Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pretty Good Year

I love this photo. It just conjures up so many possibilities on what that is and where and what it tasted like. (FYI, it's a marshmallow from Three Tarts in NYC and I have to assume it was good.) Sadly, it's not my photo. It's from Cakespy, where they've counted down their 25 Most Delicious Bakery Experiences of 2008. (note: If someone would pay me to travel around eating and writing about baked goods, I could never ask for anything more.) 

I am so delighted with (and jealous of) this list, that I hereby resolve to take more pictures of my food in 2009 so that I can make a Best Meals of 2009 list at this time next year. And possibly I will also make a Biggest Home-Cooking Disasters of 2009 list as well. I didn't document all of my failures this year, but I can assure you that the pumpkin cake incident is #1. 

Ok, so what do I have to say about this year as it draws to a close? Well, to be honest, 2008 sucked in a whole lot of ways. Without rehashing the drama with the teenager, let me just say that my biggest hope for 2009 is that it will be easier for him and that it will contain far less fear and heartbreak for all of us. 

Perhaps my second biggest hope is that I find a job that is at least tolerable, if not awesome, so that we can weather this failed economy and reclaim some financial stability...and go to Hawaii next Christmas. You see, in my view, the whole point of lowering your cost of living and/or trying to make more money is that you have the freedom to experience more of life. The Hawaii experience is the goal for 2009. 

On that note, 2008 was not a total bust. I made a ridiculous three trips to Las Vegas (oh, that's where I left our financial stability) with some of my best friends. My babies turned five and started kindergarten. I had two of the best meals of my life: one on my birthday at La Belle Vie and the other at Craftsteak during trip #2 to Las Vegas. Most of all, I got to spend another year (what looks to be my last year) making a living as a freelancer and staying home with my boys. That's all pretty good. 

So goodbye, 2008. You've had your moments, but it's time for you to go.

Hello, 2009, all shiny and new. No pressure or anything, but don't let us down, okay? 

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Someday My Job Will Come

In the last week I've made cookies, cracker toffee, a ham, two kinds of pumpkin pie, carmel corn, banana bread and a potato pizza. Last night it occurred to me that perhaps I'm channeling the anxiety I feel about having to get a job into cooking. (yes, well it's always obvious once you realize it)

The good news is that I'm not eating most of what I make - just bites here and there - so I will hopefully still fit into my suit if anyone ever feels like calling me for a job interview.  **Sigh** 

Job hunting was a lot easier last time I did it. I'm trying not to take it personally, as everyone is job hunting (thanks, economy!) and December is a really bad time to job hunt anyway, but, well...I'm just not used to sending out so many resumes with so few (read: no) responses. 

I mean, I think I'm still employable. Last time I checked, writing was still a skill that fewer and fewer Americans seem to possess. I can't help thinking my status as "freelancer" isn't helping my cause, since most people seem to think "freelance" is synonymous with "unemployed" or "I-lounge-around-eating-bon-bons-all-day." It also doesn't help that all of these online application systems are completely impersonal and give you no indication of whether a human ever actually sees your resume...Hello, black hole, I would like a job.  

It's just a bummer. I know I could veer out of my field...indulge my curiosity about working at Starbucks, perhaps.  (Side note: I recently read "How Starbucks Saved My Life" by Michael Gates Gill and it does paint quite a rosy picture of the mega-corp.) But what can I say? Corporate America has made me soft. I've grown accustomed to making decent money, so it's really difficult for me to get my head around no longer being able to pick my kids up from school so that I can barely make enough to pay for groceries. 

No, I'm not ready to give up yet. There's a job out there for me. Maybe even one where I can approximate the use of my college degree. Maybe even one that won't steal my soul. Maybe even one that I (gasp) like a little. It could happen.  

Monday, December 29, 2008

Goodbye Christmas

Collective exhale. The holidays are mostly over. All that's left are a few toasts and resolutions and then life can go back to trying to eat fruits and vegetables and save money. (Surely you'd all sum up your lives that way.)

Christmas was nice. Less really is more when it comes to Christmas. Less stuff, less obligations, less mess. Less, less, less. (And then more money left over to do fun things like pay bills!) 

Christmas Eve was spent seeing my dad's wife, who always makes a quick stop on her way to the bar up the street (coincidentally, we live less than a mile from the bar where my father's grade school buddies gather every Xmas Eve). Then onto the in-laws, where the boys treated us all to many squeals of delight, we got to see the teenager, who was pleasantish, and I was informed that even though it's on backorder, I am getting my coveted Wii Fit!!!!!!! I'm sure to get in shape with the help of Nintendo, I just know it. 

Then we ventured over to my stepsister's house for a Wii bowling tournament, which might be the perfect activity for a family gathering, save for the risk of losing your balance while bowling and tipping over into all of the presents...which happened once, but not to me. I have to say that I had sort of accepted that family gatherings were more tolerable than fun, but this one was fun. New tradition? Check.

Christmas morning was picture perfect. The boys were thrilled with their gifts -- all of which I already told you about except for the Price is Right game that we found on clearance at Target and turned out to be the big favorite of the day. 

