Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Something for the Boys

My husband (the architect) has been pestering me about getting a urinal for our home for quite some time now. It's not as if we're looking to renovate our bathrooms anytime soon, my husband just likes the hypothetical argument. Just the idea grosses me out. He feels that with 3 males in the family, we should have a urinal in our house. And now, according to the NY Times, home urinals are the hip new thing. Maybe for my sister with 3 boys and a husband...

Anyway, this was a pretty entertaining article, if nothing else. And worry not, I will not be cleaning a home urinal any time soon.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Brush Those You Want to Keep

A few weekends ago I was at the zoo with the girls and we ran into a friend of my daughter's that she went to preschool with. Proudly she announced she had this amazing treasure in her mouth- a loose tooth! We were all so intrigued. We have been reading book after book about such a phenomenon, so the girls wanted to see the tooth in motion over and over again, and Julia was more than happy to show it to us. I noticed another thing, her tiny little mouth was full of metal. (okay, I'm exaggerating, but she had at least two silver teeth). I said to her Dad, "it looks like she has had some dental work as well, why when they fall out eventually?" "Yep, that's what we always thought too, they are only baby teeth, why even get a cavity filled? But those are crowns." and he finished with "Really, we aren't so good at brushing either, but $1,000 later, she now brushes". I was shocked, but you would think I would run home and get the hard crusty brushes out, right? No. I was a little better about reminding the kids to brush, but it was never in our routine. Don't get me wrong, I would never admit that we were non brushers, until now.

But it all changed last week. I babysat for a friend who has a VERY structured bedtime routine. One that definitely can hold it's own to Stuntbec's new routine. Anyway, after reading a few stories downstairs, I said to them, okay, it's time to go upstairs and brush teeth before your final stories and songs. (yes, I sang to them, and after the first song, they did not ask for another) They looked at me and said, "what? our toothbrushes are down here!" I knew that, but I didn't. I had seen them down there for years every time I went to their house, I was taking the brushes out of my daughter's hand in time to spare them from entering her germ factory. So this evening of babysitting turned out to be a turning point for us. The simple act of moving the brushes downstairs to a different bathroom has made it all possible. Now after breakfast, they don't have to go back upstairs to brush, it's just a step away. Bedtime too, before they even go upstairs, the teeth are brushed. Amazing isn't it, how just changing something around has made life so easy.

So it's just made me think. I have a neighbor that keeps coming over saying that she has a business of organizing people's lives. And I just keep saying to myself, I have the skills, I just don't use them. But now, I'm thinking I really don't. I feel like I need someone over here to live a day in my life and say, "okay, here is where you go wrong, make a list, but don't keep loosing it, only to start a new one". Would she have been able to see the simple act of moving the brushes downstairs would change our lives and make us brushers? Who knows. All I know is the girls are now excited to brush in their new location, and I've now got the drive to teach them good dental hygiene before we have a mouth of metal too. Cheers to the Dad that was willing to admit that they weren't brushers, otherwise I might not have been scared into taking action either.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Peaceful Bedtime

About two weeks before my daughter started kindergarten, we started a new bedtime routine. Here's how it works: About a half hour before suppertime, I announce that it's time to start cleaning up toys. Groans. Not already! So the sometimes painful process starts. By the time I have supper on the table, it's between 5:30-5:45. The toys are reasonably tidied up (I always have to help mediate this task toward the end), hands are washed, and we're ready to eat.

After supper, my husband washes up the dishes, I wash up the kids (if it's a bath night), and get the jammies on. At this point, no more independent playing goes on in the house. This sounds so harsh when I write it, but it's not. By the time everyone is dressed in their PJs, teeth are brushed, it's 7 o'clock. Bedtime is 8 o'clock. So in that hour, the kids have a few choices. If table behavior was substandard, the hour before bed is spent quietly looking at books. If suppertime went smoothly- which is happening more and more these days - (no spilled milk, no making faces or nasty comments about the meal) we play a low key game or two. Go Fish, The Memory Game, etc. We try and keep the energy level calm. After the games, we read bedtime stories, everyone makes one more pit stop in the bathroom, and it's tuck in time. No more tears, no more "Mommy, I need you to snuggle me." Lights out. It's our routine, and the kids expect it now.

We started it for a few reasons. First of all, I didn't want to send my daughter to school tired every day. School takes a lot of energy, so an early bedtime is necessary. In the past, we were bad bad bad about set bedtimes. Sometimes, no, oftentimes, it would be 10 o'clock before the kids were in bed. So we had to set up, and stick to, a bedtime. Out of a hat, I picked 8 o'clock. Another reason for change was just for me: I was falling asleep with the kids, while going from bed to bed and snuggling the one crying the most. It was crazy. I wasn't reading books anymore, I wasn't quilting, I wasn't getting enough alone time. This was making me cranky, as you can well imagine.

