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Sunday, July 31, 2005


Proud to be a Mommy Blogger

Wow! BlogHer '05 was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about blogging, about those who blog, and about myself as a blogger. My head is still reeling. More later after I've had a chance to digest...

Friday, July 29, 2005


The seventh time is the charm

Just a quick little post to announce that we (Thomas, Emily, and I) went to the Y this afternoon for a workout and Emily was OK with it! I completed a 45 minute workout and when I went back to the childcare room Emily was happily playing. Success!

Unfortunately, I could hear Thomas howling as I walked up to the door but that was because he had fallen and bumped his head. Poor T. For some reason the fact that he was crying did not seem as big a deal to me as the fact that Emily was not crying. He's a baby; he's supposed to cry.

Will they both be simultaneously happy one day? This mom can only hope...

Texas in a moment of weakness

I'd better dust off my diamonds because this Mama's going to Texas!

In a moment of weakness I decided that flying to Texas alone with my two small kids was a good idea. Thanks to the power of the Internet, I was able to purchase tickets and rent a car (and car seats!) for a reasonable price. So we'll be off to visit Tutu Jewel in San Antonio August 10 to August 14. This whole thing was my sister-in-law Jennie's idea so she'll be the obvious one to blame when things go horribly wrong. I mean if, not when. Did I say when? She'll be in Austin on business and we tried to get on the same flight as her but the timing was no good. The kids and I will fly into Austin a day later than Jennie, pick up our rental car, swing by and get her, then hot foot it out of town to San Antonio before rush hour traffic starts. Good plan, huh?

Wow. I simply cannot believe that I am going to fly 3.5 hours each way alone with a toddler and a baby. I must be crazy. I told Mike that he owes me BIG TIME for giving him five days of peaceful alone time. I'm not sure when he's going to pay me back, but it could be as early as tomorrow when I leave him all day with an unweaned baby who won't drink from a bottle while I attend BlogHer '05. I think it may be a fair trade.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Motherhood rollercoaster

Moms who hang out regularly start becoming very honest with each other. They confess things to one another that they wouldn’t tell their priest, if they had a priest. Honest talk can be hard to hear. Sometimes it’s more than you can bear and you start thinking you’d rather be alone with a bottle of wine than participating in the conversation. At other times, honest talk is welcome and causes you much relief and happiness. Whether they cause you sorrow or joy, the stories you hear are usually familiar ones; they’re your stories, too. This is why playgroups are so popular among moms, particularly stay at home moms. They help bring you together with other women with the hope that you get to know each other well enough to feel comfortable sharing stories about how life with kids is getting you down, which is a much better alternative than putting your head in the oven. Ok, sometimes we moms talk about how great life is with kids, but not very often. When we’re in upbeat moods we talk about things like real estate or the price of coffee or the best recipe for bean dip, you know, important stuff.

A topic that’s common among my mom friends who have two (sometimes more, but usually only two) kids is the difference between the two. One usually is the “easy” kid and the other one is the “hard” kid. I put quotes around these words because of course all of the moms love all of their kids equally, but in the case of two kids it’s easy to categorize one as easy and one as hard. A hard kid might be a poor sleeper, will only eat three food items, requires more energy to parent, and usually just isn’t as happy as an easy kid. On the other hand, an easy kid might sleep well, eat without being bribed, is easy-going, and can toilet train himself. Of course easy kids still throw tantrums, talk back, and whine incessantly because all kids--easy or hard--do these things. If your first kid is easy, you secretly pray the entire nine months of your second pregnancy that you’ll get another easy one, although you know that you should count your blessings because some parents get two difficult ones and at least you have one who is easy even if the second one turns out not to be. If your first kid is hard you may just stop there and not have any more kids, although you’re usually willing to roll the dice one more time in hopes that the second one will bring back into your life the happiness the first one sucked out. I have a friend who calls her second child her “reward” baby. Apparently she racked up a lot of frequent parenting miles with her first son, who isn’t a bad kid but who is just a little quirky. (And hey, aren’t we all?) Her stories about raising him don’t seem like a big deal heard one at a time, but after you’ve listened to twenty different stories of his trying behavioral idiosyncrasies, you start to understand her pain because now you’re feeling it, too.

From what I’ve observed, most of what makes a kid easy or hard is hard-wired. That’s to say, nature rather than nurture is what determines a kid’s personality. We all have friends who require more energy from us, who are needier than other friends. We also have friends who are unhappier souls, who love to raise all kinds of annoying questions about LIFE. Usually these people are the most interesting people we know. They’re not Pollyannas; they’re real and they make us feel real, too. Were these the hard kids of their generation? Probably. Of course if you ask your friend’s mom if he was a hard kid she’ll deny it vehemently and would certainly never admit, “oh yes, so-and-so was the world’s crabbiest baby and that continued until he was thirty when I turned him over to his wife, bless her heart.” That’s because like labor, we forget the pain of raising kids. Time smoothes over the rough edges; it heals all wounds, as they say.

I drag my two kids to two playgroups a week so that I can share my own painful (yet funny!) stories with my mom friends who understand perfectly what I’m going through. It’s also why I write about my life as a mom. Talking and writing help me to feel that I’m not alone. They also make me realize that motherhood is not like a ride on a state-of-the-art steel roller coaster. It’s more like a ride on a funky is-this-thing-going-to-make-it-or-will-I-die-at-this-two-bit-carnival wooden roller coaster. And sometimes it can feel like the bumpiest and longest ride of your life.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Emily is my easy kid.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Is your milk safe?

