Three years ago at this time, we found out we were pregnant with our second baby. Two days later, we closed on two houses in one day (one selling, one buying) and accomplished an out-of-town move with an 18-month-old in tow, having entertained far-flung relatives over Christmas DURING THE PROCESS OF MOVING. (Think on that for just a moment.)

We ate Christmas dinner in a packed-up house amidst stacks of boxes, using paper plates. The couple who bought our house were evil trouble-makers who stirred up all sorts of unfounded drama the night before our closing, keeping us up until all hours with a tired baby and an emergency plumber--for, in the end, no reason. Our house-selling process had been utterly nightmarish from beginning to end, punctuated by a bout with a long, drawn-out toddler kidney infection caused by a then-undiagnosed congenital urinary-tract abnormality.

The night we moved, after we'd been up for some 17 hours and while the baby screamed and refused to go to sleep, one of our visiting relatives threw a major tantrum over not having enough attention paid to her during her visit (i.e., during our move).

A few days later, my dad (300 miles away) had a stroke.

Sometimes I wonder how I ever survived the winter of 2005-2006. Luckily, later on things got a whole lot better. Then, of course, they got worse again (remember last summer?). Then, better. Which I guess is just the nature of life, isn't it?

Whatever the challenges of 2008, I am happy to be three years past that hellish New Year's '05-'06, and to be looking ahead to what can only be a better 2009. We've all got our stresses--the bills, the jobs (or lack thereof), the parenting challenges and health concerns and family responsibilities--but change is coming, the sun is out, and tomorrow is a new year. How do you plan to use it? Do you have any grand plans? I plan to do a whole lot more writing, pursue some freelance work (somehow, some way!), add to my running mileage, appreciate the last fleeting months of babyhood in this house (sob!), and try really hard not to be a humming ball of stress every single day. Sigh. That's a tough one.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let me know what your new year's goals are.

Monday, December 29, 2008

We're Back, and We're Busy Sledding

We have our own little miniature sledding hill in our backyard! Perfect for the under-five set. See for yourself:



(with a neighbor friend)

By the time these photos were taken (yesterday), Genevieve had retreated inside to play Christmas toys with Daddy, but this morning the girls and I went out again with some other friends, and this time Genevieve was brave enough to go down the "baby hill" (an even gentler slope between the two farthest-right trees in the last photo above), as long as I was with her.

Maybe you noticed that the snow is melting. It was 42 degrees here one day while we up on the snow-covered, white-Christmasy northern plains for the holidays. Yesterday it was 34 degrees; today is much the same. But I hear a snowstorm front is moving in tonight, so perhaps our sledding hill will be revitalized by New Year's.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas From My Two Little Elves

Julia and Genevieve on Christmas Eve, 2008
Four and two years old

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Do I Sound Bitter? I'm Trying Not to Be Bitter on Christmas.

So our drive north yesterday ended up taking SEVEN HOURS, due to icy roads and terrible driving conditions. We counted some 22 cars in the ditch, and at least three "real" accidents (i.e., smashed car, emergency vehicles present). For much of the drive our traveling speed was around 45-50 miles per hour, on a freeway with a speed limit of 70. We swerved in a serious way three different times, during which Mama may have uttered a few words that young children really should not hear. For the record, seven hours in a car with a two-year-old and a four-year-old who absolutely never, ever nap in the car, not even for five measly minutes, is somewhat torturous. I believe we had gone around 20 miles when Julia sighed heavily and groaned, "We've been driving for SO LONG!" and Genevieve began her repeated chant, "Boppa, Nonna? Boppa, Nonna? Waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting!" (Indeed.)

