Thursday, March 31, 2011

If It's Spring Break, Shouldn't It Be Spring?

So, Spring Break. The time when I get nothing done, because I don't have any time free of the care of small children. Don't get me wrong; I loooove not having to go out to the bus stop at 7:55 a.m. And I love having my girls at home. But I AM GETTING NOTHING DONE.

Yesterday I literally spent all day doing things like reading chapters from Little House in the Big Woods aloud to my girls, washing clothes for our upcoming out-of-town weekend trip, baking muffins with my daughters (also for the weekend trip), taking Julia to a birthday party (where I had to stay and hang out for awhile--with Genevieve--because it was a pool party and Julia was nervous about it and didn't want me to go), taking Genevieve for a treat during the party to make up for the fact that Julia got to go to a birthday party and she didn't, picking Julia back up from the birthday party, refereeing many kid arguments, supervising many kid activities, and writing a column for BlogHer (squeal!) because I recently got another idea accepted for publication on their homepage. (I'll let you know when it's up on the site.)

All well and good, but here's what I DIDN'T get done:
  • Any of my freelance work for the week (yikes! sigh.)
  • Exercise of any kind (yikes. sigh.)
  • Cleaning the bathrooms
  • Any cleaning at all, for that matter
  • Returning phone calls
  • Cooking anything for dinner that didn't require frozen items and the microwave
You see what I mean.

However I did find the time to stress-eat chocolate and thus add to my winter collection (yes it is still winter here) of cold-weather- and poor-mood-induced pounds that I will then be faced with trying to lose this spring before the city pool re-opens. Yikes, sigh.

I can't help but think that if only it were about 10 or 15 degrees warmer around here and the snow would all melt, I'd magically become productive, energetic, relaxed, happy, and not crabby about having to clean the bathrooms.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Next Time I'll Ask For More Than 'Just a Tiny Bit.'

Tuesday night.

Me: Girls, since tomorrow is the first day of Spring Break that we don't have anything scheduled in the morning, could you please please please please try really hard to sleep in, just a tiny bit, PLEASE?????

Girls: OK Mama, we'll try.

Wednesday, 6:25 a.m.

Girls: Mama! Did we sleep in???

Me: Yes. Ten minutes. You slept in ten minutes. [yawn]

(I guess they took me literally.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Corn-Tortilla Casserole

Do you ever make (and eat) meatless meals? If not, you may think they sound a.) complicated, b.) unsatisfying, or c.) just plain yucky. I'm here to tell you that you're wrong, wrong, wrong.

About 23 years ago, I stopped eating meat. That went on pretty much 100% for 11 or 12 years, when I started eating fish and poultry on occasion, mainly for the convenience of, say, scoring a tunafish sandwich for lunch at the hospital where I was working at the time, during an era when meatless meal options were not commonly available. But for the most part, I've been mainly vegetarian for a very long time--and therefore, I'm a mainly vegetarian cook, and my family eats mostly vegetarian meals, too.

When you've been cooking and eating vegetarian food for over 20 years, you branch way beyond, say, a grilled-cheese sandwich, or even a tofu stir-fry. Which means you cook and eat all sorts of hearty, tasty, filling, savory, delicious foods....without meat. Here's one of them.

This dish could be termed a "Mexican lasagne." If, you know, it wasn't most likely totally culturally inappropriate. At any rate, it is soooooo good. It does not matter if you are vegetarian or not; you will not miss the meat if you try this for dinner. Plus, it's easy.

(Sorry, no photo. We ate it too fast.)

Corn-Tortilla Casserole
6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:
1 T. olive oil
2 large onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juices
1 4-oz. can diced green chiles, OR a few dashes of hot red pepper sauce, OR a teaspoon or 2 of chili powder (or nothing, if your kids won't tolerate any spice at all)
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
8 to 10 corn tortillas (those small yellow tortillas that come in the big stack at the grocery store), cut into 1-inch slices
1 cup "light" sour cream
1 to 2 cups (depending on your preference) shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Heat oil in a large skillet at medium-high heat, then add onion and garlic. Saute about 10 minutes, until onion is soft and golden brown. (Turn heat down to low if it starts to brown/burn before it becomes soft.) Add tomatoes, chiles (or pepper sauce or chili powder), and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.

