Year in Review: 2011

I have been wracking my brain for some amazing highlights to mention in a year-end post.

And I got nothing.

It’s just kinda been a year, you know?

In January, I turned 40.

In February, Dan and I closed on the property where he has his psychology practice, which is a pretty big deal I guess. I’m incredibly proud of my husband — his career development has been a big highlight of our year. It’s just not *mine* per se. (I didn’t even blog about it!)

I went back to work in February, full time, and I’m still bitching about it. People say, “I don’t know how you do it.” (Some people say, “Suck it up, buttercup!”)

Trust me, I’m not.

Flora started a new school in September.

I did the PodCamp thing! Maybe a little too much.

My sister got married in October, and Flora was the flower girl. I was the Best Woman, and I gave a nice toast.

I started a new blogging — sorry, online writing project.

In general, the kids have been all right (I think).

Michael hit his milestones. Then, a little more than a week ago, he had ear tube surgery. So far, so good.

In lieu of an end-of-the-year post, here’s an idea (that I am stealing): a guiding word for the new year.

My word for 2012 is going to be “change”. I have to figure out what needs to change in my life, how to change it, and then go. I don’t need big upheavals, but I need better balance. I need more things for me to sustain me. My children need me to make some changes to benefit them.

If you had a rough 2011 (and gauging by my Twitter stream, some of you sure did), I hope that 2012 is better. Even if you had a good 2011, I hope 2012 is better. And if, like me, you just kind of had a year, well, maybe a little change up will do you some good, too.

What’s your 2012 word?

Project Food Budget: Weeks 12 and 13

Food Budget Piggybank

As I expected, we ate out quite a bit over the holidays, to the tune of more than twice our usual budget: about $125. Of course, as I had expected we would do that (mama didn’t cook very much because of traveling for Christmas), I had actually budgeted for that.

There were odds and ends at the grocery store to get, mostly convenience food — and coffee. I went with no ground coffee in my house for almost five days. It was torture. Between Giant Eagle and Target, spent $114.97.

Monday we made a Costco run for stuff I will need to pack lunches again next week. That came in at $153.82.

Other purchases included wine and beer (not including the port wine I gave to Dan for Christmas — it was a theme gift; he also got a decanter, port wine slippers, or pipes, and a book on port) at $58, and a CSA pickup, which is costing $34 a box this winter.

Looking ahead, I have a grocery list for some New Year’s Day cooking I plan to do and another state store run for champagne and possibly some Grand Marnier. There’s a Maker’s Mark cocktail (one of my Christmas gifts from Dan) I want to try, also for New Year’s Day.

Grocery store should come in around $200, and (providing my husband behaves himself) state store shouldn’t be more than $50.

I’m doing some good cooking over the weekend, plus trying a couple new cocktails, so I will have plenty of foodie fodder for next week.

Let’s see how the holidays were for everyone else!

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* What da Health?
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* Ignition Nutrition
* A Nice Heart and a White Suit
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Whole Living Gal
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy
* That’s Just Me

The Thing I Didn’t Tweet About

Last Friday, Dan, the children, and I headed to Erie to celebrate Christmas with my parents (aka Nonna and Pap-pap).

On the way, feelings of intense grief began to surface.

I reached for my phone to tweet something about it. Something like, “Suddenly really missing Gabriel.”

And then I didn’t.

I put my hands back in my lap, and let the feeling engulf me. I cried a little. I turned to my husband and told him the way I was feeling. We held hands. I said, “I would think I would be over this feeling by now.”

I didn’t mean I would be over being sad. I’ll never stop being sad or missing Gabriel.

The grief continued on and off throughout the weekend. For the first time in a long time, it wasn’t just feeling a little sad that my first son wasn’t with us. It was grief, painful and sharp, keener than it’s been… probably since Kate was born.

I didn’t tweet about my grief for one reason.

It wasn’t because I felt I would be ignored, that my grief for my son would fall on deaf ears. My followers are in many cases my friends as well, and they wouldn’t let me down. They would reach out to me (virtually) in my time of grief. Of this I have little doubt.

It wasn’t because I wanted to hide my grief. That I didn’t want to talk about my baby loss (as Dan termed it this weekend “baby sadness”) at what is supposed a joyful time of year — about the birth of a baby. It wasn’t because I thought I would be raining on people’s Christmas or holiday parade.