A friend from of mine from both college and AvantGo has co-founded a new group: MOMS (Making Our Milk Safe). MOMS is having a benefit in San Francisco on August 3, 2005. All are welcome and there will be childcare (plus organic yummy treats, wine, cookies, and milkshakes!) If you want to attend, please send me an email (mary dot tsao at gmail dot com).

Here's what MOMS has to say for itself:

As new mothers, we were alarmed to learn that mother’s milk––nature’s perfect food––is under increasing threat from environmental contaminants. Toxic chemicals in our environment make their way into our bodies and are passed on to our babies through our breast milk. Many of these chemicals are found in cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning agents, and plastics–products most of us use every day.

This can and must be stopped, and mobilizing moms is the way to do it! We are founding MOMS to fight for the most basic of human rights: a baby’s right to pure and healthy nourishment.

We invite YOU to be part of this action!

Did you know...
* More than 85,000 synthetic chemicals are used today in the United States, with an additional 1,000 new chemicals added each year.
* Less than 10 percent of these chemicals have been tested for their effects on human health, much less babies.
* Recent studies show that breast milk contains dozens of chemicals including compounds from rocket fuel, flame retardants, pesticides and everyday consumer products. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and are linked to developmental problems in children.
* Levels of flame retardants in the breast milk of first-time mothers in the U.S. were 75 times higher than their counterparts in Europe.
* In Sweden, government regulations of flame retardants resulted in a dramatic drop in their level in breast milk over a short period––we can do this too!

"May the world's feast be made safe for women and children. May mothers' milk run clean again. May denial give way to courageous action." --Sandra Steingraber, author of Having Faith

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Tough cookie tactics

To my way of thinking, to be a good mom I have to be a tough cookie. I have to harden my heart against the tears and cries, the sobs of small vulnerable children. Big eyes brimming with tears might fell a lesser mama, but I must be strong and stand up to that nonsense. I can't sucumb to the emotional pressure put on me by my offspring. If I do, I'll eventually become angry. Then I'll become bitter. Then my anger and bitterness will turn into resentment and everybody knows that I've just outlined the perfect breeding ground if my goal is to raise neurotic and unhappy children, which it isn't. I also have read that if I coddle my children they'll grow up and hate me for it, blaming their neuroses and lack of self-discipline on my too-soft approach to mothering, on what I wrongly thought was right way to show love.

This is the kind of drivel I tell myself as I gently drag my crying two-year-old into the daycare center at our local YMCA. You would think I was dragging her to the orphanage and I almost wish I was. It's actually not that difficult for me to be unmoved by the tears and deep-chested sobs of my child when I see her as the only obstacle between me and thirty minutes of aerobic exercise. The aerobic exercise I so desperately need because when I stand naked in front of the mirror I can do puppet theatre with the extra skin that was once my (in retrospect) flat stomach. The aerobic exercise I so desperately need because sometimes shoving chocolate-covered peanuts in my mouth is my form of self-medication for the pain of mothering small children who know only two forms of communication: crying and incessant whining. I don't know which -- pregnancy or postpartum binging -- has taken a greater toll on my body, but all I do know is that I need my daily minutes on the treadmill bad, real bad. But it's turned out that in my battle to fight flab I have had to sacrifice the happiness of my daughter Emily, who isn't too keen on being left in the loving care of the YMCA childcare workers. It used to be that she started crying after I had left her there. Then she started crying as we were walking up to the door. Now she cries when I joyfully exclaim, "Let's get your shoes on! We're going to the Y!" What's next? Crying when she sees me getting dressed? I keep telling myself that it's going to get better, but so far it's only gotten worse.

But I'm not going to give up, not going to give in. In fact, leaving Emily for thirty minutes at the Y daycare is only part of a much bigger abandonment plan that includes (gasp!) a couple of days a week at a local drop-in daycare, regular babysitting in our home by teenage girls who'd rather be hanging out with their boyfriends at the mall, and eventually preschool, the prelude to college. Speaking of college, I hope she's over her attachment issues before I leave her crying outside her dorm room while she begs me not to go. At the rate we're going, this is what I see in her future.

Hey, throw me that bag of cookies, will ya?

Sunday, July 24, 2005


To Thomas on the occasion of your second tooth

Dear Thomas,

This past weekend Daddy, Mommy, Emily, and you went camping. You should know that Mommy worked for over two days getting ready for this trip including getting up early on Saturday morning to bake corn muffins from scratch.

We packed the car Saturday morning while you took your morning nap. When you woke up we realized that you had a slight fever. We were concerned, but we hoped it was because you were teething. Because we (mostly Mommy) had put so much time and energy into getting ready for the trip we decided that we would not let “a little fever” spoil our good time. You then spent the rest of the weekend trying to convince us that we had made the wrong choice.

Thomas, you normally are a content and happy baby. Granted, you are somewhat of a mama’s boy, but your behavior is in line with most seven month olds’. This is why it saddened and sometimes angered Mommy when you were neither content nor happy during much of this camping trip.

To begin with, you refused to hang out in your pack-n-play. We packed it but you did not want to play in it. Now I know I have oftentimes referred to this structure as a baby jail, but that was a humorous reference and not to be taken seriously by anybody, definitely not by you.

