No Plan

I had everything planned through Sunday evening. The travel plans had to be rearranged because of the weather, but Thanksgiving in North Carolina was successful, as was Michael’s third birthday party. Which is impressive considering we were coming back from a 4-day trip.

I didn’t plan on getting a wicked cold. When I get a cold, it starts in my throat. It is so painful. It started Sunday, and has continued. I’m drinking honeyed tea and downing Tylenol and ibuprofen like my life depends on it. And trying not to talk.

And now, I have no plan. Which is only problematic because Christmas is 22 days away, and I still have the bulk of my shopping, baking, and decorating to do.

It’s going to be tricky. I feel like I only have Saturdays to work with (and Sundays, I guess, depending). I’ll do most of my shopping online, so that’s okay. But I do want to do some homemade gifts and baking with the girls, and that will take a good solid afternoon. Or two.

I’m decorating in dribs and drabs. I don’t even know what all I have to decorate with because of last year’s basement backup. Fortunately most of the ceramic decorations were at Dan’s office and did not get ruined. I’m dreading going into what remains of the basement (Dan has managed to strip most of the basement down to concrete.)

And is it terrible to admit that I don’t want to do anything social this month? I will, of course (she said as several people cross her off their to-invite list). I just want to hunker down, do holiday stuff with my family, and not hire my babysitters very often.

My children are at interesting ages. Flora is becoming more worldly and sophisticated while also being firmly a child who wants to play. She likes to be alone; she is excited that she can start reading the Harry Potter series. (She asked to read the Hunger Games books, and I said no.) She doesn’t believe in Santa anymore, but she is totally willing to encourage her siblings to believe. When it comes to helping me during the holidays, she may or may not be willing.

On the other hand, Kate will delight in helping me. If she can have 100 percent of my attention while making salted caramel to give away to family members, she’ll be in. She’ll help me bake without complaining. I think she is on the fence about Santa, but she has not expressed her doubt out loud.

And Michael. Michael will be tough. He will *want* to help, so I’ll have to find something for him to do. Or he’ll want to play directly under my feet, of course. He’s totally on board with Santa, although he’s a little hazy on the details. Decorating with M around will be interesting as well. To M, all the world is a toy.

Anyhoo, I guess I better kick this cold and get to list making. Happy Holidays!

Do you have a plan for December, or are you just winging it?

PS: I forgot to remind people to comment as November wound down. However, I did get 40 comments (not counting my own replies) and so the Greater Community Food Bank will get $200 from us as a donation this year.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Halloween

While there are plenty of things to love about Halloween (costumes, candy, parties, oh my!), there are some things that just bug me about Halloween. I wrote about it for my friend Kim. I want to thank Kim for asking me to participate in her Halloween series, Listing Toward Halloween. It’s been fun reading everyone’s take on this holiday.

I also want to thank my mom for that fabulous costume pictured with the post. I tried to get one of the girls to wear it, but their PC-meter must be way more sensitive than mine ever was.

A few ironies to note for Halloween 2013:
1. Trick-or-treat is actually on Halloween this year — tonight, for those keeping track!

2. We did NOT carve pumpkins.

We had every intention of carving pumpkins; as a matter of fact, we were going to do it this past Sunday.

My children have had their pumpkins since October 19. Kate even had a green one because she was going to carve an Angry Birds pig. I kid you not.

The pumpkins were victimized this week by the local critters that live around our house. From the size and positioning of the holes, I’m guessing chipmunk.

3. I did do some heavy construction on the girls’ costumes this year. Come back to see pictures tomorrow.

Here are my favorites from the Listing Toward Halloween series (aside from my own, of course):

Halloween apologies (I could’ve written the costumes one).

Trick-or-treat defeat: The life and times of a Halloween failure.

Halloween costumes for men with glasses.

Halloween Dance: A Poem.

Read through them all. Someone probably feels the same way you do about Halloween!

And have a happy and safe evening of trick-or-treating.

What do you like the most about Halloween?


