Friday, April 29, 2011

Perfection.

I didn't get to watch it live because these days I'm only up at 3 a.m. if someone in the Under-4-Feet-Tall club wakes me. But I did check into CNN this morning and swoon over her dress. And their love. Her smile in the second picture below, while he puts the ring on her finger? Perfection.


Pictures from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Big 5 and Planning to Succeed.

It took me 17 weeks, but I've hit the elusive 5% weight loss marker. And you know what?? I feel amazing about it! I snuck a peek at the scale last night, knowing I usually weigh about 2 pounds less in the morning than I do at night, and based on the reading before bed, I expected to lose another 0.5 this week. Which, honestly given the passage of Easter and the 8 tons of candy now in our house, I would have been happy enough about.




































(No, really. 8 tons of candy is hardly an exaggeration. This is about 1/4 of the candy we got for Easter, with an apple sitting next to it for size comparison. I brought this into work so my co-workers can be the lucky recipients of all that sugar and all those calories!)

So when I stepped on the scale this morning and saw I'd dropped 2 pounds, I was in shock. I jumped off the scale, zeroed it out, and got back in, closing my eyes. Nervously, I opened them and peeked down to see the number was the same, and I had indeed lost 2 pounds.

I didn't do anything differently from last week, other than catching a cold over the weekend that left my tastebuds numb, making it super easy to skip the candy. It's also getting a lot easier for me to wake in the morning, pack a healthy lunch, and make portion control and out-to-eat menu choices that are healthy without being tempted. Case in point: on Friday night we went to get Mexican food with my in-laws and rather than a beany-cheesy concoction and a side of sour cream, I ordered veggie enchiladas (almost cheeseless) and just ate the side of beans and some chips that came with it. On Saturday, I worked at an event where lunch was provided, and I went ahead and got a cookie off the tray when offered, but only after eating a veggie sandwich with no mayo or cheese. And, honestly? I didn't miss the side of sour cream or the mayo. And I did enjoy the beans and chips and cookie.

In an effort to make good on our plans to spend less money and eat healthier foods, I totally broke out of my comfort zone this weekend when it came to grocery shopping. I hit the ads first, making a list of each store and their sale items that we normally buy. I figured out which store had the most/best deals for our needs. And then I peeked into the fridge and pantry and freezer and made mental notes of what we already had. For less than $150, I stocked us up with enough food to make 10 large meals, meaning we have food for at least 14 dinners (figuring in a few leftovers here and there) and I have food for all my lunches for almost 2 weeks. ($150 might not sound great for 10 meals - $15/meal - but there were non-dinner items on the grocery list and most of the dishes we'll make will feed us for more than one meal.) When I got home from shopping, the kids and Darrick were all napping, so I quickly made a list of all the meals we can easily whip up with the ingredients I'd purchased + what was already on hand, and tacked it to the front of the fridge. I've always wanted to be better at grocery shopping: get better deals, buy healthier foods, have meals in mind while shopping. And I think we made that happen this week.

Other than losing 2 exciting pounds and getting past my 5% hurdle this week, I've noticed another pleasant surprise which I think is directly related to the foods I've been eating: I look healthier. I could swear my skin looks better, my hair is falling out less, and my eyes seem clearer. I might be imagining this, but I keep telling myself it must be real because I know I am eating more healthy veggies and fruits and less fast food and processed foods. It does pay to take care of your body from the inside out!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rohan Is Two. Where's My Wine?

The terrible 2s? I am totally getting them right about now.

Rohan welcomed his second year like a cyclone, spinning circles of mud and toys and fury and unbounded joy in life. This kid? The very definition of a happy baby. There were those first few months when he had me bouncing him on a yoga ball for upwards of 45 minutes at a time as he cried and fussed and begged for I-never-knew-what. And there were night wakings and troubles getting to sleep and fussy episodes we didn't know if we should blame on age or temperament or his Masto. There were tough days followed by good days. There were worries that had me (against my better judgment) frantically reading Google and venting to poor, unsuspecting (and amazing) friends. But by the time Rohan was 4 months old, we knew we were seeing the real him: lively, engaging, sweet and affectionate, opinionated, often easy-going, always hungry for both food and love, and with a smile that is so bright and wide it makes my body hurt with love for him.

He's always been active and a bit wild. It's a shift from Luca, who has her opinions and is very Type A but is largely agreeable and cooperative. Luca will tell other kids not to climb on things that may be unsafe. Rohan will climb on things that may be unsafe, and when reproached by his sister he will smile that wide boundless smile and leap into the air, always landing on his feet. He runs and skips and jumpe everywhere he goes. He says hi to friends and strangers, approaches dogs while we're out on a walk without a second thought, and if you tell him not to do something, he WILL give you the silly side-eye and act like that's what he's going to do. "Rohan," I'll tell him, "don't touch that because it's hot." Smile. Side eye. Evil grin. Twinkle and squint. All while a hand gets precariously close to said hot item and he waits for me to flip my shit. I've learned, by the way, not to flip my shit. Because he (almost always) pulls away at the last minute and runs away laughing.

He steals Luca's toys straight out of her hand, then tears across the room, dodging her and she shrieks in protest, his grin splitting his face open from cheek to cheek. He throws the toy as far as he can throw, then laughs uncontrollably as she lands square on his back and tackles him, annoyed at the perpetually annoying little brother.

