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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Friday, September 30, 2005

 

The wisdom of a nanny will set you free

Now that Thomas is getting older and less dependent on me for nighttime nursings, I’m able to check out more of what the vibrant literary scene in the Bay Area has to offer. I’m lucky enough to live close to almost all of the locations of "The West’s Oldest Independent bookseller," Books Inc. and I’m really excited to find out that Cody’s Books in Berkeley has just opened a Union Square location in San Francisco. Both of these bookstore chains host author readings, signings, and discussions almost every night of the week. The events are typically free and not too long—perfect for a mom who’s just popping out for a breather.

Tuesday night I caught childcare professionals Kim Nicholson and Justine Walsh talking about their new book Nanny Wisdom at Books Inc. in Burlingame. These two women are no-nonsense nannies trained in the English nanny tradition, which is hugely popular nowadays thanks to TV shows such as Fox’s Nanny 911 and ABC’s Super Nanny.

Nicholson and Walsh have an impressive twenty-seven years of child watching experience between them. They were easy going and personable at the reading, and because there weren’t many people there, it quickly turned into an intimate question and answer session with harried moms in the audience picking their brains for advice on what to do when your son will only poop in a diaper and your three-year-old won’t eat anything that’s green and bites other kids for fun.

The two professional nannies (one currently works for Richard Gere and Carey Lowell and the other currently works for fashion photographer Pamela Hanson) answered each question with solid and sage advice. They obviously care for children and know a lot about taking care of them.

I’m fond of the British nanny tradition because it favors manners, proper eating habits including family mealtimes, discipline, structure, and loving yet firm guidance—things that I think are important to raising happy and well-adjusted kids. Oh, and it encourages plenty of giggles and hugs and play and fun, too. It’s a no-nonsense, common sense approach to child-raising.

I don’t read many child-rearing books these days—preferring instead to read fiction, momoirs, or books about writing—but I bought Nanny Wisdom and so far I’m enjoying it. It’s well-written and contains entertaining stories culled from Nicholson and Walsh’s years of caring for the offspring of both the rich and the working class. It tackles the subjects of sleeping, eating, tantrums, and biting, as well as many other topics that are of interest to those of us whose constant companions are small, willful, and have a tendency to cry at the drop of a pin.

One topic the book does not address is that of toilet training. This was brought up at the signing and they swear they will add their opinions and advice about it on their website (www.nanny-widsom.com) as soon as they return from their book tour. One thing they did mention (when I asked), was that they favor potty-training at age 2-2.5 for girls and slightly older than 2 for boys. They claim there is a window of opportunity that makes these ages ideal.

Based on their advice, we’re going to start potty-training Emily next week. Mike is all in favor of trying to potty-train her sooner rather than later; I’m the one who needs a couple more days to adjust to this idea and get into the proper mindset. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Blog entries with poo in the title coming soon to a mommy blog near you.

If you enjoy watching nanny TV shows and you believe in—or are curious to know more about—the English nanny tradition of child-raising, you will want to check out Nanny Wisdom. The authors know their stuff and have written a jolly good reference book. They also have a radio show and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them soon on the telly.

I’m off now to change a nappy. Cheerio!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Home sweet home and a salad of arugula

We’re back from Manhattan and almost settled into our regular routines. The vacation laundry is done and put away, the suitcases are back in the closet, Mike’s at work, and the kids are hanging with the nanny. We did it!

The flight back was as uneventful as a flight with two small children can be. Hey, five and a half hours on a plane can make anybody cry. I felt like crying myself when I checked the onboard flight map and realized we were only in Utah and had hours to go before touchdown in beautiful San Francisco. But I do have some tips and tricks and thoughts and two cents’ worth of advice on how to travel by plane with little ones; I’ll compile and post soon.

While in New York, Mike and I got to enjoy two dinners out ALONE. Grammie Martha was kind enough to babysit the kids while he and I got a chance to remember what it was like when we could eat a leisurely dinner uninterrupted by the insatiable needs, demands, and wants of wee people. It was nice. Sitting across a candlelit table from my husband I was able to take a good long look at him and re-realize hey, this guy’s kinda cute! He’s also a good conversationalist.

One night we had dinner at a corner restaurant somewhere in the NoHo/NYU area of town; I can’t remember the exact street or the exact restaurant. What I do remember was enjoying some nice conversation with my brilliant husband, a carafe of wine, and two fabulous appetizers: arugula salad (me) and bruscetta with olives (Mike). Here’s a recipe based on our two appetizers. Add a carafe of vino to this and you’ve got a great meal. We’ve already had it twice since returning home.

Arugula Salad with Mozzarella, Tomato, and Prosciutto
Serves two

Ingredients
Large bowl of arugula, washed and dried
One hunk of fresh mozzarella cheese (the kind that comes in water), sliced into rounds
Two ripe tomatoes, sliced into rounds
Five strips of prosciutto, thinly sliced
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar

Preparation
1. Arrange the arugula leaves on two plates.
2. Layer the mozzarella cheese rounds and tomato rounds on the arugula.
3. With your fingers, shred the proscuitto into thin strips and lump into mounds.
4. Scatter the prosciutto mounds over the cheese and tomato.
5. Drizzle each salad with olive oil and vinegar to taste.

Serve with crispy toasted bread smeared with olive tapenade.

Hint: If you live by a Trader Joe's, you can get all of the ingredients for this salad there. God, I love that store.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

 

Breastesses and boobies

Today the kids and I joined MOMS supporters and their kids in demonstrating outside the Governator's San Francisco office, urging him to sign SB600 and SB484 into law. SB600 establishes a statewide biomonitoring program to measure Californians' chemical burden. SB484 requires cosmetics manufacturers to disclose indgredients in their products that are linked to cancer and reproductive harm. MOMS is asking Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign both of these bills into law. Email MOMS [letters at safemilk dot org] if you would like to add your signature to the letter.

