Currently / 12.19.14

Hiya, folks! If you’re stopping by from the linky party, thanks and it’s great to see you. Here’s this week’s themes:

I’m currently LOVING the fact that today’s the last day of school before a two-week vacation. Sure, the day’s jam-packed with singing in the teacher’s chorus, squeezing in a quick class, the nerves of having my husband invited into school to do one of his famous readings of “The Polar Express” (and watching my 2-year-old in the process), and my usual classes, but there isn’t a real complaint in the mix. Oh, and I’m even going for one of my 2-3 times-per-year hair cuts tonight. Exciting stuff, people. Ex-citin’.

I’d like to think that READING more would be high on my list of 2015 goals, but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself since I always seem to have at least a half dozen books going at a time…and rarely find myself completing a single one. That said, this was shared on FB by one of my librarian buddies (for those that don’t know, I’m a school librarian by day) and sparked my interest. UGH! So many great ideas to go after on that list, but to avoid the inevitable failure, I’ll aim for a handful this year. Maybe that’ll be doable.

Lately, I’ve been CHOOSING between sleep and getting projects done, and guess what’s actually happening. Right. Neither. While I’m waiting for that bolt of energy to strike me motivated, I sit there spinning my wheels while staring at a computer screen (only half getting anything off-topic finished). So, I’ll have to work harder than Santa’s elves to get a couple of the handmade projects I’ve got planned for Hadley done in time!

Hopefully, I’ll be DESIGNING several things in the new year: a new website, re-designing the blog (still doesn’t feel quite right…what do you think?), but most importantly, myself. Internally. Not, like, a superficial makeover, but a total rehab of the good ol’ interior. Mhmm.

WONDERING if I’ll actually have the guts to get some stuff published this year. Wondering if I’ll have the motivation and guts to write more, and to try for some freelance gigs in 2015. Wondering if it really matters. Wondering what my focus needs to be, aside from the usual musts (family and friends). But, more importantly, wondering if we’ll have a white Christmas this year. (We weren’t supposed to last year, but we had an unexpected, unpredicted coating that filled me with joy and excitement. This year, there’s a chance for a storm, but it might include ice and rain, sooooo…)  

Do tell! What’re you loving/reading/choosing/designing/wondering currently? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Linking up with the fabulous Ot & Et and Harvesting Kale

The Real Santa

Isn’t it strange how belief and acceptance can come in phases? It can be applied to much in life, but for today, I’m talking Santa.

My belief in the big guy only lasted until about second grade. I wasn’t out to “find out” about him. I didn’t really question a single bit of it. I was riding merrily along in full belief mode, ignorant of the facts.

But, then I found myself in a storm of constant sickness. One evening, I was resting poorly in my mother’s bed (to avoid getting any siblings sick), flailing around uncomfortably, when I absentmindedly fell out of bed. When what to my eyes did appear but…Teddy Ruxpin.

I furrowed my brow. Huh. Well. Maybe Mom bought him for me instead of Santa since she knew how badly I wanted him. Yeah. That.

So, on Christmas morning, when I opened the gift and noticed that the tag did, indeed, say that the gift was from the jolly man in the red suit, well…I was depressed. The fact that good ol’ Teddy only lasted a week before he started speaking a low, eerie language all his own that even my grandfather couldn’t fix added insult to injury.

Fast forward 25+ years. I’ve been excitedly attending the Candlelight Evening at a local living history museum on and off since I was a teen. At this event, it is always the coldest time you can imagine having on planet Earth, and it is always incredible. There are white bag luminaries and lanterns lit throughout the grounds, where you can visit “local shopkeepers and vendors” like the printer, doctor, pharmacist, tavern, church and more. There’s a working farm with animals that you can greet, and wassail cauldrons over bonfires strewn throughout the space. Delicious comfort food is served (can you say “gingerbread”?) and you can buy handmade goodies (or more touristy stuff) at several shops, all while hearing the sound of carolers and performers wafting with the sound of horse-drawn carriages.

I mean, seriously. What’s more traditionally Christmasy than that? We hear so many songs about jingle bells and horses, sharing cheer and the like, but how often can you see it in person? It’s unimaginable.

The best part of all, though, is St. Nicholas. My God, guys. It’s the REAL Santa. Seriously. He talks in the schoolhouse about the tradition of St. Nick, as well as telling a story about what preparations were made for Christmas in the 1800s (“saving the best apples in the cellar from the autumn harvest”), before wandering around outside for people to interact with him. When my nephew was younger and in that is-he-or-isn’t-he-real phase, he saw Santa, dropped his jaw, and went up to him to say, “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, sir!!” I mean, good!

So, of course, after Dave experienced this whole thing for the first time (we even dragged some friends along over the years), we decided that it would be a tradition, barring bad weather, for our family. I honestly don’t recall whether we brought Hadley when he was a baby-baby (I almost think so…?), but last year was his first memorable experience (check it out here and here). It was cold and snowy – terrifyingly so on the ride home – but wonderful. He met Santa, who knew our names (!) and the rest is history. And of course we’ll be visiting this year, although we have a far antsier little toddler on our hands who may or may not allow me to sit and enjoy my gingerbread (an old fashioned peppermint stick bribe may be in order), but as long as we can see THE Santa, we’ll be happy.

But I WILL have my gingerbread. Oh, yes. Make no doubts about that.

I’ve always tried to keep the Santa concept going with my young students, although it used to be awkward and kind of difficult for me. Now that he’s part of our vocabulary, though, I find myself having total dialogues with Dave (or even myself) about what Santa’s life must be like, and how he gauges between a naughty deed and being a truly naughty child, and so forth. As if I’m part of a play that turns incredibly “method”, I have actually started to believe again.

