Not My Favorite Week Ever

It’s been a gloomy week. The weather has not been helpful. It is almost May and I would like some balmy weather. The cold is bringing me down. And yet there’s enough blossoming now that I seem to be suffering from seasonal allergies. Most mornings for the past week, I’ve woken up with a pounding headache and a phlegm-inspired sore throat, and then I wouldn’t feel good enough to go to my SJCC class, and then I wouldn’t feel great because I hadn’t exercised, and then it became a vicious cycle, pretty much, for the whole week.

I don’t even remember getting allergies when I was younger, so part of me wonders if it’s another fabulous spect of the aging process. Plus, I’m pretty sure that I’d be doing better if I were eating a more Plan-ish diet, but I’ve pretty much fallen off the Plan wagon. Which really means that I eat Plan foods about three-quarters of the time, but that’s not enough, dammit. The Plan really demands the kind of constant vigilance which I’m not motivated enough to comply. My arthritis is still better than it used to be, but the exciting side-effect weight loss has pretty much reversed itself. So that is. . . not awesome. And yet not so terrible that I can bring myself to say, “No thanks, I’ll just wait to go home and re-heat some vegetable soup” when I’m at a Chipotle counter. Sometimes it feels like the universe is conspiring against me. Like, one weird non-Plan-friendly-food-that-seems-like-it-would-be-healthful is turkey. For Easter, I had enough grocery points to get a free ham or a free turkey. Neither of them are Plan-ish, but they were free. I’m pro-free. I should have just donated the damn thing to a soup kitchen. Instead I opted for turkey. My whole family likes turkey, and they particularly like it when I serve Thanksgiving-style dinner. Everyone was happy with dinner, but then no one wanted the leftovers. I have no idea why. I really hate to waste leftovers. It’s a trait I inherited from my father. I’m always the one who’s saying, “No, no, that cheese isn’t bad! Cut off the mold and the rest of it is fine!” or “Ignore the expiration date! If it smells fine, it’s fine! They’re just trying to cover their booties by being overly cautious!” So the damn turkey just sat there, and it was making me crazy. I spent quite a while cutting off convenient slices and separating the yucky stuff for the cat, and I still couldn’t move the merchandise. Then I got the clever idea to make a pot pie, because my kids love chicken pot pie. They seriously got all excited, and then, like an idiot, I said that it was turkey pot pie, and everyone was like: never mind. What’s the problem here? You like turkey. You like pot pie. You should like turkey pot pie. No dice. Cute W is avoiding gluten to try to sleuth out his own stomach issues, I don’t think J even tried it, and M grudgingly had some when she couldn’t think of anything better to eat. This damn thing has been sitting in my fridge all week, and today I gave up and had some for lunch, making any other good choices today entirely worthless.

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Meanwhile, another sign of aging? I got my first prescription for bifocals! Whoop, whoop! Strangely, I was pretty pleased about this. I feel like I’ve been squinting at labels for a while now, and so confirmation that I could use a bit of help was validating, somehow. Plus we had a bunch of use-it-or-lose-it money to spend, so I splurged on multi-focus Transitions glasses and burned through the budget. I haven’t gotten the glasses yet, but I hope I like them.

With the kids, this whole week has been rough because J is struggling with a school project. It’s the same problem as usual: when she has a project designed to be creative and fun, she spends about 85% of her time wringing her hands about how it might not fulfill her perfect vision because she’s unequal to the task, 5% of the time actively sobbing, and only 10% of her time working on the project. So I’ve been prompting her constantly to try to stay on task and actually do something instead of fretting about it. I hate nagging. And having to factor in all of the extra fretting time, it is way too much work. It also hits a little too close to home, because just as she is practically my physical clone, we share many personality traits. At some point during the week I had the revelation that, lately, I share pretty much the same approach when it comes to writing. It was what a former professor used to call “an epiphanic moment” for me.  A while back, I stepped back from blogging with the plan that it would allow me to devote time to other, more creative writing, but the truth is, it hasn’t. Before, blogging was a must-do almost every day, so I wrote almost every day, even if sometimes it was just me whining or sharing links. Now writing is at the bottom of an on-going list of things to do, and after cooking, laundry, driving kids places, doing KidsOutAndAbout stuff, nudging kids over homework, cleaning, and running out for last minute birthday presents, I never actually make it to the bottom of the list. So I feel like I made a tactical error, but I’m not sure how to fix it. I’m feeling stuck. Since I made the connection between J’s and my anxiety-prone, perfectionist-induced paralysis, it’s made trying to get her through the project even more unpleasant. Here’s Susan B. Anthony in front of her work-in-progress courthouse to commemorate when she was found guilty of the crime of voting. J’s opinion: “I think the bricks look too modern.”