My husband made the most of our $25 limit (yes, really) and gave me satin pajamas and Anthony Bourdain's book "The Nasty Bits," which, in my opinion, might be one of the best ways to spend $25. 

But one of the big highlights was finding out what the boys picked out for us on their shopping trips. Though Aidan had come very close to insisting on a bottle of Gingerbread flavored CoffeeMate Creamer for my husband, he settled on a back massager that he can strap to his office chair, which was surprisingly appropriate. Owen chose a blue travel mug. Simple and practical, that's my boy.

Apparently Owen had a theme going because he chose a coffee gift set for me, which included a travel mug and some fancy ground coffee. 

But possibly my most memorable Christmas moment came when I opened Aidan's gift...the one that my husband had informed me he was dead set on from the moment they entered the store...the one Aidan had bragged I would want to open first because it was the best...

Yes, I am now the proud owner of a Barry Manilow CD. And not just any Barry Manilow CD, no, this one includes him singing hits such as "Islands in the Stream" and "Careless Whisper." The best part is that because it was from Aidan, I have to actually listen to it. 

Thank you, Game Show Network, for alerting my child to the "fact" that Mr. Manilow is "one of the greatest recording artists of our time." Thank you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

So This is Christmas

I had every intention of writing that ever-elusive family Christmas letter and posting it here…but there’s a reason I’ve never written one. It’s too hard to cram all the ups and downs of a year into a pretty little package that is suitable for mass consumption – particularly by distant relatives and acquaintances who somehow made in onto your Christmas card list.

It’s Christmas and I will welcome a day of peace, with nothing to do but be with my husband and kids and eat cinnamon rolls and play. I am happy.

But I am also sad, because one of us is missing. And because I had to explain to Aidan today that there is a really good chance that he’s not coming back to us. Not to stay. Maybe to visit. Maybe someday, when the anger washes away and he can see more clearly. I hope so. If not for me, for them…for him.

Still, I can’t bring myself to wallow too deeply in our sorrow when I know we are lucky. My friend had a baby two weeks ago. This baby girl got RSV (a respiratory virus that is especially dangerous for infants) and is now back in the hospital fighting for her life. My friend will likely spend her Christmas divided between her daughter’s bedside and her family’s attempt at making the holidays merry for her toddler son. My heart is just breaking for her.

So yeah, I’m sad that our family isn’t all in one piece. I’m sorry that it has to be this way and yet I know that it does. But for right now, today, this minute, I know we are all safe. We all have good reason to believe we will wake up tomorrow and the day after that. So I am thankful for that and sorry that I can’t do more for the ones who don’t have that assurance.

What’s the point of all this? I guess maybe just that when you’re climbing over the piles of gifts, or climbing out from under the pounds of butter you’ve ingested today and tomorrow, head straight for the ones you love and hold them tight. It doesn’t last forever, but it can be really, really good while it does.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The boys and I watched the new episode of 17 Kids and Counting today. If you're not yet familiar with the Duggars, you have probably been living under a rock, but the gist is that they are letting God tell them how many kids to have...which basically means they plan to keep having kids until she stops getting pregnant. (I'm withholding my commentary about this, as it's not the point of this post.) They actually had a stat that popped up on the screen today saying the mom has spent 13 years pregnant. 

Anyway, this new episode featured the birth of the 18th little Duggar. (Btw, the baby was just born on Dec. 18, which means the producers turned the episode around in 4 days -- nice job, TLC!) So, Mama Duggar ends up needing a C-section, so I explain to my boys that they have to cut open her stomach to get the baby out. Aidan asked if that's what they had to do when he was born. I said no, I delivered him and his brother the natural way.

"So they had to stick their hands way down your throat?" he asked. 

Something like that.

Only in My Dreams

Last night I dreamt that I blogged. And not that I wrote some amazing blog post that changed the world or got me a book deal or anything, just that I posted a link in my blog to some other story that I read. What does that even mean

Maybe my subconscious wants me to blog...perhaps my subconscious should also supply me with something blog about then. 

The truth is that I've got things I could blog about, but they all seem like downers given that we're 2 days from Christmas, so I shall save them for when we're all going through the post-Christmas slump. 

In the meantime, I will keep an eye out for an amazing story to post to my blog, just in case my dream was actually telling the future. (Wow, that would be an incredibly lame use for a hidden fortune-telling skill.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008


At last, winter break has arrived and it could not have come too soon. I know I'm supposed to cringe at the thought of losing those precious 12 1/2 hours per week where my kids are in school and I am free to lounge around sipping coffee (or job hunt, as the case may be), but the truth is that I've been falling down on the job when it came to school these past few weeks.

They've got homework every night and yet somehow this managed to completely escape me on at least three recent occasions. Not that I should have to remember it all on my own, but well, they are only five...which, I assume, is why kindergartners never used to get homework. 
Then there's the reading log, which I realized I didn't fill out even once this week. I'm kind of hoping maybe the teacher will just assume she lost that page or something...

