29 November 2009

My Favorite Gravy of Thanksgiving Weekend 2009

I spend a surprising amount of time thinking about the things I need to teach my kids. Ya' know, the big and little things that make a life, like how to do laundry, how to clean your ears, how the crusty bits of homemade mac-n-cheese are the best, and how to fold socks.

Today, I read a blog that I just adored about exactly this: the things you want and must teach your children well.

Read this now. You'll love it. You might even, as I did, learn something about vagisil that you did not know. You will likely find a new blog to follow as well.

Thanks Momo!

* * *

Love Sticks

Elizabeth (she's 5) called me in to her room last night in a panic: "I need another kiss, mama, because I accidentally wiped off the one you gave me!"

Lola (she's 7) reassured her: "That's OK, Elizabeth: love sticks!"

* * *

I gave them both about a hundred extra kisses anyway.

* * *

28 November 2009

Jumping on the Bohemian Bandwagon

This is viral on the internet, so you've probably already seen it. If not, sit back, get out your bell bottoms, and enjoy.



* * *

And that's how a girl gets to 28 posts in 28 days. Don't hate me because I'm a cheater.

* * *

Wherein I Share My Super Secret Apple Pie Recipe

That title might be a little misleading. There is nothing secret about this recipe whatsoever. I got it from an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook that used to be my mom’s (I think I stole it from her) and now it lives on my bookshelf all year long except when I make pie. The pages of this book are yellowed, frayed and ripped, and turning them requires delicacy and grace. This is where, once a year, I seek and find The Mystery of the Pie.

But then, pie isn’t much, is it? Just crust, fruit, and sugar. The only mystery to pie is making it yourself and the big secret is that making a pie is ridiculously easy. The hardest ingredient to find is the time, which, of course, is ridiculously difficult for most moms these days.

You can always do what I did this year: make your pie at 2 in the morning.

OK, on to the making part. The best part of making pie is making the crust. Many people think I am nutso for making homemade crust when there are perfectly nice ones to be had at the grocery store. But I prefer the homemade kind; they are flakier and yummier. Plus, if I didn’t make my own crust, the whole project would seem a bit too… simple. By simple, I mean plain rather than easy. I don’t make pie often, but when I do, I like it to be something of an event, and store bought crust does not an event make.

So. The Crust. I always make a double crust, a bottom and a top, as opposed to a woven lattice top. This recipe is for one 9-10 inch double crust pie.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
5 to 7 tablespoons of cold water

Sift together the flour and the salt. I do this by mixing it for a few minutes with a fork, fancy sifter that I am. My mom had a real sifter when I was a kid and I really liked turning the crank. I don’t have one, so I use a fork.

Add the shortening. I plop it all in the center and then use two forks to “cut” it into the dry flour/salt mixture. When it’s pretty well mixed, I use my hands to really mix and mush and smash and smush until I’ve got a bowl filled with stuff that looks kind of like large dough-colored peas. Lots of little pieces of crumbly dough.

Add the water, one tablespoon at a time. Add the first tablespoon to the edge of the dough and mix it in to that area with a fork. Move the damp dough a little to the side. Add the second tablespoon and do the same thing. I almost always use 7 tablespoons, sometimes even 8, before all of the dough is mixed with water. Once all the water has been added, use your hands to shape the dough into one big ball. Then divide that in half and create two smaller balls.

Spread tons of flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin, and roll out the first ball of dough for the bottom of the pie pan. How big should you make it? Well, you gotta sorta judge the size of your pie plate. I used to roll it out and then set the pie plate on top. If the dough was about an inch or so bigger than the plate, I called it done. Little tip: use the rolling pin to pick up the flattened dough: drape the dough over the pin to lift it up. Lift it up, drape it into your pie dish and press it down flat all the way around the dish; don’t worry about the extra dough hanging over the sides. Roll out your second ball of dough and leave it on your rolling surface until your pie is filled with yummy goodness.

The Filling

A word about the apples you use. You have to make sure they are good pie apples, the kind that will not get too mushy when they cook. I used Fuji for my pie this year. If you are like me, then you’ll google “good apples for pies” every single time you make this pie, because you will forget what kind you used last time. In fact, Google should probably be one of the steps in this recipe. Also, I always add pears; they taste great and are the perfect consistency. Here are the ingredients:

5-6 apples
2-3 pears
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 dash of nutmeg
1 dash of salt (optional – I used to put it in, now I mostly leave it out.)
2 tablespoons of butter

Slice the apples and pears thinly. If they are too thick, they don’t fit as nicely in your pie plate. If ya’ wanna get really detailed, here’s what I do: I use an apple slicer to core the fruit and get 8 big slices from it. Then I slice each of those into three smaller slices. Then I cut those into three thirds each. That’s OCD level detail; chopping them willy-nilly will also do the trick. Oh, and I don’t bother peeling them. I like the peels in my pie.

Combine the sugar, flour and spices; mix with your fruit. Fill your waiting pie plate with this delish mixture. Chop up the butter and dot the top of the fruit with it. Go get your rolled-out crust from your rolling surface and put it over the entire pie. Take a knife and cut off the excess crust from both the bottom and top crusts.

