Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Three Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

We're Back, and We're Busy Sledding

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



(with a neighbor friend)

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

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas From My Two Little Elves

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holly Jolly Christmas

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

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

(And they actually did it, too.)

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Art

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

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

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

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



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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Welcome to the New Economy

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

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

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

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

Which is a Christmas miracle if there ever was one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Addendum

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

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

Hard Monday

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'll Be Leaving Fudge for Santa

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chocolate Crinkles

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gotta Start Working Off Some of This Eggnog

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

I'm feeling a little afraid. Also cold.

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

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

Do you think I need an attitude adjustment?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's the Most

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

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

Sunday, December 07, 2008

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

holding two-month-old Genevieve, October 2006

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

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

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

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

And then our conversation went something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

(Fade to black.)

Three Down

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

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

I've got presents to wrap, people!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I Have an Ugly History of Getting Really Sick Around Christmastime

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

Surely Eggnog is Medicinal in Some Way

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

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

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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

SICK. Getting Worse, Not Better.

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

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

Miserable!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're So Cute When They're Watching TV

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

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

Life Goals (or Not)

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

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

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

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

OK then. Overachievement is overrated, anyway.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Obsessed with "Our Nest"

courtesy Barnes & Noble

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

This is Why

As many Wonderland readers know, I have struggled at times with writing this blog--wondered if I've revealed too much about myself and my family, expressed genuine and sometimes raw emotion only to have my words misunderstood, negatively judged, or subtly mocked (dang! annoying!). Rarely does a day go by that I don't question whether I should keep writing here, in all honesty. I get so much out of this writing work, and yet it's tricky to find a balance between sharing the intimate details of motherhood in a realistic, this-is-how-it-is way and opening one's self up to, as a reader once commented, the fickle reactions of the Internet (I believe she described it as worse than a school playground).

But recently a fellow stay-at-home mom ("Anonymous", fifth comment down) left me one of the nicest notes I've ever received on my mama-writing. And this is why I'm writing.

No Rest for the Weary. Ever.

There's something wrong with a life characterized by having changed sheets and made all the beds, done two loads of laundry, vacuumed, emptied the garbage, picked up toys, sorted children's hand-me-downs and packed them away in the appropriate places, and paid a stack of bills, all before 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning.

I would never in a million years trade being a parent for a childless life, but every now and then the memory of weekend mornings spent drinking coffee while sitting still makes me want to weep.

Also, the fear that I may never truly sleep ever again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving: The Recap




As can be seen by these photos, a great deal of cooking, baking, and eating occurred yesterday, much of it with the help of my two little Thanksgiving elves, Julia and Genevieve. I would like to inform the masses that the Jennie-O Oven-Ready turkey breast was a thrilling success.

As was my spontaneous homemade centerpiece of autumn bounty. See?


I must admit that I skipped my regular Thursday workout yesterday (exercise? on Thanksgiving? maybe if I wasn't doing the cooking...) and spent most of the day drinking coffee while listening to Turkey Confidential on Minnesota Public Radio.


(Mmmmm, pumpkin cheesecake.
And yes, that IS a side of turkey-shaped sugar cookie
and holiday M&Ms. What of it?)



Oh--and one more thing. If you happen to notice that the writing on the envelope of your Christmas card looks a bit wobbly this year, it MAY be because I addressed ALL OF MY CHRISTMAS CARDS last evening while tipsy on 2-1/2 glasses of champagne. Ha! My life is looking less harried all the time!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

I've always loved being home with my daughters full-time, I really have.

I truly have always loved being a full-time at-home mom, even when the culture shock of starting the gig knocked me on my ass. Even during the colic. Even during the isolation and loneliness and fear of that first round of parenthood, with no other mothers nearby, no other babies, just one long alone day after another with a newborn who never napped, often fussed, and confused me greatly. I loved being a SAHM even during the long isolated winters of two children, of baby- plus toddler-hood, the snowbound, housebound, nine-hour days to fill with rattles and blocks and pull-toys and Play-Doh. I don't mean that I loved the day-to-day existence of those trying times, but I never doubted that mothering full-time was what I should and wanted to be doing. It probably wasn't even remotely apparent, but I even loved my mothering life in its larger, macro sense last summer when Genevieve spent most of her waking hours screaming at me, and most of her sleeping hours not sleeping.

I don't love all the individual moments of full-time motherhood--who ever could? The constant indignity of managing everyone's pee and poo and other bodily fluids, the eternal drudgery of housework, the temper tantrums, the exhaustion, the strange fact of never, ever having one's body to one's self? No one loves all that. But I must be turning a corner--is it real, that near-mythical light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel as a family stumbles forth from the foggy baby-years?--or maybe because it's Thanksgiving week, but at one point yesterday as I roamed the house living my usual daily at-home-mom life, I thought to myself, I should really appreciate this more, because I really have it good right now.