Oh, did I mention that at one point Genevieve also THREW UP ALL OVER HERSELF AND THE CAR? Yes, there was that too. Right about then, while I was gripping the steering wheel and attempting to keep us out of the snowy ditch and Christopher was stretched nearly horizontal into the back seat in a frantic effort to clean up a bunch of toddler vomit while tears streamed down Genevieve's cheeks and her screams filled all of our ears, we were passed on the right by a zippy compact car housing a young, cheery, apparently childless couple--laughing, joking, perhaps even singing, and with a festive plate of undisturbed Christmas cookies perched on their pristine backseat. And it was that particular juxtaposition that caused Christopher and me to look at each other and admit that we wanted to KILL THAT CHILDLESS COUPLE ON THEIR CAREFREE, MERRY HOLIDAY ROAD TRIP. Damn you, cheerful childless couple! Damn you and your responsibility-less, no-problem car ride, your baby-vomit-less car upholstery, your vehicle ringing with jokes and carols rather than a litany of, "Mama, WHEN are we going to be there? Mama, I'm tired of riding in this car!"

And by the way. When we finally arrived and attempted to put our overtired, cranky girls to bed after their long, nap-free day, we were treated to an hour-long screaming fit by Genevieve, who was scared of and unwilling to sleep in a novel place, and to a sneeze-and-sniffle explosion from Julia, who promptly came down with a cold. So, you know: NOT EXACTLY CAUSING ME TO RE-THINK MY AVERSION TO TRAVELING WITH VERY YOUNG CHILDREN.

[And one last note to everyone out there with children who actually sleep problem-free in new places, in new beds, in the car, wherever they may be, no problem at all, just throw them a blankie and they're out cold: YOU ARE DAMNED LUCKY. YOUR CHILDREN WERE BORN THAT WAY. MINE WERE NOT. THUS, TRAVEL FOR US IS WAY HARDER THAN IT IS FOR YOU.]

Aside from all that, and the fact that of course the girls woke up super-early this morning and took extra-short naps this afternoon, all is fine! We're stuffing ourselves on fudge, homemade caramel corn, shortbread cookies, peanut-butter blossoms, candy-cane cookies, chocolate-mint bars, and homemade Chex mix. And, due to an already-overstuffed vehicle, I, um, decided to leave all my running gear at home and skip my runs this week. Uh....perhaps a mistake. Excuse me. I've got to go drown out yesterday's driving-related memories with some eggnog.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holly Jolly Christmas

Nothing says "Christmas" like a multi-family Christmas-party-turned-impromptu-pizza-dinner during a good old-fashioned blizzard (how we spent the day yesterday), a super-sweet holiday message from one's spouse (and partner in this stressful, tiring, but joyous journey called parenting), and my four-year-old having the following thoughtful conversation with her baby sister this morning in the bathroom:

Julia: Genevieve, do you want ME to help you brush your teeth?
Genevieve: O-hay.
Julia: I'll help you brush your teeth. Should I help you wash your face too?
Genevieve: Yeth!
Julia: Mama is busy. I'll do your teeth and your face and I'll EVEN brush your hair! I want Mama to have a BREAK!
Genevieve: O-hay!

(And they actually did it, too.)

Merry Christmas, everyone. We have company visiting tomorrow and then we leave early Tuesday for a six-hour, 300-mile road trip to northern Minnesota for the holidays (Lord help us, our children do not sleep in the car). Up north, we'll be sledding, building snowmen, opening presents, and listening to little-girl voices sing "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" at a little country church amidst the snowy plains, with candles and wreaths and joy to the world. I hope you'll be doing much the same. See you soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Art

I've been thinking a lot about art lately. Julia is in the midst of a fascinating phase: she's obsessed with drawing, and she's AMAZING at it. (I'm trying to be objective; it still seems she's amazing.) She draws--always with markers, always on white paper--all day long, piles and piles of drawings. Her pictures are vividly colorful and incredibly detailed: the people are not merely stick figures but full fashioned children and adults with intricately patterned clothes, shoes with laces, hairstyles decorated with ponytail elastics and barrettes. She draws things like "a girl at the doctor getting a check-up," and the scene includes a ceiling light fixture, jars of throat depressors, and syringes for shots. She draws "me at my birthday party," and draws a bird's eye view, adds presents with bows, party hats, a table set with plates and cake and silverware oriented in the proper direction to the viewer's perspective. I'm in awe every day.

