I Survived The Holidays 2008

That's what my T-Shirt says today. We just backed into the driveway and tilted a giant dump truck of Christmas Booty into our living room. It looks like WW4, Elves vs. Parents.
Then the phone rang.
The In-Laws are on their way over to exchange (more) gifts. Christmas #2.
I had nearly convinced myself that we could find space in our teeny house for all this stuff when I realized I'd forgotten an entire half of the family!!!!
With just enough time to survey the damage before revving up for hyper clean mode, I grabbed a cocktail in one hand, stuffed a sugar cookie in my mouth, and grabbed the broom. I friggin love the holidays. "GET THE VACUUM CLEANER, JOHN!"
Well, I have loved returning home to find a slew of hilarious comments from everyone. I have three and a half more minutes before Santa's sleigh craps all over my house again. That guy can be a real nuisance to my sanity. It Ain't Over Yet.


Mustache Pete

I'm aging.
This is a derogatory statement. It never used to be.
My life has plateaued, my boobs are now a wardrobe hazard and my face is unrecognizable to me.
I'm aging.
We went over to Paso Robles last weekend and stayed overnight at a little guest cottage in the vineyards. The temperatures plummeted and my family and I all remarked how ill prepared we were for the freezing temperatures, both physically and mentally.
We like to get the biggest bang for our buck so we cram an insane amount of engagements into a very little period of time while we're in town. Then we race to the finish before we all collapse into a flaming pile of screaming crying temper tantrum babies. and as it turns out, we end up paying for our jam-packed weekend in the form of illness, whining and sleepless nights for exactly 5 days afterward. Do not try this at home. We are professionals.
Did I mention I'm aging? It happened all of a sudden. The day I turned 30 I began categorizing this development as a negative. Before this day, the word "older" arrived with privileges like driving, buying cigarettes and beer, gaining enough respect to sit at the adult table. And then, the year after I turned 30 I acquired battle wounds from my pregnancy (in unmentionable areas). I got hangovers for days instead of hours. I lost every ounce of baby fat I ever owned, which left me gaunt and sagging, accentuating the tired, drooping eyelids below my furrowed brow. I'm a day-old balloon, deflated, wrinkled, and limp.
And last weekend, I looked in the mirror and GASPED!!!! I was not in my own bathroom at my home, this was not the lighting I used every day before I went out in public. This cottage had a bathroom streaming with natural sunlight, and there, on my face, in the corners of my upper lip were tiny brown hairs! A whole colony of ten or so on each corner!!! I had a handlebar mustache.
"JOHN!!!! Jooohhhnnn!!!!! How did you let me go out in public like this?????" I shrieked.
He, of course, squinted his eyes at me, focusing in on my upper lip before asking, "Where?" like he couldn't see anything.
Yeah right!!! You might as well call me Frieda!!!
OMG I've been walking around in PUBLIC with a mustache.
All I could think about was the new budget I needed to make for facial hair removal. I already have one for pedicures because painting my own toenails is not as easy these days. I just started one for dying my hair-thank god that hasn't gone gray yet because I'm pretty sure I'd have cardiac arrest if I found a gray hair on the same day I discovered I'd grown a mustache.
I'm aging. And it sucks.


Focus, Christmas, Focus

The holidays never fail to bring with them a flurry of chaos, drama and countless reasons to be grateful for all the good amidst the dire. That being said, I'm not writing about my dear friend's newborn baby who rode in an ambulance this week, about the cousin who called 911 because he thought he'd had a heart-attack only to discover there was a growth the size of Texas under his sternum, about world hunger, a friend's kidney transplant or the raging fever my daughter has had for two days.
I'm writing about a children's book that is quite possibly my favorite for 2008. Santa's Favorite Story, written by Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev is the sweetest combination of Santa and Jesus that ever landed in my lap.
As you may know, the issue of religion is a touchy one with me. I was raised Catholic, mass every Sunday, Catechism School every Tuesday. I've been baptized, communioned, confirmed, and castrated, I mean chastised, I meant, well, you get the idea. If you haven't already guessed, I'm no longer a practicing Catholic.
My husband has no religious background, so quite logically, we spend our Sundays cooking bacon and playing dress-up with the kids. Last year I realized, upon my mother's urgings, that for all the vocabulary I had dauntingly exposed my daughters to over the years, I forgot one word: God.
And so the education began, on my mom's behalf, of introducing The Almighty God and Jesus Christ (not as a swear word). Shelby received a book from my Grandma called "Jesus and The Twelve Dudes Who Did" that my father mockingly read, much to our delight, with a Cheech Marin accent. Shelby thinks the twelve apostles finish their proclamations with, "essssaaay!" I'm currently on the fence about Him. Well, actually, He and I are just fine, it's the church I have a problem with. Naturally, I do not attend mass and neither do my children (John has only sat in a church pew twice in his life). But occasionally, like this Christmas, when my mom implores us to acknowledge her faith and go to church, I am intrigued by the offer.
As a fairly conscientious parent, I am ever evaluating the world in which my children live, the exposure I provide and deny them, and the choices I have made thus far in their upbringing. I do not regret spending my Sundays fidgeting on a hard wood pew, sneaking giggles, dressed in itchy tights, reciting the Our Father. I wouldn't be me without my understanding of the Catholic Church. Who will my daughters be without my same background? How will they cope with death and heaven? How will they see the world if they don't feel guilty about it all the time like a good Catholic does?
So I'm focusing on this children's book because it melded together two worlds, the common consumer's Santa Claus Christmas with the old-fashioned wood manger version just perfectly in my opinion. Go forth, and read.


C'mon Get Social Now

I threw my cell phone into the ocean today. It was swallowed by a whale who burped the tune "Have A Holly Jolly Christmas". I was hugged and loved by someone I wasn't quite sure about. I was uncomfortable. I was overwhelmed by a room full of chatty mothers, wild children and a dance instructor with a far greater threshold for stress than the entire committee of OPEC.
I admitted to having more than 4 social obligations in a weekend. And I did so like I was proud of it. Why would I be proud of being over committed? I secretly hated that I was over committed. Because what I really wanted was two whole days without any plans. Two whole "S" days of the week with my little family, wide open.
I put my head in a crate and pushed it down a steep embankment where it landed in a river of red wine. I seek out social, like a moth to the light. It encaptures my every being, I seek it out. And once I am there, once I am engulfed in everything that is society I FREAK OUT.
I dress the part, I crave the invitation. I revel in people. Until suddenly, I am surrounded. Until I am drowning in voices and sharing and caring and chaos and AUUUGHGHHHGHGHGH!!!!!!
I am a hermit in politician's clothing. I smile and wave and RSVP to every party but inside myself I am dressed in swishy black sweatpants curled up on my sofa, a glass of good zin in my hand and my sweet little family gathered around. I crave my life, uninterrupted.
Happy Hectic Holidays. I'm drowning. Are you?


The Power of Three

I met Amy the day after her family moved into our neighborhood. She was stepping out of my front door with a toddler on her hip, two more kids circling her ankles and a smile on her face. She had the "I-just-moved-to-the-beach look" and then the "auughh, yesssss!" relaxed forehead that we all did when we first laid eyes on our front porch views. There's just something about living in a teeny tiny house by the sea that makes all the other stresses in life disappear...well, for awhile.
John and I managed to hold on to our beach-hood enthusiasm for well over two years before life got in the way again. Every so often, we draw back the curtain of obligation and peek out at the sea, and breathe in the salt air, and remember why we pay so much mortgage and have so little closet space. But Amy, Amy had that same look the first day I met her. I was returning home from a run, and Amy had stopped in to introduce herself and take a tour of our years long remodel to get a look at what a Potential House could look like. She had just bought a Potential House a few blocks away. We had recently transformed our Potential House into a Home and Amy intended to do the same to hers very soon. Out with the disco balls, in with the magenta antler chandeliers (well, maybe that's just me).
Having just relocated from Georgia, her three young kids looked to be working off the energy they had saved up since last Easter. Picture Tasmanian Devils in Munchkin suits: Sweet, adorable, and faster than lightning.
I've met up with Amy and her three speedy kids a few times since our first introductions. I soon learned that her husband returned to Georgia for a few months to finish his work commitments. Yeah, alone with Tasmanian Munchkins in a Potential House. Is there enough Valium and Vodka to cope with that?
Every time I see her she's chasing a toddler, mediating a squabble or chasing a toddler. I said they were fast. Amy is the at the height of mothering, her skills are honed, she's on her toes at all times, she's got game. She's the Ninja Warrior of motherhood. I'm exhausted just watching her.
Being in the holiday spirit, I've dreamed up a little list of helps for my new friend and neighbor. Amy, this one's for you (and the distant future of your sanity):
#1. Gymnastics class, twice.
#2. Babysitters
#3. Pedicures
#4. Coffee
#5. Whiskey
#6. Live In Nanny, cuz we'd all trade a husband for one at some point.
#7. More Whiskey
#8. Therapy with Childcare
#9. Chick flicks: The Devil Wears Prada, Sex In The City Movie, Chocolat, Volver
#10. A sense of humor to the Nth power
#11. Locks on your bathroom door
#12. Red wine & bubble baths
#14. The Return of Husband & subsequently your sanity
You have more stamina and less body fat than anyone I know. You win this year's Mother of The Year Award in my book, girl. Go Amy.