And sure, some of that was because the girls spent a chunk of the morning playing house together, like a movie version of toddler girls at home: kneeling on the playroom floor, huddled over baby dolls, murmuring to each other as they fed and swaddled and occupied themselves in cooperative play. But it was more than that. It was the realization that, while there are many, MANY things about my current job that are distasteful--just like there are at other jobs, the kind you leave your house for and by which you earn a paycheck--I've got a lot of perks in this cozy domestic life I've formed--that has evolved--over the past 4-1/2 years since I entered it as a total novice.

I can (mostly) wear what I want. I can (mostly) structure my own days--now more than ever, as my girls get a bit older and our days are no longer defined by multiple naps and regular nursings. If I want to cook soup all afternoon on a cold November day, I am free to do that. If my girls need a solid morning of home playtime with Mama, I can (mostly) give them that. I'm not at the beck and call of a boss, colleagues, or clients in crisis. I don't wake up to an alarm clock. Next summer I'll be taking my girls to an organic farm every week to pick up a farm-share box of produce, which we'll explore and sort and wash and cook, and we'll have time to do that. If I feel like a walk in the middle of the morning, I can take one (with the girls, of course). If we have errands to run, we can do them during the day, leaving dinnertime and evenings and weekends free for relaxation or family activities. I can get up and make myself an espresso right now, in my slippers. I don't stress about whether or not I look professional enough, if my suit is stylish or dowdy, if my shoes are comfortable and yet dressy. Business lunches are no longer part of my world.

I understand that to some people reading this, all that might sound absolutely awful, their worst nightmare. But you have to understand that embracing stay-at-home motherhood is a process, a journey with many stages. You don't enter it loving all those things. You miss the business lunches, because they allow you to converse with adults. You hate sitting around in slippers, because it makes you feel like an unimportant loser who used to have serious tasks to accomplish other than changing a diaper. You feel odd and unsettled doing things like going for walks in the middle of the day when no one else is around; you feel like you're playing hooky from your regular job.

But things change, and I can only speak for myself as someone who's always had a yearning in my heart to spend my available time with the babies I created, to take that on as my largest, most important work--MY babies, MY family--and trust that I'd make it through the breathtaking shock of adjustment, through the strings of months when I'd have given my left foot for a break from this hardest of all jobs, all the way to the moments like yesterday's, when I come up for air for a moment, here in my warm and cozy mama-housewife life with my daughters napping and their blankies pressed to their lips, and think, This is what I'm thankful for now; and I hope I never look back and think I didn't appreciate it enough.

Given some of my past experiences, I can just imagine certain working moms out there reading this post and working up a sputtering cloud of offended indignation, taking my own peaceful thankfulness this week for smug judgment against their own work lives. To them I say: Don't bother. Not everything is about YOU.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm thankful for all my dear readers, too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baby Discipline

For some time now, I've been living in mild fear of the first time my children, during the course of their own imaginative play, shed light onto the real workings of our household. You know--play house with their Little People dolls and let loose with a perfect imitation of Mama and Daddy bickering over who disciplined the baby wrong? That sort of thing?

As many Wonderland readers know by now, we've been having major sleep problems with Genevieve for over six months now. There are the epic screaming fits at bedtime, the kind that remind you of those newborn colic days, when you gird yourself each evening for the battle to come. There's the night-waking on a sometimes hourly basis, the crying and calling and night terrors and exhausted distress (I meant us, with that last one). I can't say that either of us is perfect in our middle-of-the-crisis parenting; there's nothing like indefatigable baby crying to reduce all rational thought to an incoherent, desperate list of ideas like, "Do whatever she wants!" and "Ignore her completely!" and "Find someone else to come over so we can leave the state!" In the end it's usually Christopher who deals with the bedtime battles--after all, I've dealt with all the other battles, all day long--and I don't think he'd mind if I say that he sometimes loses his patience.

This morning the girls were playing house with their baby dolls while I readied myself for the day. I could hear them next door in the playroom, murmuring about blankies and bottles and breakfast and teddy bears, strollers and nursing and naptime. Then I heard them run down the hall to their nursery to put the babies to bed under Julia's covers. But after awhile, I noticed a particular drama unfolding: Genevieve would put her baby to bed, close the door, run back down the hall to the playroom, and then, at Julia's urging, make her baby cry out: "UP! UP! UP! COME IN! COME IN! NO SLEEP! WAAAAAAAH!"

At which point Genevieve would race down the hall, throw open the nursery door, and yell none too sympathetically, "What da p'oblem? WHAT DA P'OBLEM!"

Seriously--nothing like listening to your baby illustrate just how snappish and mean the adults in the house can sometimes sound to give you a pain somewhere in the vicinity of your heart.

I gathered the girls to me and suggested that maybe they don't yell at their babies anymore, that maybe they ask them gently, "What's wrong, baby? Do you need another kiss and hug?"

