Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Last Week of December

I must admit it's been kind of a bummer to be sick over my kids' entire Christmas vacation (other than Christmas Eve Day). And by "kind of," I mean, "a big, fat."

My saving grace has been that Christopher took the entire week as vacation from work, so there has been a parent available to take the kidlets skating, sledding, to friends' houses, down the street to play on the giant snowbank formed when our homeowners' association's snowplow service cleared our street, and to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul (later today).

And while it may seem luxurious to be at home in pajamas lying around reading and napping for days on end while someone else takes care of the kids, frankly it's my idea of a nightmare. I'd much, MUCH rather be out with my family doing all these fun things and making all these memories than sick at home. Not to mention running, sleeping well, completing the normal necessary household tasks, and not feeling rotten all the time. Plus, we had to postpone our New Year's-weekend trip up north. Boo.

BUT! No one wants to hear me complain about being sick. I get that. Besides, it's winter in Minnesota: tons of people I know are sick. It's not exactly a unique situation to be in.

So let's talk a bit about a few highlights of Christmas vacation instead.

Julia decided, almost on the spur of the moment, to get her hair cut all the way up to the length of her growing-out bangs, rather than just a trim, thus giving her a sudden chin-length bob. It looks completely adorable (actually much cuter than this already-cute photo, to tell you the truth), but it was a real mind-spin for me. The day before, she was running around the house in two blonde braids. But hallelujah!--no more pinning back of the growing-out bangs! We worked on those for 1-1/2 years, people!



I got my bright-pink parka, and it is super-warm and very cheery. Please excuse my pale and less-than-pretty appearance in this sickly photo. I just wanted you to see the parka. It's brighter and cheerier in real life. My phone takes horrible pictures and I no longer own a working camera.



Genevieve's book review of Stuart Little went up at the bookshop downtown, so we went to see it. She refused to let me take her picture in front of it, and the children's corner where it was posted was dim, so it's a poor photo, but still.





I'm constantly apologizing for poor-quality photos on this blog, aren't I? I'm too lazy and uninterested to work on bettering my photography skills or my camera-equipment situation. Sorry.


And then yesterday, despite my cold and because we were almost out of both toilet paper and contact solution, I ventured into After-Christmas Land, a.k.a. Target, where I happened upon this delightful buy:


Four metal-and-enamel Christmas napkin rings, two saying "JOY" and two saying "PEACE," for 98 cents each. The kicker is that we really needed Christmas napkin rings. Four of them, too. For reals! How cute will these be next December?? So cute.

I'm going to wish you a Happy New Year early, today. Tomorrow night we will be attending a HUGE annual family New Year's party that a dear friend of mine and her family host every year at our town's gymnastics club. They rent out the place and the kids run around the gym and we all eat a giant potluck dinner and then count down to "midnight" at 7 p.m., so the littles can all go home to bed at a reasonable hour. I plan to rest up all day today and tomorrow so as to be well by the time this party begins. I would not miss it for the world.

So: Happy New Year, friends! I so appreciate you. I hope your holidays were wonderful. I hope you are healthy and well. Give someone you love a hug at midnight tomorrow, and I'll see you in 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

After-Christmas Sales

So, last year I came really, really close to ordering a bright-pink parka from Lands' End. I've had the same navy-blue-almost-black parka since 1995 (that's 13 years, yo), and if that's not justification enough, it has this crazy hood that a.) never fastened properly to begin with (cut me some slack; the parka was a gift. I didn't pick out a parka with a non-functional hood on my own), and b.) has since ripped halfway off and now won't cover my head.

I know; that's pretty sad, isn't it? And I live in MINNESOTA! And I have young children (so I'm constantly outdoors WITH them, taking them to the bus stop and going ice skating with them and whatnot)! It's not as if dressing for winter weather is optional for me!


Plus, winter is generally so difficult for me and my temperamental brain chemicals (oh, the horrible dark and the bone-chilling cold....doesn't it just make you want to crawl under a blanket with a box of cookies?), I really wanted a bright, cheery winter jacket. Where I live, everyone's parkas are black, navy, or brown. Dark, dark, dark. That's not what you need in the winter, people! You need cheerful, happy colors like BRIGHT PINK! That should be obvious.

But, though you may not be able to tell with all my online shopping for cute clothes, I am extremely frugal by nature. (These cute clothes I buy? Are CHEAP clothes. I never pay full price. And I never, EVER pay for shipping.) My frugality comes from growing up with no money, spending six years in graduate school with no money, spending a few more years with my husband finishing HIS grad school (with no money), and then giving up a paid career to be a stay-at-home mom with a grantwriter husband (no money).

So, even when the cute, bright parka was marked down to $70 from $140 in January, I didn't buy it.