Family Reading & Christmas Traditions

Some genius mom (by the name of Carol) came up with a means to her annual Christmas problem: When the word Santa is mentioned, every child turns into wild monkeys and promptly abandons their manners for high pitched screaming, whining and cruel treatment of all siblings and household members. So she created a book called, The Elf on The Shelf to read to her children each year convincing them that this little stuffed plush elf sitting on a shelf in their home was reporting to the Big Man himself each day, deciding whether they were naughty or nice. Brilliant!
Go to http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000XR6MBQ?ie=UTF8&s=kitchen if you care about your sanity this holiday season and want a fantastic holiday tradition in your house.
Other books that our family enjoys this time of year.....
Jan Brett has a whole slew of Christmassy themed books which include some of the following:
The Night Before Christmas, The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Christmas Trolls, The Three Snow Bears, The Mitten.

Other Great Christmas Books: The Polar Express. Picture Me Christmas Cutie has a slot for picture of baby. The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats. If You Take A Mouse to The Movies by L. Numeroff.
I'm quite positive I forgot at least a million other fantastic holiday reads for children and would appreciate any additions to this list! Thanks, G


The Bottle Fairy Delivers

It took 3 months of convincing our 3 year old, and a thousand dollar bribe (cough cough), before the bottle fairy finally dropped a giant box full of playhouse parts all over our garage in exchange for every toddler bottle in the house.
What we failed to negotiate was the final construction of this bribe. The playhouse parts lay motionless for nearly 3 months after the Bottle Fairy's final deal was done. Try convincing your now 4 year old that her trade was still a good one when she gave up her beloved bedtime bottle for a pile of kindling in the garage that usually screamed, "Don't touch that!" everytime she got near it. Some fun this playhouse was, so far.
Thanksgiving came and went and Shelby's excitment for the playhouse was all but extinguished, as was her interest in bottles (thank god). And then, miraculously, in the course of two days, with John and his dad, a 6-pack of beer and a few curse words, the playhouse was resurrected in our back yard.
That Bottle Fairy deal finally came through.
When everything was said and done, Shelby declared, "NOW, let's paint it pink!"
The fun never ends around here.
(If you want the Bottle Fairy to bring you this playhouse, you can put in a good word-and a credit card number-for The Pixie Playhouse at Sam's Club)


The Meaning of Christmas

I've been committed to Christmas for two weeks already. We officially "Chrisma-fied" our house before the month of November came to a close. I've shopped, collected, thought, and made plenty of lists (and checked them twice). I've lamented to John how I've accumulated STUFF for the kids, but nothing that really means anything. And then my consumerism was solidified today at the library.
I found myself in a conversation with three other moms about their financial plight and how they approached the holidays this year.
"I am making all my gifts this year, "said one particularly crafty mom. She majored in construction and has a PhD in everything. She continued, "I just flip through the toy catalogs and find something I think my kids would like and figure out how to make it myself."
I took a moment to picture her hand mixing a vat of eco-friendly recycled poly-euro plastic and shaping an inflatable Rody horse. "...I'm making Mark a set of homemade building blocks and knitting Eva a sweater!"
The other moms nodded their heads and one chimed in with her Holiday Mantra, "Free Christmas." I was pretty sure she was going to share her newest shoplifting techniques right there in the Children's Book Aisle of the public Library.
"I figured out a way to accumulate gift cards for switching around our prescriptions from pharmacy to pharmacy. Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, and Target all give you a $25 gift card if you change your prescription to their pharmacies. So I'm using the gift cards to buy presents!"
Wow! I'm just accumulating credit card debt, I thought.
"We couldn't afford to do Christmas this year so we've introduced "Thrifty Santa" to our family," chimed the other mother. She went on to explain how her entire family agreed to give second hand presents found at garage sales or thrift stores.
I wanted to contribute something thoughtful and similar but all I could come up with was Amazon.com and the Tom's Toys discount program(which, by the way is 25% off any purchase of $38 or more) .
So I've given this Christmas some more thought. I've pulled down all the shopping bags and re-evaluated my gift stash. I've chosen two presents I bought for my own kids and dropped them into a Toys For Tots box. I've carefully picked a few items that my girls want and need. And then I turned my attention to my fantastic husband. I have a long list of "usual gifts" including a new surf calendar, surf DVD, and some clothes. But I wanted to do something a little more thoughtful, something that required more effort. So I set my sights on a 12 days of Christmas plan that didn't require much money, just a lot of love and thoughtfulness. So far, I have enough for 9 days and I think I may just stick to that unexpected number. Here's a few items on my list if you're interested in doing the same:
#5 -$5 Starbucks card and new travel coffee mug
#7-7 words to describe you (a colorful collage of magazine snippings)
#2-Two mixed CDs to make his morning commute a little more interesting

I may not be crafting my daughter a set of porcelain tea cups or hand-tooling a new pair of leather moccasins, but I did venture to a few garage sales and found myself reevaluating the consumer in me this holiday season. I'm hoping to keep the spirit of giving in perspective, and my gifts meaningful. What are you doing to make this Christmas special?


Rock Bottom Reflections on Cashmere

My Father-In-Law spent the weekend with us after Thanksgiving. This gift was like Haley's Comet, it hasn't happened before(since I can remember), and we probably won't live to see a repeat. He runs his own business, which in turn runs his life. He rarely indulges in free time, and when he does, it doesn't involve constructing his grand daughters' playhouse with his son in our yard. Correction: It Didn't.
When he agreed to help John, we all exchanged a "We'll believe it when we see it" look and held our breath until the morning of his scheduled arrival. I even mentioned that I would take the girls off premise so they wouldn't witness the violent outbursts for which Papa's family is famous. We'll just say that short fuses, adult tantrums and loud voices are a family trait that usually result in something broken (a two by four, a window, occasionally a hand).

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon when we all gathered around to admire the newly constructed playhouse and wave goodbye to a new grandfather, in hopes he would return again soon. Not one tantrum, not one strained neck moment, not one broken stick of wood. Just a beautiful new playhouse and two days of father-son time, with an interlude of Papa time at the park with the girls. A dream come true...

When the kids grew tired of the playhouse that Sunday afternoon, we loaded them up on the bikes for a long ride towards town. I gathered a few cozy items to keep warm on our return in case we found ourselves racing the sunset. A few beanies, and the biggest scarf I owned-a camel colored cashmere pashmina that was a bridesmaid gift in the last wedding I was in (not only the nicest wrap I owned, but one with sentimental value to boot).

Our bike ride found us traversing creeks and dodging boulders until we landed on the sandy shores of the harbor. We snacked on goldfish and chased the girls in and out of the tides, keeping our eyes on the wild surfers paddling about in stormy, barreling waves. A pirate seagull stole our bag of goldfish booty and precariously made his way toward the water. He made several attempts at lift-off while a tearful Shelby pointed and wailed, "Mommy, he's stealing our fish!!!!" After two days of uninterrupted parenting (while daddy spent the weekend hammering away in the childless backyard), her crying sent me racing down the beach. I tackled that seagull, unloosing our precious golden gemfish and unleashing my own frustrations pent up after 36 hours alone with two crying kids. No seagull this side of Cuesta will ever dare to steal human food again after my violent display on the beach. I was an animal in the kingdom, and this was just the beginning.

We mounted our bikes and turned towards home, Shelby gripping her goldfish bag with both hands. The sun was setting and Ana was wailing the tired-hungry-cold baby theme song. When Shelby joined in as her back up singer, I mercifully gathered up my pashmina and crammed it into her lap. "Please do NOT let the scarf drag on the ground. HOLD ON TO IT!" I managed to say through gritted teeth. Our leisurely family afternoon bike ride had gone, and what was left in its place was a strained mission of survival set to a miserable orchestra of whining and crying. After the boulders, but before the creek, my bike suddenly came to a halt. I looked back at my wide eyed passenger and then down at the camel pashmina, wound tightly around the back wheel.

"Auugghh!!!" I shrieked, at which point my sea dampened hair !POOFED! into something reminiscent of Medusa, my skin evoked a shade of green and my teeth grew long and yellowed. "I asked you to hold on to that scarf!!!!" And then I traded my "Mom" title for something far more rare and ugly, I channeled my Father-In-Law. I yelled, I tugged, I tantrumed right there in the public beach parking lot.

At this point, John threatened to get the pashmina out for me and I wildly waved him away. He gathered both children and pushed his bike in the direction farthest from me and my cloud of flailing dust.

"Ugghhhh!! I CANNOT believe this!!!!" I spluttered with my neck muscles strained.

An old Mercury pulled up behind me with a white haired couple peering over the dash (no doubt in disbelief at the crazed sea monster doing battle with a bike in the parking lot). I didn't care who saw me, I didn't care what they thought, or that my tired, cold family witnessed it all from their muddy perch across the creek. I did not care that it was past dinner time, that they'd missed their bath, that my youngest was rotting in a poopy diaper.

"May I help?" offered a scratchy old man voice with an Italian accent.

He held a pocket knife and had fixed his face in a friendly offering with a hint of pity across his brow. His hunched wife approached me from my left.