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On Friday I got Facebummed. This is a word that I just invented, but surely the phenomenon isn’t unique to me? J lasted for about two and a half minutes in Girl Scouts, but pretty much all of her friends are Girl Scouts. On Friday night, my feed was full of smiling girls in lovely dresses with their proud dads for the Father-Daughter Dance. Now, M’s actually attended this annual event, and even when I had a kid attending the dance, mine was the one who insisted she was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and only grudgingly changed in the parking lot when she realized that her mother was right and everyone else likes to dress up once in a while. And I know that it ends up being a clump of men standing around, checking their phones, while the girls are off, not necessarily doing much dancing. And yet, seeing all of them looking so pretty and excited, I felt sad that J was missing it, sad that she’d left Girl Scouts, just plain sad. I know the same thing will happen in another month when everyone starts posting their dance recital photos. Sigh.

Yesterday we said good-bye to our neighbor, Mary‘s husband, Gene. He is not well, and his family decided that he should move in with his son, far away. The swiftness of the transition took us all by surprise, and we almost missed saying goodbye to him at all. It’s awful to see him go, and we’re still not over losing Mary, so Cute W and I are sad.

Today I pretty much lost it on each of my kids. J was making me crazy over her project. I came down this morning and she was busily cutting cardboard and I thought, “Phew! She’s finally getting something done,” and then she proudly showed me that she was making a cat toy mobile. Terrific. Then there was Soccer Laundry Drama which involved jersey armpit-smelling and vehement disagreement about stink levels. I ended up fleeing the house to take a walk, we bought dinner instead of cooking, and I still have less than zero patience. The girls just had one of their perennial disputes about who should turn off the tv, and I am ready to turn off the tv by ripping it from the wall and smacking it onto the floor. But that would be expensive, so I’ll just imagine it and hope that I can maintain my composure until they are asleep.

 

Carrying the Kids

It doesn’t seem possible that I  can keep it up much longer, but I still carry my kids.

Okay, granted, with M it’s a bit of a joke. We pride ourselves on being strong, so it’s a challenge when she says, “Mom, carry me,” and latches her arms around my neck.  I’ll support her back with one arm while she drapes long legs over the other arm, and then I stand there while we see how long I can keep her aloft. Or I’ll play the old trick from when the kids were little and drop my arm from behind her back quickly, so she’ll fall backwards, gasping, and I’ll catch her before her head smacks. I’m pretty impressed with myself that I can still do it. And just like when she was three years old, it still scares her every time.

With J, every once in a while, I still carry her upstairs. This is ridiculous. For the last year, each time I carry her upstairs, I think, “This is almost impossible and potentially dangerous and probably the last time I’ll ever do this.” In fact, it’s been years since I started a schtick where, when someone would ask to be carried upstairs (usually because they were half-asleep on the living room sofa), I’d answer. “I’ll carry you. . . emotionally.” What this entails is me walking alongside the sleepy child, possibly while holding hands or pressing a palm against someone’s back as propulsion. Which is partly just a joke, of course, but I remember being a little kid and having to go up those stairs all by myself, and I hated it. There’s a wide gap between my three older sisters and me, so it felt like I was always getting sent upstairs to sleep when all the fun was just beginning around the kitchen table.  Bedtime meant being exiled, and I’d sneak to the top of the stairs and strain to  follow the too-grown-up-for-me conversation.  It feels like walking upstairs takes a bit of the sting out of that. So that’s what started me on the “I’ll carry you emotionally.”

Carrying kids is tough, but not carrying them is pretty hard, too. Children growing up and away from us is such a literal metaphor. The idea that my children were once contained entirely within me would be unfathomable if I hadn’t lived through it. And then, once babies are born, they’re still attached in the most literal sense, rooting and grasping or nestling themselves into our folds and spaces. That’s the way it should be with a newborn. I remember when M arrived and was put into the NICU, the forced physical separation made her birth feel more like an amputation, leaving me to press against a plastic box, empty arms and swollen breasts tingling like phantom limbs.

As a new parent, I’d see enormous, elderly children climb up onto their parents’ laps and I would inwardly roll my eyes at the weirdness of it. I always thought Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever was creepy. And actually, I still think that lady’s a stalker, coming in while the kid’s asleep as a teenager. But I’ve come around a bit. A few years ago I posted about cuddling with big kids, and while some of that’s been outgrown, most of it hasn’t. I’m thinking, now, that we might never outgrow it.

