Monday, January 31, 2011

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Homemade Crunch 'n' Munch

OK, so I admit this is not even close to "cooking." It's just a yummy snack. But I figured it fit into the category well enough. Or I could start a new feature: "Simple and Delicious Lame Non-Cooking Snack Ideas That Are Yummy But Something a Monkey Could Assemble." No?

Well, anyway. I don't know about you, but I'm about as likely to serve my kids Crunch 'n' Munch as I am to cut my hair into a pixie. It's just not going to happen. Therefore, my daughters don't even know what Crunch 'n' Munch is. Even so, I like to call this "Homemade Crunch 'n' Munch" because it sounds good. (Btw, I love Crunch 'n' Munch and have been known to snag a box when I see it in the dollar section at Target. Do they have it in the dollar section at your Target? I actually have a box of it in my pantry right now, unbeknownst to my kids. What? I'm done growing. I don't need nutrients anymore. (Kidding.))

All you do is combine popped popcorn (you could use air-popped if you want; we don't own a popper so I popped mine in canola oil), roasted salted sunflower seeds, and raisins or dried cranberries. Serve in individual bowls for a tasty snack. Salty + sweet + popcorn = kid heaven.

Enjoy! Then later on once your kids go to bed eat the real Crunch 'n' Munch from the back of the pantry.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Countdown Begins

So I have a birthday coming up fairly soon. It's one of those Major Birthdays. Although I reserve the right to be, um...creative with my age from here on out. To be honest, I've never gotten too worked up by birthdays; I've never felt depressingly old when that date comes around. Maybe it's because for a long time I looked a lot younger than I actually was. (I know this because I was told so on a regular basis.) Notice I used the past tense there.

Now, though, I am starting to feel old for real. Goddamn those wrinkles. And I'm not sure I'm ready to leave my thirties behind, mainly because those years are often really good ones for most women. You're more settled, maybe you have children during that time, you're clearer about your life trajectory in many ways, you're comfortable with yourself in a way you weren't when you were younger. Plus, I am a lot prettier now than I was in my teens or young adulthood--can I say that? Seriously, I just look way better now than when I was twentysomething. So why would I want to give all that up? I guess it's not my choice, though.

No one is every going to call me a young mom anymore! (OK, it may be a bit of a stretch anyway, but still.)

At least I have a week and a half left before the big day.

You know, the day I turn 30.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mea Culpa, Winter 2011

Original (partial) to-do list for today:
  • Get everybody ready for school
  • Bring girls to school
  • Run errand to the drugstore
  • Go to supermarket to do the grocery shopping
  • Come home, work on freelance writing projects
  • Pick Genevieve up from preschool
  • Work some more during her Quiet Time after lunch
  • Meet Julia's bus
  • Work some more while girls play outside after snack/before dinner

Revised (partial) to-do list for today:
  • Lie awake in bed most of the time between midnight and 5 a.m., listening and responding to Julia's literally almost-nonstop coughing
  • Dose Julia repeatedly with nighttime cough medicine, to little avail
  • Notice she feels hot; dose with Tylenol as well
  • Note that Genevieve sounds very hoarse when she yells at Julia for keeping her awake; recall that she complained of ear pain before bed
  • Get up at 5 a.m. because what else am I gonna do?
  • Curse myself for staying up to watch the entire State of the Union Address as well as all the post-address commentary
  • Curse myself for getting up at 4 a.m. to get work done two days ago. Why didn't I sleep when I could?
  • Call child/children in sick to school
  • Do not run errands
  • Do not get groceries
  • Do not get any work done
  • Wonder how many illnesses one family can possibly get in one school year
  • Wonder how many days you can miss 1st grade in one month before someone gets suspicious and comes looking for you
  • Drink a whole heckuva lot of coffee
  • Start becoming paranoid about catching child's/children's illnesses
  • Think about how Gwyneth Paltrow probably has people who run her errands and buy her groceries for her, even when her children AREN'T home sick
  • Forgive Gwyneth Paltrow for that
  • Drink more coffee

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


So I'm pretty sure I've mentioned here a couple (or a thousand) times that Genevieve taught herself to read when she was 3-1/2. Exactly a year ago she started to read (correctly) out loud the text of her board books and picture books. By summer she was reading all our basic children's picture books and anything the girls brought home from the library--in other words, it wasn't that she had memorized all of our own books; she could read something she'd never seen before.

Last fall, with Julia well and enthusiastically into chapter books for third-graders (she's advanced academically, too), Genevieve slowly but surely started reading chapter books also--asking for a word explanation now and then, but definitely working at it.