But you guys. This year, right now, that same bright-pink parka is on sale for $40. Down from $140. And the description says it's designed for temps as low as -35 degrees. Remember, I live in MINNESOTA. Minus 35 degrees is not as crazy to us as it may sound to you. Obviously, there was no way I could NOT order it this time.

But then it occurred to me: If I have a bright-pink parka, I will look like an insane person when I wear my red skinnies or my colored cords. Insane. Can you picture it? Take a moment.

I mentioned this conundrum on Facebook, and my friend Margaret, one of my favorite fellow moms ever, who has three teenage daughters, said, "You are the parent of small children. The insanity train left the station a long time ago."

I ordered the parka.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry After-Christmas

What have you been up to, dear friends? We had a good Christmas. When last I left you, we were in the midst of the girls' school holiday concerts and classroom cookie receptions. Christmas vacation began, and we spent time sledding, wrapping gifts, making more gingerbread men, and having friends over for cookies.

Then Christmas came, and we opened new toys:

The Li'l Woodzeez schoolhouse, bakery, and turtle family. So cute.
 

Genevieve, who prefers all things boyish, loved the t-shirt I found last minute for her at Target on clearance for $2.38, more than anything else she opened. Well, the t-shirt, the unisex black track pants, and the football-, baseball-, and basketball-themed socks. That's my girl.



I was the lucky recipient of this:

Ellington clutch in burnt orange

and this:

Hardcover!

which proves that my husband has good taste---or, rather, that he read the list he requested of me, of things I'd like to get for Christmas.

I made this insanely decadent Black-and-White Coffee Cake again for Christmas Day breakfast, and it turned out better this year than last, because this time I didn't mess up the chocolate glaze:


Only on Christmas Day could something that looks like that be considered "breakfast."

Julia and I both came down with Christmas colds, which is a serious bummer, but it's hard to complain too much about being sick on Christmas when you remember that the families in Newtown, CT, would give anything to be sick on Christmas if it meant that their children were still alive and with them. Perspective.

Before getting sick, we ice skated on our corner pond on Christmas Eve Day, which was just as Currier & Ives-ish as it sounds. This is the year the girls are really going to get it, I can tell. They had fun and didn't cry with each fall, and they keep wanting to go back for more. As a native Minnesotan who learned to skate as a preschooler and grew up on the ice, I am thrilled: At last.

Now we laze around the messy house and play with new toys and eat Christmas cookies and play in the snow and drink cocoa. Soon we pack up for a drive north to Grandma and Grandpa's for "early New Year's." I'm praying my cold virus abates by then. As usual, I feel a bit like my head is going to explode. (I don't think I've ever mentioned this, but the reason I'm always so extra-miserable when I catch a virus is that I am allergic to the main ingredient in all the over-the-counter multi-symptom cold medicines, so I basically can't take anything but Tylenol when I'm sick. Which just doesn't cut it.)

Christmas vacation is too short. The kids get barely more than a week before it's back to the usual routine. I have resolved to paint the master bathroom in January, but I'm not quite ready to jump into such taxing chores, so I'd prefer it if the holidays could hang around a little longer. I'd much rather read Stacy London and drink hot chocolate than color-test paint and climb ladders to blue-tape the edge of the ceiling. Gah. 

Ah, but there's time for that next week. For now, let's just hang out and relax, shall we? 

Oh--and by the way. The pale yellow cords in the smaller size fit like a glove. So, there's that, too.

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and please let me know how you all are doing. 

xo.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winter Wonderland

baking Christmas cookies

The last week of school before Christmas vacation is waning. Today we attended Julia's class's "Winter Sing"; tomorrow is Genevieve's. While I watched my daughter and the other 8-year-olds sing holiday carols and play xylophones this morning, I worked very, very hard not to think about the children from Sandy Hook. I was in the front row, and I knew that Julia would see me if I cried, and wonder what was wrong.

I held it together.

Tomorrow may be more difficult; Genevieve and her classmates are six and seven--first grade, the same age as the children killed one week ago. The thought still fills me with bottomless sadness.

But perhaps we should focus, now, on happier things. My first-grader, she of the crazy-genius IQ and the middle-school reading level, was asked to join a group of 4th-graders who are doing a special project with the school's reading specialist. They are each writing an original book review of a favorite chapter book, then the reviews are being typed up and posted at our town's independent bookstore (the same place I have done two book readings for my own work, by the way). So, to recap: a group of 4th-graders, and my 6-year-old. She chose Stuart Little, and wrote her review last Saturday. Over holiday break, her "homework" is to go downtown to see her posted review at the shop. I am one proud mama.

In other news, we are having our second blizzard, which is really good because most of our snow from the big snowstorm two weekends ago had melted. We haven't gotten too much snow, but three inches is something. Mainly the wind is whipping across the prairie and farm fields like a wildfire. The snow is swirling and drifting. It is pretty, and timely. Tomorrow is the first day of winter.

