Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hawaii or Bust

Hey, remember when it was Christmastime and everything was all caroly and gingerbready?

Seriously, it's amazing how quickly I got over Christmas this year. No mourning, just a sincere "Thanks for coming!" and a slamming of the proverbial door. (Or maybe a gentle shutting...there was no anger involved.)

I hope your Christmas (or non-Christmas) was lovely. Ours was lovely. Short, sweet and just the right balance of family time, gifts and merriment...all topped off with a showing of "Sherlock Holmes" on Christmas Day (sans children). All I can say is, I ♥ Robert Downey, Jr. Most importantly, the boys enjoyed lots of love and laughter and the excitement of getting what they wished for.

And now that we've got that pesky annual tradition business out of the way, I can give my full attention to what I've been wishing for: Hawaii.

Oh, Hawaii, in 48 hours I will be in your tan, tropical arms...lay me down in a bed of sand and hook me up to a pina colada I.V. I am ready.

Some of you may recall that we've been planning Hawaii since last year. It was somewhere I'd always wanted to visit, but had never actually put on the travel docket because of all the other places I wanted to go (oh, and because it's very far away and expensive). Then the kids expressed excitement too and the plan was hatched.

Now, when it comes to travel, I tend to take the attitude that you can't put a price on experiences. This often allows me to justify planning trips regardless of my current financial status. It runs counter to my otherwise common sense-driven, responsible approach to life and maybe that's one of the things I love about it.

With kids, I've had to be more realistic about not only what we can afford, but where we can go with the boys or how long we can be gone without them. This has resulted in slightly less actual travel, but more obsessive travel planning (I have a loose outline of trips I am planning through 2015.)

Anyway, the point of all this is to say that before this trip, I don't think I've ever spent a full year planning anything other than my wedding. And maybe my kids.

When we started talking about it at the end of last year, we really couldn't afford it. My freelance business had just fallen off a cliff and I wasn't sure what 2009 would hold. But I knew I wanted it and I knew we'd get it, eventually. So I went back to work and I was able to tell myself and the boys that it was worth it because, in addition to being able to pay our bills, it would eventually allow us to take this trip. And it did. And that gives me a sense of accomplishment and sets a good example for the boys. It even suggests that, perhaps, where travel is concerned, I could learn to delay gratification a bit...maybe...on big trips.

So you see, even though planning dream vacations might not be the most fiscally responsible thing to do given the current state of things, it can teach us valuable life lessons, such as: Don't live to work. Work to travel.

And if all else fails, well, you can't really put a price on experiences, right?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Comfort and Joy

The halls are decked, the shining star has been hung upon the highest bow...it's Christmas Eve!

Most of our Christmas festivities happen on Christmas Eve, which leaves us free on the actual holiday to stay in our pajamas and eat only cinnamon rolls and leftover pie.

Here in the Twin Cities we're having a good ol' fashioned snowstorm. It started last night and is predicted to last through Saturday. So far it's just enough to make driving a pain in the ass, but not yet worthy of all the hoopla our local meteorologists seem to be making of it. It's not as if we've never seen snow.

I feel for the people who are trying to travel great distances - especially those who are facing Christmas Eve camped out in an airport terminal (I am so grateful that my husband has had nearly three weeks off from travel!) - but as for the rest of us, well, it's not going to kill us all to slow down just a bit and enjoy the people in our immediate vicinity.

Sure, I would like to be able to stick with our three-stop Christmas Eve itinerary because it's tradition and it's nice to see nearly every member of the family within an 8-hour window (maybe "convenient" is a more appropriate description), but if we end up snowed in and have to spend the entire day or even the next three days as a just us, here, together...well, I can't think of anything terrible about that situation at all. Maybe it helps that I've got an entire candy cane pie in the refrigerator.

So wherever you are and however you end up celebrating, I hope you all have yourselves a Merry Little Christmas. Peace, love, coffee and pie.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Always Know Where You Are Going

With only 11 days until my family and I will be ankle-deep in white sand on Waikiki Beach, Aidan put together the following document this morning:

Do you think he's been pitching Travel & Leisure after we go to bed at night? Maybe they'll give him a column called "This Kid is Going Places."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Baking Christmas

A week from now, Christmas will be over. Even though I've been watching Christmas movies and listening to carols and shopping and wrapping and baking, I still don't know if I've been holly jolly enough.

There's a feeling stored in my mind that I think I'm always trying to recapture, although I'm not entirely sure it was ever captured in the first place. Maybe it's just an amalgamation of all of the things I've ever loved at Christmastime that, when combined, cast a glow over my memories of the season.

In my mind, there's an anonymous snowy windowsill, the only light coming from the colorful, twinkling bulbs strung along the the window frame, and I am sipping hot chocolate while Christmas songs fill the air. And the scene is pink and sweet, like a candy cane. And that's what I think of when I think of Christmas.

But if you want to be more tangible about it, here are a few holly jolly recipes I've compliled for the occasion, which I think you might want to try:

Yes, Land O'Lakes is trying to sell you butter with this recipe, but you need butter when baking these delicious bits of Christmas, so it's all good.

I'm thinking about giving these as gifts. Even the most cynical teenager would welcome the gift of bacon cookies, right?

Only Paula Deen would suggest that you use cake mix for the crust. I made these recently for our office potluck and I am now very popular at work.

This isn't just a great recipe for caramel corn, it's from my favorite momoir author-turned-recipe queen, Catherine Newman.

Truthfully, I've only used the mint buttercream part of this recipe so far (it's great with brownies), but perhaps you are feeling ambitious? There's just no way these cupcakes could be anything less than awesome.

So Merry Christmas Week. Stay sane, bake lots and remember that gifts are not actually the point of all this.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Fluffy Stuff

Wow, turn around for a second and it's been 11 days since you last blogged.

I never told you this, blogosphere, but I had been toying with the idea of writing a 25 days of Christmas blog...or rather blogs, since there would have to be 25 of them. But then I couldn't narrow down the theme enough to make it feel manageable...and then, well, it turns out that I had almost nothing to blog about for nearly half of the month, so I guess it's good that I didn't take on that particular challenge. Whew.

Not to say that the contents of my last blog were nothing, mind you. In fact, I thought I might have to make a very special appointment with my therapist in order to process that bit of information (therapy has been put on hiatus), but as with most things, it fades with each morning that I wake up. Now I'd say it's been moved from my mental "examples of failure to protect unborn children" file and put in the "possible explanations for Owen's autism" folder...which is to say that it's soaking into the fabric of my daily existence...which is okay.

Man, I hate it when serious stuff creeps into what I think are going to be light and fluffy blogs. Well, in an effort to balance out the heft of the beginning of this entry, let's talk about reality television, shall we?

Danny won Biggest Loser by losing more than half of his original body weight in, what, less than 6 months? There's no way that can be healthy, but it sure does make for good TV. Plus, Shay gets to come back and get paid $1000 for every additional POUND she loses! Forget health, Subway knows how to motivate.

Top Chef Las Vegas is also over and the egomaniac won. This displeases me. I feel like they were all fairly equal in terms of culinary talent and therefore one of the two nice guys should have taken the grand prize. But did you see this interview with the winning Voltaggio? Did he say he has children or is he speaking in the future tense? Because I don't remember ever hearing about any children and it makes me a little sad to think he might have some, but never mentioned them. Oh, and on one other Top Chef-related note, did you hear about this? It's like my dreams became television producers.

The Amazing Race also came to an exciting close. Perhaps to make up for Top Chef's change of locales for the finale (or not), it ended in Las Vegas! I have to say it was one of my favorite Amazing Race finales even though it didn't have all the suspense of making them fly from, say, Alaska to Hawaii mid-leg. It was no surprise who won, but it was still fun. My Sunday nights now feel empty.

Somehow it's already time for the finale of So You Think You Can Dance. I feel like the auditions took longer than the competition. My favorite part of this season was the guest appearance of The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. Not that some of the contestants aren't great dancers, but those guys seem to defy gravity. As for picking a winner, I like Legacy and Russell, but I don't really care that much.