Last Sunday my sister-in-law Jennie walked in the Race for the Cure on a team sponsored by Feel Your Boobies, an organization whose goal is to raise awareness among young women about breast cancer and the importance of self-breast exams. Please check out their site and if you can, buy one of their T-shirts or other FYB goodies. I did!

Oh, and go feel your boobies. I am!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

 

Happy mommy alert

I'm in the middle of 100 different posts on 100 different topics, but right this moment my mind is filled with a truly happy mommy moment.

It's a beautiful sunny day. I'm sitting at my kitchen table typing on the family laptop. The kids are playing outside together and I can hear their happy chatter. I've got two kids! And they play together! These two facts continually amaze me.

What also amazes me is that Thomas started walking while we were in New York. His confidence on two feet improves every day. Oh, and yesterday he slept through the night from 7:00 PM to 6:00 AM.

I feel good. A full night of sleep does wonders for your mood.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

More Manhattan moments

Yesterday we were joined in New York by my mother Grammie Martha. She lives in Illinois but joined us for the last days of our Manhattan adventure.

After she arrived we walked over to Little Italy and checked out the Feast of San Gennaro festival. Mulberry Street was filled with food vendors and carnival attractions. We had lunch at one of the many Italian restaurants that line the street—Grotta Azzurra—and enjoyed Caesar salads with grilled chicken along with cold glasses of Pinot Grigio. The salad was great; the dressing had a nice hint of anchovy, the croutons were garlic infused and crispy, and the chicken tasted like it had just come off the grill plus was so moist I could cut it with a fork. Yum.

Last night we had a classic city dinner of hot dogs from Papaya King, and then my mom and I headed off to see Wicked at the George Gershwin Theater. It was an excellent show and very entertaining. I highly recommend it. After the show got out, we journeyed by cab through Times Square, which was lit up and bustling with people. By then I was tired; it was 11 o’clock and I’m used to going to bed at 9:30. These kids of mine are turning me into one of them!

This morning we checked out the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea. They had a special program for kids age two to five. Both Emily and Thomas enjoyed painting, playing with blocks, and hearing stories. It was a great experience plus the museum had some interesting Himalayan art that Grammie Martha could enjoy while I hung out with the little people. Oh, and it had nice clean bathrooms, always a plus for any New York attraction.

After the museum we headed over to Union Square Park to check out Circus Amok but couldn’t find them, which seemed odd since I couldn't imagine a circus being hard to find. Perhaps they cancelled the show; I’m disappointed that we missed them. [Note: I just re-checked their website and they were in Union square last Thursday. Fortunately for us, they’ll be in Washington Square Park tomorrow and that’s just five blocks from us. Oh, happy day!]

We had lunch at the Heartland Brewery. I ordered my usual, Caesar salad with grilled chicken. The salad was OK, but not as good as yesterday’s Caesar; the croutons were stale and the chicken was dry. The salad dressing was good but lacked the anchovy oomph of the salad from Grotta Azzurra. At least the beer was good. I had a pint of their Harvest Wheat and my mom had a seasonal Pumpkin Ale. I wish I had another pint right now…

Loving:
People
Energy
Weather
Food
Walking

Hating:
Funky smells
Life with a humongous stroller

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

 

Sleepless in Manhattan

I just put Mr. T down for a mid-morning nap and I want to get in a quick post before I take advantage of his slumber to also get in an uninterrupted shower.

I can't remember if it was Sunday night or Monday night that Mike broke his back walking 8 blocks home with a pack-n-play for Thomas, but I'll love him for it forever. I mistakenly thought Thomas would be OK sleeping in our bed, but I didn't realize (because I haven't slept with him in months), that Thomas has become a "tosser and turner." This is not good if you are in a bed without rails or sides, and it made for some horrible nights of nursing/thomas crying/nursing/mommy crying/mommy cursing, etc.

The pack-n-play solved all of our problems or at least the ones involving Thomas and his sleeping needs. Here's a pic of the kids in it:



We'll be in Manhattan all week. One of the conditions of this vacation was that Mike would have to work at Google's New York office while we were here; the kids and I have been hanging out on our own during the days much like we would be if we were at home.

Monday we checked out Chelsea Piers and the Hudson River Park, which has a great water park for the little ones. I wasn't prepared for the kids to play in water but it was hot out at 11 AM and I decided that I would be Spontaneous Mommy (tm) and let them run around in the water wearing their diapers and onesies. Man, I am just the coolest mom ever. The kids had a great time and played so much they crashed immediately upon getting back into the stroller.

Monday afternoon we went to the Farmer's Market in Union Square and I found a walk-up smoothie stop. Now, in the Suburbs my favorite kind of place is a drive-up, no matter what they're selling. In Manhattan, my favorite kind of place is a walk-up, no matter what they're selling. If you are ever trolling around the city with a double stroller, you'll understand why. Yesterday, I managed to come across a walk-up crepe restaurant. BTW, these places are commonly attached to bigger restaurants and bill themselves as To Go windows. They're truly an awesome invention and a mom on the go's best friend.

After the Farmer's Market we headed midtown to pick up Mike from work. Then it was over to Times Square and dinner at Red Lobster. I know we're in Manhattan, but Red Lobster is just so child friendly, plus the restaurant serves splits of Korbel so it's actually pretty adult friendly, too. The food wasn't bad, either. After dinner we walked home, which hopefully burned off the 3,000 calorie meal I ate.

Other great places we've eaten at in Manhattan
* Murray's Bagels. The bagels are cooked on premises, still warm, and oh so good. Somebody please tell me that cream cheese isn't fattening. The coffee is great, too. Hint: Don't be a schmuck; know what you want when you get up to the counter.

* Sammy's Noodle Shop. Sammy's specialty is noodles and bbqued meats. This place had the best pork bun I've ever tasted. Their chicken curry was subtle and yummy -- even Emily liked it. Plus they had high chairs. What's not to like?