Spread half the onion/bean/tomato sauce on the bottom of your casserole dish. Layer half the corn tortilla strips on top of the sauce. Spoon half the sour cream over the tortilla strips, spreading with the back of your spoon. Sprinkle with half the cheese.

Spread a second layer of sauce over the cheese, using up the rest of your sauce. Add a second layer of tortilla strips, but save out a handful. Then spread on the remainder of the sour cream. Sprinkle with most of the rest of the shredded cheese. On the very top, scatter a handful of leftover tortilla strips, and top with a bit of leftover shredded cheese--just to make it pretty on top, and to add a little crispy yumminess as a garnish.

Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, or until hot and bubbly and the tortilla strips and cheese on top are crispy. (Put under the broiler for a few seconds if need be.)

Note: you can assemble this casserole ahead of time and bake just before dinner. If you do so, either bring to room temperature before baking, or bake a little longer--say, 45 minutes. If the top of your casserole seems like it's browning too quickly for the inside to get fully hot, cover pan with foil until the last 10 minutes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Break, Ages 4 and 6

In the few years since our oldest daughters first started school--it was nursery school back then--a friend and I have taken our four collective girls on a day trip to a big museum up in the city (an hour away) during Spring Break. We have two four-year-olds and two six-year-olds and they're all blonde, so when we're out together like that people tend to think they're all sisters, or that some of them are twins, or that the wrong two are siblings. It's pretty cute.

When we started this tradition, the girls were all toddlers. Back then we still had strollers and diaper bags and everyone was still napping. My friend and I both remember those "field trips" as being fun but extremely exhausting. We'd get home five hours later, put our girls down for late naps, and collapse in our respective houses. I distinctly recall debriefing with cold Diet Coke and some chocolate. But it was easier in some ways, too, because at least we had somewhere to store the winter coats and picnic lunches while we toured the museum. (Yes, in Minnesota over Spring Break, you still need your winter coats.) Those stroller baskets really come in handy.

But overall I'm glad our girls are older, more capable, and no longer in need of diaper changes. Today we're going to the new Sea Life Aquarium. These museums cost an arm and a leg, of course, but since we only do this once per year we always feel like we can swing it. You know, like: We didn't go to Florida or Hawaii for Spring Break; we took our kids to a museum!

We always have loads of fun, and our girls all have these memories, this expectation of the tradition of our Spring Break day-trip adventures. And that's enough for me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Snippets

The other day Genevieve made me a picture. It's got hearts and various markered designs on it, but it's not the picture itself that really caught my eye; it's what she'd written on it:

To Mama
Rock Star

Seriously, is there anything you'd rather be called? Me neither.

*******

We just found out that Julia is one of only a few children in the entire first grade who has been picked to read aloud an original poem she wrote about her blankie at the all-school arts and literacy festival in two weeks. She gets to stand with a microphone in the gym in front of an audience of parents and families. This is part of the "Lovey Project" her grade did this winter, for the festival. All the children brought in their "loveys"--blankies and stuffed animals and whatnot--and had their pictures taken holding them. Then they wrote poems about them, and the photos and poems are going to be hung in the school commons like on the walls of an art gallery.

Julia's poem is about a blanket she sleeps with--not her very first lovey, which was a Pooh baby blanket now in tatters and packed away in the closet, but lovey #2, I guess you might call it. It begins, "Oh Blanket / You make me so happy..." and is so sweet it makes my teeth ache.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: The Absolute Best Apple Crisp

I usually make it in an 8 x 8-inch square pan, but a pie plate works well too.

I have the best apple crisp recipe ever. No, really, I do. Try it yourself and see what you think.

