Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tu(n)esday



Gary Clark, Jr. - Bright Lights

Photographic Evidence that I Exist



We were getting ready to go to Mike's company holiday party last weekend, so I actually allowed myself to be photographed. It's a rare occurrence, but I guess it is important to have proof that I'm not just a figment of my own imagination.

And yes, a holiday party at the END of JANUARY. I love it. Everyone should have their Christmas parties in January. I enjoy it so much more when it's not drowned out by the actual holiday. I'm considering sending out my Christmas cards (that never get sent because I'm not responsible about that kind of stuff) in March. They'll say, "May the joy of the season surround you every day of the year."

Monday, January 30, 2012

In Case You Get Bored Over Here

Oh yeah, I'm still writing and updating my other blog. You know, just FYI and stuff.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Parent Teacher Conference

I attended my first Parent-Teacher Conference last week at Maggie's preschool! They do a quick check in midway through the year for kids who will be going on to Kindergarten - I guess just to confirm whether or not the kid is ready for regular school yet. It was of course no surprise that Mags is doing beautifully with all the academic milestones. She already has every item on the checklist marked off (really she could do them all before she even started preschool), and we talked about how much the way she holds a pencil has improved and how much more confident her handwriting is since September.

They also told me that she is happy at school and enthusiastic about everything they do - ENTHUSIASTIC. Like, really, really excited to do... anything. Everything. Glue! Scissors! Paint! Puzzles! Songs! Games! Coloring! She loves it! This is her favorite thing ever!

The only item she got a W+ ("working on skill") instead of a G ("good progress") on was initiating play with other children. Apparently she's fine playing with other kids and gets along well with everyone, she just won't ask another kid to play with her. So the teachers have been talking with her about just joining in with other children or just asking someone to play. Instead of complaining to them that she's all alone - in a room full of children!

When I told Mike about it he just laughed and said, "Well I wonder who she gets that from?!" Both of us are a bit... shall we say, socially reserved.

Shyness is probably just part of her genetic code, but I am glad we decided to send her to preschool. I didn't have any great requirements for her academic development this year, but I am reassured that her teachers are just the right people to help her grow socially before the big wide world of public school begins next year. That's something she probably can't get in large amounts from me personally. (I'm not knocking my mothering abilities. I've got a lock on that literacy stuff; It's just that we all have our own talents, so it's good for her to meet lots of different people.)

Here's the note they wrote on her report:
Maggie is a lovely little girl - bright, inquisitive, yet somewhat shy. We are working on initiating play with other children. She enthusiastically joins in all group activities and is very well-spoken. Maggie is enjoying her Preschool experience.

That's success in my book. We are very proud of her and looking forward to the kindergarten enrollment process that starts here in April. Kate's preschool enrollment is this week, and we're going to sign her up for a couple of mornings next year just so she's not too lonely without Mags.

My little chicks are taking off!

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Manifesto on Family

Every so often it crops up again: a comment, a blog post, a book review, a talking head on TV. Maybe I just notice it so much because I'm a parent now, or maybe it's just because it always rubs me the wrong way. It gets my hackles up. Ever since Maggie was a little baby or maybe even before she was born, I have noticed people making a statement about parenthood and marriage that I could not agree with less: that people should love their spouse more than their children and prioritize their marriage above their kids.

It happened again recently when I ran across this article and then this article. The argument is that the marriage is the foundation of the family, so in order for the family to be strong and the children to be happy, the couple has to make sure the marriage is rock solid (I'm OK with most of this until...) by putting themselves first and loving each other more than the kids. Oh no. I can't go there with you, sorry.

I agree that America has a bit of an over-parenting problem. Among middle-class people it does seem that many children are raised as treasured, precious snowflakes. And I understand that divorce is a frightening spectre that looms over many marriages and threatens to destroy families. And I definitely know first-hand how challenging it is to balance the endless needs of young children against your own needs and those of your spouse.

But I would NEVER say that I love Mike more than our daughters. On the other hand, I don't feel like I love Maggie and Kate more than my husband either. I'm more protective of them. I'm more concerned about their well-being. I'm more attentive to their diet and their health and whether or not they have on warm enough pajamas. It's my job to be responsible for these details. I'm their mother and they are very young children who can not take care of themselves, unlike my husband who is a grown man and quite capable of making sure he gets enough sleep and eats a well-balanced diet and can express himself clearly if he is feeling bad or needs something.