Even after Mommy dosed you with baby Tylenol to help ease your pain you still refused to be put down, and Mommy and Daddy had to drag out the dreaded Baby Bjorn and break their backs hauling around your 19 pound carcass while attempting to set up camp, make lunch, chase Emily, and relax because they were on vacation.

Life with you got especially trying for Mommy when we tried to go to bed. At first we had some laughs and you seemed happy, but then you threw up all over the sheets and Mommy had to smell your rotting regurgitated supper all night long. Mommy knows it was all night long because you woke her up every twenty minutes to remind her. At 3 AM Mommy muttered out loud, “I quit,” but God must not have heard because nothing happened and eventually the sun came up and you were still the baby and Mommy was still the Mommy. But now you were a baby with two teeth instead of just one.

Thomas, it was obvious to Mommy and Daddy this weekend that you already are spoiled by the luxuries of suburban living since you were unable to cope with even one lousy night of biting cold, scary noises, and strange sleeping arrangements. However, we want to congratulate you on your second tooth and let you know that it is unlikely we, especially Mommy, will ever forget this occasion.

We love you.

Friday, July 22, 2005


Tsaos offline for scheduled maintenance

Please note that the Tsao family will be offline for scheduled maintenance/camping adventure from Saturday July 23 at 9 AM Pacific Time to Sunday July 24 at 2 PM Pacific Time.

We hope that this downtime does not inconvenience you in any way.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Backyard party: status report 7/21/05

We're one giant step closer to a beautiful backyard!

I had a great experience Monday at the offices of the San Mateo County Planning and Building Division. It's so often that we (you, me, and everyone else) have horrible experiences with government agencies that I thought I would tell you about my positive experience.

Last week we received the letter from our arborist verifying the sizes of our trees and that they are diseased and dying, yada, yada, yada. By the way, this was a $90 letter. Monday morning I filled out the five page Application for Permit to Trim or Remove. Even though most of the Planning and Building Division's literature is poorly-written and hard to understand (I can say this because I have a degree in Technical Writing), this particular form was easy to understand and fill out. I attached my $90 letter to the form as instructed.

When Thomas woke up from his afternoon nap I knew the time had come, and I forced myself to gather up my papers, put them in a folder, make sure the kids had clean diapers, grab the diaper bag and keys, and hustle myself and the kids out the door and into the car. I didn't feel like doing these things so I almost didn't go, but my desire for a backyard with grass and a deck from which I can drink strong cocktails while watching children frolicking on the aforementioned grass is strong. Very strong.

We arrive at the County offices, find a parking spot, and feed the meter. I'm hauling Thomas out of his seat and into the double stroller when the aroma hits me. Shit. Literally and figuratively. I try and put him in the stroller to see if maybe he doesn't know he's sitting in poo but his plaintive wail (and I thought boys didn't care?!) tells me he knows and he's not happy about it. I take off my chaueffeur hat and put on my poop cleaner hat, pop open my hatchback, and change his diaper. And THAT'S why I drive a car this size, thank you very much.

Back to my story. We hustled up to the Planning and Building Divisions' offices and signed in with Reception. Did I mention that Emily fell asleep in the car on the way over and I was able to transfer her to the stroller without her waking up? When you have two kids and one is sleeping it's like having just one kid. It's very cool. So with only Thomas to entertain I waited for the next available Planning Department worker. As I looked around it was clear that I -- a mom with two babies in a stroller -- did not belong here. This was the domain of Men. Contractors, sub-contractors, developers, most of these people are men and this is where they come to get things done. Oh, there were women in the office, too, but they were the quintessential secretary/receptionist type, the mom surrogates of any office. I could tell in the first five minutes that these were the women to have on your side and the contractors knew that, too. These ladies knew each of the contractors by name and they knew exactly where in the queue their applications were. I used to be one of these women (but in another beauracratic industry, Insurance) and I had a flashback to the feeling of power a job like that can give you. And also to the feeling of horror because those jobs tend to be underpaid and you typically are overworked and underappreciated. But when you're good, you're good, and I could tell these women were good.

Luckily I didn't have to spend all afternoon admiring the competence of the staff because my name was quickly called. I brought my paperwork, my two kids, and my checkbook up to the counter and $629 later all of my hard work to date paid off. They didn't send me home to type the form in triplicate; they didn't request that I sacrifice my first-born son; they didn't hassle me at all! I had done everything right!!! You know, I had started this entry intending to send kudos to the Planning Division when it's now clear I should be lauding myself! I'm the master-of-fine-print mama. I can dot my i's and cross my t's with the best of them. Damn, I'm good. Plus they told me that my kids were cute and well-behaved. Can I do no wrong here?! Basically, I left that place floating on air, clutching my two yellow signs and my yellow caution tape, contemplating a career in the building industry.