Between yesterday afternoon and today, she's read the first three chapters of Ramona Forever, by Beverly Cleary (from the set we gave Julia for Christmas). Sure, she spells words aloud on a fairly regular basis, asking me what they are--expensive, for example, or misunderstandings--but for the most part she's sitting on the sofa reading silently in her head. And if you can't quite believe a four-year-old could be actually reading Ramona Forever, go ahead and ask her to read some of it to you. Or, hand her anything else she's never seen before and test her.

She's reading it. A chapter book that is categorized on Amazon as at the 9-to-12-year-old reading level. My 35-lb., youngest-in-her-class, frequently-mistaken-for-three, four-year-old.

And you should see her handwritten letters to her grandparents.

What is this child going to do in kindergarten? And is there any way to cash in on her freakish talents? (Just kidding on that last one.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nothing at All About Gwyneth Paltrow

Because last week Julia was having a hard time going to school, I decided on Saturday to take her out for a little one-on-one mama-daughter time to cheer her up. I needed to get colored sugars, sprinkles, pink icing, etc., so we could decorate Valentine's cookies in a few weeks. (Yes, I violated my personal ban on canned frosting. It just seemed like way too much effort and leftover icing to make my homemade vanilla buttercream. Yes, I realize I could halve the recipe. Yes, I still bought the canned frosting, JUST THIS ONCE.) I figured what little girl wouldn't love to help pick out pink icing and colored sprinkles? So we decided on that.

Then I had the bright idea of taking her to the dollar section at Target to let her pick out something with some money from her piggy bank. She's been getting a wee allowance since she turned six, for doing her wee chores, and she's lost two teeth for which the Tooth Fairy rewarded her with 50 cents each, but she's never yet gotten to spend any of her own money. She had a great time, and it was super-cute to see her walk around and around the shelves, trying to decide what to buy with her dollar bill. She must have changed her mind 20 times. In the end she picked out a perfect little blank scrapbook with a cut-out on the cover. Then she asked me to pay for something for Genevieve too. (We picked out a fancy blank notebook printed with sparkly cupcakes on the cover.)

But what was really cute was how excited she was to go on this shopping trip. She changed into a dress. She found a little purse in which to keep her money. She put on "lipstick" (chapstick).

As my friend Connie said, "Ooooh, I just love six-year-olds!"


Saturday, January 22, 2011

You Don't Want to Admit it, Some of You, But You Secretly Love Gwyneth.

I love how my numbers go up every time I write about Gwyneth Paltrow. You guys love your Gwyneth! Maybe I should should just turn this into a Gwyneth Paltrow fan site and watch my readership really skyrocket.

This was kind of a weird week. It turned so viciously cold that the children could not go outside to play in the snow after school for days on end, and I was forced to use my elliptical machine to get in my cardio workouts after nearly getting frostbite during a five-mile run last Sunday. I finally got myself a flu shot, about three months late, and set a land speed record for making it through a Target shopping trip, start to finish, in 20 minutes in order to get to preschool pick-up on time. (This involved running in the store while pushing a full cart. I think I scared some people.) My six-year-old mysteriously cried every morning about going to school--or rather, not wanting to go to school--saying she misses me during the day and doesn't want to be there; this, from a child who has never had trouble separating for school--causing me to eventually have a giant stress attack and eat too much ice cream alone in front of the TV on one particularly distressing evening, after she'd sobbed at bedtime and my mama brain started racing to unpleasant places involving someone secretly doing something bad to her when no one is looking. (Luckily, this ice-cream emotional-eating attack coincided closely with finding out via the doctor's scale that, although my scale at home is seven pounds low, my holiday indulgences resulted in just two extra pounds, which I can live with.) Parenting is hard, you all.

And then yesterday when I woke up it was 29 degrees below zero, with a windchill of 41 below, so that was crazy and odd. I mean, yes, I live in Minnesota, and it IS January, but honestly--it's not usually that cold here. It's not usually even CLOSE TO that cold here.

We ended the super-cold day and somewhat upsetting week by snuggling under blankets and pillows in front of the fireplace, eating popcorn for dinner, and watching "The Jungle Book"--my daughters' favorite movie--on video, loaned from some friends for our Family Movie Night. So that was good.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Part-Time Working Mom

I've always said that, besides the obvious reason of wanting my children to grow up seeing me for the bulk of every day rather than someone else, I became a stay-at-home mom because I couldn't handle how insane life would be if I was gone at a job all day and then still had to pick up the kids, cook dinner, feed a family, clean up, spend time with the kids, supervise homework, run errands, exercise, care for the pet, pack lunches, pack school bags, do laundry, and pick up the house before I went to bed. Only to repeat it all the next day. And somewhere in there I'd need to do things like the real housecleaning, and grocery shopping, and paying bills and scheduling appointments and maintaining a house and yard and all that. And what about kid and family events and activities? When would you do all that?