Making it look pretty: I take a fork and press the tines all the way around the edge of the pie to make a nice lil’ pattern and seal the edges at the same time. Then I use a knife to make little air slots in the pie; you can make pretty designs and stuff at this point. Google it. I tried describing what I do, but it sounded ridiculous, so use your imagination or google it.

Last thing: sprinkle sugar on the top. Your pie will sparkle; how fun is that?

This is a good time to remember that you were supposed to preheat the oven. I usually curse here. Basically, you want to bake this puppy at 400 degrees for around 45-50 minutes, depending on your oven. Mine runs HOT, so I end up setting it at 350 degrees and baking it for about 35-40 minutes, and I still burn about a quarter of the edge of the pie. A little roughage along part of the edge is a small price to pay for pie perfection everywhere else. Hopefully your oven is more cooperative than mine and you won’t be paying that price at all.

EAT THE DARN THING ALREADY, WILL YA? After you let it cool for as long as your patience and your taste buds will wait. We eat this pie with vanilla ice cream, of course.

And that, my friends, is my pie.

And now, my friends, excuse me while I enjoy a little rush of domesticity.

* * *

To Ad or Not To Ad

I am trying to decide whether or not to join Blogher, or Adsense, or one of those types of networks and start posting ads on this site. I haven't so far, because I figure that my five or so faithful readers (a) wouldn't like it and (b) wouldn't really be a very effective target market for any advertisers.

Oh, and (c) because I'm lazy and haven't really bothered to investigate or think very much about this issue.

What are the pros and cons? Would I have more readers? Would the ads annoy people, including me?

So much to think about. I think I'll go have a piece of pie instead.

If you have any thoughts one way or the other, if you have ads on your own blog or not, please share your experiences.

Coming next: I will post my apple pie recipe. It's not rocket science people, it's sugar and apples. And pears.

* * *

27 November 2009

Post Thanksgiving Musings

Here's what I've been thinking about today. A brain dump, if you will.

  1. I hate that shopping is considered news.

  2. I love having leftovers in the house.

  3. I dread the Holidays.

  4. I love Christmas.

  5. Multi-tasking is overrated. I made an apple pie at 2 in the morning on Thanksgiving. It was bliss. I didn't have to divide my attention between the apples and the computer and the dirty diaper and the feeding of people and the cleaning up after them and the fighting and the whining and the questions and the explanations and the people I love. It was me and the apples. And the pears, because I always put pears in my apple pie. I was surprised by how enjoyable a task can be when it's the only task at hand and the only thing being expected of me at that moment.

I just might survive the Holidays this year if I can find more ways to monotask. I might even -- gasp -- enjoy myself!

So I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving yesterday; let's tackle December, shall we?

* * *

25 November 2009

In Between

Today, I went Thanksgiving grocery shopping with my oldest, who is 11-years old. He is such a great kid: sensitive, smart, articulate, kind. He spends his days with one foot in the world of a little kid and one foot in the world of a teenager. There are many ways in which he yearns to be older, to have more freedom and to experience life on his own. There are also many ways that he is happy to stay "little." He still plays imagination games all the time, watches G-rated movies, and likes to cuddle.

He knows the truth about Santa Claus, but is happy to pretend otherwise to help out his mom and dad. Sometimes he pretends so well that I have to wonder if the pretense is for his younger siblings' sake or his own.

Today while we were walking from one store to the next, we headed towards a crowd of teenagers hanging out and being goofballs. He immediately slowed down so that he could walk behind me and not be so close to mom. His posture changed, his pace changed, his entire self took on the cloak of a teenager. Once we passed the group and entered the store, my boy was back at my side, chatting about some silliness or other.

A few minutes later, walking again between stores, I was explaining something to him and using my hands as I talked. I put both of my hands out to make a point. He thought I was putting my hand out for him to take. And as natural as anything, he grabbed it, and we walked a little ways holding hands.

So there he is. Too cool to walk near me and little enough to want to hold my hand.

He is our first. He is our Great Experiment. He will always be the first to take us everywhere we need to go as parents and will bear the brunt of our learning curve. Like most of us, he has many fears; unlike many of us, he thrashes through them and gets up each morning ready to face what comes.

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful that God has given him so many words to tell us how he feels, such a big heart to feel for others, and so much courage to face the world. I will learn a lot from him, if I am patient enough to listen.

Now, if I could just get him to eat something other than sour dough bread for Thanksgiving dinner, I would trust that he will be just fine in the world.

* * *

24 November 2009

What Can Happen When a Parent is Tired

Take one tired daddy.

Add one creative 5-year old.

Mix in a handful of markers. Hope they are non-toxic.

And voila! Here is what you get:


The world--including daddy's feet--is her canvas.

23 November 2009

Overheard

Three and five year olds running madly around the house, doing the lap from kitchen, to dining room, to living room, to hallway, to kitchen. Five year old, screaming at the top of her lungs:

"RUN LIKE HEAVEN! RUN LIKE HEAVEN! RUN LIKE HEAVEN!"



* * *

22 November 2009

My Brain is Mush, My Girls are Awesome

Ten soccer games in two days will do that to a brain.