I mean, of course I realize how the whole thing works. Clearly. But, thanks to this little boy (and the help of a few hundred elementary students and one incredibly convincing old-fashioned Santa), the spirit of St. Nicholas is still very much alive and well in my heart.

And, really, isn’t that the idea of Christmas?

So, be honest, guys. Do you believe? Has anyone else had a “rebirth” regarding the issue? Or go ahead and tell us how you found out “the truth”?  

Christmas Tree 1, Us 0

I’m a fan of real Christmas trees, I am. I even recently wrote a piece for Green Child Magazine finally answering a constant question in the green community: which is greener, a real tree or artificial? But this year, we found ourselves having a battle that found us grumbling the pluses of fake trees.

As with last year, we found our tree (and a couple of inexpensive, gorgeous wreaths) at Candella’s in Marcy. It was a nerve-wracking trip home, between the line of traffic piling behind us and keeping a constant eye on the branches jutting off the car roof. When we finally got home, Hadley gave us a hell of a time going down for a nap (the time we were going to use to put the thing up).

Eventually, we started working on dragging the tree in and setting it up. The two lessons of the day are, if possible, determine how many branches REALLY need to be trimmed off the bottom of the tree when the gentleman asks how we’d like it trimmed and, um, we need a new tree stand.

Let’s just say it took about an hour+ of frustrated finagling (and a couple of small pieces of scrap wood in the water bowl part of the tree stand as a makeshift support/wedge) before the tree was freestanding.

As I sit watching “White Christmas,” I’m in a fowl mood, eying the unadorned tree. It’s Sunday night and I now have absolutely zero motivation to even decorate the thing. But, since Had’s STILL sleeping (um, it’s dark out) and I know the glow of those glimmering white lights will be worth it. Coming in to the cozy glow at the end of the work day will be awesome.

But, at the moment, I’m feeling simply defeated. Oh, yes, we will buy another real one next year…but hopefully with a new stand and a keen eye for the “that one looks PERFECT!” allusion.

Who uses a faux tree here? Real? We grew up with the fake kind (and I remember some issues with those, but they were old school), but there’s something about the smell of fresh pine that says “Christmas!” Oh, and I also strongly believe in white lights; not colored. 😉    

Learning + Toddlers = Fun

For those a bit late to the party, I’m an educator by trade. (Some might say that a school librarian isn’t an educator, but dudes…I educate.) While I have no idea whether this is my lifelong calling, it’s definitely something I strive to do on a daily basis, whether the kids are in my classes or under my own roof.

But, when you have a two-year-old (or any toddler or kiddo, for that matter), it’s not always practical or realistic to have nice sit-down lessons. At this age, it’s all about making things palatable, like hiding veggies in meals and smothering things with cheese. (We all do it, guys, there’s no shame here.) Life’s also all about fun (as it should be), and it can be surprising what simple things kids can deem as a good ol’ time.

So, today I’m here with a few tips on fitting some simple, fun learning into your little one’s day. Even if you just pick out one or two to try here and there, you can feel a little bit better about the amount of times he’s watched the same Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on repeat. (Or, in our house, Duck Tales and Mickey Christmas Carol. Yep. It is what it is.)

Use toys as learning tools. We tend to over-think the early learning process. Simple is totally best at this stage. So, things like simple mathematical concepts are totally doable. “Let’s count how many farm animals you have!” (Depending on his/her stage, count along. Hadman’s great up until 13, but then repeats it several times and skips to 17. We’re working on it. ;-)) You could also line up four Legos, have him count them, then take one away and ask how many are left. Simple addition/subtraction like this will get his mind thinking in a different, problem-solving way than basic counting.

Magnet letters are my BFF. I need to buy another set since he’s used the crud out of these (read: half are missing), but our Melissa and Doug magnetic letters LIVE on the fridge. Recently while waiting to get packed up, Hadley had a bunny toy and a stuffed baby doll in his hands. We named what they were (“bunny” and “baby”) and while making the “B” sound several times, I asked him what letter they start with. He ran to the fridge and immediately started to search for the “B.” I’ve found my favorite new game, folks, and he LOVES getting claps and hugs for correct answers. Believe it or not, toddlers are people pleasers. 

Potty time is learning time. Let’s face it: waiting for potty to come out is a boring (sometimes excruciating) job. Turn it into a fun time by reading short board books together, doing a rhyming game, learning “patty cake” (Had can now do it all by himself. My proud mama heart bursts!), singing the alphabet, naming the parts of the body, and more. When I do the alphabet, I’ll pause for him to say the next letter, or lately we’ve even started trying to name things that start with the letter sound. Vowels are a challenge since they take on the sound of the letter following it (for example, “elephant” sounds like “L”), but moments like “What starts with an ‘M’?” “MAMA!!!” are awesome. (This tip goes for bath time and commutes, too.)

Never too early to read. Okay, so maybe you’re not like us. Maybe you don’t have a bedtime routine down yet. Maybe you thought your infant was too little to start reading to. It’s totally okay! Just know that it’s NEVER too early or late to read with your little one. There are so many studies touting the importance of early reading — that they feel love and security in the routine and one-on-one time, they learn the proper care and use of books (modeling how to turn the page properly and that we can’t turn the page until we’ve finished reading all the words), that books can teach AND entertain us…the list goes on. Establishing the routine also helps them settle down and learn expectations for each night; in other words, we have very little divergence from the regular routine (once in awhile I’ll bring him a sippy cup of water, but even that is pretty rare). Another awesome side effect? Seeing how their personal preferences and interests develop.