And over in the category of happy returns, both Intervention and Hoarders are back! Hooray for dysfunction and mental illness! I know, I know, but how can you possibly look away? Plus, sometimes they get better, which makes it all okay, right? Right?

There's more, I'm sure, but my Tivo is calling me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Knowing (and Not)

The boys finally got their H1N1 vaccines today. I didn't want to deal with crazy lines, so we went through their pediatrician's office. Unfortunately, their pediatrician's office didn't get any of the mist, so I was forced to inform the boys that there would be needles involved.

I think we all still have traumatic memories of their five-year check-ups, at which they both received several immunizations and I discovered (too late) that when I had warned them there would be "shots," they had no idea what that meant.

But this time I figured we'd be prepared, so I gave them a heads up last weekend and have since been met with daily complaints, whines, and questions about why they have to do this. I informed them that sometimes you have to do things that you don't like to stay healthy. I went so far as to explain that while I was in the hospital pregnant with them, I had to get two shots every single day and that I didn't like it, but (and I swear this wasn't intended to be a guilt trip) "I did it because it helped keep you safe in my tummy." Seriously, I spoke those very words maybe two days ago.

So imagine how I felt today when I learned of this research, which says that beta 2 adrenergic agonist drugs might cause autism. More precisely: "Prenatal exposure to continuous high doses of beta 2 adrenergic agonists can permanently dysregulate signaling from the beta 2 adrenergic receptor."

Terbutaline, the drug that was injected into my body twice a day, every day, for 3 and a half weeks while I was pregnant, is one such beta 2 adrenergic agonist drug. Now, I don't usually jump at every article claiming such-and-such may cause autism, but it's not that often that the circumstances being described so closely match ours.

I'd say shock is the most appropriate way to describe how I felt when I read this. Then anger, then sadness. I've said over and over that I want to know why, but I guess I wasn't prepared for the possibility that something so avoidable could be the reason my little boy may face lifelong challenges.

And no, it's not concrete. I can't say with any certainty that this is what it was...that had I not been given those injections I would have two neurotypical children. If anything, I probably lean more in the direction that had I not had those injections, I might not have either of my kids today.

Terbutaline slows contractions almost instantly. Even combined with my IV of magnesium sulfate, it was never able to stop my contractions completely, but it definitely slowed them down and I do believe that slowing down my contractions allowed me to make it as far as I did with them. Had they been born when I was admitted to the hospital at 23 weeks, I don't think they would be alive. And if they were, we would likely be dealing with challenges far greater than high-functioning autism.

But...it's not as if I made an informed choice. I didn't know. Logically, I can't feel guilty about that, but there's something so sad about the idea that there was actually a moment when things could have been different.

Still, if we're talking risk versus reward, I wouldn't risk what I have. If I ever get my time machine, I won't go back to find out whether that drug made the difference between my babies living or dying on the off chance that had they survived, then maybe Owen wouldn't have autism. That's something I can live without knowing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

With Sprinkles on Top

I've been busily trying out recipes for the home-baked (hand-baked?) gifts I intend to give out this year. So far the cranberry-white-chocolate-oatmeal cookies were too bland and the first batch of mint brownies were a disaster (although the second recipe I tried shows much promise)...next up are the pumpkin pie bars, or maybe I'll just default to my old stand-by, cracker toffee, which never disappoints.

But, I've said too much. What I really wanted to share was this photo of this perfectly festive cupcake because it is, well, perfect and festive.
So if you happen to be in Seattle, heading back to Minneapolis, with time to stop at Cupcake Royale and you feel like bringing me one of these puppies, I'd be mighty grateful. Every baker needs a little inspiration. And every girl needs a cupcake. Just sayin'.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Season's Greetings

Happy post-Thanksgiving! I intended to write a post on Thursday, in which I mentioned some of the many things I am thankful for...then I didn't. On the off chance you've been sitting there wishing you knew what I was thankful for, I will refer you to last year's Thanksgiving post, as it still rings true, although you'll have to replace "Las Vegas" with "Hawaii" this year. Yes, that statement alone tells the tale of my gratitude.

But seriously, I am more thankful than ever that everyone in our immediate family has their health this year. I know too many people with cancer. I am thankful not to have to wake up every morning ready to fight something so painful and unjust. And I am thankful that those who do are able to continue to find the strength.

Also, I am thankful that I can look back and say that the teenager is in a much better place than he was a year ago. Our relationship with him continues to be redefined, but I feel hopeful that it will settle into something comfortable...eventually.

But really, that's not what I wanted this post to be about. I wanted to say that I've snuggled into that pocket between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I am in the mood to watch holiday-themed romantic comedies. Got any recommendations?

I'm also open to retro TV holiday specials and family dramas à la "Home for the Holidays." I think I'm going to show the boys "Home Alone" for the first time. We already watched the Garfield Christmas special on YouTube.

My poor children have been seriously deprived in the Christmas TV special department...they haven't even seen the Charlie Brown special, although to be fair I think our generation's Snoopy-induced nostalgia far outweighs the quality of that particular program.

Anyway, I'm all about Christmas at the moment. Our tree is up, much of our gift shopping is already complete thanks to Black Friday and the Internet, and I've decided that immediately following Christmas might be the best possible time to go on vacation. Counting down to Hawaii totally takes the pressure off of Christmas and makes it more fun. Plus, knowing we're going to Hawaii in less than 5 weeks eliminates both the desire and ability to spend wildly on extravagant gifts.

Next week, I might be over it, but this week, I'm buying into the whole "most wonderful time of the year" schtick. Bring on the mistletoe and John Hughes!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratitude, eventually

Are you busy building your "I am thankful for..." lists? I assign myself this task each year for no reason, it seems, other than to give myself something else to procrastinate on.

See, every year we host Thanksgiving brunch.

It started the year we had the boys because they weren't really supposed to go anywhere that winter due to their fragile immune systems. Having no interest in learning to make a turkey, I chose brunch so that I could make pumpkin pancakes. Six years later, they continue to be hit and we've got ourselves a full-blown tradition.

So every year I imagine all of us sitting down and contentedly going around the table with each guest saying what they are thankful for. Everyone will say something deep and meaningful, the boys will provide heart-warming comic relief, and then I will say something so poetic that it brings everyone to tears...and then the credits on our Lifetime movie roll.

We've never done anything remotely close to this, of course. I don't even think we've ever made any kind of a toast...in fact, there really isn't even a "Thanks for coming! Let's eat!" I'm lucky if I can get both sides of the family to make chit-chat (my mom would prefer to read the newspaper than speak to anyone), let alone reveal a small piece of their souls. Still, it's nice to imagine it. And, hey, if it ever happens, my moving speech about love and togetherness will be prepared.

Wait, no it won't.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Swimsuit Parade

As the long-awaited Hawaii trip gets nearer (44 days, but who's counting?) , I have become increasingly obsessed with the swimsuit riddle.

You've given birth to twins, led a sedentary lifestyle and love beer, now you must fit into something made of lycra. Okay, it's not a riddle, I just like that word better than, say, debacle. The swimsuit debacle.

I've been trying the exercise route in earnest. For more than three months, I've treadmilled regularly, even working my way up to running an entire half mile without dying! And it's helped a little...a really little.

But now it's come time to actually purchase that dreaded swimsuit. Despite not having worn one in 8 years, I really pictured myself in a bikini (ok, not myself, but someone like me who is in much better shape) just because, I don't know, it seems like Hawaii calls for a bikini. Plus I think in my mind I pictured it being some kind of pay off for pushing through my hatred of exercise...my reward for actually sticking with something for, you know, three whole months...turns out walking a mile, or even run/walking a mile doesn't produce miracles...I know that you are as shocked as I am.

Alright, so I should admit that I am saying all of this having already ordered the damn bikini. It came in the mail and, while the pattern perfectly fits my picture of Hawaii, my belly in it does not. This caused me to realized that if I'm going to be spending 75% of my time in a swimsuit for a week, then I probably need to feel good enough to leave my hotel room.