Three of my kids were each in a soccer tourney this weekend, which meant the following:

Saturday
9:00am Monarchs Game
9:00am Rockets Game
9:00am Dolphins Game

Noon Monarchs Game
Noon Rockets Game
1:00 Rockets End-of-Season Party
1:30 Dolphins Game

Sunday
9:00am Rockets Game
10:00am Monarchs Game
10:30am Dolphins Game
3:00pm Dolphins Game

The soccer was great, the teams are amazing, the other families are so much fun to be with, but the real trophy of the weekend goes to my 3 and 5 year old girls, for being such troopers about being hauled from one game to the next to the next and getting into a minimum of trouble the entire weekend. They are total rock stars.

Some day, it will be their turn. For now, they know how to party in the park, charm the socks off of people, scam the snack mom for hand outs, jump up and down to keep warm in the frigid wind, make a game out of throwing bark all over the place, and cheer for their older siblings. Hats off to you, Tallulah and Elizabeth.



* * *

20 November 2009

The Latest in a Long List of Things I Do Not Understand

Am I the only person who is completely baffled by the Snuggie?


I cannot believe these things are catching on, that anyone would actually wear one. I saw a commercial the other night that excitedly proclaimed that the Snuggie is now available in fashionable patterns. Aside from the fact that Snuggie commercials look like they're spoofs of real commercials, the patterns featured were hideous, as in ugly drapery hideous. But then, I would imagine it's difficult to make any pattern look good when there is so MUCH of it to see.

Understand that I hate being cold. My poor husband has to hear me bitch and complain about being cold for the entire winter. I think I utter the words "I hate being cold!" about 53,000 times each year. I am always tucking blankets around my ankles and shoulders, and searching for the warmest socks, and going to bed wearing a hat. I put a high value on being warm and comfortable.

Even with all of that, I just can't get my brain around the Snuggie. A blanket you can wear belongs in the category of "Just Because You Can Do It Doesn't Mean It's A Good Idea." There are many things possible in this great big mixed up world of ours, but possible does not mean advisable. Dogs can lick their backsides, but does anyone really think they should?

So maybe the Snuggie doesn't rise to that level, but still: just because you can drape your entire body in a great big thick curtain with sleeves, doesn't mean you won't look like a complete fool while doing so.

The Snuggie website promotes the many ways one can use the Snuggie, such as for night time pub crawls. Can you picture this? Out with friends for a night of drinking wearing...a snuggie? Nothing says fun like wearing a comforter!

The site also has a picture of a bunch of people sitting in the stands at a football game all cozy in their snuggies. One of them is a young guy, who is probably thinking to himself, "I know you gotta put up with a lotta shit to make it in show business but if this ad kills my career, I'm gonna have the stupid Snuggie to thank for the next 30 years I spend flipping burgers." You know he wouldn't be caught dead wearing one of those things if someone wasn't paying him to. Plus, and maybe it's just me, more than one person wearing a Snuggie looks a little Orwellian, like some kind of strange mind-control experiment. Like this:


Don't they sort of look like mouthpieces for the state? Then again, if it's on the Today Show, then the Snuggie truly has arrived in our culture: it's here to stay apparently.

The most baffling part? More than 4 million sold in just three months. 4 million people who don't mind looking completely and utterly ridiculous? I am stunned.

But the absolute saddest part of this whole post is that I just spent 30 minutes of my life ranting about the Snuggie instead of doing laundry, washing dishes, feeding children, reading to the children, planning for Christmas, ending world hunger or sleeping under a nice, warm, normal blanket.

So somebody, please, explain the Snuggie to me.

* * *`

In the Interest of Fairness

One of my posts a few days ago featured an email that has been making the rounds about how men could never survive if they had to do all the things we moms have to do on a daily basis. Well, apparently, it's not so easy to be a man either! Who would have thunk it???

One guy who saw that post responded by sending my dad (who had directed him to this blog) the following list:

How to make a woman happy

It's not difficult to make a woman happy. A man only needs to be:

1. a friend
2. a companion
3. a lover
4. a brother
5. a father
6. a master
7. a chef
8. an electrician
9. a carpenter
10. a plumber
11. a mechanic
12. a decorator
13. a stylist
14. a sexologist
15. a gynecologist
16. a psychologist
17. a pest exterminator
18. a psychiatrist
19. a healer
20. a good listener
21. an organizer
22. a good father
23. very clean
24. sympathetic
25. athletic
26. warm
27. attentive
28. gallant
29. intelligent
30. funny
31. creative
32. tender
33. strong
34. understanding
35. tolerant
36. prudent
37. ambitious
38. capable
39. courageous
40. determined
41. true
42. dependable
43. passionate
44. compassionate

WITHOUT FORGETTING TO:

45. give her compliments regularly
46. love shopping
47. be honest
48. be very rich
49. not stress her out
50. not look at other girls

AND AT THE SAME TIME, YOU MUST ALSO:

51. give her lots of attention, but expect little yourself
52. give her lots of time, especially time for herself
53. give her lots of space, never worrying about where she goes

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT:

54. Never to forget:
* birthdays
* anniversaries
* arrangements she makes

HOW TO MAKE A MAN HAPPY

1. Show up naked.
2. Bring Booze.

* * *

OK, point taken. Perhaps we expect a lot from men; but that's only because we know they can deliver, right? Right? Hello? Pick yourself up off the floor, stop laughing, and leave me a comment!

