Though my stated goal in motherhood and in life is simplicity, that doesn’t mean I am frequently successful. Case in point: Turduckenbowl XIII. This event, which takes place on Superbowl Sunday, is a tradition started in 2000 by Josh, a good friend and former roommate. It involves stuffing a deboned turkey, with a deboned chicken, with a deboned duck, along with three different kinds of stuffing. Simple? No. Excessive? Sure. Delicious? Usually.

For the past few years – since Josh moved first to Tajikistan, then to Zimbabwe, then back to Tajikistan – the hosting and primary cooking duties for this party have fallen to my husband and me. This year, I knew that if we didn’t head up the effort, the tradition would be broken. And so, despite having a three-week old and a toddler in the house, I decided that we must soldier on to keep the “Friends Holiday” alive.

We spent all day Saturday with a crew of friends, a slew of knives, and a keg of really good beer chopping veg, slicing birds, and generally making a mess. Eventually, 2013’s turducken took shape and made it into the oven. On Sunday, Dave made a few simple side dishes and – lo and behold – by 5 pm we had some birds, some potatoes, some macaroni and cheese, and a party.  Oh, and a football game, too.

Everybody said we were crazy for attempting this party this year. They may have been right, but the bottom line is this: we made it happen, and I dare say it was a success. Why did I insist? Not only for tradition’s sake, but because, as a sleep-deprived mom of a newborn, I wanted something that reminded me that life could be normal, that I am more than just a vomit-wiper, diaper-cleaner, and milk-supplier. Mission accomplished. A couple of pictures below.

P.S. Lest you think I make having a newborn and a toddler while hosting all manner of guests in my house easy, please note that I began writing this post nearly two weeks ago, I finished it four days ago, and I am just now getting around to hitting the “submit” button. Slow going, to say the least.

Image

This year’s tee shirt and poster logo, in which a stork delivers a fully formed baby AND a turducken!

 

 

Image

Posters from over the years

Image

The birds almost ready for the oven.

 

 

Here are some pictures from the newly-decorated nursery (click to enlarge).

Nursery Panorama 2

You’ll notice the big person bed; we have decided to leave a full-sized bed in here so that we can still use it as a guest room when needed for the next few years. Then, when one of the kids is ready for a big bed, it’s already there, complete with comfortable mattress.

Nursery panorama 1

Nursery book art

For some wall art, I bought some children’s books on the cheap at the local library’s  book sale, then framed some of my favorite pages in colorful frames I bought at Ikea.

Nursery Bed

Not sure if you can see it, but I love the elephant pillow I found at Grump, a holiday art fair in Arlington, Va.

My husband and I used to make fresh pasta with some frequency – before we had a child, that is. Tonight, I’m proud to say we brought the homemade noodle back. Some observations:

  1. The kitchen always looks like Superstorm Sandy has hit after we make homemade pasta.
  2. Particularly with a kid around, our kitchen almost always looks like a disaster zone anyway, so what’s the dif?
  3. It was so, so , so worth it. Silky strands of fresh fettucine that you cranked yourself are heaven. Heaven, heaven, HEAVEN.

For the first time, we froze about half of the raw noodles, with the theory that it’s better to make this godawful mess once and get at least two meals out of it. I’ll let you know how they cook up.

On to the idea of nests…

People always talk about how women “nest” in the final weeks of pregnancy, cleaning, decorating, and literally getting their home ready for the new addition. I skipped right over this the first time around. The “nursery” was still the office when T was born, we didn’t order a crib in time for his homecoming, and I bought only the bare minimum for those first couple of months. It was, perhaps, a fairly inhospitable nest for him to land in. He seems okay in spite of it.

This time, however, I’ve decorated a room – an entire room – from top to bottom. Those who know me know this is an anomaly, since I tend to slowly collect furniture and leave paint colors I hate on walls for years. But I had a vision of how I wanted Baby Girl’s room to look, so I made it happen. I’ve also been trying to clean and organize stuff that’s been in sore need of cleaning and organizing. In short, I think I am “nesting.”