The Absolute Best Apple Crisp
6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:
4 or 5 medium to large apples, cored and sliced thinly (I don't peel; you can if you prefer)
1/3 cup softened butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (feel free to substitute whole-wheat)
1/2 cup whole rolled oats
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan or 9-inch pie plate.

Place apple slices in the bottom of your pan. (Use as many apples as you need to fill your pan almost to the top.) In a medium bowl, mix together all topping ingredients. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples.

Bake about 30 minutes, until topping is golden brown and apples are soft (test one with a fork or the tip of sharp knife). If the topping browns before the apples are soft, cover crisp with a sheet of foil and leave it in the often a bit longer; test again in 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What Else is There to Do on a Frigid Thursday?



Because apparently I am under the impression that the best way to lose weight is to bake fattening treats.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This One is for Kristi and Sheila

My first-grader and I are bonding over our mutual disgust for opossums as she reads about them in her new Ranger Rick magazine.

A long time ago I was startled by a dirty, greasy opossum standing by the bushes near our apartment building in the middle of Chicago, right there in the city, at six-thirty a.m. as I hustled to our car to head to my ridiculously hard residency/internship for my clinical psychology doctoral degree. The reason I was so startled was that I had no idea what kind of animal I was having an urban standoff with. And how often, as an adult, in your normal daily life, are you faced with an animal you cannot identify? I seriously had no idea.

I eyed the greasy opossum, the greasy opossum eyed me, and I crept sideways past it as calmly as I could, running through possibilities in my mind: mole? mutant raccoon? Good God, WHAT IN THE WORLD?

As soon as I got to the hospital, I threw my stuff down in the closet-sized cave that passed as an intern office and ran to find my fellow interns, bombarding them with my crazy tale of the sudden appearance of a mystery animal just off Cornelia and Pine Grove, right there by the sidewalk, the size of a large cat, but with a pointy, pokey nose and a long, pink, rat-like tail. And greasy, dirty, gray-white fur. And of course my native-Chicago, fellow-intern friend Sheila immediately pronounced, "Possum." All matter-of-fact and blase. And I was, like, "Possum?! What are we, in the Ozarks or something?! This a major urban landscape! We are in the third largest city in the country! Aren't opossums supposed to be hanging upside down by their tails in the woods somewhere?" And Sheila told me there were opossums all over the city, that they love to eat garbage but since they only come out at night, you rarely see them.

Of course I was horrified and haunted by images of encountering that greasy, dirty possum and its beady, piggy eyes and sharp little teeth and long, smooth tail in the bushes near my building under cover of darkness some evening as I came home from my internship, exhausted and caught off guard and expecting to see nothing more exotic than squirrels and the occasional escapee cat.

This is what my daughter reads aloud to me, now, 12 years later: "When an opossum is scared, it releases a stinky green fluid from its rear end that makes it smell dead."

I am so, SO glad I did not know that fact 12 years ago.

I Might Order a Pizza.* (*Arguably negative post alert. If negative posts bother you and make you angry and mean, recall that you can skip it.)

So I have been up for six hours and have gotten nothing done yet today. If by "nothing" you mean got myself ready for the day, fed the children breakfast, wrote some blog posts, got the children ready for school, brought my husband to work, brought my children to school, ran an errand, put in laundry, picked up the children's room, answered some e-mails, took some phone calls, and did some very tedious research on potential literary agents (there are no words for the tedium, the discouraging, discouraging tedium). Which, because that list does not include cooking, cleaning, completing any freelance work, sending out my book proposal to anyone, getting any work done regarding the future development of my wellness coaching practice, or getting any exercise, all of which need to get done, I do.

I blame the weather. We are getting more snow, and the insane wind is howling and blowing snow all over the place out here on the edge of the countryside, making me extremely mad--not just crabby, but mad--because I was sick yesterday and could not run (plus it was rainstorming so I would not have run anyway) and was planning to run tonight but good Lord I am not excited about running in a blizzard. For the millionth time this winter.

I realize it is only 11 a.m. and there are many more hours in the day in which I could theoretically get the above tasks accomplished.