Give art meaning. I often draw a holiday symbol as a little coloring sheet to mix up our usual Sesame Street coloring activities, but you can take this a step further. Give your little one a sheet of white paper and ask them to draw something and describe it. (Sometimes it’s one word, sometimes it’s a full sentence.) Then, either write the sentence/phrase below the picture or post it on a piece of construction paper with a separate sentence strip below it. Show this to your child and read the sentence. You could also do the same with plenty of seasonal or concept-driven themes. For example, an apple stamping and write a fact from an apple book (or a basic fact like “Apples come from apple trees.”) to create a sense of importance to the art, but also teach a simple lesson.

Can’t say enough about independent play. I’ve heard that boys are better at this than girls, but I also feel that it depends on their environment. Hadley is, for the most part, an only child (aside from pets). He’s the only little one at his grandma’s house during the day. He’s the only little one at home, for now. While we do play with him often, he’s quite content to seek out his own time to play and pretend. I, however, was the fourth and youngest child in my family. I was used to having people play with me, so as I got older and they weren’t into my little kid games anymore, it stung and I had a very hard time playing independently. I truly believe that a greater imagination is developing in our little guy, as well as additional skills that I may not have been blessed with. People need to know how to be alone, how to occupy themselves happily, how to have an internal dialogue. I truly think it leads to deeper thinking and connecting, so I’m happy that our buddy is so happy doing this.

If you have more than one child, it’s AWESOME for them to play together – don’t get me wrong! They need that social interaction and to learn the ebb and flow of proper communication. However, trying out alone time (even if a couple times a week for a short period of time) will help them to develop this additional those imaginative, independent-thinking skills.

Kinetic play is just as important as the alphabet. We haven’t done a ton of this, but have just recently started to get into it. Let’s just say he LOVES it. We’ve been using traditional Play-Doh (I know! An eco-mama who doesn’t make her own flour-based solution?! Blasphemous!) and he adores squishing and poking his fingers in. He’s amazed by the rudimentary dinosaurs, heads, and other animals we make for him to play with — to think, he’s completely non-judgmental of poor artistic ability. (Dave’s awesome at it, though.) Getting hands-on gets neurons in his brain moving that haven’t hopped, skipped and danced before. I’m thinking of making a SIMPLE seasonal sensory box to up the fun (and brain activity).

Don’t be afraid to make a mess. This one can apply to the Play-Doh or any other artistic activity…or, heck, play, for that matter. It’s just not worth obsessing over a train track that takes over your entire living room floor or the fact that the paint project your kid’s mastering also includes painting every. single. finger. Besides, it’s not what life’s about. At any given moment, we have cat toys, random Little People and play food strewn about or stuck in unexpected storage spots. It is what it is. Visit anytime. 😉

That said, now’s a good time to teach responsibility. Yup, we can make a mess. It’s totally cool. But, we’re hitting on the “don’t play with the next thing until you pick up the last thing” rule in our house. We’re trying to keep it low-key and relatively fun, though, by making it a team effort. Sure, the kiddo is the one who made the mess in the first place, but by teaming up and helping him it seems like a) a more manageable task and b) almost FUN! “Let’s see how many puzzle pieces we can each put away!” or “Hadley, I forgot where the train pieces go. Can you show me, please?” can be a good starter.

Or, if your little one hasn’t started “helping out” yet, start by explaining the reasons. We already have, and he’s catching on a little at a time. Making them aware of a mess is the first step, stating that it’s okay but that it needs to be picked up is the next step, then just getting them to put ONE toy away is the final. Moving from this stage will happen gradually but surely, and the day that your child puts ONE toy away without argument seriously feels like you won the lottery. SIDE NOTE: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood uses a great, short clean-up song that we sometimes sing to make it fun. Some moms hate these songs, but I’m a Daniel junky.  

What about you guys? Any tips to add to the list?

The Love Triangle of Luis, Maria and David

We’ve been watching a tonload of old Sesame Street episodes lately. When I say “old,” I mean OLD. Like, 1970s and early ’80s old. And we love them.

Hadley sings the theme song (has yet to say the words “Sesame Street” although he knows ALL the characters, most of the humans included) to let us know he’d like to watch. So, since Netflix took the newer episodes off, we pull up some that we’ve saved…ahem…I won’t say how. 😉 I kinda love that it’s not Elmo and Abby Cadabby-centric. No offense to them, but it’s more watchable this way.

When Hadley watches, enthralled, it’s neat to see it through his eyes; he’s a first-time watcher. For Dave and I, it’s complete nostalgia (and you know how we feel about nostalgia). I’ll shout out, “Ohh! This was my favorite song!!” or Dave will exclaim, “I remember this one!” It’s fun, even if there’s the occasional, “Wow, was that appropriate for us to watch as kids?” moments. The new DVD versions of these shows actually have a warning in them, that they’re not up to today’s standards and shouldn’t be used as a learning tool today…but, seriously, I wouldn’t have known my alphabet, numbers (in English and Spanish), and been able to skip our equivalent of pre-K if not for an incredible babysitter and “Sesame Street.” I’m fine with him watching it.

As adults watching, though, we start to look into things more. This show’s been on SO long, and we may not have realized it as kids, but there are full-on storylines that are subtly strung throughout the years. Dave even read a behind-the-scenes book about the goings-on, then to now, at the Children’s Television Workshop. It’s neat stuff. And, in a weird way, the more we watch it, the more we see a quiet little soap opera of adult levels developing.