This got me to wondering: why is this time different than last? I can think of a few things: I have had a few weeks free of coursework and travel. I am not working a full time job until a couple of days before giving birth. I hated the color in the new baby’s room so very much that I had avoided going in there for the first five years we lived in this house (seriously, it’s an entire bedroom I just about pretended didn’t exist).

Then it occurred to me: I DID nest my first time around, but those impulses were directed entirely at preparing a marking period’s worth of lesson plans and activities for my students, who I feared would destroy my long-term substitute in fits of senioritis-induced insolence and rage. It occurs to me that the term “nesting” might be a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like “I-have-so-much-crap-to-do-and-no-precise-deadline-when-it-has-to-be-done-by-and-after-that-I-will-never-get-anything-productive-done-again-so-I-have-to-do-as-much-as-possible-now-ing.”

The upswing this time around is that the hideous hospital-scrub green room that I hated is now a cheery light grey & aqua with red accents. It’s a space that makes me smile and feel relaxed rather than aggravated – a good thing for the little one! Now that I have an iPhone, perhaps I’ll try taking some pictures and posting them here. Or maybe I’ll just go “nest” some more…

Despite my Catholic upbringing, I am fairly immune to crippling bouts of guilt over small matters. That said, the Parental-Industrial Complex in America (I don’t even know if that phrase makes sense; it’s just what I call the machinery that tries to control our emotions and our wallets) seems hell-bent on making us parents feel guilty about nearly every parenting decision we make. And sometimes, I hate to admit it, it just gets to me.

I’m thinking about television. Children under the age of two MUST. NOT. WATCH. TELEVISION. Any television. Ever. The American Association of Pediatricians says so. Yuppie parents everywhere parrot the phrase, “We don’t let him/her watch television” across neighborhoods and in playgroups. Pediatricians remind us to limit “screentime” at every visit.

But here’s the thing: most of us parents are lying when we say our lovely little dumplings never see Sesame Street. We add exceptions: except when Chloe is sick, except when I am cutting Jack’s hair, except when my child is screaming and crying and trying to harm me while I attempt to change his diaper. Even our strictest neighbors, who don’t even own a TV, acknowledge that their child sometimes gets to watch WordGirl on the computer when his mom wants to clip his nails.

This is our dirty little secret, and we are all wracked with guilt over how much damage we must be doing to the burgeoning minds of our offspring whenever they see a few minutes of PBS Kids.

So here I kneel, ready to confess. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. On six different occasions, I let T watch 25 minutes of Curious George at 4:30 a.m. after a sleepless night.  There have been at least five times when I had to plop him down in front of the TV so I could put something into or get something out of the oven without burning the little dude. And I am guilty, oh so guilty, of just turning on the idiot box countless times for a few minutes at the end of a long day to stop a tantrum, to have a minute where I wasn’t moving, singing, or otherwise entertaining.

Please, just hand over my penance and take away this guilt!

And while you are at it, take away the guilt of all those other hard-working, wonderful parents out there who have yet to understand that – in between all the verbally enriching songs that they sing, all the museums and zoos and classes and activities that they take their children to, all the educational toys they provide in their homes – if their children get a few minutes of screentime, it does not doom them to an ADHD-addled, low-wage-paying future.

The Parental-Industrial Complex, you see, trades not only in guilt, but also in fear. Powerful, powerful stuff.

*********

While we’re on the subject of guilt, it’s no secret that America has a guilty relationship with food, and often no more so than during the holidays. We eat too much, we feel guilty for all sorts of reasons (talk about an industry fueled by emotional manipulation & fear!). I am lucky enough to not have food or body issues in general, but I do try to remain fairly reasonable and eat and drink in moderation – no denial, few overly-indulgent binges. Everything in moderation, as my wise mother always says. A few months ago, my husband shared with me an idea that he read about from Michael Pollen. Pollen has a theory that we should be able to eat as much junk food as we want, as long as it is junk food we make ourselves.

Brilliant, I say! Here’s why: if you stick to this theory even half the time, I bet you’ll consume a lot less chemical-laden, sugar-filled, bad-for-you-and-the-planet junk. For example, a couple of months ago, I was at the grocery store, and I really wanted some chocolate chip cookies. Instead of buying the Chips Ahoy, I got ingredients to make the cookies from scratch.

