Site Under Construction

Remember that question I asked last week?

Well, it turns out that in order to implement it the way that I want to, I need to move my blog.

Construction sign.
Watch your step. Image credit: yupiramos

See, my blog very happily lives at WordPress dot com, and to do what I want to do vis-a-vis poetry and prose, I need to create a self-hosted site at WordPress dot org.

In non-technical terms, it’s like I’m renting right now, and while I have some freedom, there’s not too much I can do to my apartment. Moving to the dot org will be like buying a house. Except way less expensive (WAY less — right, Andy?). I’ll be able to paint the walls and add new rooms and decorate it however I like.

Now — and I’m sure someone can correct me here — for YOU, dear reader, it shouldn’t mean any change in your experience at all. When you navigate to, lo and behold, my site will still be there.

I think. Maybe you’ll get redirected. We’ll see.

I have been told that it’s time for me to “move away from the kiddie table.”

Challenge accepted, bitches.

The plan is to keep the majority of my categories (Parenting Is Hard, 2015: The Year of Commitment, RPM Rants, The Critic Thing, etc.) front and center on the site. The category Poetry will be visible on its own tab, as will the category Prose. I’m doing it that way for a lot of different reasons, not the least of which I’m sure my parents don’t want to read any of my erotic poetry. (Hi, Dad!)

My blog is my personal site. It’s not what I do for a living; it’s a hobby, a place to flex my writing muscles in ways I don’t get to at work. I like WordPress dot com because it’s easy and it gives me lots of options, but doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting.

I have a meeting Saturday with someone who knows how to do this (the aforementioned Andy), and he assures me (repeatedly) that it’s not difficult, and there are lots of advantages. I’m sure there are challenges too, and I won’t lie: I’m apprehensive about that.

Home ownership is not always everything it’s cracked up to be, as anyone who has had to pay for a new roof knows.

But I guess it’s time to put on my big girl pants and take the next step with my site. After nearly nine years, it might actually be overdue.

With any luck, I’ll be cutting the ribbon on a new Red Pen Mama on Monday.

Send good bloggy wishes my way!

Random Thoughts: The Battles to Fight Edition

1. The What to Drink Battle
Flora wants to drink pop — what she calls soda, so I’ve done a bad job being a yinzer parent. And I have let her drink pop and iced tea; nothing is really taboo in our house. But now I need to set limits with it. (Thanks, Soda Stream!)

I am starting to notice that pop is the only thing she wants to drink. So, now I need to fight that battle. I recently told her she was limited to one serving of pop or iced tea in a day, and no caffeine after school. She needs to drink water or milk with meals and night-time treat. I am concerned about calcium intake — no one in my house drinks enough milk. But we all do yogurt, leafy greens, cheese, and broccoli, plus calcium-fortified orange juice. I just bought the children calcium chewy vitamins to try to make up some of the deficit.

2. The Proper Phone Etiquette Battle
Kate asks to call one of her friends at least once an evening. I limit her time (10 to 15 minutes), and ask her to stay in earshot. I am slowly teaching her how to use the phone. It’s surprising to me… that they don’t know how? I mean, can that be a thing? Some phone etiquette rules I have had to explicitly lay out:

  • Say hello, then either ask, “Who is this?” or identify yourself.
  • Ask for whom you are calling. “Can I please speak to Julie?” Or, ask who is calling and for whom.
  • Don’t yell into the phone.
  • Don’t eat while on the phone. (A lot of adults don’t know this one, so.)
  • Don’t say, “BRB,” put the phone down, and walk away. I can’t believe I had to explain this. You don’t go pee in the middle of the phone call.
  • At the end of the call, say, “Goodbye” and end the call.
Rotary Telephones
Anyone else remember these? Image credit: Suwannakitja Chomraj

The phone, I am trying to explain to her, is a tool to communicate plans (“Let’s go ride bikes.”) or have a conversation — a short conversation.

I, personally, hate talking on the phone. I would much rather text or email, or interact on social media than have an actual phone conversation. But I guess I need to brace myself that talking on the phone is something my girls may want to do.