But since I know in my heart there is no way I can get them all accomplished today, because remember I also have to care for my children and relocate my will to live even though spring is clearly never going to come, I almost feel like not even trying to do any of them at all. Which is just really depressing. Because at the very least my children need to eat.

I blame the weather.

Mud Soup for Puppies

So I never made it to parent-teacher conferences last night. No, no--I didn't fall asleep on the sofa waiting to go, standing up the teacher and waking at 11 with my hair matted to my face and my car keys in my hand. Julia and I came down with a stomach virus yesterday, so I sent Christopher instead. There's no way I could have gone to a civilized parent-teacher conference last night. Not because I was deathly ill--I still feel a little sick but it never went beyond that sort of low-grade, nothing-comes-of-it queasiness, which I will take over full-blown throwing up any day, but which really puts a damper on your mood--but because after an entire day stuck at home with one sick child and one bored child, a vicious rainstorm going on outside, and the weather reports forecasting snow, I was not feeling especially civilized.

When Christopher got home, I paged through the papers from conferences--the report-card-type form that says how great she's doing, a worksheet or two--and her "Winter Journal," where every day the children wrote a sentence or two about what was going on in their lives at the time, and drew a picture too. Each page was adorable and charming in its own way, of course, but what touched me the most was the week of my birthday. You know how, as a parent, you get so busy with your responsibilities and worries and busy-ness that you forget how truly important you are to your children, how, when they're super-little at least, you're a superhero to them, and everything about you has import, even when you're not thinking about it? How their worlds revolve around you? In Julia's Winter Journal, on the day before my birthday, she wrote, "Tomorrow is my mommy's birthday!" and "I'm making wrapping paper!" and "I am working on a card." And she drew a cake with "Happy Birthday, Mama!" on it.

And it just amazed me how, back then, while I was busy doing whatever I was doing on February 7th, probably not even thinking about my birthday the next day, probably thinking about work and bills and housecleaning and the endless, endless winter, my birthday was the biggest thing in my six-year-old's head.

There was also a really cute entry about stirring ice "crystles" on the playground with her two best school friends, "making mud soup for puppies."

I love six-year-olds.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Maybe We Should Try For The Empathy Olympics

Because at various times in the past I have gotten comments on this blog expressing disgust or distaste that I would dare complain about anything about my life, or informing me that I am too negative or too unappreciative or too something or other, this post yesterday from Mir at Woulda Coulda Shoulda really resonated with me.

Maybe it's because I'm a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist by training (and previous career), but I've never understood how someone's reaction to another person's distress (major OR minor) could be to remind that person that there are a lot of people who are worse off in the world, or to imply that one has no reason to complain about anything, or be sad, or upset, or depressed. I mean, yes, in certain particular instances, such as if the distressed person is being a total jerk to others, I can see how that reaction might eventually be warranted. But generally speaking, if someone--me or anyone else--says something about being stressed or depressed or burned out or upset, I think it's unhelpful at best and jerky at worst to make the person feel like a lowlife for having those feelings.

I think empathy should generally be our first reaction, because one never knows what sort of battle that person might be fighting, as Mir says. Honestly, you really don't. And also, as a psychology professor of mine used to say, the fact that there are larger problems in the world NEVER changes the fact that someone going through personal difficulty still feels upset. You can be upset about your own personal difficulty, no matter how seemingly minor in the scope of world suffering, and still understand that things could be worse. BUT: that things could be worse does not make your own problem any better.

No one has left me any mean or annoying comments in recent days. I have not been accused of being too negative about my own life for awhile. But I've been reading Chris lately, and she's been thinking and writing about this and going through her own hard stuff, and she led me to Mir's post, and, well....it's good food for thought.

Becoming More and More Geriatric Before Your Eyes

I have my six-year-old daughter's parent-teacher conference tonight. At 8:30 p.m. Now, you have to understand that, to me, having a meeting at 8:30 p.m. is sort of like, say, having a meeting at 10 p.m., or midnight. On a typical night, I am in my pajamas by 7. Now that I get up at 5 a.m. to work on weekdays, I am usually in bed by 8, reading and watching TV. I turn off the light between 8:30 and 9.