With Rohan, I've had my first parental experiences in:
- putting a hysterical and defiant toddler into a football hold and carrying him crying from the mall while avoiding judging (and probably some understanding) stares;
- chasing after him as he ran to the very edge of the sidewalk with the sound of a fast-approaching SUV humming in my head, then crying and shaking as adrenaline coursed through my body and he patted my face and said, "No street, mama. Ho-yud hands.";
- asking my child not to climb in an unoccupied restaurant booth only to have him nod in agreement and scramble onto the tabletop for an impromptu dance routine;
- feeling your face turning red as your husband escorts your child out of Safeway and you maniacally try to replicate the order that used to be present in the Easter greeting card display he just knocked over in the middle of the store on a busy evening.

To be fair, the mall one happened when he was a few months shy of 2, after a Santa visit at the mall. All the rest of those things have been in the 6 weeks since that fateful birthday. It really does give me new perspective, and a new dose of sympathy for those moms I probably silently condemned prior to having kids of my own.

I know this is to be expected, so why didn't I expect it? The answer is simple: Luca didn't really have a 'Terrible 2s' phase. Which is not, incidentally, to paint her as perfect. What no one (other than my mom who HOLY HELL why didn't I listen to her when I was younger because she. knows. everything!) told me was that a lot of kids hit it later, making it more of a 'Terrible 3s'. That was our experience with Luca. She went to bed 2 and compliant and woke up 3 and full of opinions that pretty much were based in nothing other than being different than those opinions held by her parents.

But Rohan? My little Mo is revelling in 2, dancing on tabletops and nearly running into traffic and generally keeping me on my toes.

But it's not all bad. It's really not. He still remains one of the happiest and sunniest kids I've ever known. He makes us all laugh 100 times a day, and kid knows he is funny. He makes silly faces and sits for minutes at a time curled into my body holding my finger and making me point to pictures in books as he names the things he sees. He's smart too: knowing several nursery rhymes and colors an instantly being able to navigate almost any physical task with ease. He adores his sister. At least once a week she tells me they are going to get married because, "You marry your best friend, and Romie is mine best friend." and he nods seriously and says, "Best fend, mama. Sidder (sister) best fend."

But times like tonight, when he landed a closed fist straight on his sister's head, dumped a bin of toys all over the floor as we were cleaning up, cried because he wanted water but he wanted to hold the cup while I filled it, attempted to climb up the outside banister on the stairs, and then pulled his *ahem* boy business out the top of his diaper and ran around the house singing, "Weenuh...weenuh...WEENUH!" remind me why I'm so not ready for a 3rd kid right now.

Friday, April 22, 2011

My Wallaby (Hint: If You're Looking Up Information on Wallabies, You Aren't Finding It Here.).




































Credit.

My son toddles into my room every day around 5 a.m. The sun is glowing behind our curtains already at that time of morning, not yet at full capacity but apparently bright enough to open his eyes. It might happen at 4:35 or 5:45, but it's the same thing every morning. Padding of feet. Two blue eyes and a mop of cornsilk hair at my eye level. A chubby, warm hand on my arm or my cheek. A baby-sweet voice, which I dread someday turning into the deep rumble of a man's voice, pointing to the warm spot I'm currently occupying.

"Want dere," he commands.

And 'dere' he goes, as I help him climb into our bed and move a bit to create a warm pocket for him, nestled in the blankets and curled against my body. Once there, he has to be touching me at all time, sleepily grabbing onto my arm or slipping a hand under my face between my cheek and my pillow. Usually, he goes back to sleep and I can move a few centimeters away so that we're not crushed into each other on the edge of the bed. Sometimes, he only wants to play, prompting me into action with a, "Get up, Mommmmy!" or a, "Go downtairs? Downtairs, Mommmy!"

He wants to be carried downstairs. He wants to be held. "Hooo-yud me!" he begs, near tears when I dare attempt to walk somewhere without him planted on a hip. This morning, he begged to come with me to work as I walked out the door leaving him home with his Daddy and sister (both of whom are off today for Good Friday).




































In his perfect world, Rohan would be doing this today. (Credit) 

While I make up a salad for my lunch, brew coffee, and do other kitchen chores, he asks to sit on the counter. I'm not sure where this came from because Luca never cared to sit on the counters (unless her brother is up there, in which case she wants to be as well), but it's become a part of our morning routine. Heft him downstairs. Change his diaper. Carry him into the kitchen and sit him on the counter away from the coffee maker. I empty the old coffee grounds and rinse out the mesh and the coffee pot, and then as I approach the cabinet to pull out the coffee, I marvel at how in synch we can be with our little ones. The cabinet door is behind his head, and this being our old routine, I don't have to say a word anymore. As I step in close to open the door and get the coffee off its shelf, he leans into me, resting a warm cheek on my collarbone and faithfully entrusting me not to let him fall forward onto the floor. I kiss his head and close the cabinet, and without a word he sits back upright. A perfectly choreographed movement between a mama and her son, and one that makes my heart so happy.






































There are definitely days when my humor with this whole neediness for mama wears my nerves. Times when I feel like every time I turn around there is one kid or the other (or both) underfoot. Times when I want to eat without little hands stealing food from my plate. Times when I want to bathe or put on make-up without 'helping' hands.
But then, I love this. This is what I've wanted to do for nearly my whole life, and I know I'm lucky to have the opportunity to be a mother to such amazing souls.
 
My little wallaby (or buddy, cuddle puppy, puppy, pup, yipper, cuddle monster, snugs) has made me realize something else, too: I'm kind of in love with being a mom to a boy. I was so nervous my whole pregnancy with him, worried he'd come out with boy parts and I wouldn't know how to love him the way I knew how to love Luca. It was all for nothing. My kids are so different, and rather than wishing one's sense of humor or temperment was more like the others, I have realized that it's their differences I love most of all. I love getting to know them as individuals and seeing them grow into the people they will be; the people they have always been. And I love the special and unique bond I have with each of them as an individual. How she gets excited about something and asks me to 'build a cuddle puddle under a blankie!!!!' with her. How he 'shoots fire' with his hand and then hug-tackles me, rubbing his nose against mine. Which is why I am still madly in love with this little boy, even when his constant need for closeness starts to feel a little like this:
 
 
Credit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Like A Rainbow.