I am thankful for the little physical beings of my children in the world. Their clear brows and bright eyes and shiny hair. I am thankful for good health. (Knock on wood.)


I am thankful for the man I share all these riches with.


I am thankful for sane families. We’re not perfect, but we are all perfectly fine. I don’t have to dread anything except bad traveling weather at the holidays.


I would like to be thankful for my new bathroom, but in the meantime, I will be thankful that I have to cross a few feet of grass in the mornings to get a shower.


I am thankful for in-laws who clean my kitchen floor, and parents who come down to help me get ready for parties.


I am thankful for blog readers and commenters and Twitter friends. I am thankful for all my friends IRL, too. I hope we all get to raise a glass together over the holiday season, even if it’s just at the same time and not necessarily the same place.


And I am thankful for conversations like this:

Kate: That’s Liam. He was Batman. We didn’t actually kiss, no, no.
Me: You know you’re not allowed to kiss anyone not in your family, right?
Kate: Right. For now. I can when I’m older. When people have boyfriends and girlfriends.
Me: Sure. When you’re older.
Kate: Like 10.
Me: Like 16.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Stay safe, stay sane, and give thanks for the little things.

Back-to-School: The Schedule, Mine Edition

First, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. You all gave me encouragement, and some good ideas. I really appreciate it.

Second, in addition to my attempts to create a routine and good habits for my children, I decided that I needed to do the same for me. Having a nanny taught me the value of a neat house and organization, and I don’t want that to slip away.

My biggest challenge is to STICK WITH THIS. I want to get lazy, but getting lazy will lead bad places. Bad, disorganized, highly stressed out places.

Here are the general goals each day:

Empty the dishwasher in the morning, and put the breakfast dishes in. This means I come home to a clean kitchen.

Help the children get through the evening without losing my shit. Mileage varies on this one. Pickup and drive time seem to be particularly fraught.

Have a weekly meal schedule (I’m still tweaking this) so I’m not leaving work panicking about what I’m going to feed my children for dinner.

Clean kitchen, go through evening routine with kids, M in bed by 7:30, girls in bed by 8-8:30.

Finish cleaning kitchen, and PACK LUNCHES FOR THE NEXT DAY. This one is big, and it’s the one thing in the evening that I most want to not do sometimes. I just have to keep in mind that i really does not take that long, and it makes mornings so much better.

My goal is to be able to watch a little TV or read each night, and go to bed by 10 p.m.

Now, each evening of the week, the kids and I will have a chore: Monday, put away clean laundry; Tuesday, clean upstairs bathroom; Wednesday, vacuum; Thursday, clean downstairs bathroom; Friday, get all dirty laundry to Bella’s. Weekends are for cleaning rooms and vacuuming upstairs, plus paperwork, especially organizing and paying bills. I have to get better at this too (the organizing part, not the paying part).

So far, Thursdays are the worst days because they are the longest. After I pick up the children, I have to also get my CSA veggies. This puts us home after 6 p.m. Not coincidentally, this is also leftovers night.

Does it seem like I’m missing anything? Before you ask, Dan has weekly chores, too, and he also needs to stick with them. We, as a family, are refocusing on team work right now.

Back To School: The Schedule, Kids’ Edition

Last week was our first full week with the fall schedule (that means girls at school and Michael at daycare). It felt like a full-out sprint.

I am working hard to help myself and help my children with the transition back to fall. It’s been rocky so far. Lots of deep breaths on my part. My goal is to have a routine that the children can stick to. It needs to be simple and flexible.

One of my worries in general is that due to work and school and homework and activities and so on, that our kids are turning into little worker bees instead of little kids.

Flora has a test or quiz nearly every day of the week — math, English, spelling (a pretest and a test), science (every other week), and so on. It worries me, and I don’t want to pass my anxiety onto Flora. Not that she can’t do the work, she can — she’s very smart. But that The Work will just be the goal, instead of actual learning, and taking joy in learning.

Kate I am less worried about. She’s in full-day kindergarten, but she only has a page of homework once or twice a week. She usually comes home singing the songs they learn in her classroom. She is having a blast.