Here's our $629 sign displayed prominently on our house:

And a close-up of our evil plan to destroy our little piece of this green Earth:

Next up: Will our permit be approved after the neighbors catch wind of our evil doings? Or will we be forced to hire a hit man to come and off our trees in the dead of night? Only time (approximately 4 to 6 weeks) will tell...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Manhattan with kids: take 1

I've started compiling a list of things I want to do in Manhattan when we go there in September. Since Mike will be working during the week, I imagine my days will go a little something like this:

Wake up
Eat breakfast with kids
Dress kids
Play with kids
Put Thomas down for a nap
Wash dishes / shower / check email / blog / surf Internet
Make picnic lunch / pack diaper bag for outing
Leave house after T gets up
Have lunch at a park
Shop for dinner stuffs
Arrive back at apartment
Relax / cook dinner
Mike arrives home from work
Eat dinner
Play with kids
Kids' bathtime
Kids' bedtime
Adult relaxation time
Go to sleep

It's possible that Grammie Martha will visit us for a few days and Mike and I will be able to take advantage of her babysitting to go out at night. Woo hoo!

Here are some of the places I want to Explore! with the kids:

GocityKids Guide
Things to do in Chelsea/The Village

Hudson River Park

Chelsea Waterside Playground
Location: 11th Avenue and 23rd Street

Madison Square

Location: Madison Square park is bordered by Fifth and Madison Avenues and 23rd and 26th street

Ladies' Mile
Location: Broadway between Union Square and Madison Square

Farmers Market
Location: Union Square E 17 St & Broadway
Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat 8 – 6 Year Round

Children's Museum of Manhattan

Location: 212 West 83rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


In the Emily moment

This morning I had one of those moments that makes me stop and think about the truly important things in my life, my children and the love I have for them. I had just gotten out of the shower and before getting dressed I decided to check on Emily. Thomas was napping and I had left Emily in front of the TV. I wasn't sure if that was where I'd find her now, less than 10 minutes later. Admittedly, I suspected the worst and would not have been at all surprised to find her wreaking havoc in the refrigerator, climbing onto the counter, or spilling salt all over the stove. I looked out the bedroom door and down the hallway and saw her sitting quietly on the family room couch, watching Blue's Clues. My sweet girl! She sensed my presence and turned to me. I gave her a little wave and went back to getting dressed.

I'm about to put on my shoes when this sweet girl makes her way into my room. She's carrying her comfort items: a yellow blanket and a teddy bear that's almost as big as she is. I'm sitting in the rocking chair and she comes over and climbs into my lap and says over and over again, mama, mama, mama. It is clear that she adores me and wants me to know it. She leans close to me and gives me a chocolate-covered kiss.

And I am annoyed.

I've got things to do! I've got to put on my shoes! I need to put those folded clothes away! There's a wet towel on the bed!!

And I take a deep breath.

I breath in the smell of her hair and marvel at the stickiness of her fingers. I am in awe of the fact that this delightful creature seems to really really be INTO me. And then I start thinking about the way I want to organize the closet and about whether or not I should get a headboard for the bed and about which machines I want to use when I go to the gym.

And I stop thinking.

Instead I sit and am with my daughter in this moment we are sharing, in the here and now of her proximity to me, of my proximity to her. And it works and it's beautiful and I'm at peace with what is instead of at odds with what should be.

Then she squirms and wants to get down. I put on my shoes and hang up my wet towel. From the kitchen I can hear the sounds of my sweet girl climbing onto the counter.

And life goes on.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


One stack down

You know those stacks of paper that tend to accumulate in the vertical areas in your house such as the kitchen table, kitchen counter, hall table, dining room table, desk, dresser, nightstand, on top of the dryer...

I just sorted through one of them!

Yes, I tackled the giant stack of important papers on our kitchen counter. Funny how many important papers become garbage if you wait long enough. Also, why do I cut out recipes from magazines? This is a bad habit that I must immediately stop. It's as bad as buying craft kits that never get opened. It's a sickness. And I make fun of women who buy all kinds of scrapbooking supplies then never produce a single (finished) scrapbook. Jeez, project much?

I have at least two more stacks to go. One is from the couple of months immediately preceding Thomas' birth. The other is from the couple of months immediately after Thomas' birth. Having a baby tends to sidetrack you. It also gives you a convenient excuse for bad habits you've actually had for years. I hope there are no bills or other important letters in those stacks, like an unopened love letter from Brad Pitt or something. I doubt it. They're probably just two stacks of garbage at this point.

A camping we will go

Yesterday we set up our new tent in the backyard to practice for next weekend when we're...going camping! It's a roomy tent so we should have no problem fitting our queen size blow up mattress (for us), pack-n-play (for Thomas), and Dora the Explorer foam coach (for Emily) in it. Ah, the joys of car camping. Here's a snap of the tent, an REI Hobitat 6:

We're going with about seven other families and the event promises to be a lot of fun. I hope the kids enjoy it. I'd love to do more camping with them; I miss it. I'd love to take them to Burning Man, but maybe when they are a little older. I'd want them to have lasting memories of their experiences there.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Comings and goings

I'm excited about the following upcoming events:

July 30
Blogher Conference '05
After blogging off and on for over three years, I think it's time for me to publicly refer to myself as a blogger. [Sidebar: I just checked my archives and July 12, 2002 was my first entry. Read it here.]

August 15 - 21
My mom (Grammie Martha) and niece Jessica are visiting us from Chicago.

September 16 - 24
The Tsaos visit New York!
We're staying at a company apartment in Chelsea. Jewel's friend Elizabeth recommends Dansko shoes for city walking. Thanks for the recommendation, Elizabeth! Does anybody have any kid-friendly entertainment recommendations for us?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


How that gym thing is going

In an effort to gain some small amount of freedom (yes, freedom) from the kids, both Monday and Tuesday of this week I went to the YMCA. I went knowing that it's going to be difficult to get my kids used to the YMCA daycare. Thomas has never been watched by anybody but me, Mike, once in a while by a grandma and ocassionally by an auntie Jennie. Same with Emily except for a brief stint when she was 10 weeks to 4 months old that I'm sure she doesn't remember.