This has induced a sort of feverish spree of swimsuit ordering. Suddenly I want to try on every swimsuit, in hopes that there is, in fact, one that will give some illusion that I'm skinny...and possibly not flat-chested. This journey has led me to discover that swimdresses have made a comeback. Or possibly they never left and I am just old enough to actually consider one. Seriously, if I wear a swimdress in Hawaii will I be announcing to the world that I have given up? Or possibly that I have senior citizen envy? Hey, if it was good enough for Marilyn...

What will the outcome of this swimsuit parade be? Will I find a suit that is comfortable, flattering and does not add 25 years? The suspense is killing me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


We had parent/teacher conferences on Monday. Interesting thing: they are both doing great in their separate classrooms - excelling in reading and math - but they both need to work on their handwriting.

Aidan's writing is just messy because his brain works faster than his hand, so we need to work on getting him to slow down enough for it to be legible.

Owen, on the other hand, just doesn't want to do it. He hates the act of writing. This seems to be his only major source of meltdowns in the classroom. He can write - it's actually one of the few things he mastered before Aidan did - he just doesn't like it and has been refusing to do it. We think part of it is that he struggles to form his ideas into words, but thanks to this uncannily-timed story from NPR, it turns out that it might also be that the physical act of it is more difficult than we realized.

As a parent of a child with a disorder so confusing and mysterious, I can't tell you how exciting it is to read an article about it and actually go, "That's our situation! That's Owen!" Of course, the story doesn't exactly offer solutions, but even just identifying it as a common issue is helpful (mentally, at least). I am anxious to see if teaching him to type could help him get over the handwriting hurdle and let him focus on learning alongside his peers.

Because seriously, if writing turned out to be his biggest obstacle in school, well...I could deal with that.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Let There Be Health

My house was a sick bay all week. The illness started on Halloween, but I was in denial until the day after Halloween when the fevers arrived.

At first I held out hope that the kids would be back in school by Tuesday, but the illness wanted nothing to do with that plan. The school nurse called us on Monday to ask about symptoms (she's trying to keep track) and let us know that 13% of the school was absent. Tuesday night we got word from Aidan's teacher via email that 60% of his classroom was out sick.

On Wednesday, I decided to try sending Owen to school. His fever was gone and he seemed much improved, but alas, he was returned to us midday by the school nurse, who always manages to imply that you should have known better when informing you that you need to come get your child. He didn't have a fever, but his cough had magically grown worse since boarding the school bus that morning and by the time he got back home he sounded like an 80-year-old chain smoker.

Having listened to the school nurse list the smorgasbord of maladies floating around the school - flu, strep, stomach virus, lice, even two cases of pneumonia - we decided to give up on school for the week. By Friday, I was so used to the boys being home that I forgot to call them in sick.

I'm not really looking forward to sending them back to the petri dish on Monday...I'd much prefer that they shut the school down for two weeks, give everyone time to recover, hose the place down with Purell, and then basically start over. I know we'd all get sick again eventually, but I'd just like a break. I have to imagine that the poor teachers would like one, too. And maybe, just maybe, if the schools were closed, employers would have to be a little more lenient in letting parents stay home, or work from home, or something, and then maybe fewer adults would be getting sick, too.

And then we would all join hands, sing kumbaya and achieve world peace...or, you know, something really good like that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Quest '09

Have you ever tried to buy a pumpkin on Halloween? I don't recommend it. I imagine it's a lot like trying to buy a turkey on Thanksgiving, only since most frozen turkeys are edible, that actually might be easier.

You see, I planned ahead. We had our compulsory family outing to the pumpkin patch two weeks ago, where we each chose the most perfect pumpkins ever to be seen (seriously, mine was awesome) and carted them in from the field ourselves.

As always, we kept them outside for maximum freshness. But when I went out to our front steps on Halloween morning to fetch them, I found that three out of four of them had turned to mush. Mush! Was it the surprise snowstorm we had in mid-October? Did they freeze and crack and then start rotting? I have no idea - I've never had this happen before, but there I was.

At first I entertained the notion that maybe the boys didn't even really want to carve pumpkins (honestly, I find the whole process messy and unfulfilling, but I used to like it back when I was little and didn't have to scrape out the gooey insides), but that was quickly shot down when the chorus of "When are we carving pumpkins?!" began.

And so, I began my quest for pumpkins on Halloween.

SuperTarget had none. Our fancy grocery store right up the street didn't have anything bigger than an acorn squash. At last, I tried the behemoth Festival Foods. They had two sad crates sitting outside the front entrance, one-quarter of the way full of pumpkins...sad, half-rotten, mostly green pumpkins. The fact that they were selling these things rather than giving them away was ethically questionable, but since I had little boys at home waiting for pumpkins, I knew it wasn't the time for argument.

And so, I sorted. I was nearly vertical, leaning over the side of the crate to comb the dredges of the pumpkin crop. Rotten, rotten, green, green, rotten. Finally I found one decent-sized pumpkin with just one half-rotten dent in its side, a dent which I knew we could hide by carving the opposite side. Knowing this was the best it was going to get, I resigned myself to having to arrive back home with only one pumpkin (my husband would have to give up his perfect pumpkin, which somehow was the only one to survive the mysterious rot).

I headed inside to pay. (I thought about just walking away with it, but figured the whole thing would rot while I was busy getting arrested for shoplifting.) Next to the registers was a table of Halloween candy and then I spotted it: under the table sat a picture-perfect pumpkin complete with a curly stem. Just sitting there on the floor! Under a table! As if someone had put it there. Hid it there while the rest of us searched through rotten pumpkin carcasses.

With one quick glance around, I snatched it up and scurried to the register to pay. Whoever hid that pumpkin there was probably sad when they found it missing, but I couldn't be bothered with hurt feelings - these were desperate times. Plus, if you're going to hide a pumpkin, maybe try somewhere less obvious, like the pet food aisle.

And so, we had pumpkins. And all was well. But it's a good thing Christmas presents don't rot.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Check off #12

Tonight I completed my cake decorating class, thus completing #12 on the 40 by 40 list.

More important than the list, however, is that I learned how to make a Wilton rose. That is not to say that I became good at making Wilton roses, but I did at least learn the same basic technique that people who are good at making them use.

I also think I learned that my energy is far better spent making things that taste good, rather than things that look pretty. (Hello, life metaphor.) I've never been good at visual arts in any way and cake decorating was no exception.

Still, it was fun. And I think I'll actually use a few of the techniques on my cupcakes from now on. Hooray for developing skills that you might occasionally use!

That's three list items in under 5 months. Apparently my ambition is closely tied to my ability to check things off of a list - who knew?

Monday, October 26, 2009

New York State of Mind (and Stomach)

Every time I blog about my anxiety, I proceed to feel anxious for at least 24 hours about whether or not I should really provide such peeks into my neuroses...It makes me feel like one of those crazy girls who corners you at a party and misinterprets a friendly gesture as an invitation to explain how her parents' divorce when she was three has caused her to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms and she thinks that's why she only dates kleptomaniacs or something. You know, one of those girls.

Anyway, how about some lighter fare this evening?

My husband is in New York City for the week and might actually get a long enough break from his button-pushing to venture out on the town once or twice. As I was thinking of places to suggest that he venture to, I remembered that I put together a list of restaurants in Manhattan where I want to dine. You'll note that a large percentage of this list feeds my desire to integrate reality TV/Food Network/celebrity chefdom into my life. (Perilla was on this list before my last trip.)

I don't know whether I'll ever make it to all of these places, but I figured it would be fun to post the list here so that anyone who has been to any of them could advise for or against. Or that possibly the next time you find yourself in Manhattan, you could refer to this list, go to one of the restaurants and tell me all about it, so that I can live vicariously through you.

