Archive for the ‘Family life’ category

baking with friends: lemon baby Bundts

April 12th, 2010
Hands washed, aprons on: it's baking time

Hands washed, aprons on: it's time to bake

Sonia mixing the wet ingredients for mini lemon Bundt cakes

Sonia mixing the wet ingredients for lemon Bundt cakes

On rainy days when I was a kid, all the neighborhood kids would gather around our kitchen table (big enough to seat my parents and us six kids) for my mom’s project du jour. It could be anything from copper enameling to baking chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, making candles to pouring plaster of Paris in red rubber molds.

When Carter’s friend and neighbor Sonia came over to bake with us on a rainy afternoon, I felt a bit nostalgic for those days. Sonia wore her new apron, and we made mini lemon Bundt cakes. I explained to Carter and Sonia how they could each put in a quarter cup to equal a half, and figured that pinches from two 5-year-olds equalled the called-for pinch of salt. (Baking is such a great way to teach math, without it seeming like you’re teaching math.)

We also did some experimenting. Since we were out of yogurt, we substituted sour cream and added 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. If I were Alton Brown, that could have been a science lesson.

Better than the mini lemon Bundt cakes being delicious (thanks to Nigella and four helping hands): Sonia wanting to come back and bake with us again.

losing a child’s lovey is an emergency

February 15th, 2010

I just read Wheels on the Bus, and Lucy, Emily’s son Benjamin’s one-of-a-kind lovey, has gone missing. For a mom, this is a crisis situation. I left an encouraging message after recently having had a Bear Blanket close call. And I don’t want to think about what would happen if we lost Pink Bear.

When I was pregnant, my friend Brenda took me to Maternal Connection at El Camino Hospital, an amazing and rare resource for breastfeeding supplies and support. She told me to buy two flannel receiving blankets. One had a balloon pattern, the other Teddy bears. As only an experienced mom would know, these blankets were cut larger than most receiving blankets, so you could actually swaddle a baby in one. Of course, we didn’t know our baby would weigh 9 pounds, 13 ounces, at birth and quickly outgrow them for swaddling.

Brenda also took one look at me the first time she saw me at home alone with Carter, called El Camino, had me hand over a credit card, and registered me for the New Mothers’ Support Group, another amazing resource when taught by her same teacher, Laurie. My mommies’ group, all with babies born within weeks of each other, is still a lifesaver and actively in touch, as is Brenda’s. During a class, Laurie taught us how to train our child to have a lovey. The hope is a baby with a lovey in the crib will wake up, comfort himself with the smell of Mommy from the lovey, and fall back asleep without crying.

I started with cloth diapers (it’s a good strategy, as you’ll see, to have multiples). I’d put one over my left shoulder, where I would pat Carter after nursing him at bedtime. (I’d be in my bed. Sometimes, I’d fall asleep, too, and “forget to put the baby back.”) I’d put it with him in his crib and toss it in the wash in the morning. Eventually, I upgraded him to flannel blankets, and the El Camino blankets went into the rotation. As the years went by, and the El Camino blankets became the softest from the most washes, Carter settled on just the Bear and Balloon Blankets. He would sleep with them and use them to comfort himself. (When he’d get upset, I’d straight out ask, “Do you want a flannel blanket?”) They also had starring roles in many pretend play schemes. Then they went missing, turning up, finally, in all places, at Brenda’s house. (She had assumed they were one of her kids’ until I called searching for them.)

Late last year, we lost Balloon Blanket. Carter rejected the replacement from El Camino (yes, the shop still sells the same pattern nearly five years later) because it lacked the washed-hundreds-of-times texture. As a preventative measure, I cut Bear Blanket in half. Then one half disappeared. I cut the remaining half in half.

Then the other night, I found myself knocking on the door after hours at Frye’s trying to track down a 1/4-size piece of worn-thin flannel that looks like a rag. I told the man at the door, “It’s an emergency! My son lost his baby blanket!” (I left out that my son is now 5.) I retraced my husband’s steps and nearly assailed the salesperson cleaning up in the camera section, where the model trains live, too. He had seen it…and eventually found it in a back room! I could not adequately express my gratitude.

New rule: Both Bear Blanket halves stay home. Carter’s asleep with them now. And I had to find Pink Bear before he went to sleep. I hope I won’t have to ground her, too.