I’m not happy with this development, furthermore, because one of the little girls she talks with on the phone… *sigh* probably needs some of these lessons as well. I don’t know if she’s hard of hearing, or talking in a room full of loud noise, but I hear Kate repeating herself over and over again. Plus sometimes the little girl’s little sister will call, and believe me, nothing is more frustrating than finding yourself on the phone with a tongue-tied 6-year-old.

3. The Sit Down and Eat Battle
Eating as a family is important, and I try to sit down with the children every dinner time, and at least once on the weekends, we eat as a family of five. Some nights, though, I am ready to throw in the towel on this. They jump up to show me stuff; Flora wants to read a book at the table (hello, mini-me); they sing, they goof around. They eat two bites and declare they are full.

I’m just waiting this one out. I try to direct conversation and keep things below a dull roar. Kate and Michael especially treat the kitchen table like a stage. Maybe they need a bit more one-on-one time BEFORE dinner.

4. The Screen Battle
This is of course related to the Homework Battle, which is incrementally improving. Limiting screen time is hard, y’all. Especially when computer time is part of their homework, as it is for Flora. Again, I persevere, but man. Some days, I want to throw up my hands and say, “Sure, watch all the YouTube you want. I give up.”

They say, “Pick your battles” and I sure have. How about you?

A Question for My Readers

Question Mark
Image source: quka

I have been toying with an idea for some time now, and I am curious what you think.

I would like to add two pages to my site, one for prose and one for poetry.

It’s been some time since I wrote poetry, but I could go through what I have written and post things. Maybe it will inspire me to write new stuff as well.

I am far less adept at prose (fiction / creative non-fiction) writing, but it’s a muscle I want to start flexing. I have a couple of pieces started, and having a place to put them may give me the impetus I need to finish them.

Admittedly, it’s something I want to do for myself. Marketing copy writing has been good to me (more or less; it helps pay the bills), but it doesn’t scratch a creative itch. And I’d be curious to know if you’d venture to read it.

On a related note, I signed up for another Emily Levenson project, #30daysofjournaling. You still have time to join if you like.

I started journaling in 6th grade as part of a class room project, and it’s something that solidified my love of writing and expressing myself through putting thoughts to paper. Who knows, some of my journal content may end up here.

Writing more is never a bad thing.

What do you think of the idea? If you read, please comment yay or nay. I am truly curious if it is something you would check out.

Turning Homework Fails into a Parenting Triumph

Homework has never been my children’s favorite. It’s probably no child’s favorite, ever. Although Michael loves when I give him “homework” — because it makes him feel like a big kid, I’m sure.

This post is not about Michael.

I got a phone call yesterday that derailed me. Turns out one of my children was not completing her homework. And I didn’t know about it because every time I said, “Is your homework done?” she said, “Yep!”

And I believed her.

Pile of homework
Not very popular in these parts. (Image by Ed Sweetman)

Now, I will be upfront here and say: the other girl is not great about homework either. I have asked them to do it when they get home from school. One of them starts at Bella and Tadone’s and doesn’t finish, and the other doesn’t start until I get home, and we fight about it while she does it at our kitchen table. Which just makes it take that much longer.

So. This is the current state of homework at Casa di RPM.

I took awhile to process my feelings after the phone call. I was furious at being lied to; I was disappointed that my child was lying; I was even embarrassed that the teachers had to call. I was frustrated with my own failure to be on top of the situation. And while all of my feeling are valid, I couldn’t deal with the situation by being reactive and emotional when dealing with it.

I came up with a plan and consulted with Dan. We agreed on a strategy. And when the girls got home, I sat down, first with one, and then both, and talked about how we were going to do homework from now on.

And it starts with no screens. No television, no computer, no mini-Monk (this is what Bella calls her tablet, it’s a long story), no Minecraft. And it’s not “no screens until homework is done.” For at least the next two weeks, it’s no screens until night-time showtime at 7:30 p.m. One half-hour of television each day. That’s it.