I explained the situation, making sure to place the blame on my 4 year old and point out SEVERAL times that this scarf is cashmere. Cashmere. WHAT KIND OF HORRIBLE MOTHER AM I?????

He casually flicked open his knife and sawed-SAWED-through my pashmina. Then he gathered the remnant in his aged old fingers and yanked the bike up and down until it came loose.

"Um, uh how a far do you haf to ago?" he inquired. I stared down at the chain, now hanging loosely from my bike, the gears and some other hoops of metal dangled around the axle.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched him continually wipe his greasy hands on that which was my pashmina.

"Three more miles with two kids," I squeaked out as I gestured to my family huddled on the dunes across the creek.

John raised his hand in a neutral wave-an offering of condolence with a hint of understanding. He'd seen this erratic behavior many times before, just not from his wife and the mother of his children.

Suddenly, the old man yanked a pair of needle nosed pliers out of his back pocket and set to work reconfiguring the gears of my injured bike. !VOILA! Good as new.

I waved goodbye to my Italian saviors and shuffled across the creek with the remains of my crumpled, greasy pashmina in hand.

My brow was furrowed, my mood was dark and so was the horizon. "C'mon, let's go," I grumbled as I approached John and the kids. He didn't even chastise me, he just strapped the girls into their bike seats and rode quietly alongside.

My internal stream of consciousness ran wild, "Who am I what kind of mother am I you cannot blame these things on your daughter she's going to need therapy if you keep this up-she yelled at me for ruining her cashmere pashmina-the therapist will know I'm a crazy person this is not the way you build up your daughters self confidence its a pashmina big deal let it go it can be replaced quit freaking out i can't believe he wiped the grease from his hands on it cashmere cashmere why did i bring it on the bike ride you knew better it wasn't her fault pull yourself together.
"Shelby, I am so sorry I yelled at you. It wasn't your fault. I am not mad at you. It was my fault for bringing the (cashmere) scarf."
And as soon as those words came out of my mouth I felt my hair calm, the crease along my forehead smooth and the green drain from my cheeks. I was again myself, a mom, a loving wife who can control her temper and does not freak out in public.
Needless to say, when we arrived home I locked up medusa and put myself to bed. I vowed to leave the tantrums to my toddlers and my Father-In-Law, and my cashmere at home.


One Room, Two Kids Revisited

The growing trend in this country appears to be larger homes, smaller families and more video games and television. A few more years and the American family may gather at their kitchen counter to have a conversation via text, omg r u lvn the chkn 2nt?
When John and I returned from living in Australia, we had a grudge against the American government. We were expecting a child, and we were analyzing our country with the scrutiny of a foreigner. In a Utopian society (aka Australia), television includes commercials publicizing the use of sunscreen, bedtime for children at 7:30 with a giant stuffed teddy bear, a song, and a dance, public parks and restrooms devoid of filth, reverse taxes for couples giving birth to a child in the form of thousands of dollars in your pocket. Families live sparsely, with a concentration on simple living, a zest for travel and a deep respect for nature.
With this experience under our belts, we returned to the states and cancelled our cable television. Completely. It's been four and a half years since we pumped commercialized American television into our home, since we fed on consumerism and devoured sensationalized news caps. We moved to a 2 bedroom home, we ride bikes and walk to the beach to watch the sunset after dinner. When we visit Grandparents, and watch television, Shelby cries at every commercial break because she thinks the show is all over already.
When we learned we were pregnant with a second baby, we dismissed the concern of our friends and neighbors and responded with, "Our kids will share a room. We did, didn't you?"
This was all well and good until the baby arrived and we discovered that babies cry. Babies make noise at all hours of the night. And toddler sleep is nothing to mess with. So we spent the first few weeks nervous. But once I got out of the fog of post pregnancy, I took some baby steps toward reclaiming my bedroom. On the days when Shelby was in preschool, I began putting Ana down for her morning nap in her crib in the girls' bedroom. After a few weeks, I added her afternoon nap to the agenda while Shelby went down for her nap. We all found this to be exciting that Shelby and Ana could lie down in their room for a nap together. And on a "Jackpot Day" they both actually fell asleep in their room, at the same time!!!!
After a few weeks, I set a goal: Ana will begin the evening in her crib and if possible, will end up in her crib in the morning. What happens in between doesn't matter. By the time Ana was 8 months, we were all set. Shelby, thank God, is a fairly sound sleeper, so any ambient noise made by her baby sister goes unnoticed. The only times we separate them is during bedtime routine and if one is sick.
Ana goes to bed around 7 and Shelby gets her story time at 7:15. So we do bedtime routine in our bed and then promptly move Shelby to her bed once she's fallen asleep. This may bode poorly for us in the future. But for now, it works just fine. Shelby like her bed and doesn't ask to get in ours during the night.
In the first year of Ana's life, if one got sick, we would put them into bed with us. But now that they are older, they just suffer through the other one's coughing, harking or crying. I'd like to think that they are used to sharing a room with each other. Getting used to sharing toys is another story.


As Promised

I mentioned my Thanksgiving celebration included guns and drag queens. When we attended our second Thanksgiving on my husband's side, Shelby asked, "Mommy, is there going to be shooting there?"

Augh, so many great traditions.

I will surely be punished for the following photo, nonetheless, the rest of the world should know just how my family celebrates their holidays.


Building a Babysitter

When my good neighbor-friend moved away last summer, she took with her a warm cozy place for me to visit, a hospitality that always included coffee no matter the time of day, and my babysitters. Since neither of her daughters drive, nor are they interested in learning how, no matter the distance, their new house required me to drive them home after an evening out. So, I stopped going out with my husband. I stopped planning ways to invest in my marriage and started putting the kids to bed earlier. We'd like to think that spending time at home with our husbands after the kids have gone to bed is just as quality as spending time at a restaurant or a movie theater. It's not. Because there's the computer and laundry, a magazine or a phone call that inevitably leads to distractions and non-conversations, and very little eye contact. Which all equals zero time alone, together.
I had gone as far as verbalizing my interest in finding a new babysitter. And that's as far as I got for three months. Shelby whined about being left alone at home and how she didn't want the old sitter to come back. I realized that introducing a new sitter was a little like adopting another child. This person was going to become a part of our lives, of my children's life for (hopefully) a few years of their childhood. This person would learn how my baby likes to fall asleep, what my toddlers' favorite bedtime books are, that my closets are as disorganized as my refrigerator. A babysitter is a part-time family member. And it's a big deal to let them into your life. You can't just have anybody putting your kids to bed. And so, I devised a plan.
After John had mentioned (several times) that he had recently hired a college intern who was interested in babysitting, I decided to call her. She was over 21, owned a reliable vehicle, was friendly and had spent the last three months working for John through harvest. If the tasting room manager trusted her with his newborn three days a week, I guess I could give her a chance.
Once I had scheduled Hannah to babysit the kids, I cooked up a sales pitch to give Shelby. My daughter is intuitive and likes a party, she does not enjoy being left behind. So I told her there was a friend coming over. A big girl friend who had been asking to come to our house and play with her. That this friend really wanted to come over and read books with her, play with her toys and do special things with Shelby. The anticipation was already building. She began asking questions like, how old is she? and what's her name? does she like to wear pink like me? what are we going to do?
The first time Hannah came to babysit, I made sure it was late enough that the baby was asleep. This way, Shelby could have all of Hannah's attention and they could build an uninterrupted relationship. I also left a few new activities for them to do-not a movie. A new activity book, new markers, new playdough and a tidy mat, and a potted bulb. Yes, one of those Christmas pots with the ingredients to grow your very own Hyacinth or Paper White at home. Although this activity only took them a few minutes, it has helped to encourage the relationship even in Hannah's absence. Shelby and I check the bulb every other day, talk about the tiny green sprout that has recently appeared and how Hannah will be here next week again and she'll be so excited to see how the bulb has grown! It's a little reminder of the new part-time member of our family, of the relationship this college girl is growing with my daughters and how it continues to sprout every day.
The last time Hannah came over, both girls were awake and the end of evening report was positive. Even Shelby's morning after report was good. I am so happy to know that the sitter I leave my kids with is as enthusiastic about them as they are about her. That we talk about her almost every day (thanks to the bulb) and Shelby is actually looking forward to an evening when her parents leave her at home with "The Babysitter."


Happy Thanksgiving

Here's to cranberry sauce and red wine,
eating Turkey and feeling fine
a room full of relatives unruly and loud,
a fat full tummy and a friendly crowd.
Raise your cup and drink it up,
cherish your family and your good luck.
Warm crackling fires, and plenty of laughter,
a year full of happily ever after,
There's Aunt Judith's big jumbly squeeze,
Pass the pumpkin pie, please,
A year of memories, laughs and living,
I wish you all a


Ode to My Town

I dedicate the following poems to my muses, all those crazies who wander the streets of my town.

Crazy Jack
Dressed in black,
Wears his iPod with a head wrap.
Big black boots, with buckles and straps.
Kid Rock's cousin, high on crack.

Old man-lady on the street,
carries a broomstick by her feet,
Pushes a cart, wears a hat
plaid and puffy,
"Look, it's Pat."