“I’m doing the best I can”—excuse or survival tactic?

February 14th, 2010

Is saying “I’m doing the best I can”:

A) Giving up
B) Coping
C) My 2009 mantra
D) All of the above

Does the answer depend on whether I say it aloud or just to myself? I confess it was my silent mantra last year, but I’ve found myself saying it lately with some frequency.

Excuse or survival tactic? Discuss among yourself.

remember me? catching up

January 3rd, 2010

treenew cousins

Hello, Blog, My Old Friend. It’s been too long. It’s not that I haven’t thought about writing, just like I think about baking and exercising. Doing, however, is a whole different thing than thinking about. Starting is the hardest part. And, I know, when I show up, the rest takes care of itself. (I’ve been trying to say and—not but—a brainstorming lesson learned at Stanford.)

Whether blogging, baking, or exercising, I resolve to show up more this year. And getting more organized is always on my list. Started out on the right foot (and left) today: yoga class at the Y this morning and Wii Fit (thank you, Santa!) this afternoon. If Wii Yoga classifies me as an “amateur,” what does it call people who haven’t taken a dozen years of yoga classes? At least, I bowled a 181 (Carter had a 183) and lowered my WiiFit age to 33, down from 56 (!) on Christmas. Hope I can keep it up better than all the other people with good intentions who will pack the Y this month.

karateDecember was busy. We went to Charlotte to meet my newest niece and nephew (now 6 months old); Carter and their 5-year-old brother, Conor, adore each other and had a blast. Carter earned his green belt in karate. He picked out a “Carter-size” tree (almost 4 feet tall) at Target and waited to trim it with my father- and sister-in-law, who came for Christmas. A lot of presents for Carter fit under that little tree. Jeff and I want to play with his new toys—Lincoln Logs,  Lego helicopter transporter, etc.

Continuing a bit of an unlucky streak, three UPS packages were stolen from our front porch, so having a Crayola Glow Station from Santa under the tree  required a Christmas Eve dash to Target. Also taken: a smoked turkey from Jeff’s dad, a rocket place mat that says “Daddy,” and another (still a surprise) present for Jeff. Also, unfortunately, Carter came down with pneumonia during a quick post-Christmas trip to visit my family in Illinois. He’s recovering well, and needless to say, it’s good to be home for a quiet weekend before it’s back to the normal weekday commute-work-daycare routine come Monday.

I look forward to 2010 being a better year, and I wish you and yours a happy, healthy new decade.

sewing project: a bear ballerina costume

December 9th, 2009

c swings PBballerinaballet 3 square

Carter wanted me to make Pink Bear a tutu. Actually, he was quite specific about it being pink, and sparkly, and how it would stick out. To Carter, a simple request. After all, I made his favorite teddy bear red pants.

I told him: Wait until Grandma gets here. My mom sewed costumes for all my dance concerts, from grade school through high school. I’ve sewn PJ pants. My mom sewed my sister’s wedding dress (and all the bridesmaids’ dresses and my dad’s tuxedo). Thank goodness, I knew she was coming for Thanksgiving when Carter started dreaming up Pink Bear’s ballerina outfit.

My mom and I spent hours at Joann Fabrics, finally finding pink netting in the bridal department, and chiffon ribbon with sparkly hearts to piece together for a bodice overlay. (We also each got a purse handle and purse pattern; now we just have to get the fabric and make the purses to match.)

My mom designed, cut, and directed. I pinned and sewed. And sewed. And ripped seams. And sewed. Took my sewing machine apart, and sewed and ripped some more. Small does not mean fast with sewing.

Carter says Pink Bear looks beautiful in her ballerina outfit.

Sewing with my mom is like baking with Carter. We get to do something we like to do together. There’s teaching; there’s learning. We’re proud of each other and what we make together. Bonus: we get to enjoy the end result—eat it, share it, or just admire Pink Bear wearing it and see how happy that makes Carter.

licensed characters crowd the bookstore

December 2nd, 2009

My dad loves to take grandkids to bookstores, and going to Borders with Carter was one of three things he wanted to do when he and my mom came to visit for Thanksgiving. (The Creamery for a root beer float and The Counter for a burger were the others.)