And yet, it leads to conflict at times, because she's so zealous about it. She doesn't want to stop, ever. She tries things over and over and over, and gets frustrated that after twenty attempts, she "can't get Mary's arms right to look like she's holding a baby!" Sometimes it leads to meltdowns. Julia's not big on taking a break to come back to it later, nor keen on the idea that sometimes art can be imperfect. She has an image in her mind of how she wants her drawing to look, and woe is her (and everyone around her) if it does not.

I've also been thinking about my own art, because after almost three years of frequent writing and at least a year of serious contemplation, I'm finally beginning to work on a book of essays about motherhood. I have a lot of existing material that I'd like to organize in some sort of coherent way (i.e. book form), but it's overwhelming. I am struggling with it, and yet it's important to me and I am determined to make headway, to make some art out of my daily life. I think about what Julia and I have in common about our art--how we struggle over how to produce it; how we're passionate about it, compelled; how you have to be energetic, determined, and brave to make something from scratch.

Then yesterday I discovered this amazing video (below) via Andrea over at Superhero Journal. I love it! I can't stop replaying it! As I see it, it's about following your own creative path, believing in yourself, and knowing that your voice--your art, whatever it may be--is important in the world. What a wonderful message, for children and adults alike. I'm going to show this to Julia. She won't understand the whole meaning now, but I hope she enjoys the enchanting visuals and the message of joy, perseverance, and the artfulness of life itself.



If you think about it, we're all artists, in some way. We all have something to offer the world. It may be a book or a drawing or a painting, or it may be a cake or a rhyme or a philosophy of life. It may be the way you dress in the morning, or the way you sing to your kids in the car. Maybe it's the cookies you baked for your neighbor or the way you read a story to a child. All of our art is important. And it doesn't have to be perfect.

(Now click above and watch the video. It's short, sweet, and very, very charming. Seriously, I'd be so thrilled if you'd come back here and tell me if you liked it as much as I do.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Welcome to the New Economy

I am currently wondering if six degrees is too cold to go for my usual outdoor run tonight. Am also watching the lovely, peaceful snow coming down light but fast, and envisioning either a.) a gorgeous winter-wonderland jog, or b.) slipping and falling on the black ice hiding beneath the powdery film of snow on all the streets and sidewalks, thereby giving myself a sprained ankle--or worse. Hmmm. Tough call.

In other news, Julia got shoved--hard and on purpose--by a rowdy (and mean) boy at preschool tumbling class this morning, and I just ventured out of my comfort zone to initiate a playdate for Thursday morning with a fellow preschool mom I've never socialized with before outside of the nursery school hallways. She has a sweetheart of a quiet little daughter, just like Julia, and it recently occurred to me that it has been many, many months since my daughters played regularly with anyone other than, um, each other. Too bad it's taken me A YEAR AND A HALF to call up this mom and invite her and her daughter over for coffee (us) and playtime (them). Sigh. Sometimes I get in my own way.

Finally, I was at a holiday party last night during which the conversation turned to such topics as: considering fourth babies (fourth! and I can barely handle two!); having grandparents who live within a five-mile radius of one's own family (and sometimes as close as next door) and how wonderful it is to have such child-rearing help; and the fact that some moms I know are taking on NIGHT JOBS as the only way to make ends meet while staying home full-time with their children. Meaning, their husbands work full-time at solid, middle-class jobs, they take care of their kids all day long, and then they WORK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT ALSO, just to pay the bills without also having to pay for daycare. Welcome to the new economy! Is it any wonder I left that party feeling just a little bit, um....less than cheerful?

But don't despair; I'm fine. The party was also full of laughter, delicious food, and friends, so that was good. And since Genevieve slept through the night last night (despite some major teething going on right now), I'm actually well-rested.