Why would anyone want to be married to a man (or a woman, for that matter) who needed to be cared for and fawned over like a tiny baby, who needed to be petted and crooned at like one of those little dogs that fits in your purse? I actually don't even treat my children that way, so why would I treat my husband like a helpless imbecile or a precious jewel? Cowboy up, big guy! This married with children thing is not for crybabies! Lucky for me, my husband is not that guy (and I'm not that girl).

Actually, the argument that makes me the most apoplectic is, "You should put your husband first because your children will grow up and leave you and then all you'll have left is your spouse." What?! I live half way across the country from my parents, but I did not abandon them and they are not all the other has left. In fact, my brother lives near them and sees them all the time and they are quite close to their own siblings. Shocking! Despite the distance between us and my independence, we still have a loving and supportive relationship. And for the record, I would never say that I love Mike more than my parents, or my parents more than Mike, either! I am still their child and always will be. And the children that Mike and I have together will be our children for as long as we all shall live, and that's a covenant far stronger than any vow that could so easily be undone by a divorce court.

The real heart of the issue here is that I don't see our family as a marriage that happens to have two kids dangling off of it. I also don't see our family as a house of cards with our marriage as the foundation holding it all up, as most of these Marriage First articles usually frame the situation and perhaps as most people automatically think about family structure.

Our family is a circle of four people. Each person has a unique and valuable relationship with each other person, and none of those relationships trumps any of the others. Our daughters' sisterhood does not have less value than our marriage. My relationship with my children is not greater than their relationship with their Dad. We both love each of our daughters individually and have a different and special bond with them as separate people. None of those relationships takes the priority and none can really stand without the others. It is important to me personally to nurture all of those relationships because I believe we need all of them to be equally strong in order for the four of us to stand together. Mike and I do value our marriage, and I feel like it has weathered a lot and gotten stronger for it. And I try not to stand in the way of him parenting the girls and showing them that he can care for them and they can rely on him. And I work on making sure the girls love each other and share a bond that will carry them through times when we can't be there and all they'll have is each other.

I don't think I can put my marriage first. It's too interwoven into the web of relationships and experiences and emotions that exist in our home. Once we were a family of two, and then three, and now four, and there is no going back. That family of two doesn't exist anymore and never will again, even when our children grow up and move away. Once they have spouses and children of their own, the circle will actually get bigger and bigger, not smaller. The circle itself is my priority.

Let the circle be unbroken.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kate's Birthday Photos



So finally, here are the pics of Kate's birthday(s). The camera was found hiding on top of the cabinet in the upstairs hall outside of the bathroom - of course, that's exactly where you should be keeping your camera, too.

Her birthday was on Friday, and we did some fun birthday things on that day, but then we had a small party with the neighbor kids and Gram and Grandpa on Saturday. As soon as she woke up on Sunday, she asked me if it was still her birthday, and when I said no, not until next year, she cried and cried. She's a party girl.

Out of all the gifts she received (and all the ones she JUST got for Christmas, too) her favorites seem to be a pack of three fruit-flavored lip glosses and a pink Hello Kitty thermos! Go figure.


Lip Gloss! Thermos!

First thing on Friday morning, she came downstairs with Mike and saw the decorations I had put up and her wrapped presents on the table... and Maggie pointed out her brand new drum set to her! Mike said it was one of the first big presents he didn't need instructions to put together.


Her father's daughter


She already has rock star hair!

Maggie has preschool on Fridays, so Kate and I headed up to Barnes and Noble with some coupons I got from their (quite nice) B&N Kids' Club (because we buy plenty of books from them). We got a free cupcake - who doesn't love a HUGE cupcake at 9:30 in the morning on your birthday?! - and went upstairs to hug all the stuffed animals, which is Kate's usual B&N routine, and pick out a book. Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth is a Caldecott winner and a very sweet story about a Zen panda named Stillwater.