I know; it's an exciting life I lead, isn't it?

Well, it will be tonight, when I go out at 8:30 p.m.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Sweet-Salty Round Shortbread

Hmmm, who ate that missing piece?

Over the weekend I made this delicious round shortbread. Don't worry; it wasn't for mood enhancement purposes; it was because I ran 5 miles on Saturday night and 7-1/2 on Sunday afternoon, and I needed to replenish some calories.

This recipe is based on one by food/parenting writer Catherine Newman, but I changed it a little in creating my version. Easy, simple, buttery, delicious. Especially good after running 12.5 miles in two days.

Sweet-Salty Round Shortbread
16 servings

Ingredients:
11 T. softened salted butter (1 stick + 3 T.; make sure it is SALTED butter)
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 to 1 tsp. salt, depending on how salty you like your sweet-salty
1 c. white flour
1/2 c. whole-wheat flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray or oil a 9-inch round glass or similar pie plate.

Cream softened butter and sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and both flours, mix until everything is as incorporated as you can get it; dough will be very crumbly. Press dough firmly into oiled pie plate with your fingers, smoothing the edges and making the shortbread as level as possible. Prick all over with a toothpick or fork. Before you place it in the oven, take a very sharp knife and score the shortbread lightly into 16 skinny wedges.

Place in oven and bake about 50 minutes, until deep golden brown and fragrant. Upon removing from oven, immediately cut your shortbread into the previously scored 16 wedges, but leave in pan until completely cool. (Very important.) Once fully cool, remove slices to an airtight container.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Facing Facts

Realizations for today:

1. Yes, it actually IS possible for the laundry to take you all day long. Literally. All. Day. Long.

2. The laws of biology do, in fact, apply to you, despite what you choose to believe. And if you continue to eat candy, brownies, and cookies all day every day, you WILL gain five pounds. Perhaps more. It does not matter that some people tell you that you look great, and skinny, and fit, etc., etc., etc. Those people are not staring down the face of your fancy new digital bathroom scale, which is beginning to blink alarming numbers.

3. Candy, brownies, and cookies are not appropriate mood enhancers. NOT APPROPRIATE. See #2.

4. Your almost-seven-year-old first-grader has, indeed, grown out of those two size 5T long-sleeved t-shirts you bought her at the beginning of her 2nd year of nursery school. I know you thought she never would. And I know she has a whole closet of other size 5T clothes that still fit. In fact, she wore a size 4 Gap hoodie outside today. But those two shirts? GIVE THEM TO HER BABY SISTER ALREADY. Because showing off one's belly isn't cute in March. Not even when you're six.

5. Her baby sister still fits into a size 3T spring jacket. Even though her baby sister will be going to kindergarten in the fall and just the other day did an entire page of first-grade math problems.

6. Get outside and run those six miles already. Those "five" pounds aren't going to lose themselves.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

Earlier today a fellow-mom friend e-mailed and asked what I was doing this weekend. I told her "not much," and then explained that on Saturday I was taking Julia to gymnastics, changing all the bed linens and doing the subsequent mountain of laundry, finishing a pile of work for my freelance-writing job, cooking, and running five or six miles.

Then later I realized that I feel really tired just thinking about all the "not much" I'm doing this weekend.

Things Could Be Worse.

Yesterday my daughter got off the school bus and ran to me with a stricken look on her face. Her eyes were wide and sad and she could hardly keep from spilling her terrible news until she got close enough for me to hear. She looked so upset that I crouched down to her level and blocked out the sounds and actions of the other children and parents, our friends, greeting each other and chatting and walking off toward their houses. I ignored everyone and got up close to her face as she whimpered, "Mama, the most disappointing thing happened today." I braced myself for no one would play with me at recess or I couldn't do the hula hoop in gym class or I fell down when I got on the bus.