Here goes (in no particular order):

  • Babbo
  • Bar Americain
  • Del Posto
  • Esca
  • Lupa
  • Les Halles
  • L’Atelier
  • Per Se
  • Le Bernardin
  • Otto Enoteca and Pizzeria
  • Craft
  • The London
  • WD-50
  • Maze
  • Café Boulud
  • Bouchon Bakery
  • Mia Dona
  • Centro Vinoteca
  • Kefi
  • Bolo
  • Paladar
  • Morimoto
  • Payard Patisserie & Bistro
  • Anissa
  • Butter
  • Barbuto
  • Spotted Pig
  • Masa
  • Momofuku
  • Mercer Kitchen
  • Nobu
  • Jean Georges
  • Gotham Bar and Grill
  • Pastis
  • Convivio
  • Sarabeth’s
  • Le Cirque
  • Max Brenner
Yep, so only like 30 trips to go...no problem.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

She's Got Issues

My husband has an awesome job, with the one (large) drawback being that he has to travel all the time. In the last couple months it feels like we've reached the tipping point where he is actually out of town more than he is in town. This is a problem.

Truth be told, his job touches on my two biggest "issues" (at least according to my therapist): security and abandonment. Maybe those two often go hand-in-hand, I don't know, I didn't study psychology.

Him having the job gives us security, yet requires him to be gone all the time. The possibility of him getting a different job would allow him to stay in town, but puts the security piece in jeopardy (i.e. Will we have health benefits? Will it pay as well? etc.) And really, with the economy as it is, looking for a new job is equal parts depressing and crazy-making. (Two things which I don't think you need a therapist to tell you are bad.)

But the psychology gets even better. My own work situation (as in, returning to it) makes me feel all the more secure (financially), but then hits my abandonment nerve, only this time as it relates to my kids. I know that rationally, my work schedule in no way has me abandoning my children, but the irrational side of my brain tells me the opposite...that I can never spend enough time with them.

The prospect of my husband's travel schedule driving him to have a nervous breakdown (as really, I think it would for any parent who feels as though their children's lives are speeding on ahead without them - true or not) suggests that I may have to take on more work and resume the role of bread-winner, the role that I played for the first 2.5 years of their lives. The rational side of my brain tells me that this is the right thing to do for my family. The other side, the anxiety, tells me that I will be abandoning my children in some way. That I will be making a bad trade.

That feeling of empowerment that many women get from being able to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan is elusive to me. I guess after years and years of taking care of myself from a young age, there is something incredibly appealing about being taken care of...if even just so that I can, in turn, focus on taking care of these little people who mean more to me than I ever thought possible.

Such a confession makes me feel weak. It betrays my upbringing. It confuses me. But I think it's true. So maybe I can add that to my list of issues...issues that are alternately addressed and aggravated by every choice...issues that I need to just learn to get over.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The fantasy in which I never have to go to another parent-teacher conference

I read this post about homeschooling today and was struck.

Pretty much anyone who has had a discussion with me about Owen and school has heard me proclaim that if I can't make it work within the school system, I'll yank him out and homeschool him. (I have an accompanying fantasy in which we become a traveling family and they learn as we see the world together.)

Although I generally say this half-jokingly, I do actually mean it. It's not that I necessarily think I'd be great at it, it's more that I suspect that in order to work to his potential, Owen (and Aidan, to some extent) will need the kind of attention that can only come from someone who is actually invested in the outcome. There's no doubt that he can learn. I'm just not convinced that he will thrive in a typical classroom with a teacher who is pulled in 20 different directions and rules that place far more emphasis on compliance than comprehension.

Usually when I begin down this path of reasoning with my friends, many of them are quick to point out the commonly held impressions of home-schooled kids. That they are weird and/or maladjusted to society. I might be concerned about that if my kids weren't already little weirdos and if society didn't already seem like our enemy so much of the time.

Still, it's not a decision I would make lightly. In fact, I hope that we can make public school work, not just for my sanity, but because I do think they could both benefit from the socialization aspect.

But homeschool is always there, in my mind, as an option. And it's both comforting and encouraging to hear that it works so well for some.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fined and Fine

Every time I get pulled over, I get a speeding ticket. I can say that because in 16 years of driving, I have been pulled over just twice.

The first time was when I was 17 and was driving at least 10 miles over the speed limit on a two-lane road in the smallish town that my dad lived in. When the sirens went on, I looked down at my Metallica T-shirt and knew I was getting a ticket (not specifically because of the shirt, but more because I knew I looked like a stupid teenager, which I was). The worst part of that ordeal was that I had to tell my parents because they paid my insurance. The whole "I'm so disappointed in you" thing was way worse than paying the ticket.

In retrospect, they really should have celebrated the fact that I'd been driving an entire year without incident, because the very next day I had my first fender bender, but I digresss...

Flash forward to today. I had been waiting for the carpet measuring guy to call so I could go meet him at our old house, where we have to replace the carpet after the former renters' animals ruined it. I'd been given a two-hour window, and when he finally called, he said he'd be there in 10 minutes. I quickly shuffled my kids next door to my mom's house (a huge advantage of living next to grandma) and peeled out of the driveway.

As I drove toward my old house on autopilot, I was pondering how exactly we were going to pay our bills next month if we didn't find new renters very soon (this is a common source of anxiety for me lately). Then I remembered that we still have a hutch/buffet thing that we paid way too much money for when we bought that house, but which is in great shape and sitting in the dining room there, which I'd been meaning to sell and which, if sold, could at least cover the mortgage on that house for a month. I think I was mentally writing the craigslist ad when I saw the squad car perched on the side of the freeway.

Of course, I laid off the accelerator immediately and prayed for the invisibility powers of the minivan to save me. Usually they do. Today, not so much.

We went through the usual "Do you know why I pulled you over today?" charade during which I asked, "Was I speeding?" you know, just in case maybe there was some other reason he pulled me over. I surprised myself by not even wanting to cry, I was so worried that the measuring guy was going to leave and I'd have to wait another week and that I wouldn't make my end-of-the-month deadline for getting the house ready for those elusive renters who I am sure will materialize any minute now.

So I got a ticket, which sucks, but is fair. I figure that one ticket every 15 years for how often I probably speed is really more than fair. I had been polite and didn't argue, so I guess I felt it was unnecessary for the officer to slip in a mini-lecture about the dangers of speeding, referencing my two empty carseats in the back in an effort to strike fear into my heart. Rather than causing me to feel ashamed, this made me a little mad. Let me just get the damn ticket without the lecture, please.

I'm not saying he's wrong - of course, speeding is dangerous and does kill people - I guess I'm just saying that I don't accept guilt trips from strangers.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cake is Important

So I had my first cake decorating class last night. I think surprising might be the best word to describe it.

As in, I was surprised to find out that the class is held in the middle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. I guess I had pictured us safely tucked away in some sort of, I don't know, classroom? But no, the class take place in the center of the pattern area, as if we are just another craft display.

I was also surprised to learn that we are expected to bring a frosted cake to every class. A whole cake. A cake that we, in theory, baked and then frosted with the icing that we also made ourselves because we have to bring all of our own frosting and decorating tools to class. I'm pretty sure my friend nearly killed the instructor with the darts that shot from her eyes when this news was revealed.

Don't get me wrong: I love to bake. I am excited to learn to decorate. I just assumed that materials would be provided. I didn't picture myself spending hours every week baking and mixing frosting and then lugging an entire cake and a duffle bag full of supplies to class. It seemed sort of like if my college biology professor had told me I was responsible for bringing my own scalpel and pig's heart to class.

Anyway, I am now filled with questions about what kind of cake I will bake and what colors of icing I will bring. Should I bake a cherry cake shaped like a heart with the standard gleaming white frosting? A chocolate cake with peppermint-flavored buttercream? A pineapple cake that I then decorate in a Hawaiian theme? The possibilities are endless...well, in a finite sort of way.

The techniques I will learn in this class will pretty much prepare me to make really nice grocery store-level cakes. Ace of Cakes, this is not. In fact, these are the kinds of cakes I probably wouldn't even normally buy. But who cares? I'm going to master the Wilton rose!

In fact, I'm thinking about practicing only the rose, making cake after cake covered in roses. Birthday? Baby shower? Christmas? Roses in every color. I'm envisioning my kids growing tired of the roses. Asking me, as their 16th birthday looms, to please, let them have a cake without roses.

Don't worry, I will say, I'll make the roses black and thorny! They'll be serious roses! Roses of angst.

