Friday, March 18, 2011

Stress. It's what for dinner.

The cutting board is on the counter and I've already cut and transferred half a pork chop to the table, ready for the little bird lings that my children become at dinner time.  I flutter, frantically - like a good mama bird - trying to meet every need, ever aware that my own food awaits, cold and uncut, while a frustration over the whole affair builds. 

The rice is done, but I haven't yet scooped even a single serving from the cooker to cool.  It's still too hot for the baby.  If I give it to her now, she'll burn her mouth, reject it and cry through the rest of dinner.  Mission failed.  The kids still need cups of milk.  I still need to decide which vegetable to cook.  I was planning on asparagus but it might very well be rotting in the crisper as I think.  And this is an easy dinner.  Rice in the rice cooker.  Pork chops under the broiler for five minutes.  And some kind of veggie.

Then I hear the welcoming sound of Chris' key in the back door lock.  Yippee yippee kai aye, Daddy's home, I practice in my head.  Show enthusiasm, because Daddy's home.  I think it and thirty seconds later I say it, all while regretting that I didn't yet unlock the door or turn the outside light on for him.  Another task on my evolving to-do list.  No need for a list app on an iPhone, it's all in my head.

Chris is tired, a full patient load today, but he needs to change out of his work shirt and the pressed pants that could last another day if we only preserve them from the hazards of dinner.  I'd love for him to take a detour and go directly to the kitchen table, but he heads to the bedroom, as he always does, for a quick breath before facing a scene that is often just a hair shy of a food fight.

We both need a break right about now.  Sometimes I ask for it and he graciously gives it to me.  For twenty minutes while they eat - a mere fifteen feet away - I lay on my bed and read and re-read the captions under the cartoons in the New Yorker.  I try to close my ears, first to the kids' inevitable screams and spills and then to Chris' pleading and threats.  I'm well familiar.  Every one of our dinner directives are preceded by a "hurry."

Hurry and eat your meat, so you can get a treat.

Hurry and finish your zucchini, then go get on your jammers.

Hurry, just three more bites of meat 'cuz your three.

Have you noticed that I'm meat and sweets obsessed?  I'm known for making my kids eat a "bag of meat" during summer park days for lunch.  It's true, I'm protein focused.  So long as they get the turkey or pork chop or soy beans in their little bellies, I'm fine.  After that, what do I care?  Bring on the funnel cakes.  The cotton candy.  They need fattening up anyway.

What happens after dinner is worth a whole other post.  Not necessarily one worth reading, but I could probably waste three paragraphs describing how T manages to sketch out a map for buried treasure on the bathroom floor.  Night after night.  In toothpaste.

No, this is about dinner.  And how it involves a scarily fair amount of my weekly brain power and time, just to figure out what to cook, buy the necessities and fry them up in a pan.  Then I spend some more of my rapidly depreciating life occupying the kids (often with T.V.) while I cook the meal.  Thereafter, we actually sit down (or hover, in my case) and I nag the kids to actually put food to mouth.  It's exhausting and overrated.  And this is from a person who actually likes to cook.  Really, I do.  You should see my cook book collection.  Or tape mindless conversations I have with friends over finishing salt.

Today, while engaged in this Ground Hog Day-esque routine, I recalled a time not so long ago.  Barely before kids when Chris and I had settled into a suburban life in another city.  We ere lulled to the "family centered" neighborhood by old friends, J&E.  They were farther along in the settling down game, with three kids underfoot and the back yard play equipment to prove it.

After work, Chris and I would run along the creek amidst the saplings and prairie grasses featured in the new development.  We cruised up and back along freshly paved concrete paths, stopping to say hello to J&E before the cool down and walk back to our house.  Children were on the horizon.  That was the hope.  Our new track home had the space for them.  We were ready. 

Still, we had no idea.

We usually knocked on J&E's door around seven.  Ever efficient, their kids were already tucked into bed.  These dear friends always made it look easy and never - not even once - did they complain about the process of funneling kids through dinner to bed or remind me of my blissful ignorance.  Instead, when Chis and I would mention that we better get on home to figure out dinner, they would only laugh, at our dwindling freedom, or in fond remembrance of their pre-kids lives.