And Michael! Well, here’s a good thing: he transitioned very well back into his daycare. To date, he has not cried when I’ve dropped him off in the morning. He seems to be excited to see the toys and the care givers and other kids.

Here’s the crappy thing: He’s not getting enough rest. He’s sleeping between 10 and 11 hours at night (I try to get him in bed at 7:30 every night); during the day, he’s gone from 2 to 3 hour naps to 1 1/2 hour naps (if we’re lucky, 2). Evenings with him are very difficult — tantrums, meltdowns, clinginess. And he’s TIRED. He’s rubbing his eyes by 6 p.m. some nights.

Evenings in general are very difficult right now. I am the sole Parent On Duty, Monday through Thursday. What I need, especially from Flora and to a lesser extent from Kate, is some self-sufficiency and self-motivation. To help, I have a schedule to help them develop new habits.

We’re still learning it. I have told the girls that until they develop these good habits, there is no night time television. I have tried to be firm and consistent. I try not to yell.

I have held firm on television. I sometimes yell in frustration. But I’m trying.

Here’s the general outline:

When we get home, they have to get their stuff out of the car.
Once in the house, Flora should go to the dining room to start her homework. Kate needs to go to another room to play, or do her homework quietly with Flora. I give everyone a snack if they want.
While I make dinner, Kate has to occupy herself, Michael has to play or eat his snack, Flora should do her homework. Mileage varies so far.
Then we have dinner, clear the table. Sometimes the girls have a quick chore (putting their clean clothes away, running the vacuum). Then bath, books, bed. The end.

Here are the problems so far: Flora has a very difficult time focusing on her homework at home. She does fine in school because everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. But at home, her brother and sister are playing (or having a meltdown — I’m looking at you, Michael), and she is constantly distracted from her work. I am trying to make dinner. Kate has a very hard time leaving Flora alone.

What should be 15-20 minutes of homework a night gets stretched to an hour, sometimes more. Flora is constantly interrupting herself to get a drink, get a snack, complain about something, whinge about Kate. I am constantly chasing Kate away from the dining room or kitchen. Michael, feeling neglected (and probably hungry and tired) throws a fit.

I’m an awesome mom, by the way.

To date, since full-time school has started, the children have not had a night time show (not counting Fridays. They can do whatever the hell they want on Fridays, I honestly don’t care as long as no blood is shed). We do not get outside time at all. We really don’t get much downtime in the evenings in general, actually. I feel like it’s a full-out sprint (again) from picking up the children to bedtime.

And, frankly, I don’t know if there’s a damn thing I can do about it.

Are my expectations too high? Should I just give into the sprint until the weekends? Any ideas? Or should I just suck this up for the next nine months? (*sob*)

More later this week on MY schedule, and what I’m trying to do to help myself.

Random Thoughts: The Vacation Wrap-Up Edition

The five-day trip to Seven Springs was a nice little getaway for the family. The kids had a really good time. Dan and I did, too, although the only downside to the trip was that Dan and I didn’t get to spend much time together. We split POD time, and between naptimes and bedtimes, one of us was usually at the place while the other was either out with the other kids or visiting other family.

Saturday night we had thought to go up to the Rib and Wing Fest (yes, I know, the irony of a vegetarian at a Rib and Wing Fest) to see Bill Deasy. And we did go, but since we also went up with my parents and the kids, we spent a little more time with the kids than watching Deasy. And then although my mom was going to stay at the place with the kids after bedtime, Dan was wiped out from a late Friday night (or should I say Saturday morning?), so stayed there, too. I went a’visiting since it was our last night.


Michael napped, and Michael slept through the night (except on Sunday, when he decided at 5:30 a.m. he wanted to sleep with/on me). That made a huge impact on the trip, the fact that Dan and I could really sleep (or, during naptime, take turns chilling). One morning, Flora even came in the room and got M out of the pack’n’play without waking Dan or me up! So when (if) we didn’t get adequate rest, it was our own fault. Of course, Thursday night I was so tired that since I was POD, I went to bed at 10 p.m. Whoo, vacation party time!