After Maggie got home from school, we spent the afternoon making cupcakes. For whatever reason, the first batch I made of white cake cupcakes didn't rise and turned out shorter than the paper cupcake cups. They tasted all right but were pretty dense. I had to switch over to making dinner so we could eat at a reasonable hour, so we had some of these midget cakes after dinner to celebrate and then I had to whip up another batch - a simpler, yellow cake recipe this time - after the girls went to bed. Good thing I had some extra cupcake cups in the cabinet!


Two shortcakes apiece with sprinkles in honor of the birthday girl


Note: She's wearing her hair in a ponytail because I told her a few weeks ago that once you turn three you have to wear your hair in a ponytail. She totally bought it! However, now she thinks that she isn't three anymore whenever we take the ponytail out, and we're having to convince her that it's OK at nighttime to let your hair down and you'll still be three in the morning!


Still yummy


After dinner she (well, Maggie) unwrapped her presents from us and my parents and Grandma the Great.


Where have you been all my life, thermos?


Her new doll - and the thermos! Don't let that thermos out of your sight!


A Good Haul


Butterfly


Superhero cape - that she doesn't like at all and hasn't worn since this picture


Snoopy Sno Cone Machine! It was Mike's big dream that some day his children would have all the things he never had as a child. This cheap piece of plastic is the manifestation of a dream come true for two curly-haired, brown-eyed people.


The next morning, Mike went out and bought some helium balloons, which is and always has been the girls' most favorite part of birthday celebrations. Later, the neighbors and grandparents came over and the kids played and we made some grape Snoopy sno cones (mediocre, but the kids loved them anyway). Kate had requested hot dogs for her birthday dinner, so we grilled burgers and dogs in New England in January in the pitch black dark, but at least the grill wasn't buried under two feet of snow.


Katie and Gram - look at that curl hanging down her forehead! Like I said, father's daughter.


Bitty Baby's new baby carrier and outfit


More (taller) cupcakes!


This year Mags had kind of a hard time with the concept that your sister gets to have a birthday and it's not your birthday. We'll see how it goes next month when it's your birthday and not your sister's birthday, but you opened all her presents and played with all of her balloons, so fair is fair.


She did manage to have plenty of fun - this is her wearing a balloon hat and bow tie - and I tried to convince her that having a sister is the best because you get to be a part of TWO fun birthday parties each year even though only one is yours. She still felt it would've been better if some of the presents were for her.


At any rate, Kate had a blast, and now she's a big grown up three year old girl, ponytail and all! Happy Birthday Kitty Kat Kate!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tu(n)esday


video


She's singing the ABC's, it's just hard to hear because the drums are so LOUD!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Curry Instead of Cupcakes

Well, I was going to post some photos of Kate's birthday celebrations, but I've looked everywhere and can't find where Mike hid the camera! It's probably put away wherever it is that the camera belongs, but I don't know where that is.

So I'll write about the delicious soup I made yesterday and give you the recipe so you can taste it, too. It's a creamy wild rice and chicken soup with a hint of curry that just makes it so perfect. My mom made it for us when we were in Oklahoma in December, and I loved it so much. She got the recipe from her coworker Kathy, who got it from a cookbook published by war veterans! Army dudes can cook!

When I called my mom yesterday to find out if she added more curry (we're big fans of curry in our family and often add more than the recipe calls for - but not this time, it's the perfect amount), I found out that she was actually making the same soup at the same time! All the popular kids are doing it.

I will admit that it's a bit of a chore to make as you have to cook the rice and the chicken (separately) first and then chop up a bunch of veggies, and I've never used more chicken broth at once in a recipe ever, but it's totally worth it, trust me. Well, and then there's the fact that it's got a whole stick of butter and two cups of half and half in it, so.... So you know it's super delicious, that's what that means! You can make it vegetarian by leaving the chicken out and using veggie broth and it would easily be just as good. There are plenty of veggies in it, and veggies are good for you. Am I selling this or are you getting scared?! So clear your calendar for next Saturday afternoon and whip up a vat of this stuff (and it does make a vat, we have so much of it leftover - good thing I love it). Enjoy!

Wild Rice Soup

1 1/2 cups wild rice
8 cups chicken broth
4 cups chicken broth
(that's about equal to THREE boxes of Swanson's)
1 tsp. thyme, dried
1 tsp. salt
3 bay leaves
1 med. onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. black pepper
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry sherry (important, don't skip)
1/2 cup carrot, chopped
2 cups heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 cup flour
2 cups cooked chicken, optional

Rinse wild rice until water is clear. Cook rice in 4 cups of chicken broth with salt over medium heat until rice is tender (approximately 35 minutes).