On Monday we got to the Y by 10:30 and I left them in the daycare occupied and happy. Woo hoo, I thought, maybe this was going to work! I ran upstairs, got on a treadmill and ran for 25 minutes. My butt was jiggling. Ok, my butt and my back were jiggling, and my thighs were burning, but it felt great! Another thing that felt great was the realization that I'm not as out of shape as I thought I was. 20 minutes on the elliptical every day since January 1 has actually paid off. I wasn't embarassed to be at the gym and I think (just maybe) that I looked like I belonged there. Cause you know you don't belong in a gym if you look like you belong in a gym. Unfortunately. A middle-aged guy even said hi to me although by hi he may have meant, excuse me but you're hogging the stairs with your postpartum saddle bags, lady.

After I got off the treadmill I sauntered -- or maybe I swaggered -- over to the exercise mats. I only had time for a couple of deep stretches though when over the loudspeaker came, Mary Tsao please report to childwatch. Uh oh, party time was over. Back at the daycare center both Thomas and Emily were hysterical. Apparently Thomas had started crying and Emily got upset because he was crying and then she started crying and that's when they paged me. I felt awful. It's hard to see your kids unhappy and know that your selfish need to sweat to the oldies is what caused their unhappiness.

So of course we went back on Tuesday. I made up a song to get them used to the Y: It's fun to go to the YMCA, It's fun to go to the Y.M.C.A. Hey. You know the tune. This time I filled out the paperwork, plopped Thomas in a exersaucer, and turned to look at Emily in time to see her start sobbing her tiny heart out. Oh shit. Luckily they weren't that busy and one of the daycare workers took Emily in her arms and tried to soothe her. They told me to go so I went, but I didn't bound up the stairs nearly as excited as I had the day before. I managed to get in 25 minutes on the treadmill and right when I was approaching the mats to stretch over the loudspeaker came, Mary Tsao please report to childwatch. This time Thomas was fine but Emily was completely hysterical. She had fallen asleep for a little bit in this woman's arms but when the barrette she was clutching fell out of her hand she woke up and became hysterical again. When the woman told me this story I couldn't think of anything that had cause me more physical pain since I pushed Thomas out my love canal.

When we got home I gave Emily a juice box to try and make it up to her. I'm not going to give up, but I'm going to take a few days off from the Y. I hope next time it's a positive experience for both me and the kids.

Life updates:
Sometimes I start topics in entries and never reveal the outcome later. For those of you wondering how this day went, 1) We got our hot water heater replaced to the tune of $1150. It's a bigger, better, more bad-ass water heater than our old one, but to think that it cost more than the cost to deliver both of our kids combined is kind of weird. 2) The arborist came out and made me happy because he's been the first person ever to completely understand why we want to take down the three Montrey Pine trees in our yard. Most people give me a look as if to say, You tree-hating communist, you pro-concrete jungle freak, why don't you pave paradise and put up a parking lot, I pity you and your children, sad fool. The arborist agreed that the trees are diseased, that they're in the process of dying, and that backyards with grass, swing sets, laughing children, and automatic sprinkler systems don't mix with Monterey Pines. I felt validated and happy. Now I'm waiting for his letter to come in the mail so that I can attach it to our permit application and schlep it and my kids down to the County Planning office to pay a fee and apply for a permit to remove. What a lot of work. Too bad I don't have a wife to do this kind of stuff for me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


And the picking of the berries

Here's proof that we actually went berry picking even if our baskets (which Mike is holding) are empty and the kids look like they've been startled out of comas. Photo by my friend Anna.

Monday, July 11, 2005


A confession and a dream

I have a confession to make: Sometimes I drive a 15 mile round trip to get a cup of coffee. Yes, it's true. Right now Mike is reading this and cringing since that cup of coffee probably works out to be something like $10 or more once you factor in gas and the cost of driving the car. I don't know the price since I don't feel like doing the math. I'd rather live in ignorance because I don't want a reason to stop this bad habit of mine. You see, once in awhile, perhaps once a week, I'm in the car with the kids and they're both asleep and we're on our way home from an outing or a playgroup and instead of going home and me trying to transfer two sleeping kids from the car to their beds without waking them up, I simply decide to keep driving. So I drive down 280 to South San Francisco and get a coffee at the world's most mom-friendly coffee shop. Why is this coffee shop so mom-friendly? Because it's a DRIVE-THRU!! I never have to leave my car. I get my coffee and the kids get their naps. This 15 mile round trip satisfies most every need in my life. I'm making myself happy while making my kids happy. In my book, that cup of coffee is worth every dollar. Oh, and by cup of coffee I mean 20 ounce non-fat decaf latte.

I also have a dream: I want to open one of these drive-thru coffee shops closer to my home. It's true, for the first time in my life I'm actually thinking about opening my own business. It's a strange feeling; I've always considered myself a company gal. Maybe the fact that I'm now a housewife and stay-at-home mom has led me to consider a new way of thinking. I never thought I'd be a housewife or a stay-at-home mom either yet here I am managing a household, changing diapers, and making dinners for a family of four. Wild.