Let’s see. We swam, played mini-golf, and played games in the arcade. We had waffles and pancakes with my sister-in-law and the four boys. The children ate a lot of mac’n’cheese and french fries. Flora got WAY too tired, and had a couple of melt downs. (Yeah, Flora, my eldest child.) We took the family photo. All-in-all it was great to catch up and see everyone. Dan had two nights out, and I had two nights out. Everyone commented on how adorable M is (it’s true, he is).


The girls loved going to the pool, of course. M was ambivalent about it. He went in a couple of times, but was content to sit on the side of the pool with me and some snacks.

I don’t really like swimming with the kids. I’m not really crazy about swimming in general, so although I am able, it’s not something I do unless I have to. Thank goodness for swim lessons.

On Saturday, after the family photo and lunch, M went in for a nap, and I took the girls to the pool. They swam for nearly three hours straight. I sat in a lounge chair or on the side of the pool and watched them. My parents were on me a little bit about letting the girls go in the water alone, but I was keeping track of them. And, they weren’t really alone. When we go up to Seven Springs, we pretty much take over one of the pools. So Flora and Kate were in the pool with about a dozen or so of their cousins, with lots of adults watching.


I did not take many pictures. I’ll have to look around and steal some from Facebook or see what my mother emails to me. However, I did capture a little of the family photo chaos:

The photographer is up on the ladder. We’ve already taken the BIG family photo, and now he’s getting a shot of the people who were not in the picture we took 12 years ago. That included a couple of spouses (like Dan) and most of the kids, whom we refer to as the 3rd Generation.

Here’s Kate and Michael during a pause in the action, and Kate’s expression pretty much says, “Now what, mom??” But she, Flora, and Michael did very well during the photos, which took about an hour, hour and a half. Thank goodness, once more, for snacks, including (at the end) red velvet cupcakes for a birthday.


My sister traveled from North Carolina with her husband, her teenage stepdaughter, a friend of the stepdaugher, and two dogs. In a Honda Civic.

Her dogs are Boston terriers, and one of them, Buddy, is at least 15 years old. Maybe 18, I forget. And is literally on his last legs.

I cried when I said goodbye to him. I’m sure it was for the last time. He’s been a good dog, and he’s probably literally saved my sister when she has been in dark places.

We’ll never forget you, Buddy.


Did I mention the arcade? While there are a few video games and pinball machines, the arcade at Seven Springs is largely given over to games that award tickets (skee ball, Deal or No Deal, a game where you can torpedo boats). By the end of the day Friday, Flora had 2500 tickets, and Kate had 800. Mostly through pure luck — it didn’t cost nearly as much as you might think. One machine had a 1000 ticket space — and Flora hit it twice. Kate got lucky on a couple other machines, plus shot the rainbow boat.

I helped them “shop” before we left on Sunday. They didn’t do too terribly (meaning I steered them away from the worst of the plastic junk).


What do you like to do best on vacation?

Meatless Monday: CSA Edition

I am reposting this because I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what CSA means, especially from other people doing the Project: Food Budget with me. I made some minor edits to make it more current.

I’ll just state upfront that joining a CSA is one of the best things I have done for my family. The quality of the produce we receive is incomparable to store-bought produce. We also get coffee and cheese, and I am exploring the possibility of getting beef and chicken (which we would share with my in-laws). I can’t think of enough good things to say.

If you don’t have a CSA in your area, another way to get the freshest produce is to frequent farmers markets. Just an idea if you are trying to go local and/or organic in the produce aisle.

It’s Michael Pollan‘s fault I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.

I am sure I am not alone in declaring that.

In the summer of 2009, I ended up on the waiting list of Kretschmann Organic Farm. That winter they contacted me, and I started receiving winter boxes, which were chock full of winter veggie and fruit goodness (apples, squash, potatoes, carrots).

I started receiving their summer season boxes in the summer of 2009. And I love them.

As Dan stated one other day at dinner, “This is how salad is supposed to taste.” Flora, likewise, has declared salads made with their greens, “the best salad I’ve ever tasted.” [Kate, too, loves her salads now.]