Do you think this will reflect poorly on their first semester report cards? Like, Aidan is an exceptional child. He reads at a 4th grade level and has an extensive knowledge of world history. Unfortunately, we don't grade those areas. His reading log was incomplete. C-

Anyway, the point at which I realized I had really checked out of this school thing was when I went to pick the kids up yesterday. So I'm sitting in my minivan playing Diner Dash (it's soooo addicting), as usual, waiting for their smiling faces to appear when I begin to see moms and children exiting two-by-two, the mothers glancing in my direction with an expression of confusion mixed with pity. 

The holiday party!, I thought. The boys mentioned that they were having a holiday party today. Was I supposed to be there?

And that is the very question I asked when the boys piled into the van with blue frosting smeared across their faces. "Were mommies supposed to come to the party?!"

Both boys considered this question. 

"Janie's mom was there." Aidan offered. 

"Thomas' grandpa was there," Owen added. 

"Some other parents were there," Aidan said, cautiously, as if he didn't want to hurt my feelings.

"I didn't know! I didn't know I was supposed to come!" I said, defensively, although they didn't seem particularly concerned. And really, I didn't know...even though I read every scrap of paper the school sends home, I didn't know I was supposed to go. Are my children scarred? No. 

It's just that since I haven't had any work for the past few weeks, you'd think I might excel in my stay-at-home mom duties...well, you'd be wrong. It seems that not having any deadlines looming over me simply means my brain turns into mush and all productivity halts. Hmmm...well, at least now we know. 

And so, for the next two weeks, I will give in to my inner sloth. No scheduled activities, lots of cookies, no homework, and probably too much Wii. Yay winter break!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Horror in the Classroom

My cyber-friend Judith brought this CNN article to my attention today. It’s about the use of seclusion or “quiet” rooms in the school system. These rooms are used for kids who are deemed “disruptive” – often these kids have autism.

This article talks about a 13-year-old boy who hanged himself while locked in one of these rooms. His parents didn’t even know the room existed, let alone that their son was repeatedly being left in there alone when he should have been being educated. The school didn’t tell them because, legally, they didn’t have to…because there are little-to-no regulations about the use of these rooms.

The article reminded me of this New York Times story, “Calm Down or Else,” which discussed the mostly-unregulated use of restraints in school for kids deemed disruptive. Several kids have been accidentally suffocated because they were restrained for so long.

Again, many of these kids have autism – some of them can’t even speak, so not only can they not defend themselves, they can’t go home and tell anyone what is happening to them.

Aside from my obvious horror, my reaction to these stories is always, Thank goodness Owen isn’t violent. Thank goodness he can talk. But isn't there something wrong with that? That I'm thankful he'd at least be able to tell me if he was being mistreated?

And even though Owen isn't violent, he does scream sometimes. He has meltdowns. He’s been known to flail a little when he gets really mad. What if one of his meltdowns happened to coincide with a teacher’s really bad day? What if he just pushed her over the edge in that particular minute and she reacted just a little too severely? What if my little boy was thrown into a locked room, alone, and left to sit for hours on end?

Kids are being abused and killed at school. At the hands of the people their parents are trusting to educate them. Yes, teachers are under-trained and overworked and have too many kids to keep track of, but it’s not okay.

I completely understand that all children deserve to learn in an environment without constant disruption. I wouldn’t want one student taking up my boys’ teacher’s attention the whole day, either, but come on. There has to be a better way. There have to be rules and regulations. At the very, very least, a parent should have to be told each and every time a restraint is used or their child is send to a quiet room.

My boys’ school has a quiet room. They told us about it at the beginning of the year (if you read the CNN article, you’ll note that many schools don’t tell anyone about these rooms). The teachers send kids there when they get in trouble or if they need extra time to finish their work. Owen got sent there once because he didn’t finish his work on time. I didn’t find out about it until more than a week later when he happened to mention it.

Having already read that NY Times article, I panicked. I spoke to his teacher and asked why and when and how often he had been sent there. More importantly, why wasn’t I told? She told me that he had only been sent there once and it wasn’t because he was in trouble. She said that if he had been sent there for a behavior issue, I would have been told. He hasn’t been sent back since.

Aside from being vigilant with our own kids, what else can we do? I don’t know, but there has to be something. No one should have to fear that their children are being abused at school.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ladies and gentlemen, my Christmas shopping is complete. And not just the shopping, but also the wrapping (but that was mostly just because I didn't have anywhere to hide all the stuff).

All I've got left to do now is some baking (homemade gifts are totally recessiontastic, you know) and the annual trip to Target where I let the boys pick out a gift for dad. So I guess, technically, that means I've still got some shopping left to do, but really, they are the ones shopping, not I still say I'm done. 

Letting the boys wander around Target and pick out whatever they want (within reason) for my husband just started last year, but it's something I picked up from a former boss of mine, whose husband used this tactic with their then-three-year-old. My boss wound up getting Scooby Doo floor mats for her car that year. (practical AND fun!)

The process goes against my control freak nature, but last year my boys did great. Aidan was drawn to the automatic tie rack, while Owen chose a Nerf dart gun. I kept asking, "Are you sure this is for daddy and not for you?" and Owen assured me it was for daddy. Turns out the kid is telepathic or something because my husband gleefully informed us on Christmas morning that he would be bringing the toy to work, where all of his co-workers already had their own dart guns. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what they choose this year, although I suspect they will attempt to capitalize on the fact that my husband likes our Wii almost as much as they do. Perhaps I could suggest that daddy would really like a foot massager or a stand-up mixer...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Forever Young

Aidan wrote me a letter at school today...

