18 July 2013


Just checking in to see if my password still works. I honestly can't believe that you can leave a blog to languish in silence for TWO YEARS and it will still be there when you come back. Lucky for me, that's true.

I'll make this quick. Because who knows when I'll be back in here (hopefully soon, but I've learned to make no promises).

I started writing this blog mostly because I need to WRITE, and this is a handy outlet. But the other very big reason for writing is to commiserate with others on the simple fact that the job of raising kids, feeding their minds and their bodies, is impossibly difficult. In fact, more often than not, I feel like I'm groping around in the darkness for the "right" answer to whatever child-raising dilemma I find myself in.

The good news is that, more often than not, the answers I finally do settle on seem not to have scarred my children in any horrific or noticeable way. In fact, they seem rather happy most of the time. And they tell me and show me they love me without much prompting.

When I started this blog, I was the proud mama of a preschooler (Jules) and a baby (Kasper). Jules was high energy and intense, curious, and a hair-rippingly super picky eater. Kasper was the polar opposite of his brother: mellow, happy, eater-of-everything. Nature, nurture, and perhaps some wicked spells cast on myself and my children by no-doubt-childless people changed some of that for us. Jules is still intense and active, but at 7 1/2 will try almost any food, even the spicy stuff, eats a HUGE array of foods, and is even concerned with nutritional value. Kasper, now 4 3/4, is a bundle of stubborn energy, and has made a mission out of redefining my idea of what super picky is. He eats not a single vegetable (unless you count black beans in a burrito) save for the ones I hide in his smoothie, has only recently been able to eat cheese that is not melted on pasta or pizza, refuses to eat more than one type of food at a time, is visibly distressed by having two foods share the same plate, you get the idea.

Before you all jump into the comments section to give me advice (yeah, I assume a couple of people might read this), I can tell you right now that I've tried:

1. Putting vegetables (or whatever else I want him to try) on his plate at every meal, leaving it up to him to decide what he eats.

2. Not giving him an alternate meal. The "this is what's for dinner" approach.

3. Presenting vegetables (or whatever else) in novel and/or cute ways.

4. Putting him in peer-influenced situations, so he can get cues from other kids who are "better eaters" than he is on what's OK to try.

5. Insisting that he must eat what's on his plate before he can have more of anything else. 

6. Cajoling. From the mild ("just lick the broccoli and then you can have more pasta") to severe ("no dessert, then!" -- ok, it's Papa who resorts to this one, actually, without my blessing).

7. Throwing up my hands and deciding he's too damn stubborn to deal with, that time will sort things out for me so long as I don't feed him a steady diet of sugar all day long.

Most days, I employ strategies 1 and 7. And it's works for me, since I know things worked out for Jules and will most likely work out for Kasper, too. But when I'm in the room with a "good eater," particularly one that is younger or the same age as my kid, those little creeping doubts enter in. I feel embarrassed, sad, annoyed, impatient with myself and my kid.

I hate that urge to compare my kids with others. Learning new things to try or new perspectives to adopt from other parents and kids, I love that. But comparing gets me nowhere except depressed. And it's a fine line between the two.

Wow, I've gone and written more than I planned. Go figure. 

09 December 2010

I made these

I am in awe of myself.

And that doesn't happen often, so when it does, I feel like I should throw myself a party. Maybe I should. But we'll get to that later.

For now, I'm happy with throwing Jules a party. I can hardly believe it myself, but in a few weeks, my baby will be turning FIVE YEARS OLD. There are days when I feel like walking around, jaw on the floor, in complete amazement that he's passed the crawling, babbling, pooping-and-peeing in a diaper stage. Then there are days when he seems to me to be wise well beyond his years. I wonder if I will always feel like this. Will we be having a conversation when he's 40 and I stop myself and say, "man, how did you get to be so smart? Those are words that should be coming from the mouth of a 60 year old and YOU'RE NOT THERE YET, my child." I hope. to. god. that we can have that conversation. That he'll still be amazing me. I'll still be a spry 74 year old, after all. And, even more importantly, I'll still be his mama, in love with him and all he has become (and has yet to become). Oh, I hope. I do hope. And I believe...