Well, I'll leave you all with your mouths watering. There's more I want to tell you, specifically about the playgrounds in Manhattan, the fact that all of the people here are skinny, and the cockroach that Mike killed that was as big as my foot (no joke), but I'll save those thoughts for another post.

Happy hump day!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

 

Taking Manhattan by stroller

Today we went on another long long long walk. This time we went downtown from Greenwich Village through SOHO, TriBeCa, past Ground Zero (World Trade Center site), and wound up at Battery Park. Then we took the Staten Island Ferry to (where else?) Staten Island. The Staten Island Ferry is the City's best bargain at a cost of $0 to ride. That's right, nada. It was a beautiful day, warm with a light breeze, and Ms. Liberty looked pretty good as we went by her on the ferry.

We didn't hang out on the Island but took the return trip back to Manhattan. Then we walked through the Financial District back to Ground Zero. Visiting Ground Zero was a moving experience. Who doesn't remember where they were on that fateful morning four years ago? In some ways, it's like the assasination of President Kennedy; a moment you'll never forget.

Then we journeyed through Civic Center and back over to Tribeca for lunch at Bubby's Restaurant. The Lonely Planet guidebook recommended it as a great place to take kids. As a bonus, the food was the best we've had so far and they made momma a good Mimosa and a great Bellini. They have an extensive menu of brunch and lunch items; I really wanted the smoked trout scramble with horseradish cream but they were out. (Insert unhappy face here.) Instead I had a hamburger with roasted garlic and white cheddar cheese. Mike had a hamburger with blue cheese, his favorite. Both burgers were excellent and the kids were well behaved--a perfect meal in all respects.

Mike and I really liked the SOHO and TriBeCa neighborhoods. And we both agreed that if Emily or Thomas wants to go to NYU, that would be OK with us.

Things we've noticed about Manhattan, kids, and strollers:

* Manhattanites' favorite stroller is the Maclaren.

* They like to spend a lot of money on strollers. Their second favorite is the Bugaboo.

* Getting around on the sidewalks with our Inglesina Swift isn't too bad; there's plenty of room.

* Getting the stroller inside stores and restaurants is very difficult.

* We wish we had two single strollers for when we're both out with the kids.

* When going to dinner, we leave the stroller at home, carry the kids (or let them walk), and eat close to the apartment. Very few restaurants have the space for strollers. Most will not allow you to bring a stroller inside. You know, this is probably true even in the suburbs where we live, but because I usually drive to go out to eat, I don't have the stroller with me and I don't spend much time thinking about this.

* Very few Manhattanites have kids as close in age as ours. They seem to wait to procreate again until the first can walk. These people are smart.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

 

Snippets from Manhattan

The Tsao family has taken Manhattan by storm. In our own little way, that is.

Things I want to remember:

Longest plane ride SFO to JFK. Four and a half hours. Wow.

Weirdest invasion of personal space I was holding Thomas and waiting for our stroller to come up from the cargo area when a woman came off the plane, looked at Thomas like he was her long lost lover, took his face in both of her hands, and kissed him on the cheek. All this while softly muttering something in what I think was Russian. I probably should have stopped her but I was completely taken by surprise. Grown women are lusting after my baby!

Biggest meal 1/2 of a LARGE Mr. Pink (marinated chicken, plum tomatoes, fresh garlic, and mozzerella) pizza from Two Boots Pizza. Mama mia.

Longest walk West Village to Central Park (South) and back: Up Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave), 14th St. to 5th Ave., through Madison Square Park, back to 5th Ave., lots of stores on 5th Ave., checked out the bathroom at the New York City Library, made it to the park!, meandered through the park and came out at 72nd and 7th Ave., down 7th Ave. to 42nd St., cut through Times Square to Broadway, Broadway to 6th Ave., down 6th Ave. to 11th St. and HOME! Woof woof!

Proudest mommy moment Letting Thomas get so grubby at dinner that the owner of the restaurant came over mid meal and cleaned him up herself.

Second proudest mommy moment Pulling up to the apartment and wondering why water(?) was pouring out of the bottom of the stroller. Turns out that Emily's diaper was super-saturated and just couldn't take any more. Apparently, a diaper is good for only six hours and then it needs to be changed. Who knew?

Funniest overheard comment Walking on 7th Ave.
Gay guy shouting into the phone at lover, ex-lover, or wanna-be-lover: If you say you're going to be somewhere, be there! If it had been happy hour, you know you would have been on time!

Second funniest overhead comment At street corner flea market in Chelsea. Female street vendor to male street vendor: Ya, I've made some money today. Harumph, about fifty cents. What about you?
Male street vendor: Ya, that's about what I make each day. It's reliable money. Heh.

Happiest wifey moment Husband actually wanted to buy some new clothes! A foray into the Gap yielded four t-shirts and four pairs of socks. Also, we had a discussion about his (get this) fashion needs. One day in New York and he's turned into a metrosexual!

Bestest deed done Saw a woman drop her cell phone without noticing. Picked it up and ran down the sreet to give it back to her. Karma points: 100.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

Britney Spears is a mom but does she blog?

While packing for our upcoming trip to New York, I decided to stop judging Britney Spears. I don’t like her music, I think her husband is gross, and I definitely don’t want to see the two of them locking lips in their chaotic world, but I think Britney will do fine as a mom.

Britney will do fine as a mom because she will never be put to the ultimate test of mommyhood: packing for a family of four.

I love vacations, but packing for them has always been challenging for me. When packing, I need to think not only about what I want to wear today (always difficult, especially if you’ve got a postpartum body and a pre-pregnancy wardrobe), but also about what I want to wear tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the…you get my drift. It’s like waking up to find you’re in the same place doing the same thing, over and over again. It hurts just to think about it. Oh, and did I tell you that I wanted matching shoes and jewelry to go with those outfits? AHHHHH.

Can you imagine my pain? Perhaps it’s because you’ve been there? Good, now quadruple that pain and understand that my head is throbbing with the thought of what the four people in my little universe will have on their bodies every day in the upcoming week. Oh, and on their bodies every night in the upcoming week, as well as on their shoes. And under their pants, too. And over their clothes. Oh, and there’s a 50% chance of rain. AHHHHH.