And, lastly, the vast majority of you voted for the pink cords. On Facebook, via e-mail, and on twitter, you made your preferences known, and pink won out by a landslide. I am in total agreement. The mint green will go back, and I'm still waiting on the smaller size of the pale yellows. If those fit I may keep those as well, seeing as I got them for not much more than the price of a movie ticket.

After tomorrow, my babies will be home with me for over a week. We will be baking, sledding, delivering treats to friends and neighbors, eating Christmas cookies and drinking hot chocolate, listening to carols, wrapping presents (and opening presents!), watching movies, doing art projects, and gearing up for a drive north through the snow for New Year's. (Actually the weekend before New Year's, but we are calling it for New Year's.)

And, of course, remembering how lucky we are to have one another in our sight, in our arms, under our roof, together.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea?

Hey, friends. Just wanted to share the happy news with you that The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos, is featured by Mom and Kiddo (of What Do We Do All Day?on Sulia today as a recommended read and a great holiday gift idea for new moms.

As always, I am so grateful for the support, which often leaves me speechless. You moms out there in the world, you're so great. Truly, I love you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Life Goes On, Wardrobe Included

image courtesy oldnavy.com

Can we talk about colored skinny cords during a week like this? Can we vote on colors? I don't know how you start talking about clothing and style after what's happened in the past few days. But I do know that life goes on, and packages keep getting delivered, and mamas still get dressed every morning because it's the week before Christmas break and they have kid concerts to attend, school cocoa-and-cookie receptions, volunteering in the classroom, shopping, errands.

And so. The cords I ordered all arrived, and I need your opinions. Put sadness out of your mind for a few minutes if you can, and focus on the mundane and petty. Sometimes mundane is good therapy.

So, the Land's End Canvas "Pin-Straight Cords" (OMG! On sale right now for less than I paid for them last week!) fit perfectly. A note for anyone else interested in these pants: for some reason I had a hunch they'd fit small, so I ordered them a size larger than my  measurements suggested, given the Land's End Canvas size chart. Indeed, they fit like a glove, a full size up from my actual waist and hip measurements. So, order up if you try them.

The problem is, they're both lovely.

I give you, via fuzzy and ill-produced iPhone photo, the rosy pinks:



In real life these pink cords look less peachy than these photos imply, more rosy. So pretty!

I give you the mint greens:



Unfortunately, these photos do not do justice to the mint green color. It is neither grayish nor baby-blue. It is honestly mint green--though pale, not shocking. You just cannot tell it here. But! So cute!

And the super-cheap Old Navy yellows:


Here's the deal with the yellows. They are incredibly comfy, as I knew they would be; they're part of the "Rock Star jeans" line, so they're super stretchy and lightweight--which I LOVE. The color, which is called "Margarita" but which online looked like a pale butter yellow, is actually a light lime-green-tinged yellow. Mostly yellow, but with a hint of lime. Sort of odd, but not unpleasant. Mainly they're pale enough so as to almost seem like a neutral, as you can see above.

BUT, I can't decide if they're too big or not. (Remember? Old Navy's sizing on the Rock Star pants is pure insanity. You're basically making a wild stab in the dark.) So, I called to have the next size down mailed out to me. I'll compare the two. They're not meant to bag at all--they're called SUPER SKINNY CORDS, after all--so I don't want them to look sloppy. I don't know if you can properly see the fit in the photo above. They feel like they might stretch out with wear during the day, and end up sagging and bagging. But who knows, I may not even be able to zip up the next size down.

What do you think, friends? I'll tell you that, though almost no one commented here on my initial post asking for color votes (I'm still having trouble with some readers not being able to comment, for one thing; I'm so sorry!), on the Facebook link pink won out. Green and yellow each got one vote, and a couple of twitter followers told me to keep all three. (Holla, twitter followers!) Today on FB when I mentioned that I loved all three colors, pretty much everyone told me to keep them all. (Even my husband! What does he want from me, I wonder??) Enablers!

Give me your feedback, stylish moms. If Blogger won't let you comment here, you can always like my book's Facebook page (see the link over there on the left sidebar?) and post something there! But never forget that new clothes are not what truly matters these days, not really. But you all knew that, didn't you?


Monday, December 17, 2012

Broken


I spent the weekend like many of you: parenting, keeping all news off to protect the children, then hearing and seeing snatches of it when the kids weren't around. I switched on NPR in the car alone after dropping Julia off at a birthday party; it was Saturday, and it was the first I'd heard that all the children killed were six and seven years old. To me, that means first grade. That means my youngest daughter. That was my baby and her class. Six and seven years old. The tears streamed down my face.