* * *

You Know You Are an NPR Family When...

...your 5-year old suddenly asks, after two months of being in school instead of with mom during the daytime hours: "Mom! We never hear Terry Gross talk anymore! Why???"

* * *

17 November 2009

Working With--Yes, that tiara looks great--My Kids Underfoot

Dear Carol,

Thanks for your--no, you can't have a cookie!--email. Rick would love to--yes, you can have 15 minutes of computer time if you are finished with your homework.--meet with you about your--no, 5X9 does not equal 50.--garden.

Oh, hang it all.

I would
Tallulah, stop spitting at Elizabeth.
really love to
I'm sorry you got scratched up in the thorny bushes, I'm sure that hurt.
go for two minutes in
Tallulah! Stop! You will go in another time-out if you cannot leave her alone!
a row without
No, you cannot have a cookie!"
being interrupted.
Am I the only one who can hear that infernal timer going off?!?!?!?!

It just might be
You can have a turn after her.
physically impossible for
I'm sorry honey, your time is up. No, you don't get extra computer time. They don't get extra time either. They get the same amount of time. No, you don't get extra time. Please unclench your fists from around my arms and remove your stomping, crying, tantruming self from my presence before I visit sellyourkid.com and post a picture of your beautiful face with the headline: I'll pay YOU to take her off my hands!"
them to leave me alone.

Sorry, Carol. I couldn't
Are you going to ask me the right answer to every single one of your 20 math problems as you do them? I would prefer you let me check them all at the end.
finish the email I started to you.
Fine, I will unlock the garden door. Just stop screaming.
If we don't respond, and you get tired of waiting,
Don't go outside without shoes! No, I don't know where your damn shoes are!
and you find someone else to do your project, and we all end up on the street because my children
No, you can't have any candy.
won't shut their pie holes long enough for me to do any work,
Tallulah, stop pushing him! And if you all can't get along, you will go to bed and NO ONE will watch the Dancing with the Stars Results Show tonight!
please toss some money in my sons' upturned baseball caps when you pass us
CAN'T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE FOR FIVE MINUTES? STOP TALKING TO ME STOP ASKING ME THINGS STOP TELLING ON EACH OTHER DO NOT TOUCH THE COMPUTER AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SHUT UP!
on the street.

Either that, or come and visit me in the looney bin. I should be ready for visitors after about 67 days of total silence.

* * *

16 November 2009

NaBloPoMo Failure, Sleep Deprivation Chronicles, and Pitfalls of Having a Large Family

First the failure: I couldn't do it. Couldn't do 30 posts in 30 days. Between Friday and Monday, we had two soccer games, one basketball game, two end of season soccer parties, Mass (yes, we really made it!), and one large work day for Rick, helping to plant the new El Cerrito Community Center garden. I guess I just couldn't keep up with all of that, feeding the family, doing the laundry, AND blogging. Very sad, very disappointing. Perhaps I will sneak back in through the back door, and post multiple times in a day in order to get to November 30th and have a (30) next to the month. We shall see. For now, I will retreat and promise to do better next time...if I ever agree to such foolishness again.

* * *

Second, the sleep deprivation: I was just leaving a phone message for someone, and I couldn't remember my cell phone number. I felt like an idiot. The nice lady taking the message thought I was looney. How embarrassing. I need some sleep, BAD.

* * *

Third, the pitfall: This morning I was on the freeway in late rush hour traffic, and was absolutely irritated that I couldn't be in the carpool lane. I am so used to automatically qualifying for the HOV lane, given that I always travel with a tribe, that I was incredulous this morning when I was barred from entering the diamond lane with only my little monkey LuLu in the car with me. It was 9:53; HOV time ends at 10:00. It was all I could do to stay in the slow lanes to the right. I felt entitled to that faster lane, and quite resentful that I couldn't be there. I have, in the past, speculated that I will get a ticket for violating the carpool lane rules at some point in my life because merging on over to the left is an automatic process for me.

I did give in at 9:57. So there, CHP, I gotcha!

* * *

13 November 2009

The Book is Out!

I got the coolest birthday present from my brother today. He has self-published a book of his comics, from his syndicated strip It's All About You, and I got a copy from him in the mail today. THANK YOU TONY! I love it, love it, love it.

I have a link over there at the right that goes to his daily strip, so perhaps you have clicked on that and seen his funny stuff. Now YOU TOO can own the book.

Corrected on 11/17/09, to include HOW TO BUY THE BOOK! Click here to buy the It's All About You Book, the perfect Christmas present for anyone on your list who has a sense of humor. Let's hope, for your sake, that that's most of the people on your list.

Congrats, Tony. I hope you sell gobs of books and get famous. I want to see IAAY characters on mugs!

Everyone else, visit the link above to check out his comic strip.

* * *

12 November 2009

I Hate Yellow Day

Argh! It's freaking Yellow Day! That totally sucks.

Why the antipathy towards the color of the sun?