But back to the present, because it is here, right now, where we're having a lot of fun, where we're driving each other crazy, where we're living. Here. NOW. This is the place, the reason, for writing this damn blog, however sporadically. So back to the dolls.

Let me start by saying that I am really invested in these dolls. Too invested, probably, but I'm fine with that.

The doll on the right? Pippi Longstocking. Faceless. For now. And the doll on the left is Mr. Nilsson, Pippi's little monkey sidekick. I learned to sew to bring these dolls to life. As I type this, I realize how crazy boring domestic that sounds. But it's true. So let's back up.

About a month and a half ago, I took Jules to the kids section of our neighborhood video store and told him he could pick out a movie. For whatever reason, he was drawn to this random, 1990s, animated version of Pippi Longstocking. We rented it, he watched it, and he was hooked. Of course I was thrilled. Growing up, I'd had a very very vague notion of Pippi Longstocking, that she was something weird, something European, a girl about my age. But beyond that, nothing.

Then 30 years pass, and I have this almost five year old, a very spunky, very irreverant, somewhat bilingual, somewhat eccentric (in a good way) child who is, oddly to me, "turned on" to Pippi. It's like my lost childhood flooding back to me.

It helps, let me say, that Pippi is a little nine year old girl who has the strength of 10 men, that she flouts gender stereotypes, that she thumbs her nose at "tradition." And it's strange, I'll admit, that at 39 I am finally falling for Pippi, too. At nine, I was just not ready for her. At almost five, I am amazed to see, that my son..........is. Maybe not completely. Maybe he's just drawn to the lewd, crude bits and pieces of Pippi and doesn't get all of her nuances. I don't care. I am celebrating the fact that she caught his attention at all. And she grabbed mine along with it.

So when, four weeks ago, Jules asked for a Pippi Longstocking doll for his birthday, I was all over it. I first scoured the net, looking for something suitable, sure there would be something I could charge to my credit card and have waiting at my doorstep in a matter of days. Pippi Longstocking dolls exist, yes they do. But they're either outrageously expensive ($100 or more) or........... crocheted. Don't get me wrong. Crochet is fine for scarves and sweaters and potholders and such. But for dolls? I'd rather buy a macrame plant hanger with an owl ornament. So I knew if I were to make Pippi a reality for Jules, I'd have to make her myself.

My only problem, of course, was that I'd have to teach myself to sew.

The last time that I'd sewn anything (besides a ragged hem on a pair of pants) was when I was 13 and my step-mother was pregnant with my baby sister. I was in home economics, everyone else had chosen to sew a beach towel, and I presented my teacher with a complicated cloth doll pattern that I just "had" to have stitched by the end of the quarter. My sister was a December baby, born a week before classes ended for Christmas break, and I stayed up late into the night before our assignment was due, hastily stitching on a patchy bald yarn hair ponytail at the last minute so I could bring her to my baby sister in time, not knowing back then that a newborn baby couldn't even see, let alone hold, let alone 'ooooooh' and 'aaaaaaah' over the doll I'd labored to make.

Flash forward 26 years later, to an even more "urgent" sewing project.

Lucky for me I have a friend (thank you Sloan!!!!!!!!) who loves me and will make time for me and has tremendous patience AND knows how to sew. So I bought my fabric and felt and thread and ribbons on the faith that, if I tried and failed, or if I didn't even have the energy to try, she'd bail me out. She's the kind of friend who, on the eve of your son's FIFTH (or fourth, or third, or...) birthday party would stay up until 4am faithfully sewing whatever little project you'd already practically killed yourself on just to see a smile on your kids' face. She loves you, and loves your kid, that much. Luckily, I only stole a few hours of her blustery afternoon, learning to thread (wind? fill?) a bobbin, thread a needle, troubleshoot a snagged thread, backstitch, etc. etc. She ironed, ironed, ironed. Gave me well-timed advice. And I? I RAN WITH IT.

I started with this doll (by Larissa, at Mmmcrafts) a Lauren Child-inspired version, made from this video tutorial/pattern of a black apple doll. Halfway through making the doll, we realized that she had no neck and had to snip-and-improvise to give her one. I'd bought red felt and stiff red Christmas ribbons to make Pippi's braids, knowing that the wonkier they were made to look, the better, and Sloan gave me tips on putting them together. She was amazing--my cheering squad, my mentor, my best friend all rolled into one.