The truth is, even as a grown-up, sometimes I’m half-asleep on the couch, and I wish that someone would carry me up to bed. Since nobody can, I have to just suck it up.

Destination: Girl Power

At J’s school, they make a big deal about the 4th grade’s “Spotlight on New York” project. Each child researches a different New York-related person, place, or thing, culminating in a big display of their research with papers and tri-fold presentation boards and the occasional sculpture or diorama. When M did it, her topic was Ellis Island, and we’ve still never been to Ellis Island. It is three years later, and I regret that I didn’t make time to go to Ellis Island for her research project, especially after I overheard the school librarian talking about how great it is to go visit whatever topic you’re researching. Talk about a guilt trip.

It feels like only a few years ago, I was much less inclined to take road trips. I hate driving and I have no sense of direction, so I’ve always been reluctant. But in the past year, between far-away soccer tournaments and gymnastics meets and a one-day round trip to Cape Cod, I’ve become much more easily reconciled to the idea of jumping into the car and going somewhere. And I like it. I feel like, as a family, we are way too apt to just slob around if we don’t have a specific plan in mind.

So when J arrived home and announced she’d been assigned one of her top choices, Susan B. Anthony, as her topic, I figured that April break was a great opportunity to take that Girl Power Road Trip that I’d  been thinking I should do for a while. It was particularly well-timed, because I’d just finished Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World, which I really loved. I loved the portrayal of their friendship, including some fun quips and the two of them complaining about women fighting against the right to vote, calling them jackasses. It was a very accessible history, so much so that now J’s reading some of it.

Anyway, on Tuesday we drove out to visit the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, spent the night there in Rochester, and then headed home by way of Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention and the Women’s Right National Historic Park.

I thought that I’d be very clever and get the girls prepared by having them watch Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony
during the drive west. This turned out to be a miscalculation. The girls thought it was too slow-moving, and then when we arrived at our destinations, much of the information was repeated, which detracted from the tours. It was a good try, though.  A better idea was to Yelp it up in search of fun food, and we arrived in Rochester just in time for lunch.

Okay, so what’s the deal with all of the Ethiopian restaurants in Rochester? I don’t know, but we’d never tried Ethiopian food before, so we headed to Zemeta to give it a shot. Following the advice of reviewers, we ordered the vegetarian combination, which was huge. Here’s the platter:

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There’s some green salad, a couple of different kinds of lentils, some potatoes, some green beans, some spinach, and much more, all served with rolls of injera, a squishy-spongy, sour bread. We also tried a chicken dish, and a lovely beef dish that looked like a floral bouquet:

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The forks are deceptive in that first dish, because you’re supposed to eat with your hands, so that was new for us. There were tons of different things to try, and between our three dishes, the girls and I all found things that we liked, and we ate until we were slightly too full. Will Ethiopian supplant our ethnic favorites (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, & Mexican)? Umm. . . no. But we were glad to have tried something new.

Then it was time to head to the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. This is one of those historic houses that you can only walk through with a tour guide, and there are no pictures allowed, so here’s your one-and-only photo:

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I actually forgot all about the blog while we were there, and I just took a bunch of pictures of J for her project. But if you look at this one closely, all three of us are in it: there’s the top of J’s head, then a reflection of me with my camera in the window next to her, and M’s reflection in the next. The tour was pretty good, and the staff were supremely friendly. They had a special packet full of information that they gave to J when they learned that she was working on a school project. It was cool to see historic photographs of Miss Anthony (as they called her during the tour) in her home, knowing that we were standing in the same place.

After the tour, we went just down the street to check out the sculpture of Miss Anthony having tea with Frederick Douglass.

 

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After that, we were craving a little good old-fashioned comfort food after our lunch of Culinary Adventure. We headed to Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream, where the girls had chocolate that they both declared the best chocolate ice cream they’d ever had, and I ate some salted caramel that was almost too salty for me.

Then we headed to the brand-new Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Rochester. This was fun because they’ve only been open for a little more than a week, and I got a tour of it so that I could write up a review for KidsOutAndAbout (and yes, you can read it here).

I loved the elegant Tiffany lighting throughout the hotel. Seriously, if I ever win the lottery, I will find a designer and say, “Bring me light fixtures like the ones from that Hilton Garden Inn!” I couldn’t stop taking photographs of it, which wasn’t particularly relevant for the review, but here are a few:

Pretty, right?

Before our trip, we had made Yelp plans to head to SEA Restaurant for some Vietnamese food, and we weren’t feeling particularly energetic after a museum tour, ice cream, and some hotel pool swimming. . . but we rallied. And I’m glad we did, because it was yumma. I particularly appreciated that there were plenty of vegetables in all of our dishes, so it felt pretty light. . . .