Well, here I am working approximately 15 hours per week--from home--freelance writing for a health website. Only I'm still also a full time-stay-at-home mom doing all of the above, and more. And I'm realizing that already I'm having difficulty sustaining this pace. I can work as much or as little as I want; I get paid by the piece, and it's up to me how many I write each week. But sometime in December I upped my output from 10 articles per week to 15, to earn extra cash for Christmas presents, and then just sort of decided to keep it there. If I could write 15 articles one week, I could do it every week. Right?

It turns out that yes, I can--but it's a constant fight and since I am busy working at my unpaid family/household CEO position all day every day, I generally end up using my former "free/relaxation" time in the evenings to (try to) work--and then later in a mad rush toward the end of the week, trying to cram 7 or 8 or 9 articles' worth of writing into Friday night and Saturday. Of course, on Saturdays there's the girls' gymnastics classes and laundry and cooking dinner and buying groceries.

On the other hand, you would not believe how incredible it is for me to be earning some money. It's not a huge amount; but it's a 15-hour-a-week part-time job amount. In other words, it's enough to help pay for groceries, my near-constant Target runs, the preschool tuition, the swimming lessons. It's enough to let me do things like buy $20 after-Christmas-clearance-sale boots for myself without standing in the shoe aisle for 45 minutes in a sweat, wanting those boots so badly, knowing they're a total steal, and yet having a hard time justifying spending $20 on stylish boots rather than milk and bread. (Really, "$20-boots" and "stylish" are not mutually exclusive. Check it! Though it looks like they're no longer on sale!)

Which is why I'm forcing myself to work for pay approximately 15 hours per week, when it could be 10. Because whoever said money can't buy happiness has clearly never gone six years without being able to freely buy non-essential little treats and rewards for herself without feeling guilty and having to mentally try to do the checking account math. An iced latte here, a bottle of nail polish there, a running skirt, a scarf--stuff like that. It's amazing how happy little things like that can make a hardworking, underpaid mom.

But man oh man--the schedule! How to fit it all in?

Hey, wait--I wonder what Gwyneth would do?

Don't answer that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow is my Soul Sister

So you may know that I have recently become obsessed with Gwyneth Paltrow. Not the Gwyneth Paltrow of "Shakespeare in Love" or that terrible, terrible dress she once wore with the see-through mesh bodice and no bra. (OMG. Awful.)

And not the Gwyneth Paltrow of the snobby, annoying Goop or the rumored stuck-up, smug, elitist personality.

I ignore all that. Because OMG the hair:

And OMG everything about her on the 2010 CMAs:

And OMG how she totally rocked her guest spot on "Glee" last fall:

Seriously, you all! Can't we forgive her just about anything after that? Oh sure, you have to get beyond your blinding jealousy over the fact that she is extraordinarily genetically gifted, the privileged daughter of two famed actors, richer than you can ever imagine, thinner than you could ever be, the owner of some drool-worthy long, blonde hair, married to a rock star, and the absolute definition of "willowy." I know. I've been there. But I've since moved beyond blinding jealousy into full-on girl-crush. I blame my tipping point on those recent appearances--on "Glee" and the CMAs, and her new movie "Country Strong"--but in truth the roots of my obsession go back 6-1/2 years.

You have to understand, I have a deep, eternal bond with Gwyneth Paltrow. One that goes beyond what may be your first thought: we're both thirtysomething moms of two, our children are both 6 and 4, we both have long blonde hair. (Don't worry, I'm stopping with the appearance-related similarities right there.)

No, no, I'm talking about a bond that can never be broken. One that transcends things like fame, riches, perfect hair and long legs. One involving--are you ready?--60 hours of labor. You heard me. SIXTY HOURS.

In late May, 2004, Gwyneth gave birth to her first baby, a daughter--who was born via an arduous delivery after something like 60 hours of labor--about two weeks before I gave birth to my first baby, a daughter...via an arduous delivery after 60 hours of labor. I found this out later that summer when I saw Gwyneth on Oprah. And I just about fell off the sofa in weeping gratitude that someone else--Gwyneth!--knew exactly what I had gone through (and was still recovering from. Hell, I think I'm still recovering from that one).