Because last night, in preparation for "free dress" day at the kids' school, I asked every single one of my school-going offspring what they wanted to wear to school instead of a uniform and they all brought me their choices, and I did the freaking' laundry, down to underwear and socks and was totally prepared for the morning and went to bed under the illusion of being ready, for once. THEN, at 5am this morning, my brain finally decided to WORK for one damn time, and reminded me that when it's free dress day, it's a COLOR DAY for Kindergarten, and I had forgotten that and didn't check the Kindergarten calendar and was therefore most definitely NOT prepared.

And now, it's Yellow Day. WE DON'T HAVE YELLOW! At least not clean yellow.

Just once, I would like a morning with no surprises. Just once, when I go to the effort to be prepared in advance, I would like my brain to cooperate and remember things in a timely fashion. Just once, I would like to show up at school and NOT feel like a careening clown car, screeching up to the curb with ungodly sounds emanating from the interior and resentful children pouring out with messy hair and frayed pant legs and forgotten lunches and unfinished homework and someone just remembering at that moment that if he doesn't bring in his library book TODAY the entire class gets to throw spit wads at him and his life will be ruined.

I hate Yellow Day.

I'm trying, Ringo; I'm trying real hard to be a shepard. That's not working out so well for me.

* * *

Edited to add a follow-up:

The Kindergartner arrived in yellow, thanks to a Sponge Bob PJ top, loaned to her from her older sister. And I got to watch my three year old march across the school yard with a tootsie roll wrapper stuck to her butt.


* * *

11 November 2009

I'm Pretty Sure This is Considered Cheating, but I'm Proceeding Anyway

For my 11th post in as many days, I am going to steal shamelessly, because I got a very funny email forwarded to me today. I did a bit of searching around the net to see if I could find someone to credit for this bit of genius...no luck. So whoever you are, hats off to you!

Enjoy some funniness, people.

* * *

THE NEXT SURVIVOR SERIES

Six married men will be dropped on an island with one car and 4 kids each for six weeks.

Each kid will play two sports and either take music or dance classes.

Each child will need a wrapped birthday gift for 2 parties during the six weeks, to which the men will r.s.v.p., drop off and pick up.

There is no fast food.

Each man must take care of his 4 kids, keep his assigned house clean, correct all homework, complete science projects, cook, do laundry, and pay a list of "pretend" bills with not enough money.

Each man will have to make an Indian hut model with six toothpicks, a tortilla, and one marker & get a 4 year old to eat a serving of peas.

One pet will be distributed to each man and he will be solely responsible for daily feedings and exercise, waste removal, grooming, and at least two veterinary appointments.

Each man must also take each child to a doctor's appointment, a dentist appointment, and an appointment for a haircut. He must also make cookies or cupcakes for a social function and attend a teacher conference.

Each man will be responsible for decorating his own assigned house, planting flowers outside and keep it presentable at all times.

The men will only have access to television when the kids are asleep and all chores are done. There is only one TV between them.

The men must shave their legs, wear makeup daily, which they will apply themselves either while driving or making four lunches. They must adorn themselves with jewelry, wear uncomfortable yet stylish shoes, keep their nails polished, and hair and eyebrows groomed.

During one of the six weeks, they will have to endure severe stomach cramps, back aches, skin breakouts, and have extreme unexplained mood swings but never once complain or slow down from their duties.

They must attend weekly PTA meetings, church, and find time at least once to spend the afternoon at the park or a similar setting. He will happily play board games, Legos, Barbies, Play Doh, as well as color and read stories whenever the children ask.

During the day the t.v. may only be tuned to Nickelodeon and he will be responsible for monitoring the appropriate amount of t.v. watching per child.

He will need to pray with the children each night, bathe them, dress them, brush their teeth and comb their hair each morning by 7:00.

A test will be given a the end of the six weeks, and each father will be required to know all of the following information: each child's birthday, height, weight, shoe size, clothes size, doctor's name and phone number. Also each child's favorite color, favorite toy, best friend's name and phone number, favorite snack, favorite story, favorite drink, biggest fear and what they want to be when they grow up.

They must clean up after their sick children at 3:00 a.m. and then spend the remainder of the day tending to that child and waiting on them hand and foot until they are better. They will be responsible, during that time, to have the appropriate medication on hand and keep up dosages at the correct time intervals.

The kids vote them off the island based on performance.

The last man wins ONLY if... he still has enough energy to be intimate with his spouse at a moments notice.

If the last man does win, he can play the game over and over and over again for the next 18-25 years... eventually earning the right to be called MOTHER!

* * *

10 November 2009

To Yell or Not To Yell

30 posts in 30 days...or as my husband calls it: An Invitation to Mediocrity.

Boy, do I feel myself accepting that invitation.

In an attempt to stave off mediocrity, let's wade into a parenting issue, shall we?

Here's the question: "Is it OK to yell at your kids?" This is a question posed today by a local parenting blog. It quotes some crazy statistic that says that 88% of the parents questioned admitted to yelling at their kids sometime in the past year.

Only 88%? Seems a little low to me.

I don't know a single parent (or a married one, for that matter) who does not yell at their children. And I live near Berkeley, the granola-eating, consciousness-raising, teach-your-kids-to-express-their-feelings, space-for-everyone-at-the-table center of the universe!

Face it, we ALL yell at the kids. Sometimes we regret it, because we should; sometimes we don't regret it, because the situation called for it.