So we started this routine. And I LOVE it. Absolutely love it. I've learned that it is possible (and necessary, in order to stick to the schedule) to get dinner on the table at a set time. It's great having zero toys on the floor, once the kids are in bed. I love my children, but I get so excited every evening when everyone is in bed! With my "extra" time, I've been able to put together a quilt top that has been in my mind for well over a year. I'm not one to hand out advice, but if you're having bedtime struggles, try setting up a routine. But be sure that you're willing to stick with it. It just might make for a happier family, all around. I feel like a religious zealot, but I can't recommend doing this enough. It has changed our evening dynamics in such a positive way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Does Complaining Make Us Interesting?

NOTE: Marshkn is a mom of two boys in Cincinnati, who will be a guest writer from time to time.

If I give up complaining, will I be less interesting? What makes a boring person? Most of us do want to be interesting to others. The theory goes that if we're interesting, people will like to be with us, so we'll get invited to their parties, they'll call us on the phone, etc. But sometimes someone asks me about my day and the only response I can muster is to grab a complaint that has been floating around in my head and present that as conversation fodder. Well, I guess that's a good reality check for how I approach my day.

What if I cleared my mind of complaints? What would be left?... How about observation? Being a "conscious witness" is a concept in many philosophies/religions, and refers to observing with calm detachment. Movies and books that really work are generally crafted by someone who can observe without being critical. Maybe we should leave the option of analysis of our observations to our listener. We don't usually accept someone else's pre-formed analysis anyway. We tend to want to get to the facts and form our own conclusions. The more we let go of the ego that shapes the world we see, the more we can see the world "as it is." And is that boring? I think not.

Life's many forms and outpourings are infinitely interesting. I would define boring as that which is cut off from life. Perhaps when we encounter a "boring" person, we should approach him/her as my yoga guru approached Cincinnati. She has lived in New York City, Boston and Toronto. I asked her once, "Why did you stay in Cincinnati?" knowing that so many "interesting" people leave Cincinnati for what they see as greener pastures (i.e. Portland, OR). She answered simply, "Because there was no yoga." By staying, and by applying her energy, she made Cincinnati more interesting, and probably made herself more interesting, too.

If you can make another person interesting to you, then voila -- you're interesting to that person. So, as we approach other people and life's situations, perhaps we can start by changing the question, "What's in it for me?" to "What's in it from me?" I don't think there would be much left to complain about.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Here I Am

Here I am. 9:15 Monday morning. Sitting at my office desk, water coming to a boil for tea, 2007 Faces of Tibet calendar newly hung on my bulletin board, kids at daycare – my first day back at work after a year-long child-rearing leave. A lot has happened since the last time that I started a working day here at this desk… a failed plan to adopt two girls, a pending dissolution of my marriage, a new romance that sprung up then fizzled… and it’s strange to now sit here again in an office where at least from a physical standpoint, nothing has changed. And for me, this is Now – the only thing any of us have. We don’t have the past or future. We have now, and the more energy we can put into the now, the more energy will come back to us, and the more energy with which we can imbue the life that surrounds us.

So now is time to put behind me the negative energy that I felt coming from my soon-to-be-ex-husband, who stopped by the house to help me get the kids ready for school. What a funny mix…the positive of being there to help and the negative of critical comments about how the kids looked, the stiffness of the face, etc. Now is also time to put behind me the kind, smiling face of a father at daycare who had just dropped off his child and was waiting for his wife to emerge from the room. Such a kind face, and when I looked into his eyes, I felt an understanding such that can be felt between two caring parents dropping their sweet little people off at daycare for the day. Now is also time to put behind me the tears that came to my eyes when a co-worker, knowing of my marital situation, who just stopped in to welcome me back, pressed to see how I was REALLY feeling.

I just read some wise words from the Talmud, “We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” So, I believe that if I am in a place of peace, my world can be peaceful. And now is time to center myself, look at the work that needs to be done here, look with energy and compassion at each person I see. Now my tea is brewed and ready to enjoy. Now is time to stop writing.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Do Overs

By Jayne Martin-Dressing

Do Overs

When my siblings and I were kids we devised a complex series of rules for most of the backyard games we played. First base was the tree stump, home plate was the rose bush, you got an automatic double if the ball went over the neighbor’s fence, and you got an unlimited number of foul balls. A serious screw-up like missing the kickball completely with your foot during the pitch would usually result in someone calling out, “do-over!” meaning you got a second chance with no penalty. What was great about the do-over is that you got to pretend like what just happened could be erased with the possibility of a much improved second attempt.

