Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Stuck in My Jacket

It was a cute jacket while it lasted

This morning just as we were getting set to head out the door to nursery school, Genevieve zipped up her cute flowered parka--heretofore in great condition despite being worn for two winters by Julia and for 1-1/2 by Genevieve--only to have the zipper pull break off, SHATTER into several pieces, and leave Genevieve zipped to the chin in a jacket that now I had no way of removing.

The zipper would not budge without the pull--and believe me, I tried. The neck-hole was zipped up too small to get the jacket off over her head--though believe me again, I really tried, despite the fact that it induced ear-deafening screams from panicky Genevieve. The clock was ticking, Genevieve was wailing, "Oh NOOOOOO! I STUCK IN MY JACKET! I STUCK IN MY JACKET!", and the windchill outside was 19 below zero.

I had no other choice*. I took a scissors and cut Genevieve out of her only winter jacket. Yikes!

Thank God for emergency extra hand-me-downs stashed in the guest-room closet, including a size-unknown, too-large-but-it-will-do, quilted parka from an older cousin, which I had set aside for Julia but which is now Genevieve's jacket for the rest of winter 2010.

*[Edited to add: see the comments for a better explanation of why there was honestly nothing to be done about this zipper.]

Thursday Do-Little Dinner: Slow-Cooker Chicken & Yams in Tomato Sauce

OK, so what is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? I thought I was buying yams the other day, since they were on sale for less than the sweet potatoes, but I may have in fact purchased sweet potatoes. I don't know. Either way, this recipe--which I made up on the fly yesterday, throwing random ingredients into my slow cooker and hoping for the best--is delicious, warm, savory, and tasty on a cold winter day. The windchill is 16 below where I live, and if it's anywhere near that cold where you are, I advise making this for dinner tonight. It makes the house smell good, it's hearty, and the preparation is so simple it will free you up to sit in front of the fireplace with your kids and sip hot chocolate all day.

Chicken & Yams in Tomato Sauce
4-6 servings

1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs
about 1-1/2 cups jarred meatless pasta sauce, preferably a garden-vegetable variety (I used half a bottle of Ragu; the amount is approximate so just use what you have)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes with garlic and onions
approximately 1 cup water
2 good-sized yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup frozen green peas
salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken in bottom of slow cooker. Top with pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, water, and yams/sweet potatoes. Shake in some salt and pepper. Cook on low for 6 hours or so, until chicken is opaque, potatoes are soft, and everything looks bubbly and slightly thickened. Add peas for last half-hour of cooking time. When done, shred up the chicken a little bit in the pot with two forks or the side of a large spoon, mashing things up a bit to thicken the mixture.

Serve over cooked brown rice, couscous, or bulgur; wrap up in tortillas; or eat from a bowl as a thick and chunky stew.

Enjoy! And stay warm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Could Write a TV Show About Parenting. Really, I Could.

Way back in 1989, long, long before I knew or cared a bit about such things as how to discipline a whiny five-year-old, the potential minefield of preschool snack, or being the mom in pajamas at the school bus stop, Ron Howard made a sweet, poignant, funny movie called "Parenthood." It was so sweet and poignant and funny that I loved it, and remembered it long after, even though I was only eighteen at the time it was released. Wait, did I say eighteen? I meant four. Anyway!

In March, NBC is debuting a new series based on the movie "Parenthood" and starring (among many others) my favorite fast-talking TV mom, Lauren Graham of "Gilmore Girls" fame. I have a feeling my friends and I are going to like it. I mean, the trailer clip where the mom quips, "Good parenting!" in response to her husband's promise of ice cream to convince their child to brave his T-ball game ("double scoop! triple scoop!")? Who can't relate to desperate bribery-related parenting tactics? We've all been there, and if we haven't yet, we will--soon.

I hope this series is as sweet, funny, and poignant as it looks. And as parenting in real life actually is. I hope they include at least one episode about sleeping on the floor in the hall outside the nursery.

Monday, January 25, 2010

This is My New Motto

Do you like it?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hermit

For atypical reasons relating to Christopher attending visitors' days at both our daughters' schools last week (freeing me from school runs on two consecutive days), I did not leave my house (other than to meet the kindergarten bus and to go running) from Tuesday to, um....I haven't yet.

I recently began making Christopher take the girls to toddler tumbling on Friday nights, as opposed to trading off weeks like we did in the fall, because, well...by Friday night I have less than an ounce of kid-activity energy left, which is not enough to go to toddler tumbling. It's just not. I've been using my preschool mornings to work on book proposal research at home rather than run errands, and for a couple of days last week I did not have access to a car, since Christopher needed to drive because of the non-bike-friendly ice and the daytime school events.