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Which was good, because after my tour of the hotel, I felt morally obligated to try the homemade potato chips because. . . well, because a good reviewer who hears about homemade potato chips must order some. It was, like, a sacred obligation. So we had a late-night snack.

In the morning we headed back east to Seneca Falls and the Women’s Right National Historic Park. Honestly, a visit during the summer would have been better timing, because there are a cluster of different places to visit, and they weren’t all open in April (like Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house). But the National Park Service’s Visitor Center was absolutely worth the trip. There were a tons of exhibits. Because Susan B. Anthony wasn’t at the first women’s rights convention, there wasn’t too much about her, but there was enough to keep J happy. She liked standing at the pulpit, imitating Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

 

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They’ve got a nice space for little kids, too.

 

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And there are a bunch of exhibits on a variety of topics, like women and girls and sports, with stories from long ago as well as more recent history.

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And they do a terrific job of drawing parallels between distant history and issues today, like uncomfortable corsets and current fashion trends.

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Another part I liked was a spot where there were face holes that you could look through and into the mirror, so girls could envision themselves having different jobs, like a construction worker or President of the United States. You can’t be what you can’t see, right? J was inspired, too: she wrote on the chalkboard:

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“I don’t want to be first lady. I want to be PRESIDENT.” Hmmm. . . sounds like some other woman I know.

Before heading back home, we stopped at the statue along the river commemorating the first time Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met, when they were introduced by Amelia Bloom (note the once-scandalous bloomers that they’re wearing–which reminds me, I put all this history to use in a letter to the editor, smacking down a woman who said that girls should stop whining about inequality and just be grateful that no one’s throwing acid in their faces. And then I was annoyed, because the Gazette put out a tremendously irritating editorial about how parents are mindless sheep following the lead of the self-serving, conniving teachers’ union, but someone else is going to have to write to them about that, because I was just in the damn paper. Incidentally, checking those links made me realize that the last few letters critical of the governor regarding education “reform” are ending up online only instead of in the paper–coincidence?).

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The girls were excited to see this in person, because I actually have a photograph of it at my desk. We took some more pictures where it looks like they’re all hanging out together.

And then it was back into the car and home on Wednesday, with just a bit of spare time to tidy up the house for the second half of our spring break, a visit from Grandma and Grandpa!

Easter Weekend

Happy Easter and Happy Passover, everybody!

We went on a quick road trip over Easter weekend.

On Saturday, we headed down to NYC to see the art show that my little brother was in. Man, he’s adorable. I know that he’s a grown man and all, but seeing his art spirals me into time warps, back to when he was a little kid painting at our kitchen table, or a bigger kid who drew so well that everyone thought he was tracing.

My little brother John, who's currently studying painting at Yale's School of Fine Arts

But meanwhile, present-day John is on a completely different artistic intellectual plane, well beyond my understanding. Years ago I visited the Musee Picasso in Paris, and I really loved how it was organized chronologically. You could see Picasso’s evolution, what interested him, what he was working on, and how one phase of work followed from and built upon another. And I remember that, during my visit, I walked through one of the galleries of Picasso’s work while he was in his 20s, and I realized, he’d lost me. Or, I guess, I lost him. He moved on, and I stopped grasping what he was doing. I feel a little bit like that with John. He’ll explain why he used a particular material, or that he used one piece to create the other piece, or that he is using a sculpture to create the sort of images that you’d normally see in paintings or paintings in a way that makes them sculptural, and I can follow it. . . mostly. But to explain with any kind of depth, he needs to reference artists, writers, and whole cultural movements with which I am wholly unfamiliar. He’ll say, “You know . . . ?” and I’ll shake my head, mute, and then it happens a couple more times. He is passionate about important artistic problems that have bypassed my life–let’s face it, most people’s lives–entirely. And yet there’s a brilliant, super-artist segment of the population to whom his work speaks eloquently.

So it is almost comical to walk around looking at his art, because he’s used to critiques where artists challenge each other on every choice that they’ve made, but instead he’s walking around with his big sisters who are saying things like, “I like how that part is swirly” and “this one’s my favorite.” He digests our comments with just as much earnestness and sweat on his brow as if we were making well-founded arguments about his approach that he’ll need to take into consideration to Grow As An Artist, when really it’s all just code for “We love you! We’re so proud of you! Look at how great you’re doing!”

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We had a fabulous Yelp day in New York, starting it off with super-delicious pizza from Isola and finishing with margaritas and Mexican food at Casa Mexicana, where we feasted on guacamole and margaritas, and I had some shrimp.