Which is a Christmas miracle if there ever was one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Addendum

I really didn't mean that last post to sound as terribly grouchy as it seemed. It's a lovely, sunny winter day, if you happen to like 27-below windchills. Genevieve and I brought Julia to nursery school and Daddy to work, then nixed any further errands for coming home to play with blocks and watch Sesame Street. The house still smells like fudge. I have a festive, sweets-heavy holiday party to attend (and co-host) this evening. I don't have to run tonight, which is a good thing, because: remember? 27-below windchill? I'm busy making a list of all the many things I'd like to buy for myself during the after-Christmas sales (more stylish handbag; smaller jeans; one dressy blouse; a sweater that could be described as "nice"; basic black heels; ice skates so I can teach Julia to skate this winter), even though I probably won't (no money. not kidding. well, maybe the skates.). We have toddler tumbling class tomorrow, which is loads of fun. And our house is awash with constant Christmas carols. (How cute was it that, yesterday afternoon at the Sunday-School Christmas program at the Lutheran church of our dear friends, when the congregation sang "Joy to the World" at the very end, Julia actually correctly sang along, even to the last verse with the words that are hard to remember? She really did. My favorite carol, by the way.)

Christmas is almost here! How are you surviving this final week of waiting? Are you hiding from the windchills, like I am? Are you wrapping modest gifts, and keeping one eye on the economy? Are you listening to "Joy to the World," and considering all the joy of the season? I hope so. Whatever else you're up to this week, drink some cocoa, eat some fudge, and hang those stockings.

Hard Monday

Naturally, as soon as I told the Internet that Genevieve doesn't wake up crying during the night very much anymore, she's up crying from three a.m. on.

Also, I now have a killer sore throat. What is this, the virus that will not die? I've been sick for three weeks now!

Lastly, the subzero windchills are so brutal here that the Weather Service has issued a "Windchill Advisory." That basically means: "Do not go outside if at all possible, even though of course you have a million errands to run and events to attend since it is already the week before Christmas."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'll Be Leaving Fudge for Santa

I feel like I've been remiss in my mama-blogging duties lately, not updating grandparents and any others out there keeping track about the fact that Genevieve has indeed finally started to talk in a significant way--sentences and everything, entire conversations, as well as singing along from the back seat of the car in her little baby hum to "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," her favorite Christmas tune. Sure, no one else may ever actually hear her, since she refuses to talk or smile in the presence of anyone other than our nuclear family, but trust me: she talks now. And she's not always as grumpy as she appears. Much of the time, yes; but not always.

And then there's her sleeping: after eight straight months of 30-60 minutes of screaming at just about every bedtime, she's gone to sleep with vastly reduced crying for several nights recently. Being good for Santa? I don't know, but it's surely an improvement.

And what of her constant overnight waking? Well, she's back on acid reflux medication after more than a year without, and whether that's helping calm some unknown stomach pains or whether she's simply turned a toddler corner, Genevieve is almost sleeping through the night again. She cries out occasionally, and sometimes needs help retrieving her covers or being assured that her teddy bear is nearby, but she's actually sleeping for most of the night again, after 3-1/2 months of severely disrupted sleep. I think I speak for us all when I say THANK GOD BECAUSE WE WERE ABOUT TO LOSE THE LAST VESTIGES OF OUR MINDS. If you recall, all that baby-crying actually raised my famously low blood pressure (and I'm not speaking figuratively), so it's a good thing things are getting better before I suffered a heart attack.

On another note, thanks to my parents' generosity, both girls are taking toddler tumbling this winter. Our classes began last Tuesday, and during the brief respite in our cold symptoms, we trundled off to the gym at mid-morning. Julia, for the first time, is in the "preschool" (four-year-old) class, which means she and a handful of other children go off with a teacher for directed tumbling, while Genevieve and I rock the "Tiny Tumblers" class for babies/toddlers and parents, which amounts to unstructured free play among the gymnastics mats, tunnels, tramps, and balls. (Julia's been in this class in the past.) We had great fun last week and are looking forward to class again this Tuesday before a two-week Christmas break.

And lastly, what I learned today is that I should have made only HALF A RECIPE of homemade fudge for the party I'm group-hosting tomorrow night for my volunteer job. Just for the record: a full recipe of fudge means you will have enough for your entire Christmas-tree-shaped party platter, to supplement your tins of sweets for friends, colleagues, and neighbors, and you will STILL be drowning in it afterward. Uh, no one needs this much fudge. No one.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chocolate Crinkles

OK, so my conference yesterday wasn't as unpleasant as I'd anticipated. In fact, the presenter was very knowledgeable and entertaining, which believe me is not always the case. I enjoyed the conference for the most part, although I don't enjoy the fact of having to go to all these conferences. Anyway, I don't know if it's because I got up at 5:20 yesterday morning and so am more sleep-deprived than usual, but when I got up today my cold/sinus symptoms, which had been on the wane, had returned. Also, both girls are sicker again after a day or two of improvement. I'm even keeping Julia home from preschool today for the second time in a week. She's pale as a ghost and has spent her time since breakfast mainly lying on the floor.