Skater Dad, travels around
riding half pipes down town
middle aged, got no car
wife and kid skate just as far.

Creepy fisherman on a walk,
To himself he likes to talk,
Up the curb and down again
Pausing for his imaginary friend.

Pizza guy, with his sign
stands on the corner, lookin' fine.
Got his beats, and his rhythm,
bops for hours, cocaine in him.
"6 buck buffet, try it out!"
Scary guy on my route.

My kids observe,
each day in town,
watching crazies cruise around.
"Grow up right, work hard, be good,
Don't be a crazy in the neighborhood."


Baby Shower Brilliance

As promised, here's some evidence of my most impressive efforts for H's baby shower.

A cake made of baby diapers, towels, bibs and baby blankets. This pic was taken before I decorated it with fresh flowers from the bouquets the day of the party.

The illustrious party favors containing all items related to relaxing:
A mixed CD, a candle, "Calm" tea, face lotion and/or calming spritz (an array of samples I scored at the department store makeup counter for free), and a family recipe for yummy chocolate peanut butter cookies from the guest of honor's kitchen. (I, of course, neglected to capture photos at the actual party, please excuse my reenactment)

One idea I had, but did not follow through with, included hiring a reflexologist and or masseuse to orchestrate an entire room full of relaxing time. Either foot soaks and foot massages or a chair massage. I also made a failed attempt at concocting an organic sea salt scrub to include in the party favor bag. I went as far as to buy the oil and sea salt and glass containers. Then I got overwhelmed.
We didn't play games at this baby #2 shower, but instead were asked to submit a fact about ourselves that no one else would know. Everyone diligently scribbled something down before we sat down for brunch. When we retired to the living room to watch the opening of gifts, my co-hostess filled the down time between presents by reading from our fact cards. Then we all tried to guess who was "a former Sports Illustrated model" , or who "ice skated as a child". It was a nice way to get to know the other guests.
One other tried and true addition to our party was a basket full of envelopes on which each guest was invited to write her name and address. After the party, the guest of honor receives all the envelopes and their respective Thank You cards so she can easily mail out her Thank Yous with pre-addressed envelopes. Easy and rather helpful.

Happy Showering!


A Fitz Family Gathering

My Irish Catholic side of the family reconvened this year for a pre-Thanksgiving bash at The Ranch. For exactly 24 hours, more than 65 Fitz-somethings gathered to eat, drink, sing, four wheel a random collection of vintage machines, drink, shoot weapons(I never said we were smart Irish Catholics), drink and perform. The strange finality of it all resulted in happy goodbyes and only one lukewarm screaming match. This year paled in comparison to past blowouts, crashed cars and broken bones. Contrary to our roots, my family is not the Irish whiskey type. But what they lack in traditional drink they more than make up for in wine, Vodka, swimsuit drag queens and live karaoke performances. I've finally reached a point in my life where I revel in these gatherings. I anxiously anticipate the perfect mix of young and old in a sprawling farmhouse against the backdrop of rolling hills. I love the smell of mingled perfumes, Uncle Jim's oak bbq, cherished memories, cattle, warm pumpkin pie, fresh squeezed lime in the cocktails, dusty boots and avocados. I love the way the house swells with conversation, often bursting with laughter, how there's always a crowd gathered at grandpa's bar. I love the way the children shoot out of the doors like firecrackers and music spills from the piano like sweet, velvety syrup. I love the sunset on Grandma's back porch, the rusty candelabra over her outdoor table, the whir of golf carts racing through the orchards, piled high with giggling cousins, the horseshoe pits beckoning from the shade of an old oak tree. The sweet smell of garden roses, the whinny of a horse, the crackle of the fire pit, strong coffee wafting through the air.

When the sun slipped beneath the horizon, a stage was lit for lifetime performances this family would not live down (or live without). There was a simulated family road trip, where 7 siblings-most seasoned grandparents themselves- lined up folding chairs and invited their 90 year old mother to sit at the helm of an imaginary station wagon on her own candlelit porch. They handed her a mug of Irish Whiskey(apparently an authentic driving prop back in their childhood) and led the entire family on a bumpy, and albeit loud ride down memory lane singing, "Over the river and through the woods to Lake Nacimiento we go...HEY!" chiming in with knee slapping quotes and memories of their chaotic and colorful childhood. My family is a varied collection of performers, artists, musicians, lovers, livers and intellects with a thirst for adventure. The final act involved five young men dressed in women's swimsuits with rolled socks stuffed in all the wrong places. Cameras flashed, jaws dropped, the crowd joyously cheered in loving adoration as these muscle bound queens flounced and posed, swinging scarves and tossing their gloves into the air.
And for those of you who read last year's account of my family's annual pre-Thanksgiving bash (see "Best Posts of 2007") my drunk recovering alcoholic aunt gave an encore acoustic performance into the wee hours of the night...or so I heard. When John and I rallied the kids for breakfast the next morning, half the crowd was pirate eyed, disheveled and gripping coffee mugs like their life depended on it. Apparently, old Auntie rocked Janis Joplin's greatest hits with her guitar and trusty vocals well past midnight, to the tune of an unappreciative packed house. Some things never change.


Birthday Wishes

Today is my friend, H's birthday. Today she is one day more pregnant, one day more impatient, and one day more anxious for the arrival of her baby girl. She is also one day more sober on her birthday night (happy birthday). I'd like to say I can recall all the angst and frustration she suffers today (happy birthday) so I may console her from the very same side of the tracks, but I've successfully blocked it from my memory.
Instead, I'd like to dedicate this Ode to My Pregnant Friend: Happy Birthday from a more positive perspective.
This is one birthday she will remember devoid of foggy moments, broken glasses or pukey sweaters. This is a birthday where her cleavage draws more attention than her ridiculously long legs (I speak out of jealousy). And probably the last birthday she'll have glorious cleavage that doesn't reach to next Tuesday. This is a birthday when only one child will demand her attention while she shovels her meal before he needs to go home to bed. When she eats with both her hands. Where only one child yells, "Mommy!" five billions times in an evening. An evening when she can crawl into bed knowing her breasts still belong to her, no matter which side of her belly they roll to. A night of sleep that doesn't involve diapers. And finally, this is THE LAST birthday that involves root beer and iced tea.
Happy Birthday, H. There's a bottle of champagne with your name on it when that baby girl makes her appearance! You've earned it, my friend. Cheers.

Legoland in Review

"How Big IS this place?" John gawked as we weaved our way towards the Legoland entrance. Before I could speak, we rounded the bend to a parking lot the size of Zimbabwe. His jaw dropped (and it wasn't in excitement).
I unfolded the enormous map and pointed to the colorfully printed chaos, "This big. I guess it's like Disneyland."
Unlike our family trip to Disneyland, I did not obsess over this outing; no late night internet research, no websites, no blogging, just ticket prices for our vacation budget.
We unloaded the kids and John looked around at the neighboring throngs of glitzy SoCal moms and their kids.
"Is this what stay-at-home moms do with their kids in San Diego?" he asked me, as though I were the State Authority on Stay-At-Home-Mom activities throughout California.
It was true, there wasn't a dad in sight, and every mom wore jeweled Italian sandals and a Coach purse.
Then he glanced back at the map and announced, in a not so enthusiastic tone, "I was not mentally prepared for this."
(John later admitted to a misinformed vision of Legoland which included a bowling alley-sized room full of legos and a hot dog stand)
Our first ride was a 30 minute wait for the Coastersaurus. We happily made our exit after the 27 second coaster ride and hop-skipped down the path towards John and Ana when Shelby bit the dust. She came up bloody and bruised and limped along with a swollen, skinned knee.
This is exactly where things made a turn for the worse. She cried through lunch, shied away from half the rides we suggested, and whimpered through the entire afternoon. Then she peed her pants when we FINALLY made it to the front of the mechanical horse ride. We changed her clothes and continued on a death march toward the exit, stopping in Pharaoh Land for a mini airplane ride and a walk through the netted jungle gym where John hit his head so badly he punctured a hole in his scalp.
Are you getting the picture?
This family was not impressed. We arrived on Veteran's Day and the crowds were thick enough to clog lines, but not walking paths. For $120 (we had a free ticket coupon) we suffered two injuries, a pee in public embarrassment, and a $13 face paint that rubbed off on my new t-shirt. Ana was big enough to ride on one attraction. John and I lamented about the lack of music and overwhelming sounds of crying children. The atmosphere lacked excitement and the rides were reminiscent of a flashier Mid-State Fair. Even some of the employees smelled and looked like carnies (Marlboro Reds and missing teeth).
Legoland did have its perks: The Marketplace near the entrance/exit has yogurts and cups of dry cereal, espressos and fruit smoothies, cool looking water play and rides for a day devoid of clouds and wind (I said looking because we did not participate due to weather), and a nice First Aid station.
I think we'll stick to Sea World next time we visit San Diego.