Whatever was regularly on our menu, frozen pizza or no, I can tell you it wasn't stress.  And usually it was preceded by a glass of wine.  Or two. 

Still, I remember feeling stressed those days, for other reasons.  Often, an unfinished legal brief awaited me at the computer after dinner and the list of work tasks would whir like a Rolodex in my head during my morning shower. 

These days, my kids often serve as my alarm clock.  The soft sound of fleece over feet tell me the day has begun and their small voices trigger my internal recitation of the day ahead.  Preschool and mom-and-me classes.  Violin lessons, snuggles and stories on the couch before nap - and later - scooter rides to the park. 

Funny, while the day unwinds and fatigue and repetition set in, evoking an almost unrivaled tedium at the dinner hour, the mornings are almost always fresh and surprisingly -  for once in my life - all mine.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Top o' the morning to ya, or whatever else a leprechaun might say....


Nary a gold doubloon or a drop of Irish can be found round here, but we've got fields of clovers and a few lucky shamrocks. 

I promised my nephews and niece a cookie care package for St. Pat's.  True to form, the cookies were finally sent today, scheduled to arrive a full day past the day-o-green.  With an aunt like me, they're lucky to get them in 2011. 

Baking notes:  I saw the heart shamrocks on an "Irish and proud T-shirt."  Those red heads wear it well.  I tried out food glitter for the first time and I'm still working on frosting consistency.  I think a "thinner" approach all round next time will help.  Next project, I'll put a tad more water in the piping frosting and use a smaller tip for outlining.  Also, I'll try to pop air bubbles before they create permanent frosting caverns. 

Like I've heard a zillion times before, the harder you work, the better your luck.  Practice makes perfect and all the rest.  I'm working on it.  Hopefully, this St. Pat's, you don't have to....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What happened to the cake walk?

Remember that one time when you thought this really should be a foodie blog because of all the dang baking references?  Well, here's another one.  I'm sorry...sort of.  I dream in sugar and often wake up from a horrid nightmare where I'm covered from head to toe in dripping batter that is too heavy for some reason.  And rather than wonder how I'll crawl my way out of the mixing bowl, I ponder, was it the sour cream?  Or too much butter? 

So...without further ado, here's the latest:

An outside of the box, 100% scratch, German Chocolate birthday cake.  Nice taste, but no great shakes in the looks department, right?  Sadly, there was also a backside:

Frumpy, leaky little thing, isn't it?  The lesson here (an oldie):   insist on photographs from your best side.  Also, a profile shot helps, especially if you're wearing a top with horizontal stripes.  I'm also finding that low light works wonders for those unmentionable creases. 

That is all.  Carry on, dear mommy bloggers.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I really have no business exercising.

I had overlooked the quarter cup or so of pool water he had consumed during the swim lesson.  Or even the teaspoon of water he had extracted from sucking on his swim shirt while sitting on the edge of the pool waiting for his turn.  There were probably more gulps of bright and burning chlorine that made its way into his little digestive system later when he fell forward, arms spread, mouth agape, over and over again, while playing "Aqua Man" in the shallow area.

By the time Dee and T and I made it to the women's locker room, I had assumed T was water logged.  At that point, the official clock for showering in public with the children had started to run.  And I needed to beat my best record.  I'm talking about the panic that always overcomes me when I face any long and annoying journey like the locker room shuffle. 

Years seem to pass and my face visibly wrinkles as I guide my kids around half clothed women of all ages and sizes from the pool entrance to our locker.  From there, I must console my shivering brood while fumbling with the lock because my husband has spun me into a tizzy that some gym thief is going to steal my key fob from my coat pocket, beep for the car in the Y parking lot and then speed off with our minivan, all while I'm trying to keep up the basic Samba step at Zumba class.

After several attempts to yank and eventually gently massage, my overstuffed gym bag from the locker, I locate the cosmetic bag, shove off my own sweaty clothes, beg for a wet towel from one of the swimsuit-clad kids (we save the fluffy ones for when we're "clean"), and head back through the people maze to the open showers. 

As expected, the water is too cold for comfort and a far cry from a steady flow.  There's no time to relax - even for a second - under the lukewarm trickle of water, despite the cast of thousands, primarily because the kids need help reaching the soap and because the water automatically shuts off every 30 seconds.