And one day, when they get married, their future brides (or groom, whatever) will be forced to agonize over whether to just let me make the damn rose-covered wedding cake or to break the news that they really want something "more modern." (To which I will cheerily reply, "Roses never go out of style!")

Yes, this class is important. Life-changing, even.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Icing on the Cake

The sun came out today, which is perfect because today begins my fulfillment of item #12 on the 40 by 40 list: Learn to decorate a cake.

Back in the day, the local Target stores had bakeries in them. McGlynn's Bakery. They sold standard bakery fare: donuts, cookies and cakes. At our regular Target, the bakery was located at the end of the checkout lanes, so while my mother paid for our purchases, I would meander over to the plexiglass display window, where a young bakery worker would be decorating a cake.

I would stare with amazement as a block of white crumbs was transformed into somebody's birthday cake. The way the frosting was expertly spread across the cake like a blanket. That combing tool that would make those perfectly even lines around the sides of the cake, as it was spun on its stand. And oh, the roses.

Watching the decorator take a tube of frosting and what resembled a toothpick wearing a hat, and, with the flick of a wrist, produce a delicate rose...well, it was nothing short of magic. Before my very eyes, an entire bouquet of pink roses would materialize, with little green leaves effortlessly piped on as a finishing touch. Magic, I tell you.

Soon I will know the secret of those roses because every Wednesday this month, one of my oldest friends and I will be attending cake decorating class at our local Jo-Ann Fabrics. We'll be learning the Wilton Method, which I understand is cake decorating 101. Old school. All rosettes and basket weaves.

I cannot wait.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Puddles and puddles to wallow in

I've been feeling overwhelmed.

For nearly two months, my husband has been working seven days a week, many of them out of town, meaning he is not just gone all day, but gone for days at a time. I have learned to cope with the travel, but the neverendingness has begun to wear me down.

Our rental house (read: bane of my existence) is going to be empty again at the end of the month and if we don't find new renters, we will have to come up with that mortgage payment. So I've been posting it and reposting it on Craig's list and trying to schedule showings between my job and my kids and my sanity. But it's not just the lack of renters, it's the projects.

There are many projects to be done at the rental house. Repairs that went happily unmentioned in the two years our former renters (who fled to Florida) lived there, but now must be dealt with by the end of the month if I am to entertain this notion of finding new people to live there.

All of this is costing money. (Did I mention that property taxes are due on the 15th too?) Money that I either don't have or don't want to spend, as I try ot reassure myself that I won't remain a cubicle hamster forever...or for much longer...or at least, please, just tell me how much longer.

Oh, and it's been raining. Every day. And I think maybe that was the final straw...the third or fourth consecutive day of rain piled onto the single parenting and the financial stress was just too much. I don't know how people in Seattle do it...maybe the coffee and high quality sushi makes everything more tolerable.

Anyway, I've been overwhelmed. Sinking beneath this anxiety that builds and builds. Waking up at night with my jaw clenched. I hope that I am mentioning this more as an afterthought, that it will soon come to an end...I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

As of yesterday, my husband is now back to working mostly five days a week - a large percentage of that is still out of town, but I can safely plan on seeing him for more than one consecutive day at a time, now and then.

I've started hacking away at that house project list and am turning the rest over to my husband because, sexist stereotypes be damned, I f*ing hate house projects.

We have another showing at the house tomorrow...who knows? Maybe this will be the one.

I don't yet have a solution to the work issue, but as I've wrestled with this whole "what am I doing with my life?" question for many years now, I've grown comfortable with this uncertainty. Ok, maybe not comfortable, but I can tolerate it at least.

As for the rain, well, the meteorologists are suggesting it might turn to snow this weekend. Snow. Just the thought makes me appreciate the rain more. Please, oh please, let there be one last sunny day before we are enveloped by the gray shadow of winter.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Getting Better...and Girls

We have recovered! Really, Owen has recovered, as he is the only one who ever got sick, despite the warnings that this flu was super contagious.

His fever actually went away on Wednesday and after waiting our mandatory 24 hours, I sent him back to school on Thursday. I guess I mistook "no fever" for "feeling better" because he got sent back home, not for actually being sick so much as acting sick...or, rather not acting like himself.

My usually sweet little boy was apparently very argumentative. He even crumpled his assignment up and threw it in the trash when his teacher specifically told him not to...ok, so I can't help smile a little at that. Defiance is a trait he comes by honestly. I think it will serve him well once he learns when and how to use it.

But really, if he was feeling like crap and didn't want to do his writing assignment, well, I can't blame him for getting a bit surly. So I went and got him and he spent some more time cacooned on the couch. It must have done the trick, because yesterday he had a fabulous day at school, which involved him not only doing all of his work, but even eating his lunch! His teacher even called to let me know how great he did. And so I pronounce him healthy.

The big news for today is that Aidan has a new BFF, who is not only a girl, but is also very into being a spy (she recruited him the first week of school to be a spy with her) and it turns out she lives on our street! So he picked up the phone and invited her over! Now, we've had playdates before, but this is the first one that he actually called and initiated himself.

And now she's here! And the three of them are watching Toy Story 2! And Owen doesn't seem to mind being the third wheel, which I suspect is good, since I'm already envisioning this scenario repeating itself for many years to come...or maybe not. Far be it from me to underestimate the charm of a socially awkward rebel.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't freak out, it's just H1N1

Oh, irony.

Last week, I was up to my eyeballs in corporate communications about H1N1. Really just recycled statements and tips from the WHO and CDC, but intended to provide employees with some sort of comfort that their company has the inside scoop on this pandemic. I learned all about flu shots and preventative measures and, I'll admit, after several days of this, I bought into the hysteria a little bit.

Two days ago, Owen woke up with a 102 degree fever. Since he'd just been in the ER on Sunday, I called his pediatrician's office and they said he should come in. After examining him, his doctor calmly told me that Owen had the flu and that it was most likely H1N1, although they couldn't know for sure because the Health Department is no longer accepting tests unless patients are in the hospital. Turns out that the flu often presents itself as croup in young children, meaning it can come on suddenly with the breathing issues, but then live on as the regular flu for days afterward.

The doctor went on to say that H1N1 is really the only flu around at the moment, as the seasonal strain isn't expected to arrive until December or January (good info for everyone running out to get seasonal flu shots), so if you've got the flu, it's probably H1N1. He also assured me that the media had blown the severity of the virus out of proportion, as all of the cases he had seen had been relatively mild*. Oh, but it is highly contagious, so we should expect to get it, too.

I want to pause for a moment here to add that I asked our pediatrician about the H1N1 vaccine and the hype about thimerosal. He recommends that both of my boys get the vaccine and says that any link to autism is "hooey." True, it's just one opinion, but it's the opinion of a highly-esteemed medical professional to whom I trust my children's health.

After leaving the doctor's office, I had to call my boss and let her know that I would need to reschedule our meeting to discuss updates to the H1N1 intranet site because, um, my son has H1N1. I love it when the universe has a sense of humor.

So for a few days now, I've been in a bit of an H1N1 quarantine. Owen is much better and none of the rest of us have gotten it, but I keep waiting...every cough, every throat tickle makes me think that it's coming...but so far, so good.

Actually, I think I've enjoyed the quarantine a little too much, as it reminds me of getting to stay home every day. No dressing up. No office politics. No commute. I like it so much that I'm renewing my commitment to making better financial decisions, as it has been all too easy to slip back into spending what we have, now that we have two regular paychecks. But that is for another post.

For now, I'm content to take care of my sickie, while hoping that I'm not next.

*Please note: Someone in my office has a personal connection to one of the kids that died of H1N1 in Memphis recently, so I am well aware that it can be serious. The message here is that overwhelmingly it's not.

Monday, September 28, 2009


I know that despite my boys' less than ideal entrance into this world, we have been lucky with them. They have had minimal health problems, even fewer injuries. I am well aware that there are children fighting for their lives this very moment and that there are parents whose every waking moment is spent focused on seeing their child's next birthday, next Christmas, next day, and I am grateful - so very grateful - not to have to carry that weight.