But she said, "When we went to the library today, the Book Fair tables were all set up in front of the shelves, and so we could only check out books from the nonfiction section!"

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Forward

It's 45 degrees in my town today, and the snow-pack is finally starting to recede. Only in Minnesota would people get so excited about bare streets covered in winter-traction sand, narrow borders of brown, mucky grass around crusty gray snow, and mud. Let alone 45 degrees, which believe me, feels like July right about now.

I love spring. This should come as no surprise to you since I spend most of each winter, at least from New Year's on, writing about my urge to find a blanket, a fireplace, and some high-fat/high-sugar snack foods and not move a muscle till April. Also there's all the (figurative) banging my head against the wall and lamenting the loss of my will to live.

Today feels like a gift, this sort of day when after school the kids will be out in the muck, and we can leave the door propped open a tiny bit so the fresh air blows inside and sweep off the patio of its February detritus and take stock of which summer-fun supplies we'll have to restock this year: new sidewalk chalk, new bubbles, new sand toys to replace the cracked pails and shovels. And then the sudden realization that we still have three strollers in the garage, still used now and then even as late as last summer, but that this year will need to be sold or given away. I'll have to trade up to a little red wagon; after all, where do you put all your gear on your walks to the park--your picnic and your balls to kick and your sand toys for digging in the gravel and pretending to make dirt soup--if you no longer have a stroller basket to stuff with supplies? Ah, a new stage of life.

Which brings me to the one downside of spring this year--the fact that, after four consecutive years at our neighborhood co-op nursery school in the Methodist church at the top of the hill, our family is moving on. Genevieve is my last child at this nursery school, and she's finishing her second and final year there in May.

Four years is a long time. It's a long time to visit a place multiple times per week, socialize with a particular cohort of preschool moms, volunteer, attend parent-teacher conferences, visit on half-birthday days, bring the school snack, cherish the finger-paintings and pasta collages and spin art. I was the president of the board of directors at this school for a year, even, and spent countless hours in meetings there, helping it run smoothly and managing its backstage affairs. I'll really miss it--probably even more than my daughters will. There's just something about the very first place you bring your children to be taken care of by someone other than you for any consistent length of time.

So, spring. A new beginning, and the end of something that was once brand new too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kindergarten Round-Up

Last night was the parent Kindergarten Information meeting at our neighborhood elementary school. Since Genevieve will be five next August and is already well on her way to a graduate degree (ha! I kid.), she's going to kindergarten in the fall. Because apparently you have to go to kindergarten before you earn a Ph.D. at age 11. (Which, for the record, I really hope she does not do.)

Of course I went to this same kindergarten meeting two Marches ago, for Julia. I remember it being nerve-wracking, somewhat exciting, very informative, and riveting.

The second time? Uh, not so much.

This is what I learned at the kindergarten meeting this year: That I have ZERO patience for the kindergarten meeting the second time around.

Was it really riveting, exciting, and informative two years ago?? I'm sure it was. Now that I've been through the process of sending a child to kindergarten at this school, I guess I didn't really need to sit through an hour and a half of PowerPoints about literacy curriculum and the proper size of three-ring binders to send along in September. Yawn.*

In a way, it's sort of comforting to have such tangible evidence that some aspects of parenting really do become easier over time. The kindergarten meeting? Piece of cake, time #2. Such a piece of cake, in fact, that I should have skipped it and stayed home and actually eaten a piece of cake (preferably while watching Friday Night Lights Season One on DVD).

*No criticism of the school or the staff in any way. We have what some call the best elementary school in our town. Love it dearly.

Monday, March 14, 2011

You'll Just Feel a Little Pinch for a Moment

Yesterday, during a conversation about adulthood, Genevieve told me, "When I grow up, I don't want to have a baby.* Or pierced ears. They're painful."

I restrained myself and chose not to disabuse her of the notion that childbirth and getting your ears pierced are even remotely comparable on the pain scale.