To Mommy
3 + 2 1/2=5 1/2!
Life is fun being this age!
Aidan R.

May life always be fun, my sweet matter what your age. 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Star is Born

Yes, my friends, a future Broadway star has been born. Aidan had his holiday dance recital yesterday and surprised himself (though not the rest of us) with the intensity of his love for the spotlight. 

He's performed before, but when kids are 3 or 4, "recitals" tend to consist of large groups of children sort of milling about the stage. Even in his highly-structured circus performance last spring, he was just one of about 20 kids all performing the same tumbles and tricks. But yesterday was different...

His hip-hop dance class did their routine to "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and as the lone boy in the class, he was singled out to play The Grinch. I'll admit that I thought this might mean they wanted him to stand and look on while the more rhythmically gifted members of the class did the actual dancing, but no, it turns out the role earned him a few extra special moves. 

At one point he was actually encircled by the group of kneeling girls -- totally Frank Sinatra-style ("all those chicks 'round my feet") -- while he stood, pointing at himself to indicate how important he was. This is how dreams of stardom are born. 

But the best part of course, was how proud he was of his performance. "I was a little nervous," he explained after the show, "but then I just lost all my nerves! And I wasn't nervous at all!" He's a natural.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rudy toot-toot and rummy tum-tums

Despite my fantasies about having a no-spend Christmas -- which, btw, are purely motivated by our less-than-stellar financial situation, not my attempt at making some anti-commercialization of Christmas statement -- we will still buy this Christmas. But mostly just for the kids, as it should be. 

We aren't going nuts this year, but we'll still be able to grant them the wishes they've asked for from Santa. Although I have to be's kind of unfair that Santa gets all the credit for delivering the things they want most.

So what did my kids ask Santa for this Christmas?

Wii Music, of course, which I'm hoping will give us a respite from Tetris Party and Super Monkeyball Banana Blitz while also maybe providing some sort of educational benefit. There has to be something educational about playing instruments with a remote control, right?

Yes, that's right, it's the Press Your Luck DVD game. Bet that's not on your kid's list! Owen really took a liking to this's still unclear why, but who am I to deny an appreciation for the classics? (And no, Santa did not laugh when Owen asked for this, but I think that's only because he had no idea what he was talking about.)
This is the Nerf N-Strike Longshot. Where Aidan heard about it, I have no idea, but I figure it's better than the Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle...I don't think you can shoot your eye out with a styrofoam dart, but I guess we'll find out.  
Ah, board games. Ok, so this one apparently requires you to hurl things around, but it should still make for some family fun...or at least, it should keep the boys occupied while I leisurely enjoy my US Weekly subscription that I just know Santa will finally bring me this year...I mean, how else will I track Britney's comeback?

So those are the biggies for my kids this year. What's at the top of your kids' lists this Christmas?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sweet Stuff

Everywhere I look, I see recipes for new holiday treats. I might as well just start eating butter by the pound. (Ironically, I injured my back yesterday helping my husband carry the treadmill up the stairs because I insisted that I was going to start using it immediately...yep, right after I can stand upright again.)

One of my favorites is still my recipe for cracker toffee, which is essentially just saltines, chocolate chips, lots o' butter and some brown sugar (it is now up to you to assemble those ingredients just right), but my eye has been wandering to peppermint bark, fancy pink macaroons and even The Amateur Gourmet's stupidly simple recommendation of peanut butter Ritz crackers dipped in white chocolate. Yum!

Will my imaginary treadmilling counteract the effects of all this sweet goodness? I think we all know the answer to that. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

TV head

Wednesday has arrived, which means another new episode of Top Chef tonight! 

I've decided to root for Jamie. It would be awesome if a bad-ass girl won the whole thing (no offense to Stephanie, but she was little too timid for my liking). I also must admit that Fabio is growing on me. There was something endearing about him last week. However, I still have no love for Stefan. I don't doubt that he's an awesome chef, but on a reality TV competition, personality has to count for something and, so far, his seems to suck...although I am interested in seeing what this hype about him having a crush on Jamie is about. 

Since we're talking about TV, I should mention that I feel bad having not mentioned the season finale of The Amazing Race. **If you don't want to know who won, stop reading now.**

So, Nick and Starr winning wasn't all that climactic -- not like when TK and Rachel won last season -- but what I was more interested in at the finish line was figuring out what the hell happened to poor Toni and Dallas. 

I had been cheering for them all season and was hoping that the whole losing the passport thing in the previous episode had been done mostly for dramatic effect. I mean, I knew Dallas had actually lost his passport, but I felt like the camera crew had to have been able to grab it or at least track down the cab...I mean, they've got it all on film, right? But then when the mother and son team weren't at the finish line with the other contestants I realized he really did lose his passport. So I suppose it's good that they got eliminated because they wouldn't have been able to finish the race anyway. 