I can’t tell you how many times with parenting that I wish similar rules applied. After an afternoon of feeling crazy frustrated about the constant bickering among my children and my waning patience for their steady demands, I wish I could holler out, “do-over” and erase the mean-spirited responses I’d given them throughout the day (what part of “no you can’t have a candy cane for breakfast” is confusing?”). After my half-assed attempts at seeming interested in the umpteenth living room demolishing game of “Fort-Building” when I really want to read my book on the couch, I would shout “do-over.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could rewind entire days and spend a Saturday in our pajamas instead of hustling around from one swim lesson to another library program? Wouldn’t we use our best parenting skills if we could do-over our reaction to a tired, cranky child at bedtime? Sometimes (when I’m particularly weepy) I want to do-over entire years, like the first years of their lives when I just refused to be a different person although I really knew that motherhood had changed me a great deal, mostly for the better.

But there are no do-overs in life, just great big learning curves that we look back on with twenty-twenty vision. All we can really do is be mindful; mindful of our thoughts and actions, mindful of our children’s feelings and needs, and mindful that we are painfully human. We often need reminded that it’s important to balance our own needs (adequate sleep, date nights, reading that book on the couch) so we can be our best selves. Yet guilt seems to be the hallmark of our generation of mothers; we never feel like we’re doing enough, but when we’ve had enough, we feel terrible about it. I don’t remember my mother or my friends’ mothers ever seeming particularly sad or remorseful about how they parented; they just did what they had to do with few apologies. They eventually learned, as we are learning that there are no do-overs in motherhood. Sometimes we strike out; sometimes we hit a home run, and most of the time our children know we’re doing our best. Perhaps that’s the beauty of hindsight.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Take the Spice Challenge

This past week, I decided to make chewy molasses cookies. For the past few months I've been trying, with some success, to make cookies and snacks and bread at home, and not buy anything pre-made. Thanks to the King Arthur Cookie Companion, it's been a fun task. So one of the ingredients was ground cloves. Not a spice I use very often, I dusted the lid of the jar as I took it off the shelf. Upon dipping my measuring spoon into the jar, I noticed some odd lumps. Worms? Larvae of those nasty moths? I couldn't be sure. How old are my cloves, anyway? I can't honestly say. Did I use it anyway? Would you?

I read somewhere that spices should not be kept for more than 6 months. They lose their flavor, their zest, their je ne sais quois. That seems a bit unreasonable to me. How about a new rule of thumb: your dried herbs or spices are too old if you can't remember when or where you bought them. But wait, what about my mace? I bought that back in 1991, at the Davis Food Co-op, in my junior year of college. I needed mace to make some amazing chicken recipe, in order to impress a guy. The chicken turned out dreadfully. I have no mace baggage, I don't avoid using it, but I've never had a recipe calling for it since.

So the mace is pretty old. Tomorrow, I'm cleaning out my spice cupboard. Anything that's over a year old is getting the heave ho. And nothing is getting replaced until I have a recipe that calls for it. No excuses for old spices. (A non related aside: why do they call that stinky deodorant Old Spice, anyway? Old spices are not a good thing!) StuntMom, time to chuck the off colored block o' paprika rumor says you have in your cupboard.

I know you must have more exciting stuff going on right now, but take a moment, and clean out that spice cupboard. Get rid of spices that have lost their color or are more than a decade old! Go to a store that sells herbs and spices in bulk, and buy just a small amount!

Friday, January 12, 2007

10 Things Babies Don't Need

My friend Scott sent me this article about innovative baby gear we can't live without. This is too funny, I feel like we cheaped out on our floor model crib.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Free Art for Kids

A friend of mine had her daughter's birthday party here, it's a great space to explore the arts.

Come change the world with us in the Scripps Howard ARTSTOP Program! ARTSTOP is a drop-in art center open Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 6:00. Everyone is welcome. We invite kids from the neighborhood, families from the suburbs, grandparents, babysitters, preschoolers, teenagers. This is a community space where people from diverse backgrounds come together to create. Come work on a collaborative quilt or mosaic. Or make your own funky dolls or crazy creatures. Or just experience sticking your hands into something gooey or playing with a material you’ve never seen before. If we come together and build community through creativity, WE WILL BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. We hope you’ll join us.

The Scripps Howard ARTSTOP is housed in The Carnegie’s Eva G. Farris Education Center in Covington, KY. We’re just 10 blocks south of downtown, closer than you think! ARTSTOP is FREE and open to all, donations are always welcome to keep our important work alive. Children ages 5 & up can attend unaccompanied if they have a signed permission form. Adults can accompany kids under 5. There will always be a variety of experiences ready that will appeal to all age levels.