This pleases me to no end, for obvious reasons. We’ve gotten mesclun greens, bibb lettuce, arugula, and green leaf lettuce, as well as spinach. So, so good.

The trickiest thing about receiving so much tasty, fresh, organic produce and herbs is, simply, using it all. [To solve this problem, I’ve started splitting my boxes with my sister-in-law and her family. Often my MIL will also get some goodies, like basil, blueberries, and soon beef.]

I’ve twice had to ditch the Swiss chard because it wilted before I could saute it with garlic. I wanted to make pesto with the sweet pea greens I got the first week, but they wilted before I got to them too.

Much of this, of course, is not having tons of time to cook throughout the week, or for that matter, the weekend. I’ve started making it more of a priority, though, because it’s too depressing to lose these fresh greens. We chow down on salads pretty steadily Thursday through Monday (Thursday is the day I pick up my box), which means eating more at home, which in itself is a relief.

I was hoping to have some new recipes, too, but really, you all know how to make a salad.

I’ve also been getting beets, and here’s what you can do with beets (to my knowledge): roast ’em or boil ’em. We had boiled beets this past weekend (the kids won’t try them yet), and they were so good and sweet. Neither Dan nor I even put anything on them, no butter, no salt, no pepper. And they are super easy: cut off the greens, leaving about 2 inches of the tops; boil for about 40 minutes; cool and peel. [Update: Kate loves beets. LOVES. Asks if I am making any. Eats about a whole beet when I do. I’ve also made a beet soup with sour cream that is delicious.]


We’ve been getting strawberries, too, and all you need to know about strawberries is they don’t last a day in my house. Between the four of us, we pretty much devour them instantly. I barely get them washed before the kids are eating them — straight, no sugar. [I am betting that Michael will like them too.]

I’d love to get some and have them last long enough to make muffins, but so far, I haven’t managed to hide them fast enough.

I’ll try harder with the blueberries, due to start showing up this week.

I not going to get up on any type of locavore, organic foods soapbox here — there are plenty of activists and authors out there who have intelligent, interesting things to say (Michael Pollan being right up there). I’ll just leave you with the first line from Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, which is pretty much all you need to know:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Do you shop at farmers markets or get produce from a CSA? What’s your favorite thing to do with produce?

Random Thoughts: More Sibling Issues

Flora gets to do stuff that Kate doesn’t get to do.

Flora got a DSi for Christmas when she was 6. Flora got her first sleepover (for her birthday) when she turned 7. Flora and I sometimes have events to attend at her school, while I have to leave the younger sibs at home with a babysitter. Flora bowls every other Sunday. Dan usually takes her.

This is difficult for Kate, watching her sister go off and do stuff she can’t do yet.

Kate does not like to be alone. Ever. At all. She won’t go upstairs by herself. Or stay in the kitchen by herself (and Michael in his high chair doesn’t count some days). There are times she won’t even go pee by herself. (This is the habit of hers I am trying hardest to break.) And forget going to bed by herself. Not happening.

Flora’s already asking when she gets to have a room to herself (again).

Saturday night, Flora got invited to sleep over at a friend’s house. In a couple of weeks, she has a Father-Daughter dance that she is going to attend at her school.

Part of me wants to do special things with Kate in direct reaction to these special events. Flora goes on a sleepover; Kate and I go get pedicures. Dan and Flora have a special event; Kate and I go see a movie. Just her and me.

But another part of me wonders if this is a good strategy. After all, Flora is going to get to do stuff that Kate won’t get to do for a number of years yet.

I honestly don’t know what to do, if anything.

Also, I may have already told Kate that we were going to get pedicures on Sunday.

Should Kate get special things because her sister gets special things? Should she just get special things — or special time — because each kid needs special time? Or does she have to just suck it up until it is her turn?

Weekend Update: Skating Edition

On Sunday, we attended a birthday party for Niece and Nephew at a local roller skating rink.