People, not many women have 60-hour labors. It's a rare thing to find someone else who understands what you really went through. I probably don't need to tell you that 60 hours of labor and 3-1/2 hours of pushing and a last-minute violent vacuum delivery takes its toll on one's body. As in, afterward you sort of don't think you'll ever be in one piece again. Other women, with their normal 12-hour or 8-hour or 10-hour labors, or their uncomplicated Cesarean sections, just don't know. It feels rather lonely, when you're just coming out of it.

So Gwyneth is my soul sister; she just doesn't know it. But that's OK; I can worship her from afar. And pretend that, since we're both blonde thirtysomething moms of 6- and 4-year-olds who have gone through 60 hours of labor, we're practically the same person.

So cut me some Gwyneth Paltrow slack, OK? Talk to me when you've birthed a baby after 60 hours. And go watch that clip from "Glee" again. She'll win you over.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Kind of Felt Like a Stepsister Trying on Cinderella's Glass Slipper.

Over the weekend Julia decided I needed a present. This is why I love children, people. They think you are so fantastic that you should just get presents out of the blue. When I got her up from quiet time, she told me she had been lying on the bed, musing on what she could make for me. She said she first thought about nail polish, but didn't know how to make that.

Later on she came downstairs with my gift. It was a pair of paper, assemble-yourself, homemade slippers. She presented me with two long, narrow, vaguely foot-shaped pieces of paper, colored with marker, two tiny skinny strips of paper "for the straps to keep them on," and four paper clips (two for each slipper) sitting on a paper, colored-with-markers, round-with-handles paper clip holder. She told me I needed to clip the straps on the slippers to use them, and then I could wear the slippers "before bed."

You would have died at the sweet 100% seriousness.

Here are my new slippers.

No, they don't fit, which disappoints Julia. I can get, like, three of my toes through the strap. (And yes, I had to sit there trying them on with total solemnity, as serious as if I were in a real shoe store evaluating a real pair of shoes.) But it's not like she measured my feet first; I mean, come on, what kind of shoemaker does that? Just kidding. They are the cutest, sweetest things you have EVER seen. Also hilarious. But plenty cute.

It just kills me to imagine myself scuffing around the house in flat sheets of paper. OMG, dying. I can't stop giggling about it.

But aren't they great? I bet you wish you had someone to make you homemade paper slippers.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Put Me On That Casserole Train.

Wow, Friday already and I've only written here twice this week? Sorry about that. Let me tell you, there's nothing like coming off a week of illness only to run smack into school volunteering, an unexpected trip to the pediatrician for the pinkeye you gave to your child, and two days of said child staying home from school sick to make you realize there just aren't enough hours in the day. Because how are you supposed to get the paid work done that you normally do during the few hours both children are in school, if you're otherwise occupied dealing with child illnesses and unexpected doctor visits during the time the children are normally in school?

Yeah, not so much.

So let's talk for a minute (yet again) about not having a back-up, a safety net so to speak, a village. Most of you know, because I gripe about it ALL THE TIME, that I do not have any local or nearby extended family available to step in and give me a hand when, five minutes before the school bus comes for child #1, thus freeing me to go to nursery school with child #2 as her Special Visitor for the annual Visitors' Day, child #1 begins to cry over her cold and her (continued) pinkeye and says her stomach hurts. And so I am forced to bid goodbye to my fellow bus-stop mom friends, take both children by the hand, turn around, and walk back home to call child #1 in sick from school, with child #2 quite understandably sobbing heartbrokenly because now she will not have a Special Visitor for Visitors' Day. Because Daddy is at work, Mama has to stay home with sick big sister, and there is no one else available.

Listen, I realize there are families all over the country who don't live near extended family. I realize plenty of current grandparents raised their now-adult children back in the day, with no help either, and they just sucked it up and did it. I get that. I do.

But it seems to be a unique characteristic of my lovely small college town that there are tons of families here with local extended family. What, does everyone love this town so much that they grow up here and stay? And thus, when they have children, their parents and in-laws are a mile away to help out? I don't know. I just know that an awful lot of moms I know have parents, in-laws, or siblings in town, next door, or a short drive away. Sometimes all three. It's very different from the city, where we used to live. There, pretty much no one had grandparents nearby. Everyone had relocated to the city after college, or for graduate school, or for jobs.

And no, we can't just move. There is nothing for us up north, where grandparents and siblings live. There are no jobs for my husband, the schools are worse, the weather is (even) harsher. It's not known for its fantastic family resources, like our town is. We'd never sell our house in this market. Plus, we looooooove our town. LOVE IT.