My Sister's Getting Married

I'm pretty sure this is the title of a new movie. But it's actually the title of my life today. My only sister, four years younger, was recently engaged to her long, long, long time boyfriend and roommate. She floated across my driveway, positively beaming with joy when she arrived to share their exciting news. I am genuinely ecstatic for her and her man.
But in the days that have followed this joyful celebration, I have realized something. For the past 4, no 7 years, well, maybe my whole life, I have always been first. First to graduate from college, first to get married, first to have a grandchild, first to have another grandchild. I have really settled in to my position at center stage whenever something new happens in my life. My family is great about rallying behind me, they call and send cards, they attend parties and share their joy with me. But this year, my second child (and last, if I have anything to do with it) turned one. And I came to the realization that all the "Big" things in my life (college, wedding, pregnancy, children) have happened. Now I look ahead to menopause, polygrip, and even more gravity. Oh yeah, and survival of life with TWO teenaged girls in my future.
My sister, her engagement, her life just jumped out of the background and commanded the spotlight. A sparkling new solitaire flashing on her ring finger, a bright future laid out before her full of ceremonies, honeymoon, marital bliss (and gifts), and then, hopefully pregnancy(s) and parenting.
My mom doesn't linger on the phone when I call-she forgets to ask about my girls and how they are doing. She's distracted by the wedding, my sister's news. Don't get me wrong, I am nothing short of over-the-moon for this. I cannot wait to see my gorgeous little sis walk down the aisle. And just as she is embarking on the greatest journey of her life, of exciting "firsts" and challenges, I am preparing to send my kids off to public school, my little "firsts" are growing up already. I'm looking back on the pace of my 20s with melancholy and ahead to the selflessness of motherhood and the end of a stay-at-home era. Soon enough, I will put away my jammies and face the working world again without the promise of achieving career greatness (like I did upon my first entry into career land). Because this time I can't give 110%, my heart and my purpose lies with my children and a family I have helped to create and shape. The career world is a distraction, a dim opportunity to fill my time while I watch my girls grow up in their own classrooms, pave their own ways and find a path to their own "firsts".
So maybe this is what they mean when they say "Older and Wiser". Because I express these new found feelings devoid of grief or envy of my sister or my daughters. I know my place, I chose my path (and it is a good one) and what was once a self centered spotlight is now a beacon of love, joy and selflessness with which I can proudly shine on my own daughters, and my fabulous little sister.



So President-Elect Barack Obama sent me an email yesterday. He wants to know what I want from my government. I'm not sure how I feel about this because I am a skeptic. Is he really going to read my email? If I fill in that giant white box below the multiple choice questions that says "Other Comments" is someone REALLY going to read my words?
Well, anyway, if you care to put in your two cents to our President, here's his address:

I'll be sure to let you know if he responds.



What is Legoland? And did I have to like legos to like the Land they Live in?
Well, my family and I are embarking on a journey south, to San Diego County and Legoland. I'm not sure what to expect besides the outrageous ticket prices. It's not like it's Disneyland or anything. How can anywhere be better than that place???
Well, at least I have an open mind. And low expectations.
After we spend the $180 to get in-and the $10 parking fee-it had better be good (or at least more worthwhile than that hot little fuschia HOBO bag I saw yesterday for the same price).
Any hints or tips on this family adventure would be greatly appreciated. I need some inspiration people. Does a giant Fairy Tinker Lego stomp around the castle or anything?


Calling All Dog Drivers

I don't believe in the hands-free cell phone law. In fact, I don't even obey it-ever.
Unless it feels like an unlucky day (a.k.a. I already drove off with my coffee cup on the roof of my car once today-things can only get worse while driving with one hand).
Anyway, I have a "Honk if you're driving with one hand" bumper sticker now, too. Because, if you really look for them, there are a lot of people not obeying that stupid law.
I am not a rule breaker by nature-I am a rule bender. I don't normally buck the system, so Hands-Unfree Driving is completely out of character. Maybe it's because my daughter doesn't read the newspaper headlines (so technically, I am still a model citizen in her mind). Maybe it's because I have tinted windows. Maybe it's because I don't want to look like a Bluetooth droid. Or I have better things to spend $100 on. I'm pretty sure it might be because my hairdresser said her husband is a cop in SLO and he thinks the law is so stupid, he vows to NEVER ever give someone a cell phone violation ticket (let's hope I run into him before any of his colleagues catch me). It might be because my 3 foot of tangled ear plug contraption is ever so distracting to hook up while driving that it usually gets chucked over my frustrated shoulder. Or that no one can understand what I'm saying when I do go hands-free. Maybe it's because I read AAA magazine and it states that only 3% of reported accidents are a result of cell phone use, and of those, 60% are hands-free devices (they probably had that stupid 3 foot cord in a knot, too).
Well, all this ranting brings me to my conclusion. If people can drive with a dog in their lap, I can certainly handle a cell phone in my hand.


Preschool Pressure

You may or may not know that I come from a long line of educators. My decision to teach, in an earlier phase of my life, was a difficult one for someone who likes to pave her own way, who prides herself on uniqueness (is that really a word?). You get the idea. Following in my parents' footsteps wasn't exactly considered an "honor" in my book. But then I taught. And I liked it. And I embraced the challenge and the reward of educating the future leaders of tomorrow. And I respected my parents that much more. Fast forward to last month when my parents visited.

My dad has taught every grade level over the past 30 years of his teaching career and has, for the last 10, taught First Grade. I know, a man teaching first grade. But there's some logic here. His theory is that in every grade he taught, he encountered students who lacked the proper skills for academic success. Some couldn't read, others couldn't subtract. So he went to the root of the problem; first grade is where all the magic happens. Now he teaches to guarantee that every kid in his class graduates with the basic tools to succeed in every grade onward.

My mom taught elementary school for several years before pursuing her masters in reading. So she works as a reading specialist for grades K through 2.

You get the idea, right? When my parents come to visit, there's a whole lot of reading going on. Shelby wakes up in the morning and makes a beeline to "Gigi and Grandpa's" room where she already has a stack of books, old and new, waiting for her. The three of them usually cozy up in bed together and read books for an hour or more each morning.

When my mom stayed with us for a week last month, her professional side began analyzing the academic progress of my four year old: letter recognition, vocabulary and phonics comprehension. Then she turned on Shelby's preschool and its teachers. "Honey, are they teaching Shelby the sounds at that school?" "Are they singing any songs to her? You know..." (This is where my mom does her stint on the importance of poetry and music in a child's world because it is paramount to phonics and reading development). Strangely, I agree with my mom. I want the best for my daughter. Thanks to my mother, the shiny novelty of Shelby's preschool has been tarnished to reveal a few chinks in the armor, a lack of available literature for the students, and never enough songs and poetry.

Our first year at Shelby's preschool was blissful, flawless. She was thrilled with her new role as a preschooler and I was equally happy to be home alone with our newborn three days a week. They could have taught her pig latin for all I cared. Now we're a few months into Shelby's second year at the same preschool and things aren't quite as blissful. Kindergarten and all those state standard expectations (and my mom's reminders about the tests for incoming kindergarteners) are fast approaching. Is her preschool adequately preparing Shelby for public school? Should she be reading BEFORE she reaches Kindergarten? Is it this the best option for my child? Well, it certainly isn't the cheapest school. But, it is the closest to our home and it is the only accredited preschool in town.

The teacher in me awoke from somewhere in my past, picking up the slack in my daughter's preschool education. "Teacher/Mom" To the Rescue! I busted out a whole phonics reading program from the rafters of our garage that's gathered dust since the day I first gave birth. In one week, without knowing all her sounds, my 49 month old (that's 4 yrs+1 month for you normal moms) can read four early reading books-mostly from memory but who's counting, right? The important part is taht she is recognizing letter value, word association, basic literature knowledge (how to hold the book, which direction to turn the pages, how to use the picture to her advantage, pointing to each word, beginning sounds, and possibly, in time, actual word recognition).

For those of you who are standing on the brink of public education, state standards and standardized testing (the state doesn't test kindergarteners, but they do begin preparing them!) scratching your heads about the quality of your child's preschool and his or her preparedness for what lies ahead I have two words: BOOKS and http://www.starfall.com/. These two resources, when frequently used are sure to pave the way to reading success.

Other fantastic ways to encourage an early reader:

Scholastic's Phonics books can be purchased through most Scholastic book order forms or online. They are small square books that are numbered 1 through 58 and use a mix of "High Frequency Words" (I, see, the, up, hello, more...) and repetition in a slowly graduated format which allows even the youngest readers to listen, look, point and suddenly-READ!

Leap Frog's Letter Factory (and Word Factory) videos. Go to www.amazon.com to find Leap Frog's Letter Factory video.