Since the show aired, I did some Googling and found an interview with Toni and Dallas that told me the following:

1) In Russia, anyone can be a cab driver - there's zero regulation (scary?) - so there was no way to track down the cab. 

2) The reason his pack with his passport and all their money got left in the cab is because the crew made him take it off so they could replace his mic battery and then with all the rushing around, it got left on the floor. Bummer! 

3) A good samaritan ended up turning in his passport to the consulate, so even though they missed the finale, Toni and Dallas did make it back home.  

You'd kind of think the producers would have an action plan in the event of a lost passport, but maybe even the almighty Amazing Race crew can't get around the government. Oh well.

In other reality TV news, Lauri left The Real Housewives of Orange County! Clearly, as the only one remotely in touch with reality, she didn't fit in, but do you think it was really her decision to leave or do you think the whole my-son-is-a-drug-addict story line was just too heavy for an otherwise completely shallow program? Hmmm...I can't say I'm interested in meeting yet another new housewife, but Vicki's insanity keeps me coming back every time. 

And finally, did you watch the premiere of Secret Millionaire last week? For those unfamiliar, the premise is that millionaires are sent to live in impoverished areas for a week and they can't tell anyone who they are and then at the end of the week, they have to give away at least $100k of their own money (they can give more if they want). I know, I know, it's Fox, so it's a little smarmy, but I do love the idea of totally unsuspecting and deserving people being handed large sums of money that would probably otherwise be spent some millionaire's next dinner party. 

The little girl with cancer whose parents didn't have medical insurance made me sob. I kind of thought the millionaires would ask how much they owed in medical bills and just write them a check for that amount, but I suppose $50k will make at least a small dent in their debt. 

Then, of course, you throw in anything related to Hurricane Katrina and you've got me sobbing again. I know it's been said a million times, but it's really unbelievable that so many of these people still have nothing more than 3 years later. To throw anyone into that situation and ask them to decide how much of their own money to give is almost cruel in a way, but I was happy to see them handing out checks for $100k right and left. 

And the moral of this story? Reality TV is making the world a better place...okay, well sometimes, at least.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

'Tis the Season of Giving

Today we're delivering our adopt-a-family gifts to Simpson Housing Services. I know I said yesterday that I don't enjoy buying gifts for kids I don't know, but this is the exception. Every year, we sign up to "adopt" a family who is either homeless or relying on housing assistance so that we can help makes a few of their Christmas wishes come true. 

For the past 3 years, we've been assigned the same family: a mother with twin girls. It's not a coincidence, I once applied for a job at Simpson Housing and the woman who assigns families remembered that I also had twins. This family used to be homeless -- a young mother with two then-toddlers -- but thanks to Simpson Housing is now living in an apartment. This single mom can barely make rent, let alone shower her kids with Christmas gifts. 

We started participating in the Adopt-a-Family Program back when I was working full-time and it felt like we had some money to spare. This year, it doesn't feel like we have much to spare and yet I wouldn't think of not doing the program. 

You should see the wish lists we get from this family each year. Whereas my kids are asking for a Nintendo DS (which they are not getting) and an assortment of toys, this family's list is all essentials: winter coats and boots, hats and mitten, jeans and sweaters...the past two years, I've gone back to our liaison at Simpson to ask if there was any way to find out what kinds of toys the girls liked. Because of course we always provide the essentials (the idea of waiting until the end of December in Minnesota for a winter coat and boots is heart-breaking) but we also want the kids to have something extra Christmas morning. 

This year we might actually have spent more on our adopt-a-family than we'll spend on our own family for Christmas - and that's okay. Our kids won't be left wanting for anything. They already have more than enough. 

There are similar programs everywhere. If you're wondering how you can help a family this Christmas, simply Google "adopt-a-family" and your city, or contact your local homeless shelter. No child should go without this Christmas - we all have enough to help someone else.  

Monday, December 8, 2008

Princess Mania and Recovering from It

The boys got their first classmate birthday party invite of the year! As much as I don't really enjoy the uncertainties of buying gifts for kids I don't know and then having to go through the whole "Do I have to stay? Or can I go enjoy 2 hours alone?" aspect of classmate birthday parties, I don't take those invites for granted. I worry that as they get older, those invites might not always come. Or worse, that they might come for one and not the other. 

It's really hard to say which of them will have a harder time socially. Obviously, Owen is expected to be socially awkward -- that's pretty much the definition of high-functioning autism -- but on the flip side, one of the gifts of autism is that even if he doesn't make a lot of friends, he probably won't care all that much. My little Aidan, on the other hand, wants to be everyone's friend but doesn't realize that he alienates people (yes, already at age 5) with his extraordinary intelligence and inability to stop talking. I often find myself worrying more for him just because he takes everything so hard.  

So maybe the best scenario is that the invites just stop coming for both of them...okay, so I'm over simplifying, but it would make it a little easier if they were equally as socially awkward, wouldn't it?  Maybe they'll actually feel less awkward because they're both so awkward. And I know a parent's unconditional love only means so much to kids at a certain age, but at least they can always count on us to embrace their weirdness. 