Neither do I know a single parent that doesn't worry about the yelling, because of course we do. We worry that we are doing long term damage to them, that we are creating monsters who will yell at their own children because they learned how from us.

Just today, I heard my oldest yelling at his siblings with the same tone, inflection, and even words that his parents have used when yelling at him.

That's not good, but it is real. People get mad. People yell. Maybe, too, people learn how to be angry, how to let it out, and how to apologize if they've crossed a line.

I've told my kids from an early age that it's OK for them to get and be angry. I'd rather hear them lash out than have them keep it all inside.

Yeah, this could be a big rationalization of my own habit of yelling too much. But rest assured, I also worry too much and I also work really hard every day at not yelling.

Putting parents under a microscope for yelling is dangerous. Telling parents not to yell because they will irrevocably damage their children will set them up for failure and make them feel like terrible parents.

Everyone yells. Are we all terrible?

We're all doing our best, for cryin' out loud.

* * *

09 November 2009

Why I Don't Need Trendy Clothing Stores



Thanks to mom and dad for the classic, perfect-for-me birthday card. (And for the New Yorker subscription renewal that came with it.)

* * *

cartoon credit: Dave Coverly

* * *

08 November 2009

I am not a happier Californian.

Chase Bank took over WaMu, and screwed up my life.

We own a small business; I go to the bank frequently. We've also got the five small children; they come with me everywhere.

So the kids are quite familiar with the refrain: "I have to stop at the bank," and they moan and groan, but WaMu used to be an easy place to stop with the kids. So many things have changed since Chase took over that what used to be an easy errand now amounts to a trip to hell. Here are the stupid things Chase has done that make my day more difficult:

  • Took out the kid area of my local branch, which had books, toys, a kids' table and chairs set, and a couple of small video games. Replaced it with (yawn) a boring chair.

  • Removed their deposit drop box -- so now I have to actually stand in line.

  • Removed the Express Line -- so now I have to stand in a longer line.

  • Reduced the amount of time the Business Line is open -- so I can't rely on being able to use this line anymore either.

Other things about Chase Bank that I hate:

(1) They have a new policy where they hold all non-Chase bank deposits until the next banking day. Annoying. For a small business like ours, this just is another hassle we don't need.

(2) The other night I went online and transferred money into my home account, knowing that I needed to in order to cover some checks and debit card expenses that were going to clear. Used to be, with WaMu, I could do this fairly late into the evening and the money (MY money, going from one Chase account to another Chase account) would go in immediately. I've done this many times with WaMu, and it did not occur to me that this would change with Chase. Well, change it did; the money didn't transfer until the next day, and FIVE of my checks/debits hit my account, and Chase assessed me FIVE $33 overdraft charges.

I complained. I got the following response: "In response to your inquiry, I have absorbed the fees assessed to your account in the amount of $70.00 as a one time courtesy. Your account will not be eligible for another courtesy until after 11/06/2010."

This makes it sound like Chase is some benevelont force granting me a merciful kindness, and I better not be insolent enough to ask for something again for a good long time. I feel like Oliver Twist.

(3) I sent a request for a check number, since my bank statement for some reason shows several checks with the same number: 99. I've noticed this for awhile, with WaMu too, and assumed there was some system glitch responsible. So now, I need a check number from a check that cleared in June of 2009. The online system doesn't go back farther than 90 days and I can't get the number from my bank statement. And Chase wants to charge me $5 to give it to me. MY check. MY account. MY information. I decided I don't need the check number that badly.

So it seems that I now have a Fee For Everything Bank.

Since taking over WaMu, Chase has launched a billboard campaign here in California. One of their local signs says: "Longer hours. More locations. Happier Californians."

You know what Chase? The hours at my bank haven't changed...I don't see more branches...and I am definitely not a happier Californian since your arrival in my life.

* * *

07 November 2009

Remember Her?

Note: I originally wrote this post back in April, but never posted it. Now, with this NaBloPoMo craziness, I'm pulling it out of its holding pattern. The time references don't make sense; everything else does.

I received one of the greatest gifts on Friday: a visit with an old friend I have not seen in over 10 years. It was truly fantastic to see her, and it's had me thinking about what happens over time.

Kathy and I went to high school together, and there are few people in my life that I've ever had as much fun with or shared as much of myself with. She was intelligent, funny, sweet, and slightly geeky (sorry kath!), and I was at least two of those things as well, and we hit it off. We weren't in the "party crowd" but we sure enjoyed our wine and 7-up mixers, served on multi-colored square-patterned carpet of her older brothers' room (who was away at college) because his room was detached from the house and we had more freedom out there. We were tipsy to the Beatles and the English Beat and the Rolling Stones. We spent lots and lots of weekends together, sleepovers at each others' houses. We grew up together. Few friends have ever known me as well as Kathy did.

We stayed in close touch during the first few years of college; I even flew out to Virginia to visit her at the College of William and Mary (I told you she was smart!). We shared long letters back and forth between our dorms, as we both adjusted to college life, to growing up and away from our families. I was particularly miserable in my first year away, and she was a rock of support for me in the hardest year of my life.

Somewhere along the line, we drifted. Unlike other friendships that drift because people lose that sense of the bond they once shared, I think Kathy and I drifted only because we both got busy. I have never forgotten the bond we had, never felt it lessen, but we still somehow lost the "habit of being" good friends. We attended each others' weddings, of course. But then we drifted even further away.