So let's move on to happier topics of Christmasy good cheer. Also chocolate. I know I've been neglecting What-to-Do Wednesdays lately, but this week the girls and I did some great holiday baking together (on the one day we all felt better) and I thought I'd pass along the idea. What-to-Do Friday, if you will.

Have you ever made Chocolate Crinkles? You know, that yummy chocolatey, almost cake-like cookie with the powdered sugar on top? They're delicious and fudgy, very pretty, and best of all, Chocolate Crinkles are a great holiday cookie to make with small children. Here's why. Once the dough is mixed and chilled for a couple of hours to firm up, you form it into little 1-inch balls and then roll each ball in powdered sugar. (Put the sugar on a big, rimmed plate to minimize mess.) Do you know how excited toddlers and preschoolers get about being in charge of the rolling in sugar part? It's the perfect job for them. Tell them they're rolling the cookie dough in snow to make snowballs, and they'll be thrilled to help. (Note: kids will have great fun helping to mix up the dough, too, but since it then has to chill for two hours before forming and baking the cookies, younger children might have a hard time being patient. I mixed up our dough during naptime, chilled it then, and we did the rest after nap. I formed each dough ball and handed it over for my girls to do the "rolling in snow" part. They loved it.)

In my print version of this recipe (from Family Fun magazine, December 2007/January 2008 issue), it says to let the cookies cool on their sheets for five minutes after baking, and then dust them with an extra coat of powdered sugar before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely, but I notice that the online recipe makes no mention of this step. Still, it makes the cookies extra pretty--just like they really are dusted with snow. Also: my recipe says to bake for 10 minutes, not 12, and I shortened that to about 8 since I made my cookies very small (came out with 5 dozen). Watch carefully, and adjust as needed.

You really can't go wrong with this classic Christmas cookie recipe; it's easy and very, very delicious if you like chocolate. And best of all, you and your little elves can have a fun afternoon doing some holiday baking together. Let me know if you try it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gotta Start Working Off Some of This Eggnog

Tonight when Christopher gets home from work, I'm going running for the first time in a week and a half. The last time I went running--before I got sick--there was a mere dusting of snow here and there, and the weather was generally somewhere around 30 degrees. Right now there are at least four inches of snow on the ground outside and the windchill is 11 degrees. Also, it is now pitch dark at 5 p.m. And did I mention: no running in TEN DAYS?

I'm feeling a little afraid. Also cold.

In other news, tomorrow morning I have to get up ridiculously early in order to leave my house to drive to an all-day conference some 45 minutes away--a conference that begins at the altogether unreasonable hour of SEVEN-THIRTY A.M.--for the sole purpose of earning six continuing education credits for the clinical psychology license that is the current bane of my existence (because it costs a FORTUNE, is nearly impossible to maintain when not working, yet would be nearly impossible to re-obtain later on if I let it lapse while I'm a stay-at-home mom, for reasons unique to my field and the inexplicably punitive nature of my state's psychology licensing board).

I cannot tell you how aversive it is to me to pay ungodly sums of money to attend a kajillion professional conferences each year, each one of which requires my husband to take a vacation day in order to stay home with our girls, most of which are extremely boring, and all of which take place out of town and so require me to take our only car for the day and spend around two hours on driving time alone. Yes, I guess an all-day professional conference is a "break" from the kids and all that. But honestly: sitting in an over- or under-heated hotel conference room with a bunch of strangers listening to 6-8 hours of often-uninteresting professional presentations without even getting a catered lunch out of the deal? Not my idea of a good time.