Britney Spears will never have to feel my pain and possibly fail the ultimate test in mommy 101; her kid will never have to run around a strange city wearing only a diaper and one of his mom’s t-shirts. This is because Britney Spears is a star and stars like Mrs. Federline employ household managers.

I read an article in our paper recently about the growing demand for household managers, the people who oversee all aspects of life at the estates of the very wealthy. If you have $100K a year to pay one of these talented professionals, some aspects of life they will oversee for you include cooking, scrubbing toilets, packing suitcases, and changing dirty diapers. They can probably hire somebody to write your blog, too.

Until I read that article, I had no idea that the title wife had been changed to household manager.

Or that I was supposed to be making $100K a year.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Britney’s wife, err, household manager, has already employed a small army of nannies to take care of the little boy with no name. Britney will recover peacefully from her elected C-section and won’t have to worry about establishing sleep patterns, or if it’s bad when the umbilical cord stump is oozing yellow stuff, or why her baby’s poo looks like tar. She’ll never have to wash his little onesies in Dreft , then fold them up lovingly and put them in the little basket underneath the changing table. She’ll probably never have to give him a bath either, although she might be photographed giving him one for People magazine.

I guess I’m glad I am regularly put to the tests of motherhood. Sure, I sometimes fail and there’s no doubt in my mind that my kids will remember my shortcomings and remind me about them ad naseum when they’re older and can afford therapists. But looking at the two suitcases I just packed, I know that this family will have clean clothes from head to toe every day of their vacation, and that they will be warm if they need to be and cool if they need to be, and that no Starkey-trained household manager could ever replace me.

If she’s lucky, Britney will one day get the pleasure of packing for her family. She’ll get to decide if she should pack windbreakers or fleeces, sandals or trainers. She will remember the toothbrushes, the contact lenses, the de-tangler she’ll have to use on her kid every time she combs his hair if she doesn’t want him to scream bloody murder, and the giant stuffed bear her kid has decided he can’t sleep without. She’ll either remember all those things or she’ll fire her household manager for forgetting.

Congratulations on the birth of your baby boy, Britney! I’m looking forward to reading your mommy blog!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

 

A mothers club is for the mothers

The other night my local mothers club had a rummage sale. It was a fun event with lots of digging through piles of gently used baby clothes, eating yummy baked goods, and chit chatting with mom friends old and new. I spent $7 on clothes for Thomas: khaki pants, green corduroy overalls, striped long sleeved shirt, Kenneth Cole plaid button down shirt, and a rugby striped long sleeved one piece; two smiley face beach balls; three chocolate brownies topped with marshmallow; and a mini loaf of banana bread for Mike.

I scored big time.

I scored on some cheap clothes for Thomas and I scored because my mothers club has been a lifesaver for me. I don’t know what I would be doing right now if I hadn’t joined this group. At best, I’d have met some friends at the playground or mall, but finding friends that way is like cold calling on potential clients; it’s not easy. At worst, I’d be feeling isolated and depressed and probably a tad bitter about my lot in life. My mothers club has been the best source of local friends, support, and activities for me and my kids.

When you are a new mom with a small baby it’s crucial that you find a group of like-minded supportive women with whom you can talk and share and laugh and cry. I’m serious about this; being at home all day with a baby can drive a woman bonkers. A mothers club can offer playgroups with similarly-aged kids, children’s events, mom’s events, family events, book clubs, seasonal shindigs, and lots more. If you are feeling your brain muscle atrophy with each ga-ga and goo-goo that you hear (and respond to in a like fashion!), joining the board of directors of your club can be a great way to remind yourself that the dynamics and politics of group meetings are both exciting and horrible. In any case, board meetings usually are better than watching yet another video featuring sock puppets and xylophone music.

Mothers clubs are typically geared towards stay-at-home and working moms with babies and kids less than five years of age. Once your kid turns five it’s assumed he or she will be in school and you will be in another phase of your life as a mom, one that’s filled with PTA, sporting events, and other school-related functions and friends.

I encourage all you new moms out there—even if you're still pregnant—to seek out and join your local mothers club. To find a club, do a Google search for “mothers club” and “your city”. There are mothers clubs in most major (and in lots of minor) cities in the United States.

Do it before you start using the words ga-ga and goo-goo in conversations with adults. Your mail carrier, the checkout clerk at the grocery store, and your brain will thank you for it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

 

Don’t use mom as a reference

For most of my adult life I have been steadily employed, and therefore, the friend whom others use as a reference on job applications. Now I am a stay-at-home mom and my name no longer pulls weight as a reference. I no longer give good reference; this fact is hard for me to swallow.

Simply put, my current job title of SAHM looks the same on a resume as if my job title was UNEMPLOYED, and my friends don’t want to list an unemployed person as a reference. I sometimes wonder if perhaps they also don’t want the word mom on their resume for fear a hurried HR person would misread it to mean their mom.

Mom—stay-at-home or otherwise—is not a word that looks good on a resume, either your friend’s or your own. Once you become a mom and decide to leave the workforce for a period longer than six weeks, you run the risk of being labeled exactly what you are—a mom—and being labeled a mom is not a good thing.

Like any woman who has a child, I grappled with the decision to continue working or to quit work and stay home with my kid. For some women, this decision is based on economics and they return to work shortly after giving birth, some happy to do so, others not so much. For other women, this decision is based less on economics and more on their sense of identity. They enjoy having a sense of purpose besides the one handed to them every day by a kid who is learning to change his own diaper, by hisself!

As someone who has been both a working mom and a stay-at-home mom, let me tell it like it is: both situations suck. OK, that’s not totally true, but both situations have their good points and their bad points.