Usually, Carter heads straight for the airplane books, but this time (for the first time) he never got past the toys, games, and sticker books in front of the children’s book section. And I have to admit that I was embarrassed that it was licensed characters—Dora, the Super Why team, Up movie characters—that attracted his attention. (At least, Charlie Brown and Olivia debuted on the printed page.)

It’s not that I don’t like these characters. Dora is a positive Hispanic female role model, and the Super Why TV show is getting Carter excited about learning to reading skills. But I feel guilty that my child can so easily recognize so many TV and movie characters. It feels like a mark of poor parenting, which I compound by buying licensed products. I don’t like how so much stuff is marketed successfully to kids, yet I’d rather my child read licensed books than no books. And he likes them.

In the end, Carter had Grandpa get him a Super Why ABC Letter game and an Up sticker book—and, thankfully, to redeem me: an airplane sticker book. Before bed tonight, Carter, Jeff, and I played the game. The first question posed to Carter: What rhymes with “hill” and “drill”? The moment when he answered “daffodil” somehow made it ok that I had succumbed to the PBS marketing muscle.

even if you don’t have kids, read hungry monkey, a funny book from a foodie dad

November 9th, 2009

I read Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater after my friend Amy raved about it in person. On her blog, Cooking with Amy, she calls Hungry Monkey “the funniest book I’ve read all year….I literally couldn’t put it down.” And she doesn’t even have kids. She does know cooking, though, and she likes the recipes: “I’ve recommended [Hungry Monkey] to just about everyone I know who has little ones,” she says. “I don’t dare lend anyone my copy because there are too many recipes I have bookmarked to try.”

Reading the acknowledgments (what can I say—I’m a book editor) further affirmed that it’s a small world. My friends Anita and Cameron are friends with the author, Matthew Amster-Burton, and tested some of the recipes. Check out what they have to say on their blog Married with Dinner. Amster-Burton writes a blog called Roots and Grubs.

The stories about the author and his daughter are funny and touching. Most of the book’s recipes, though, are beyond my cooking (vs. baking) skill level. Some of the simpler recipes that I’d like to try are Crunchy Cheese Wafers (I can handle baking cheese, nuts, and herbs for 5 minutes at 400˚F) and Mini Fritattas made in nonstick muffin pans. The author’s favorite veggie is Brussels sprouts, so I’m tempted to follow his surprising recommendations to brown and braise frozen (!) ones.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll enjoy Amster-Burton’s insider view of the world of food. If you’re a new parent, Hungry Monkey will give you a realistic view of what to expect, including your lack of control over what your child chooses to eat. I also recommend this book to anyone, though, who just wants a laugh. And who couldn’t use that these days?

project runway: easy-to-make costume for a kid who loves airplanes

November 1st, 2009

run smallSew a black jack o’ lantern face on an orange T-shirt and pair it with orange sweatpants. That’s my idea of how much effort should go into making a costume. And it matched perfectly what Carter wanted the last two Halloweens.

When Carter said he wanted to be a prince or a knight for Halloween this year, I told him they both sounded complicated to make. His solution: “Tell me what you can make, and then I’ll tell you what I’ll be.”

Auntie Stacey is famous for her creativity when it comes to making costumes (Carter wore her son’s outgrown Max from the Wild Things costume one year), so she came over to brainstorm with us. She gets credit for this year’s winner: What better than an airport for the boy who loves planes? And what could be easier to make? Jeff taped the runway markings precisely on a black T-shirt and sweatpants. (Thank you, Honey!) For added security, I tacked down the tape with thread and sewed on a plush plane. Done!

Carter’s a happy boy posing with an added biplane in the photo, but earlier in the evening there was doubt he would go trick or treating and tears when he realized he could not join his neighbor friends. He started coughing Thursday and running a fever last night, and both were worse today. Around 6 pm, the poor lil guy said: “I’m too sick to go trick or treating. I’ll go tomorrow instead.”

Fortunately, the ibuprofen kicked in and he perked up just enough to walk up and down our block with me. I know it’s not a good thing to take a child with a fever out, but on Halloween, it seems far worse to keep a child home. He washed and sanitized his hands before we went, and stood back, didn’t touch anything, and had me put the candy in his bag. But at least he got to say “trick or treat” and “thank you” for both the candy and the compliments on his clever, custom-made costume.