Do you think I need an attitude adjustment?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's the Most

Genevieve, who has always been, um, emphatic in her opinions (ahem), is obsessed with Andy Williams singing "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." It's on a mix CD of Christmas classics that we've been playing frequently in our house, and for some reason she's crazy for it. She asks for it by name by pointing at the CD player and yelling, "Most! MOST!" She gets furious if you don't put it on "repeat" in the car. Frosty the Snowman? Jingle Bells? Forget it. It's all about the "Most." This really cracks me up, especially because the song, with its blasting horns and cymbals, is, as Christopher says, "so over-the-top!" (About Andy Williams' enthusiastic, high-point ending, Christopher comments with a touch of bafflement, "he's practically yelling!")

Anyway, here it is for your listening enjoyment. Do like Genevieve, and when it ends, growl, "Most!" and then play it again. If you want to be like Julia, you then ask (every single time), "Why does Daddy say, 'that man is practically yelling!'?"

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Oh, Wait--There Is That One Goal About Getting More Sleep

holding two-month-old Genevieve, October 2006

The other day, through my sick haze, I was talking on the phone with a fellow stay-at-home-mom friend about everyone having third babies. She was saying that she'd accidentally stumbled upon some home movies of her babies when they were actually babies, and even though she doesn't truly want another baby now--she's done, she knows it, it's the right decision--she found herself in tears, watching the footage with the chubby infants and the diapered bottoms and the drool, with that awful latent pang rising up--you know the feeling, don't you? when you realize you're never again going to hold a compact velvety newborn cozily over your shoulder like a bag of brown rice? Sigh.

I know how she feels. I don't want a third baby either, not really, but every time I hear about another preschool mom expecting baby #3, it stops me in my tracks for a moment as I mentally cock my head and consider. (The considering part generally goes something like this: Oh, sweet. Hmmm. Another? Awww......sweet. But. Good Lord. The C-section! The nonstop nursing! The further decline into ever-lower economic status! Uh....I think I'll pass.)

My friend and I compared notes on the pros and cons of more babies: pro: so exciting! so much attention! the thrilling expectancy!; con: months of excruciating sleep deprivation.

(At this point I tuned out for a moment, distracted by the realization that my months of excruciating sleep deprivation continue, despite two years having passed since the birth of my last child. WHY, GOD, WHY????)

And then our conversation went something like this:

Friend: When I start to question my decision to not have any more babies, I remind myself that I've always had various goals I want to accomplish when my kids get a little older, and that those goals are waiting for me.

Me: See, I don't have any goals.

(Friend laughs, doesn't think I'm serious.)

(I think immediately of this Friday Playdate post by Susan Wagner.)

(We hang up and resume tending to various snack-preparing, potty-training, arts-and-crafts-supervising, and nose-wiping duties.)

(Fade to black.)

Three Down

Both girls are now sick as well, and no one slept last night for all the coughing, sneezing, sniffling, crying, and moaning. We're a miserable bunch. (An aside: why is it that nothing whatsoever stops child-coughing? We've tried a bunch of baby/child cough medicines--and yes, I know that you're not even really supposed to give cough/cold medicines to young children anymore, blah blah blah--and none of them do a damn thing. And that recent study saying that a spoonful of honey worked just as well as medicine to stop children from coughing? Um, no. Not in our house. Unless "works to stop coughing" means "has no discernible effect other than getting your child all excited about being fed a spoonful of something very sweet.")

More later this week when, God willing, we all recover from this hell in time to a.) begin toddler/preschool tumbling class (it's not looking good, but it would pain me greatly to miss it, especially since this is the first week of the session and both girls are signed up), b.) not miss too much preschool, and c.) resume running before my muscles stage a revolt and turn into a pile of mush.

I've got presents to wrap, people!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I Have an Ugly History of Getting Really Sick Around Christmastime

All that stuff I had planned for this weekend? Yeah, um...I don't think so. Pass the Kleenex, Advil, and hot tea.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Surely Eggnog is Medicinal in Some Way

I have now spent the whole week, save for a stint visiting Julia's nursery school (I know! Visiting school when sick! So not good!), in yoga pants and questionable t-shirts, tending to my congestion and downing an awful lot of Advil. I know you're supposed to lose your appetite when you're sick, but except for the first day, I've applied myself pretty studiously to the task of maintaining my normal high-snacks diet, and since I'm way too sick to exercise in any way and so have skipped all my runs this week, I believe I'm actually gaining weight while ill---surely a first in the history of the world. Go me.