As a working mom, I couldn’t imagine a life more idyllic than the one those stay-at-home mommies were living—a life filled with frolicking, tummy rubs, giggles, and hugs. A life filled with adoring children who didn’t have to wake up at any given time, a life that wasn’t driven by a relentless schedule and the need to schlep a kid to a stinky daycare, a life that was relaxed, happy, and fulfilling in a peaceful Earth mama kind of way.

Now as a stay-at-home mom I am positive that my working mom sisters are living the good life, partying it up in the lunchroom while enjoying the company of adults and basking in the glow of the three Rs: recognition, respect, and restrooms.

Recognition

Stay-at-home moms regularly complain that life at home with kids is an unrecognized life. By unrecognized I mean unpaid. Being unpaid is a pain of the short term variety, but there’s also no question that being out of the workforce for a number of years hurts your career and earning power long term, too. Even if you are lucky enough to re-enter the workforce in the same place you left it, you may never catch up to your non-child-bearing cohorts.

Respect

Staying at home with your kids is a difficult job often performed in isolation, sometimes physical and sometimes mental. While alone, you being to wonder if feminism has failed you (as working women are wondering, too), because here you are, changing diapers, folding laundry, washing dishes, making dinner, and contemplating your need for this generation’s version of the mother’s little helper: Prozac. You are wondering just where is the R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

When you work—if you are lucky—once in awhile you are thrown a bone—a bonus, a raise, a promotion, a pat on the back, a name on a plaque, a byline on a paper, a mention in a meeting. If not, you at least might get a daily or weekly kudos from a co-worker or manager, some small acknowledgement that you are valuable and perhaps even an asset to the company. Baring any of that, you get a paycheck and to some, that might be all the respect they need.

Stay-at-home moms on the job aren’t thrown many bones. When your only job title is Mommy, the respect is hard-earned and self-sought. Darling daughter just peed in the potty by herself? I’ll take that as a sign she respects her mommy. Husband just did the dishes of his own volition? That spells respect to me.

Restrooms

Sometimes the simple things in life are what make us stay-at-home moms envious of the working moms. Simple things like private restrooms, the kind where you can sit in peace and quiet and read the paper while doing your business. Not the kind that contain small children who cry and cling to your leg, thereby causing your sphincter to tighten up and forget what it was doing. Even if you work in an office with a multi-stall women’s bathroom, the stalls have doors; there is some semblance of privacy.

I can’t tell you the last time I closed the door while I went to the bathroom. It just isn’t feasible with a nine-month-old who is extremely attached to mommy and a two-year-old who can not be left alone at any time. If I took my eyes of her long enough to have a peaceful moment on the commode, I would come out to find crayon on the wall, egg on the couch, or poo smeared on the floor. When I go to the bathroom at home, I leave the door open and trade privacy for sanity.

Which do I prefer, being a working mom or a stay-at-home mom? The answer varies depending on my mood and what new spill I cleaned up that day. Like any worker, I sometimes want to quite my job but since I am basically unemployed, that just doesn’t make sense. So even though I no longer get called upon to be a reference, my own resume is gathering cobwebs while I work at the one of the least-respected professions in the world, and I’ve got 3R envy, I am happy in my current position, which for me means staying at home with my kids.

On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t use me as a reference not because I’m a mom, but because I’m clearly nuts!
 

End of season blahs

Yesterday I looked in the mirror and noticed two red dots on my face. (I call them dots because I refuse to believe I’m pushing 40 and still have acne.) And then I noticed that my skin was blotchy all over—great. And then I glanced up at my hair—big mistake. My hair was dull and lifeless and needed some color and a cut. I turned my head sideways in an effort to get away from that horrible mirror and was horrified to see three or four long hairs sticking out of my chin. NOOOO!!!!!

Good Lord, I was a mess. I wanted nothing more than to ponder my dilemma, have a good cry, then do something about it, but I had no time. It was 9:40 and playgroup started at 10:00. I threw on my short shorts—which because I don’t have a full length mirror I can fool myself into thinking look good on me—and my tank top, and Emily, Thomas, and I jetted off to the park for playgroup. When we got there I realized two things: I was freezing cold and I smelled something in the air.

That something was Fall.

Yep, it’s true. Here in beautiful Northern California the leaves turn brown and the sky turns gray. The thermometer drops to a chilly 70-something degrees Fahrenheit, and we walk around trying to convince ourselves that it’s Fall. (In a couple more months the thermometer will drop to an ice-cold 60-something degrees Fahrenheit and it will rain three times a week. We will call that season Winter.)

This change of seasons from Summer to Fall explains why I look so horrible; I’m stuck in the no man’s land between seasons. I’m neither tan nor winter pale; I’m molting my tan like a snake molts his skin. I don’t know from looking out the window if the weather is hot or cold; I dress inappropriately for most occasions.

Hurry away Summer and take your fashion faux paus with you. I’m sick to death of wearing tank tops and shorts and of shaving my legs. Hello, Fall and your neck flab hiding turtlenecks and cute woven ponchos and black leather boots and sometimes even black tights. I want long pants! I want long sleeved shirts! I want hip hiding LAYERS!!

I must go now. It’s time to exfoliate, pluck, color, and cut. I need to look good for Fall.

Monday, September 12, 2005

 

How not to slave over a hot stove

Have you ever noticed how there is room in your day for only a finite number of things? (By things, I mean people, hobbies, events; I also think there’s only so much room for things of the material variety, but that’s another post.)

I’ve been writing a lot lately both in my blog and in my offline notebook. That’s great; it makes me feel good. But eating makes me feel good, too. Thus the question: how to feed my creative self and also feed my physical self, not to mention the selves of my husband and children? In other words, how to spend the afternoon blogging and still have dinner on the table when the breadwinner comes home?

The answer is easy: Not-Too-Unhealthy Jazzed-Up Spaghetti with Meatballs

Even though Atkins, the South Beach diet guru, and the Zone guy all tell us that spaghetti will kill us, there’s really nothing easier to make and better loved by your family than a giant platter of noodles and sauce. This recipe isn’t too horrible for you because I use turkey sausage and not much oil. If you simply cannot eat noodles, try the sauce over a plate of steamed cauliflower or zucchini. (And good luck with that diet; I’ve been on one for twenty years.)