But I digress...back to the birthday party. This party is for a girl, which at least meant I got to shop for girly toys! And yes, we always buy two gifts (one from each kid) because we try not to treat them as a single entity in hopes that no one else will treat them as such when their birthdays roll around. 

I know it's considered gauche or whatever to assume that people will give your kid gifts, but I've never been to a birthday party where gifts were not expected, so I wish we, as parents, could all agree to simply provide a little direction on the invite. Like, "Billy is obsessed with trucks but is terrified of Bob the Builder." Or, "Sally is totally into painting and she hates Barbie." Or even, "We don't allow guns in our house and yes, that includes squirt guns." You know, something. 

But no, I was left to fend for myself. The boys, of course, could provide zero insight on what this girl likes, but I managed to find out that they think she has a Disney Princesses backpack, which is something at least...I mean, if it's even true.

So anyway, I went to Target ready to buy some princessy things, but the aisle of pink boxes paralyzed me. And there I stood, thinking: How much does this girl really like princesses? Does she want to be one? (but, really, who doesn't?) Would she like to dress up in a gown and carry a wand? Or is that too obvious and she already has enough gowns and wands? (I imagine that if I had a daughter, she would be fully stocked on dresses and wands.) Does she want to play with tiny Cinderella figurines? Do little girls even know who Cinderella is these days or is it all about Ariel and Belle? Should I get her the princess make-up kit or will her mother recoil in horror at the thought of her 6-year-old being given make-up, even it's made by Disney? Will she balk at the little fairy playset because she already has the super-giant fairyland mansion? 

Then I stopped and reminded myself that these gifts were to be from my boys. Even if they weren't actually picking them out (because I've learned that no good can come of that), they should still be things that my boys would realistically be excited to give their little friend.  So I grabbed the fairy lantern that my boys have been eyeing since last Christmas and then I went to the board game aisle and picked out Scrabble, Jr., the Dora the Explorer version. 

And now I feel slightly less crazy, because even if the kid hates her gifts, at least they're purchases we can stand behind. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

Now I'm a Believer

It's the boys' HALF birthday today. That means I now have 5 and a HALF year olds, which means that tomorrow they will be closer to 6 than 5 and well, I'm not sure I'm okay with that yet. 

We've never celebrated half birthdays, but apparently it's a hot topic in kindergarten because it's all I've been hearing about this week. I'm sick and my husband is still in Las Vegas, so I'm not exactly up for a major celebration, but I took them to the grocery store and told them they could pick out whatever they wanted for dinner. The verdict? Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese. I guess the "deluxe" part suggests to them that it's fancy enough for a half birthday celebration. Fine with me. They also got cupcakes, although they had grand ideas of getting an entire sheet cake that actually said "Happy 5 1/2th Birthday!" Seriously.

Anyway, since today we at least half celebrate their birth, I thought it would be a great time to tell you about my amazing experience with EMDR. (hang in there, it will all make sense)

First, if you don't know anything about EMDR, it stands for "eye movement desensitization and reprocessing." It's a weird form of therapy that really shouldn't work, but for some inexplicable reason, does (for lots of people, anyway). Basically, it helps you reframe a traumatic experience so that you're able to remember it without re-experiencing the trauma. (If you want to know more about EMDR, I recommend you start with the Wikipedia entry.)

So my therapist suggested we try EMDR in relation to the birth of my boys after making the astute observation that I was unable to talk about their birth or anything related to their safety or well-being without crying. 

As usual, I was skeptical. I mean, the therapy is essentially you remembering things while staring at your therapist's fingers moving back and forth, as if you're being hypnotized.  It was all bit too new-agey for me, but I had nothing to lose, so I agreed.

It all centered around visualizing the crux of the traumatic moment, which, for me was when, after 3.5 weeks of laying in a hospital bed trying not to give birth, the doctor informed me that today was the day, at just 26 weeks, 5 days gestation. I was terrified. But more than that, I felt like I had failed my precious boys by not being able to keep them safe. 

Please note that I realize there was nothing more I could have done at that moment, but occasionally my emotions overwhelm the logical side of my brain. 

So from that initial memory, you basically work through the trauma and with any luck, you come out the other side not feeling so traumatized. And it actually worked

I have to tell you it was nothing short of amazing for me. Using EMDR, I was able to reframe their birth as a happy event rather than the traumatic event I'd been remembering for the last 5 years. 

I realize this probably seems obvious to any of you who had routine deliveries. Of course the birth of your child was a happy day! How could it NOT be exciting? And yet it had never occurred to me that my memories of the birth of my children were just the opposite. 

I was subconsciously viewing their early arrival as probably the greatest failure of my life. For real. And I didn't even know that's what I was thinking, but once I said it out loud, I knew it was true. And as a result of viewing it as a failure, I've been killing myself to make sure I never fail them again. Which is not only exhausting, but impossible.

But here's the new truth, the real one: My boys' early arrival was not only one of my greatest triumphs but will quite possibly be one of their greatest triumphs as well. Because somehow they had the strength not just to survive, but to thrive. And here they are, these amazing, brilliant, funny, healthy little people and I get to be their mom. And I'm lucky. We're lucky. 