In a heavy soup pot, saute onion, celery, carrot, and mushrooms in butter (about 5 minutes). Mix in flour and cook over medium heat about 5 more minutes.

Add 8 cups of chicken broth, seasonings, and sherry. Bring to a boil stirring constantly until slightly thickened (about 10 minutes).

Add reserved rice with any remaining cooking liquid and the cream. Cook over low heat about 1 hour.

Adjust seasonings and add curry powder and chicken. Simmer 30 minutes.

Best made one day ahead. May be frozen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Three Years Old

Happy Third Birthday, Katie!





























You're a rock star, baby!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tu(n)esday

Tu(n)esday, yo!



Disclaimer: This song selection isn't exactly revelatory or going to impress you with my indie cred, but the video just cracks me up. Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Unresolved

Happy New Year!

Today is the day when everyone you know will say things like, "2012 is going to be my year!" or "Great things are going to happen in 2012!" People will also make resolutions. In fact, the internet media is already full of articles on New Year's resolutions, how to make them, how to keep them, what should yours be, etc. America is a nation of optimistic self-helpers. We love the idea of improvement.

I don't do New Year's resolutions. It's not that I'm really a pessimist. I actually consider myself to be an optimist at heart... but I'm also a realist. An optimistic realist. It's a difficult position to hold, but I'm hanging on. I know I will make all kinds of starry eyed promises to myself in the bosom of the holiday spirit, and I know that I will not manage to keep up with them for 365 whole days, and then come December 2012 I will feel bad about it. But why should I? It's an unrealistic expectation, in my opinion. I can promise to do anything for a short amount of time or until I hit a manageable goal - I lost my baby weight after Kate was born, after all - but I can't do everything right all the time.

I already know that I am doing my best. Not every minute, not even every day, but that IS the best I can do. I don't have any egregious habits like gambling away the milk money or binging and purging, so I shouldn't have to sit here and flagellate myself every January 1 with all my failings and regrets. This kid is all right.

So here's a list of things I will NOT promise to do for myself this year, 2012:

* I will not run a marathon.
I don't run unless something is chasing me. If I need to go somewhere 26 miles away, I will drive there or take the train.

* I will not start a fad diet.
I have an anthropology degree and even I don't really care how humans ate in the paleolithic period. They didn't have toaster ovens and immersion blenders, so what did they know?

* I will not read 50 books this year.
I love to read - LOVE to read - but I won't read this many books this year. Goals like this take all the fun out it. I'll linger if I feel like it, thank you.

* I will not learn a foreign language.
Who has the time? Who has someone to speak another language with? Plus, I already did this. Check.

* I will not join a gym.
Please. Give me a break.

* I will not rededicate myself to my marriage.
I'm already as dedicated as it gets. He's not getting rid of me anytime soon, so let's not get all schmaltzy about it.

* I will not have more "me time."
Let's be honest. I have an almost 3 and almost 5 year old. There's no me time. Check back in 15 years. That was in the contract all along - read the fine print.

* I will not "enjoy life more" or "focus on my blessings."
I'm actually fairly good at quietly doing this on a regular basis (see that optimistic realist part above), but I think it's just one of those things about life as a human being - we get bogged down in the day-to-day challenges and don't have time for philosophizing about joy. To beat yourself up about it just seems like a catch-22. Plus, those people who are always going on about their blessings and their passion for life and honoring their spirit are really obnoxious!

And that is what is really wonderful about these holidays at the end of the year - they give us a ritualized opportunity to stop fretting about bills and deadlines for a moment and meditate for a moment on joy and blessings and family and friends and love. To appreciate what we do have and what we have already accomplished. I've just decided I'm going to leave it there and not try to improve on it.

Call me a cynic, call me Andy Rooney if you like, but I predict that my 2012 is going to be quite a bit like last year. I'll do some stuff and I won't do some stuff, and I'll try not to regret it. It will be mostly great, a little frustrating, and a sprinkling of every other emotion in between. That's just how I like it.