The franchise is called Caffino. I checked out their online franchise application, but I have zero qualifications for running, let alone owning, a coffee shop. I am a great buyer of coffee, but I know next to nothing about making coffee or managing employees or running a business. All things the Caffino people would like me to know before they consider selling me a franchise. At this point I have to ask myself how serious I am about this venture. It's one thing to blow hot air all over the place, but quite another to actually formulate a plan and then act on it. If I'm serious about this, I should get some real-world coffee-making experience. In other words I should go work at my local Starbucks. I also should take a class at our local junior college or adult school about owning and running a business.

Will I do these things? I'll keep you advised. And if you have any practical advice for me I'd love to hear it.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


If I was a French woman, I'd get fat

I recently read Mireille Guiliano's semi-controversial book French Women Don't Get Fat. I call it semi-controversial because if you wanted one more reason to hate the French, this book would be it. The basic premise of her book is that American women are fat because we are lazy and know nothing about how to properly shop for, cook, or eat food. I don't think there's any point in getting mad at Mireille for writing these things, after all, she's right.

Whether or not you agree with her opinion about American (or French) women, or her dieting philosophy, you should check out the book for the recipes. Last night I made her surprisingly delicious (because it was so simple) chicken dish, Chicken Au Champagne. Here's the recipe. I hope I'm not infringing on her copyright.

Chicken Au Champagne

4 chicken breasts (with skin and bone)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chervil, tarragon, or thyme (optional -- I used tarragon)
1 shallot, quartered
1 cup Brut Champagne

1. Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan, and season them. Pour 1/2 cup of the champagne over the breasts. Make a slit in each breash and insert a piece of shallot.
2. Place the pan under the broiler, skin-side down, for 3 minutes, until the skin is nicely browned. Turn and broil the other side for 5 minutes.
3. Remove the chicken from the broiler, baste with the pan juices, and add the remaining 1/2 cup of Champagne. Adjust the oven temperature to 475 degrees and bake the chicken for 30 minutes, basting once or twice.

I served the chicken with brown rice; spinach sauteed with olive oil and garlic; mushrooms sauteed with olive oil, lemon, and tarragon; and cold beet salad. Plus the remainder of the bottle of champagne. Tres exquis.

Family Fun Quota
: High. Today we went berry picking at Phipps Country Farm in Pescadero. We picked olallieberries and strawberries. The pickings were slim, but Emily enjoyed eating the berries we did get. We picnicked under the trees before returning home down Highways 1 and 92. It was a beautiful sunny day and the coastline was gorgeous. It was a great reminder that we live in a truly beautiful part of the country. And therefore we should be happy, dammit!

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Snuggle bunny human alarm clock

This morning my alarm clocks wake me as usual. I have two alarm clocks -- both human. The first pads into our room some time in the pre-dawn hour of 5:00 and nudges me with her brown bear. I hit the snooze alarm on this alarm clock by hauling her, her bear, and her yellow blanket into bed with us. She settles between us and we go back to sleep. My second human alarm clock goes off at 5:48 AM. Why is this alarm clock so precise?, you might ask. I do not know; I did not set it. Perhaps 5:48 AM is the exact moment that the first ray of morning light sneaks into his room and tickles his eyelid. Perhaps he came hard-wired and he'll wake up at 5:48 AM every day for the rest of his life. I don't know if I wish him longevity at this point. All I know is that I am up now, stumbling into the second human alarm clock's bedroom where he impatiently waits for me to pick him up and feed him.

We snuggle in the big blue armchair that I bought knowing this would be its use. While he's nursing I harbor a hidden hope that he will go back to sleep so I close my eyes and imagine a life where I can sleep until 7. But this is a dream, a fantasy. He is awake, his big blue eyes staring straight into mine, his free hand roaming my face like Helen Keller on Annie Sullivan's that day at the well. Once in awhile his hand will stop at my necklace and he touches the stone in a gentle sort of way. Then he yanks it hard. "No, no," I say, "that's Mommy's new necklace, not baby's new necklace." And then I pry his surprisingly strong little hand off my jewels and stare at it in wonderment. What a hand! It's a hand with much potential, I can tell. I love how he holds things with it. Not too long ago his hand was clenched in a permanent fist, but now it's a tool. He's a (hu)man, not an animal! Good, because I was worried there for a second when it seemed that all he was capable of was crying, peeing, and regurgitating his food.

After he eats we spend some time in love together. He lays his head on my chest and I rub his back. After a few seconds of this, he pops his head up to make sure I'm still there and we stare adoringly into each other's eyes. He may make a noise such as "A-Da" or "Ahh!" I usually repeat the same noise back to him and I'm sure he appreciates our dialogue of love. I know this because of the gigantic grin he gives me that makes my heart melt. As Mike puts it, Thomas is my biggest fan. I want to remember these moments so that later when he spits sweet potato at me I can wipe it off with a smile because I'm still warm and fuzzy from the love of my very own snuggle bunny human alarm clock.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Rainy days and Fridays

Friday is the longest day of my week. By Friday evening I am so ready for Mike to come home and partially relieve me of my parenting responsibilities that each minute until he arrives feels like an hour.