In other words, I'm on my fifth straight day of old and faded loungewear. Which may be why I finally cashed in two Gap Visa reward cards yesterday and ordered some new yoga pants and camis from Old Navy--nothing fancy, just some basics to replace the well-worn comfort-wear I usually wear in these situations. Because if you're going to be a sloppy stay-at-home mom--and some weeks, of course you are! It's one of the perks of the job!--you may as well have some stay-at-home clothes that flatter your rear end. Am I right?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Popularity Contest

Overheard the other morning:

Julia: Daddy, I CAN'T TELL YOU how much I love Mama--I mean, Elmo."

Sigh.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Crib Chronicles

last summer, when we FIRST tried giving up the crib

So last night Genevieve agreed (again) to try sleeping with her crib converted into a toddler bed. Well, so to speak: she let Christopher take the front rail off the crib, but for some reason she refuses to give up the back rail, which is against the wall. Of course this makes no sense (the wall already serves as a barrier), but whatever. Overnight she woke up calling for us five times because her quilt had fallen off her bed onto the floor and she was cold.

Needless to say, the crib rail is back on (at least until summer when piles of covers aren't as necessary). I am certainly not going to be awakened half a dozen times per night in the pursuit of giving up the crib. Are you kidding me? Nothing is that important! Am I right, fellow mamas?!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Also Made a Resolution for Genevieve, Regarding the *&!@#! Blanket

So I've been writing these little health/wellness columns for my local newspaper now and then. Three times a year they've having me contribute to their "Mind/Body" special section, and last week I wrote about successful New Year's resolutions. The column is not available online, nor did the editorial staff remember to give me the title of "Health & Wellness Columnist" under my byline as promised, because the newspaper seems to be a bit of a...small-town operation, shall we say...but, whatever. The column was focused on the mental and behavioral strategies necessary for behavior change, something we clinical health psychologists know a lot about. On my end of things, I'm putting those strategies in place to conquer writing goals, stop skipping workouts, and reduce my junk-food consumption (and keep in mind, my "reduced" may be your "way too much," but, just as I advised my town's newspaper readers, I'm starting with baby steps. Such as "do not eat Cheetos two times in one day").

Speaking of Cheetos, though! I got off my workout schedule last week, and in order to salvage my routine, I crammed three five-mile runs into Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Fifteen miles in three days! And what I ultimately learned about 15 miles in three days can be summed up as, Good: You can eat the Cheetos. Bad: Ouch.

And speaking of resolutions, Julia's New Year's resolution this year is to cry about things a little less often. Oh, wait! Sorry, heh heh--that would be the resolution I MADE ON HER BEHALF.

You know, it's hard to find the perfect balance between empathy and discipline. Though a total sweetheart and a serious rule-follower, Julia is--has always been--hyper-sensitive, low-tolerance when it comes to change, physical activity, and bodily sensations, and high-maintenance in general. She's the child who can be undone by a twisted sock seam or a damp spot on her t-shirt. She will ruin an entire sledding outing--for everyone--because she got one speck of snow down her boot. And, I'm sorry to say, I don't respond well to that. I'm all, Suck it up, girl! You're five! And she's all, But it's booooothering meeeeee! And in calmer moments I realize that sometimes she may do better if my response was more along the lines of, Boy oh boy, it sure is a bummer to get snow down your boot, isn't it? I understand how that feels. But then there are the times I just know that any sane adult would look at her and go, Are you kidding me with this? Because aren't you five?

It's tough. It's tough to know the right thing to do in any given frustrating parenting moment, and it's even tougher to actually do it.

So--balance, huh? It's the key issue in just about everything. Empathy and discipline, the appropriate amount of Cheetos, 15 miles in three days. It's probably even the main ingredient in successfully keeping all those New Year's resolutions--knowing that you can slip up a little now and then, if you get back on your feet immediately and continue doing your level best. I don't think my five-year-old is buying it, though.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Someone Else Wrote My Book

I've wanted to write a nonfiction book about modern motherhood for a long time--three years at least. However, when I first started thinking about it seriously, there were already tons of mothering books on the shelves of local bookstores, and everywhere I looked into the idea, I heard that motherhood writing was all played out. I even read an article--I think it was at Literary Mama?--about how impossible it is these days to get new books about motherhood published. No publishers are interested in such things anymore. Writers on motherhood are rejected all the time. They are told there is no market for another motherhood book.

So I let the years go by--years in which, of course, I was also too busy mothering, birthing, nursing, and suffering intense sleep deprivation to write a book anyway. But even when I thought about it, I told myself what I'd already heard/read: That it would never happen anyway, because no one wants to publish or read another book about any aspect of motherhood.