But this is the deal: This week, amidst my own virus recovery (read: scrambling to re-stabilize my dirty house and empty pantry and long list of professional writing I had not gotten done the week before when I was sick in bed) and two sick children and a sudden trip to the pediatrician first thing one morning (always fun!) and nursery school Visitor's Day, I was on tap to cook and deliver dinner to a family in town who recently had newborn twins. I didn't get it done early like I'd planned because I had a sick kid on Wednesday and could not get to the grocery store, so I ended up running around on Thursday with Genevieve in tow, shopping and chopping and cooking and delivering, around Julia's school schedule and my own other obligations. And don't get me wrong--I was happy to do it, truly--love you, Tricia!--and those babies are angels and this family is wonderful and I was more than willing to help out a friend with two new babes--voluntarily signed up to help, in fact. But I hope the irony is not escaping any of you, that I need someone to deliver ME a freaking casserole!


Coming soon: My girl-crush on Gwyneth Paltrow, and how I justify it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Directing You Elsewhere

Where have I been this week, you ask? Well, since my last post I've been busy overcoming my virus and my pinkeye, giving my pinkeye to my first-grader, giving my cold to my four-year-old, waiting for news about my book proposal, and going to see the movie "Country Strong" to further fuel my obsession with Gwyneth Paltrow. (More on that later.)

Since I'm currently a bit busy, I'll use today to tell you about a great website you should be reading. Some of you may know Susan Wagner, of Friday Playdate--one of my all-time favorite mommy-blogs of sorts. (I say "of sorts" because Susan has written about a lot more than being a mom for a long time now.) I'm a huge fan, and not only because Susan taught me how to dress as a stylish mom on the go (I love that phrase), way back when Genevieve was just a baby and Julia was off to her first year of preschool and Susan wrote a mama-style blog called Friday Style. I read Friday Playdate religiously, because Susan is a great writer, and also because her boys are both four years older, practically to the day, than my girls---so her blog has always given me insight into what mom life is like a few years from where I am now.

Anyway, not long ago Susan rebranded herself and semi-closed down Friday Playdate to start a new site focused not on mothering but on living a stylish life (as a mom). It's called The Working Closet--separate from her working closet blog at you should go check it out. You'll be glad you did. And you'll look--and live--stylish(ly), too.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Cherry Swirl Coffee Cake

I will never be mistaken for a food photographer, that is for sure.

I interrupt our regular All-Sick-All-The-Time programming to bring you an accidental recipe. The other day I discovered an unopened two-cup tub of sour cream in my refrigerator, about to expire. Since using it up via an entire packet of dry onion soup mix and a jumbo bag of potato chips seemed delicious but imprudent, I asked my friends for some ideas. One of them gave me her recipe for cranberry coffee cake that she swore was scrumptious (and I'm sure it is). Fantastic! I could make it with my daughters.

That day I had to go to Target, even though I was (of course) sick. So since I was already there, and I was sick and was NOT going to make a separate trip to the grocery store, I figured I'd pick up a can of whole-berry cranberry sauce (integral to the recipe, natch) in the market section of the store. (This was not a SuperTarget, you all, just a regular Target that has a small and limited dry-goods supermarket section.)

You guessed it: no cranberries. But remember? Sick and not making a separate trip to the grocery store. But need to use up the sour cream.

I bought a can of cherry pie filling. No matter that it's larger than the called-for can of cranberries. No matter that it's FULL of high-fructose corn syrup (so is canned cranberry sauce), and that it's not nearly as tart as cranberry sauce. I'd estimate the amount. I'd cut down on the sugar in the recipe!

No matter that I did not have chopped nuts at home for the recipe, either. Nor that, when I went to start the recipe, I realized I'd forgotten to soften the butter beforehand. (And it was in the freezer!) (Nothing 20 minutes on a plate on the floor in a sun spot can't cure!)

Yesterday the girls and I made this accidental, anything-goes coffee cake, and wouldn't you know it was gorgeous and delicious. The kicker is that this cake is a Bundt cake, and even though I totally abused the original recipe, it is the only Bundt cake I have ever made that has actually risen, and has come out of the pan intact. Seriously! I have this vendetta against Bundt cake recipes. Well, until now.

So here it is. And, by the way, this would be PERFECT for a little Valentine's Day children's party or family dessert for Valentine's Day dinner, all red and white and swirly. So keep that in mind.