Does this mean I won't still remember how hard it was and how helpless I felt? No. But it does mean that I can remember the hard parts within the context that it all turned out okay -- better than okay -- and I can stop trying to make up for something that was never within my control. Something that doesn't need to be made up for. 

It's amazing. Like a weight you didn't even know you were carrying is suddenly lifted. Highly recommended. (It doesn't work for everyone, but it's definitely worth a try.)

And that concludes our therapeutic interlude. I promise way more fluff next time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Dealins Done

Good morning, blogosphere. I have returned from the land of hopes and dreams and sequins and tequila and I am really not ready to be back. 

Sure, I loved coming home to my boys, but now I'd like to pack them up and fly back out to Sin City -- even though I normally do not endorse Las Vegas as a kid-friendly destination -- because I just need a few more days of fun and sun while I recover from the plague or whatever this weight is that's been sitting on my chest since Tuesday morning.

So, the trip...the trip was great. I flew in Sunday night and the hubby and I rushed off to dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill.
That's my tuna steak with pine nut cous-cous. My husband had the 16-spice duck breast with chorizo-goat cheese tamale. Yes, it was as incredible as it sounds. And for dessert, Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake. I think I was already in a food coma because I didn't take any photos of it, but in case the name doesn't sound amazing enough by itself, here's the menu description: "Espresso butter cream with Kahlua toffee pieces + espresso toffee sauce." Uh-huh. I almost cried when I realized I couldn't finish it or I would vomit all over the nice white tablecloth. (and that is why I am not a food writer)

After dinner, we hit the Planet Hollywood Casino, where I proceeded to win, win, win on the slots. More importantly, I got to play lots of the games within the games, like the lucky case game on Deal or No Deal and, of course, the Super Grand Hotel bonus on Monopoly. Those games are the reason I like the slot machines so much. I mean, winning is fun, but even if I walk away empty handed, I'm happy as long as I get to play the games.

As a side note, I'd like to give props to the designers of the new Monopoly slots. They are far and away the most entertaining slot machines out there. (no offense, The Price is Right, I'll get to you in a minute) Most of the time, you have no idea what's happening, but it's still fun to watch.

After all the winning, we walked back to the MGM (one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed at on the Strip!). There, I was elated to discover a brand new The Price is Right slot game, thus reassuring me that TPIR really is making a comeback (thank you, Wii). 

It was a 6-machine bank of slots with a gigantic Cliffhanger game on top. The slots were pretty basic, but if you hit the Cliffhanger bonus, you got to move the gigantic yodeler up the mountain for all to see...or rather, try to avoid moving him up the mountain by stopping the flashing board in the right spot. Now, I hate to detract from the glory of any sort of TPIR resurrection, but the game itself was a little lame. I much prefer to old-school TPIR slots (with Rod Roddy). Still, any homage to TPIR is okay with me.

After that, we went to our room and collapsed, as back in Minneapolis it was about 2 a.m., which is WAAAAY past my bedtime and my husband had to work in the morning. 

Monday we got our (RED) Starbucks drinks for World AIDS Day (but really, I drink Peppermint Mochas every chance I get) and then the hubby was off to work while I was off to the MGM spa for my "double shot" mani/pedi. For real, their winter special was a peppermint mocha mani/ was like they knew I was coming. 

So, I show up to the spa and find out that my appointment has granted me access to the entire sanctuary they keep hidden under the hotel. They asked me to change into a fabulous robe and explained that the jacuzzi and sauna were "bathing suit optional." Thinking I was just getting my hands and feet rubbed and polished, I hadn't brought a bathing suit, so I considered this information for a moment and concluded there was no way in I went and laid down on one of their dozens of couches and just relaxed until my name was called.

The tiny Latino grandmother who called my name, led me down a long hallway to her own private room where she performs her manis and pedis. It was a little weird, I have to admit, and yet, I became so relaxed that I almost fell asleep. It being Xmas time, I chose a bright red polish that I would never really wear in real life. Turns out it doesn't matter because I f*ed up the manicure within 24 hours...all that button pushing is a bitch on nails. But my toes still look lovely! Next time, I'm bringing a friend and a bathing suit.

Once I emerged from the spa, it was time for a 99 cent cheeseburger and then onto the slots. After winning some money at the Monopoly Big Event slots in the MGM, I walked across the street to New York-New York, where I discovered a bank of old-school TPIR machines (Cliffhangers, Dice Game and Plinko!). I also managed to win more than 3000 credits on a Monopoly game...and even though those were 3000 pennies, I was happy. I spent most of the afternoon winning just enough to keep me playing and then when I got tired, I took my Corona and my custard-filled Krispy Creme donut back to my room and napped. What a day. 

When my husband got done working, we went out for some mediocre sushi at the Grand Wok & Sushi Bar, then we ventured over to the Luxor, which has undergone a total transformation in the last year. Someone must have told them that the King Tut theme was lame, so they've remodeled the whole thing and added a bunch of well-reviewed restaurants and bars...none of which have anything to do with the Egyptian theme, so I guess you're just supposed to pretend the building is no longer shaped like a pyramid (but it totally is). 