Relationship triangles were a thing. Maria and David were an item from the time that he started in 1971. By 1988, David was on his way out (depending on what you read, he was suffering from stomach cancer, or, according to insiders, severe mental illness and possible drug abuse, dying months after he left the show) and Maria was suddenly in love with the kinder, gentler Luis. I think Dave and I kind of laugh at the push-over that Luis seems to be, but in real life I would imagine that Maria and David’s high-strung, LOUD personalities would probably create for a volatile relationship.

Don’tchya think? Either way, the inter-racial relationship was HUGE for its day, so it’s fun to see a kids’ show, of all things, breaking down these huge barriers. (If it had been a relationship between an African American individual and a white person, though, I’m not sure it would’ve gone over as well.)

Bob and Linda are one of our favorite couples (and characters, separately), but why didn’t they get married? And seeing the ever-patient Bob we think of today losing his $%#& when Gordon suggested changing Woof-Woof’s name to the pup we all know and love, Barkley? He’s still my favorite, but I never thought he raised his voice. Ever! And his reactions to the never-seen-by-adults Snuffleupagus (see? Things WERE different) were downright snarky. Kinda humorous to see, but still.

Oh, and speaking of Snuffy, Dave looked into it and discovered the reason that they finally revealed Snuffy to the adults. Apparently with a rise in child abuse cases, the idea that a child (in this case, Big Bird) telling adults about something important and having the adults blow him off and not believe him sent the wrong message. What a sad thing to think about, but I’m glad that Sesame Street has remained sensitive to the voices of children and is willing to make changes for the better. (Still waiting for a gay character, though. Well. Openly gay. Has that happened yet?)

My favorite part, however, of the entire series has a very personal connection. Dave hasn’t found the episode yet, and I’m not really sure I want him to, but it was when Mr. Hooper died. They re-aired the episode throughout the years (it aired originally in 1983, after the actor who played him actually passed), and I was incredibly lucky that it aired about a month or two after my father passed away in 1986.

I was four, laying on my stomach at my babysitter’s house, as Big Bird came to grips with the loss of his dear friend. Suddenly, all of the emotions I had witnessed and thoughts that hadn’t quite sunk into my little brain made sense. Simultaneously, I was hit with a ton of bricks yet comforted by the knowledge of it all. Finally understanding. All of the puzzle pieces fit, although the puzzle was still very much fractured.

I floated out to the kitchen where our super strict sitter was making lunches, and as she sternly turned around to me, with the confidence of an adult, I asked if my daddy had got into heaven. She was a close, close friend of the family and loved my father, too, so she broke down and grabbed me with the tenderest of hugs. She said yes, and that he loved me very much. I simply nodded, with tears streaming down my face, and rejoined my friends watching the show.

It was an integral moment of my life. I still am not resigned to the idea of heaven, or what happens post-death, but the understanding of the “forever separation” that is death and the fact that it doesn’t diminish the experiences and feelings you shared with the person before the loss was, simply, profound.

Thanks, Big Bird. I’ll never forget that.

On that sullen note, did “Sesame Street” have an impact on your life? Do you have any favorite moments, simple or funny or profound or educational, you’d like to share? Or were you more of an “Electric Company” kid?

Finally Getting My $#@& Together

We all know I’ve talked about finances here. Like, a lot. The last time I brought it up was in a “new school year goals” post here. Been doing okay with most of that stuff, but finances? Nerp. 

For some weird reason beyond my realm of thinking, I can’t figure out why it’s been such a challenge for me. I helped Dave get his finances into at least a reasonable schedule when we were first dating, and he has since grabbed the bull by the horns and whipped his finances into such great shape, I’m so amazed and proud of him. So, the fact that I couldn’t kick-start myself disappoints me. And the more we disappoint ourselves, the more we’re down on ourselves and can’t find the motivation to fix the problem, am I right?

Hmm. Guess I answered my question right there. That’s why I’ve been stuck.

So, anyhoo, I’ve been a complete non-budgeter. If I tried writing down every purchase, it only stuck for, like, a week…tops. Much like dieting, I’m not a great “do it all at once, take all the joy of life away” person. Nope. Don’t work that way. Plus, the whole “write down every single purchase” thing? Not me. At least I know myself, right?

Since we know that doesn’t work, that’s not what we’ve done. Instead, in a strange role reversal that he’s had great joy doing (I felt the same way when I helped him; we like getting each other on track and comfortable rather than overwhelmed! It’s what we do), I printed off my checking transactions for the past couple of months, jotted down what each item was (some were obvious, others not s’much), and handed them over to Dave.

He made note of the main monthly bills that have a set date (mortgage, car, car insurance, washer/dryer payment, etc), the “important” necessities which may have more variable dates/amounts (groceries and gas), then determined what was left and where my moolah was going.

Allowing about $60 a month to be taken out in cash ($30 every paycheck) means that I can buy what I like, no questions asked, makes it feel a little less bare-bones and a little roomier. We also figure we’ll each pay for a meal out once a month. I requested this mostly because cooking, day in and day out, can be a pain, so it’s nice to be treated — even if just to a pizza — now and then. Not weekly. Not daily. But occasionally.

I’m also going to start taking out $200 every two weeks specifically for groceries and see how we do. This is the hardest part, for sure. Budgeting my food spending is the biggest, most stressful area because I know what we eat and we’ve pretty much pared it down to getting just what we need…which comes in nowhere near $100 a week. But, I hope to get creative, use what we have in our freezer/cupboards and hopefully will be able to stretch it. Aldi will also help tremendously with this. 