I ran out of time that day, and didn’t get around to it until a couple of days later. The cookies were, natch, about 10 times better than any pre-made cookies, and I definitely did not feel guilty about enjoying them. I bought more chocolate chips about two weeks ago, and I simply haven’t had the time to do anything with them. My point? If I only eat homemade cookies, I might (correction: will) eat a lot more of them when I make them, but I’ll probably only make them every once in a while, thus reducing my overall junk consumption.

Which brings me to my latest baking adventure: coconut macaroons. I turned to my baking guru, Joanne Chang, and made the recipe from her Flour cookbook. I baked half on the day I made them and gave them away as small holiday gifts, then saved the other half of the dough in the fridge for a few days to bake on Christmas. Easy, light, delectable.  The problem is that macaroons only use egg whites, which left me with a whole bunch of gorgeous, bright orange yolks. What to do with them?  Ice cream, of course! Dave took on this challenge, and added a little peppermint extract to a basic vanilla recipe for an amazing holiday treat. Healthy? No. Guilt-inducing? No way!

Cheers, everyone, to a guilt-free New Year

People always say that becoming a mother changes you. I am generally a skeptic of such sweeping statements, and I felt no differently about this one. In the first year or so after my son was born, I really didn’t feel fundamentally changed. I loved the little guy and enjoyed him a lot, but I still felt like, well, me. But over the course of the past several months, I’ve noticed some differences in my essential reactions to things, and when I heard about the school shootings in Connecticut today, I could no longer deny it: motherhood has changed something fundamental about who I am.

Before becoming a parent, I would have – of course – found the shootings sad and outrageous. I would not have, however, started crying when reading about them or while watching the president get choked up on national television. Yet today, I found myself tearing up at the drop of a hat. Before having a child, I didn’t notice children much, and I hadn’t spent much time around them in years and years. But since my son was born, I do tend to pay more attention to young people and have found I like them a lot more than I ever thought I would.

Here’s what I love: children smile so much and approach life with such profound joy. And that realization has changed me and helped me approach my life with more enthusiasm.  Yet strangely, my own increased capacity for joy is just what makes something like the shootings today so acutely painful for me. It’s the notion of those smiling faces being wiped out in a bloody mess. It’s the notion that the children who were there and survived have been robbed of the joy that is rightfully theirs. It’s the idea that there was a human being out there who had traveled so far away from a place where he could appreciate and understand a child’s simple embrace of life that he could even dream of doing such a thing.

I’m sad tonight. Sick and sad. That’s all for now.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I thought I would share an assignment I just finished for the Children’s Literature class I’m currently taking. We were asked to create a “Diversity Bibliography” to present and distribute to classmates. Rather than focus on books related to a particular ethnicity or disability, I set out to find quality children’s literature that positively depicts LGBT characters. We were supposed to focus either on books appropriate for Kindergarten through 2nd grade, or 3rd through 5th grade. I chose the latter because it seemed to me that kids around this age would start becoming more aware of the world around them and differences between themselves and others. I firmly believe that children deserve quality stories that help them make sense of the world around them as well as literature that promotes tolerance in an often intolerant world.

When I set out to find titles appropriate for grades 3-5, I had no idea how difficult it would be to find high quality, recently published material. I found many picture books for the lower grades and an abundance of literature for young adults, but there’s a dearth of material for those years in between. And even when I did find some titles, many were not available through our local library system. That said, what I did find was good, sometimes really good.

For the most part, the stories here are not primarily about LGBT people or issues; rather, they tend to be entertaining tales that happen to have lesbian and gay characters who are depicted in positive ways (I found almost nothing on the “BT” front, by the way). They are books that people who like stories will also like. Imagine that – good stories! If you know of other titles I should add to this list, please let me know. Otherwise – enjoy!

P.S. Many of these titles are award-winning; all have been positively reviewed in respected educational journals. For these and other award-winning titles, check out the American Library Association’s Rainbow Book List and Stonewall Book Awards as well as the Lambda Literary Awards.