Still, all of this luxurious perspective seemed somewhat irrelevant when I found myself speeding down the freeway on Sunday at 4 a.m., pleading my little Owen to keep talking to me so that I would know he still could...so that I would know he was still conscious.

Whatever assuredness I might have been feeling about being able to handle the situation had evaporated minutes earlier when the nurse, after listening to his labored, raspy breathing over the phone, calmly instructed me to "get him to the ER."

I thought I was holding it together until I tried to call my husband. When I opened my mouth to leave a message, I began sobbing, which elicited a small, "Mommy, are you okay?" from Owen. Not my best moment.

Even in my panic, I managed to consider the coincidence of having only just reconnected with my NICU memories at that reading last week...of having just contemplated how very lucky we were to have escaped relatively unscathed. And here we were going back to the hospital where my little boys had spent the first three months of their lives.

Somehow my kids managed to go through their entire infancies and toddlerhoods and preschool years without getting croup. I had heard of it, of course. Several of my friends' kids had gotten it. Yet, I still associated it with a bad cough. I didn't know that it made your vocal cords swell up. I didn't realize it actually constricted the airway in the tiny throats of children.

I'm not sure whether this knowledge would have helped us avoid the trip to the ER, so in retrospect I think it's probably better that I didn't know such a sudden and terrible illness existed. Who knows how many nights I would have spent worrying had I known that there are often no signs, that a child can just wake up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe?

We got to Children's Hospital and were brought back to a room right away. They knew it was croup almost immediately, and even though he'd never had it, I felt relieved because it sounded familiar. I was even more relieved to know that once he began breathing in the epinephrine mist, he would feel better.

And feel better he did. Two hours and a zillion episodes of Tom & Jerry later, we were heading home, thus maintaining our "zero re-admissions" status that preemies so rarely seem to get.

And even though I was shaken, I felt lucky again.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Words of Wisdom

A friend who I hadn't seen in awhile - but one to whom I am inextricably linked through our shared experience in the NICU - invited me to a reading the other night. All I knew about the event was that my friend's friend, Kate Hopper, was one of the readers and that she had written about her own experience with her daughter being born early and staying in the NICU.

It's funny because I don't regularly think of myself as the mother of preemies - especially not now that my preemies are gigantic six-year-olds - but when the opportunity arises to identify myself as part of that group, I am enthusiastic in the way survivors of anything are enthusiastic to share their knowledge and learn from others who can empathize. Not to mention that I am always intrigued by women who have managed to turn such a heart-wrenching experience into a book. (Let's face it, I'm intrigued by everyone who has had the determination required to complete a book.)

As expected, the reading was wonderful. All three women are fantastic writers. What was not expected, was that one of the authors was someone whose work I had already read. I didn't even recognize her name (though my fellow mamas might), but Vicki Forman had touched my heart more than a year ago.

Through the other autism mama blogs I read, I had learned of her son's sudden passing in July of 2008. Back then, I had found her on Literary Mama, where she was the Special Needs Mama, and I had been moved by her post "The Mother at the Swings."

That piece so eloquently summarizes what a parent of a special needs child is faced with when meeting new people - and I say that knowing that I have only the most peripheral of understanding on the subject given the relatively mild symptoms that Owen demonstrates.

I think I was most moved, perhaps, by her ability to paint the picture in such a positive light. The way she sees the best in the mother asking questions at the playground when it can be so easy to view such inquiries in a more sinister, judgmental light. I was struck by the way she seemed so at ease, where I often found myself fearing what that other mother might say, how she might fail to see the beauty in my child. This is something I believe I will struggle with even more as Owen gets older, now that the "little kid" behavior, like tantrums, is falling away from his peers, creating greater contrast between them.

Sadly, I didn't put the pieces together while I was at the reading, with this amazing mother and writer standing before me. The lightbulb was just beginning to spark in my brain and it wasn't until I got home and Googled her that I realized our paths had crossed before (or rather, that I had strolled along hers briefly). Not that it really matters - her reading was powerful regardless of whether I knew who she was. Her strength under more hardship than any person should bear, is mind-boggling. Her ability to channel that strength and pain and grief into words that comfort others is truly extraordinary.

Her book was swiftly placed on my must-read list. Inspiration is such a happy thing to stumble upon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mile One

In honor of it being Biggest Loser night, I have a confession that I've been meaning to make: I can't run a mile.

In fact, I almost put "Run a mile" on my 40 by 40 list, but then quickly changed it to "Run a 5k" because that seemed less pathetic. Yes, it seems that my years of disinterest in fitness have, in fact, caught up with me.

Now, I am happy to report that if I was forced to race a mile the way that the Biggest Loser contestants were last week, it is highly unlikely that I would need to be taken to the hospital (as two of the contestants were). However, the fact remains that I, like them (they?), cannot run a mile.

I got back on the treadmill wagon last month and it's been going well...in that I haven't quit. However, even my moderate walking interspersed with my sad attempts at jogging have me averaging an 18-minute mile, which is about 4 minutes slower than the time in which Daniel (the winner) finished his mile last week. There's something about this that disturbs me...

On the bright side, I can now run 1/4 of a mile without dying. My next goal is to walk 1/4, run 1/4, walk 1/4 and run the last 1/4 (also without dying). Given that I don't have a trainer to yell at me during my workout, I think it's a reasonable goal. And someday, in the distant future, I hope to run 5,280 whole feet in a row.

Do you think I could get my own reality show that follows me training to run a mile? That would make for some suspenseful television.

Monday, September 21, 2009


My boys came home from school with a very exciting letter from the principal today. The key excerpt:

We want our students to have the opportunity to learn more about each other. Through an education foundation grant and financial support from our Student Services Department, a brief seven lesson curriculum was developed to help all students better understand the unique challenges and learning characteristics of students on the Autism Spectrum. Throughout the next several months your child will participate in these lessons as part of their classroom curriculum.

Maybe I'm overreacting, but I'm so happy that I could cry. There is so much we all still have to learn about autism, but giving kids a basic understanding of the disorder from an early age could go such a long way in creating a culture of support and acceptance. It could make my little Owen's life so much better both in school and in the long-run.

This is important. It's the right thing to do. And it came from the public school system that I deeply mistrust. I am happily surprised and look forward to being proven wrong again and again.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rose-colored Glass(es)

Do you remember when we were kids and there would be contests in which game pieces were given out and then you had to hold the game piece behind the special "decoder" (which was a red film) to see what your game piece said? (I tried Googling that to see what it was actually called, but alas, I wasn't able to find my answer.)

Anyway, I remember that seeming like magic as a kid. That a squiggly image could suddenly say something, like, "You win!" (Or, more often, "You are not a winner. Try again.")

Well, this same technology is being used on one of the toys Burger King is giving out in its "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatlballs" Kids' Meals. (A movie a highly recommend for ages 5 and up, btw.)

On this toy, the red magic is being used to show different foods that Flint's machine made. You press a button, it flips to a different image and then you close the "door" (the red film) and suddenly the food item appears. (I realize these photos aren't great, but it's a banana - trust me.)

Owen is fascinated. Aidan and I agree that it's a pretty neat toy (especially for something that came in a kids' meal ), but Owen just can't believe his eyes.

After playing with it for a good 10 minutes or so, he turned to me and said, "Guess what food this is," showing me the squiggly image. "I don't know," I said, not wanting to ruin his magic. Shutting the door to reveal a banana, he turned back to explain, "Use the green parts to organize it." Sure enough, the banana is a subtle green beneath the red squiggles.

To organize it. It's these little windows into his brain that I love so much. The way he looks for a clue to help him make sense of the rest of what's happening.

I'm sure we all do this without thinking about it, but it's his awareness and the fact that I know he has to work so much harder at it that gives me pause.

If only everything in life came with a special decoder...a little red film that took out the squiggles and helped us see the important stuff. That helped us organize things.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Everything's shaping up fish

It's Friday again! First, I must thank everyone who responded to my food challenge. Hummus and crackers was the star meal this week.