*[Note: Are you noticing a theme here?]

Friday, March 11, 2011

Whoa

Last night Julia and I were reminiscing about the way Genevieve used to say the word "squirrel" when she was a toddler. She had a lot of "baby words" when she was tiny, and most people outside our family either never heard her speak or couldn't understand her when she did. "Squirrel" was "whoa." Yes, whoa. Like you're halting a horse. And it wasn't just a random syllable she'd assigned to the animal; it was actually how "squirrel" came out of her mouth when she tried to form the sounds. Julia and I used to ask her to say it over and over again so we could erupt into peals of (loving) laughter every time. Luckily she never got insulted.

Genevieve doesn't remember it herself, but she thinks the story is funny too, so she doesn't mind when we chuckle about it even now. Whoa! I mean, seriously. How can you not think that's the cutest thing ever? Especially when it came out of this mouth?:


Anyway, last evening I was helping Julia do her spelling homework, and Genevieve was hanging out with us, observing. One of the words was "pearl," and when Genevieve asked me if I'd recited that one yet, I had to say, "What? Say that again." And she did. Pearl. Of course I couldn't stop laughing. "What? Pearl? Say it again." Because it wasn't quite "whoa," but it wasn't exactly "pearl" either. More like "poh-well." Only cuter and more hilarious.

Ah, yes. That's me: laughing at speech impediments since 2008.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Early Bird Gets the Coffee and the Last of the Half-and-Half

About a month ago, when I had a lot of things to do during a busy week with company coming for the weekend, I set my alarm for five a.m. in order to get up extra-early and work. I have a freelance writing job that helps pay the bills and, even more important in some ways, allows me to provide little "extras" to myself without feeling horribly guilty and conflicted. When you're a stay-at-home mom and not contributing any income to the household, it can be hard to pay for salon appointments and almond milk and the occasional book or magazine or new scarf without feeling like a bad person. Now that I'm making some money, I can do these things with only minimal dismay. I mean, of course I should really be putting all that money toward my egregious graduate school loans or ailing retirement account, but you know how it is. A girl needs to live, too.

At any rate, I got up at five to write. There isn't always time to write during the day, not even when Genevieve naps or is at nursery school. Those chunks of time are blazingly brief, and there are always a lot of other things to do during that time too--the errands and cooking and laundry, the other professional stuff like book publicity tasks and working on my proposal. I try to write in the evenings, after the girls are in bed, but that isn't always enough. The first morning I got up at five, I whipped through a ton of work in an hour. The house was silent, there were few distractions, I was on a self-imposed deadline. It worked.

Since that day, I've been getting up at five every day. Even though this means I need to go to bed earlier at night (I'm talking really early), I can't imagine giving up my early-a.m. hour now. Usually I get some freelance writing done. Sometimes I write here, or take care of other writing business. And sometimes (though not often) I just sit and drink my coffee and scroll through my e-mail and Facebook.

I think it's important for moms to have their five a.m. hour. It doesn't actually have to be at five a.m., but a slot of time for focused concentration or preparation can be really valuable. That hour will rarely feel long enough--there's always more to do--but it's still a good thing.

Do you ever get up super-early just to plow through your to-do list? Do you notice you're more productive at five a.m. with no kids at your elbow than later in the day when a million other things are going on?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sugar Sugar

Just so you know, I am NOT giving up sweets for Lent this year. I mean, what, am I crazy?! No. I learned my lesson last year. That lesson being, sweets make life bearable. Also, there are those Oreo Mint Brownies. I'm not going to go 40-some days without trying those, people, you can be sure of that.

Are you giving up anything for Lent? Is it sugar?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

I Need It to Keep Me Warm.

So here it is early March, all gray and cold and snowy during a winter so trying that even my daughter's eternally cheerful nursery school teacher said to me the other day, "This winter just WON'T END, will it?" I feel permanently chilled, and it's a good week if I get outside for three runs (in other seasons it's four), and every cell in my body is lobbying for butter, sugar, and sleep--in any order and in any combination--like the relics of a caveman-life oh so many eons ago when it was important to gorge and then conserve energy. Butter, sugar, sleep. Eat, sleep, repeat.