***********

Agell, Charlotte. The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2010

India is nearly 10 and lives in Maine with her artistic mom and dog, Tofu. Her dad lives nearby with his partner, Richard. This book, which is filled with India’s drawings and lists (such as things that make her happy), chronicles her adventures, many with her friend Colby, including a nighttime hunt for a UFO.

 

Bauert, A.C.E. No Castles Here. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Augie’s life in Camden, NJ, is less than ideal. He’s picked on by his classmates, has a mom who’s always working, and lives in a gang-ridden neighborhood. It seems like things are getting worse when he accidentally steals a book and is matched up with a Big Brother who turns out to be gay – something Augie thinks will cause Dwaine and Fox Tooth to beat him up even more. What will happen when the book starts exhibiting magical properties and an ice storm threatens to close Augie’s school for good?

 

Coville, Bruce. The Skull of Truth: A Magic Shop Book. Sandpiper, 2007.

Charlie is no stranger to stretching the truth, and everyone knows it. Life becomes complicated when he takes a skull from a mysterious magic shop. The skull begins to talk to him, and explains its magical powers over Charlie: Charlie is forced to tell the truth. The truth gets Charlie in trouble again and again. It’s a good thing he has his favorite uncle, Bennie, to help him out. When Bennie reveals that he has been hiding something, too – that he is gay – Charlie is forced to come to some important realizations about truth.

 

Howe, James. Totally Joe. New York: Ginee Seo Books, 2005.

Joe has always been a bit different. He likes Barbies and Cher, and just can’t (and doesn’t really want to) figure out how to be a boy. Luckily, he has friends like Addie and Bobby, as well as his parents and Aunt Pam, who support him no matter what. Fellow seventh-grader and popular kid Colin isn’t so lucky. He likes Joe but isn’t ready for the consequences when bully Kevin starts to pick on Colin and Joe. Will Joe find a way to be happy without Colin? And will Colin find acceptance from his friends, family, and most importantly, himself?

Note: This book may be most appropriate for older elementary and middle school students. Though there is no sexual content, it includes slurs such as “faggot” and “queer.” That said, it’s probably my favorite book on this list, and might be a godsend for the right kid.

 

Ignatow, Amy. The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang. New York: Amulet Books, 2011.

Meet Julie and Lydia, fourth graders who are determined to make a (somewhat) scientific study of popular kids in order to learn to be popular themselves. They record their observations and adventures in a notebook filled with whimsical drawings and amusing lists. They run away so their parents will want them to have cell phones (all popular kids do), which backfires when Lydia’s mom and dad still refuse to give her one, and Julie’s dads give her an embarrassingly old phone. But when the girls each befriend different groups of popular girls, will their friendship survive?

 

McCaughrean, Geraldine. The Death-Defying Pepper Roux. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

It’s his 14th birthday and for as long as he remembers, Pepper Roux has known this is the day he is supposed to die. In an attempt to sidestep fate, he steals his ship-captain father’s identity and embarks on an adventure at sea with a cross-dressing steward named Duchesse at his side. In his attempts to escape death, he also becomes a deli-meat slicer, a journalist, and a member of the foreign legion, each time barely escaping his supposed fate. But will death eventually catch up with him?

 

Polacco, Patricia. In Our Mothers’ House. New York: Philomel, 2009

Excerpt from School Library Journal, May 2009:

“This gem of a book illustrates how love makes a family, even if it’s not a traditional one. The narrator, a black girl, describes how her two Caucasian mothers, Marmee and Meema, adopted her, her Asian brother, and her red-headed sister. She tells about the wonderful times they have growing up in Berkeley, CA. … The story serves as a model of inclusiveness for children who have same-sex parents, as well as for children who may have questions about a ‘different’ family in their neighborhood. A lovely book that can help youngsters better understand their world.”

 

Snow, Judith. How it Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent: A Book by Kids for Kids of All Ages. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Excerpt from Booklist Review, Jan. 2005, Grades 5 and up:

“Thirty-two individuals, ranging in age from 7 to 31, reflect on the experience of having a homosexual parent. Of course, some are more articulate than others, but all candidly express their feelings, which typically range from initial bafflement through hurt to acceptance. … Though primarily targeted at children of gay and lesbian parents, this book has information, insight, and understanding to offer to readers of different circumstances and ages.”