And then, some genius person came up with this crazy Facebook thing!

And we found each other once more. Just in time for her to be one of the few people I spoke to on the phone when my dad was recently in a terrible accident. She responded to a facebook post about my dad (posted by someone else) and then sent me an email with her phone number, and I called her. Hadn't talked in years and it was like we talked just yesterday, and I was telling my good friend about my idiot father riding his idiot bicycle and getting slammed into by an idiot truck driver. (Life is generous that way: plenty of idiocy to go around.)

Kathy brought me back to who I was as a teen and young adult. I liked that person. She was funny, quirky, independent, and bound for greatness. She had no clue that "greatness" meant raising five people, but for now, this is where whatever greatness I have resides. But Kathy reminded me of the joy we experienced, the pure, giggly fun of two smart teenage girls who were loved by their parents and had just enough freedom to get in very, very little trouble, enough to feel like we were getting away with something.

Remember her? Remember me? Remember us? Friendships like that raise us, as sure as our parents do. Thank you Kathy, for helping me become the person I am today, and thank you for the "meet and greet" at Noah's bagels that reminded me of where I have come from.

So all you Facebook skeptics out there: join. If only for that one person you'll find who will make your day and take you back to a place you'll love to visit. Facebook is weird, but it brought my Kathy back to me. You'll find your Kathy too, and you'll be so glad you did.

* * *

06 November 2009

Life With Lullah

The other day, my three year old told me that I am "smokin' hot."

Yesterday, I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up, and she said "Hannah Montana."

Today at a restaurant, every time I turned around, she was doing her "Pink Panther" walk, wherein she imitates Steve Martin strutting around New York City.

Tonight on the way home, she shrieked for at least three miles: "Get off this stupid street, you dummy!" We were on the freeway. Apparently, she doesn't like freeways.

I am trying to potty train her. She is ready. She often wakes up in the morning and from her naps dry -- a good sign. She can tell me when she has to pee. She can run around dry, in underwear, for 2, 3, 4 hours. She can sit on the potty when she has to go. But she WILL NOT PEE IN THE POT. Given our busy lives, I have not had time to just sit with her until she goes. Inevitably, she tells me she has to go pee about 30 minutes before we need to be somewhere...and then spends the next 25 minutes messing with me, sitting and not peeing. This makes her giggle with delight. Then we have to leave.

I like to sing along to music in the car; she doesn't like it when I do this. So...when I start to sing, she starts to scream. My own little 3-year old dictator will scream and yell and fling her toddler vitriole at me until I stop. Sometimes she keeps going until I actually turn the music off.

She wants to be held most of the time, too. Except when she's careening around the house like a tasmanian devil, perhaps trying to chip one of her teeth for the third time in her young life. (She has already chipped her two front top teeth, in separate incidents. They are nice and symmetrically chipped: she has a neat little triangle shape right in front of her smile.)

When not careening around, she is either hiding from me so she can eat candy or she is badgering me with "Uppie, uppie, uppie, uppie, uppie!" (Pick me up!) I know she's had it for the day when she says to me: "I wanna sweep in yo' ahms." So sweet. But her timing sucks, because I'm usually making dinner at this point.

She's a pistol. I love her.



And in other news, you must listen to this gem of a story from NPR this morning. Talk about persistence! One wonders where the line between perseverance and insanity is, but there's no arguing with the fact that this lady finally achieved her goal. Good for her.



* * *

05 November 2009

Book Circuit, Here I Come

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, I'm writing with some good news! I have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I know, I know, it took me awhile. But here I am, about to turn 41, and I finally know what I want to be: a writer. More specifically, a published memoir author.

I have noticed, on the NPR interview circuit, that all of today's most interesting books are memoirs, so I am going to write one.

This is where you come in. See, I have noticed that most of these memoir author people have some pretty intense family stuff to write about, wacky parents and bumpy childhoods, drugs, alcohol, mental disorders, etc. So I need you to give me a list of all the stuff you've kept from me over the years, all the really sordid details of our family's lore. Feel free to embellish.

Perhaps you could use some "prompts" or ideas. Think of these categories: Violence...substance abuse...craziness...scandals...shameful events...big family secrets, etc.

Mary Karr, for example, wrote about the night her mother threatened to kill her and her sister with a butcher knife. Now that stuff makes for some good memoir, don't you think? I'm looking for a real attention grabber like that, something Terry Gross can delve into when I am a guest of Fresh Air after my book comes out.

I am hoping to really make it big with this book -- and maybe several sequels -- so I encourage you to think hard about what you can dredge up from the past for me to use.

I am so happy to have finally discovered my true calling. I am going to work hard to make you proud while also portraying you in such a way that I will sell lots of books. It will be a fine line to walk, so I'd just like you to know that whatever I write, I write with purpose. I will not use something just for its sensational value; I will only use what will get me published, I promise.

Hope you are well.

Love,

your daughter

ps. Until I get that big advance towards my book, can you send me some cash? I'd really appreciate it.

* * *

04 November 2009

Another Halloween. . .

. . .has come and gone.

I try to love Halloween, really I do, but it's hard. As in "I'm tryin' Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard." (Name that movie!)