I have no doubt my children are going to be bored. We will play games, they can read books, I will read books with them, they can do chores. (Flora is actually very good about doing her chore each day, which is emptying the dishwasher. The other two — yes, Michael has chores — are not as good, but they are getting better.) They can play with Legos and cars and superheroes; they can draw pictures.

And then in two weeks, we will see if things have improved.

One of my children was very upset during the conversation. She knew her teachers had called; she knew what the problem was; she didn’t want to keep being lectured. (My father is chuckling to himself right now.) I let her be upset. I let her cry and show her frustration. I think she was embarrassed and I think she was angry at letting us down. The other child was more receptive.

I did not talk about my feelings. Dan did not talk about his feelings. We didn’t tell the girls how smart they are. We didn’t tell the girls how disappointed we were. We calmly talked about the problem, the solution, how we were going to reach the solution, and how we were going to measure the solution (teacher conferences). We let the girls express their feelings, and we let them know it was okay to feel the way they were feeling (sad, angry, frustrated, uninterested in homework). However, despite their feelings, we were going to solve the problem.

Together. As a team.

What failure have you turned into a triumph lately?

Curious George Gets Kidnapped

A reinterpretation of Curious George Rides a Bike

Book cover
Curious George has impulse control problems.

Curious George woke up, and he was very curious.

The man in the yellow hat (MITYH) tells George that they are going to celebrate the day that he, MITYH, kidnapped him, George, from the jungle. Wasn’t that just grand?

Curious George has no idea what the MITYH is talking about, because Curious George doesn’t speak English.

The man brings Curious George outside and shows him a big box. He opens the box, and takes out a bicycle! Why George knows what a bicycle is or how to ride it is beyond me, but for the purposes of this book, he can ride it. Facing forward, facing backward, up on the rear wheel.

“I have to go now,” says the MITYH. “Be a good little monkey, and stay near the house.”

Again: George doesn’t understand English, and he’s going to do whatever the fuck he wants. He probably should not be allowed outside unsupervised, but the MITYH doesn’t seem to get this.

George rides out into the street. A boy hands him a bag full of newspapers. He’s telling George something, but again: George is a fucking monkey.

George has seen the boy throw newspapers at houses, so this is what he decides to do too. When he gets to the end of the street, he rides toward the little river. He sees boys with toy boats, and decides to make a boat with the newspapers left in the bag.

Why Curious George knows how to make newspaper boats is a mystery. That must have been a very interesting jungle. We know the MITYH hasn’t taught him, because that guy is never around.

George uses up all the newspapers making boats, and he rides his bike along the riverbank watching them until he hits a rock and breaks his bike.

George cries until he remembers that he can ride the bike up on his rear wheel. (I didn’t know monkeys cried.) He rides along until he is kidnapped by some guy in a green coat and his partner Bob. They have a bunch of animals in cages, but they let George sit in the cab of their truck.

The guy in a green coat hands George a little outfit, also green, and a bugle. He says a bunch of shit that George doesn’t understand. George wanders up to the ostrich cage. He wonders if the ostrich can play a bugle. The ostrich tries to eat the bugle, and almost dies.

George’s outfit is taken off and the bugle is taken away. There is a lot of yelling, and George has to sit on a bench. The ostrich has recovered from its near death experience, and is nibbling on a string hanging near its cage.

Oddly enough, this string controls the cage door of the baby bear’s cage. Why a pull string is holding a cage door is beyond me. The ostrich pulls the string enough that the baby bear can get out, and he runs away and up the nearest tree.

George decides to blow the bugle. A bunch of men see the baby bear is up a tree. George thinks climbing a tree is a great idea. He puts the baby bear in the newspaper bag and drops him out of the tree. The men catch the baby bear.

George rides his bike around the animal show. The MITYH is there, which is odd because I’d have thought he’d be out looking for his missing pet monkey. Apparently he didn’t want to waste his tickets.

The boy who gave George the newspaper bag is also at the animal show. He is happy to get the bag back because his boss yelled at him about losing it. The people who didn’t get their newspapers aren’t mad because the newspaper company gave them all a refund.

George thinks he recognizes the guy in the yellow. Seems familiar. He decides to go home with him because what the hell. He’s got nothing to lose at this point!