And then, in the three years since, I've watched plenty of new books about mothering get published. Which kind of makes me frustrated, because I feel like each one of those books should have been me. And yet, because I've let years go by in which I haven't written the book but other women have, now there's even more competition out there on bookstore shelves! And even more fodder for publishing people to say, The market is glutted. We don't need any more motherhood books.

I still want--in theory--to write my motherhood book. I want to combine stay-at-home mom tips/tricks, discussion, and anecdotes with a more self-help, emotional-health spin, stemming from my expertise as a clinical psychologist. (That last part is my unique hook--none of these other books are written by doctoral-level mental-health professionals with specialization in women's health and wellness.) But, even writing the proposal for such a thing is a daunting prospect, and would likely take me months, given my limited time to devote to it (90 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and even that will end in mid-May). I can't decide if it's worth it to try--if only to knock something off my Life Goals list--or if I'd be better off using those three hours a week to sip cappuccinos at the local coffee place, paint the girls' bedroom, or catch up on my sleep. You know?

So. I'm conflicted. I can't help feeling that I missed my chance, three (or more) years ago. I wonder if I even have enough to say. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole endeavor anymore.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Buzz

In the past four weeks, the following things in our house have broken: the furnace, the dining-room vertical blinds, a kitchen drawer, and the kitchen faucet. Apparently the current shelf life for a house these days is nine years. Then everything starts to fall apart.

Lest you think everything here is doom and gloom, my fellow mama-writer Sheri over at CafeMom just wrote a little blurb about What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, the anthology I was published in last fall, and even singled out my essay among a handful of mom-focused essays. Thanks, Sheri!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Am Warning You, 2010: You'd Better Improve, FAST.

People. My furnace went out again yesterday. Yes, even though it just went out (and was "fixed") in mid-December, and even though after that happened we paid a hefty sum of money for a full furnace check-up/tune-up/inspection and were told everything was A-OK. Nice. Oh! Did I mention? We paid another hefty sum of money last night to have a furnace repair guy come out after-hours to attend to the broken furnace, and this morning it is clearly not working correctly anyway. MY TOES ARE COLD, PEOPLE. ALSO THE REST OF MY BODY.

Have I mentioned the blanket, and the crying, and the tantrums, and the nonstop fussing and yelling and screaming?

Excuse me for a moment while I scream, punch a few pillows, and fantasize about escaping my current existence for a vacation in a warm place where life is carefree and no one is crying about the blanket. Or, at the very least, for some sort of legal but effective artificial substance that would somehow eradicate stress and propel me into Magical Happy Land. Oh, it would also have to be free, because I am now broke from paying the heating company all my money FOR NOTHING. And please, no doctor visits in order to obtain a prescription. Those cost money, remember?

Send all suggestions my way.

Monday, January 11, 2010

But Can You Do It When You're 38, I Want to Ask Her

Still nothing to say. Friends! I am so sorry. It's just that I know that no one cares about the sordid details of Genevieve's multiple-daily tantrums and meltdowns. That no one cares about her nightly fits about tucking in her blanket. Good Lord, the blanket. Kill me now over this blanket. Seriously. No, seriously. NO: SERIOUSLY.

And I am sure no one cares about the ice-skating tears. Oh, the tears! About the ice. And the skating. This would be Julia, of course, my fearful, low-tolerance, high-maintenance, overly sensitive, older daughter. The skates, and the slippery ice, and the falling down, and the tears! Also the tears over the resuming of the tumbling class after two weeks of Christmas vacation! More tears. About the tumbling. And the new newness of the class. So many tears.

So, I have one child throwing constant tantrums and the other having nonstop panic attacks. People! Are you glad you don't live with me?

Of course, it's not all drear and wailing. Julia knows how to read now, for one thing, for the most part. She also cares for a baby doll with an obsessiveness that appears eerily similar to real new-mom behavior, which is rather cute. As for Genevieve, she does tend to be hilarious when she's not having fits, so if you're lucky and are around her at key moments, such as when she's performing a made-up song in the car that goes, "And you can do it when you're one/And you can do it when you're two/And you can do it when you're three/And you can do it when you're four...", you will be highly entertained (though when we made the mistake of asking her what "it" was, she immediately scowled, gave us the stink-eye, and yelled at the top of her lungs, "I DON'T KNOW! DON'T ASK ME THAT!", a reaction that seemed extremely out of proportion to the situation).

So, you know. It's January. There's a lot of crying, screaming, and blanket-related pathology. Pretty much the same-old same-old. And you?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

You know your Friday is off to a bad start when the snowplows interrupt your sleep long before the alarm goes off, and once you've gotten dressed you decide to change out of your jeans into yoga pants because your jeans are too tight from that extra five pounds you gained over the holidays (tacked onto the previous five or so pounds you gained because, uh, you're no longer nursing or carrying babies on your hip every waking hour).