So, other than that, we’re putting an allotted amount into my savings (which has depleted) and my Christmas club (‘cuz it’d be nice not to have a tough time getting through the holiday seasons this year). While I’m not going to be religiously checking my checking (ha!) everyday like Dave does, I’ll be doing it ever couple of days and looking at the “calendar” to determine what’s coming out and when. Oh, and I’m filling out a form to take to my bank to change the date of my car payment so that my two big payments are spread throughout the month more.

Exciting stuff today, folks. Ex-citing, I tell ya. But, it’s nice to at least get my $%&@ together enough that I know where every cent goes — and where it’s allowed to go.

So, what about you guys? How do you budget? Do you write every expense and check the math? Or are you a bare minimum type like me?

Simplify Your Dinners, Guys

There’s been a lot of chatter about whether or not cooking dinners at home is worth it. This Slate article has been debated online from the moment it went live, and rightfully so. While I won’t add to the onslaught of negative mud-throwing, I will add my tiny voice to the sensible bloggers I’ve read (many of them moms in the trenches, themselves).

While much of the article is absolute incite-filled bunk, there is a sliver of truth in it. No, we shouldn’t expect poverty-level families to eat all higher-priced organic produce, grass-fed meat, and other expensive natural, non-processed foods. And, regarding the general purpose of the article, no, we shouldn’t attempt to achieve these incredibly intricate, Pinterest-worthy meals on a daily basis.

But, that’s pretty much where my agreement ends. When we switched to mostly “real foods” (we still get some processed organic items, admittedly, but put tons of thought into why we use them), our budget essentially adjusted. We were buying SO many processed and boxed stuff, it was insane how much we could’ve been spending on more veggies, fruits, and meat. And while it doesn’t always work this way, I love this post on how to eat healthily when you can’t afford organic and this one about how to shop for healthy food at Aldi. Can you tell I love The Humbled Homemaker?

So, who says that meals need to be these overly complicated, intricate things? If you’re taking your guidance from Michael Pollan himself, at its essence he suggests we “eat more food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pretty basic, really. And even those words are stated in a casual, loose way. I take it as meaning: “Eat as well as you can. Don’t beat yourself up.” Give or take.

And that’s where a lot of this pressure comes from. No, not everyone LOVES cooking, and I can guarantee that even the most famous of chefs grows weary of cooking for his/her family every. Single. Night. Everyone burns out, and when you’re doing it 3+ times a day, 365 days a year…um, yeah. The odds are very good.

But, when “perfection” is thrust down our throats like an impeccable three-course meal, the pressure becomes harder to take. So, just take today’s post as a reminder – to all of us.

Seriously, guys. Let’s take a few deep breaths here and repeat some Stuart Smalley affirmations. Take it from a chick who tries her best to dole out three healthy, real food meals to three very different eaters every day. It’s overwhelming, but if you remember a few things, it helps:

1. Okay, we’ve heard it all before, but planning is your BFF. You don’t have to download a month’s worth of meal plans (but, if that helps, go for it!), but having at least a general idea of what the upcoming week brings (schedule-wise) and knowing a meal that will fit each day (like, I don’t advise cooking a meal on-par with Thanksgiving on a night when the kids have a million things going on).

2. Share the duties. We don’t do this a lot, honestly. We share other duties, like the fact that Dave handles driving to/drop-off/pick-up/bringing home from Hadley’s sitter. But, yeah, I do a ton. I’m the modern Donna Reed, which really just means that I cook/clean/do laundry/keep the house upright, but I do it in sweats instead of pearls. So, when things start to get overwhelming, I reach out to him and let him know that the dinner part of things is nuts. And guess what. He’s always willing to take on a couple of meals himself — and usually enjoys doing it! (No, seriously.)     

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify. If you have a hard time planning ahead and thawing the meat or prepping the Crock Pot first thing in the morning (I feel ya), then keep your weekday meals super simple and quick. Why do you think Rachael Ray’s first hit show was “30 Minute Meals”? Seriously. Look up a bunch of her old recipes and see if you can make any of them work for you and your family (or Google “20” or “30 minute meals” and see what you find).

4. Use leftovers to your advantage. That is a trick out of my mom’s game book. She always made us a HUGE meal on Sundays (sometimes a good-sized one on Saturdays, too). Say she made roast beef with all the trimmings. Monday, she might make beef and gravy and pair it with the leftover mashed potatoes or bread (some might call it “$%&# on a shingle”) and some veg. She’d get two or three additional meals out of whatever she made, but Wednesday was always soup and sandwich night. It helped cut the monotony a little bit (not that it really was monotonous to us kids). Oh, Wednesday nights leads me to my next tip!

5. What the heck’s wrong with soup and sandwich, anyway? Or the occasional pancake night? Or a salad for you, PBJ and carrots for the kiddo? I don’t advise this every night, but we all have those “what the hell are we gonna eat?!” nights, don’t we? Where you didn’t thaw something or you had a horrific day at work or you’ve been sick and don’t have the energy? Give yourself a break and make some scrambled eggs. Or something you would usually deem “only suitable for lunch.” Food is food.   

6. It’s not always about what you eat; it IS always about who you eat with. This whole “come to the table” concept is part trying to get consumers to re-focus on cooking. It’s incredible to think about how many FEWER people know how to cook today compared to fifty years ago. At the same time, I feel that the methods we use are tons easier, and often create tastier meals (not kidding, check out the unappetizing recipes in some of the old cookbooks…how may methods for making Jell-O?!).