I don't think anybody would think me weird for feeling this way, but somebody might think me weird for feeling happy and a tad relieved when Monday rolls around again. In some ways, I prefer parenting solo. My weekdays are filled with routines. I change diapers, cook meals, nurse Thomas, set out bowls of snacks, peel and cut bananas, put on a Tivo'd episode of Blue's Clue's, put on another Tivo'd episode of Blue's Clues, wash clothes on Mondays and Thursdays (including towels on Mondays and bedding on Thursdays), nurse Thomas, vacuum on Fridays, clean bathrooms on Tuesdays, make beds every day, nurse Thomas, feed Thomas a jar of sweet potatoes, clean Thomas, clean Emily, clean myself, clean the table, clean the house, nurse Thomas, put kid(s) down for nap(s), and occasionally check my email and write in my blog. Oh, and sometimes I sit on the floor and read books or tickle tummies or sing the ABC song or stack blocks. And go to the playground. Did I mention go to the playground? Yes, the weekdays fill up quick.

Weekends are up in the air and unpredictable (I think some people call this "spontaneous") and that tends to drive me nuts. Mothering is a 24/7 job with no weekends off and I find it easier to work my job when I'm working inside the comfort of my routines. Also, just because Mike is home doesn't mean that I don't have many of the same demands placed on me by the kids that I have during the week. He's noticed that when I walk into a room, the kids immediately bombard me with their eating and drinking needs. They don't ask him even though he's been in the room with them the entire time I've been gone. I once loved free-for-all weekends as much as the next gal, but now I find that they make me nervous and irritable. Sad, huh?

I'm not sure what all of this means, but I've started a few balls rolling that I think will help me gain some ME time and hopefully let me enjoy the weekends, the weekdays, heck LIFE, more:
  • Checked out a local drop-in daycare center. The woman was nice, her home was clean, and I'm going to start taking Emily there a couple of days a week for several hours at a time.
  • Got a membership at our local YMCA. Childcare is included free of charge with my membership. I can drop off Emily and Thomas at their daycare center and work out for 90 minutes. 90 minutes!! 90 uninterrupted minutes!!! Hello, have I died and gone to heaven? I'm going to start this next Monday.

  • Book rave: Confessions of a Slacker Wife by Muffy Mead-Ferro. This book is great! I could really relate to her observations about motherhood and wifey-hood and I'm going to try some of her slacker wife tips. At our next party I promise I'm going to serve only chips, onion soup dip mix, and store-bought pie. I'm sure nobody will notice or think it odd, and I'll be rested and fresh for the party instead of tired and frazzled from a frenzied day of cooking and cleaning. Thanks for the tip, Muffy!

    Thursday, July 07, 2005


    Now that's hot

    It's a busy day for me and the kids. This morning we dropped Tutu Jewel off at the airport so she could catch her return flight back to San Antonio. Bye, Tutu! Her visit seemed much too short, which I suppose is the sign of a good visit.

    We're now waiting for RotoRooter to show up, diagnose, and hopefully replace our broken water heater. Mike noticed we had water around the foundation of the house and he traced it to the water heater closet. He's good at that kind of thing. I saw the water and hoped that it would simply disappear.

    Later this afternoon, an arborist is coming over to take a look at the Monterey Pines in our backyard that we want to remove. We have to apply to the county's Planning Comission office for a permit to remove them. Along with our application we need to submit a letter from an arborist confirming the reason why we want to remove the trees: they're diseased, they're infested with beetles, and they're at their end of life (they're as old as the house -- about 45 years). Once We get the arborist's letter we can submit our permit application. It will take up to 6 weeks for the county to process the application plus 10 days during which time we will have a notice posted on our house with our intent to remove the trees. I think they'll also notify our close neighbors in writing. After THAT, we finally can get the trees removed, which should take less than a day. I'll have to get some pictures; I'm sure it will be an amazing and frightening event to witness. Once we get the trees removed, we can get the sprinklers and sod put in and the deck built. Then it's backyard party time!! Hopefully the party will be this year.

    Later this afternoon I'm going to check out a local home day care center. A woman in my neighborhood offers drop-in daycare at her home on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. If it feels right, I'm going to start dropping Emily off at her house a couple of times a week for a couple of hours at a time. I think it would do me good to get a break once in awhile.

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005


    Mom's Dinner

    Last night I made a Mom's Dinner for my friend Leslie. A Mom's Dinner is a dinner you make for a new mom and her family. I had lots of Mom's Dinners made for me after Thomas was born and let me tell you, they're great! Leslie had her third child a couple of months ago. She's also recovering from gall bladder surgery she had three weeks ago, and yesterday she drove home from Southern California in a minivan with all three kids. (And I thought my life was hard!) This woman clearly deserved a great homemade dinner that she didn't have to make.

    Leslie's Dinner

    Barbequed Marinated Tri-tip [I get these pre-marinated from Trader Joe's. It's the easiest and yummiest slab of meat you've ever made. Get one for your next dinner party; your friends will be highly impressed.]

    Buttery Cooked Carrots [Carrots even kids will eat.]

    Mashed Potatoes [I made these with peeled Yukon Gold potatoes, real butter, sour cream, salt, and pepper. They may have been the best mashed potatoes I've ever made.]

    Ceasar Salad [Another great ready-to-go item from Trader Joe's.]

    Country Sordough Loaf [Excellent artisan bread from Grace Baking Co.]