Which is one way of noting that those four pounds I lost last weekend when I shocked my body with a Goodbye, holidays! cookie and eggnog moratorium have bounced right back like one of those old-fashioned toys involving a rubber ball, an elastic string, and a paddle--do you remember those?

Gah.

How is it even possible to survive winter in the far north, with its high temps of zero and its dangerously cold windchills, without spending one's evenings huddled in front of the fireplace drinking hot chocolate and eating carbs? Huh? Is it even possible? Aren't we programmed to crave--and ingest--lots of fattening carbohydrates during weather like this? Seriously, do you feel like a fresh cool salad and an invigorating five-mile run in the middle of January, when the sun glints off the snow and ice so sharply it feels a little like a weapon, and the wind really is one? Aren't you finding yourself, instead, eating half a bag of pretzels and chasing it with several handfuls of Hershey's kisses? I am.

Ugh--so depressing.

In other news, I have nothing to say. Nothing. There is nothing going on here other than weight gain and school runs. New episodes of "Glee" are over until April. Insomnia comes and goes. Christmas money is paying for groceries and staving off money-related panic attacks (for now). I'm reading a book about writing a book proposal, and noting that there are a discouraging number of "stay-at-home mom survival guides" in publication already. I'm cooking a lot of chilis and stews and big pots of soup. Accompanied by lovely, comforting carbs, of course. Genevieve still sleeps in a crib (but she's stopped crying at nursery school). Julia can read, write like a 2nd-grader, and draw pictures better than some adults I know. Her thyroid tests have been mixed and inconclusive, and require further testing in several weeks.

What's new with you? Anyone?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I Could Use a Lemon Square Right Now, Actually.

Fave writer Catherine Newman writes hilariously--and perfectly--about New Year's resolutions within the context of her latest cooking column about lemon squares, over at Family.com. The part about Michael resolving to not worry about too-short pieces of dental floss? OMG so funny. That part about "also not a resolution"? I can just picture the exasperated exhalation of breath, the furrowed brow.

But, you know, aside from the yummy lemon squares recipe--which, by the way, is pretty much exactly the same as mine, and which are called lemon BARS where I'm from--I also love the goals Catherine lists as continually challenging: greater patience, not comparing one's self to others, gratitude, being satisfied with less. All things I struggle with daily.

Well, anyway. While I'm sitting here grimly resolving to run even when it's .6 degree above zero outside, to stop using sugar as my personal savior, to snap at my daughters less, to be grateful for what I have (even if it does not involve yearly vacations, a second vehicle, or the ability to grocery-shop without worrying about also paying the car insurance premium this month), to be satisfied with less, click here to read Catherine's column. It'll distract you from the frigid weather and the slushy boots and the bills and the dieting.

Uh....lemon squares, anyone? (Wait a minute: would lemon squares fall under the heading of using sugar as my personal savior?)

Monday, January 04, 2010

I Need to Earn Some Money, for One Thing.

My girls go back to kindergarten and nursery school, and Christopher goes back to work, this week. While it's been a lot of fun having time off, and spending it by combining a no-schedule laziness with tons of extra family-fun activities (sledding, skating, playdates, dinners with friends, playing in the snow), I agree with a friend of mine who noted this morning that getting back to a routine will be good for all of us. I mean, it didn't really seem that way at dark o'clock when I woke up the girls, nor when the bus stop awaited us at 7:50 a.m. with 25-below-zero windchills, but really, it will be good. I mean, even as I type this, I've already done laundry, dropped Christopher at the office, and cleaned the kitchen, and Genevieve is back to her pressing PBS Kids-viewing schedule, so all is well. In a few minutes we'll go run errands at the post office and the bank, and then come home to do some advance cooking for dinner tonight until Julia comes home on the bus at lunchtime. It's nice to know where everyone is and what they should be doing, even if the weather is so brutal it will be keeping us indoors all week, which is always a challenge with small children.

As for me, I nipped my holiday muffin-top in the bud, gave up (most) junk food and sweets on New Year's Day, re-started daily exercise to the "Glee" soundtrack on my iPod, and lost four pounds in three days. You may cry measurement error, but I'll take it. In other news, I've got high hopes for the new year. I turn 39 in 2010, and it seems time for my next ship to come in. The year I turned 29, I graduated from the University of Illinois with my Ph.D.; surely I can round out my thirties with something equally exciting (but hopefully less debt-accruing), don't you think? I am determined, this year, to write my book proposal or land a writing job or discover something worthwhile about myself. I'm sure there's something out there for me. I have more to say about this, but errands and cooking and toddler activities are calling.

How do you feel about 2010? Are you ready for a fresh start or a new adventure?