Plus there was a bizarre midweek appearance by "fish shapes." Yes, my choosy eater son chose to eat "fish shapes" rather than chicken tenders on the one day this week he ate school lunch. They were apparently fish sticks shaped like (what else?) fish. Curious.

I must also note that the most creative food suggestion I received was to mix something he likes with mascarpone cheese (protein!). So we mixed Hershey's syrup and cinnamon with it and served it on graham crackers. Success! Well, success at home, anyway. When I sent this creation to school, he only nibbled and then ate his grapes. I'm planning to try again next week by mixing jam with mascarpone and serving it on bread like a sandwich. Fingers crossed.

Hard as it is to believe, I've been doing other things this week besides obsessing over my children's lunches...I've also been obsessing about my job.

It's going well. This working five days thing doesn't seem so bad. (Do you like how I say that as if working Monday through Friday is some newfangled concept?) In fact, it makes my work life a little easier because I'm there every day. Also, leaving at 2 p.m. is heavenly. I'm not suggesting that it's as good as not having to go to work at all, mind you, but it makes it a lot easer to get up the next day and do it again.

And, naturally, because I have an inability to just let good things just be good, the fact that things are going so well has me questioning whether or not I could actually return to this corporate life...which goes against my previous decision that I would never go back to a corporate life.

Now, to an untrained eye, it may look as if I've already gone back to the corporate life (hello, it's been almost six months!), but I guess the difference for me is that I was viewing it as a temporary thing. Like it could end or I could end it at any time.

See, this corporate job and I have just been dating. Only now it's getting more serious. It feels like it could become exclusive. I'm afraid the corporation might pop the question...might ask me to be an employee...and I don't know if I'm ready. I still have so many freelance oats to sew!

Or do I? If my fab former (current) boss hadn't given me this opportunity, wouldn't I have continued to hunt for a job at another company? Quite possibly a big one that could pay me a living wage? Yes, yes I would have, because (if you recall), I was working for minimum wage at an ethically-questionable pseudo bakery when I got this job.

So really, I could be working 40 hours per week at another company right now, still mourning the loss of my freedom, but not being able to meet my boys' bus every afternoon. Which is to say that I have it good. And I should enjoy it. And nothing is forever, so I should really stop obsessing...

Sure thing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ultimate School Lunch Challenge Showdown

We all survived the first week of 1st grade (yay!) and now the boys have got me fixated on lunch, too, only for different reasons. I somehow forgot that there was a high likelihood that their classrooms would be peanut-free, due to the severe allergies of several of their classmates. Actually, I think that I remembered at one point this summer and then promptly forgot again...

Really the only sandwich Owen eats is PB&J. He has expanded his hot food options beyond macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers (even being so bold as to eat spinach quesadillas and salmon!), but when it comes to sandwiches, the only thing he'll eat without someone standing over him saying, "Three more bites! C'mon, just three!" is PB&J.

Well, wouldn't you know that Owen got the peanut-free class, while Aidan, who has a wide ranging palate, can bring whatever he wants to eat. Great.

Compounding the problem is the fact that they apparently get 10 seconds to eat lunch. Okay, I think they get at least 20 minutes - maybe even half an hour - but my kids are slow eaters. Owen, in particular, is a slow eater, as he tends to drift off to space every few minutes - this has always made mealtime a challenge. Add in a table full of kids to distract him and I'm sure he completely forgets he's even hungry.

This has resulted in not a lot of lunch getting eaten. Today, Owen reported that he ate his tiny cup of applesauce and drank his chocolate milk and that's it. Results were only slightly better on the one day he took hot lunch (french toast sticks!), but hot lunch is only an option when they are serving something he is likely to eat without prompting, which pretty much limits us to macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, pizza, and anything in the breakfast carb family (pancakes/waffles/french toast).

So my challenge is to find a nut-free lunch that he likes enough to want to eat it (quickly) and that provides enough protein to give him a fighting chance of making it through the rest of the school day without a meltdown. No lunch meat. No cheese slices. Nothing weirdly textured ("It has texture!" he will say). And he already vetoed sun butter on a trial run.

Please allow me to make my challenge yours...ideas? Winning ideas get a napkin autographed by Owen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day One (Lunchables are Evil)

Apparently first grade is all about lunch. When my boys got off the bus today, that is all that I heard...I guess eating lunch at school is far more fascinating than I remember.

Oh, but it's exciting stuff. The Lunchables that I let myself be talked into buying as a special first day treat, turned out to be just as complicated as I had predicted and one of Owen's precious pizza crusts fell on the floor. And then pizza crust number two was "an absolute disaster," according to him. It is unclear how the one he ate was more of a disaster than the one that fell on the floor, but I think it had something to do with his idea that the first pizza would be the one with the pizza sauce and the second would be the "treatza" (essentially chocolate frosting with rainbow sprinkles). I don't know, those things should have an age warning on them.

Aidan had some trouble with his Lunchable as well, but he was just as happy to chime in about Owen's lunch meltdown, which he witnessed from the neighboring table because they are in separate classes this year(!).

However, my favorite synopsis of the day came from Owen, when I asked if he paid attention in class today. "Yeah," he said. "I was 78% focused." Well, okay then.

Here's to doing it all again tomorrow! Minus the Lunchables.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bracing for the Punch

I am staring down an exhausting week during which my babies will start first grade and I will start my new 5-day work schedule - and my husband will be in Texas for all of it. I'm anticipating a lot of frozen pizza eating and Food Network watching...

I'm not panicking, I'm just dreading it a little.

And btw, how did my babies become first graders? It's weird enough that they are actual people with opinions about things, but it's almost like they have jobs now with starting school full-time. I don't think I'm ready. Luckily, they are.

At dinner tonight, I mentioned that tomorrow is the last day of summer break. This was met with cheers of, "On Tuesday we start first grade!!" Let's hope that enthusiasm lasts.

So far, they are most excited about eating lunch at school and having gym. I have refrained from telling them that those are likely to become the things they hate most in a year or two. Who knows? Maybe school lunch has become super great...and maybe they will excel in athletics...and maybe there are flying pigs living in my attic.

And, as a side note, the teenager wreaked some havoc this weekend by choosing to stay out all weekend partying rather than show up for his senior pictures...the senior pictures that I've been planning for months and that were probably way too important to me, but still...I've been obsessing all weekend about whether he will ever grow up and whether I'll ever be able to have a decent relationship with him, and then I read this heartbreaking piece and it gave me the perspective my mind needed to quiet the "what ifs," at least momentarily.

I'm trying to reclaim the feeling of gratitude for him being here to argue with at all. It doesn't excuse bad behavior, but it softens the blow.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Of Age

The teenager turns 18 today. As if that isn’t enough to make me feel old in itself, I was 18 when I started dating his father. Commence panic attack.

What do I do with this information? How do I make sense of it? How can I have a stepson who is an adult? Where did the time go?

Of course, I am happy for him because this is an exciting time for a young adult. I am also scared for him because I think we become adults sooner than most of us are ready.

We didn’t make it to this point unscathed, but we did make it and I’d like to think that all of us are stronger and smarter for what we’ve been through. More than anything, I am grateful that his life still holds unlimited possibility.

And hey, if nothing else, he hasn’t gotten anybody pregnant, which is more than we could have said for his father at this age and he still turned out pretty damn well. (love you, honey)

So bring on the cigarette buying, gambling, strip clubs, voting, and legal papers in need of signing (what else can you really do at 18?). Today is the day we celebrate getting here. The end of something and the beginning of everything.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I ♥ NY

"They just use your mind, and they never give you credit. It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it!"

I've been back from New York for three days and I've still got "9 to 5" running on a loop through my head. But I don't mind because it brings back my fond memories (from Saturday) of seeing Allison Janney on Broadway!

I want to tell all of you to run and see "9 to 5" because it's so much fun, but it's only running through Sept. 6, so unless you're in the New York area right at this moment, I'm afraid you will miss out on Miss Janney's Broadway brilliance. (It's not just her, either, the entire cast is great.)