I didn’t tweet about my grief because I needed to be with my grief. And I needed to be with my grief with my small group, primarily my husband, of course, but I did talk about the way I was feeling with my parents after dinner on Christmas Eve.

I don’t know what factors contributed to the resurgence of my intense feelings, whether hormones, exhaustion, or stress, or why some of the music I heard made my sentiment well (“Coventry Carol” and “Gabriel’s Message” from A Very Special Christmas album were definite triggers, as well as a couple of tracks from A Christmas Together – John Denver & The Muppets). Although I consider myself very blessed in my marriage and my other three children, something about Michael being a year old perhaps made me feel Gabriel’s loss more keenly.

And, let’s face it, what I love Twitter for (besides my tweeps) is the immediacy of the medium. You have a thought or feeling or question, and you can just shoot it out into the ether and be done with it. And then you can check your @’s obsessively to see if anyone agrees, disagrees, or has the answer. It can be used for conversation, for soliciting good prayers and thoughts (something I had just used it for the day of Michael’s ear tube surgery), for checking in with other tweeps. I have never made any secret of my fondness for Twitter, but it’s not necessarily for dwelling on things.

I had to do that with my grief. I had to sit with it, share it with the people who were physically present to me, work through it. By Christmas Day, I really felt much better — not just because some of the external factors were resolved. I had had a couple of nice days with friends in Erie (and beer), and with my kids and parents, and I was more rested.

I also processed my grief, recognized and acknowledged it. It surprised me in its timing and intensity. I thought those high waves were far behind me; clearly I was mistaken. And that’s okay.

I hope you all had Merry Christmases and Happy Holidays. And if you had grief, I hope, like me, you had the time and space — or took the time and space — to go through it. Many well wishes and happy thoughts for you all.

Santa Conundrum No. 3: Why Do We Donate Toys?

As a family, we make a number of charitable contributions this time of year. Flora’s school had a Toys for Tots drive, and I had the girls pick out a new toy when we were shopping to donate to that.

One of the other things I did was donate gently used toys to a charity called Play It Forward Pittsburgh (this link goes to the Facebook page). One Friday, before I dropped Kate off, we stopped at the house in my neighborhood that was collecting the donations.

When I got back in the car, Kate said, “Why are you giving our toys to this house?”

I said, “They are collecting used toys to give to kids who won’t get toys at Christmas.”

“Why doesn’t Santa give them toys?” Kate asked. “Because they are bad?”

Oh, shite.

“Nooo,” I said, trying to think fast. “Sometimes Santa needs help getting more toys to give to more children. If kids have a lot of toys that they don’t play with, Santa likes us to give them to him, so he can give them to children he knows don’t have lots of toys. He knows the toys will get played with that way.”

This explanation, brought to you by the seat of my pants, seemed to satisfy Kate quite well.

I just wish I had dropped her off first, *then* donated the toys. It’d would’ve made my morning a little less stressful.


Speaking of donating toys, check out what readers of helped Michelle do this year. Wow, is all I have to say.

Santa Conundrum No. 2: Regifting

My children have a lot of stuff.

I work hard each year, starting in October, to go through old toys with my children, decide what we will put away, decide what we will donate, and so on. The kids like to do this, primarily because they know other stuff is coming in — and, yeah, that their toys are going to find a home with a child who doesn’t have as much as they do for one reason or another.

As I mentioned yesterday, we keep Christmas to one Santa gift, plus stocking stuffers. When other family members ask, I request memberships; educational toys or board games; arts and crafts; or Wii and DSi games. Books are also popular, although I tend to buy those myself. And I ask: please, not a lot. (And please, no clothes for the girls!)

Saturday afternoon, while the girls were out and about with their Bella and Tadone (part of their Christmas gift to the grandchildren was a day out together), I went down the basement and picked out three gifts from what we had stored down there. These are Michael’s gifts this year.

And then, as I was wrapping them, I realized that I couldn’t say that one of these gifts was from Santa. The girls will recognize their former toys.