And so today among the cooking and family lifestyle blogs I like to read, the stunning, gorgeous recipes are for Oreo Mint Brownies, and a salty-sweet Brown-Butter Shortbread. Mm-hmm. Clearly the universe is unconcerned with my hibernation-related winter weight gain.

We're supposed to get more snow today. I sense some baking projects coming on. I just need to locate some mint Oreos.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Uh...

We've instructed the girls that "fat" isn't a nice or polite word to use in reference to people. Objects or animals, sure. (As in, our cat Sabine is EXTREMELY fat.) But people, no.

The other night at dinner this subject briefly came up in conversation, for some reason.

Julia: You shouldn't call a person fat.
Me: No.
Julia: Unless they ask you.
[pause...]
But that probably wouldn't ever happen.
[pause...]
Unless if it was a clown.
Me: .....

Friday, March 04, 2011

List

Sometimes I have so many things going on in my life--both good and bad--that I feel like I need to make myself a written list, so that when I wake up in the morning and feel disoriented about what time it is, what day it is, what's going on right now, what do I need to worry about or celebrate today, I can refer to my list. You know: jury-duty summons (bad; worry), currently able to run 7 miles at a time (good; celebrate), freelance job troubles (worry) leading to financial/income fears (worry), Christmas gift card to spend today at Target (celebrate). Genevieve's finally letting me braid her hair a little bit (celebrate). Family problems not discussable on Internet (worry). Book proposal (celebrate). Book publicity activities for other book, coming out soon (celebrate; some worry). Trying to develop my private wellness coaching business (celebrate/worry) to hopefully make some money (celebrate, eventually). Have wonderful Internet friends (not to mention in-person friends) who save my life time and time again (celebrate).

Do you ever get like this? Or is this just a function of my particular insomniac, addled, too-busy mom brain, the fact that I need a list to remember how to feel about my life at any point in time?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Easy to Please

Last night for dinner I made homemade pizza with a whole-wheat, from-scratch crust, and a salad created with pre-washed bagged greens from the supermarket. I may have thrown some frozen peas on Genevieve's plate as well. The girls ate their pizza and then Genevieve said, "This is the BEST DINNER EVER, Mama. You make the BEST DINNERS. Your dinners are better than ALL the other moms' dinners."

Lucky (me).

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Nothing Negative to See Here

I have to be careful now, with what I leave lying around or up on the computer, because Genevieve can read. I honestly thought I'd have a couple more years of at least one child who can't sidle up to the laptop screen and attempt to recite the contents of e-mail exchanges with my best girlfriends, or flip over the copy of Redbook on my bedside table and contemplate the headlines. But no. This child also writes letters and notes and signs that she posts on the playroom wall when she's mad about something, signs that say, "No Grown-Ups Allowed Keep Out All the Grown-Ups No Grown-Ups All the Grown-Ups Are Not Allowed in Here"--illustrated with a pencil drawing of an adult with a large X scrawled over the figure, and a little arrow pointing at his head that's labeled "Grown-Up."

Have I mentioned that Genevieve took the best head shot of me that I've ever had?




My four-year-old took these photographs.

And yet when I got her kindergarten registration forms in the mail last Saturday, I still wasn't ready. She's only four, after all, and she won't be five for another half-year. And I'm not sure I'm ready for both my babies to be in elementary school. Because I still remember when they looked like this:


In my mind, I'm still thirtysomething and my girls are still toddlers; I'm still managing diapers and nursery school and sippy cups like I am in the essay I wrote for "Torn." I wonder if I'll always be that way in my own deluded mind; if I'll be sitting at high-school graduation thinking about all those days of naptimes and highchairs and tantrums and strollers, feeling like they're just a moment ago in my memory. It's jarring, the time-space continuum of mothering.

Meanwhile, I've got kindergarten forms to fill out.