In real life, though, that tactic rarely works.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Oven-Ready

For some reason this year my holiday jitters are starting a little early. Maybe it's because I'm already just a little bit stressed. I've always loved the holidays, but ever since becoming a mom, my relationship with the holiday season has been a bit fraught, a bit love-hate. I struggle as it is with the daily running-race of life with toddlers in the house; the diapers and laundry and crazed mealtimes and epic bedtime battles leave me exhausted at the end of each day, even as I'm cherishing the rosebud mouths and the after-bath smells and the way they hug their blankies as they sleep. There's enough to do, in the running of a household, during any uneventful season (maybe because when you have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, there's no such thing as an "uneventful season"?), without the myriad tasks that fly in to fill up my calendar in December as swiftly as Santa's reindeer pulling a sleigh. But usually I don't start to stress out until after Thanksgiving, at least.

All of a sudden my brain is whirring with thoughts of Christmas cards and holiday parties and Julia's "half-birthday" celebration at school; the Winter Walk downtown, Advent celebrations, gift-shopping for the girls (how to balance things they really need and would love with a tight budget and the wish to avoid extravagance?), stocking stuffers, which cookies to bake for neighbors and friends. What we can afford and what we should forego this year. Where to find the town's smallest Christmas tree to fit our tiny living room, who to watch the cat when we travel.

However, I am happy to report that yesterday I decided upon my Thanksgiving dinner menu, which involves a.) the least amount of effort possible, in the form of a Jennie-O oven-ready turkey breast, and b.) substantial contributions from the grandma who will be visiting for the holiday. I'm a solid, food-loving cook, but I've never done Thanksgiving before, I'm a mostly-vegetarian, and I'm kind of phoning this one in, I have to admit it. Which is absolutely fine with me.

I'm also thinking, after reading this sweet, heart-stirring essay by writer-mama Catherine Newman, that what this house needs this year is, surely, a sweet old-fashioned ceramic creche. I've heard they calm all manner of jittery ills.

Also, whenever I start to get stressed about the holidays, I tell myself that it could always be worse, reminding myself of that time, two Christmases ago, when Genevieve was a newborn and I was so sleep-deprived from nursing all night and chasing a toddler all day that one evening I accidentally left an entire bag of shopping gifts in the cart in the Target parking lot and drove away without them.

Ha! There's nothing like recalling that crazed insanity of newborn life to make your current life--holiday to-do lists and all--seem like a piece of Christmas cake. Fruitcake, maybe, sure--but still, a piece of cake.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stress Test

This morning I went to the doctor (actually, the nurse practitioner) to determine why my hair keeps falling out in clumps. I'm talking big, palm-sized chunks, every time I wash my hair. At this rate, I'll be bald by my 38th birthday. There's also the racing heartbeat, the cracked lips, the four-month-old rash around my mouth, and the fact that 90% of the time my body feels like someone accidentally flipped it into fifth gear and it's stuck there--that racing, revved feeling that won't go away no matter what you do, no matter how many bubble baths you take or five-mile runs you power through, and even when in your conscious mind you feel absolutely unbothered and fine? That's a weird thing, people.

I was thinking maybe thyroid. Either that or some mysterious unknown illness that is slowly killing me without my knowledge. Just kidding; I am so not a hypochondriac, and before my Epic Sinus Infection of Spring 2008, I had not gone to a doctor other than my OB/GYN (you know, for birthing those babies and all) in years.

Anyway. It turns out that apparently all those symptoms are caused by STRESS. Which, you know, kinda goes both ways: GOOD NEWS! YOU'RE NOT SUFFERING FROM A SERIOUS ILLNESS WHICH MANIFESTS ITSELF IN YOU LOSING ALL YOUR HAIR! But then: HOWEVER! YOU'RE LOSING ALL YOUR HAIR!

Harumph.

Did I mention that my famously ultra-low blood pressure and pulse rates were elevated? Seriously, that NEVER happens to me. I could be birthing a baby over 60 hours of back labor and my blood pressure and pulse rates would still indicate that everything's cool. In fact, I think I did that once.

I was kind of hoping, what with the election over, and the nursery school I'm partially in charge of semi-stabilized at last, and the baby finally talking and thus the tantrums decreasing from ten a day to more like two or three, and the hour-long screaming fits at bedtime getting a little better after some six months straight----well, you know, that there would be no reason for all my hair to be falling out. True, yes, there's that whole issue of the baby waking up and crying anywhere from three to ten times per night, every night, for the past 2-1/2 months. But other than that my life is a heck of a lot less stressful than it was three months ago. Apparently my autonomic nervous system has not yet gotten the message. Did you know that an entire summer of nonstop toddler screaming and the complete obliteration of every second of one's free time by the black hole of a low-stakes volunteer job gone horribly, high-stakes awry can make all your hair fall out, in protest, three months later? Nice.

But, did you know the good news about stress? THEY MAKE MEDICINES FOR THAT. And I don't mean a pre-trick-or-treating mojito.

Though a pre-Thanksgiving-dinner mojito--or glass of wine, if you'd rather--might be just the thing.

Power on, stressed-out, jittery mamas! You (and I) can do it. And good luck with your hair. I know I need it with mine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We're Talking Rich

In response to my discussion below of that Babble.com article about families' financial situations, my friend Amy sent me the following link, Global Rich List. It's fascinating! Click here to see a calculation of where you stand, income-wise, when compared to the entire world. Talk about a new definition of "high income." Right? (Thanks, Amy.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Suddenly I Feel A Lot Poorer Than I Did Ten Minutes Ago.