Music Monday: Classic Rock, Suggestions Welcome

I don’t know where he heard it, but M is currently obsessed with this song:

Which, hey, there are worse old rock songs that he could be into.

Watching this video, I am struck by so many things, not least of which is how young they all are. Freddy Mercury had a hell of an overbite. Brian May just looks mad. Pissed off and cold. But that is an iconic guitar riff.

So, with this Queen gem as a starting point, what kind of Spotify playlist could I put together for my children that’s not — and this is vital — what they can hear any old time on the radio?

I feel like there is a wide range of classic rock out there, but one hears the same songs all the time on the classic rock stations. A handful of Led Zepplin songs, a couple of Who songs, another handful of Rolling Stones.

So what do YOU like that you DON’T hear on the radio? I feel like Bruce Springsteen has some seriously underrated, obscure tracks out there that would be good to introduce to the children. Same with The Who, Rolling Stones… ooh, Police.

If you were making a playlist to actually get your child or other young person into classic rock, what would you include?

Adventures in Mothering

Thursday is Michael’s favorite day.

Since I work from home on Thursday, and we are trying to save money on daycare costs, I keep him home with me that day. (Tuesdays, he is with Tadone.)

Michael basically treats it as “anything goes” day, and within reason, he’s not far wrong. He is allowed to play Minecraft and watch Netflix shows all day. He can stay in his pajamas as long as he wants.

He can watch Turbo and eat popcorn at 10:30 a.m. As long as he is not interrupting me or trying to play in the knife drawer, I leave him to his own devices.

So, yes, he’s not closely supervised. Although, believe me, we interact at least once an hour. We usually have lunch together. We even sometimes go for a walk.

Well, yesterday, he was bouncing around, coming to see me for food or drink, or to switch between Netflix and Minecraft. At one point around 7:30 a.m., he brought me a bag of chips to open.

“Is this your breakfast, buddy?”
“Well, are you going to eat this now?”
“Yes. But it’s not my breakfast.”

I simply did not have the wherewithal to explain what the word “breakfast” literally meant, so I opened the bag of chips.

Around 10:30, he declared that he did want breakfast, meaning a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. So I poured him some, and went back to work. Shortly after eating his cereal, he came to ask me to put on Netflix. As we were waiting for the titles to load, he said, “There’s something squishy in my ear.”

I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about. M has never been one to stick things in orifices (knock on wood) — no beans or Legos up noses or anything. And we don’t use Q-Tips.

Well, when I got him under a light and looked at his right ear, I realized it was filled with blood — or at least, was bleeding and/or scabbing up.

It did not look good.

I called the pediatrician, got an appointment, threw clothes on both of us (I was wearing a tee shirt and yoga pants), and lit out for the office.

As my mother-in-law says, nothing makes you weak in the knees like seeing your child bleeding.

The pediatrician found a small laceration in M’s ear canal. He said he wasn’t able to see the whole eardrum, but he saw enough to determine the eardrum hadn’t ruptured. He prescribed drops to prevent an infection or swimmer’s ear, and told us to treat it and watch it. If it’s not cleared up in about a week, we’ll have to head back.

So that was fun!

M writing words!
I love you too, buddy. Don’t scare me like that, huh?

M was a brave boy at his appointment, didn’t cry, didn’t try to prevent the doctor from looking in his ear. I tried to take him for ice cream, but our favorite place, Kips, didn’t open until 3 p.m., so we went to Bruegger’s instead. And he was so good! He sat quietly while I ordered, ate almost his whole bagel with egg, and stayed in his seat. When I sat down, he noticed I had gotten chips.

“What are those?” he asked.
“They are potato chips,” I said. “I will share them with you if you want.”
“And I will share my bagel with you!” he declared, spreading his hands like a benevolent little prince.

He was so well-behaved, the workers insisted on giving me a cookie for him. I offered to pay, and they were like, “NOPE. On the house, lady. He’s adorable, and he was a little angel.”

The rest of the day was far less adventurous. M took his drops, watched some Phineas and Ferb, and I got some more work done.