I love this recipe because I can cook the sauce in the afternoon when the little guy is napping, then leave it on the stove and cook up the noodles when the big guy gets home. Or, I can wait and start the meal at the last minute; it tastes just as good. If I’m feeling fancy, I can serve it with garlic bread and a bag-o-salad. If the produce bins are bare, I can serve just the spaghetti and be confident that I’ve included something from all of the major food groups with this one dish. Really, what’s not to love?

Not-Too-Unhealthy Jazzed-Up Spaghetti with Meatballs

Time
Prep: 15 minutes
Cooking: 30 to 45 minutes

Ingredients
1 package turkey sausage (raw in casings, hot or sweet depending on mood)
1 jar pasta sauce (whatever’s on sale)
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 T garlic, chopped
Other spices as desired
¼ to ½ cup red wine (any varietal)
Spaghetti or other noodles

1. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casings.
2. Roll the meat into little balls.
3. In a large skillet, heat up the olive oil over medium/medium-high heat.
4. Place the little meatballs in the pan.
5. Turning them every so often, brown the meatballs.
6. When the meatballs are about ¾ done, add the chopped onion.
7. When the meatballs are browned and the onions are soft, add the can of chopped tomatoes, the garlic, and the jar of pasta sauce.
8. Simmer for as long as you can stand it, but don’t cook it to death. Once in awhile, give it a stir and add a glug of the wine.
9. About 20 minutes before you want to eat, boil the water and cook the pasta.
10. Marry pasta with sauce and the honeymoon is on!

Tip for feeding those fussy little people we call toddlers: Serve them pasta with butter and forget the sauce. Give them a chewable multi-vitamin for dessert.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

 

Review: Are Ya Working?

Two good things happened to me today. The first good thing was that Mike woke up before I did, took the kids into the kitchen to allow me an extra thirty minutes of snooze time, then woke me up by shouting, “Pancakes are ready!” Pancakes? On a Thursday? Have I died and gone to the Heaven that hath no dieters? No, both life and the maple syrup was real, baby. Real!

The second good thing was that I got out of the house tonight wearing all black (gasp!) and trekked into the city in my single gal car (the one without the car seats) to see Steven Karwoski’s play Are Ya Working?

Today was one of those days that adds to the soul rather than takes from it.

Karwoski’s play was worth the trip into the city, the walk through the Tenderloin, and the price of admission ($9). He’s a one man think tank disclosing what it’s like being raised blue collar by people whose rules to live by include such “hard core working class” anthems as, “We don’t have much, but what we do have we keep clean.”

Karwoski broke his blue collar mold by being the first in his family to go to college. But even armed with a college degree he still found himself working in one demeaning industry after another, first the food industry, then the AV (audio visual) equipment industry, then back into the food industry, with forays into the world of substitute teaching. Oh, the horrors.

Lucky for us, Karwoski can look at his life, pluck out the funny and moving bits, and relay them in a fast-paced engaging manner. He can tell a good story and being in his audience feels cozy and intimate. It reminded me of hanging out in a bar with a boisterous loud friend who is cute and animated, especially when he is talking about his favorite subject—himself.

When I got home and told Mike about the play, he mentioned that there’s a Family Guy episode that contains a skit making fun of an actor whose show is all about his life. The actor on Family Guy takes three hours to tell the story of his life; that’s why it’s so easy to satirize. Karwoski had me alternately laughing and nodding my head thoughtfully, and he managed to keep his show to 60 minutes. Now that’s what I like about the Fringe Festival; it’s theatre even those of us with undiagnosed ADD can love.

Are Ya Working? plays six more times now through Saturday, September 17. If you live in the SF Bay Area and you’d like to laugh out loud at a man telling the stories of his life as an “Uber Schlepper,” then by all means go check out this play.
 

Short attention span theatre: tips for taking your toddler to the movies

I am a mom crazy enough to sometimes take my toddler to the movies. If you haven’t seen a movie since you were pregnant, and if you don’t mind G or PG rated flicks, take a walk on the wild side and take your toddler to the movies. It might be more fun than you think.

To help you reclaim your movie-going lifestyle, I’ve compiled a list of Dos and Don’ts.

Don’t go to a movie on opening day or opening weekend.
Go several weeks after opening day, when hopefully everybody who cares about a quiet theatre has already seen the movie.

Do go to a matinee showing.
If possible, go on a weekday. If you’re lucky, you’ll be the only people in the theatre. If you’re really lucky, your kid will decide a dark theatre is a great place for a nap and you’ll get to watch the movie in peace.

Don’t arrive early.
Go on time, or if you think finding a seat won’t be a problem, go late. Toddlers don’t need to see previews. Save their short attention spans for the movie.

Don’t bring snacks from home.
If you can afford it, buy snacks at the theatre, but don’t get them before the movie starts. Instead, wait until your tyke has taken fidgeting to a whole new level and then make a field trip out of getting the popcorn. And get the economy tub; eating it may keep your child entertained through the end of the movie. But don’t get extra butter; if your kid spills his popcorn like mind did, he might also slip on the now super slippery floor and become hysterical. Like mine did.

Do bring a distraction.
My little girl can be distracted by a piece of paper and a pen for twenty minutes or more, therefore I never go anywhere without a notebook and a pen. What quiet activity occupies your youngster? Even if you normally don’t condone it, consider letting him pick his nose just this once.

Don’t sit by old people.
The elderly have less patience for children who fidget and whisper. If the theatre is full, sit by another family with kids. If the theatre is near empty, sit in an empty row. You can’t expect your toddler to sit in only one seat for an entire 80 minutes, can you?

Do be prepared to leave.
If your child becomes scared and can’t be consoled, or if he can’t settle down, just leave the movie. Sometimes taking your toddler to the theatre is a rewarding experience and sometimes it isn’t. Leaving before it becomes a disaster is usually a good thing. Leaving before you are asked to leave is always a good thing.
 

Help. Send Theatre.

I've done a lot of writing lately, but I haven't posted much of it. Why? Because it's really dark and really introverted and some of it is really quite depressing. Not much of it is about motherhood; everything's going great in that department. No, most of it is about my life and memories about growing up and various other topics that I dunno, just don't seem appropriate to share at this moment. Some of what I've written could benefit from a letter of introduction or at least a shot (or two) of tequila. My writing is being affected by Katrina. I just can't seem to write anything humorous or light or upbeat.

Makes sense.

So I've decided that what I need more of in my life is ... theatre! Lucky for me, the San Francisco Fringe Festival is going on this week. I've bought tickets for three Fringe Festival shows:

* Are Ya Working? by Steven Karwoski
* 3 Plays About Your Mom by Garret Jon Groenveld, Aaron Loeb, Geetha Reddy
* Walking Back to Brooklyn by Murray Meyer

There are some other offerings that I thought about seeing but decided against because I want light. I want humorous. I want something to help take my mind off things.

Later this month I'll be in New York, the home of Broadway and Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway. We've got tickets for Wicked, which I've heard is great, but I'm not scheduling any other productions until I'm there and can buy some cheap same-day tickets. I've already decided that most of my theatre-going in New York will be by myself and I'm so excited about that. I love going solo to the theatre. I get a lot more out of it when I'm alone with my thoughts and analyses and critiques.

And as my friend Liz pointed out, there is nothing better than sipping a glass of champagne at intermission and eavesdropping on the conversations around you. I'll drink to that.

I am hoping to write about my thoughts and analyses and critiques so look out Internet, some mini reviews are coming your way!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

 

Timeline? Check.

I never thought home repair and backyard remodel would be two of my hobbies. I also never thought that blogging would be one of my hobbies. And if someone had told me I was going to gain and lose fifty pounds (twice!) over the course of two years, I would have laughed. But I might have believed him.

See, every woman has a plan for her life, a timeline. Some women have lots of well-placed markers on their timelines: first college, then grad school, then a series of boyfriends while working on career, then a serious boyfriend while getting serious about career, an engagement, a wedding, house, kids, etc. My timeline was less defined about things like school, career, and marriage (I did career, marriage, school, divorce, career, marriage), but I always knew that I would have kids by the age of thirty five.

Thirty five is when I figured my timeline would come face to face with my biological clock and all hell would break loose.

When I was thirty two, a woman OBGYN told me point-blank that I needed to think about kids soon, that I wasn’t getting any younger. I thought it was a little forward for her to bring up the topic seeing as how we had just met, but then I realized that since she had her hand up my crotch, we could (should!) consider ourselves close friends.

Like a close friend, she was telling me the truth and hey, the truth hurt. Especially since I was in a lackluster relationship at the time with a guy who would have made a great dad if he himself didn’t have the mind of a child, and procreating seemed like a bad, bad idea.

And then a bunch of stuff happened. Correction: and then I did a bunch of things that needed to be done in order for me to put my life in the direction I wanted it to go. As usual, I took one step back for every two steps forward, but everything worked out in the end.

First, I dumped the guy. Then I made a mistake and got a crazy dog, a beautiful black lab mix puppy with blue eyes. Then I made another mistake and got back together with the guy. Then I moved out of my comfort zone, my rent-controlled flat in San Francisco, and into a new place in Berkeley. Then I got smart and got rid of the crazy dog. Then I got real smart and got rid of the guy. Then I moved into a sweet little bachelorette pad in Alameda. Then I answered an email from a co-worker asking if I wanted to “carpool” to a 4th of July party. Then we went to Burning Man. Then we talked about having kids. Then I got pregnant. Then we moved in together. Then we got married.

My timeline got a lot of markers on it all at once since all of these things happened in an eleven month time period between January and July of 2003. I was thirty four when Emily was born and thirty six when Thomas was born: right on schedule.

Girlfriend, if you, too, have a timeline, and that timeline seems to have a mind of its own, have no fear. It is possible to live for many years wondering when your dream man will come or when your prayers will be answered or when LIFE will finally happen to you. But one day things will start to click and make sense and you will step out of your comfort zone and do something crazy like move, or dump your excess baggage of a boyfriend, or date a co-worker and then, just then, something extraordinarily cool will happen and LIFE will come full speed at you. So be ready, but don’t be too prepared. The best things in life happen when you least expect them.

Believe me.
 

Backyard party: status report 9/07/05

I didn’t blog about it at the time, but while the kids and I were in Texas, Mike and I received a letter from the San Mateo County Planning and Building Division. Our permit to remove the three Monterey Pine trees in our backyard was approved!

Today the mighty pines were felled by a team of hardworking, strapping young men. It was fun to watch them wield big power tools and clean up when they were done. But I’m not a Desperate Housewife. Basically, some fine guys came and took our trees away and now the real fun begins.

Now is when I get to start calling guys who do the work of landscapers but who don’t call themselves landscapers. In other words, who don’t charge like landscapers. Oh joy. Luckily, I’ve gathered a handful of names and numbers from friends and hopefully one of them will work out. Eh, who am I kidding? I’m just hoping one of them will call me back so I can pretend that we actually got competing bids before telling him that we chose his.

On second thought, maybe I am a desperate housewife.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

 

Repair and prepare

Repair

I’ve had many conversations lately with people who want to explain to me in political terms why the situation in Louisiana happened and also why it’s so horrible.

The conversations are interesting, but the truth is that I don’t care.

I don’t want to focus my efforts on hating the president or anybody else in the administration. I’m not interested in talking heads or rolling heads. Or justice, for that matter.

Right now I’m more interested in letting survivors of Katrina know that a nation made up of caring individuals didn’t write them off as goners. I want to personalize the political.