So, I went out and bought Michael a Santa toy to give him. I felt like an idiot — that I care so much to perpetuate the myth that I was adding to the stuff in the house. I had felt bad already — a little guilty, a little ridiculous — that I was picking Michael’s toys from the girls’ castoffs, but ultimately, he’s not going to care. I’m going to have to keep him from eating the wrapping paper, really. The Santa gift is less for him, and more for the girls (not the actual gift, although they will horn in on it. It’s a Brand.New.Toy!)… and for me.

To keep the magic alive.


For an outstanding (and hilarious) conversation about the pros and cons of Santa, check out the Voices at Babble: Is Santa a hero, or just a big lie? Read and weigh in. I know where I stand.

Santa Conundrum No. 1: The Letter

The following is the letter that Flora dictated to her Tadone (my FIL). I saw it for the first time last Thursday. I didn’t change any of the spelling or phrasing.

Santa Clause
North Pole, U.S.A.

Dear Santa Clause,

I know you are very busy working on toys for all the good children of the world.

I have be a pretty good girl this year and I would like to ask you if you would bring me some Christmas gifts this year.

1. May I please have a Barbie doll this year.
2. May I also have a fidget too.
3. And, do you have enough room in your bag for a “Rock Star Set”?
4. And for the most special Christmas Gift you could give me this year is a Small doggie, that is puppish and kind of grown-uppie.
Santa if you send me these gifts this year I will forever love and I promise to be a good girl for Mommy and Daddy.
Thank you very much,
Flora Maria Mangine


Yes, I cried after reading it. #softie

I have no idea what a “fidget” or a “Rock Star Set” is.

The girls are each getting a bicycle and a board game. In addition, Flora is getting a book and Kate is getting a DVD. The bicycles plus their stocking stuffers are their Santa gifts.

I am wondering if there is going to be fallout for not getting anything on this list. I am also wondering (and talking with Dan about) how to handle said fallout. If any.

I have allowed (?) my children to believe in Santa, obviously. I like the magic of Santa, I always have, even when I realized Santa, the red-suited Christmas Eve miracle worker, doesn’t exist as such. And I don’t really recall that Santa has brought specifically requested gifts in the past, but it probably didn’t matter because 1. This is Flora’s first actual letter to Santa and 2. They were probably too young to remember what all they asked for.

My children have always been pleased with their gifts on Christmas Day. We’ve always been clear that Santa only brings them one gift (the others are from Mommy and Daddy.) And we don’t go overboard (more on that later this week).

But I just wonder if some of Flora’s wonder will be different when she sees what’s under the tree this year. And how to appropriately talk about it with her (if we need to).

Do you let your kids believe in Santa? When does the doubt creep in, and how, and what do you do about it?

Meatless Monday: A Quick Link and a Holiday Loaf

I mentioned on Twitter that I was making Pretzel Dogs (with soy dogs, or as we call them at my house, not dogs) this weekend, and got a lot of “Those sound delicious!” and “Do you have the recipe?”

Yes, and I got it here. And they were delicious.


I made the following recipe for Thanksgiving, and it might be perfect for Christmas, too.

Nutty Lentil Loaf
(adapted from The Vegetarian Times Cookbook)

1 cup dry lentils
3 cups water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2/3 cup chopped carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
1/3 cup chopped celery (about 1 stalk)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unsalted raw cashews, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp. dried thyme

In a medium saucepan, cook the lentils in the water until soft, about 45 minutes. Set aside. Saute the garlic in oil; add carrots and celery. Simmer, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the lentils, vegetaable mixture, remaining ingredients. Spoon into an oiled loaf pan. Bake until firm, 30 to 40 minutes.

This makes a nicely flavored not-meat loaf, in my opinion. Of course, it is delightful smothered with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. But what isn’t?

Random Thoughts: The Siblings Edition

Monday evening, I had to take Michael to the doctor. He’s got *another* ear infection. I made arrangements for my ILs to pick up Kate, but I decided Flora would be fine to come with us to the pediatrician.

That was a mistake. She couldn’t — or wouldn’t — sit still or be quiet. I had to repeatedly ask her to stop interrupting the doctor and me. It was frustrating all the way around. After my tenth “Flora, please sit over there”, she went into a funk.

“You care about Michael most,” she pouted.

I gave her a “mom look”, and she subsided. Once we were back in the car, I addressed the issue.

“Flora, you know that I don’t care most about Michael. I care about and love all of you the same amount.”