This was the first time (to my knowledge) that my girls had been on roller skates. I felt a little bad for my husband because he was going to have to help them around the rink with no backup help from moi.

But the girls surprised me. After a couple of times around with Daddy (and after we traded Kate’s regular roller skates for those plastic ones you can put on with shoes), they went off on their own. I think for most of the second hour we were there, they made their way around without adult help. (Except for the guy who has to help Flora up in the first video.)

Some things I learned:

1. My BIL-IL can skate backwards. I didn’t even know he could skate forward.
2. Nephew, in his own words, “is like a cheetah out there on my skates.”
3. Aside from the music, roller skating rinks have not changed in… oh, 30-some years.
4. My children can limbo on roller skates. I don’t know where they picked that up.
5. Kate is unstoppable. I mean, I knew that, but she demostrated it in spades on Sunday.
6. Even being afraid of falling and hitting her head did not stop Flora.

Sorry about the crappy camera work, but I think I managed to capture the fun and delight of the experience. I couldn’t exactly run (or skate, obvs) alongside.

I really could not have been prouder of the girls. They dithered at first, and Flora was whining a little bit when she first started, but once Dan & I explained that skating was something they had to learn, that they wouldn’t be able to do it without some practice, they got into it.

Now they want to know when we’re going back.

Public Service Announcement

An open letter to husbands:

Your wife’s birthday is a very, very special day. And it should be treated accordingly.

It is the day that the beautiful woman whom you charmed (and/or conned) into marrying you was born.

It is the day that (in many cases) the mother of your children was brought into this world. Which means, also, that it is the day that your green bean supplier was born.

You like green beans, don’t you?

Go to the calendar — now, go — and mark the day of your wife’s birth on it. Big, bold lettering — use a sharpie, maybe a couple of stickers. Make it stand out on your palm pilot — have it play her favorite song on your work computer calendar.

On the day of your wife’s birthday, do something special. Actually, do whatever she decides she wants to do to make it special.

If it’s on a weekend, get up, and get yourself and the kids out of the house. Let her sleep in on her birthday. You and the kids can pick up her present now, or some cards, maybe even a birthday cake. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but chocolate will probably win you some points.

Do something that lets her know you are aware that it is her special day, and that you, too, celebrate the day that she was born. Send flowers to the office. Leave a wrapped present under her pillow. Make her breakfast, or lunch, or dinner.

Hire a babysitter and take her out. Or send the kids to your parents’ (or her parents’) house over night, and stay in. Light some candles.

Buy her a spa certificate. Or even better: schedule her a spa day on her birthday. Drop her off, and let her know you’ll come get her in a couple of hours.

Do not, under any circumstances, do something you want to do on her birthday. Do not buy her a present that you would like for her birthday. I understand that sometimes husbands get confused and think what they like is what their wives like. Please disabuse yourselves of this notion, stat. (Credit: BurghBaby)

And if your wife wants to go out to dinner with you and the kids, then go. Even if it means going up to the horribly crowded consumer mecca nearby. Entertain the children during the wait, eat at a family-friendly place. Take them to the germ pit at the mall and let your wife shop for a little bit. It’s her birthday.

If you are angry with your wife, put it aside. Please do not ruin her birthday by fighting with her — or fight with her early enough that you can get it all out of the way soon, before dinner or her spa day. You have a right to your anger, but she has the right to her special day. Work it out.

Remember: Birthdays are not just for children. (Credit: ClumberKim)

Also remember: Before you and the children came along, her birthday was a day all for her, a day that she probably set aside to do something on her own: go to a museum or a movie, or spend a day in a bookstore or a coffee shop, reading a book.

Christmas is about the kids (and baby Jesus); everyone does something special on Valentine’s Day; Easter is a weird day to give gifts; Mother’s Day… she tends to think that’s for your mother (you have to train the kids to treat her special on this one). One day out of the year, her birthday should be “her day”. You have the power to make it so. You can make it or break it, buddy.

Make it.

Let it all be about her and whatever she wants.

Love it. Love her. Show it. Celebrate it.

She deserves it.