New Leaf & New Inspiration

Last week was a rough one. The baby hit a teething streak while suffering the final throes of her terrible cold (A combination which results in NO SLEEP for anyone). I smashed my thumb in the car door. Then Aunt Flo came for a visit. And on Halloween Day I caught the Mother of all Colds. Instead of baking ghost cookies and preparing details for my annual witch costume, I spent the day blowing my nose and lying around the house mumbling things like, "I feel horrrriiibblle" and "I just want to crawl in a hole and die."
This week, I'm determined to make up for last week's downfalls. And on my calendar, I'm looking at sunshiney days full of kite flying, cookie baking and happy baby shower planning. Did I mention I'm helping to host a baby shower? I've been assigned the duty of "preserving the pregnant woman's interests" in this baby shower. I get to work with her mother-in-law (which is like collaborating with Martha Stewart and Miss Manners: a learning experience). Let's just say that the preggers of honor is a modern blend, Ikea meets Home Magazine (if you haven't read it, you should) in shades of purple and orange. So far, we've managed to avoid heart shaped measuring spoons in tiny pastel pink striped packages (definitely not modern). And a domesticated party theme that called to mind scenes from the break up part in Father of The Bride ("I thought he loved me! But..but a blender? He got me a blender as a wedding gift??!").
Yesterday, I left my husband and kids at home for a jaunt to town to seek out "the best party favors" EVER. I think I've succeeded and I know the guests will be impressed with the smattering of spa items I've collected. Although our guest of honor does not do pink, she is having a girl, so it seems to me some shade of pink needs to grace the decorations and tables. And I may have over-pink'ed (WHAT?! Me? I mean, I do have two girls! If anybody does pink-it's me). I have pink party favor bags, pink stickers, pink ribbons, I even constructed a two tiered cake made of diapers and baby bath towels in pink, with pink ribbons and a pink and green cake plate. I'd show you the picture but our guest reads this blog-so I can't spoil the surprise. I'll post pics after the shower.
I did a few hours of internet research on modern baby showers and gathered momentum for "The Best Baby Shower EVER." My goal is to make every guest, especially the expectant mommy, feel pampered, special and relaxed. If my party partner, M-I-L Martha Stewart holds up her end of the bargain (the food), we should be dining like queens and feeling fine this weekend! I'll be sure to post results and proof of "The Best Baby Shower EVER" this weekend. Stay tuned.


Am I Running With Scissors?

My Week In Review:
(I realize today is Wednesday but I am a stay-at-home mom so what the hell does TGIF mean to me?!)
1. The modern woman begins at home, with my 1 year old. This week Ana has discovered lipstick (or, as my 4 year old deems it, "Lisstick", which sounds far more heavenly in my opinion). She has taken to carrying around any form of chapstick or lipstick she can find and obsessively applying, reapplying and re-reapplying as often as possible. And her special talent this week is that she can unscrew anything, including child proof gummies, if given the opportunity. Yesterday, instead of the chapstick, she adopted a ColorWonder marker (blue and white, just like daddy's favorite chapstick) and applied, reapplied and re-reapplied it to her lips, our leather dining chairs and anything that didn't move too quickly in our house (including the dog). Thank you Crayola, for bringing miracles to a mother's world.
2. Thoughtfulness can be a learned behavior. With time and preparation, I actually possess the ability to be thoughtful!!! I gave away the second batch of pumpkin bread to an unexpected visitor. I arrived at my friend's home with a bag full of baked goods and two steaming cups of coffee. There, see? Thoughtfulness is not a genetic trait-it can be learned.
3. I'm going to cosmetology school. Well, no, not actually, but I've convinced my husband I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up and that some sort of further education is definitely on my list of considerations. He actually asked me when I planned to go back to teaching? WHAT?! I have to pick a job after this blissful thing I celebrate each day as "Motherhood"? I thought my next step was retirement...cruises, facials, and lots of golf.
4. I'm a better DJ than I gave myself credit. Here are just a few of my favorites:
a. Donovan Frankenreiter
b. Blue Merle
c. Colbie Caillat
d. John Meyer
e. Diego's Umbrella
f. The Waifs
g. Indigo Girls
h. Sandre Lerche
i. Tom Waits
j. Phoenix
5. Hosting Great Baby Showers-and it will be great-can be all consuming sometimes. My kids have eaten carrots and ranch dressing (Ana has eaten only the latter course) and mac n'cheese for three nights while I brainstorm decorating themes and ideas online.
6. Slamming Doors and Flailing Thumbs DO NOT MIX. Yesterday, I juggled a kamikaze baby, a bag full of library books and my ginormous purse and lost track of where my thumb had traveled. I managed to crush the tip of my poor little thumb in the car door. It happened so fast I didn't realize it was my own digit caught in the door so I yanked, hoping my bag or my sleeve, or whatever was caught in the door would come loose. I yanked so hard I pulled part of the skin off. It hurt so badly I almost fainted on the spot. Then I ran towards the house while moaning like a banshee, abandoning my children in our driveway screaming something like, "Shelby, make sure Ana doesn't go in the street!". I fell onto the sofa where I nearly vomited and shit myself at once. Then I broke into a sweat and stripped down. I think they call that shock. My husband made a mid day drive home for me while I downed Motrin and beer, called the ER and wrapped my throbbing, purple thumb in a bag of Lima Beans (what else are those things good for?). Being thumbless is an occupational hazard in my line of work as it is impossible to change a diaper, put in pigtails or unscrew a sippy cup.
7. I discovered my 14 month old speaks English. Well, at least she understands it. It's funny how you have a baby and you get so used to dragging the pour thing around everywhere that you forget they are a person, too. Every day this week I have learned something new about my 14 month old baby girl. Thursday, she likes lisstick. Friday, she prefers to walk upright instead of crawling. Saturday, teething makes her snotty and incredibly irritable and she can't sleep so neither can we. Sunday, Motrin rocks. Monday, she follows directions. Whoa. (well, let's be honest, that'll last about a month) Tuesday, she knows all the motions to "If You're Happy and You Know It".
8. My family loves brussel sprouts. This statement is layered with pride and substance. It represents my aspirations to expose my family to a healthful, varied diet that includes meals we share together. It also allows me, as mom, to speak for my family as a whole, a unit, a team. because we are. We enjoy each other, we work well together, and we have a whole lot of love going on in our wee tiny house. And for me, that is the utmost achievement in my line of work.

I am not channeling Augusten Burroughs but sometimes I wonder what life would be like in a normal family. Because my family is the farthest hing from normal.


A Lonesome Heart

It's a foggy Saturday afternoon and I'm cozied up on the sofa in front of the fire with a cold beer and my trusty laptop (aka ALONE). Most girls would kill for this but I recline here with a heavy heart laden with guilt.
Today was a rare family day as John had the entire day off (a semi weekly happenstance). We had planned to spend the entire day on the beach, basking in the sun and playing on our new longboard. Apparently, mother nature had a different plan because we awoke to fog thicker than clam chowder. It hung on the eaves and dripped down our windows.
John cheerfully grabbed his surfboard and headed out into a sunless horizon for his morning exercise. We reunited mid morning and munched on bacon and toast over the kitchen counter. The minutes sped by as the impending return to John's work week and my single parenting loomed. We paced across the living room anxious to make the most of our time together, yet equally confused by our unfortunate weather circumstance.
Noon. Where did our morning go? What about lunch? What about Ana's nap? We needed to get out of the house and we needed to get out now. We loaded up our surfboards, buckets and snacks, and then bundled up in our winter gear before heading north in search of sun and some lunch.
If you haven't been to Ruddell's Smokehouse in Cayucos, their salmon tacos are to die for and they can make a sunless day more tolerable.
We spent the next few hours living up our afternoon together before teeth chattered, diapers sagged and stomachs growled. Ana was asleep before we had finished packing up the sand toys.
Upon arriving home, Shelby had a second wind, fixating on her "Snow Princess Costume" and the mention of her cousin's pumpkin party this evening. I agreed that although her sister was fast asleep and in desperate need of a nap (considering the vibrant shades of snot pouring from her nose today)there was no reason why Shelby couldn't wear her costume.
Skip to the part where my over worked husband pulls out of the driveway with his Snow Princess perched in the back seat. Heading towards the pumpkin party on the same winding 45 mile road he drives twice daily...on his one day off. Enter guilt laden, heavy heart.
I'm at home with a sleeping baby, a crackling fire and a cold beer. And I feel terribly alone...and terribly guilty.


The Gummy Bear Attack

Ana had attached herself to the Trader Joe's Gummy Bear Vitamin container and it was well past bedtime. Choosing my battles, I decided to just do bedtime routine with her and her jar o' sidekicks. We walked around the darkened room with her slinky blanket until she was nodding off (slinky in one hand, gummies in the other). I laid her down in her crib and tip toed out the door. When John came home from work (at the usual time-8:00) both kids were soundly sleeping and he snuck around their beds to wish them good night(therefore fulfilling his role as parent for the day).

"Hey, have you checked on Ana since you put her down?" John whispered.

"What? Oh, oh yeah, I know she still has the gummies in the crib. She was emotionally attached to them at bedtime so I didn't fight it."

"Yeah, well, you may want to go in there and look at her," he persisted.

I reluctantly got up from the sofa and poked my head into her room. There she lay, sound asleep, splayed out in a pool of Gummy Bear Vitamins like some bizarre child magazine cover shoot, a yellow child proof cap gripped tightly in one hand.

"You have got to be F@#$ing kidding!" I gasped.

I gathered up the bears and carefully evaluated the volume to determine just how many she may have eaten. The jar was half full (optimistic) before Ana's gummy bear picnic and it seemed to be just that afterwards. CUT TO NEXT SCENE

It's the following morning and our household is in "GO TIME" mode. We have exactly 64 minutes to pack a family lunch and get everyone dressed and ready to go on Shelby's preschool field trip to the pumpkin patch. Thankfully, Shelby awoke early and Ana was still asleep, giving mommy time to shower and get two out of three dressed and ready. Departure time is 9:00 and the lunches need to be packed up and loaded into the car. My clock reads 8:37 and Ana squawks at the very moment I'm starting to worry about my gummy estimating.