But I was the one who, ultimately, pulled it off. And for that, I am proud. I will, of course, be CRUSHED if Jules is not beyond thrilled with his present, and am trying to steel myself for inevitable disappointment now. But I am determined not to let any negative response on Jules's part diminish the pride I feel right now for having pulled it off. Bravo to me! Hip hip hip!? HOOOOORAAH!

For the rest of my story, I need to back up once again. So after I "finished" Pippi, I got bold. Jules was also enamoured of her little monkey sidekick, Mr. Nilsson, so I wanted to bring him to life, too. But not for Jules. I have a nephew, Aiden, who is just 18 months older than Jules. He is a bright, happy kid who loves to read, has boundless energy and imagination, just like his cousin, and who lives just far enough away from us for us to feel really disconnected. I'd drawn Aiden's name for our family Christmas drawing and thought, "what better way to create a connection between Aiden and Jules, between Aiden and I, than to share with him something that we are just now discovering, that we are just now starting to adore? So I made Mr. Nilsson for Aiden (based on another of Larissa's designs), from a pair of brown corduroy pants I have not fit into since I gave birth to his cousin, an old pillow case, and a stripy shirt that I've also, quite depressingly, outgrown. But c'est la vie. Life goes on. I'll be sending him Mr. Nilsson along with a Pippi Longstocking story book and a very fun Caspar Babypants CD (the lead singer of The Presidents of the United States of America) that we're all listening to, as his Christmas gift. I hope he loves all of it as much as we do.

And in the meantime, I'm cooking up another story. This one has to do, again, with a certain kid's fifth birthday party, and a pirate theme. But that's still in my future (this Saturday). Wish me luck.

11 November 2010

wheat free and me

Johan's out of town on business this week, so I decided, heck, why not make life extra hard and use the opportunity presented by his absence to give up wheat? I've been wanting to take on this little experiment for a while because I've been feeling chronically, anemically tired, and feeling just generally unwell off and on for, oh... forever. I mentioned this to my regular doctor and I get the feeling she thinks I'm borderline crazy (or a full-fledged hypochondriac) to think it could be diet-related. But I also know from experience seeing a naturopath, and from friends who have gone down that path, that one of the first things they suggest when a patient comes in with the sort of general malaise that afflicts me is to cut out wheat. Oh, and sugar, and caffeine. But I figure, why not just start with wheat and see where that leaves me?

So here I am, on my fourth day of wheat-freeness (third, actually, if you count the stale hot dog bun and beer I cheated with on the first day--so NOT worth it in case you were wondering). I feel no better. But it's still early. What I
do feel is a little like someone who is giving up some other, more "serious" vice, like smoking, drinking, or hard drugs. I stare at the cookies I'm handing to the kids and wonder if my will power alone can get me through the moment, or if I will break down and then scarf down half a dozen when they're not looking. It's unbelievable, really.

I'm guessing that, regardless of whether or not I'm actually gluten-intolerant (or have a gluten sensitivity), I WILL be feeling better because, along with cutting out the wheat, I'm also cutting a lot of the crap that goes with wheat out of my diet. I had no idea just how many foods containing wheat I was putting into my body every day. I ate wheat at every meal. And for just about every snack. And I feed my kids even more wheat than I consume myself. It seems a little... unnatural.

At the moment I'm doing double duty preparing meals and snacks. The kids still get the standard: bread, pasta, crackers, muffins, cookies. I get none of that. Their meals are easy compared to mine. Buttered bread and sliced fruit for breakfast, for me a bowl of oatmeal with yogurt, fruit and nuts. English muffins and eggs for them, and
huevos rancheros for me. The other night, they ate tortellini with bacon, peas and cheese, while I filled up on beans and rice. I keep telling myself that in Mexico I ate beans every day for weeks at a time, and I liked it. Still, I'm going to need to expand my repertoire soon.

It feels a little indulgent, being a short order cook for myself. Of course it will do my energy level no good in the long run to keep this up, but for now it's kind of fun.