Sometimes, I only want to write when I have something happy to write about. When I can wax poetic about sweet chubby baby cheeks or spring days where the world is blooming and full. But when life is challenging and stress consumes me and my patience with my kids is next to nothing? When I find myself muttering under my breath in the kitchen at 7:45 p.m. 'Isn't it about bed time for ALL of you?' and mentally including my husband in the 'all'? When I find myself channeling my dad in the car, waving the slower cars in front of me on with my hand below the dash (don't want to get shot, after all!) and cursing people who drive slow during rush hour for no reason? When I'm feeling overworked and underappreciated and broke and fat and desperately in need of some time with my brow waxer? Why is it that during those times I don't feel as compelled to write?

I'm reading 'The Secret' because one of the most positive and lovely friends I have loaned it to me. She swears by its messages and if you saw how content she is in her life, you'd want to read it too. And while I haven't read and acted on the entire book, I know the messages it contains and I believe them. I try not to write about the hard times and the petty complaints in life because you get exactly what you ask for sometimes. And if negativity and complaining and venting are all you put out in the universe, the universe will give only those things back.

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This past Sunday morning, we were sitting on the big area rug in our great room together, playing with the kids. This is what we do on weekend mornings: converge onto that rug and play and wrestle and read books and watch early morning cartoons and sometimes put out a breakfast spread on plates on the floor. But, you know, we bought that rug about 3 years ago when Luca was starting to crawl and it was cheap, so it's not very soft or cushy. For years we've put up with it, and we keep 'meaning to' get a pad to go under it, but then we forget or we have something else to spend the money on so we don't.

So anyhow, we're there on the floor and I'm drinking my coffee and Darrick's reading the paper and the kids are running around like wild animals, and Darrick says to me, "We really need some padding under that thing." I concur, and then we decide to make a list of home 'things' we need to get. On the list: a new bathtub for the master bathroom, french doors for the back of the house, wood flooring, window screens, and a padded backing for the area rug.

Flash forward to later that night. We're at my brother's for dinner and my sister-in-law is cutting Darrick's hair for him. Out of nowhere, my brother says, "Hey, do you guys have any rugs you need padding under? We have some extra from when our carpet was installed, and we don't need it."

Seriously. The very same day.

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Yesterday, I was driving to work feeling grouchy about gas prices and long commutes and the fact that Rohan was super clingy when I dropped him off at daycare. I was in need of something to brighten my mood. And then I looked down, and saw this:

That's a rainbow, on my (dirty and in need of vacuuming) floormat in my car. I'm not sure what caused it, but it was incredible and so pretty. And it changed my mood immediately.

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Marveling over the irony of getting the rug padding the same day we wrote it down, my husband and I joked that we should write down, "10% raises for us both" on the list. Then, deciding that was too ambitious, we joked about simplifying it and just saying aloud: "more money sure would be nice."

Yesterday afternoon, the endodontist I saw back in November had their billing office call me. Apparently, part of my charges were denied by insurance and I owed just over $200 to them. I was frustrated that insurance hadn't paid out, and worried about paying $200 to them a week before the start of the month when most of our bills are due. And then she told me that I had a credit on my account at the general dentistry office and she could just use that to pay it if I said it was ok. I did, then asked her if that credit would cover the balance owed.

"Oh, sweetie, you have a $564 credit. It'll cover this with plenty of room to spare," she replied.

Now, listen. Here's where I'd like to pretend I was stoked at this news and at my good fortune. Instead, I was (and still am) pretty pissed to have been charged too much and to have this credit just sitting there without anyone from the general office having notified me. I called the general dentistry office, and the person there promised to let billing know I wanted the money credited to me. And so it will be. And it might take 6 - 8 weeks, which kills me because you KNOW if I owed them that much they would have wanted it right away. Not in 6 - 8 weeks.

But tonight, sitting here feeling stressed about work and money and various other things on my mind, I realized something. I asked the universe to show us a little financial love to make all the hard work we've been doing lately seem worthwhile, and the universe complied. I asked for money, and money is on its way.

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Bad things happen in my life. I sometimes lose my patience and my sense of humor. From time to time, I raise my voice or feel sorry for myself or wallow in self-pity and negativity instead of focusing on the good. But the universe, lately, seems to be telling me this: you get what you really want. If I spend my time focusing on the have-nots and the frustrations and the stress and the hard times, more of those will come. But by focusing on the positive good things are bound to come. The universe listens, and it can only hear what you are saying.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Embracing the Flex.

Last week, I stepped on the scale and had only lost 0.5. I know, rationally, that any loss is a success and should be celebrated, but I've been on Weight Watchers now since January, and these 1/2 pound losses are killing me. Explain to me how I can gain 4 pounds in a weekend and then stay on plan and lose only 1/2 a pound in 7 long days?

So when I stepped on the scale that morning and only lost 1/2 a pound, I threw an adult tantrum. Which is to say: I bought Munchkins at DD and ate about 6 of them. I rationalized it as I 'deserved' them and they were only 1 point each anyhow.

Mistake #1: Munchkins are 2 points each. I'm not sure if this is the 'new' Points Plus system where carbs count, or if they've always been that many, but I'd have sworn they were only 1 point each. So my '6 point splurge' was actually 13 points. Why 13? Because with food like this (candy, Munchkins, and other foods you eat single servings of and count in terms of quantity, not weight or size) may be 2 points each, but if you eat a certain number, the points add up faster.