"Phew, she's awake and alive!" I proclaim, as Shelby and I march into her room to greet her.

"Man, there are still more gummies in your bed, Little Mischief!" I laugh as I pluck and pull smooshed gummies from the folds of her blanket.

Shelby helps me change Ana's diaper and pick out her clothes (the preschool suggested something orange so Shelby is rummaging through every drawer like a fashion tornado).

We hustle into the kitchen to pack up the lunches...8:51 What the HELL is that? Ana is toddling across the living room rug and I'm staring at a dark gooey lock of hair on the back of her head.

Upon closer inspection I discover it to be the one gummi bear casualty in Ana's midnight picnic. A lone gummy has been smeared and double smeared into her white frizzy bedhead at the nape of her neck.

"Mommy! Is it time to go on the field trip?" Shelby hollers.

"Auugh! LUNCH!" I change gears, heading to the kitchen to throw our lunch together while pondering an approach to the gummy crime scene. Should I cut it out? She's only 14 months. I can't cut her hair yet! Should I use peanut butter? Olive oil? Soap and water?


I grab Ana's sun hat in hopes that today, for once, she'll just leave her hat on so no one else has to witness the gory gummy dreadlock.

The entire morning I noticed people taking double takes at Ana's head-because, of course, the hat did not stay on. First they'd look amused and doting at the cute little girl with the shocking white spiky hair, and then, just as they turned away they'd look back again. You could see their mind spinning, "What was, did I just see, what the hell is on the back of her head?" And they'd glance back to get a gander at the gummy lock. Depending on how long they stared, I would either dismiss it, or I'd say, "It's a gummy bear. It's a long story. I didn't have time to get it out this morning." And then, on cue, Ana would happily shake her head, bouncing the gummy lock back and forth.

After a few explanations of this I realized what a crime this phenomenon really was because I looked like the poster child for "How NOT to raise your second child". I held my banana crusty faced baby with the gummy lock in her hair while my preschooler swirled around us in an ironed dress, matching sweater and pom pom hair bands in her pigtails. It was the first day Shelby had allowed me to part her golden curls and comb her hair into two flawless pigtails. I, too, had blow dried my hair and applied makeup. And then there was Ana.

OMG I am a terrible mother. Not only did I put my child to bed with a jar full of choking hazards, but then I dragged her into public unkempt and gummy-locked. I may as well just write across my chest: I was not cut out to be a mother of two kids.

And then on my back: Beware of the Gummy.


And Did I Mention?

I have exactly six people from high school that I keep in touch with. We call and email regularly. We get together at least once a year for a girls' weekend. At which point we gather up all our gossip that we've come across from any former schoolmates and dish out the latest news for everyone to devour. This year I arrived with only a morsel of gossip. I had recently encountered an old tennis rival who we'd all deemed to be a little ditsy. I ran into her at the dentist's office-more specifically, her dentist's office...as in, the office had her name on it and she was reviewing the charts on my daughter's latest dental x-rays. Yep, Hello Cathy Rassmussen! So great to see you! You're a dentist! WOW! wow. (Who knew)
After my brief but shielded surprise, I made small talk with her. She informed me that not only had she married another fellow classmate, but that she regularly met up with other class mates who now lived in the area. There are others? YOU are neighbors with the B. Twins?
Okay, rewind, let me give you some background to explain my less than enthusiastic response to this unwanted reunion. I was the chunky athletic girl in high school. Not fat, just pudgy. For my lofty 5 feet 8 inches of height, I was toting a good 150 pounds (or more) my junior year and it only got worse when I went off to college. I played every sport and I played them all fairly well (I didn't sit the bench). Wow, give a girl a topic and it takes her right back to high school. Amazing!
Needless to say, I was not the epitome of cool, I was fair to middling or somewhere in between. Sometime during my college career, I gave up A&W Rootbeer Floats, french fries and binge drinking and shed my pudge. About the time I was metamorphasizing from a Rollie Pollie to a woman, I met John, got married and found myself. I have never looked back. Aside from my hair color, there is virtually nothing about me that looks the same. And no one from high school I care to reminisce with besides my six friends.
This brings me to the B. Twins. The Twins were the antithesis of my high school experience. They were water polo players with the bodies of Gods. They were a pair and a cool pair at that. They were ultra social and ultra high school. They knew all the parties, they threw the parties, they were the parties.
Back to the present: On one perfectly unassuming day, I walked the girls back from the beach and just as I rounded our driveway I heard a scratchy man voice shout, "Hey G! What's happenin'?" Out of the corner of my eye there was a flash of sparkly black sunglasses over tanned skin, a silver SUV, and a mop of thick wavy brown hair. I would know that voice anywhere. I turned to face Twin #1 who was perched in his SUV with two tiny rat dogs panting over the steering wheel, his sleeve of tattoos hung out of his window.
You have got to be friggin kidding me! I moved 3 hours from home and this guy is driving down my street and picks me out of the line up with my two girls?????? Who told ... ??? ugh, the dentist!!!! I'm sure that's a breach of confidentiality to share my home address!!! WTF???
Oh yeah, it gets better. He goes on to tell met that he's getting married this weekend (woopee) and he and his fiance just bought the house 4 blocks away! Did I do this !!!!!!!!!! enough? I said four blocks away, right?!!!!!!!!!!!! I feel like the paparazzi just set up camp in my bathroom.
Is there anyone else out there who has had this experience? B. Twin #1 has driven past our house several times since this first meeting and stopped to talk. I am friendly but uninterested in a neighborly alliance. I don't want to get together over a beer and talk about "the old days". I don't have anything in common with him besides my high school. I'm sure I'm over reacting. Am I over reacting? FOUR BLOCKS!!!!!!!!


A Low Moment

I awoke yesterday morning severely hungover. I know, I know, I'm too old for this ridiculousness....on a Monday. John's friend, Mr. Hollywood descended upon us at dinner time and unexpectedly accepted our invitation for dinner. The wine flowed and apparently my conscience, which usually steps in at some point to remind me that I am the mother of two children and I have around the clock responsibilities that do not include hugging toilets or midday napping, stepped out for the night. Yes, I blame my inadequate conscience for this blunder and no one else.
Getting back to the poignant moment I'm sure I will pay for...
I struggled to pack Shelby's lunch before preschool and upon bagging the pb & j felt the urge to purge. I ran to the nearest bathroom and kneeled in penance ("Heavenly Father, Please forgive me for my sins -Huiugghhh!-I will never try to keep up with Mr. Hollywood-Huugghhh!-I am not 21 anymore-Uggghhhhh!") and then, the pitter patter of tiny feet. I now have an audience, one perched upon her big girl stool looking down at me and the other climbing up the toilet to dive in. Oh my God, how many things are wrong with this picture? Today I am a shitty mom.


God Forsakes!

Typical scheduling in my world does not involve forethought and this week was no different. We set out for a day trip to Santa Barbara with Gigi and the girls. Our road trip began at 8:30 a.m. and we whirled around the Santa Barbara Zoo, Paseo Nuevo Shopping and the Santa Ynez Wine Country to arrive home just before 8. It goes without saying that the girls (now 4 yrs. and 1 yr.) were ready for a long hiatus from their carseats.
The following day, however, was not the day for a break(Major Lack of Forethought on My Part). Gigi had arrived without a car and needed a lift over to her vacation home in Lake Nacimiento to meet guests...a mere hour and 15 minute drive through the winding back country of North County. We arrived to her cabin at 1 p.m. and spent the afternoon riding tricycles on the deck, doing glitter art, eating and hiking around the park. When we finally packed up for the drive back home, without Gigi, I knew I would need the strength of three moms to get us home without the wheels falling off.
We made it exactly 32 minutes before Ana spit up. Or, at least it started out as spit up. The follow-up gag arrived in the form of curdled cheese, milk and strawberries projected all over the back seat and floor.
I spent the next half an hour on the side of the road, coaching myself (out loud) to pull myself together and just scrape it off her seat with my bare hands (I've handled worse, I think....Haven't I?) When the majority of Ana's last meals had been extracted from our car, leaving only the sour smell of vomit to enjoy, I filled the carcass of her carseat with my jeans and a sweater for padding. Then strapping her in, I announced it was now 6:30, we were out of water (used up for rinsing), towels, extra clothes, diapers and food and we had a mere 45 minutes of hellish winding roads before we were home. Yippee. The first 25 minutes were tense as I kept one eye on the road and the other on my green toddler.
Then I heard Shelby say, "God forsakes, Ana! You puked all over yourself AGAIN!!!"
I didn't even pull over this time, I just turned both eyes to the road and headed for home.
If you're in my neighborhood, our house is the one with two plastic, coverless carseats in the driveway and all the doors open on my car. I can't bring myself to scour it anymore today, but the smell remains.
We have a lot of laundry to do.