Visit our website for more information.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I'm All Talk

So as you know, I'm committed to my life of slobbyness, and today was my first test. A friend came to visit, and I knew she was coming, and I didn't clean. I knew Sunday night that she was going to be stopping by in the morning, so normally I would have busted my ass to get the house in order, especially since she doesn't know what a slob I really am. But instead, I went to the grocery store after the kids were in bed, then I wrote an article for Stuntmom, then I had a glass of wine, and then went to bed. I woke up in the morning of her arrival a little earlier than usual, and I didn't bother to pick up even a little. So the question is, did I make progress in accepting my messy life?

The answer is and was, no. And No again. I was actually very embarrassed over the pile of dog hair I had swept into a pile but didn't dust pan up. I was wishing terribly that I had at least picked up a few things that didn't bother me the night before, because in the daylight, they were a little shocking. So in retrospect, I should have held off on the Stuntmom article on the boat show, and spent the time doing a little cleaning. I'm not sure I will ever be able to embrace the mess, and certainly not the dirt. Oh well, a lesson learned.

Gotta go, I've got to clean this place a little. Just a little.

Keep an Open Mind, Even for a Boat Show

I love my husband. Really, I think I'm pretty lucky to have him. But sometimes I get a little irritated over his inability or lack of motivation to plan an activity for himself, or the family that doesn't involve a video game. I knew this about him when I married him, so it's a little late to complain now... so when he came home from work on Friday with a plan, I should never have stuck my nose up at his idea.

He "won" tickets to a boat show. He was excited to share the news that not only was he a winner, but gosh darn it, he was excited to take his family to the boat show this weekend in downtown Cincinnati.
"Great, the baby and I will stay home while you take the older two" was my initial reply.
"Well, you are always complaining that I never plan anything, and when I do, you aren't interested".
So I sucked it up and put on a semi happy face (after spending the evening prior complaining to my friends about how lame my hubby is- a boat show, we don't even own a boat, and we never will).

We left our house this morning (after a brief experience of the tickets missing only to be found in the garbage, but really that's another story in itself) with tears about coats in the car and an all over dismal mood from the troops picking up on mom's negative attitude about boat shows.
We arrive downtown and are blessed immediately by a parking spot right in front of the convention center, we don't even have to walk a block, let alone stick a nickle in a meter since it's Sunday. I was really going to have a hard time paying even $5 for parking.

Taking up about four parking spaces outside the convention center was a giant houseboat, that was open for tours. The girls and I took a leisurely tour of the boat, while Michael waited with the stroller down below. The girls found the boat interesting which I just didn't believe since it seemed so abstract... how could they really picture this as a boat at all since it's sitting in the street on wheels? But they were entertained to see a hot tub on the boat without water, and I'm not sure why. They also enjoyed seeing the street so far below from the top deck, and waving to Daddy and Penelope waiting patiently for our return.

Inside the convention center we were greeted by two greyhound dogs from the greyhound rescue, which the girls loved. The dogs were friendly, they licked and sniffed the kids and they seemed to know we were the type of people that let the dogs rule the house-which is ironic to think that at this very moment our dogs were at our house pooping and peeing all over the place while fighting over a bag of diapers that were waiting a walk to the outside trash can. Hmm, go figure.

Anyway, the boat show continued to get better and better. I pick up a zillion brochures on local vacation spots. So many towns had their welcome center's set up a booth in effort to get people down to their small town. So we collected a bag full of locations and thought it would be fun to randomly pull out a location from the bag for a quick weekend get away. Next weekend we are planning to spend a day down at Mammoth caves. I'm certain the girls will enjoy another new adventure. So all was not lost on a trip to the boat show. It was filled with plenty of entertainment for the girls, not to mention the truck sized fish tank where we watched a fishing demo from a local expert.

So who would have thought a boat show would be worth our time? It was a fun day out of the house to a place I would never have gone in a million years. And hopefully the boat show will lead to more adventures in the future. I'll let you know. But I will warn you, if you are planning to go next weekend, I'm not sure I can recommend spending the $10 admission per person (kids are free) but if you get free tickets, by all means, GO!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What’s Making Us Sick Is an Epidemic of Diagnoses

I have a friend that really needs to read this article from the New York Times.

Especially this line:

"No one should take the process of making people into patients lightly. There are real drawbacks. Simply labeling people as diseased can make them feel anxious and vulnerable — a particular concern in children. "

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Questions You Should Ask

Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying

Published: December 17, 2006 in the New York Times

Relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each other critical questions before marrying. Here are a few key ones that couples should consider asking:

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?
2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?
3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?
4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?
5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?
6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?
7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?
8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?
9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?
10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?
11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?
12) What does my family do that annoys you?
13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?
14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?
15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

A friend sent me this article from the NYtimes, and I thought it was pretty funny. It seems like most people would never get married if they met all 15 points. What does my family do that annoys you, is my favorite. Shouldn't one be more interested to hear "What do I do that annoys you"? seems more appropriate, but maybe that's so obvious that they didn't have to publish it, right?