On tap this weekend: Christmas tree assembling and decorating, grocery shopping and holiday baking, an Advent program at a local church, and a Christmas tea for women neighbors on my street. My plan is to skip a few more runs, ingest a little more eggnog, gain a couple more pounds, and recover from this cold by Monday.

The holiday season awaits! Who has time to be sick?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

SICK. Getting Worse, Not Better.

Everyone knows I love being a mom and love my daughters more than life itself. That said, this:

Worst thing about being a parent: not being able to stay in bed and rest when you're sick. I am convinced that the lack of sick days available at this job makes the illnesses last twice as long and the symptoms become twice as severe.

Miserable!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Possibly Boring Narcissistic Post About Housecleaning (You've Been Warned)

Because of this post, it seems that there's some interest lately in my own particular housekeeping habits. Strangely, before this discussion came up, I'd been musing for awhile on this topic--sort of--as one worth writing about. Specifically, I'd been thinking about how, gradually and over time, I have embraced a fairly set-in-stone schedule in many aspects of my housewife life. My theory is that this has been an almost unconscious evolution toward making my life as a stay-at-home mom more structured, like the previous grad-school-and-ambitious-career life I was so familiar with and good at for so long. All those years of Ph.D. courses and dissertation-writing and licensure exams and clinic work required discipline, structure, and, yes--a schedule. You can take the mama out of the goal-driven career life, but you can't take the goal-driven life out of the mama? Or something like that?

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about what works for me in terms of maintaining our home--not because I think it's necessarily better than the way anyone else manages theirs, or that I believe my way is the right way for you, but because, well--it seems like some people are interested. And also because my main housekeeping strategy was an idea taken from someone else, for which I am grateful. Who knows--maybe it will work for you, too. And yes, I realize that in that Sunday-morning post I was COMPLAINING about my housekeeping workload; but honestly, the way I do things around the house really does work for me, better than anything else. I'm not saying it makes me love housecleaning, but it generally keeps the house neat and my family sane.

A quick note, first: in our house, pretty much all the cooking and cleaning falls under my responsibility. This is a joint arrangement between Christopher and me, and though I don't enjoy cleaning, I do think this arrangement is fair and right (for us). I know that some stay-at-home moms do not see keeping house as part of their full-time jobs, but instead focus on parenting duties and share the housework with their partners after-hours. However, in my family, we agree that keeping house is part of my job as a SAHM. Christopher does the dinner dishes, unloads the dishwasher (usually) in the morning, and folds the laundry, but I do everything else--and there's a lot of "everything else." This works for us.

My basic strategy is simple and old-fashioned. What it boils down to is this: I dislike cleaning so much that it is far more distasteful to me to have to spend a whole day or weekend cleaning an entire messy house than it is to do a little cleaning every day, according to a set schedule. Awhile back I was reading the book Woman First, Family Always by Kathryn Sansone (I won't get into the merits and flaws of this book here), and was struck by the author's suggestion to make a written weekly list of all household chores and then check them off as they are accomplished over the week. Simple, right? But until then, my housekeeping approach had been fairly thorough but haphazard; there was little rhyme or reason to what I'd do when, and I couldn't guarantee that certain chores would actually get accomplished every week. Kathryn's idea seemed like an easy way to take the thinking and procrastination out of household work and instead make it focused, quick, and reliably done.