OK, so what are Mondays for but neglecting chores (or, for you office drones, whatever kind of work you do at your job) in favor of surfing the Internet for interesting reading? I found some (more) for you.

First, a poignant essay in the December issue of O Magazine, which will make you tear up a little bit in that Catherine-Newman-is-the-best-writer-ever-and-every-single-thing-she-ever-writes-about-children-and-parenting-is-sweet-and-fantastic sort of way. Seriously, I cried reading this. Don't even get me started talking about it. That line about "Birdy was born in the old house"? That part about moving away from babies in the house, babies on the way, babies in the future? Argh! Kill me now. My heart is broken. I can't stand it. But it's so beautiful. Go read it.

And then, on a less-lovely note, an interesting feature over at Babble.com, about three different families coping with the current economic crisis. What I found so fascinating about this peek into the daily lives of these other families was the way Babble categorized them: the magazine picked one family from each economic class (low income, middle income, high income), and called the family with an annual income of $65,000 "low income," the family earning $100,000/year "middle income," and the family with a yearly income of over $300,000 as "high income." Do these categories line up with how you define low, middle, and upper class? Our household struggles to support the four of us on one modest academic salary, but I would have at least called us "lower middle class" before reading this. Wow, we're poorer than I thought!

Kidding, folks. It is what it is. But I really would be interested to hear what you all think about these stories, if and when you read any of the articles I've linked to today (see the New Yorker link in my post below, too, if you haven't already).

Happy Monday

Veering from my usual parenting chronicles: the November 17th issue of The New Yorker has a lovely, happy commentary about Obama's victory. Go read it for some Monday good cheer, sigh a happy sigh, and relive November 4th all over again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Parenting Moments You Never Think About When You're Pregnant With That First Baby

Yesterday afternoon I found myself at the neighborhood playground with two small children bundled in parkas, hats, and mittens, changing a poopy diaper on the cold, wet ground. IN THE RAIN. Don't even ask.

Afterward, I found myself standing a half-block from home while one child stood at the end of the block refusing to walk any further toward our driveway and the other child fretted and cried about the first child refusing to move. ("But we'll never get home! We can't leave her outside on the corner!") This went on for a good fifteen minutes. STILL IN THE RAIN.

And then I went home and decided that when I re-enter the work force, "wrangling toddlers" should be a viable resume entry, indicative of vast internal stores of patience, negotiation skills, and the ability to keep one's head from blowing off one's body in a fit of temporary insanity.

The End.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Or Mine. I Wonder What Mine Would Be Like.

I wonder what Genevieve's personality would be like if she didn't wake up crying ten times overnight.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Feel Like a Cruise-Ship Social Director. For Toddlers.

Christopher's working an extra-long day today: he left before the girls were awake, and will be gone about an hour later than usual tonight. He took the car, and also it's raining. Thus, we have a long, indoor day to fill.

So far today we have: made and baked homemade soft pretzels; watched part of a Wiggles DVD from the library; had a tea party for morning snack, eating the homemade soft pretzels and drinking actual raspberry herbal tea in our teacups; watched the window-washers come and clean the interior and exterior of all the windows in our house; played Play-Doh; read library books; and gone "swimming" in the bathtub (with swimsuits, beach towels, etc.). And that was all before lunch.

Now it is naptime, only Julia isn't napping (and she's my without-fail napper!). If anyone has any tips on filling approximately four more hours of indoor playtime, let me know. Immediately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why is Healthy Food so Expensive?

Today at the grocery store, I SO wanted to buy the Kashi brand health-food frozen waffles, with their all-natural ingredients and their major allotments of both protein and fiber (instead of just sugary carbs, like all the other frozen toaster waffles). I so, so did. (We love the Kashi brand in this house; they do a really good job making convenience foods like dry cereal and granola bars something other than, well, just more processed carbs.) But the Kashi waffles were three dollars per box of six, while the Cub (store) brand ones are $2.39 for ten. My girls eat frozen waffles every single day for breakfast. And I know those Cub ones--even though I buy the whole-wheat--are just a whole lot of nothing. But I still can't justify the expense of the healthy waffles.

Then there's the fact that, after I had the great idea to start serving grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for one meal per week as a way to cut down the grocery bill, I discovered that the second ingredient in Campbell's tomato soup is HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. The SECOND ingredient. After tomatoes. BUT BEFORE WATER.

GAH.

Mystifying Conversation in the Car

On the way home from preschool today:

Julia: Mama, isn't it so wonderful that my school is endless? The teachers haven't done much.
Me: ....Huh? That your school is what?
Julia: Endless. The teachers haven't done much.
Me: Done much of what?
Julia: Done much to the school.
Me: ......

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Empty Boxes

The other week the girls and I discovered the book Not A Box, by Antoinette Portis, at the public library. It's a simple, clever, charming picture book about a line-drawn rabbit using his/her imagination to turn a large empty box into a race car, mountain peak, skyscraper, hot-air balloon, robot, rocket, etc.