BUT, I also think that the movement is as much about bringing families back around the table as it is about knowing and thinking more about food. And, y’know what? I’m a bit of a hypocrite. During winter months, we’ll often eat at the dining room table, but lately we’re totally in an “eat around the TV” slump. It is what it is. We’ll watch one Hadley show, then one episode of “the Mommy Daddy Show” (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”).

What I really mean here, though, is that it doesn’t matter how fabulous or grandiose your meal is. Focus on the family, guys. They don’t REALLY care, do they? I find that my “breakfast for dinner” nights are just as welcomed and appreciated as my glazed pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables nights. Usually. 😉


On a final note, I thought I’d share a quick, simple recipe that I just threw together last night.

When I say “sub”, I mean do it up! If you don’t have apples, try blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, etc. Use whatever lettuce you have on hand. Try sunflower seeds or walnuts or pecans or whatever. No Parmesan? Use cheddar or bleu or mozzarella or…let’s just say I don’t say “no” to any cheese. And vinaigrette can be as simple as oil and vinegar or as slightly-less-simple as the warm apple cider vinaigrette that I whipped up.

And, for full disclosure, here’s what Hadley had:

An all-natural, nitrate-free hotdog with organic cheese melted on, apple slices, and yogurt. He also got a “treat” of a handful of “cookies” (actually organic graham bunnies). And guess what? He loved it. And I’m not guilty, especially knowing that his lunch was leftover homemade chicken “nuggets” with roasted sweet potato wedges and veggies for lunch.

Are We Important?

I’m not a religious person. I’m not preachy. I am, however, pretty philosophical. I almost chose it as my college major (I kid you not).

I’ve recently heard from certain non-Internety-type people (who apparently aren’t aware that I have a blog), stated in a general way, “Who cares what you think? Who cares to know every little detail of your life? Where do people get off thinking that every thought that pops into one’s head should be recorded and shared with the world?”

It goes on, but that’s the general gist of the thing. She was speaking in regards to Facebook, but also the idea that people find a need to over-share on the interwebs.

So. Hmm. Okay. The weird thing here is…I don’t completely disagree. Not fully, at least. I fully admit that we are now part of a narcissistic Internet society — a society which, consequently, spans 85% (or more??) of the world’s population for the first time in humankind’s history. It’s both a fascinating time to exist, but also terrifying.

Yes, terrifying.

Terrifying because the world is smaller. Hacking, plagiarism, identity theft, spying, and even the thank-god-it-hasn’t-happened-yet terror attacks to the Internet are scary things. But, even more so, daily Internet use can be a heart-breaking thing.

For soft-shelled individuals (at times, this is me), the negative consequences of online bickering and trolls (I’m clearly not “big” enough; I’m lucky enough not to have experienced trolls firsthand yet!) wrenches my stomach and affects me horribly. But this is because I am a pensive person who considers words, actions, and thoughts deeply. This is a downfall of the information age; the anonymity of comments and the simple act of typing rather than speaking thoughts seems, for many people, to make those words more and less powerful all at the same time.

Wait, what? Yes. More AND less, simultaneously. More powerful because people do seem to think that what they say is the end-all be-all of the conversation; and sometimes they are. Less powerful because there’s less meaning to them; it’s so damn easy to say what you feel that it just comes out and isn’t weighed. Posting without thinking. The epitome of our current age.

See? The power of words is ultimately a very personal thing. You may read something as incredibly hurtful while the person writing it didn’t really give two hoots about the comment and didn’t mean it as extremely as it may have looked. Or, perhaps you write a post that you think will truly resonate with tons of people, and you receive zero comments or feedback. Forget love is a battlefield; the Internet is the real front line.

So, should we be sharing everything from adorable cat memes to highly-charged, ignorant political posts to pictures of our vacation (whilst away)? Should we assume that everyone wants to hear everything we think or that the picture of our cat/sandwich/baby/beach body is worthy to share will billions of people because they’ll be just as impressed with it as we are? Is the selfie not the epitome of self-entitled, narcissistic behavior?

I have the answer, but it’s mine. That’s the thing about today; opinions are rampant, and it’s a glorious thing when properly directed. We are each entitled to an opinion, just as mankind has always been. The most important part is to share it when necessary.

That’s why I blog, and why these statements might have struck me to the core initially, but have since settled into my heart and found a proper place. I don’t subscribe to the “there’s billions of us, why does anyone care what you think?” concept. I don’t believe that children should be seen and not heard.

There was a time not too long ago that women were hushed. I am proud of our heritage, and proud to come from a long line of extremely outspoken women. But, to think that less than 100 years ago, we had no political voice. About 150 years ago, women weren’t respected enough to take part in public forums or listen to a passionate speaker. And we shall say nothing of the consequences for a woman who wished to leave an abusive husband; by today’s standards, barbaric.

I’d like to think that my voice, be it small, be it frivolous while discussing parenting and decor and living green and whatever silly thing else, is important to somebody. I’d like to think that I should be allowed to speak. I’d like to think that I’m relevant to one person. And if one person reads and connects, I will continue. In an attempt to remain humble (as much as possible) and protect some semblance of our privacy, I keep some cherished moments to myself. But if there’s something that someone might find laugh-worthy or thought-provoking or might give them an urge to try out a new food or style of pillow…good.     

To Avoid or Not – Teaching About Death

For many, death is the scariest part of life. It’s not often discussed openly, making it more difficult for people to deal with when it does inevitably strike a loved one. It’s grim, it’s frightening, and there are tons of emotions tied to it, so it’s best just to not talk about it. Right?