I snapped at my mother-in-law today over Facetime. My husband and son were talking with his parents while I was busy trying to pick up the dining room, which had unfortunately been hit by yet another tornado. I walked by and they wanted to say hello. Dave immediately focused the camera on my belly, and my MIL told me that I’m “blooming.”

I don’t know about the rest of you folks out there who have had the joy (read: annoyance) of being pregnant, but there are two words in particular that bug me beyond all others related to pregnancy: “blooming” and “blossoming.” I don’t know why those are my two trigger words, but for whatever reason, they make me want to scream bloody murder and kick nearby objects. “I’m not a goddamn flower!” I want to scream. “I’m a PERSON who just happens to be pregnant!!”

And I think that’s what’s at the heart of it. I’ve found that, while you are pregnant, your body becomes public property in ways that would never be considered appropriate the rest of your life. People feel free to constantly comment on the ever-changing shape and size of your body in ways they wouldn’t dream of when looking at a non-pregnant person. Hell, they even feel free to touch you in places that make you feel violated. You are no longer a person; you are the pregnancy, and the rest of your identity becomes secondary, and even tertiary, compared to this temporary, all-important identity.

My MIL meant no ill by her comment; she was trying to be nice. But when my husband skipped over my face and pointed the camera directly at my belly, and my MIL used the irksome “B” word, I felt like a piece of meat. It sent me off into a place of grumpiness for a while as I tried to sort out just why I was so bothered.

I think there’s some equivalency here to disputes over how we name minority groups in this country. It may be semantics, but word choice is important in framing how we see people. Words help form our habits of mind, and there is a difference between identifying someone as a handicapped person versus a person with a handicap. In one, the handicap comes first; in the other, the person comes first.

I’d like to suggest that the same goes for pregnancy. I am not a pregnant person. I am a person who happens to be pregnant. Sure, you can ask me how I am feeling, but ask about the rest of my life, too.

Ever since my husband saw a live demonstration at Whole Foods about a year ago, he has been a little obsessed with the Vitamix. I contend that it is both absurd and sinful to spend $400+ on a blender. So, to satisfy both his smoothie craving and my (relative) frugality, he just bought a lesser, yet well-reviewed blender with a smoothie function.

I, on the other hand, have been thinking a lot about fresh fruit popsicles as the ideal summer snack, and as a relatively healthy treat to give my son. To satisfy this craving, I recently became the proud owner of 6 good old-fashioned popsicle molds (rather than the $40 Zoku speed-popsicle maker).

The result? A match made in heaven in the form of ginger-peach popsicles.

A friend had linked to the recipe on Facebook, and I knew they would be good. Basically, you blend together a couple of fresh peaches along with about 1/2C of ginger simple syrup, pour ‘em in the molds, and wait for the frozen delights to form. The texture is almost creamy, and the taste is just divine. Mmmmmmmmm…

But wait! I took it one step further. Because the peaches we had were so big, I had leftover puree after filling the molds. What did I do? Turned them into a smoothie, of course. I only had to add some yogurt, a couple of ice cubes to lend some chill, and blend it up for another few seconds, and I had a scrumptious drink to tide me over until dessert. Mmmmmmmm… redux.

I love that, sometimes, the best things are the simplest. This never seems to be truer than in the case of summer foods. I just wish I could cook and eat faster in order to keep up with all the produce and fruit filling my kitchen. I’ll have to remember this in the dark days of winter, when I’m dreaming of fresh peaches, corn, and tomatoes.

Before the age of 1, T had probably been on more flights than I had by the age of 25. He definitely had been out of the country more times than I had by the age of 20. Some might say this was cruel and unusual torture, submitting such a tiny, fragile human being to multiple time zones, chaotic schedules, and all the icky germ-iness that comes along with air travel. Some might wonder why we would torture ourselves with the effort and exhaustion of traveling with an infant. But others would applaud our decision to treat the little guy like a precious piece of carry on luggage.