Mistake #2: I don't need to justify a 'treat' by saying I 'deserve' it. I need to build these things into my week so they don't derail me and I don't end up mentally sabotaging myself.

So as I sat staring at my computer screen and feeling disappointed I'd allowed myself to overindulge on something I did't ever enjoy (much), I realized I needed to adjust my attitude.

So I decided to embrace the Flex. AKA: Eat some of my flex points and not completely freak out in fear.

The result: I lost 1 pound this week. So embracing the flexies it is!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Daddy's Away

On Monday and Wednesday nights, Darrick goes to jiu-jitsu. I mean, he tore his left rotator cuff and had to get shoulder surgery a few years back when I was pregnant with Rohan, so it only makes sense that he's back to it and training for another competition, right?

Let's just say, I think I preferred him training for an eating contest. Even if it meant cabbage and the gas that creates. But I digress.

After eating dinner (chicken, steak, and asparagus he grilled and mashed potatoes I mashed), I loaded the kids up for another late evening walk. We set out in the wagon a bit later than we did for our walk earlier this week, so we went straight for the playground by our house. And, for all the complaining I am bound to do about Arizona both during our legislative session and during the broiling hot summer to come, I feel the need to brag a bit.


One of our neighbors has their yard lined in these cacti, and this time of year they are alive with blooms the color of an Arizona sunset. We stop every time we walk by so Luca can talk about the flowers and Rohan can repeat, "Pretty! Look, Mama! Pretty!!!" I'm basically in love with these flowers.



This is the view of the sunset from our 'park with the green slides'.

We spent some time sliding and then running back up the slide (Luca), and jumping from any surface we were allowed to jump from (Rohan) and spinning around in circles enjoying the beauty of a later afternoon in April in Arizona.


And then we came home, once the sun had set so far below the horizon that we couldn't see where our shoes had migrated to by the slides. And when Darrick came home with ice cream, the kids about died of excitement. Rohan jumped off the couch and I heard him opening drawers in the kitchen. Knowing he can't reach the spoons, I asked him to show me what he had. He may not look much like me, but when little dude chooses a spoon almost as big as his feet for his ice cream enjoyment, I am reminded he's so much like me.





































Luca decided she needed a giant spoon as well.


I was tempted to let them use these spoons, except we weren't planning to serve ice cream in a punch bowl.

It was a great night, and was capped off with Luca making some new friends at the park. I'm so proud of her as I've seen her flourish in the past year since starting preschool. I was so nervous back then, that she would be swallowed whole and too timid to talk and make friends. Instead, she's become brave and sure, making friends everywhere she goes. When another family showed up at the park just before sunset, she went right over to the 4 year old girl and her dad and said hi, and spent 20 minutes playing with her. At the end of the night, she asked me if her new friend can come play sometime. I followed her lead and broke out of my shell to ask the parents when they'd be back at the park, and we have an unofficial 'playdate' set for later this week!

This wasn't the first time I felt that swell of pride over Luca's new found confidence and its marriage to her empathy. In ballet earlier this week, as I stood outside the window watching and waiting for class to start, I noticed one girl clinging to her dad's leg as he juggled a little brother in his arms. She would cry desperately every time her dad made a move for the door, and I could see the parental embarassment and uncertainty in his eyes. Were the moms all judging him for his kid being clingy? If he walked out and left her sobbing, would we think him an unfit dad and wonder why the mom wasn't there, sure she would have handled it better? Or maybe, I'm sure he thought, he could scoop up his scared baby girl in his arms and rush her home, feed her ice cream for dinner, and settle into Dora reruns just so he could watch a smile light her face.

Luca was standing against the far wall, in the spot the kids are told to wait until class begins. I saw her, chewing a nail and watching the same scene I watched. And then she came to the door and poked her head out for me. A few whispers later, she turned, walked over to the girl, and said a timid, "Hi." The girl stopped crying and gave a little wave. "I'm Luca," she told her, "Wanna be my friend?" I saw the dad lean down to whisper in his daughter's ear and then I saw the girl take one wary step and then another, until she was closer to Luca than to her dad. Luca grabbed her hand, and together they walked to the wall to stand in line.

When her dad came out of the room, he stood next to me, and said just one thing, "Thanks." And I told him I was happy Luca had a new friend. We've all been there, after all, and I was so proud of my little sprite for being the one to make it easier for someone else.

Hold Onto Your Men.

Yesterday as I was leaving work, I was subject to a cat-call. I know some women get offended by cat calls, and some would be grossed out, but me? I was sort of weirdly flattered. Because nothing says, "I still got it!" like 3 middle-aged scruffy men who likely smell like a dumpster ogling your chest and whistling from the cab of their primer gray/forest service green pick up, the rear of which is loaded up with (I assume) dumpster-diving treasures.

Oh yeah, baby. Still got it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Walk.

The sun was shining over the bright, buzzy spring day as afternoon crept slowly toward evening. Not willing to resign for the night behind a pillow fortress of moutains, he lit the sky a perfect sky blue. Birds sang in the trees, the mesquite almost audibly grew more neon green branches, and the faces of my babies begged to be kissed by late day sunshine.

Bellies full of cheese pizza and English muffins with pb&j, we loaded into the big red wagon. I pulled them down one street and up the next, listening as Luca told stories about her day and Rohan animatedly yelled hi to neighbors and bounced up and down in his seat calling out, "DODDIE!!! DODDIE!!! HI DODDIE!!" as every single neighborhood dog expressed displeasure at us and our wagon. As we neared the end of one particular street, Luca started to wiggle a little in her seat at the sight of sprinklers splashing cool puddles onto the sidewalk. Rohan saw it too, and before I knew it I was being urged forward to choruses of "Water! Water Mommy!!! (giggles) Water! Look! It's WATER!!!!"

Nonchalantly, I slowed my gait just a bit to draw out the process and their anticipation. And then, slowly and deliberately I put on my Very Concerned voice and said to my little water-lovers, "Oh, I see the water. We must be very, very careful. We wouldn't want to get wet now, would we?"

Nothing but giggles from the monkeys in the wagon.

When we had drawn so close that we could smell the wet pavement and the newly shorn grass, I pretended not to notice that the wagon was veering to the right, just under a spray of cold mist.

More giggles. And then, a squeal of delight.

"Oh we wouldn't want that water," I said, dragging them into a bigger spray while emphasizing the word, "to get you, now would we??"

Eager laughter, hands raised above their heads. His face tipped up and his tongue out, waiting for a few drops to land. Her eyes bright, flashing with joy.

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At the park, Luca immediately slipped off her sandals and took off through the grass, running up the green slides. Her brother trailed her, screeching, "Yook, MAMA!" as he tried to follow Luca up the slide and fell onto his belly with a thud. They made games of collecting pine cones and loading them into the wagon, of taking turns sitting at the bottom of the slide while the other tore down it as fast as possible, knocking over their sibling like a bowling pin. They stood still, side by blonde side, watching a mom and her two older kids traverse the park and circle the playground and then keep walking.

Eventually, Rohan padded in bare feet over to the swingset, throwing his body across a swing and pushing off with his toes, his fingers trailinig the dirt below. He'd swing back and forth like this a few times, a little capsized toddler floating on a sea of afternoon sunshine. And then he would stand and hold the swing, looking at me with those baby blues and saying, "Twing, Mommy?"

Eventually, that was where we all landed, me pushing Rohan as Luca collected more pine cones. I turned him around in the seat so we faced west, where we could watch the sun paint the sky neon pink and apricot and plum. Luca came up beside us, climbing into the swing without assistance. "Push?" I offered, and she beamed up at me. "I know how to swing by myself now."

No. No way. You're a baby still. You need my help. You need my hand, constant and sure and strong, pushing into the small of your back and helping you sail into the clouds. You need to be able to close your eyes and be a butterfly. You can't pump your legs that hard. You can't reach your toes to the ground to push off yet. You will still giggle and beg me to push you higher and faster. You still need me, right? You're still my baby, aren't you?

But all I said: "Oh."

And swing alone she did, her pointed toes stretching toward the earth, her glowing face pointing toward the heavens. Yin and yang. Young, yet older.. I watched and smiled, a lump burning down my throat.

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We made our way home, the wagon pulling more slowly behind me as Luca explained why some cactus have no thorns and Rohan dragged a shoe over the side of the wagon,  trying to reach the sidewalk. We stopped to meet the neighbor's new Grandson. We admired a spider web by the front door. We decided that chocolate milk was the perfect post-nap snack. We waited for Daddy to get home, warm from outdoor adventures.

Girls' Night Out.

Oh my how times have changed! Instead of drunken debauchery fueled by tequila and uncomfortable yet sexy shoes, girls' night out now looks a little more like this:

Yep, my camera lens is still not working, so cell phone pictures it is!

Thanks to my (childless) brother who won 3 complimentary tickets to the Disney on Ice Princess show, Luca and I got to have a girls' night out last night. We decided to invite one of her BFFs, Madison, whose mom just had a sweet baby girl less than 2 weeks ago, partly because we figured mom and dad would appreciate a quiet evening with the newborn while their toddler was entertained.





































Sweet blonde buddies and Capitalism. Ahhh, America.

In the spirit of girlie fun, I even broke out of my super-cheap ways and bought Luca some obnoxious piece of plastic with a spinning top and lights and I let the girls share a snow cone in a collector's cup which cost more than the last pair of jeans I purchased for myself. But that's neither here nor there. Because, honestly, these faces right here made the hassle of driving downtown and finding parking and being price-gouged undeniably worth it:

I confess to getting a little choked up during the night over how sweet these two are together. On the long drive to the arena, they sat holding hands in the backseat, reaching across the empty space between car seats so they could touch. They giggled and told each other stories in their little chipmunk voices, each girl one-upping the other with their silliness until finally the backseat was nothing but a fit of high pitched giggles.
Both girls were light enough that they had trouble keeping their theater-style seats from folding up on them, so several times throughout the show I'd look over and see nothing but little-girl sandals and hair sticking out the folded-up seats.

They ended up sharing one fold-down seat about halfway through the show, with Luca wrapping her arm around Madison and them giggling like co-conspirators. It absolutely melts my heart to see them together, smiling and giggling and sharing a little world. After we dropped Madison off at home, I asked Luca what she thought about her, and she said, "I just love Madison. Even, she makes me happy."
 
I have a lot to say about Disney and Princess and girls and feminism, but that's for another post.

PS: No idea what's going on with the weird formatting, but I give up on trying to fix it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eating on the Cheap: Eating at Home.

Eating on the Cheap has inadvertently become a series of sorts for me. I've never been one of those 'foodie' types who was excessively passionate about food. Picky? Yes. Passionate? Only if we're talking about homemade desserts.

Since having kids, though, it has really hit home that we need to be more aware of how and what and why we eat. I had the benefit of parents who cooked at home most nights of the week, and who used fresh and healthy foods as much as possible. My husband's family, on the other hand, gravitates toward the meat and potatoes with loads of butter sort of meals. I'm practically a vegetarian and he could happily go weeks on end without a single veggie on his plate. It makes it....interesting...trying to balance our different likes and needs into healthy meals.

And so, we never really did. In our DINK (Double Income No Kids) days, we just scrapped meal planning and cooking and the like and went out to eat. Pretty much all the time. If we hit the grocery store more than once a month it was something akin to a miracle OR we must have needed toilet paper or apples or more frozen pizzas for the hubby.

And then, we were both in school living off one income. Then expecting a baby. And still we struggled to find a way to balance our different takes on what dinner should look like with minimal time and not much money.

Luca's a picky eater too. She started out as a wee one eating anything you put on her tray, but as she's gotten older, she has become more particular about her choices. She loves string cheese, for example, but won't stand for cheese melted inside her burrito. She likes to dip lettuce into salad dressing, but will throw a fit if the dressing is ON the lettuce. She prefers BBQ steak to BBQ chicken, though she'll eat the chicken if you make sure there are no black marks from the grill on the outside. In a nutshell, she's developed all these weird food requirements that I am convinced amount to karma coming back at me for all my picky eating habits over the years. My mom is laughing right now.

Adding Rohan to the mix didn't complicate what we eat (kid has rarely met a food he didn't love), but it did change the dynamics of how much we eat. Until Rohan came along, we'd never ordered a single kids' meal at a restaurant. Luca's appetite has always been on the small side, so we were safe ordering our own meals and sharing off our plates. Rohan threw a wrench in that. He can easily take down a whole kids' meal at most restaurants all by himself, and some days he could probably eat a whole dinner off the regular menu.

If you do the math on all these complicating factors (2 picky eaters + 2 big eaters) you quickly see why eating at home has become more and more appealing to our family. We've worked at making it a priority to eat at home most nights of the week, and to do so together. There are still nights when we grab slices of pizza and watch a movie on the floor. There are times when one of us isn't home for dinner. But more often than not, we cook something at home and eat together, and I love that this has become our 'normal'.

So, without further rambling from me, here are my Top Reasons* for Eating on the Cheap: Eating at Home.

~ I know what we're eating. As a picky eater, I much prefer to know what's going into the food we're eating.

~ I know where that food was made and how it was stored, cooked, and handled. Nothing grosses me out more than those Dirty Dining reports of black slime in the ice machine and raw chicken dripping on a shelf above the chopped veggies. I know that's not happening in my house.

~ We can cater to the whims of everyone without spending a fortune. So, 2 of us love marinara and meatballs and the other two prefer butter/oil and parmesan on our pasta? At a restaurant that's easily $8-10 per plate and you have to hope there's enough so that each adult gets one plate and can share with the proper kiddo. At home, it's a package of pasta, a jar of sauce and some homemade meatballs, and some shakes of parmesan. Cheaper and you can make as much or little of each as you need.

~ It's healthier. At most restaurants, even the most basic and standard meals are loaded with oils, fats, sodium and more. At home, we go big on flavor (seasonings like garlic, for example) and little on added fat and salt. We can even splurge on simple desserts without worrying about excessive calories.

~ There are no wimpy iceberg lettuce side salads in our house. It's all about leafy greens or spinach tossed with delicious topping. Favorites include red leaf lettuce with orange and red bell pepper strips, sunflower seeds, shredded sharp cheddar, and tomato slices or spinach pile high with fruits and berries (dried cranberries from Sprouts are a favorite) and sprinkled with feta and a bit of poppyseed or vinaigarette.


Lunch salad today. It's ok if you're envious.

Delicious, filling, and soooo good for the body (and pocketbook...those kids of salads are upwards of $6-15 at most restaurants!). Which leads me to....

~ We're cheap. And so is eating at home. If this is news to you, welcome to my blog New Reader! If you're not new here, then you already know I have the World's Cheapest Husband, and that I made some resolutions this year which I intend to break tradition by keeping. So it should come as no surprise that we enjoy saving money, but sometimes it seems unlikely that eating at home actually does save money. I used to be of the "Eating Healthy Is Too Expensive" school. And sometimes, when I'm pushing my loaded cart out to the car feeling shell-shocked from just how much of my paycheck goes to groceries, I still think, "Well, hot damn, it would be cheaper to eat at Taco Bell every day!" But the reality is, I wouldn't eat at Taco Bell every day. Going out to lunch at work means spending anywhere from $6-$20 per meal, and dinner for 2 adults, 1 toddler, and 1 two year old with a man-appetite runs us between $25 and $50 once you add in a tip.

On the other hand, if we shop weekly and make sure we've always got essentials on-hand (milk, fruit, veggies, meat, lunch stuff for me, grains), we only have to make those Holy-Shit-That's-A-Car-Payment shopping trips once a month or even less often. The rest of the time, I can run in and out in less than 15 minutes and spend under $50 to get us through the week. True story: last night I bought just what we needed to get us through the rest of this week (chicken breasts, ground beef, bananas, milk, coffee creamer, frozen pizza, asparagus, 1 liter of soda, potatoes, butter, shredded cheese) for under $45. Combined with the staples we have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, that's enough food for the entire week. Even if we spend $400-500 a month on groceries, we would have spent (and used to spend!) much more than that going out to eat all the time.

~ Making meals with these little helpers is definitely worth the work. They love to 'help' us in the kitchen, even if that only means sitting on the counters and repeatedly turning the sink off and on (him) or informing me which of the meal's ingredients are not quite suitable to picky tastebuds (her). And I wouldn't trade that for the world. I love cooking and baking with my little ones, and I hope it's a tradition we carry on for years to come. Some of my best recipes (PS: I don't have very many 'best' recipes) were learned from helping my mom in the kitchen.



(This second picture has zero to do with making meals at home, but it's cute and this is my blog, so there you have it.)

~ My husband is an excellent cook and does most of the work. Sure, I dog his family's heavy-on-the-meat-and-starches approach, but he's great about making meals that are flexible enough that both his picky girls can eat them. And, he gets home before me 90% of the time, so he can often be found out by the grill or in the kitchen cooking up a tasty meal for our family when I get home. He also gets up early and makes killer omelettes on the weekends. Basically, he's amazing.

*This post was inspired by Agrigirl's Blog. Check out her reasons, here:
http://agrigirl.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/tammys-top-ten-the-t3-report-reasons-to-eat-at-home/

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sage Girl.

Darrick and I went out with friends tonight, and Grandma came over to babysit. We got home about 2 hours past bedtime, and Darrick went straight up to bed. I'm sitting on the couch reading when I hear a thump, then one of the doors upstairs opening.

Curious, I go up and see Luca's door open. She's on her bed, so I sit and ask if she's ok. "I was sad for you while you were gone," she tells me. I scoop her into my lap and say, "Oh, but Grandma was so nice to you, right?"

"Yeah," she smiles. And then, "Even when you're gone you're here."
"Yeah, baby. I'm always with you."
"Even you are always in my heart," she answers.

Seriously, this kid kills me sometimes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

In Her Element.

I remember being in high school and thinking my mom was tragically out of touch. I couldn't imagine how we would ever be more than mother and daughter with a contentious relationship. I didn't know how to talk to her, and she to me. I'm sure we were like most other mother and daughter pairs in our battles of wills and fights over my friends and what I wanted to do with my free time. But it was EPIC, the divide between us then.
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When Luca was born, so was her Grandma. I always knew she'd be good to my kids, but I had no idea just how much I'd need her. She was a great Grandma and support to us from the start, but there was one particular night that was a turning point.

Luca was almost 6 weeks old, and I was staring down the calendar begging it not to turn to Monday. I had only 6 weeks of maternity leave, and I was sick over the idea of leaving my baby. I was madly in love and maybe a little overly emotional, and that was compounded by the enormous struggles we had to do the one thing I had told myself was essential to Being A Good Mother: breastfeeding. I'd heard stories of my mom nursing all 4 of her kids for anywhere from 9 months (her eldest) to 15 months (her youngest - me), and I'd expected that the same would happen for me. Take postpartum hormones, expectations that weren't being realized quite so easily, and the impending doom of returning to work and mix them all together, and you had me: one hot mess.

So when she called me one night a few short days before my return to work, I collapsed into a sobbing mess on the phone. I couldn't pull myself together enough to explain all the horrible thoughts I had about myself that were floating through my head and threatening to capsize me. She knew what I needed: her. And so she came over, and in a darkened room while my baby slept nearby in her glider, we sat on the couch and I cried. Big, hot, fat tears of hurt and exhaustion and frustration and pure, deep sadness. She asked if I was depressed, but I didn't FEEL depressed. I felt worthless. I felt like less than a Mom, and then I felt hopeless because I didn't know how we'd go on with any semblence of a breastfeeding relationship once I was back at work 5 days a week.

She told me that night what I needed to hear: That I was doing my best. That it was hard, SO hard, and that was ok and normal. That I wasn't failing my daughter. That I needed to let myself off the hook. That it was admirable to go on fighting to breastfeed my baby but if I decided to stop it would be ok. That she, the woman I thought to be some sort of breastfeeding guru in her baby-rearing days, had struggled as well.

That changed everything. Literally. Everything.

It didn't make the problems Luca and I faced disappear. It didn't make me decide to throw in the towel. It didn't make my milk supply copious and my baby able to latch and effectively nurse in 10 minutes so I could get some decent sleep. No, in fact, we struggled with one aspect or another of breastfeeding our entire (almost 12 month long) nursing relationship. But what my mom did for me that night I will never, ever forget: she gave me permission to not be perfect while assuring me I was everything my daughter needed. She had faith in me and love for my daughter, and she gave me the gift of unconditional support.

My mom could fairly be described as opinionated, outspoken, and even sometimes a bit overbearing. I think she'd agree, in fact, that these adjectives describe her at various points in her life. But when I needed it most she was this: supportive, nonjudgmental, and trusting. Her trust of me and the way my husband and I had decided to raise our kids made all the difference in the world. She restored my faith in myself as a mom, and assured me that she not only knew I would do a bang-up job being a mother, but also that my husband was an amazing dad. She sat back and withheld advice she most likely wanted to give (after all, not only did she mother 4 kids, she also is an RN who has worked with kids for years). She listened without judgment and didn't correct our parenting. She deferred to us and listened to us and respected us.

Darrick and I sat her down once and thanked her for being the mom and grandma she has been. But I wish I could sit her down every day and remind her how much it has meant to have her support and love and help for the nearly 4 years we've been parents.

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The summer after Rohan was born, my mom retired from her job as school nurse. She toyed with finding another job for a few years so she could max out her state retirement and not have to worry about money anymore. But then she spent a summer helping us out with the kids. And while she'd always been in love with Luca, I watched her fall deeply in love with her first Grandson. I saw her beam when he reached out for her. I saw his golden smile when she held him loveingly. I heard him try to say 'Grandma' shortly after he had mastered other first words like 'Mama', 'Dada', 'dog', and 'up'. And I've watched my kids trust and love her implicitly.

She gave up the job search and started to watch Rohan twice a week. She called us one Friday and told us she was kicking us out of the house so she could spend time with her grandkids. She heard me complain about how quickly Rohan was outgrowing all his clothes and sent him home one day with 2 bags full of new threads, knowing at the time we couldn't afford to buy him that much new stuff. She still rocks my son to sleep (at the age of 2, 3 feet tall, and 33 pounds) every time he needs a nap at her house just because she can. She swims 4 days a week and has lost weight and feels younger than she did 2 years ago. She is in her element, and I couldn't be happier for her. I couldn't be more proud.

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My work, and my heart, is in social justice. My mom has always supported my work, and in the 6 years I've worked in non-profit we've developed a bond over these issues. This mom who I always saw as strict and uncool and so conservative is really a liberal at heart. Our relationship has gained so much breadth and depth now that I am an adult. And so, it meant the world to me when she asked to join me this week at a rally at our state's Capitol. I have been involved with the group hosting the rally since I interned with them while getting my Masters degree, but this was the first rally of theirs I've attended. It happened to fall on the morning Rohan had his 2 year appointment, so I took the morning off work and planned to bring him with me (because of the political nature of the rally I couldn't be 'on the clock' while attending). A few days before, my mom sheepishly asked if she could come along.

And come along she did. There was my mom, mixed in among advocates and lobbyists, among people I worked with and people I consider friends. Holding a sign. Holding my son's hand. Doing something that matters to her and to me, and that matters for my daughter and son. Doing it because she means it, but also because of what it means to me.

It was awesome to share that with her. To come full circle and listen to my mom chant "No more cuts!" and "Yes we can!" with a crowd of several hundred people, waving her sign in the air and handing Rohan little snacks at the same time. It made me so proud. I can only hope that the pride I felt in my mom is what she feels for me.

13 Weeks?

Oh, Hey there, April! Welcome, what with your 99 degree Friday! I do so love:

Your bright, sunshiney mornings that now start well before I leave the house for work
Your orange blossoms that smell so delicious I want to pluck them from bright green limbs and pop them into my mouth for a taste
Your cool mornings and shady afternoons
Your piercing blue skies

I also love that you are the 4th month of the year, and that this is the 13th week of the year. And I love that my Blackberry figured that out for me without my having to use any brain power. Always a bonus when the technology we pay too much for does a simple task on our behalf, thus making us ridiculously dependent upon it. The great news here, though - and the real reason I'm tickled to see we're 13 weeks into the year - is that it means my first trimester is over and I can now share with you all:

I'm PREGNANT!!!!!!


Yup.

That's a positive pregnancy test.


Um.


I am also full of shit.

But: Hahahahahahahahaaaaa!

(Is an April Fool's joke supposed to make me a little sad when I remember it's just a joke?)

...carrying on...

No, the REAL reason I am happy we are 13 weeks into the year is that it means I've officially spent 3 months keeping my New Year's Resolutions! OH, I know....it's not a 3rd baby. But it's maybe a step toward someday being able to have a 3rd baby, so suck it up!

Not only have I curbed spending so that we're only going out to eat maybe twice per week (1 restaurant for a sit-down and 1 fast food kid-crazy place), I've also been cooking more at home which means spending less money AND eating better. It also means I've lost somewhere around 10-ish pounds since January. The exact number is in flux, as I was down 13 pounds until I went to D.C. in early March and followed that alcohol-and-room-service fest with spring break and Rohan's birthday. And suddenly? OOPS! I've piled 4 of those pounds back on. And it's taking time to lose them because as it turns out 2 weeks odfdebauchery can get you fat, but 2 weeks of trying to be good to fix said debauchery isn't enough. SO NOT FAIR.

Either way, whenever I get discouraged I remember that I made myself some promises this year, and I intend to keep them. And I also call upon some good friends (you know who you are, THANK YOU) for support, guidance and a little verbal lashing to get me back on track.

It helps, too, that there are so many delicious and cheap foods out there and in season right now. Just for fun, here is a small sampling of what I've been eating:

Cous cous with grilled chicken (cubed) and brocolli, seasoned with garlic salt.

Salad of spinach, cous cous, feta, sliced strawberries,  craisins, and chicken.

Yogurt and berry slices.

Cous cous has become somewhat of a staple. I buy the 5 minute boxed stuff, which is every bit delicious and easy, and make the whole box. It lasts for several meals, so I end up adding it to salads and mixing it with chicken and cooked veggies for an extra kick of protein, fiber, and B vitamins. The box I made this week was plain, which makes it easy to add a scoop into all sorts of dishes.

Lowfat yogurt and berries are always a favorite as well. It's breakfast. Snack. Dessert. It's tasty, high in fiber and vitamins and calcium, and easy. And deeeeeelicious.

I buy a big bin of baby spinach almost every time we go grocery shopping, and mostly use it for salads like the one above. I prefer raw spinach over cooked, and sometimes I also throw it into sandwiches instead of lettuce. I'm working up the energy to try green smoothies, which I think could replace breakfasts if only I wasn't too lazy to go through the steps to make them every morning. For now, a simple piece of fruit or cup of yogurt and coffee suffices as breakfast in my world.

My other cheap/lazy purchase at the store most weeks is a rotisserie chicken. I cut it up and use it in salads quite a bit. I also use it on quesadillas or roll it up with some vegetarin refried beans in a tortilla or with cheese in a lettuce wrap. It's probably more expensive than buying and cooking chicken breast, but it's easier and for that reason it's a regular in my house.

Another favorite I haven't photographed is celery and apple slices dipped in natural peanut butter. I like the kind you grind at the store best, and if it needs a little something I just add a squirt of honey.

By having go-to snacks and meals on hand in the house we're spending more at the grocery store, but much less on going out to eat (I went out to lunch just 4 times in March, when I used to average 2 times a week), and the added bonus is the painfully-slow-but-at-least-it's-something weight loss.

It's not a baby, sure. But keeping on track with my resolutions is leading me to my long-term goals, and THAT makes me happy.

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