Flora came home a few minutes late. She walked into the office, gave me a hug, and said, “The high school band is practicing. Can I go watch them?”

“But you have homework.”
“I’ll take it with me.”

So, I said yes. They were practicing in the parking lot near our house. She rode her bike over, and she took her homework. And did it too.

Kate came home last, and nothing extraordinary was going on with her, although she says her throat’s been hurting. So, we’ll have to keep an eye on that. Drinking water seems to help, so maybe she just needs a water bottle for school.

And then Dan and I figured out how I could go out to dinner with some of my LTYM friends — drop the children off at his office — so he’s basically the best husband in the world.

What was your latest mundane adventure?

Love Letter

Dearest Daniel,

Our 14th wedding anniversary is here, and it finds us both a little beat up and stressed out. You are still gimping around from your second Tough Mudder, and I am not adjusting to the stresses of the new school year very well.

I haven’t even managed to buy you a card for today.

I recently contributed a guest post to a Pittsburgh blogger who wed last week. Remember when we were asking for my parents’ blessing, and my dad said, “Marriage isn’t 50-50; it’s 100-100”? And then asked if I was going to cook you meat?

Yeah, that’s what I wrote about over there.

And I just want you to know that I know you have been in 100 percent since… well, since we started dating, probably. And I cannot tell you how loved that makes me feel; how safe and secure. And I also want you to know how proud I am to be with you, to stand as your wife. I am proud of you, and of your continual hard work as a husband and father, as a therapist, as a Tough Mudder!

You married an anxious lady, dude. And I appreciate it when you are patient with me; and I forgive you for being impatient with me too. I get it — I’m a little impatient with my hand-flappy self, too. I fluster easily, and I, much like at least one of our children, do not adjust to change very quickly.

However, since our first date, since before our first date, we have had the top three things that make our relationship work:

1. Humor
2. Kindness
3. Chemistry

You are patient and you are kind. You make me laugh every day. You make me feel loved and desired every day. I hope I do the same for you. I certainly think we do not disappoint each other when it comes to the third thing on that list.

I’m so glad I said, “Yes” and then, 14 years ago today, “I do.”

I love you, 100 percent, all in.
Your ever-loving,

Back to School: The All About Me Edition

Three days into the new school year, and I already have a scheduling conflict. C’mon!

I will say that the girls have adjusted thus far very well to their new schools. Flora came home Monday and declared, “TODAY WAS PERFECT.”

Flora on her first day of school.
First day of fifth grade!

Of course, my cynical little brain voice said to itself, “Great. It’s all downhill from here.” But I smiled and gave her a hug, and said out loud and with sincerity, “I am so glad to hear that.”

Kate is having a bit of a rougher time. Her Monday orientation went well — I swear her homeroom teacher is all of 23 — and she was excited. She says her first day was fine, but then burst into tears because she forgot her lunch — I owe her teacher $3 — and she doesn’t like the little boy who sits next to her. She says he wouldn’t leave her alone, and said he was going to eat her brain. So. We will have to keep an eye on that.

Kate's first day of school, 2015.
Think positive! Kate on the first full day of third grade.

It’s quite an adjustment for Dan and me, too. Flora’s bus comes at 7. Which means I am hitting snooze at 5:30. In order to continue with my workout routine, I have to get up even earlier than I have been. Which means bed by 10 p.m. I am not good at early bedtime, but I am going to try harder. On the bright side, I am often at work before 8 a.m., and even an open office is pretty damn quiet at 8 a.m.

It also means that Dan is getting Kate and M out the door, which is a big change for him. We do get a lot ready at night — lunches packed, clothes laid out (I have to get into this habit myself), papers signed, book bags ready. Again, three days into the routine, and it’s been going pretty smoothly. Flora lets me walk her to the bus stop; she even holds my hand crossing the street.

One of these mornings I will stop getting choked up when the bus drives off. Right?

Michael has a whole new schedule this year, too. He’s only going to daycare on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. His pre-k class meets those days starting after Labor Day. Tuesdays he goes to Tadone’s and Thursday he stays home with me.