    Snickerdoodle Cookies [I made a dozen of Tom's Cookies' take-n-bakes. Really good take-n-bakes, which is what most, ok ALL, of my cookies are.]

    Monday, July 04, 2005


    Sky rockets in flight

    Tonight Mike and I had a discussion/heated debate/argument, at the end of which I felt that his psychoanalysis of me was right. I am a person who demands justice in the world. And that would be justice on a daily basis, thank you very much. For example, I often use words like "fair" and "equal" when describing life situations. Or more accurately, I often use the words "unfair" and "unequal".

    Apparently I feel that there exists one big balance sheet titled Me vs. The World and that my Accounts Receivables column just keeps growing and growing and growing. Most unhappiness I feel in my life can be summed up by the questions: When will I be compensated for all of the things that I do? When will so-and-so have to work as hard as me? When will life be fair??

    I'm fairly confident that I have a combination of past upbringing, current trials of motherhood, and a sprinkling of college-learned feminism to blame for the thoughts that gnaw at my brain. And although the jury's still out on whether or not I am justified (again, that fairness thing) in my feelings, I now have something tangible to contemplate working on when I'm cruising the self help aisle in our local Borders.

    Posts containing psychobabble coming soon to a blog near you.

    Sunday, July 03, 2005


    Saturday adventures in The City

    Every Saturday I ask Mike the question that I think he's come to dread, "What are we going to do today?" I like doing a family-oriented event on at least one of the two days that comprise the weekend, even if the event is as mundane as driving to our favorite Mongolian BBQ place in San Jose then taking a stroll at the "Euro-village"/mall, Santana Row.

    Yesterday I felt like doing something touristy so Mike suggested we take CalTrain into San Francisco, eat lunch, and wander around. At first I was hesitant to agree. I'm a suburban mom dependent on her SUV! What if something bad happens and we need our car?!?! Schlep a heavy diaper bag around the city?!?! Are you nuts?!?! Just thinking about being without my car -- my tank, my fortress -- made me want to curl up in the corner and suck my thumb. But I agreed. Mostly because I can't make the argument that a particular event is too hard to do when every day borders on too hard to do when you've decided to let a toddler and an infant share your life. I also agreed because we are thinking about spending a week in New York this fall and our days will be filled with the schlepping of the children across the urban terrain. Oh, the schlepping! We'd better start practicing if we're going to pull off the New York trip.

    So we readied the diaper bag with dipes, wipes, spare outfits, and snacks; loaded the double stroller; and drove our trusty SUV to the nearest CalTrain station. Here are the snaps to prove it (the kids look only mildly stunned):

    The train ride into town was fairly uneventful. There were some hip and cool teenagers on the train who didn't say hi to Emily after she said hi to them. I remembered being that age and how I was so insecure it was almost painful. I probably would not have said hi to a baby either. I also remembered the last time I took CalTrain. I was returning to the city after spending the night at my friend and old college roommate Zinky's parent's house. The night before we had seen David Bowie at the Shoreline. It must have been 1989 or 1990. Wow. That was 15 years ago! Jeez, I'm old.

    In San Francisco we had a yummy but fast Indian lunch. Emily wasn't into sitting down and behaving so we scarfed our food and continued on our journey. We spent some time hanging out at Yerba Buena Gardens, where Mike took this snap of me and Thomas:

    After that we wandered over to San Francisco Centre but shopping's no fun with kids in tow so we hoofed up Powell St. to Blondie's Pizza to get Mike a slice of the cheese. At that point it was time to head home so we walked back to the CalTrain station and caught the 3:00 train. The kids were OK on the ride back, but it was obvious they were bored of the outing. Lessons learned I can use during our New York trip:

  • Super comfortable walking shoes are a must. I thought I had some, but they weren't comfortable enough for the miles we walked. I'll have to look around for some comfy shoes that aren't trainers, which I don't particularly like for everyday wear.
  • Put toys in the diaper bag for Emily. I keep forgetting that it's almost more important for her to be entertained that it is for Thomas. Anyway, he's usually content to breastfeed if bored. Lucky guy.

    Manhattan, here we come...
  • Saturday, July 02, 2005


    What Starbucks thinks about my boobs

    Here is Starbucks' reply to my June 28th email to them.

    Dear Ms. Tsao,

    Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

    Starbucks welcomes a broad and diverse group of customers to its stores, including nursing mothers. In an isolated incident in August of 2004, a nursing mother in a Maryland Starbucks store was asked to cover up while breastfeeding her child. Maryland recently passed a specific law that prohibits any person from limiting or restricting a mother's right to breastfeed in public. This law applies to all Maryland businesses. When we learned of the Maryland mother's complaint, we quickly apologized for her negative experience. Additionally, to help us ensure compliance with the Maryland law, we sent a reminder to stores in the state reinforcing the law. We believe this is the best way to educate all of our Maryland store partners (employees) on the issue.

    While Starbucks does not have a formal policy regarding mothers breastfeeding babies within our stores, we welcome nursing mothers to our stores. Starbucks complies with all applicable state and local laws regarding breastfeeding.

    Again, thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

    Ericka H.
    Customer Relations Representative

    Friday, July 01, 2005


    Nightstand, deconstructed

    Is your nightstand the window to your soul? Or more like the junk drawer of your mind? This is what's on my nightstand:

    • Old checkbook
    • Still-valid coupon for $1.00 off Pampers diapers at Target
    • Spit-up rag