I made an extra batch of gingerbread cookies, because in the face of horror and grief you need normalcy and warmth and the smell of cinnamon and ginger, the comforting sight of homemade treats sliding out of the oven. It is the least I can do for my family, my household, my kidlets.

On Sunday we had friends over, a family date planned weeks ago, before all this happened. We ate Christmas cookies and drank hot chocolate and the children played with Legos and the adults talked, but we didn't talk about Newtown, not even when the children went upstairs. We didn't need to. What we needed was companionship with each other, fellow parents, old friends. Love, warmth, and the kind of caring that comes from spending time with others who share your experiences in parenting. We all knew. Our hearts are all broken.

So, really, there still are no words, although I know we all crave just the right ones. I, too, wish someone somewhere could say just the right thing to make everything better. Of course, there is no such thing.

My friend Kathy wrote yesterday that never will she ever send her kids onto the school bus in the morning with anything less than a hug, a kiss, and an "I love you"--no matter how cranky and trying the morning up to that point. Those are the words, I guess: Hug your babies more, no matter how cranky you may be feeling with them. Kiss them. Tell them "I love you" before they leave your sight--every time.

It is what we can do, and it is important.  


Saturday, December 15, 2012

There Are No Words.

There are no words for today. How life goes on after the shooting in CT yesterday I do not know. How the parents whose babies were killed at school will go on, I can't imagine. As my readers who are fellow parents no doubt have been doing as well, I keep thinking what it would be like if this happened to my daughters, at their school. They are the same ages as those CT children; their school is highly similar to Sandy Hook; our town seems much like Newtown. With all the staggering fears I have now, as a parent, over what could happen to my girls, one that has never entered my mind is that a disturbed and pathological young man could easily access semi-automatic guns, enter the front door of their school, walk down the hall and kill them. I have never thought of this. I am sure the parents of the children at Sandy Hook never had either.

It seems to me that if your child was taken from you at Christmastime in such a horrific, senseless, terrifying manner, you would be done for. If it happened to me, I am sure my life would be over. The world would not go on turning for me. I could never, ever survive it.

My littles know nothing about yesterday. I pray they do not find out, not yet, not at this young age. I am afraid they will see flags at half staff, or that older children will say something to them. I keep NPR off now. I try not to think about it when they are around because my eyes fill with tears when I do. How can you explain to small children that they are safe, that their school is safe, that it's okay to go to school on Monday, once they hear the story of Sandy Hook? My daughters are 6 and 8; they do not even know, yet, of real evil in the world. To them, evil is the Abominable Snowman on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Who turns out nice in the end.

I'm a clinical psychologist. I've learned about psychopathology and twisted thoughts and delusions and truly sick individuals. I believe that, whether you have classic-onset schizophrenia (as, for instance, the Colorado movie theater gunman obviously does) and are hearing voices telling you to kill others or whether you just think it's the right thing to do for other reasons, by definition you are mentally ill. A healthy, normal brain does not make a person think he should mow down groups of people. I can't explain this type of mental illness, but that's just it: it's incomprehensible; it's unexplainable. And yet, there are people like this in the world, and they live among us.

I do think that having a President who is a father to young children is going to help us here. The President cried when he heard this news, as did all of us parents. He reacted as a parent first. I hope I am not wrong, but I honestly believe that this incident is the straw that broke the camel's back to President Obama. I hope his reaction as a parent will now inform his actions as a politician. I try not to be political on this blog, but clearly when a young man can obtain semi-automatic handguns and kill kindergartners and their teachers in a typically-secured elementary school, we have a serious problem with gun control in our country. Or, rather, lack of gun control.

My heart is sick and broken, and I know yours is too.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mint Green or Rosy Pink? (Or Butter Yellow?)

So I've recently lost some weight (blah blah, stress, blah blah blah...), more than is usual for me. And while those extra pounds are likely only temporarily missing, in the meantime it had become extremely annoying to be constantly hiking my slipping jeans back up, or wearing a belt (of which I am not very fond).

So, when my book royalty money came in and I'd allotted the necessary amount to bills, doctor co-pays, and kid swimming lessons, I treated myself and not only purchased, on a desperate Target run, the cheapo (but so awesome!) red skinnies:

love, love, love these; proof that you don't have to spend a lot to look stylish.

....but I also ordered myself a pair of colored skinny cords from the Lands' End Canvas line (read: J. Crew-ish) -- with a 40% off plus free shipping promo, natch! (I never order full price.) Rather, I ordered two, because I need to decide on color and then ship the others back. A girl's gotta be clothed, right?

My cords haven't arrived yet, so I can't model them for you myself, but below are the two color choices: Mint green (which they call "Light Cypress," but it is so a mint green) and rosy pink (which they call "Washed Watermelon"). You should know that I have wanted pink cords or other pink skinnies for a very long time, but had never seen any in a tame enough pink (no fuchsia pants for me, thank you, though I guess one should never say never), and that initially I only ordered the mint greens because the pinks were sold out in all feasible sizes for me. (In other words, already leaning toward the pink.) But then the next day the smaller pinks were back in stock, so I added them to my order just to compare.