On day two, feeling more curious than deprived, I made a loaf of gluten free ricotta potato bread in our bread machine. It was seriously vile-wet, spongey, with a strong aroma of glue. And the kicker was that I had to buy about $35 worth of ingredients to make something that ended up in the compost bin. It turned out to be more of a failed chemistry experiment than an exercise in baking. But practice makes perfect. Soon I'll work up the courage to try again. Or I won't. Who needs bread, anyway?

ME. Oh, really, I do. And cookies, and scones, and muffins, and those lovely buttery pastries they make at the bakery down the street. Deep down, I'm hoping that I won't feel immensely better after this little experiment, because a wheat-free life is immensely more complicated. I'll have to be very conscious of every morsel of food that passes my lips. And that sounds exhausting. But the idea of being (even more) purposeful about what I eat also feels a little freeing. Of course I can take that lesson with me either way.

I'll let you know how it goes.

04 November 2010

boo. chuckle. grunt. sparkle. *shazam*

Today we stripped our house of all of our Halloween decorations. It feels a bit like the end of Christmas to me, doing this. I always have such a hard time saying goodbye to Halloween. At our house, we've turned it into a month-long celebration that starts with raiding the storage boxes to dislodge skeletons and witches and ghostly garlands, continues with a parade of spooky drawings and lots of talk of creepy things (and even creepier talks about death and decay and mummification), and ends with another parade: of costumes, as Jules and Kasper (and their mama) decide what to be for each party, carnival or trot down the block we've signed them up for.

It fills me with glee to say that Jules shares my enthusiasm for Halloween, though keeping up with his racing imagination was a little exhausting for me this year. A lot of my energy these past few weeks was consumed in trying to gently steer him into
not being a pirate, or a knight, or some other manlier-than-manly-man that I thought my little four-going-on-five year old had no business wanting to be. Why couldn't he pick a cute little animal? A bumbling clown? Even a creepy skeleton or a dragon or dracula would have been better than the sword-wielding characters Jules kept throwing at me.

In desperation, I took him to a local costume store, just in time for the crush of Halloween crowds, with the only rule being that he could NOT choose a costume that accessorized itself with a weapon. I'm pretty sure he hated my guts that day. But he ended up choosing a glittery crown (which resembled, no doubt, pirate treasure) and cheesy "velvety" robe and dubbed himself a king. He loved that costume for all of half an hour. We tried to convince him that it was good to be the king, that kings were the bosses of knights, the looters of pirates. He wouldn't buy it. He wanted that sword. He even tried cutting a picture of a dagger out of one of his pirate coloring books and taping it to a pencil. Confiscated. We have a "no weapons" policy in our house, mostly to protect the eyes of Jules's little brother, but one that has eroded enough to allow floppy cardboard cutout swords from time to time.

A few days before Halloween, we lost the royal battle (but not the weapons war, which still rages). Jules announced he would not be a king and instead scrambled upstairs to hi-jack
MY Halloween costume. "I'm going to be a pot-bellied gnome," he decreed. Brilliant, I thought. And so worth giving it up to my pint-sized pal. I'm good at sharing. Sadly, this gnome was anything but jolly. But he warms my heart just the same.

Kasper, in the meantime, spent a total of twenty seconds in his costume, a hand-me-down from his brother that I'd bought in what can only be described as a Halloween-induced moment of shopping insanity. A ridiculous full-body gorilla costume. There's a gorilla-head hat that goes on top, but he ripped it off in a fit of rage before I could snap the photo.

To our great astonishment, Kasper decided that it WAS good to be the king, if only for the fact that he got to carry around a big whackable stick, er... royal scepter. Too bad Jules hadn't thought of
that, eh??

And, quite naturally, I suppose, just minutes before we needed to leave the house on the spooktastic day itself, Jules and Kasper teamed up to perform one last last minute costume switch: presto change-o: superheroes x 2.

I am slowly, ever so slowly, giving up my attachment to being the kind of mom who spends a month hand-crafting her childrens' costumes, the one garnering the "oooohs" and "aaaaaahs" of all her friends. I love her, that mom, but she most certainly does not have my kids. And my kids? Well, I love them most of all. Which is why next year, I'm thinking of being a bowling ball for Halloween. Maybe then I'll really be able to roll with it.

17 September 2010

hot bread

About three weeks ago, I bought a bread machine.

There, I said it. Now it's out there for everyone to read.