I, clearly, vote with the luggage folks. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Infants are eminently portable, really. They are small, light, and they don’t move on their own. “But what about all the stuff you need to tote along with them?” you ask. Newsflash: newborns don’t need hours worth of portable entertainment, their favorite stuffed animal, or much of the crap we adults saddle them with. They need clothing, diapers, food, and you (and if you’re lucky, the food and you thing come as a package).
  2. Infants can sleep pretty much anywhere, and are therefore up for nearly any activity you choose. 8-week-old Mr. T had a grand old nap on his first whale watch in the Azores while his parents got to watch dolphins cavort alongside our boat.
  3. Infants, in my limited experience, cry less and sleep more on planes than toddlers. Breast (or bottle) feed on the way up, then again on the way down, and it tends to work out.

I found traveling with T really easy until he was nearly 1, and then things changed. Drastically. A kid who can move is a kid who does not like sitting still. Sounds like a dumb thing to write, but its implications for travel (air, car, and even stroller sometimes) are huge. Suddenly, when we fly, I need to have a goodie bag stuffed with enough drinks, snacks, and toys to placate and distract an energetic, squirmy little boy in a tiny seat. I need to call on my last reserves of finger games and silly faces when, truly, I only want to call on the flight attendant for a drink. The food, the songs, and the toys do help, but really, it just comes down to luck. Will his ears bother him, causing him to shriek, writhe, and kick incessantly for the final 20 minutes of the flight? It’s a distinct possibility, and a constant worry made even worse when I am traveling without my husband.

Now, we stick to short flights. No more international or cross-country hops in our near future. This is why I say, one final time, to all you new parents: GET OUT NOW WHILE THE GETTING’S STILL GOOD! (For more getting out advice, see Part 1 or Part 2 of this series.)

Happy travels, all!

A friend recently complained (in a rather nice way) on Facebook about how tired she was of friends’ public updates on the sleeping habits of their children. I chimed in to agree that, indeed, these FB posts are singularly uninteresting and fairly annoying (as are poop reports and eating habit updates). My theory, I wrote, is that this is the equivalent of when people would complain/brag incessantly in college about how much work they had to do and how little sleep they were getting. It’s that weird combination of sympathy-grab and competition.

I stand by what I wrote. Yet there were moments last night when I identified so much with all those parents out there who, in moments of sleep deprived desperation, in a haze of feverish frustration, reach out to the virtual world just so they know they are not alone. I won’t go into detail, but my little guy was up much of the night with a nasty fever of unknown origin. Dave was working an overnight, so I was the only parent on duty and, man, did I take the brunt of it.

Fever continued into today, and I have a twisted confession to make: I kind of like how snuggly sick Mr. T is. Usually, he won’t sit still on my lap for more than 10 seconds, but when he’s illin’, he’ll burrow right into my chest for hours. It’s sweet (and, hopefully, fleeting).

Today, we were all in a sleep-deprived haze, and so didn’t cook anything much – just picked up some Greek takeout for a late lunch and had leftovers for dinner. As a matter of fact, it’s been a fairly cooking-free week, which is unusual in our house. I did whip up a meal that I was proud of on Wednesday, however. Most of the time, I follow recipes; I don’t always have the creativity or confidence as a cook to wing it, unlike my husband. This time, however, I felt like a real chef.

I drew my inspiration from a recipe in one of Michael Chiarello’s cookbooks; it was for ravioloni (giant ravioli) with a potato, pea, and creamy parmesan filling. We had a couple of potatoes and some frozen peas, along with some other vegetables, so I took the idea for the filling as my inspiration and went from there.

First, I cooked up some chopped bacon, then sauteed some diced onion and carrot in the bacon fat. After that had softened, I added some fresh zucchini and some parboiled potato chunks and let those cook a bit. Then I poured in some half and half. When that came to a boil, I added the frozen peas and some frozen edamame. With a slotted spoon, I reserved about 1/3 of the cooked veg. I placed the rest, along with 2/3 of the cooked bacon, into a food processor and pureed it with some additional pasta liquid. I stirred in about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, poured the sauce over the pasta and chunks of veggies, and dinner was served!

I’m very happy with how this turned out – it was sort of like a veggie carbonara. Mostly, though, I’m glad that my cooking-without-a-recipe efforts paid off.

Here’s to healthy kids and winging it in the kitchen!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.