So, for the duration of the shower, I engaged in a three step dance that strangely mimics motherhood itself.  Step 1) pound on the water source button;  Step 2)  soap and rinse kids; Step 3) wash my own body in piecemeal format from single errant spray from the kids' shower.  Repeat.

Somewhere near the end of the shower dance, when the kids were done and I was gathering up the shampoo and conditioner bottles, I turned to see them crouching on the floor, chins millimeters from the drain.  Dee was inspecting it, apparently appreciating how the clogged hair and skin particles gathered and combined to allow a pool to form.

To my horror, T's appreciation went one step further.  Like a parched lion anxiously roaming the desert, he approached the drain pool like a welcome watering hole and began to lap up its contents as if he had just survived a lengthy drought.

In that moment, I shrieked, "No, STOP THAT!" and threw in a couple "Eeeewwwww gross.  That's so gross. Sooooo. GROOOOOSSSSS!!!

At some point, I stopped asking T, "Why?  Why on earth would you do that?" like some prime time eighties sitcom dad admonishing his sixteen year old for denting the rear fender of the family's Volvo. 

I managed to move on with my life and gather the towel round me, holding the cosmetic bag with the same hand while using the other to hold the hand of my one clean kid.  T was instructed to tag along behind us, like a good little lion cub.

Before I had a chance to use my Breck Girl skills to whip my snarled wet hair back and out of my face, a familiar looking twenty something in a standard issue red Y polo shirt approached me.  She was one of the gals at the child care services, charged with watching my 18 month old for the full two hours a day that Y membership allows.

My general locker room panic escalated for a second.  Was I beyond the two hour time limit?   

Turns out, no.  The helpful Y childcare gal stopped me and my naked preschoolers two feet outside of the shower to inform me that my big baby, who left the house in a cuter than all be tennis skirt and striped tights, had had a blowout in her diaper that was now leaking down her legs.

They had wrapped her in a towel.  Cool, we match.

She wanted to know if I brought extra diapers.  I told her I did, that they were ready and waiting for use back at the childcare center.  Then the obviously childless soul asked,

"So...should I just bring her to you now?"

At first, I thought I had misunderstood.  Here?  Now?  I was naked.  I had naked underlings with me.  The diapers were far, far away.   

But then, she asked again, "should I just bring her to you now?"  No!  Hell no!  Poop juice will get on my semi clean naked self while my baby wriggles on a narrow backless bench over a concrete floor. 

For a minute or so, we went back and forth over whether I had extra clothes for the baby (of course not) and if they had a changing facility back at childcare central.  I knew they did.  Eventually, I got the message:  it was my job and mine alone to change Nar's diaper.

I suggested that perhaps it would work best if I got dressed first and then ran out to change the baby in a facility designed for such purposes.  "It might be safer," I said, playing the health and safety card.

Helpful Y childcare gal accepted my promise and finally left Dee and T and I to complete the last leg of the locker room shuffle.  Because were way over my panic record, T was fresh out of time to linger over the drain or to climb the handicapped bar by the toilet.

And I got to go home with wet hair and a pants free baby.  In February.  100 miles south of the Canadian border.

And this - this - is why I generally exercise once a week.  Those cookie calories are hard earned.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sweet somethings

For many moons, I've mooned over the fantastic sugar cookies Bridget at Bake at 350 creates with a frequency that reveals superhero in the bloodline.  Ms. B not only presents elegant pictures of her cookie masterpieces, but includes how-to instructions.  All very helpful to a gal whose last attempt at decorating sugar cookies (harvest pumpkins) resulted in squash drenched in concrete. 

So, a couple of months ago I printed out Bridget's instructions.  Then I gathered up the stuff I needed to do it right.  Mostly time and an excuse to make them.  But you know me, I can whip up a holiday in celebration of a root canal.

And in the time it takes to diagnose, conduct and recover from a root canal, I managed to pipe in some love and affection.  We're told that "love is patient."  This cookie project most definitely proves the point.  I just might need a root canal to recover. 