“guilty mommy” gets attention

September 19th, 2009

Yesterday’s blog about mommy guilt received the swiftest and most responses (on the blog and on my Facebook page) to anything that I’ve written so far. (I know, I know; baking brownies just doesn’t stir emotions in the same way.)

If you haven’t read the book I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, I recommend that you do. It’s a super fast read, with lots of insight, humor, and advice packed in. The authors, Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, start by fessing up to how they feel. See if any of these ring true:

-“As mothers, we put way too much pressure on ourselves.” [agree]
-“We have an unrealistic image of what a ‘good’ mom is.” [agree]
-“We secretly compare ourselves to other moms, who seem to have it all together.” [not so much—I admire and depend on lots of moms]
-We think we need to be perfect all the time. [agree]
-We feel alone. [sometimes]
-Our lives feel out of balance.” [sometimes]

Then the authors interviewed a lot of moms who (surprise!) feel the same way.

Spoiler alert! To summarize, for those who don’t read the book, the authors’ advice boils down to: realign your expectations of yourself as a parent. Consider if your expectations make sense and whether they make you and your family happy. Just doing this, they say, is the key to letting go of guilt and judgment—and to loving being a mom as much as you love your kids.

I think an equally important takeaway is their advice for moms to talk honestly to each other and to support each other.

I wouldn’t have survived motherhood thus far if it weren’t for other moms. It was thanks to my friends and sisters that I was eventually able to breastfeed Carter, after doctors and lactation consultants had long given up on me. (Carter was 9 weeks old the first day I was able to exclusively breastfeed him. He then nursed until he weaned himself at 2 1/2 years old.) When Carter was an infant, I would email my weekly new mommies’ group, which still gets together, in the middle of the night and get a response. Carter broke his leg when he was 3, and a mom I’d never met from the Palo Alto Menlo Park Parents’ Club, which has thousands of members, lent me her copy of Jessica’s X-Ray. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I am filled with gratitude for all that other moms have done for me.

In the end, I don’t think “realigning expectations” will ever assuage all my guilt. But support from other moms? Now, that gets results.

Yet another guilty mommy

September 18th, 2009

I just read I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood for book club. Authors Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile interviewed a lot of moms who feel a lot of guilt about a lot of things. It got me to thinking: What do I feel guilty about—aside from never putting together any scrapbooks for Carter?

I don’t feel guilty about working, even though I’m gone from 8 am to 6 pm every weekday. (I don’t know how stay-at-home moms do it—how they have the patience and physical stamina. The most exhausting time of my life was my 20-week maternity leave.) I think it’s good for Carter to see me do what I love. It doesn’t hurt, in his eyes, that my job means I can make a book about airplanes.

I don’t feel guilty about Carter going to daycare. He learns more at Lucy’s than I could ever teach him staying at home. (Did I mention he understands Russian?)

However, I do feel tremendously guilty if I do something, even take a class, when Carter is not in daycare and is awake: weekday mornings, weeknights between coming home and bedtime at 8 pm, and weekends, outside of naptime, until bedtime.

Last fall, I went on two business trips, four days to New York and three days to Florida—the first time and only times I’ve ever left Carter for more than a day.

I also feel guilty when I want to sleep in the morning, but Carter is awake—especially when he bounces in at 6 am, or even 7 am, and says, “Get up, Mommy! I want you to play with me.”

I should be grateful. For years, Carter got up between 5 and 5:30 am—every morning. And that was it. We were both awake. I’d read stacks and stacks of books. I’d take him for walks in our PJs. Sometimes, I got lucky: he’d nurse and then we’d both snooze.

However, I feel like if I were a truly Good Mother, I would spend and savor every possible hour—even when I’d rather be sleeping—with Carter.

Truth is: Carter doesn’t care that much if I’m gone, as long as it’s not an extensive absence and Jeff is around. Carter actually wants me to go to yoga class on Saturday morning because he likes to go to childcare at the Y (they have fun toys). He’s starting to decline to go on errands with me, even to Trader Joe’s (!), to stay home and play. Sometimes, he’d rather watch TV than bake with me (double ouch). If I leave to go somewhere, I get a “ba-bye” for the most part.

Yet. I feel guilty. Welcome to modern motherhood. According to the book, I’m in good company.