For some reason, I feel shame about this. Maybe it's because of the fact that it was a "one-click" impulse buy on Amazon.com (and now you know that I did not support my local community by shopping local--just more shame heaped on shame in this post). Maybe it's because I feel like delegating my bread baking to some "machine" makes me less of a cook. Maybe it's because our new Breadman Pro takes up two feet of counter space in our already cramped kitchen. Maybe it's an impossibly complicated amalgamation of all of these. It doesn't really matter. What really matters is that I have, in the last three weeks, not purchased a single loaf of squishy sandwich bread from the grocery store. And for that, I am proud.

I'm especially proud of the fact that I know what's going in to each loaf I make. I now get to be the one who decides how much fat, sweet, whole grain, whatever, our family is ingesting in each slice. I'm not sure exactly how I morphed into the lady who doesn't bother much with checking the labels because there are no labels, who poo-poohs as much processed food as possible. If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, I'd have told you that THAT lady was C-R-A-Z-Y paranoid and, most definitely, had
way too much time on her hands. In fact, I know for a fact that I passed judgment on THAT lady plenty of times, back when SHE was not ME.

But here I sit, munching on hot bread, just pulled from the machine minutes before, steaming and dotted with butter. And I'm smiling.

Not only can we have fresh, hot bread whenever we want it, but we can devour dinner rolls and make pizza that rivals some of the best take-out places around. In fact, Jules told his babysitter, who has become accustomed to popping a frozen pizza in the microwave for the kids on the nights she watches them during dinner time, that he no longer wants the frozen stuff, and that he prefers "fresh" pizza now. I've even considered making a couple of extra "fresh" pizzas and then freezing them to have them on hand for situations like this. Maybe things are getting out of hand...

But I think I've reached the point of no return. It's been a slow metamorphosis, after all. But I find myself getting really comfortable with the idea that yes, most of the jam we eat will have been made by me in the summer months, that we'll always have a vegetable garden, and that it will only get bigger as years pass.

And that's all got me smiling, too. Smiling because fresh bread, fresh jam, fresh-from-the-garden fruits and veggies taste better, but smiling, also, because I'm starting to learn things about myself and how to manage busy days with busy little people and still feed us all what I now believe is "proper food." Some of this requires cutting corners, coming to terms with the fact that baking my own bread from scratch, kneading it with my own hands, while an immensely satisfying tactile and olfactory experience, will no doubt turn me into THAT (crazy) lady I so envy but am so loathe to become. So my bread baking is now pretty much restricted to the "whir-whir-SHAKE" and (very obnoxious) "BEEP----BEEP" of the Breadman Pro.

Seems like a small sacrifice to make.

02 August 2010

apricot jam's back in town (oh, and so am I, I think)

So it took an apricot to get me back here. And I don't even
like apricots. After Durian, they are possibly my least favorite fruit in the world.

But last year I made the brilliant discovery that
cooked apricots are sublime fruits. Cooking an apricot (and adding sugar in the process, no doubt) does something to the texture that makes a mealy, mushy, chewy, tart lump of orange something tantamount to a nectar of the gods, at least for me. That year I gorged on apricot cake with fresh cream and made my very first successful batch of jam. And the apricot won my heart in the process.

This year when the signs went up at our corner produce stand announcing apricots for cheap, my heart actually started racing. I started thinking of all sorts of ideas on how to get myself there so I could fill the biggest basket I could find. This is no small feat for me these days. I've tried to pop into the store with Kasper a few times this year and it's always ended in disaster, with him tossing baskets of fresh berries on the floor, fondling every soft stone fruit within reach, and, finally, screaming his head off as I restrain him so I can just get to the cash register and pay for the one thing I've managed to grab while fending him off the cherries.

my naked chef (no, he didn't touch any actual jam fruit)

I have to stop to tell you that, while I'm typing this post, I can hear the gorgeous *pop*of jam jars sealing next to me. It's quiet in our house, save for the buzz of the exhaust fan and the murmur of the TV in the other room. Both boys are asleep. Neither went tonight without a fight. Some things just don't seem to change.

And of course one of the things I'm happy to see stay the same, forever if you please, is the return of the apricot. After another failed attempt at making strawberry jam this year (it didn't set, but at least I didn't burn it this time), I can't tell you how satisfying it is that something's going right for me in the kitchen.