So yeah, I went to New York. It was my expat BFF's last hurrah before returning to India. Or, more accurately, it was our last hurrah with him (that would be Gretchen and me), as he was actually fairly ready to return to his new home after spending nearly a month here with nonstop work and social engagements.

Aside from the Broadway musical (man, I love musicals), another highlight of our NYC adventures included seeing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex and the John Lennon: The New York City Years exhibit. It opened the day after I left New York the last time, so I was delighted to find that it was still open when we wandered down Mercer to shop.

It's total coincidence (or fate?) that I was just at the real Rock and Roll Hall of Museum, but I have to say that the way they've conceptualized the museum experience at the annex – with headphones that play the appropriate soundtrack as you walk from exhibit to exhibit – is actually superior to the way they are doing things in Cleveland.

Btw, they have pieces of CBGB on display in the annex. Now, while I think it's a nice tribute to the venue, I was just a little weirded out by seeing a place I've actually been, reassembled in a museum. It makes a girl feel old.

As for the Lennon exhibit, it was both heart-warming and sad. He could have done so much more...a fact that you are solemnly reminded of as the exhibit ends with the actual brown paper bag the coroner sent back to Yoko with the clothes in which John was murdered. It's intended to make a statement against gun violence. It just reminded me of how people can be taken from you in an instant.

Ok, so that was depressing, but in a culturally-relevant way. Onto lighter things...

Saturday night we had dinner at Perilla, the restaurant that belongs to Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle! The place is adorable and the food is amazing (hello, goat cheese tortellini), but the best part was when Harold himself emerged from the kitchen in his chef coat, suggesting that he actually might have cooked our food.

And just as we were recovering from that star struck moment, Neil Patrick Harris waltzes into the restaurant (possibly on a date) and is whisked away to a table in the back. I pondered meandering back there to strike up a conversation about how Aidan often reminds me of Doogie Howser, but then I remembered that he probably prefers to think that people don't only remember him for that particular role.

Anyway, Perilla is amazing. It would be amazing even if Harold wasn't a reality TV winner, but let's be honest: Knowing that I've further intertwined my life with Top Chef brings me a special kind of happiness. Could be worse.

And this is not a highlight exactly, but later that night, in a cloud of sleepiness and cocktails, Gretchen and I had the brilliant idea to wander around Times Square in search of cream cheese wontons. I mean, we figured they must be on every street corner, right? Wrong. But we did have a lovely stroll through Times Square until it began to rain, at which point we ran into a bar. Upon exiting, I tripped and tore off nearly half of the nail on my big toe. Oops. And then we ate hot dogs and called it a night.

Anyway, our final day in New York included one last highlight, which was a lovely trip to the gigantic Whole Foods Market in Columbus Circle, where we acquired lunch and then went and ate it in Central Park. Ah, Central Park. It was a lovely end to a lovely weekend...which is to say that I'm making an effort to block out the ensuing debacle with missing our return flight being stuck in the airport for four hours while all the promise of Manhattan loomed just over the horizon.

No, I'll just let Central Park on a perfect, sunny day with the BFF trifecta, be my last memory of the trip.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I ♥ Pittsburgh

The craziness (the good kind) is peaking over here, as I prepare to leave for my final hurrah of the summer: a weekend in NYC!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, I must tell you about the wonders that Pittsburgh had to offer last weekend.

I should start by admitting that my preconceived notions about Pittsburgh were totally wrong. It's a really nice city. And very green (as in trees, although I heard that it's also trying to be more eco-minded).

But before I tell you about the treasures we discovered, I should say that the real reason the trip was so fun is because of the company. BFFs + a birthday to celebrate = a fun weekend anywhere, probably, but these girls were awesome.

Thanks, Rachel, for having a birthday that gave us a reason to plan the trip. And extra thanks to Amy and Gerra, for jumping full force into tourist mode with us. Not only were these girls up for anything, they drove us to an entirely different state and wouldn't even accept gas money. And when a Starbucks detour almost left us stranded in suburban Pittsburgh for eternity, I don't even think they held a grudge. That's friendship.

Alright, so the trip. Those of you in the Twin Cities who might be pondering such a vacation should know that if you fly NWA/Delta, you will ride in a tiny plane and they will snatch your carry-on luggage from you and stick it under the plane. (I would have appreciated such a warning.)

Luckily, all of my anxiety and confusion about the tiny plane and the "plane side" luggage procedure were quickly swept away when I saw Amy and Gerra's smiling faces greeting us at the airport. I was even happier when they brought us immediately to Church Brew Works.

It once was a church, but now is a brewery/bar/restaurant. Amazing grace and all that. Genius? I believe so. And I forgot to buy a commemorative pint glass, so if you go, please bring me one.

The afternoon also included a stop at Oh Yeah!, an ice cream joint that allows you to choose your ice cream flavor and then select from a list of what seemed like a bazillion mix-ins. It's like if Cold Stone Creamery had a soul. They've got everything from balsamic vinegar to Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. I guess I went the boring route, only having sweet cream ice cream with bananas and caramel, but it was delish.

Later that night, we decided to try out the brand new all-slots The Rivers Casino in downtown Pittsburgh. It made me giddy upon entry, as the familiar clinks and beeps transported me to Las Vegas, but once we realized that none of our favorites were there (except for one bank of Monopoly slots, which were occupied), our hostesses decided that a trek out to The Meadows Casino was in order. They were totally right.

The Meadows had everything I could have hoped for in a casino: Monopoly, The Price is Right, Deal or No Deal, video blackjack...I was even introduced to a new favorite: Hot, Hot Penny. Sadly, my Vegas luck did not follow me to Pittsburgh, so I did not win any money. Still, the mini-Vegas vacation was good for my soul. (Trust me, my soul works like that.) I can only imagine what my life would be like if I lived so close to that place.

The next morning was the big day: Rachel's birthday and our road trip to Cleveland in pursuit of #26 on my 40 by 40 list, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

I had been told that I would probably be disappointed with the museum, but I wasn't. Trusting the layout, the first thing we did inside was watch the "Mystery Train" film, which documents the evolution of music, starting pre-rock and roll, and ends with interviews from musicians talking about how music saved their lives and why it's so important. It makes you realize how much passion went into founding the museum, which puts you in exactly the mood you need to be in to walk through rooms of rockstar memorabilia.

So yes, there was a lot of clothing and guitars. I found the hand-written lyric sheets much more interesting, but I enjoyed all of it. Also interesting was the Rolling Stone magazine exhibit and seeing Pink Floyd's The Wall reconstructed (the actual wall) with the gigantic. psychedelic, inflatable "teacher" looming over it. Trippy.

And, even though the sandwich itself was quite mediocre, I did appreciate the way the museum consistently applied its theme, even in the cafe. (Lest you think the sandwich was the only thing I found interesting enough to photograph, I should mention that photography is not allowed in the museum.)

So yes, The Presidents of the United States of America (and Drew Carey) were right: Cleveland does, indeed, rock.

After a rousing game of "I'm Going on a Picnic" (btw, I'm bringing an avocado, a blanket, cards, dogs, elk meat...I forget), we were back in Pittsburgh and ready for a celebratory dinner at Soba. Have you ever eaten such a fine chunk of ahi tuna? Well, now I have.

Even though we had to leave the next day, we still managed to pack in a morning visit to the Strip District, where I fell in love with the Leaf & Bean, which provides a Jimmy Buffet-esque oasis, only they serve espresso rather than margaritas. We also had a fabulous lunch at the Penn Avenue Fish Company (I can recommend the Happy Jack).

Not ready to say goodbye to Pittsburgh yet, we rode up Mount Washington on the Duquesne Incline. That's the cable car-like contraption that was built to bring people up and down the mountain back before you could just drive. It was fun in a historical kind of way, and it allowed for the lovely view of the city that you see at the top of this post.

And with just a little more time before we had to head to the airport, we made one final stop: The Beehive, a charming coffee shop/hangout, where I was able to have a mini pineapple pie a la mode! Tiny pies are almost as good as cupcakes. This was definitely an excellent send-off treat.

I ♥ Pittsburgh.

And now it is time to shift my sights up the coast. New York, here I come!