Wrong. At least, I think it’s wrong to avoid it. For my family, it was an early fact-of-life lesson. Our dad passed away after a long battle with an aggressive skin cancer in 1986, leaving a wife and four kids broken. I was just shy of four years old, and while I was told what happened, I wish I had been given a better understanding behind it. It wasn’t until months later when Sesame Street taught me via Mr. Hooper’s death that I would never see him again. It was agonizing, but I finally got it.

So, the concept of loss, a general loneliness, and a premature sense of adulthood followed me through my childhood (and quite possibly my siblings, of course). But, because of it, I worked on my issues and became better able to handle the hardest points of life (eventually). I still miss the crap out of my dad and wish I’d known him better than a three-year-old can know someone, but we’re lucky for the family we have.

I decided long ago that, while my wonderfully kind stepfather would be known to Hadley as one of his true grandfathers (“Papa”), he would know and remember that my father, well, existed. Which means that I would inevitably have to discuss with him the topic of death.

And guess what. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.


Yes, our son is just over two years old. But, he’s already experienced some loss. My dear, dear grandfather passed away last year, and Had’s grandparents had to put down a beloved dog that used to greet and play with him everyday.

We visited my grandfather regularly, so the night that I drove home from the hospital after witnessing his last breath, I knew I’d have to explain it. At age 7, I was in a tonsillectomy-induced stupor when my great aunt Kate had passed. While my mother insists she told me when it happened, the following summer I asked about it and was shut down immediately. It stung. I didn’t want a repeat when one day, out of the blue, Hadley starts asking about “Mama Gampa.” (My grandpa.)  

The first thing to remember, whether you’re just talking about the general concept of death or a particular person or pet, is to keep it simple. Like, stupid simple. I’ve come to learn that over-talking anything is an easy way to have a kid zone you out and not understand. Hmph. Maybe I should stop over-explaining stuff for you guys when blogging. 😉

I told him in two short sentences, tops. I first made sure he remembered the proper individual I was talking about, then explained that Grandpa had gotten sick and had to go away. Watching it sink in, his head slowly nodding, I then told him that we wouldn’t be seeing him again, but that we can always enjoy the memories we made with him. He totally got it, and even told me he was sorry for ME. Talk about tears — but, that’s actually another important point…

Crying is totally okay. This is more for the grown-ups than the kids, but regardless, it’s important for everyone to remember it. We had family cry sessions after Dad passed away, but it eventually became a very private thing to do. I still cry about him (and Grandpa, actually, who was more than a second father); it’s not a loss you ever get over, nor should one have to, but how we deal with the feelings is what’s important.

So, when I explained to Hadley what had happened with Grandpa, or talk to him about Dad, or when I told him that his poor grandmother had to put down Dawg, I was tearful, openly. I didn’t try to hide it. It was part of the lesson. YES. DEATH IS SAD, AND THAT’S NORMAL AND OKAY.

Kids get it.
They’re more astute about others’ emotions at times than we are as adults. It’s best to respect them enough to be open with the facts and open with those emotions.

Speaking of kids totally being aware, here’s where things get creepy. We’re not super religious. Hadman thinks a cross is the letter “T” (I’m equally embarrassed and proud about that — letter recognition, y’know). But, both times I spoke with him about the deaths were at bedtime, in his crib, in a dark room when he was calming down for the day. Both times, he pointed over my shoulder as if he saw something…or someone. He barked when Dawg was put down. He talked to Grandpa when he passed. “Hi, Gampa! Hi, Gampa!” Both terrifying; both somehow strangely calming.

They know and “see” better than we do sometimes.  

One final word of advice is to help them remember those who have passed. Pretending that the person never existed sometimes makes an individual feel like they need to do the same; that they’re not allowed to ask questions or talk about the person.

I’ve asked a lot about my dad over the years, and there were times I knew my mother wasn’t in the mood to discuss it, but she always answered my questions. Sometimes short responses; sometimes longer. Plus, his picture has always been around our house as a constant welcome reminder, and we helped out at the cemetery all the time.

The tree next to his headstone was quite young when he was buried. Over the years, I took a lot of comfort visiting to help plant new flowers and dusty millers and to clean off the stone. We’d excitedly ask for the empty plastic jug we used to fast-walk (running in a cemetery = not okay) back from the filling spigot. As a teen, I would go to the cemetery to sit at atop a large mausoleum built into a hill to enjoy the peace and feel closer to him.

Today, the tree is matured. Both of my mom’s parents have joined him, just two rows away. But, the peace is still there. So, I feel it’s important to bring Hadley there from time to time so that he realizes how normal death is and that, if he has any questions, it’s totally fine to share them.

Besides, for a stick and rock collecting boy, it makes for an awesome nature walk.

Sorry I’m Sorry

The Dorky Daddy recently posted a heartfelt admission of an issue that he deals with, which is so admirable and awesome since a lot of guys don’t admit to it. I felt it was important to reiterate that it’s actually an issue for the whole family. Namely, I do it, too.

We’re uncontrollable apologizers. And we’re officially sorry about it.

You’ll see on his post the moment that the truth hit us, but let’s just say that our unnecessary apologizing has been passed on to our 2-year-old son. Yup. Show any sign of distress, and he immediately starts faux crying while saying “I sowwy, Mama. Sowwy, Mama.”

Lose something. “Sowwy, Mama!”

Spill something. “I sowwy, Mama! So sowwy!!”

Punish over something. “Sowwy!!” (Okay, that last one is awesome, but he doesn’t know to say “sorry” for doing something wrong; just because we’re upset.)