Cooking these days has been a real struggle, and to do it right I'm finding I have to do it when both kids are asleep, which is usually in the evenings or the weekends now that Jules no longer naps and Kasper's only averaging an hour a day. As you can might be able to tell from the light in the photos, what started as an afternoon project took me well in the evening to finish. Such is my life these days.

But all things considered, I'm pretty proud of what I've been able to do. One of my biggest feats so far has been getting rid of the majority of
food like substances in our diet. So for the most part we're eating stuff in it's whole state. No more (ok, not much) pancake mix, boxed cookies, pre-packaged frozen meals (except for the occasional pizza), boxed mac and cheese, etc. etc. I've even started cooking up pots of dried beans and freezing them. This is a big deal for me. Needless to say I'm a little tired trying to squeeze this in to our schedule, but I persevere...

What I do love about this (for us) new way of eating, though, is knowing exactly what we're putting into our bodies. If we're eating cookies, they might as well be a batch I baked myself. I even made a batch of homemade ice cream a few weeks ago. Next up, frozen yoghurt.

But back to the apricots. Or even better, back to the jam. The beauty of jam is its simplicity. Fruit, sugar, lemon juice. That's it. What I think I've finally learned now (on jam batch #4) is not to be afraid of sugar. Of course, that's something that's hard to do with two small kids in the house, but I keep telling myself that jam, in small quantities, is nothing less than a glorious thing and certainly not yet another fount from which my mommy guilt must gurgle. So I'm at peace with it. I have to be.

Welcome back to me. I'll try to stay a while this time.

14 April 2010

whale's up

So I'm sitting here now, after the kids have gone to bed, after hitting "submit" (or "e-file" or whatever, my mind's a gelatinous mass) on Turbotax, thinking about the day as the quiet settles in around me and begins to clear my head.

I took the kids to the beach today after picking Jules up from preschool. This was our second beach trip in two days and I feel SO LUCKY to live in a place where we can skip down to stick our toes in the soft sand whenever we feel like it. Yesterday it was Jules's idea. The sun popped out just as I popped in to his school to get him. "It's such a beautiful, sunny afternoon, Mama," he said. "The perfect time for a trip to the beach." So that's just what we did. We dug, we dumped, we tossed rocks in the water, we searched for buried treasure and hidden sea creatures. It was so much more fun than what I had planned--watching the kids play in the back yard while I cleaned the kitchen. We had such a good time, I promised them we'd be back again the next day if the weather held up, and it did.

Today was a different day. Today Kasper raced past two boys his age (around 18 months) who were standing a healthy distance from the water, tossing in rocks, and tossed HIMSELF in. He was so over yesterday's placid stone plopping that he decided instead to treat the entire Puget Sound like his own personal mud puddle. I thought I came prepared, having brought his rain boots this time, but no. He sat right down in the water, prompting me to drag him out by his jacket (like the scruff of his neck), then went back in for more, the second time doing a face plant. And back again. And again.

The parents of Kasper's little peers looked on
all aghast as our scene played out : me dragging Kasper time and again out of the water while his big brother Jules waded in knee deep (yes, waaaay over the very unnecessary rainboots he was also wearing) with a big mason jar trying to catch another sea animal. At one point Jules was sure he had an eel in his jar and, freaking out completely, tossed the jar five feet further into the water. Well, unlike the egg carton boat I waded knee deep into murky Greenlake water to rescue the week before, there was NO WAY I was going in after this little casualty. Yes, we littered, yes we did. But only because I had to make the choice between holding Kasper at bay (or out of the bay) and rescuing that jar. I chose my child. You would, too.

So then, while all of this madness is unfolding around me, someone starts calling out, "look at the whale, boys" in our general direction. I look back, not sure if they're talking to my boys, snatch Kasper out of the water again, scan the beach for Jules, finally look out at the water. By this time it's gone. Apparently, a whale had surfaced right in front of us while my back was turned to it (or my face turned to Kasper, or Jules, or to a stick I'd hoped to snag to fish out that damn mason jar). Everyone on the beach saw it. Right there in front of us. Everyone, except us.

I guess we have another reason now to get back to the beach (as if we needed one).

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