So I’m doing what I can: donating money to the Salvation Army; sending off boxes of gently used kid’s clothes, blankets, and toys to shelters in Baton Rouge; donating blood, and I’m working under the assumption that if everybody did a little it would add up to a lot.

Prepare

I’m also working with my husband to better prepare my family in the event that we are hit by the next major natural disaster. After all, we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is riddled with faults. It’s not inconceivable that we get hit with “The Big One.” And when we do get hit, we’ll have no advance warning.

Here are some things to think about when preparing for an emergency of your very own:

Department of Homeland Security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security goes over how to prepare a kit of emergency supplies, how to make a plan for what you will do in an emergency, and how to be informed about possible emergency situations.

FlyLady
FlyLady has written up 11 points to preparedness for evacuation. Her list includes things that are specific to women and particularly women with families. It’s worth a look.

ICE=In Case of Emergency
Bob Brotchie, a paramedic from England, came up with a simple yet brilliant idea.
1. Decide upon some emergency contacts, for example, your husband, your wife, a friend, a sibling, etc.
2. Inform that person that he/she is one of your emergency contacts. Give them any important medical information, e.g., medications needed, allergies, etc.
3. In your cel phone, put the initials ICE before that person’s name.
Emergency medical personnel and police officers will know whom to call if they find you and your cel phone.

Friday, September 02, 2005

 

I gotta say it was a good day

Today was another day filled with kiddy events and activities. This morning I was feeling a deep need to be with others because of my despair over the situation in New Orleans. By 9 AM I was showered and extremely anxious to leave the house. The kids were anxious, too; I think they were picking up on my energy. Emily kept saying, “We go, we go, we go!”

So we went. Our first stop was Friday playgroup. This is Emily’s playgroup, a group that’s been meeting now for about a year and a half. There is a core group of original members, of which I am one, and various new members that come and go. The playgroup was started by my mommy friend Liz. We met in a Strollerobics class, of all places. Friday playgroup has been picking up lately thanks to an influx of new mommies and kids. I love Friday playgroup! It’s wonderful to chat with people who are older than two.

There were eight moms and eleven kids in attendance today. One mom was watching her friend’s toddler and one mom has triplets. Let me repeat that. One mom has TRIPLETS. I feel like making the sign of the cross after I write that. Lord help that mommy.

Being a mom to triplets is like hosting your own playgroup. Every day. Oh, and having none of the other parents show up. Watching this woman change diaper after diaper, deal with food crisis after food crisis, heal boo boo after boo boo, pick up spill after spill, and answer the call of “Mama, Mama, Mama” over and over again made me realize that even with my two spaced only seventeen months apart, I am a lucky woman to have birthed singletons. And to think I had once asked the Fertility Goddess for twins. *Shiver*.

After spending close to three hours trashing my friend Jennie’s house, the kids were tired and we left. They fell asleep on the way home and I was able to transfer them to their respective sleeping receptacles were they napped for almost two hours. Hallelujah! I enjoyed a peaceful lunch of leftovers while perusing the Internet.

After lunch the kids helped (insert hysterical laughter here) me bag up a bunch of Thomas’s old baby clothes so we could donate them to my mothers’ club for its annual fundraising rummage sale. It’s always a little heartbreaking to give away your baby’s old clothes. My baby’s growing up! Good think he’ll always be my baby.

In the afternoon we headed over to our local Junior Gym, one of those indoor child play areas that feature big mats and balls and gym equipment. Emily had a blast and Thomas liked it, too. We’ll definitely be going back, especially when winter rolls around and it’s too rainy to go to the playground.

My friend Jennie, new friend Theresa (triplets mom), and I finished the day with a moms’ dinner out. That was hysterical, if dining with three moms and six kids can be considered funny at all. But it was fun because it’s always fun to hang out with other moms who understand that dinner must be eaten at lightening speed and spills will happen. Also they know to expect lots of whining. And one of them usually has a bag of snacks that can suffice as an appetizer to (hopefully) help console an angry toddler who isn’t used to waiting even two minutes for his or her food. I’m sure the people around us were wishing they had picked another restaurant, but we had a good time.

After ruining the restaurant and leaving the waitress a bigger-than-usual tip, the kids and I made our way home to daddy. Both kids were spent and ready for baths and bedtime.

I love days like this.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

 

Say GRRRR to Katrina

The video of Katrina that I am finding the hardest to watch is the footage that includes moms and babies and children. Moms and babies and children lost and hopeless, carrying all of their posessions in small plastic bags.

I know the footage is especially hard for me to watch because I am a mom and I have small children, children whom I NEVER want to see hungry or in need or even with a dirty diaper. Just thinking about somebody hurting my babies turns me into a mama bear. GRRRR.

I've got GRRRR enough to share.

If you do, too, visit Cooper and Emily at Been There. They are creating A Clearinghouse for Toys and Supplies for Families Hit Hardest by Katrina.

Cooper and Emily write:
As we thought about all the Americans across the country who are offering their homes to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi who've lost theirs, we realized that all these families are going to need supplies when they get to their new, temporary residences. Toys for the kids, clothes for themselves and the kids, diapers, formula, school supplies. Families who have lost everything are going to need so very much to get their lives going again.

We all want to help get supplies to them, but remember after 9/11 when tons of toys, clothes and food were sent to NYC and the authorities complained that they didn't have the manpower to distribute the items to the people who needed them?

Here at Been There, we want to establish a direct connection between those with things to donate and the people who need them.

To do that, we are setting up a clearinghouse for anyone who has toys, clothes or other supplies to send directly to families.


Let them know how you can help.
 

What's new at Mom Writes

Mom Writes version 2.0, released today, includes the following changes and improvements:

  • Removed period from Sanity through online journaling tag line.

  • Updated Profile picture.

  • Updated Profile to include link to this blog.
    Now when I leave comments on others' blogs at blogspot, they will know that I'm not just a stalker but a stalker who also has a blog.

  • Added pictures of my family to Flickr and created my very own Flickr badge.
    See right-hand nav bar.