Thursday will be known as pajama and Minecraft day. Because mama’s gotta work.

Next up for me will be meeting new parents — again — and finding ways to get involved in the school — again. The mere thought makes me very, extremely tired. Plus: TWO schools! (Three if you count M’s.) I mean, how am I gonna do that? Plus soccer for Flora — community league, not through the school — and we have to find an activity for Kate.

I do have one completely positive thing to report. Okay, two.

First, the week before school started, I declared that Sunday through Thursday, all screens are going off at 8 p.m., and we have stuck with that. They don’t have to go straight to bed, but this starts the transition to bedtime. Screens off, snacks finished, everything prepped for the morning. Showers for everyone, M first because he’s the youngest.

And then — and this is BIG for me, HUGE — I get M in his pajamas, read him a book, play him a lullaby, kiss and hug him, AND LEAVE THE ROOM.

I stopped laying down with him while he was supposed to be falling asleep. We talked about it a couple of times — not at bedtime — and my focus has simply been that he is a big boy and old enough to fall asleep on his own. It hasn’t been a completely smooth transition. He still sometimes cries that he is scared. I gave him a radio, and we leave the door open to the hallway. I give extra hugs and kisses. But I am getting an entire hour back at night by not laying in bed with him waiting for him to fall asleep.

Again: so far, so good. Flora has been getting up on her own with an alarm — another HUGE change from last year. I wake Kate and M before I leave, try to get them moving. So far, I have managed one Pilates workout, and one workout with my trainer (Jillian Michaels), and we have been on time for the bus. Even though as of Wednesday they moved the pickup time up by 10 minutes.

Sure, no problem.

Only nine months to go!

How is back to school treating you?

Project: Food Budget, Round 2, It’s a Wrap!

Project: Food Budget

When <a href="http://Emily Levenson” target=”_blank”>Emily first proposed revisiting Project: Food Budget, I was instantly on board.

My primary reason for being so eager was that, as I detailed in my opening post this round, so much had changed since the last time I did this project. It was a good way for me to get a handle on these changes — where I was shopping, how I was shopping, how I was cooking.

And it worked.

What I learned:
Giant Eagle is criminally expensive, and also takes too long to shop .
Aldi is the best place to shop, although it doesn’t always offer vegetarian options.
Target is a good back-up for Aldi, but still shouldn’t be my main grocery store (because I buy too many other things).
Buy as much produce at the farmers market as possible. Especially tomatoes.
I need to space Costco visits out for the sake of the budget.

Aside: When is Trader Joe’s coming to the Robinson area?

Menu planning is vital. Okay, I didn’t actually learn that on this go-round; it was something I was coming around to already. Doing the menu planning and sharing it on this round helped solidify the habit. I got the children involved, and they enjoy picking a meal a week. They also like that I write the menu for the week on our white board. My children like routine and like to know what’s going on. (They get that from me. Unless it involves presents, surprises are not our favorite thing.)

The new thing I learned about menu planning is: when you have a plan, it can be as flexible as you need it to be. Once the plan is in place, and you have shopped for the week or beyond, if things need to change, it’s not a struggle. If a soccer practice or school meeting pops up, you can switch meals on the fly. Plus, I often find after I’ve cooked for a week or so, it’s time to have leftovers for dinner. Which is my favorite.

What I would do differently:
I would track what we spend on alcohol purchases — don’t worry, Mom, it’s not an exorbitant amount. But I found myself popping into the state store for a bottle of wine or grabbing a six-pack at Giant Eagle for one reason or another. I’m sure that if I paid more attention, I could find a way to avoid last-minute runs to the state store.

6 Mile Cellars
Local wine for the win.

Of course, if Pennsylvania would change its laws about alcohol sales, and I could pick up a bottle of wine at Costco INSTEAD OF MAKING ANOTHER STOP, that would be awesome too.

I wish I had commented more on fellow participants’ sites, and I also wish I had looked at more recipes. One downside to menu planning is that it is easy to get into a rut. I have to work hard to find new recipes and integrate them, and we are busier than ever.

What did you learn?

McGinnis and Bean
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy