Thursday, August 31, 2006

Staying Home: Expectations Versus Reality

When I quit my job to stay home with my then one child, I had lots of grand ambitions. I had lots of ideas about what a stay at home mom could do and should do.

Among those things were a perfectly clean house, lots of planned activities for Madeleine and me, a delicious, home cooked supper every evening, crisp, clean and ironed clothes; oh, you get the picture.

And it’s not like I didn’t try. Heck, I may have even succeeded on some level (well, except for the perfect house, the plethora of planned activities, supper every evening; again, you get the idea)

Now here I am, four years and two kids later (for those not paying attention, that’s three, total) and my expectations are still just as high as the day I first stayed home, but I’m not quite as hard on myself when I don’t meet my own expectations.

You see, life happens. The perfectly clean house? Sure, it can be cleaned, maybe even perfectly, but what happens when you let your three kids play in it? I maintain that a perfectly clean house can only exist in two places: 1) homes with a fulltime housekeeper, workaholic residents and no kids and 2) husband’s fantasies.

Activities? We make it to story hour at the library more often than not, but sometimes my kids want to play with their friends. Or color. Or, for shame, watch television.

Supper? More often than not. I like to cook, so this one is easy. But sometimes I just plain don't feel like cooking. When Joe’s not here for dinner I confess my ambition to cook diminishes a thousand-fold. So yeah, I admit it; on those nights sometimes I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But I make them myself, so they’re still home cooked, right? Or at least homemade, at any rate.

I don’t even want to get into the laundry. At this point we’re operating out of a laundry basket that hopefully at least makes it from the basement to our bedroom. Forget anything along the lines of crisp orironed. And I seriously doubt any stay at home parent who professes to be totally up to date on their laundry. Maybe they are, but I choose to doubt their veracity anyway. It makes me feel better.

At the end of the day my house is clean enough. It may not sparkle, but it’s not embarrassing, we have good, healthy food to eat (generally) and, most of all, I’m doing what I really wanted to do when Joe and I first decided I should stay home, which is spend the days with my kids. I may not spend as much time as I should cooking or cleaning, but I do spend as much time as I should playing “This Little Piggy” with my baby, reading to Madeleine and playing trains with Hank.

And I’d like to think that when they’re older they won’t remember the dust bunnies under their bed, but they might remember a lazy day spent at the zoo with their mom.

Jeans, Part II

No, I'm not going to waste anymore time whining about the changing silhouette of jeans. I always am game for it, but frankly, I'm getting sick of hearing myself talk about it, so I'm done. For now.

But who doesn't want help choosing just the right pair, whether they be boot cut, straight legged or *gasp* skinny jeans?

Have fun. I know I did.

"She's Never Been Happier"

"She's never been happier."

So Jessica Simpson's friends are saying of her new romance with John Mayer. Wow, bringing out the big guns pretty quickly, aren't we guys? I mean, what will you say when they break up in the not-so-distant future and she dates someone new; that's she's never been happier... except for that time a few weeks ago?

I don't know why I let Simpson annoy me so much.

UPDATE: Oh! She's in love! Really? After what, a minute? According to the article:

they bumped into each other again in June at the New York City nightclub Double Seven, where a source tells PEOPLE Simpson was "flirting up a storm" with both Mayer and actor Jared Leto.

Wow, June, huh? Want to start taking bets as to when they'll break up? I give 'em until New Year's Day 2007. Max.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Baked Ravioli

Every busy person should have this recipe on file. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s delicious.

Baked Ravioli

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme or oregano (my favorite is oodles of fresh thyme—yum!)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I have, on occasion, substituted fresh tomatoes for both cans and yes, it’s better, but the canned tomatoes are just fine)
2 pounds store bought ravioli
1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add thyme (or oregano) and tomatoes and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, breaking up tomatoes with spoon, until sauce is thickened and reduced to about 5 ½ cups, 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook ravioli in a large pot of boiling salted water just until they float to the top (pasta will continue to cook in oven). Drain pasta; return to pot.

Toss sauce with pasta. Pour pasta into large gratin dish or 9 x 13 baking dish and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes.

Serves: 4-6, Prep time: 25 minutes, Total time: 50 minutes

My kids all love this meal; in fact it’s one of the few Madeleine requests. Another benefit is it freezes really well so, chances are, if you've had a baby recently this is what I brought you to eat. When my friends aren't procreating I will often double it anyway and freeze a portion for a later date.

I got it out of an old issue of Everyday Food, which is a magazine I recommend to everyone. The magazine is inexpensive and the recipes are easy and usually quite scrumptious with natural, delicious ingredients. If you’re interested in checking it out, here’s their website.

Breastfeeding in Public

I found this column by Sandra Hume and I just love it. It describes perfectly how I feel about nursing my babies in public. I've often wondered if, when people gave me the evil eye, they honestly thought I was doing it to make a statement or simply to make them uncomfortable. By some of the looks I've gotten I really don't know what else to think.

You may not believe it, but we nursing moms are not all that hot about feeding in public either. But we have to, because breast-feeding requires serious commitment. With so much at stake, we're not going to cloister ourselves to cater to someone else's issues. Breast-feeding is not about you. It's not even about me. It's about the baby. Moreover -- and I'm sure I'm not the only one with this talent -- most of my public feeding sessions involve a quick-change that's so clever even a perverted soul just waiting for me to flash him would be disappointed.

Like using a carseat or not letting my baby sit in a dirty diaper, breastfeeding is something that I do just because. It's not a question of switching to a bottle when we're out; when I don't use my breasts to nurse, I lose the milk. And you, the breast-o-phobe who dreads a public feeding session the way nonsmokers dread someone lighting up, aren't even part of the equation. Nursing babies eat a dozen times daily for months on end. If you had to do something 12 times a day, you'd stop worrying pretty quickly about who's around when you do it.

You can read the piece in its entirety here.

And, in case anyone is interested, I do nurse in public if necessary, but I try my best to wait until we can have some privacy (although usually that's more for my convenience than any possible on-lookers) and always use a blanket.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Just Call Her Fang

All my kids have been late teethers. Madeleine was the latest, not cutting a tooth until she was thirteen months old. Hank was ten months old (I think; would you believe I didn't write the date of his first tooth in his baby book?) Sweet little Elisabeth, at the ripe old age of ten months, has finally popped a tooth. Here it is in all its glory:

UPDATE: My husband accused me of not washing our daughter's face (see comments). FYI, the only way I could get a picture of her with her mouth open was to snap a picture while she was eating, thus the dirty face. I think she's adorable, food and all.

The Best Produce

The debate rages over whether the benefits of organic produce are worth the extra expense and while I have yet to form a strong opinion either way, I am a big proponent of using fresh produce as opposed to frozen or canned whenever possible. That said, I'll confess to having stood in the produce section of my local Pick-N-Save on numerous occasions scratching my head over which cantaloupe, peach or apple to choose.

I found this great column in Good Housekeeping called "How to Pick the Perfect Produce." It's a chart, really, detailing what signs to look for, and what to avoid. Quite helpful, really.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Mushroom Man Rides a Bike

I may have jumped the gun a bit. This past spring Hank, at the ripe old age of three, jumped on his sister's 12-inch bike, without training wheels and wanted to ride. I had my doubts as to his ability but I allowed the dream and little Hank proved my doubts wrong; he could do it! But then he didn't. He jumped back on his bike with training wheels and said, quite stridently, that he didn't want to ride his bike without training wheels anymore. Joe and I didn't push it.

Just last week Hank came whizzing out of the garage, once again atop his sister's pink and purple 12-inch two-wheeler. He was determined to keep up with the big kids on the block and he asked us to take the training wheels off his 16-inch bike. We did, and he hasn't looked back since (well, except in the last picture, where he kind of looks like the mushroom character from the Mario video games).

Sunday, August 27, 2006


I don’t know for sure if popcorn is an acquired taste or if one can be born with a genetic predisposition to love it, but based on my experience I’m willing to bet it’s genetics. I love popcorn. Not just in an “every once in awhile” kind of way either. I mean I love popcorn. I eat it multiple times a week, and crave it even more often and have ever since I can remember. I can’t remember ever watching a movie with my mom without munching on a big bowl of warm, buttery popcorn. I easily remember nights when my mom, step dad and I would get home from a meeting or something after skipping supper and simply eating popcorn for supper. And, like me, Mom didn’t like to share. “Get your own popcorn, “ was a common refrain in my house.

And now my kids love popcorn. Madeleine and Hank get more excited about the fact that they get to eat popcorn when Joe and I announce that we’re about to embark on a movie night than the fact that they get to stay up late and watch a movie. This truth was illustrated the other night when they had two friends over to watch a movie. I made popcorn for them, of course, and served it to them in four individual bowls. My kids ate their first bowl. Refill. Ate a second bowl. Their friends? One ate a quarter of their bowl, the other half. And they like popcorn. I guess they just don’t like popcorn.

There are so many different ways to eat popcorn, with butter, without, salt, sugar… how is a person supposed to know what to choose? My recommendation is to try them all but if you don’t love popcorn as I do then just read on and take my advice.

If I didn’t care about calories and clogged arteries my first choice way to make popcorn would be in my Whirley Pop stovetop popcorn popper. Coat the bottom of the popper with grape seed oil and kosher salt, pop the popcorn and add popcorn salt and butter to taste (shamefully, I love lots of both).

However, since I don’t want to weigh 15,000 pounds and I’d like to dream about fitting into skinny jeans, I typically put just a touch of grape seed oil in the bottom of my Whirley pop, a little kosher salt and then pop my corn. It’s actually still pretty good.

The absolute best popcorn, in my opinion, unfortunately just happens to be the worst for you. Movie theatre popcorn. Oh good heavens is it good. I knew I’d found the man of my dreams the first time Joe and I went to a movie together and he confessed he didn’t even like popcorn that much. Perfect, since smashing hands with someone while you’re trying to enjoy movie theatre popcorn just totally ruins everything (as it does for all popcorn, really; remember the “get your own popcorn” refrain from above?). But don’t try to make it at home. Yeah, you can buy coconut oil and do it, but it never tastes the same. Save the indulgence for the theatre.

I had planned to research popcorn a bit and put in a few interesting facts and details. But I have two problems. The first is I kind of like thinking of popcorn in terms of beginning in my childhood, introduced to me by my mom, a fellow popcorn aficionado, and knowing its real history would ruin that. But most importantly I’m now craving some popcorn. The kids are asleep and Grey’s Anatomy is on so I think I will wrap this and go indulge.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Where is Suri?

Does Suri Cruise exist? Does it matter?

I have never be a huge Tom Cruise fan and, truth be told, I’m still pretty blas√© about him.

I have never been a huge Katie Holmes fan. I think she’s a cute actress and I moderately enjoyed her performance on Dawson’s Creek.

In the scheme of things that matter to me, the existence of their daughter doesn’t rate too high on my list. But I’ll admit it; the fact that she’s yet to be seen months after her birth strikes me as bizarre. And I’m hooked. Where is Suri? How is it possible to hide a baby?

April 18, 2006: Suri Cruise is born at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Mother and daughter head home after twenty-four hours. [1]

Mid- July 2006: King of Queens star Leah Remini, a friend of Cruise and a fellow Scientologist, reports having met Suri. [2]

Late July 2006: Jada Pinkett Smith comments on meeting little Suri Cruise.[3]

Early August 2006: Cruise ex-girlfriend Penelope Cruz reports having met Suri. Her comments about the mysterious baby are vague.[4]

August 10, 2006: Vanity Fair is rumored to have landed photo rights to the yet un-photographed almost four-month old.[5]

There is so much more that could be posted here. Google Suri’s name and hundreds of thousands of websites appear. Conspiracy theories abound. So, what’s the truth? I don’t have a theory. I assume she exists and is as normal as is possible for any baby being raised by Hollywood movie stars. But I only assume that because I can’t possibly fathom two people being deranged enough to create a mythical baby for publicity purposes. It’s so Days of Our Lives.

I will admit to being interested and hopefully this latest report about a Vanity Fair photo spread is true and we can all see Suri, confirm that she exists and move onto more important celebrity issues, like who’s more heartbroken: Nick Lachey or Jessica Simpson?


Skinny Jeans

I am not a slave to fashion. I am also not one of those people who can effortlessly pull random articles of clothing together and look ridiculously hip and put together. However I do like to look somewhat trendy and as long as I have a couple cheat sheets √† la In Style and Vogue magazines I have the ability to at least look as if I live in the year 2006. In fact, I’ll admit it, all I do is read those magazines and wear what they tell me. That’s all I have time for and, frankly, that’s about all I’m capable of. The artistic gene in my family, which is quite strong in others, was lost to me.

Maybe you can imagine my shock and horror when In Style appeared in my mailbox last month chock full of --gasp! -- tight, tapered pants…the skinny jean was back!

Those are what I am supposed to run out and buy to be fashionable this fall? Look, I didn’t love them the first time around, but now all bets are off. Since they were last all the rage I grew hips and birthed three children (I won’t tell you in which order I did those things). How is any normal woman, let alone one who has endured pregnancy and birth, supposed to wear any fashion that accentuates the thigh? Please.

Thankfully I’ve also read that the straight leg jean is also in, although seemingly not quite as vogue as the skinny jean, but I don’t care (and I'd love to be corrected on this point). I guess I’ll have to look not quite as “in” as Hollywood fashion-istas and supermodels and my contemporaries who’ve opted for extreme dieting and, in some cases, liposuction. I’ll just grin and bear it until the next fad hits the runway. But please all you fashion gurus and designers out there, I’m begging you, on behalf of women who’ve hit puberty and mothers everywhere, nothing accentuating the hip or belly area, please. Oh, and while we’re at it, how about some cute, trendy shoes that are actually possible to walk in. Please?

Friday, August 25, 2006

School Registration

It's time I faced the truth. I've become what I, at one time, laughed at. Verbally poked fun at, even. Something I thought I would never find satisfaction in, yet I do. I am a fairly stereotypical suburbanite mom. Yesterday proved it.

Yesterday was registration at our local public school. It began at 7 a.m. and parents were free to come anytime after that point. It was also when all students were finally able to pick up their teacher assignments.

Let me background my community. It’s a fairly small town (16,000) ten minutes from the downtown of a mid-size city, most residents are college educated and married and there are a lot of stay at home parents (mostly moms). Parents here don’t just meet with their children’s teachers from time to time to discuss little Tommy’s progress; no, no, parents here have a working knowledge of which teacher said what to which student five years ago because there were no less than three parents “helping” out in the classroom when said event occurred. Juicy stories whispered parent to parent at drop-off and pick-up are much more likely to revolve around a parent who dared not throw a bike helmet on Susie the first second she glanced at her bike than sordid details of illicit trysts or current national and international happenings (and, just for the record, my kids do wear their bike helmets).

Now, back to the teacher assignments. You’d think that envelope containing the name of their upcoming teacher was the Holy Grail itself the way some mothers, including me, acted yesterday morning. We got up early in the morning for the sole intent of getting to school as soon as humanly possible to answer the question that had been on my daughter’s and my minds all summer: will Madeleine get placed with Mrs. N, the fabulous teacher she had for Kindergarten and who is moving up to teach first grade?

I accepted early in the summer that with six first grade classes the likelihood was slim, and Madeleine’s chances were lowered even more by a principal whose professional history has a pattern of breaking up classes whose students were especially cohesive (which ours [notice how I call it “ours” as if I had been in the class?] was) and never assigning a repeat teacher to the same student. And with six first grade sections to choose from there was no earthly reason to believe this year, or Madeleine, would be any different.

I hardly made it out the office door with my (er... I mean Madeleine's) envelope before I ripped into it. My eyes raced down the page, skipping all the boring details about upcoming curriculum, academic goals for the year and when and where Madeleine needed to be on the first day of school and skipped right down to the part where it said Madeleine’s teacher was going to be… Ms. K. Huh. That wasn’t Mrs. N’s name. I glanced up in horror only to lock eyes with another mom from Madeleine's class last year. "Who'd D___ get, " I asked tentatively.

"Mrs. P, " D___'s mom answered miserably. "You?"

"Ms. K." I sighed. I almost felt like crying. I said almost, not that I did. And hey, in my defense, D___'s mom looked like she wanted to cry too.

But I got over it. You see, knowing that getting assigned to Mrs. N was going to be a long shot with about the same odds as Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock’s marriage lasting, I had created a back-up plan. Another teacher to hope Madeleine was assigned to. And that was Ms. K. So, no, we didn’t get our first round draft pick, but we did get a teacher who is supposed to be smart, sweet and a real hit with the kids and both Madeleine and I (to say nothing of my husband, Joe) are very excited to be assigned to someone who has a reputation of excellence.

All of this uber-concern over things that really, in the scheme of life, don’t matter that much is the bread and butter of where I live and although I poke fun at it, I love it. Pretty soon the sound of sliding mini-van doors and yelling children will be humming in my ear as I re-learn how to balance my latte while trying to single-handedly push our double jogger and dodge kids running from their Chevy Suburbans to their assigned doors. I’m thrilled school is starting next week and I can get back in the classroom and get to know “our” new teacher.