Last week I rounded up some empty boxes (well, one box and one unused Rubbermaid storage bin), and Julia and Genevieve spent the morning climbing in and out their imaginary trains, tugboats, and school buses.


It was Julia's idea to actually act out the book page by page. The girls had me read it several times in a row so they could do it over and over again. Later, they piled stuffed animals and dolls into their boxes and gave rides to all the babies and creatures.

There's something very heartwarming about the old-school activity of pretend-play with an empty box. Don't you just want to squeeze those cuties peeking out of the boxes up there? Now go find some boxes for your own cuties.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Blame My Lack of Sleep

I blame all of my lack of ambition on sleep deprivation. On a near-daily basis, I am beset with all sorts of barely-formed ideas about things I would theoretically like very much to do: write a book, find some freelance/consulting work, make a plan for a post-toddlers career, train for a 10K. All these things feel important, even imperative at times. But then I never get any farther than those burning, stewing, shapeless thoughts.

Is it because I NEVER GET ANY SLEEP GOD HELP ME? Seriously, people, I don't know how many more months and years I can take this. I am one of those people who, pre-baby, required a solid nine hours each night to function well. The rare six hours a night left me lightheaded and fuzzy. When my babies were born, the interrupted sleep of exclusive nursing gave me headaches, mood swings, and constant high appetite; and yet, my babes were small, so I expected it, which made it easier to take, even though I nursed my babes for many, many months. Now Genevieve is two, and each overnight she cries out with such desperation and distress--sometimes in her sleep, usually waking up--at least three, and sometimes up to eight or 10--times a night. It wouldn't help to turn off the baby monitor: she screams, yells for help--I'd hear her, monitor or not. It's not possible to ignore her; she shares the nursery with Julia, and she is truly calling for help--she does not calm down if no help arrives, she simply shouts louder, as anyone would who needs help, no?

When you combine the baby night-wakings with the husband who snores, you end up with anywhere from five to 10 wake-ups per night. Each morning I get out of bed feeling like I didn't sleep at all. And clearly that can only go on for so long before one's quality of life becomes, well...SEVERELY LACKING. It's not going well, people. I'm all jittery and crazed, with myriad minor-yet-annoying physical symptoms bothering me one after the other (or all at once). And needless to say, no creative or career-minded projects are getting off the ground.

I know, I know: this too shall pass. I only hope I have a brain cell left when it does.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

It's Cold, People

Election night: still warm enough for tutus

Uh....does anyone else think it's a little COLD around here? Six days ago it was 75 degrees, two days ago it snowed, and today I'm sitting around in three layers, shivering while the furnace rumbles. The windchill outside is 18 degrees. It's fair to say I'm not really feeling prepared to go running in fleece, earbands, and gloves yet. Seeing as how last week I went running with bare legs and arms.

Autumn in Minnesota. It's always the same, and somehow always still shocking and surprising.

In other news, my babes are actively following the Obama family's search for a White-House-bound puppy, Genevieve's begun speaking in gerunds (at the window: "Mama! Snowing!"; co-strumming a stuffed Elmo's guitar: "Helping!"), and today I baked both chocolate chip cookies and from-scratch pizza dough, because it was cold and wintry outside and it seemed like the right thing to do. Of course eating chocolate chip cookies and homemade pizza is the even righter thing to do.

What's on your agenda for this late-autumn Sunday? A cold-weather run, in fleece and gloves? Movies on DVD? Working on your book proposal? Fill me in.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Still Celebrating

I can't stop celebrating. It's time to watch this video again. Now that Obama has won the election, watch it again and be amazed anew. Maybe you'll shed a few tears, like Christopher and I do when we see it.

When I first saw this video, last February sometime, I was absolutely stilled by the power of Obama's words. I vividly recall going for a run just afterwards, and running down Fourth Street replaying the lines over and over in my head. As I told Christopher last night, back then I honestly knew in my gut that Barack Obama was going to go all the way. Later on I became fearful, and discouraged, but somehow I could just tell he was amazing and that nothing could stop him. That America would do the right thing, would be buoyed by his vision and promise for a better country.

"Yes we can, to justice and equality. Yes we can, to opportunity, and prosperity....Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Few Random Thoughts on Today

I hardly slept last night. I stayed up late to hear Obama's acceptance speech in real time and then was kept awake the rest of the night by a noisy windstorm, Genevieve's return to hourly wake-ups, and my own brain which would not stop spinning. I kept thinking during the night, "Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can." It's hard to sleep when history's just been made.

This morning I had about five cups of coffee in quick succession and tried to wrap my mind around the day. It feels like the entire world has changed. I keep replaying that moment when NBC News suddenly cut into our local news team at ten p.m. Central Standard Time, and there were a few split seconds of jarring disorganization, when you just knew it was happening, and then Brian Williams said, "There will be young children in the White House again for the first time since the Kennedy administration," and the words on the screen registered: Barack Obama elected 44th President of the United States. And then the amazement, the awe, the cheering, the tears. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life, I am sure.

The other day I ordered a necklace from Old Navy--stay with me now--, had a gift card and picked out some sale items, threw this into my checkout bag because it was fun, and cheap, and I thought it would enliven my basic stay-at-home-mom uniform of solid-colored t-shirts. When it came in the mail yesterday I discovered that it is a little (or a lot?) bit crazy--bright, with beads so huge they resemble those jumbo atomic fire-ball jawbreakers we used to eat as kids, remember those?--only I couldn't tell that from the website image when I ordered it. But Julia fell in absolute love with it, BEGGED me to keep it when I hemmed and hawed. This morning, as we discussed the profound joyfulness of the Presidential election outcome--how we should all be celebrating today--Julia asked me what we could do, to make the day happy, and special, and a celebration. We decided on an indoor picnic for lunch, and also? I put on the bright, crazy necklace and wore it out for flu shots and kids' haircuts and errand-running, in all its big, bold, festive, celebratory glory.

It felt like just the thing.

Happy day to all of you out there today. I hope you're all wearing bright, crazy jewelry and having picnics today. Or your own personal equivalent. I'm full of joy and hope. Aren't you?

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Celebrate

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A New Day

Genevieve slept through the night uninterrupted by hourly wailing and crying last night for the first time in months and months. Surely this must be a sign that good things are going to happen today, right?

Monday, November 03, 2008

If I Used Twitter

This is what I'm doing this morning:

Getting ever more excited for Election Day tomorrow.

Wondering what it would take for my family to have, say, three days in a row with nothing going on---no playdates, no board meetings, no out-of-town visits, no company coming, no doctor, dentist, opthalmologist, or hair salon appointments, no volunteer obligations, no parent-teacher conferences, no birthday parties. Wondering how my family got so ridiculously busy.

Trying to figure out if my caffeine consumption is necessarily helping me power through my ridiculously busy weeks, or giving me an artificial anxiety disorder.

Worrying about any number of things which I rationally understand are not worth worrying about but which I can't seem to stop worrying about anyway, such as the fact that Genevieve isn't involved in any early-childhood activities yet and that--aside from preschool for Julia--my children rarely play with other kids anymore (because we're too busy! what happened to playgroup? we're all too busy, that's what!). And my extreme difficulty in acquiring the needed number of continuing education credits to maintain my psychologist's license, now that I'm not working and need to be home to care for two children every day, and how in the world am I going to get 21 more CE hours before next September? How? And the fact that my girls really need some sort of indoor exercise this winter, but tumbling and dance classes for toddlers are expensive, people, and some months you're thinking, Well, it's either all these groceries or tumbling class! You know? And then I'm worrying about how maybe I should be WORKING and EARNING SOME MONEY.

Oh, there's much more on my anxious mind than even all this, but I don't have time to list the rest of it, and no doubt you're all just as glad.

Somehow I think the election is fevering my brain, and that maybe after tomorrow I'll feel calmer and better about everything. Assuming, of course, the right person for the job wins the election.

Because Obama will save me. Right?

Trick

Genevieve has not napped in three days. Lord help me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat

The lowdown on Halloween 2008:

Genevieve refused to wear the pants of her ladybug costume. You'd think a crazy, fuzzy, hooded, antennaed, polka-dotted jacket would be more offensive to a two-year-old's sensibilities than a pair of plain black pants, but you would be wrong.

Julia went as a witch. Randomly, her get-up included self-designed and self-applied face-paint from a nursery school activity earlier in the day. So she was a witch with random four-year-old face-paint. OK then.

Neither of my girls napped today. Thus, by about 6:45 p.m., Genevieve was rubbing her eyes and Julia was asking if it was time to go home yet, to "have my treat and go to bed."

We were the lucky recipients of an invitation for dinner at the home of some friends, with trick-or-treating afterward on their block (near Julia's preschool). All I can say is, thank God for fellow parent friends with whom to share the trials and joys of such fraught events as todder/preschooler trick-or-treating. A pre-trick-or-treating mojito helped, too.

Poor Genevieve was terrified of most houses' Halloween decorations, standing paralyzed and speechless upon spying a large jack o'lantern with a big jagged mouth. She spent most of the adventure being carried in my arms, whimpering in protest at the most "festive" homes. Julia was frightened of one house in particular, which had some very scary decorations and which led to my "aha" moment of realization that guess what? Four- and two-year-olds are too little to go trick-or-treating. I've always known this, and somehow we STILL started going out LAST YEAR (when Julia was only three! And Genevieve was one!). Why, I have no idea.

And lastly. A note to myself, the one I repeat every single year and then promptly forget by the following October. DO NOT BUY THE $7.99, 105-PIECE BAG OF CANDY. Especially if you only get SEVEN TRICK-OR-TREATERS AT YOUR DOOR. Did you get that? SEVEN.

Did you read that part up there about the HUNDRED AND FIVE?

People! Good! Lord! That's a lot of extra candy! What in God's name was I thinking? Oh yes--now I remember. I bought that bag at the end of a long, harried trip to Target with an antsy toddler in tow. Riiiight. I recall not exactly having time to notice the number of pieces involved and do my own analysis of past years' turnouts. I recall careening down the Halloween candy aisle, frantically yelling to Genevieve, "It's OK, honey, we're almost done! Aaaaaalmost done. OK, now. Just the candy. Then we're done. Almost done. Yes, going bye-bye. Yes, home. Yes, I know Elmo is on. Yes, just a minute. Just a minute. Just a minute" before pitching a giant bag of candy into my overflowing cart.

There's also the fact that I have zero memory left anymore. You know all those months and years of baby- and nursing-related sleep deprivation? They make you lose your memory. I could no more tell you, in early October, how many (few?) trick-or-treaters I had at my house last year than I could start singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in Russian. So there's that.

Help me. You can start by taking some of my leftover Halloween candy off my hands.

[Edited to add: I just remembered that I bought that giant bag of candy before I knew we'd be out socializing in a different neighborhood until 7:30 p.m. I think we missed a lot of children at our own door tonight while we were gone. Last year we took the girls to six houses on our street and were back home to hand out treats within half an hour. Although I STILL had a bunch of leftover candy last year, according to my archives. So please, someone stage an intervention on me in the Target candy aisle around October 25th next year. Thank you.]

Truly Scary

We had a rough morning around here yesterday. When Christopher brought Genevieve downstairs for breakfast, I cheerily greeted her, "Hi, honey! Are you hungry?" Which led her to scream indignantly, "NOOOOOOOO, Mama!" and then throw herself onto her back on the carpet, kicking and screaming and thrashing all four limbs. Moments later, Julia came down and erupted into wailing hysterics over the fact that Daddy had cut her breakfast toast into the shape of a ghost. Someone had altered the appearance of her morning meal. The world was now ending. CLEARLY. Shortly after that, Christopher left for work.

Last night as we were lying in bed, Christopher and I were chuckling about the whole scenario.

Me: It's a wonder that anyone gets through the day.
Christopher: What's way more of a wonder than that is the fact that, despite doing this for 4+ years, you don't seem, as far as I can tell, to have developed any ADDICTIONS.
Me: Caffeine and sugar, babe.
C: Considering your working conditions, those are pretty mild given the choices out there that would be understandable and totally justified.
Me: Obama will save me.

OK, I didn't actually say that last line.

Happy Halloween! Good luck with all the little devils and goblins out there. And I don't mean the ones ringing your doorbell.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cookie Party

We had a great time during our cookie frosting/decorating party yesterday afternoon. I'd post photos of the kids, but we had guests, and not everyone likes pictures of their children posted on the Internet. I'll just show you the goods instead:


Let the fun begin!


End result

Stay tuned for Halloween costume photos tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Go Obama

Was anyone else in tears during most of the Obama television program tonight? I've been a diehard Democrat my entire life, but I've never, ever been so utterly consumed by a presidential election before this year. I've never felt leveled--just laid out flat--by the sorry state of our country before now. I've never before believed there would be no hope for this world if my preferred candidate did not win. I've never felt so strongly that one person is our country's salvation and the only chance for a good future for my family and all the other regular working middle-class families out there. I know there are folks who feel just as strongly about McCain as my family does about Obama. I don't understand those people--who must they be? are they benefiting right now, doing well with their mortgages and health insurance premiums and retirement accounts? really?--but I guess they don't understand me, either. I wonder if they watched TV tonight, and if they remained dry-eyed.

Are you excited about next Tuesday? Is anyone taking the day off work? Is anyone taking their babies to the polls, just to expose their little hearts to the excitement of hopefulness and optimism? Can you hardly wait?

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Halloween Cookies


Get out your pumpkin-shaped cookie cutters, people! What better activity for this week than rolling and cutting out Halloween sugar cookies? Of course the best part is the frosting and decorating, but in our house we haven't gotten to that step yet; we've got friends coming over later today for a cookie-decorating party and the photo above is from the preliminary stage of the whole endeavor (completed yesterday). Pumpkins and ghosts! Yum!

And just remember: anyone can do this. The simplest version is a tube of refrigerated sugar cookie dough from the supermarket, a couple of seasonal cookie cutters, a can of vanilla frosting tinted orange (for the pumpkins) or left white (for the ghosts), and whatever candy decorations you desire (we're using chocolate chips, candy corn, orange and black sprinkles, and Brach's mellocreme mini-pumpkins). Sure, it's all sugar and chemicals, but Halloween only comes around once a year. That's what I tell myself anyway.

Which reminds me: Damn! I forgot to stock up on those addictive Reese's peanut butter pumpkins they only sell at this time of year. Not for the trick-or-treaters, of course--for ME. Oh well. It's probably for the best.

At any rate, have fun with your own little goblins. Sneak a cookie or two for yourself while you're at it. You deserve it! You're the best mom ever, doing fun things like this with your kids! Am I right?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Purple is Huge for Fall

I promised my friend Donna I'd post a picture of my purple pedicure from my weekend in Texas. This photo does not do the color justice, however. I was going to go for classic red (always lovely), but then remembered Donna's advice to get an edgy color, just for fun. Purple is big this fall, you know.

The Bloom is Off the Rose

Apparently the "Mama's home!" honeymoon is already over as far as Genevieve is concerned. This morning she yelled at me when I smiled at her and gave her a cuddle when she woke up, and then she threw a giant fit when I attempted to dress her in weather-appropriate clothing, refusing to wear anything other than a short-sleeved onesie, cotton pants, and bare feet. (Here's an unsurprising update on the whole baby's-cold-at-night problem: not only does Genevieve continue to refuse to wear the infamous toddler sleep-sack, she also will not wear a blanket sleeper, or even footie pajamas, or even an undershirt-onesie under her regular knit pajamas, or even socks on her feet. WHICH WOULD BE ALL WELL AND GOOD IF SHE KEPT HER BLANKETS ON AT NIGHT. Or even if she kicked off her blankets all night long but somehow remained unbothered, asleep, and NOT CRYING about it.

This baby is going to turn all my hair gray.

And let me tell you this. Guess what? There is actually no earthly way to force a two-year-old to keep socks on her feet. Or a cardigan on over her short-sleeved shirt. And are you imagining that one just simply forcibly puts the sleep-sack on her? Or the blanket sleeper? Or the footie pajamas? Are you thinking this? Well, sure she'll cry, but just force it on her and make her wear it. She'll get over it. Um, no. What occurred when we attempted such a coup was a scene that threatened to spur the neighbors to alarmedly phone Child Protective Services. You think I am joking, but I am not.

It's going to be a long winter, people.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm Back

All day today, Genevieve has been, now and then, looking up at me, smiling, and exclaiming with wonderment and delight, "Mama home!" She has murmured, "Mama stay home. Mama no bye-bye." She has walked into my arms unbidden and given me three bear hugs. In a row. She has willingly given me several kisses on the lips. It took a three-day absence, but I've broken her bad-ass spirit and successfully yanked some affection out of her stubborn little soul.

As for Julia, when she exited her bedroom this morning and saw me at the end of the hall, she cried out, "MAMA!" with such joy I thought her little heart would break with happiness. Later on she hugged my leg and said, "Mama, I missed you SO MUCH. I love you more than anything in the whole world."

Three days is a long time to be away, when your kids are two and four. It's a long time for you, even though you're having the best time imaginable, and even more so it's a long time for them. I was only in Texas from dinnertime Friday to dinnertime Sunday, but what with travel logistics and all, I was gone from home from preschool drop-off on Friday morning until after ten o'clock on Sunday night. I missed three bedtimes. The morning I left, both girls pleaded with me not to go. Julia hugged me and said, "I wish you could stay home and take care of me," and Genevieve turned her lip down in her highchair and said, "Mama no go." It felt long. And also very, very short.

Because, after all, do you know what I was up to? With my dearest girlfriend and, some of the time, her extremely tolerant and good-hearted husband, and the 80-degree sunshine? Well, let me tell you. I watched three movies--all of which, coincidentally, included the birth of a baby somewhere within the plot, just to make sure I cried a little bit while I was gone, I guess. I drank a giant glass of wine. I stayed up till twelve both nights. I slept "late" (if 8 a.m. is late to you, which it is to me). I spent half a day at a spa, where my girlfriend and I had massages of all kinds--including a scalp massage involving vast quanities of oil applied to our hair, which, in all honesty people, is truly a story for another time. Because YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN US AFTERWARD. And we went OUT TO A RESTAURANT LIKE THAT BECAUSE WE WERE TOO LAZY TO GO HOME FIRST AND RE-DO OUR HAIR--as well as a manicure and pedicure. I got my toenails painted a deep shade of purple.

We also ate ice cream, went out for tons of yummy food, drank a lot of coffee drinks, browsed the Sephora boutique, and visited the perfume counter at Macy's to scout out a designer perfume for Christopher to buy me for Christmas. I read a lot of magazines. I talked a lot. I laughed a lot. Not once did I have even one demand placed on me. I spent zero time taking care of anyone else. I stayed seated for entire meals, and not once did I leave my bed to attend to a crying baby during the night.

So did you get all that? Wine, spa treatments, perfume, make-up, movies, ice cream, and sleep? Aren't you proud of me? Didn't I do the notion of the girls' weekend proud? Didn't I rock the Mama's Weekend Away? I'm pretty sure I did.

The best part, of course, was hanging for 2-1/2 days with my one of my very dearest friends. I almost kidnapped her and took her home with me on the plane. (Thank you, V. You're the best friend a harried mom could ever have.)

Oh, and by the way: by ten this morning I had been up and on my feet running around like a crazy person for nearly four hours straight (after less than six hours of sleep) and was my usual sweaty, dehydrated self, having ingested only a cup of coffee and having already accomplished the school drop-off, three errands, two loads of laundry, and the cleaning of the entire kitchen, so, you know: back to normal! It was a nice escape while it lasted, though. And by "nice" I mean "heavenly." I only wish I could magically bestow such an escape on every harried stay-at-home mom friend I know.

Cheers, all you moms out there. You've got a hard job. And we all deserve a vacation sometimes!