It is VERY annoying, but the Lands' End website does not allow the transfer of any large images of apparel from their site. You can only get the tiny shots. So I realize these photos are amusingly small. But give me your initial reaction: Mint green or pink? What do you think, friends and fellow moms? You may have to squint:


images courtesy landsend.com

I'll be sure and let you know what they look like in real life when they arrive, and if they fit (they're going to be longer on me than they are on this model, for sure, but I usually tuck into boots anyway). I have to admit it's kind of fun to consider trendily-colored pants. Why not inject a little whimsy into the usual wardrobe of dark-wash jeans; boots, mocs, or flats; tees; and trench coats--i.e., preppy but sometimes a bit boring? They likely won't be in style forever, but that's what the 40% off is for!

Weigh in! Green? Pink? Holler at me. 

[A late addition: I'm also considering a pair of light yellows from Old Navy (see below), who have the BEST fitting stretchy skinny pants, but who are also out of stock in pink and whose other colors aren't the greatest. I have a great deal for these, and can get them for a whopping $14.50 (that's WITH shipping, holla!), but their sizing is wildly unpredictable and one just never knows with them. But for trendy pants that may fit only temporarily due to weight fluctuation, this may be the most easily justifiable purchase.]


image courtesy oldnavy.com

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Do SAHMs of School-Agers Do All Day?

So I recently got a blog comment by an aliased reader who wanted to know what we lazy stay-at-home moms of school-agers do all day. I immediately deleted the comment, because it was verbally abusive and rude to all stay-at-home moms, and perhaps worst of all, beset with spelling and grammar errors (sigh).

But then after the comment was gone, I thought to myself, You know, I feel really sorry for angry, jealous, bitter Aliased Commenter. (Sorry, I can't even remember what her alias was. What do they call that when truckers talk to each other over the radio and have silly names? Her "handle"? Right. That.) She seemed honestly clueless as to a.) what a SAHM would do all day long and b.) why anyone would arrange her life (sometimes making large financial sacrifices) to make it possible to be at home all day even when the kids are at school.

the very first day of both children in all-day school!

So I decided to use this as an opportunity to educate. I don't know how all the rest of you--those of you who are also SAHMs of school-agers, of which I know there are many, because my social circle in my own town is largely populated by them, and none of us are special, rich, celebrities, or out of the ordinary in any way--spend your days, but at least I can inform Aliased Commenter about one example--i.e., my own.

An introductory note: Some SAHMs of school-agers are still SAHMs because they cannot find, or have not yet found, a job. Not all of us plan on, want to, or mean to be home with school-aged kids forever. Some of us have kids who have just become old enough for school, so recently that there has not been time enough yet to reconstitute a career. Some of us work part-time from home. Some of us work evenings and weekends but are still home during the day. Some of us would not be able to earn enough money at our jobs to justify the expense of before-school and after-school childcare for our children. (In some areas of the country, childcare is exorbitantly expensive.) Some of us are waiting to return to work until our children are old enough to supervise themselves before and after school. Please keep all that in mind, Aliased Commenter.

Another thing: Aliased Commenter said that working moms are expected to work all day and then also do all the work that SAHMs do as well, implying that the world is horribly unfair. To that I say, Exactly. And that is why my husband and I have chosen for me to be an at-home mom: Because neither of us wants to have all our evenings and weekends taken up by the numerous chores and errands no one was around during the day to do. Because we prefer to use our evenings and weekends to RELAX. It's not easy, because living on one income is tenuous at best, but it's worth it to us to have more free time to enjoy family, friends, and recreation.

It sounds as if A.C. is pretty envious of this set-up, so I encourage her to look into it for herself, if at all possible. Of course, perhaps it is not possible given the economics of her family, not even by making large financial sacrifices. And if that is the case, I am truly sorry for her situation, because she seems horribly unhappy. But the difference between her and me is that I would never send her a disrespectful, childish note condemning her work/home situation just because it was something I didn't, or couldn't, have.

OK! So! Here's a very quick, rough list of what I do on a typical day as an at-home mom to school-agers. It's not very exciting, so those of you who already know all this are free to stop reading.

*Wake up at five a.m. and get myself largely ready for the day; feed the cat; make coffee; start breakfast; check e-mail, Facebook, and the news online; update my personal blog, professional website, and book's Facebook fan page; respond to author-appearance request messages, sometimes throw in some laundry.

*Kids get up around 6-6:15 a.m. Feed them breakfast, then once husband is up, make bed (the kids do their own), finish getting myself ready for the day, straighten the house; put away any errant laundry; do daughters' hair for school, check backpacks, finish getting school lunches ready to go, correspond via e-mail with teachers and/or fellow moms re: school issues and/or plans for the day.

*Bring kids to bus stop at 7:55. Back home around 8:10. (*Note: if it is Wednesday, school begins an hour late, so I am at home with my daughters until 8:55, and back home from the bus stop at 9:10.)

Most days, between 8:10 (or 9:10) and 3:20 when the afternoon school bus comes, I am "free" for about half an hour while I eat my lunch; otherwise I am generally busy the entire time. I do get to exercise during the day, which is a huge luxury to me (I just spent 8 years running after dark every time, no matter how cold and scary it was out there!). But then again, my full-time-working husband works out every day on his lunch hour, so I dare say this isn't exactly an unreasonable way to spend an hour of my time a few days a week.

The rest of my day is spent doing some combination of the following:

Housecleaning (a category that, of course, includes scores of tasks that I won't list out here but that could potentially take up multiple hours a day just on their own); doing, folding, and putting away laundry; ironing; changing bedding; meal planning; grocery shopping and cutting coupons; cooking; baking; volunteering at my daughters' schools; going to the bank, drugstore, post office, gas station, library, Target, or any other place where my family needs something done; going to the dentist, veterinarian, doctor, etc.; checking on my elderly next-door neighbor; birthday-party-planning; shopping for all gifts for any and all occasions; freelance-writing and writing books (for pay) from home; arranging and supervising all home-upkeep appointments such as window-washers, housepainters, furnace tune-up technicians, carpet-cleaners, etc.; scheduling daughters' pediatrician, dentist, and haircut appointments; cleaning up after and tending to our pet; preparing for, planning, shopping for, and doing all tasks related to all holidays; arranging plans for travel or hosting relatives for visits; helping out friends with childcare or favors during the day if needed (because they do the same for me in other circumstances); routinely going through and sorting children's toys, clothes, shoes, and outdoor gear to purge what is outgrown, rotate what needs to be out, hand down appropriate items, and plan for giving away other items; conduct book readings and other speaking engagements around the state for the promotion of my published book; take care of any home updating, redecorating, rearranging, repainting, or other jobs that need doing at particular times; shop for my daughters' necessary clothes, shoes, outerwear, and the like...

...and quite possibly many, many other things (including, as mentioned previously, exercise on some days).

And then, of course, my kids come home at 3:20 and I feed them a snack; supervise homework; go through their school bags and paperwork; pack the next day's lunches, snacks, and water bottles; supervise after-school backyard play or take them to the park, on a walk or hike, or to meet friends to play as a group; host a friend for a playdate at our house or run any kid-included errands; cook dinner; feed them dinner; read together; pack backpacks for the next day; supervise bath if husband is not; supervise bedtime preparations if husband is not; say goodnight.

After all that, I'm typically so tired I could go to sleep myself at 7:30 p.m.!  Fortunately, because I've taken care of every family and household task imaginable and necessary between 5:00 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., I'm free to do that if I want! Or, you know, free to take a bubble bath, watch TV or a movie, read, or do anything else I find fun and relaxing.

Does that clear things up a bit, Aliased Commenter? I hope so, and I hope you get to be a SAHM of school-agers too sometime, if that is what your heart truly desires, as it seems to. Cheers, and have a good day.

xoxoxoxo
S.





Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I May Need Baking Anonymous.


Yesterday I made another batch of dark-chocolate peppermint bark. I feared I wouldn't have enough to save some for my own family after giving treat plates to neighbors and friends later this month. And we can't have that.

You guys, I can't stop baking--even though last evening my friend Jess came by with the delivery of the annual cookie exchange she hosts each Christmas. Yes! I did the cookie exchange! I made fudge again. This time, nothing seized and nothing had to be thrown away. Also, I've mastered the vague amounts in my family recipe's ingredients list. This year, there were only six of us friends participating, so I now have "only" six dozen Christmas cookies and treats in my freezer. Well, six dozen in addition to the cookies, fudge, and peppermint bark I've made in my own household.

My excuse is that I typically make and deliver 11-13 treat plates every holiday season. These go to friends, neighbors, my husband's boss, assistant and co-workers, and anyone else I can think of who may need some treats. The girls and I go on a treat-delivery mission the week before Christmas. Of course I am obligated to keep enough treats for my family to enjoy during the season and on Christmas Eve, as well---plus the week between Christmas and New Year's when we all sit around in front of the fireplace drinking eggnog and eating Christmas cookies.

The holiday season is my dream time of year when it comes to baking. You all know what an obsessive baker I am--not a FANCY baker, by any means, just a good, home-cooking, from-scratch, mom-type baker--and there's nothing I love more than free rein to spend too much money on ingredients, bake numerous mouth-watering holiday sweets, and plan what, when, and to whom I will gift these yummies. And of course, baking cookies is always a good activity for children during the holiday season.

Hey! Maybe I should start a business limited to the holiday season, when I go crazy baking as many holiday treats and sweets as I want, and sell them to people who don't have time or don't like to do holiday baking. Wouldn't that be a great idea? Customers with no time, energy or inclination toward baking would end up with homemade (read: much better) versions of holiday cookies, candy, and breads, rather than whatever they might otherwise buy at the bakery or grocery store--or go without altogether.

I don't have this business yet. But if you want to pay me for some holiday treats, I'd be happy to oblige.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Family Holiday Fun: Homemade Gingerbread Men (+ Bonus Snowstorm!)

Over the weekend the girls and I made gingerbread men for the first time. It was so much fun; I definitely recommend it if you have kiddos old enough to, uh, not drive you absolutely insane while trying to make homemade gingerbread men. (Let's face it: some holiday activities are just not very fun with toddlers.)

I had mixed up and chilled the cookie dough in advance on Friday, using Martha Stewart's famed recipe (although I halved it), which is just as AMAZINGLY TASTY as its reputation suggests. You guys, this gingerbread cookie recipe calls for ground black pepper. Yes. I'm serious. Along with the large amounts of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, the pepper makes these cookies perfectly snappy and zesty -- a true, spicy gingerbread cookie. YUM. So delicious.

(Note: instead of the icing included in Martha's cookie recipe, I made homemade cream cheese frosting. I know it doesn't dry hard like Martha's classic meringue-powder icing, which is a problem, but I wanted icing that really tastes delicious.)

Aside from one very uncharacteristic kitchen disaster that was 100% my own fault and which necessitated the THROWING OUT of two entire sheets of gingerbread men (oy, it just about killed me; thankfully there weren't too many men on each sheet), everything went splendidly.





Of course the most exciting part was the icing and decorating.

supplies at the ready


my co-bakers



Some of us iced and decorated our gingerbread men in a decorous, restrained manner:



Others embraced the "more is more" philosophy:




In the end, we had a whole neighborhood of cheery and festive gingerbread people...



....which tasted delicious.

I love this cookie recipe so much I'm considering making another half recipe sometime soon, and using it to cut out other holiday shapes, like stars, bells, and trees. I think I'll stick with a simple dusting of colored sugars as decoration for those, however. I'm pretty sure we've surpassed some sort of reasonable limit of icing and candy usage in our house at this point.

Seriously, try this recipe. Then let me know what you think. And how you decorated them. Joy to the world, indeed.

Oh---I almost forgot---and this also happened:



 our backyard, mid-afternoon Sunday

We actually got more snow than these photos suggest, as it kept snowing the rest of that day and evening. I haven't heard an official snow total yet, but people seem to think about 7 or 8 inches around here. And even me, Ms. Winter-Hater, thinks snow is beautiful and lovely in December. It's the rest of the year I'm concerned with.

Friday, December 07, 2012

I Can't Thank You Enough.


Yesterday my very first book royalty check came in the mail from my publisher. The largest amount of money I have ever received at one time for any piece of writing. The fact that this check arrived before the end of the year means that my book made a profit, after publisher's expenses and the paying back of my advance, within its first year of release. Against all odds. A fact that stuns me.

Most people don't know how publishing really works. How authors--unless they're big-name, famous writers--rarely make money from their books. How the first income from book sales goes toward all sorts of behind-the-scenes expenses, percentages for publishing professionals on the book's team, and repaying the author's advance (if he or she even got one).


I fully expected my first royalty check--if I ever even earned one--to be for about twelve cents. I've heard stories like that. The selling of books, for most of us, is Sisyphean. It can feel like an enormous amount of effort for a reward you're not sure you'll ever experience.

To me, though, the publication of my book was truly sufficient reward. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and if the only copies that ever sold had been purchased by my mom, I would still have been a happy soul. I didn't care if I ever saw a royalty check, or if I did, if it was for twelve cents. But that doesn't mean I wasn't very, VERY thrilled that this check was for a heck of a lot more than twelve cents. Because it arrived at a time when I've been up to my ears in bills. And at the holidays, when I've had presents to buy for my kids. And during a period of much tumult and stress in my life, when good luck or good news was greatly needed. In other words, it arrived at exactly the right time.

But what I really want to say today is this: THANK YOU, DEAR ONES. This is all because of YOU.

You have supported me on this author-journey through thick and thin. You have bought my book and recommended it to friends. You have written reviews of it for others to read. You have thrown the weight of your love and support behind my book--even just by reading all my book plugs on this blog, all the announcements and publicity, even by simply putting up with all the PR.



A bunch of you, out there, bought my book and that's why a check came in the mail yesterday for me. To many people, the dollar amount of that check is mere peanuts. And I suppose in the big wide world of book publishing, it is peanuts. But not to me.

And I owe it all to you. Sending so much love to you today.

xoxo.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Simple and Delicious Family (Holiday!) Cooking: Homemade Dark-Chocolate Peppermint Bark


So, you know that fancy peppermint bark seasonal candy that snobby gourmet retailers like Williams-Sonoma sell for an outrageous amount of money? Um, yeah, you can make that yourself. And it's so easy you won't believe you EVER paid any store, ever, no matter the price, for a tin of it. Because believe me, making it at home will always be cheaper than buying it from a shop.

True, homemade might not look as perfect and pretty as the overpriced kind from the shops. Although perhaps if you've made it more often than I have, you've mastered the technique for making it appear as amazing as it tastes. But if not, trust me, NO ONE WILL CARE. It is SO yummy.



Holiday Dark-Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Ingredients:
1 (11-oz.) bag white chocolate chips
1 tsp. peppermint extract (Note: this is different from MINT extract. Try to find the peppermint.)
2/3 to 1 cup crushed candy canes or starlight mint hard candies
8 oz. (or so) dark/bittersweet chocolate chips

To make your crushed peppermints, put unwrapped candy canes or starlight mints in a sturdy Ziploc. Using a heavy rolling pin or a hammer, pound the candy in the bag until you have irregular chunks and bits (don't crush to the point of powder if you can help it!).

Line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment paper.

In a microwaveable glass bowl, empty entire bag of white chocolate chips. Microwave for 30 seconds, then check to see if the chips are stir-able. (They probably won't be at this point.) If not, return bowl to microwave and continue to cook for 15 seconds at a time, checking after each period, until chips are shiny, soft, and can be stirred but are not totally melted. In fact, to prevent burning the candy, which is very easy to do, be sure some of the chips are still in chip shape. As you stir, any non-melted chips will melt into the rest, leaving you with a totally smooth melted white chocolate mixture. This may take some stirring time, but it WILL smooth out.

Once your melted white chocolate is smooth, add peppermint extract and most of the crushed peppermint candies to the white chocolate. (You can add all the crushed candy if you prefer. I like to save some out to sprinkle onto the dark chocolate later.)

Spread the white chocolate mixture onto the paper-lined sheet, getting it as thin and smooth as you can.


As you can see, I didn't get my white chocolate layer very thin this time. That's OK. It doesn't matter what shape this layer is. Just get it on there and spread it out. Put the baking sheet in refrigerator until the white chocolate-peppermint layer is hard.

In a different bowl, melt the dark chocolate in the same way that you did the white. Once melted, quickly spread the dark chocolate onto the hardened white layer, covering entire surface.


(Next time I make this, I will try harder to make thinner layers. This bark ended being really thick. However, treat recipients will probably be thrilled! After all, they're going to get nice hefty pieces of candy!)

Optional step: sprinkle dark chocolate layer with the remainder of the crushed peppermints before the chocolate has firmed up.



Place baking sheet back in the refrigerator to fully harden. When hard, break candy into pieces. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Makes a great gift--even if it's just from you to you.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

All Things Red (Including Holiday Treats!)

yum.....

So, last night I made the little gems, above, with my girls. You may remember them from a few years ago. I got the recipe from my friend Margaret (again! she's a font of child-raising ideas and wisdom), and it's the easiest, kid-friendly holiday treat-activity you can imagine. (Be a little careful when they press the M&M's into the melted Hershey's kisses, though---a bit hot, potentially.)

If you'd like to try it yourself, here's the post from 2010 in which I give the instructions. I have since learned that most people call these "Christmas Buttons." So there you go. Also--look at those baby faces in the photo at the top of that post! Oh my. They change so much in just two years, it's truly amazing. And yet they still retain the ghosts of their toddler selves in their older faces, too. Do you know what I mean?

Anyway.

In case holiday M&M's aren't enough red for you, check out the red skinny pants I picked up at Target the other day on a sudden necessary pant-finding mission. (Trust me. It truly was necessary.)



(Sorry the photo's a little dark.)

Yes, it's true. I (finally) tried the colored skinnies trend.

Red pants! The insanity. Can a barely fortysomething (this is how I'm going to refer to myself until I'm 49) mom of two wear skinny red jeans???!

Hmmm. For a long, looooong time, I wasn't sure. But seeing as how I really needed pants that weren't falling down every five seconds and thus driving me crazy but I didn't want to add any more dark-wash, black, or charcoal gray to my closet, I figured I'd give them a try.



And what do you know, Susan was right--I do love them. Even better seeing as how it's Christmas and money's tight, they're a Levi's offshoot brand and are super sturdy and well-constructed, but I still snagged them for under $30. Love you, Target.

See? Red. It's practically a neutral. And it's festive. Happy Holidays!