Cherry Swirl Coffee Cake
12 servings

1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream (I used "lite")
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 cups (approximately) cherry pie filling; you could probably use the whole 20 oz. can with no ill effects, though

1 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 T. warm water
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the sour cream into the butter-sugar mixture, stirring well. Stir in almond extract.

Spoon half the batter around the ring of the Bundt pan (batter will be very thick), spreading with your spoon. Spread half the cherry pie filling on top of the batter. Top with the rest of the batter, then end with the rest of the cherries.

Bake about 50 minutes or until browned and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean or mostly so. Cook in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Then invert onto rack to cool the rest of the way. (Place your wire rack upside down over the top of the cake pan, hold it there, then quickly flip the whole thing over so the cake in the pan is now resting on the rack. Carefully remove the pan, and the cake should pop out, upside down, which is really right-side up.) When cooled, carefully slide onto a cake plate. Mix glaze ingredients and drizzle glaze over completely cooled cake.

My girls' evaluation? YUM.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Cherry On Top

....Aaaaaand, now I have pinkeye.

I'm pretty sure that if I went crazy with rage and frustration and, I don't know, trashed a hotel room or threw a cell phone at a total stranger, it would be deemed totally understandable and I would be cleared.

Not that I'm planning on doing those things, or that either of them has anything to do with BASICALLY BEING SICK MOST OF THE TIME SINCE THE BEGINNING OF NOVEMBER. But I am filled with rage and frustration. It's always hard to be chronically sick--yes, even with illnesses that aren't serious, per se--but to be chronically sick as a full-time at-home mom of two with no family in town to help out? It's enough to make you consider moving to Italy or Greece or wherever rich Europeans used to send their invalids to lounge in the fresh air and drink in the healing sunshine or whatever it was that was supposed to cure people of their chronic ills back when people did such things.

Or, you know, undergo some sort of mildly terrifying three-week juice detoxification program.

Or, feel extremely sorry for myself and continue depressively munching on leftover Christmas cookies while I clean the house and try to catch up on my freelance-job assignments.

Friday, January 07, 2011

When You Can't Run Away From It All

A major theme of my book (no word yet from the literary agency, by the way, thank you for your well wishes) is mama self-care. You know--the ways in which we full-time at-home moms cope with stress and low moods and loneliness and the like, when we're busy 24/7, or almost that, taking care of everyone else. We all have our own coping devices--or vices?--but the question is, do we actually utilize them appropriately? And do we have enough of them?

I'm still sick, which is really throwing a wrench into my general self-care. And it's been this way since the beginning of November, which REALLY makes things challenging. Because running is my mama self-care. Oh sure, I complain about trying to do it when it's 90 degrees and humid outside in July, or when it's 1 degree above zero in January, but the truth is, I really do love it. Running makes me very, very happy. It could possibly be called the greatest joy of my life, other than my children, who though they are the joys of my life also generate much of the stress I attempt to dissipate every time I go for a run. (Ironic...) Coming home in the evening after a solid, long run out in nature (this is important, too) and knowing I've done something healthy, relaxing, and challenging and can eat a nice big dinner with dessert to boot and still maintain my weight? Well--that's all good, people! LOVE. IT.

But you see, I can't run when I'm sick. So the past few months have been one big up-and-down struggle of trying to run after illness, feeling happy and good, getting sick again quickly, not being able to run, feeling bad, getting a little better, trying to run again, etc. Ugh! So not only do I feel upset because I'm sick, I also feel upset because I'm not getting my mood-enhancing, self-caretaking, good-feeling-generating exercise. Oh! And when you're not running, YOU TEND TO GAIN WEIGHT. Which is also not great for one's mood.

In other words, my self-care strategy of choice for my busy stay-at-home mom life is currently unavailable, and it's messing with me, big-time.

So I'm curious: how do the rest of you mamas take care of yourself amidst the crazy? If it's not running for you, what is it? Because even though I'd much rather be running, I could use some alternatives. And I bet I'm not the only one who could use a refill of ideas in her arsenal of self-care strategies. Plus it's January. If you live in the dark and frigid Upper Midwest like I do, low mood is a way of life at this time of year.

Hit me with your best mama self-care ideas, ladies.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

I Don't Feel Very Clean.

Way back during the week of Thanksgiving, I signed up for my Internet-friend and fellow Minneapolis-area blogger Mary's "Don't Gain, Maintain" challenge on her health/fitness blog Fit This, Girl. The goal was to maintain your current weight through the holidays rather than gaining the typical 5 to 7 lbs. most of us gain from November to January. Today was the last day to weigh back in after the holidays. Sadly, I had to log in a weight 2 lbs. higher than the one with which I registered. However, I blame my failure to maintain rather than gain on the fact that I have been sick (and unable to exercise) fully half of the time since early November. I wasn't expecting to be spending most of my time sitting on the sofa over the holidays rather than running and lifting weights.