“I know.”

“But right now, Michael is sick, so I have to focus on him more. Okay?”

“Okay. Can I play Angry Birds on your phone?”


Then this happened:

We went to Target to pick up the prescription for Michael.

Flora was pushing the cart, with me guiding her. As we paused to look at something, a woman walked up to the cart, and cooed over Michael.

Flora, starting straight ahead, said, “I knew this would happen.”
“What?” I asked, although I thought I knew.
“This.” Flora pointed between the woman and Michael. The woman was looking on in amusement.
“Someone admiring your adorable little brother?” I asked.
The woman spoke up. “You have beautiful blue eyes,” she said to Flora.
“Say thank you, Flora.”
“Thank you.”

We bid the woman a nice evening, and headed home.


I suppose having siblings is hard. The amount of bickering in my house drives me batty. I don’t remember that level of antagonism with my sibs (Dr. Bro and Dr. Sis) growing up. But, hey, maybe I repressed the memories.

Kate knows exactly how to bother Flora and sets about pushing her buttons. Flora cannot ignore the bait, and whines at Kate to stop — whatever it is. This, obviously (to the adult me), encourages Kate to continue her behavior.

Kate continues her acting out ways, especially when either Flora or Michael get the bulk of my attention. Hey, even negative attention (especially the one I am most prone to, yelling) is attention!

And Michael. He just kind of hangs out and takes it in. I have no idea if I am neglecting him, babying him, harming him by making him wait a little bit? No clue. Out of all my babies, I think he’s the one who has cried the most to date, because sometimes when he’s crying (hungry or, more likely, tired) I’m still in the midst of something with one of the other ones. Poor baby boy.

It’s a damn good thing they’re cute.

A Boy and His Sisters

Project: Food Budget Week 11

Food Budget Piggybank

The only shopping (for food) we did last weekend was the grocery store. So it was okay we went over budget, right?

I budgeted $125 for the trip, but Dan spent $218. Of course, that included lavender essential oil, two bottles at $11 each, and a dish towel. So, actually, that gets us closer to our budget, coming in at … *whips out calculator* … $191. We didn’t go to Costco at all, which not only saved us some money, but means the girls have been drinking water with lunches instead of chocolate milk. Which on the sugar end is good, but on the calcium end is not.

I did pick up a case of beer, too, Sierra Nevada Celebration, for about $30.

Let’s look at a couple other factors.

1. Formula feeding and baby food purchases are ended. (Can I get an amen?) After a bit of a rocky start, Michael has adjusted to milk (2%, organic). I sometimes mix it with a little bit of soy drink, which is what the girls drink (long story). He is doing very well with finger foods, and — like his sisters before him — seems to like everything. So, that’s going to help out the budget.

2. Food waste and menu planning: I am throwing out far less food lately. I am freezing things, cooking vegetables right away, using all the fruit, and so on. This is a big plus. The only exception was that minestrone soup I mentioned last week. It came out of the freezer very mushy, so I did end up tossing a good deal of it.

I am discovering new menu items through this project, which is great. I still haven’t gotten around to baked oatmeal, which I know my family will love, but last night I did kale chips for the first time ever. So while I still have my fall-back recipes, I am extending my reach. I’m glad the girls will pretty much try anything with an open mind. They end up liking 90% of what I make.

3. Eating out. Dan has gotten better at bringing snacks from home to get him through the day, and then eating at home. With some holiday-related activities, though, the eating out budget has spiked a little bit. Gotta keep that under control.

Almost three months in, I am really happy with this project. We have definitely reigned in spending, we’re wasting far less food, and I’m sloooowly getting better at menu planning.

Plus, I discovered a whole new bunch of online writers!

Let’s see how they did this week.

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* What da Health?
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* Ignition Nutrition
* A Nice Heart and a White Suit
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Whole Living Gal
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy
* That’s Just Me

Baby Shoes!

As is the way of the walking baby, Michael went from one or two steps, to five or 10 tentative steps, to walking (toddling) across rooms.

I tend not to put my babies in shoes too early. I like them to really be walking (relatively) well before handicapping them all over again. It was getting to be time — Michael has been managing to get to his feet without pulling up on something — but I was still procrasinating.

DCL took care of it for me:

Could you just die of the cute?