I like the idea of dressing up and I like helping my kids assemble costumes. But I'm a dreadful procrastinator, and I'm usually stressed out about some key element of a costume right down to the last minute. I hate that.

This year, the pirate was easy and fun and ready ahead of time. Ditto for Cleopatra. The monkey, thanks to my extended village, turned out to be extremely easy, if a little down to the wire. The Grim Reaper -- easy...but I couldn't let go of the nagging voice in my head that kept saying: "Really? That's what you want to be? You can't think of something more fun? And less...deathly?"

I know, I know, 9-year old boys like that stuff. I'm not a 9-year old boy, though. I think I was sufficiently supportive of his choice that he did not suffer any ill effects from a disapproving mother, so no worries there. He did add his own creative flare; when the mask we found for him ended up featuring blue horns, he changed the name of his costume to The Blue Horned Reaper. Cool.

But Michael Jackson had me in knots right up to the last minute. Most of the costume was easy to find, in our own closets or at the local thrift store. But everyone was out of the white sequined glove in kids' sizes, and the adult size was huge. I tried a last minute home-made solution, which was utterly pathetic.


So then, with the school parade starting at 12:30, I found myself at the Party Store at 11:45, fighting the urge to kiss the employee when she came up with one huge MJ glove. From there, it was dash to school, hand off the glove, fit it to the kid's hand with a rubber band and a couple of safety pins, collapse in relief that everything worked out. All good. Mother nearly dead.

The other reason I hate Halloween is that my kids go bananas. That's a lot of bananas. Everything about Halloween is just a little too hyped up and intense for me. I'm a simple girl, I like simple things, and the rigamarole of these Uber-Events gets me down.

All that said, we actually had a great time trick-or-treating with friends, and they made the evening really fun for me and for my kids. I didn't even need a flask!

Here they are from youngest to oldest:


The Little Monkey


Cleopatra

The Pirate Anne Bonny

The Blue Horned Reaper

(A photo resistant) Michael Jackson


Close the history books on this one. Bring on the Holidays.

* * *

03 November 2009

I Miss My Pillow

I read a short article in the New York Times today about sleep deprivation. Nothing new, just depressing. Here's a quote:

In a study at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 2003...scientists examined the cognitive effects of a week of poor sleep, followed by three days of sleeping at least eight hours a night. The scientists found that the "recovery" sleep did not fully reverse declines in performance on a test of reaction times and other psychomotor tasks, especially for subjects who had been forced to sleep only three or five hours a night.

Read the article here.

This is bad news for someone who routinely gets about 5 hours of sleep at night, often less, sometimes a little more. Rarely do I ever get more than 7 hours of sleep. Rarely do I sleep without interruption. My kids do not keep my up for long periods of time at night anymore, but they do wake me up to crawl into bed beside me. Or someone is coughing. Or someone wants a drink of water. Or someone is snoring like a crazed warthog. Or life has my brain cartwheeling and somersaulting and hoola-hooping.

Sleep has been elusive for such a long time that I have utterly forgotten what it feels like to be well-rested. My baseline is sleep-deprivation. I don't remember not feeling groggy. This is just not good.

I wonder just how many nights in a row of enough sleep (at least 8 hours) it will take for me to catch up, for "the cognitive and physiological consequences of poor sleep to wear off." However many it might take, those nights are not in my immediate future.

I watched my three-year old asleep in her car seat today. She was yelling her head off at an intersection near our school, and by the time we got to the school, she was OUT. I was dripping green with envy. I wanted to be her. She stayed asleep for two hours, four older siblings climbing over her repeatedly, driving to and fro with mom on several errands, with the very essence of peace lying across her face like a baby blanket. Sleep, like youth, is wasted on the young.

How much sleep are you getting these days?

* * *

02 November 2009

Simple, Right?

So all I have to do right now is this:
  • Deal with a pair of poopy underwear, and the body wearing them.
  • Help 7-year old with daily homework first, then project due tomorrow.
  • Make dinner: healthy, delicious, for seven people.
  • Get the 11-year old to take out the piles and piles of recycling that have been waiting for the empty bin.
  • Supervise homework for resistant 9- and 11-year olds.
  • Staighten up living room -- so people can sit down.
  • Straighten up dining toom -- so people can eat and do homework.
  • Find some clean utensils.
  • Give 3-year old a bath. If nothing else happens, this better.
  • Look at a couple of projects that people will actually be paying me for.
  • Prepare end of October paperwork for various business and home related projects.
  • Stay cheerful, hopeful, patient, and POSITIVE! After all, I'm creating people here, right?

In other words, all I really need are three more sets of hands, arms like ElastiGirl, ten times the energy I currently have, a personal chef, fewer children, and a wife.

After that, I'm all set!

* * *

01 November 2009

Gifts

It's my birthday this month. And my kids, who by the way are the most excellent offspring on the planet, decided to start early and celebrate from Day One of November. I think they had some encouragement from daddy.

I went to the grocery store and came home to my first gift. Grapes and flowers, harvested from our very own garden. Sweet, sweet.


I am loved. Life is good.

For a practiced complainer, glass-is-half-empty kind of a person like myself, this is saying something.

Thank you children and husband.

* * *