I'm sure it had nothing to do with all those Christmas cookies I ate.

The fact is, in looking at my fitness log last night, I discovered that I was sick the first two weeks of November, then the first two weeks of December, and now I'm sick again at the beginning of January. I got sick practically to the day each time. (Nov. 3, Dec. 3, Jan. 4.) Is that weird or what?

Totally coincidentally, I happen to be currently reading the book "Clean" by cardiologist Dr. Alejandro Junger. (I am in no way getting compensated nor have I been asked to review this book, by the way.) Normally I'm not at all particularly interested in things like cleansing, detoxifying, extreme nutrition (see Christmas cookies, above) (also my abiding addiction to cheese curls and ice cream), holistic medicine, and the like. It's not that I don't believe in those things necessarily, nor that I think they don't have merit; more that I've never felt I had any reason to explore such things.

So why am I reading this book, you ask? Well, I'm not sure; I read an interview with actress Mariska Hargitay awhile back in which she mentioned that this book had changed her life, and something about her statement intrigued me. I picked up the book and started reading it in very tiny increments (because who has time to read for pleasure when you're writing a book proposal and working and raising children and doing Christmas?). But lately I've had a little more time to read, because this round of illness has actually put me straight to bed for two full days, so I'm actually making headway into the book.

And I'm starting to wonder if it was just coincidence that drove me toward this book a few months ago. Because "Clean" talks a lot about the modern and mysterious and frustrating ailments that seem to strike so many Westerners living a modern life and eating a modern diet and breathing modern air and existing within a sphere of modern chemicals, all of which are absorbed into our bodies in some way. Ailments like seasonal allergies that crop up in adulthood; chronic sinus infections, viruses and colds; bloating and weight gain; general malaise and lack of energy; pale, lifeless skin. Plus a lot of other more serious conditions like IBS and various autoimmune disorders. And Dr. Junger includes (of course) plenty of case studies of patients who came to him with longstanding syndromes or illnesses that could not be cured via typical medical interventions, and how he directed them through a program of reducing their ingestion of toxins and unhealthy chemical preservatives and the like, and how they were transformed into healthy, vibrant, youthful-appearing, trim, energetic people who looked ten years younger and in some cases almost unrecognizable (in a better way, I mean).

Dr. Junger's argument is very, very compelling. He does not sound like some sort of ill-informed weirdo. He explains the science of modern chemicals and the crappy American diet most of us eat (including cheese curls and ice cream, by the way) in extremely sensible-sounding terms. With my chronic viruses this winter and my arthritis and my on-and-off hair loss and the seasonal outdoor allergies I never used to have but which now dog me every spring, summer, and fall, well--I'm getting totally sucked in.

But I have a feeling we are moving inexorably to some sort of three-week-long juice fast or some such. Which is scaring me just a little.

Still. The results he describes are extremely persuasive. And apparently this is the program Gwyneth Paltrow completed awhile back, and we all know what Gwyneth Paltrow looks like, right, people? Yes, yes we do. And we happened to watch her totally rock her guest spot on "Glee" last fall, and we may have fallen in love with her just a little bit despite her real-life reputation as a smug little paragon of perfection. Or, wait...was that just me?

So, have any of you out there read the book "Clean"? Any of you followed its recommendations? I want to know what life is like without cheese curls.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Calling in Sick and Annoyed

I have spent most of the last 1-1/2 days in bed. Literally in bed, which means my husband has had to miss work and take over with the girls and I've fallen behind in my freelance writing and my running and, well, my life, I guess. (Hate that!)

I could go on and on about how unfair it is that I'm sick again, when I probably have some of the healthiest habits of anyone you know (spinach smoothies for breakfast every day, anyone? fish oil? vitamins? 8 hours of sleep per night?). And just when I regained my running endurance after the last time I was sick. And just when the weather is pleasant for running. (I'm still bitter about missing the entire last week of nice fall weather in November, the last chance to run in perfect temperatures until next April or May, when the rest of my running-crazy town went bounding by outside my door, headed into the country and Facebooking about the perfect running conditions, while I took yet more Excedrin.)

And I could go on and on about how no mom would ever take a four-year-old to Target just before dinner because they were due to bring preschool snack the next day and had to get Goldfish crackers and milk, and then shop for other, nonessential things while they're there, thus extending the duration of the errand WITH A FOUR-YEAR-OLD JUST BEFORE DINNER.