I had done a little research before our trip and learned that there was a new bar at the Luxor that serves crazy $25 martinis that come in flavors such as peanut butter and jelly (and yes, they are rumored to be good). I was sure this was a place I needed to visit, however, when we arrived, we couldn't find the place. But while wandering around, we did discover another old bank of TPIR machines that had been trotted back out. This one included Punch-a-Bunch. Woohoo! 

We decided to have a drink at Cat House, which is made to look like a brothel and bills itself as having "intimate dining and seductive nightlife." You can't see in from the outside, so we had to take a peek, expecting the waitresses to double as burlesque dancers or something. I was also intrigued by the news that "celebrity chef Kerry Simon" was at the helm...intrigued, but I didn't really know who he was and I kind of thought celebrity chefs didn't refer to themselves that way (and can someone tell me if he was once a guest judge on Top Chef?).

So we entered. Luckily, it was still early, so our shlumpy jeans and tennis shoes were allowed. The place is really cozy and definitely a cool lounge, but there is really nothing risque or particularly seductive about it. Still, my XXX cocktail was quite delicious. And as I was sipping it, the celebrity chef himself walked through the bar. A minute later, he returned, with Robin Leach in tow! 
(Note: This is a photo from Google. I did not get a chance to snap one)

Maybe it was just the total randomness of seeing the former host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous inside a pseudo-brothel bar wearing a leather jacket, but I got a little giddy. And since this man has some sort of affiliation with the Food Network and was there to eat the celebrity chef's food, it made me want to have dinner there...but we didn't. Maybe next time. 

After our brush with fame, we met up with my husband's co-workers at Diablo's Cantina, one of the few establishments on the Strip that does not force you to enter through a casino. All was well until a crazy drunk guy took an inexplicable interest in one of my husband's coworkers and came very close to punching him in the face before being thrown out (literally) by the staff. That was enough excitement for everyone, so we all went back to the hotel.

Then it was Tuesday. I awoke with a sore throat, but it just felt dry and I figured I'd slept with my mouth open due to my chronic sinus issues. (too much information?) I continued my denial even after feeling slightly winded from simply walking to the bathroom. I told myself I would get some cold medicine, eat something, and I would be fine. I tested this theory by walking back over the New York-New York and propping myself up at a slot machine. 

I was not fine. Alternating between hot and cold, my knees felt so weak that I wondered if I'd really make it back to my hotel room. Instead of attempting that walk, I found a little deli in the casino that served Matzo Ball soup. Yum. Surely this would cure me. It did not. In fact, I think I almost fell asleep while eating. Admitting defeat, I staggered back to my hotel room, where I alternately slept and watched Jerry Springer for what seemed like 8 years. 

Despite my illness, I continued to be hungry, so at one point I did wobble downstairs and get a sandwich from Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft. From what I could taste, it was good, but even Tom Colicchio could not cure me. Being sick sucks, but being stuck in my hotel room while all of Las Vegas was outside my window was torturous.

Shortly before my husband got done working his 12-hour day, I got ambitious enough to go get some hot tea and see how I felt walking around. I made my way to the Monopoly Big Event slots again and won $60. That made me feel a little better. 

That night, the group decided to hit the Hard Rock Casino, which I like, so I went along. We had a very mediocre meal at Mr. Lucky's and then we left without any gambling. Strange, but I was too busy wiping my nose to argue. After that, we decided to venture to the Double Down Saloon, one of the off-Strip locations Anthony Bourdain visited on his Las Vegas episode of No Reservations. They serve a mysterious concoction called "ass juice." I was happy to learn that my husband's co-workers are fans of Anthony Bourdain. I was skeptical of the ass juice.

The Double Down is a local hang out. It's similar to the 7th Street Entry, except with a strange hick-meets-punk vibe and some pool tables. I liked it. I would have liked it more had I not been sick. I ordered my husband a bacon martini. I knew it was a specialty because there was a large, hand-printed poster board sign on the back wall telling me so (another sign offered "puke insurance" for $20).  I did not try the bacon martini, but everyone else gave it two thumbs up.  I have a feeling that I will soon be learning to infuse vodka with bacon...that just can't be healthy. 

Having run out of Kleenex and verging on unconsciousness, I suggested we head back to the hotel. There, I half-slept, while propped up with 3 pillows. Blech.

This brings us to Wednesday (yesterday). Still sick, I decided I couldn't spend my last remaining hours in Vegas in my hotel room, so I got on the monorail and headed up to the Flamingo. I was shivering and sweating and didn't really know where I was going, but these things do not faze the wonderful people of Las Vegas. I fit right in. 

The next couple of hours included a lot of walking and trying to find souvenirs for the boys and some slot playing. After winning $45 on some weird Monopoly machine I'd never seen before (Reel Riches?), I decided my trip would be incomplete without a margarita from Margaritaville, so I meandered through the breakfast crowds (it was almost 10 a.m.) and got a Pink Cadillac to go...ah, I love Vegas. 

Then it was back to the hotel, a quick lunch with the hubby and off to the airport. I was sad to go, but distracted by my fear that my eardrum would explode during take off. It didn't. Lucky me.