I hope you're gettin' some sugar tomorrow, hopefully brought to you by Russell Stover.  Or, if you're lucky, Godiva.  Maybe not cheaper than the butter and eggs option, but much, much faster.  (:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

My little Chinese New Year party has come and gone, like a bunny fleeing the neighbors' dog.  I didn't even get a chance to go ga-ga over the decorations and bore you with the details of every purchase and agonizing decision regarding where to hang the dragon streamers.  I'll be visiting my folks on President's Day, the no school, so lets throw a party - day - we had set aside for the event (the real CNY was yesterday, 2-3-11).

So...I slammed something together this past Sunday all last minute like.  We hosted, we crafted, we dragon paraded and we rounded out the afternoon crabby.  Also, I seriously breached the rules of my diet.  Almost a typical day.  

To keep the focus only on the kids and the snark that happens when female friends are free to chat among themselves while wiping snotty noses and addressing who-took-what meltdowns, I dis-invited Chris, the most Chinese person in our house.  He seemed mildly surprised, despite the fact that he always appears on the edge of his seat when I regale him with the latest preschool gossip or remind him that Zumba is so darn addicting.

I don't care if he makes fun of my focus while waiting for class to finish from the glassed-in weight room above the gym where Zumba class is held.  I don't.  Hasn't he seen that little Hokey Poky leg/hip shake I do while holding my hand out like a fan from the side of my head?  It's sexy.

The girlfriends, however, were invited.  Betsey came with her daughter, Dee's best friend from preschool and the person who taught Dee that "did you know you could wear a skirt over your pants??!!!" 

Stacey brought half the guests (and her husband, who I also turned away, to save him from the tedium that is crafting with preschoolers).  Elise brought the yummy Get Rich Dumplings and her established storytelling skills.  Honestly, I think we could rock the team teaching home school thing.  For one.  Whole day.

That would have been the end of lunch if Almost Asian Amy didn't give up an hour of her life at the beginning of the party slaving over the stove cooking the longevity noodles.  Here's to long life, Ame.  Next time I promise to cook first, craft last. And try not to tell me if you cut the noodles, just to make them manageable in the pan.  I know, life requires us to be adaptable, and it's shorter than we expect.

The kids made paper plate bunnies and colored and folded their own dragons this year, with varying degrees of help from the moms, depending on the topic of conversation.  Eventually, we gave out the red envelopes of "lucky money" that consisted of a few semi-shiny pennies (vinegar soaked and polished previously with mixed results and enthusiasm from the kids).  Then we paraded outside and drove the evil spirits of the past year away with our dragons and noisemakers.

The evil that came to reside in T about two minutes into the party over toy sharing and general chaos, was not, however, persuaded to move along by the beating of drums and dragon roars.  Events inducing T to stomp his feet and splay out on the floor in screaming fits continued well into bedtime.  Just to remind me that it may be a new year, but not a new life.  I felt the urge to scurry away like a New Year Bunny.  No such luck.

Still, after the kids settled into bed, or at least eased into quiet chatter amongst themselves, I took out the big, new Christmas camera that I barely know how to turn on.  Without the noise of toddler tantrums and the mess of glue pools and last minute stir fries, I could catch on digital media the last gasps of a spirited dragon and the leap of a newly assembled bunny, and remind myself who's really finding satisfaction in all this hoopla.

I'll give you a hint.  It's the half-Swede.  (:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Belly evolution

Crisp, fitted button down shirts used to slip right over it, tucked into sensible wool pants, fresh from the dry cleaner, awaiting the matching suit jacket.  When slim pockets started to bulge and a co-worker joked, "I didn't think you were missing any meals," wool suits were left hanging.  No hurry to get them to the dry cleaner.

To accommodate it, I worked from a dresser drawer wardrobe, pulling on the same "professional' stretchy knit pants every morning and rushing some nights to get the things washed and dried before the work day ahead.

Then the belly finally gave way to a new belly.  A tiny, fold over the top part of the "swaddling" size diapers, belly.  Which grew and grew and grew in wiggle pants and pj's to become the big round wonderful watermelon of a thing that tells all the world, I'm not yet a preschooler.  Still a toddler - a baby yet - so kiss and rub me for good luck.  I'm fleeting.

When my preschooler, Dee, was about Nar's age and I was seven months pregnant with T, we used to spend time each day, "contemplating our navels."  Thank goodness there's still room in the day for tummy time.