And how no way in hell would any mom then buy two new children's games while they're at Target at dinnertime on a weeknight when they knew--and knew they would have to tell the four-year-old--that no one would be able to play the new games that particular night, because it was a school night and it was late and they still needed to make and eat dinner and do the first-grader's homework, and there was no other adult to play the game while the first adult did the homework, because the other adult in the house was upstairs lying in bed SICK.

Seriously, moms--would you ever do this? No, of course not. Because you know you cannot buy a brand-new toy for a four-year-old--one who is tired and hungry, to boot--and then tell the four-year-old she cannot play it that night, without setting off a meltdown to end all meltdowns, a screaming fit that would go on for 90+ minutes. BECAUSE SHE'S FOUR.

And if the four-year-old was already fussy and cranky before you lengthened the errand and bought the games, then you really wouldn't add anything else onto your shopping list or buy any games the four-year-old can't play right away.

Moms know this. We don't run meandering errands just before dinner. If we have to go out for preschool snack, we go out, grab it, and get out of there with super-human speed because we know what will happen if the child does not get dinner down her craw in about ten minutes' time. We don't buy toys they can't play with because there's no time that night. We wait and buy them on a weekend when we can go home and open them up right away and try them out. We don't expect a four-year-old to "be flexible"--at least, not about things like games and dinner, at the witching hour of the little-kid day.

Moms know these things. We don't even have to consider them; they're obvious. And while I guess I'm glad to be the all-powerful Oz and all that, and it's nice to be needed, most of these things just seem like basic common sense.

Come on, moms--I can't be the only one who thinks these thoughts.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Apparently My Immune System is on Winter Break.

I woke up at five this morning--a half hour before my alarm goes off on school days--because my head was throbbing and my sinuses were competing with my sore throat for Most Terrible Pain award. I also couldn't stop sneezing, nor could I breathe. My first thought was, Hmmm, maybe I shouldn't have run 6 miles in the snow last night. But then I remembered I volunteered in Julia's class yesterday. Damn those germy first-graders!

Speaking of volunteering, yesterday a six-year-old came up with a better way to explain "tens" and "ones" to our advanced math group than the haphazard, I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing technique I was using. Yep, Challenge Math continues to be a challenge. For me, that is. Seriously, you all, I don't think I'm qualified to be a weekly first-grade volunteer. Yes, yes, I did earn a Ph.D., the training for which included courses in Advanced Statistics (now there's Challenge Math, for you!), but that was a long time ago. (First grade was an even longer time ago.) And apparently counting has changed since then.

Lastly, keep your fingers crossed for me. The book proposal for my "survival guide for the modern stay-at-home mom" is currently in the hands--or, rather, in the e-mail in-boxes--of three literary agents at a firm in New York City. This book is destined to be published, I just know it. It's only a matter of time and the right circumstances. You'd all buy it, right? Just say yes.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Living in the Past

OMG! I can't stop obsessing on this photo of how looooong my beloved hair used to be. I've been browsing iPhoto this evening, putting together some head shots to accompany my book proposal, and I came across this old snap. Remember it?

I would kill for that hair now!

OK, so now that you all think (or still think) I'm hair-obsessed, looks-obsessed, or both, I will defend myself by explaining that I have had an angst-ridden relationship with my hair since having babies. It all fell out, it finally grew back in, it fell out again, it grew back in, it's falling out. In between, I fried it to death in the pool with my daughters and had to chop it off. As you know.

Yes, I'm still obsessed with my former hair. And looking at that photo above makes me whimper a little bit.

Moving on!

OK, my book proposal is sent out. Really! Five minutes ago I e-mailed it off, two days early, to an agent I connected with in early December. While Christmas break didn't exactly go as planned--I ended up with only about 2-1/2 hours of dedicated, kid-free time to work on my proposal, and during some of that time I was also making dinner--I worked it out. I got less sleep than I would have liked, and I had very little if any recreational time. Because--guess what?--even if you're writing a book proposal, if you're a full-time stay-at-home and part-time work-from-home mom of two, you still have to cook the meals and do the laundry and clean the house and take care of the children and DO ABSOLUTELY EVERY SINGLE THING RELATED TO CHRISTMAS IF YOU CAN THINK OF IT I DID IT AND BY MYSELF TOO. Ahem.

But who cares about all that? Because I JUST SENT OUT MY BOOK PROPOSAL. And that may be the all-time absolute best thing I've ever done on the first day of a new year.

(New Year's resolution: Grow out my hair.)