A Visit From Gigi

I've been away from my computer for awhile. My excuse has to do with my mother. My mom descended upon us for a week. For many, including husbands, the mere thought of their mom (or M-I-L) living with them for 7 nights would drive them to the brink. In my case, her visit is a welcomed gift!
My mom, deemed "Gigi", reads my oldest every children's book until their eyes are both crossed (she even read her adult novel aloud while Shelby painted) and diced every food known to man for my youngest little gobbler. I enjoy her company and she doesn't make my husband the least bit crazy. To top it off, her timely October vacation at our house comes on the heels of a long summer and an even longer harvest (which means John hasn't been around for evenings or weekends since late May). In a nutshell: I had a girlfriend to join me for a pedicure, a sidekick to grab a beer and lunch midday, a second set of arms to hug a tired toddler or change a dirty diaper, and she laundered, folded and put away every last tidbit of laundry in my house. Hallelujah! Our week is over and I am once again, home, alone, with my two girls. I hope Gigi comes back again soon.


Made Ya Look!

For the past three nights, John and I have snuggled into bed and pulled up a new TV network online. I know what you're thinking, this story could probably go anywhere right now. Pull your heads out of the gutters, people.

Truth be told, we have methodically "tried" a different station each night. (Okay, okay, it sounds kinky but it's not!). First we tried abc.com and watched "Samantha Who?" Got some fashion inspiration but not much else out of the show. Then we watched "My Name Is Earl" and had a few laughs but were ultimately unimpressed. Last night we ventured to cbs.com and watched "The Ex-List". Pretty hilarious. Even though the main character looks like Skeletor with shoulder pads, on the whole the cast is pretty solid.

So we anxiously put the kids to bed tonight and returned to cbs.com for the next episode of "Ex-List" only to find that there's just a pilot and no season! Ugh!!!

I'm taking suggestions for other online TV series addictions. I just have one stipulation: I cannot afford to lose sleep over a TV show that has creepy scary dead people in it or mysterious murders. Trust me, I don't get enough sleep as it is in my life, I don't need to be awake at night because some lady with boils all over her body keeps spitting bees at me every time I close my eyes. Suggestions?


Highways in High Heels

Have you ever noticed the people who clean up the highways? You know, those kind hearted volunteers who wear the vests and hard hats and spend their free time picking up trash alongside fast moving vehicles on roads and highways.

Below are two images I copied from online. The first is a picture of a proud volunteer on road clean-up. The second is a picture of prisoners doing the same job. Can you tell the difference?

Why do California prisoners get to wear the same uniform that volunteers wear when doing clean-up tasks?
This is degrading to all the philanthropists in the world (sadly, I don't fall in this category).
I propose that instead of degrading the "Do-Gooders", we degrade the prisoners. I'm sending the image below as a uniform proposal to the California Prison Authority for consideration in next year's Prisoner Highway Clean Up Committee:

If every prisoner had to wear this to clean up garbage, I'm pretty sure we would eliminate repeat offenders.


Fool Proof Recipe

My friend, H, is a great cook. She's the brainiac scientist who moonlights as Betty friggin Crocker. She bakes four course dinners for her family of (almost) 4 and makes a mean Orzo Salad. I hope she's alright with my sharing this Fool Proof recipe with you but it has become a family favorite in my house and I know your family (well, at least your husband) will dig it.

The Famous "H" Orzo Salad
(I've never been one for measuring so bare with me, please)
Cook Orzo pasta as directed.
Add lots of olive oil, lots of pine nuts, and lots of parmesan (the powdery version seems to work best)
Salt and chopped garlic and fresh basil can really give it a nice kick. Don't add the basil until orzo has cooled (otherwise it turns a blackish brown color-not as attractive in the salad)
If I have grape tomatoes on hand I find these are yummy and add color.
Serve room temp or cold.
Can be kept for a few days in the fridge but it'll need more olive oil upon serving.
Bon Appetit!


A New Kind Of Goal

I've decided I would like to build up our savings account. Call it "for a rainy day". Call it the pessimist in me who sees the economic downturn of our near future (or present). Maybe it's because I know I've only got 50% of my brake pads left. Call it what you will but I've decided to put away some serious cash.
I find the topic of finances to be an intriguing topic when posed to random couples, especially newlywed couples. Do you share bank accounts? Which one of you handles your finances?
I ask the question because I'm nosy, and intrigued by the inner workings of the separate account life.
You see, John and I have always agreed on a shared account. Thankfully, he makes the money, I manage the money AND I spend the money. What more could a girl ask for???
When we got married I actually worked full time but it was never enough to cover the household utilities, groceries and clothes (okay, good clothes). So before we tied the knot, I had become another monthly check to write on John's list of "To Do's"...write a check to my broke ass fiance so she can buy us beer, toilet paper, and chips (we did a lot of entertaining in those days).
It was obvious my negative-balanced bank account was ripe for the closing when we walked down the aisle. Poor guy, he got the ball, the chain, and the student loans. We've had a few bumps along the road but all in all, he's said his peace, I've learned my lessons and it's been smooth sailing.
I'm interested in other people's approach to this subject because John and I aren't organized or private enough to keep our own accounts. Nor do I dare claim that ours is the perfect scenario for everyone. We have encountered issues -like my birthday-when he's run out of ideas and he pops into the grocer for a bouquet of flowers (twice in ten years) only to find that our debit card was declined. Big oops (definitely in the category of BUMP). Now he asks how much he can spend for our anniversary or my birthday. Kinda takes the romance out of it doesn't it?
How do separate bank accounts work without creating more bookkeeping? In our world, I do the groceries, the bills, stocking the house, medical, and the clothes & shoes. Yes, I buy all his clothes. And his shoes (it's a fine scientific equation of sizing and measuring that I've perfected since college).
We have some close friends who dole out an allowance from their monthly income. They each get an amount to spend on their toys, hobbies, clothes, etc. Where I would imagine it gets tricky is the kids and the house. Sure, it's nice to think that daddy hits Target for Sara's new dolly stroller and happens across an adorable harvest wreath for the door. But we all know that ain't happening. What about the bedroom set she loves, he hates, so she buys it anyway and pays for it herself?
Back to where I began, my financial goal... is to build up our savings account. In order to achieve this I've set some benchmarks for the upcoming months allowing for Christmas and yes, new brakes. My problem is not the theory but the practice. Enter, stage right, my sister (a born and bred hoarder of all things money) suggesting I consult her idol, Suze Orman for financial advice. She loves that woman! Back to the topic at hand, the practice. I write it all out, I set the goals, and on paper we should be a millionaires by February!!! But in reality, I run into snags. Like the kajillion birthday party invites my preschooler receives (and subsequent gifts she must give). And the Princess Extravaganza. And the awesome Children's Place prices on Amazon.com. And the NuBra/chicken cutlets I need for my self esteem(check em out-cool!). And the impromptu Santa Barbara trip with my mom and the kids next week..how can a girl go to Santa Barbara and NOT hit Nordies??? You see my problem?
I pushed it all aside today and focused in on those benchmarks. If I can claw my way to the finish line I will be one accomplished household financial guru mama (and I can have a new pair of shoes, or three). Take that Suze Orman!
And then the credit card bill arrived. And in plain English, it spelled out the 4 digit $$$ playhouse that god-damned Bottle Fairy dropped off at our house (which is still in the box). That bitch left us to cover the bill! And the assembling!!!
How am I supposed to find my benchmarks with HER in my life??


If You Give A Mom A Moment

It's Sunday afternoon and by some miracle of God, I have been alone for exactly 46 minutes...and counting. If I knew how this happened, trust me, I would share the secret so every woman could emulate this hour of glory! I am giddy with alone-ness.
STOP. From the distant corner of my backyard I can hear my daughters voices. One repeating, "Dadda. Dadda. Daaddddaaaaaaa!!!!!!" (it's the only word she knows, but how appropriate!) And the older one, "Daddy, I need some more bubbles! Daddy I need a towel. Daddy I need some more bubbles, please." I am so glad someone else is their bitch right now.
OKAY. How did I slip into this isolation chamber without anyone noticing? Well, maybe the doors opened when I left the family doing yard work so I could check the bank accounts on line. I know it's Sunday. And the banks are closed. Let me digress. I have "Shiny Rock" syndrome reminiscent of that Mouse in the children's Cookie Book. I was walking in the house to get a tape measure for John when I passed the kitchen. Seeing the wristbands on the kitchen counter made me remember how much money we spent at the Harbor Festival today. Remembering all the money we spent reminded me I haven't checked the bank accounts for awhile. So I fired up the laptop to have a look when I heard the girls out back. Hearing their voices reminded me that they needed a bath. So, while the laptop was booting up, I ran a bath. When I returned to the kitchen I saw a bag of chips, which made me hungry. So I rummaged through the cabinets for some snacks and a plan of attack for dinner. When I formulated a plan, I noticed the bath water was still running. When I reached the bath, I couldn't remember the last time I took a bath alone. So I jumped in and pretended I had disappeared. When John popped his head in to ask, "What happened to you?" I just smiled and sank deeper into the tub. He must have gotten the hint because it is nearing 62 minutes now. Alone. I even dressed myself, stared at my age lines in the mirror for two seconds and when I was done not one cabinet or drawer had emptied its contents onto the floor (which seems to happen every time the girls join me in there!). Oh glorious me time. I think I'll lie here on my bed and stare at the ceiling until they find me.