Some might say it’s not a big deal, or that it’s not a bad problem to have an apologetic kid.

To that I say, well, keep it to yourself. (Yeah. I went there.) You get to feel what’s best or worse for your kids. We get to use our (in this case shared) intuition to decide that this is a problem for us. He’s no off-the-wall, drug-abusing kid, of course, so it is all relative…but it still concerns us. And the fact that our apologetic ways allow people to discredit our feelings is something I’d rather Hadley not have to deal with, too.

Sorry for the blunt moment, but it was needed.

Wait. No. I’m not sorry. God, this is so damn difficult.

Taking the energy down for a moment *turns dial* let’s address the reasons that apologizing can be a negative thing. List time:

* Sometimes…just once in awhile…it’s a manifestation of passive aggressiveness. We all have frustrations on a daily basis. At work. At the grocery store. (I can’t COUNT how many times in one trip I’ll apologize to people at Hannaford for something I didn’t do.) Out clothes shopping. Heck, at home with your partner. If someone ticks you off, be it in a big or small way, sometimes “sorry” pops out when you’re actually upset about something…and aren’t REALLY sorry.

And, I’ll admit. When someone walks in my way or steals the spot in line or takes advantage of me at work…I will passive aggressively say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” *raises hand* I do it. It’s been done.

* Insincere or overused apologies lose their meaning. The more you say “sorry”, the less you really mean it. The more I hear Dave say it, it simply blends into the conversation. Sure, it’s a word of kindness (usually), but we need to learn how to use our TONE of LANGUAGE to display our kindness rather than jumping around the kitchen apologizing for tripping over each other. 

* Apologizing without thought gives the other person the upper hand. Totally. I tend to apologize as a kindness tactic — regularly saying “Oops! So sorry you caught me eating my lunch. Sorry! What’s up?” Seriously. They interrupted MY lunchtime (which I was trying to get work done during) and I’m hoping, at the very least, to receive an acknowledgement that I’m being put out a bit before dropping my sandwich and helping them out.

Instead, I’ve often found that the person disregards it completely and continues on, like a bulldozer, with whatever their own needs are. My confidence issues ain’t gettin’ any better with crap like that goin’ down. It is what it is, and it’s not great.

So, yeah. There’s more, but that’s the general idea of the thing. Our goal is to raise a happy, healthy, kind, intelligent, confident young man. Part of confidence is being comfortable with yourself and knowing how to act in situations. Regardless of how we appear, Dave and I both have confidence and self-esteem issues. The last thing we want is to pass these on to our beautiful little man. Last thing.

Dave is doing great at trying to identify when “sorry!” is an acceptable response and when it’s probably not the best go-to. He’s not phasing it out completely; that’s not the point. It’s knowing when to say it and when it’s not necessary. That’s all.

I, actually, already started working on my sorryisms at work last year. It. Was. Hard. There was definitely a bit of acting needed to help me learn how to not get plowed over (I also used the sorries as a way to be kind, which often got me screwed over). And, y’know what? It kinda worked. There are still people who are just always going to be hard nuts to crack (which is fine), and I learned which people respect some confidence and some boundaries.

I didn’t start implementing it in other parts of my life. I didn’t think it seemed necessary. But, now it seems it is.

Here are a few of the ways that we’ve been addressing the issue:

* I’ve been talking to Hadley in a low-key, “it’s not a big deal” sort of way when he says it. We talk briefly about why he said it, and usually why it’s not needed. If it IS needed, I’ll say something like, “It was good of you to say you were sorry. When you *did such-and-such naughty act*, you were making bad choices and hurting our feelings, so it was a good thing to say ‘sorry’ about.” Or whatevs. I’ve seen a quick decrease in his use of the word. Sometimes a quick one or two sentence chat gets into his smart little brain better than a super big lecture or hitting him over the head with it.

* We’re not doing anything like a “Sorry Jar” or anything so drastic. Sometimes an apology is totally warranted, especially in marriage or in the day-to-day. But, we’ll gently remind each other, “Honey, you said ‘sorry’ and it’s totally cool, you didn’t do anything wrong.” While Dave likens it to quitting smoking (it’s definitely a habit), it’s not the sort of thing you need to kick yourself over when you accidentally let one slip. Sorry happens. It’s a process.

* If I’m truly sorry for something, I state why. I like to use “I’m sorry because…” any time I’m actually admitting a mistake or a poor wording or any number of reasons. Self realization is where it’s at. It also makes the apology carry so much more weight. It gives “sorry” back its importance.

* We’re having issues, but working on finding replacements for “sorry.” It’s difficult because there’s a sweetness attached to it that nothing can match. Again, it all depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s best just to cut it out. Other times, say someone’s having a bad day, just responding “Dude, that sucks” doesn’t show enough empathy. So, we’re feeling it out. Saying “I’m sorry your day is so terrible” might just have to be a replacement for the time being.

And just because I prefer to end on a positive note, and I hate that I was super harsh at the beginning of the post (I’m not sorry, but I don’t want it to be taken the wrong way), here are some of the awesome things about “sorry”:

* Sorry can melt your heart when it’s said at the right time…especially by someone who’s admitting a wrong or who happens to be an adorable 2-year-old who seems to be connecting to you while saying it.

* Sorry can hold so much power, when used sparingly. When you truly make a mistake and can own up to it (the hardest part), saying “I’m truly sorry” and owning the problem, then finding a way to fix it, it can earn you respect. Or not. But maybe!

Care to add anymore positive things about “I’m sorry”?