So now I do have a list--it's on a white-board on the fridge door--and every weekday I have a set group of chores I accomplish that day: on Mondays I clean the kitchen, shake the rugs, and sweep/Swiff all the hard floors, for example, and on Tuesdays I dust all the rooms. Fridays I vacuum everything, empty the trashes, and switch out all the dirty towels for fresh. You get the idea. In a normal week, I try to leave weekend days free of all chores except laundry and cooking (neither of which are included on my list, since they are ongoing tasks performed as needed), and I clean the catbox every day. But everything else has its own day, and I rarely deviate from the schedule. While, on the surface, this may seem crazily compulsive or fanatical, in actuality I experience it as exactly the opposite: it reduces an overwhelming job (keeping the entire house clean) to daily, short tasks that together add up to regular weekly cleaning. And I bet many of our mothers--or grandmothers--counted that as perfectly natural. I should note, however, that there are glaring omissions from my list, such as wet-mopping, which gets done whenever (and rarely), and that changing the sheets does not happen every single week. Oh well. See, I'm not a perfect housekeeper, am I?

I love my little schedule; I love knowing at the end of each week that my house actually got cleaned (mostly) top to bottom. That doesn't mean I enjoy cleaning, but it's part of my job right now, and every job has its unpleasant duties. My schedule at least makes cleaning house straightforward.

Now: how do YOU do it? Do you clean on a schedule, or not? Do you clean at all? Do you share cleaning duties with your household partner, if you have one? Do you hire out? Are you an at-home mom, and does that inform how you keep your house? I'm curious. Fill me in!

They're So Cute When They're Watching TV

I seem to spend a lot of time lately gazing at my girls--toddler topknot ponytails standing straight up in the air, matching t-shirts--and wishing fervently that I could freeze time and somehow preserve their little chubby baby-cheeks and the tender napes of their necks into eternity, while also wincing with the awful knowledge that there's no way to do that, that they'll grow into big kids and teenagers and one day they won't sit side by side with wide eyes and plump lips and they won't let me cuddle them and maybe they won't even want to be with me.

However, it's probably not right that the only times I think these thoughts are when they're sitting silent and motionless in front of PBS Kids. Huh.

Life Goals (or Not)

I seem to have come down with a nasty cold of some sort within the last 16 hours. I feel terrible, and am harboring fears of my cold turning into a sinus infection like the one that laid me low last spring. I'm popping ibuprofen and sending Christopher out for Mucinex and diet 7Up (I can't stand the taste of water when I'm sick). Actually, almost every family I know seems to have been felled by a virus or two this week, so I'm not alone. I dread the girls catching it, though I'm sure it's inevitable.

Luckily, even as I type this in a cloud of germs and misery, Julia and Genevieve are sitting on the floor of the living room, doing a puzzle together and then singing "the clean-up song" as they put the pieces back in the box, as if they needed no actual parenting at all. We can only hope this trend continues for the rest of the day.

And here I'll leave you with a little snippet of conversation I had with Julia yesterday in the car:

Julia: Mama, I guess I'm not going to be a writer or a teacher OR an artist when I'm big. I'm just going to be a woman.
Me: Well, you'll probably have to have a job, too.
Julia: No. I'm just going to be a woman.

OK then. Overachievement is overrated, anyway.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Obsessed with "Our Nest"

courtesy Barnes & Noble

Not long ago, Christopher took the girls to the library and came home with the beautiful children's book Our Nest, by Reeve Lindbergh (Charles Lindbergh's daughter!) and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. None of us had ever seen it before, but it was so striking--so peaceful and comforting and sweet--that I fell in love with it from first read and couldn't get enough.

I won't write a full review here--there are plenty of those around; click here for one--but just know that, if you have small children, you will not be disappointed by this book. The lilting, rhyming text is like a lullaby or bedtime prayer, describing the way the whole world--the universe, even--is enfolded in concentric "nests" of comfort and love (a child in his nighttime bed, a doe and fawn in the grass, the fish in the nest of the sea, the stars nested in space), and the folk-art-ish illustrations are charming and comforting, depicting a sweet storybook world of calm order, with events unfolding just as they should each day and night. My favorite part is the ending, when the book returns to the depiction of a mother tucking her child into bed for the night, and the text says, "We're here in the nest of creation/With the earth and the stars up above/And you're here, safe and warm/In the nest of my arms/When I wrap them around you with love."

Who could resist? Even a grown-up could be comforted by a sweet poem such as that. Oh my. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

Go buy your family an early Christmas present with a copy of this book! I did.