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We were fortunate to have a little bit of extra time to walk through Columbia University and peek inside the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Now, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but I went to graduate school at Columbia. I didn’t enjoy my time there: I’d say most days ranged from tolerable to abject misery. But the bright spot was being a docent at the cathedral. I love that place. If you’ve never visited, you should. So I was practically skipping around the cathedral, pointing out stone carvings and stories in the stained glass window. I really wish I’d realized that we were going to go in, because I would have looked at my old notes. I only took a couple of photos while we were there, and that when I noticed that the 20th-century niche for the “person of the century” series had been filled in since I’d stopped volunteering there. If you look below, you’ll see (from right) 17th-century Shakespeare, 18th-century Washington, 19th-century Lincoln. I used to ask my tour folks who they thought should go into the blank space. Now it’s filled in, but they clearly couldn’t make up their minds, because it’s a crowd: MLK, Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, and Gandhi. This got me very excited because J’s doing a project on Susan B. Anthony. I went looking for her and found her slouching on a chair, clearly not as jazzed up about the cathedral highlights as I was. Yes, she’d heard about the statue. What? Oh, yeah, she’d grudgingly come with me to see it herself. But she was clearly ready to move on to ice cream.

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We spent Saturday night in a hotel since we had plans to rejoin most of the family at my sister’s house in New Jersey for Easter afternoon. This presented a bit of a logistical problem for the Easter Bunny. Traditionally he hides the Easter baskets somewhere around the house, but there’s not much you can do in a hotel room. Well, that bunny is awesome, because he came up with a clue note treasure hunt that took the kids from their hotel room to an upstairs ice machine to the lobby, an outdoor courtyard, the fitness room, and the lobby again before looping back up to the hotel room where the baskets had presumably been hiding all along. What a great bunny!

 

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The only complication was when the girls were led to a planter by the lobby’s front door, where there just wasn’t a note. This was odd. Our hunt took place at 6 am, and my bet is that it was at least 10 pm when the notes were left. If I know this particular bunny, I’d say that the bunny likely explained what was happening to the attendant at the lobby’s front desk so that they would leave the notes alone, and, for good measure, each note read, “Please do not remove.” So it was peculiar when my children were searching the planter for an extraordinarily long time as Cute W and I made confused hand gestures to each other. Finally, someone at the front desk signaled to me and quietly placed the note on the counter. So, what? They saw it, took it away, but didn’t throw it away? I wonder what harm they thought a small pastel note hidden behind a planter could do to the other guests? In any case, it was fortunate that they hadn’t ripped the note to pieces or anything, because we went with the time-honored “look again” strategy, and just like the tooth fairy’s money, it seemed to appear magically where we could have sworn it wasn’t a few minutes ago.

After the gala basket hunt, Cute W consulted Yelp again and found Montclair Bread Company for some traditional Easter donuts. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you: the donut in the lower-left has a maple frosting garnished with small slabs of bacon. But those weren’t even the most decadent choices: the swirly ones contained enough Nutella to supply your entire days’ worth of saturated fat. Lenten season, be gone!

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The afternoon was beautiful, and the kids were very excited to hang out with their cousins and frolic in one of the coolest backyards ever, complete with a two-story treehouse, a zipline, and more.

Then it was home again and a day of rest before our next road trip, which I’ll tell you about next time.

Treats for Me

In my last post, I was whining about the snow. Due to my general bad attitude, we didn’t tube or ski or do anything active that Saturday. Instead, with an unexpectedly free afternoon and a gift card in-hand, we went to Cafe Tesoros for a family lunch. One of the burdens of being a member of my family is that when we go anywhere fun, they have to wait for me to take review pictures or ask the staff unnecessary questions and such. The most onerous burden of all is holding back and not immediately digging into food because “Mom needs a picture!” first. I understand that it’s irritating. So with no particular obligation to review lunch, I was going to keep the camera tucked away. But then look how cute my Camarones al Ajillo looks, with the plantains standing up at attention! I couldn’t resist.

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The entire family enjoyed the guacamole. M has been a fan for years, from way back when she was little and guacamole looked too scary and squishy to her, but she’d beg for little diced pieces of avocado, which were an entirely different matter.  J is a recent convert to guacamole. She’s surprisingly willing to try new foods these days. A while back, I pointed out that two of her favorite foods in the world (Buffalo Chicken Dip and cheeseball) were things that she either didn’t want to try or things she didn’t like the first time. Now she’s wised up, and if the adults are enthusiastic, she’s all in.

J ordered Colombian Empanadas, M had a quesadilla, Cute W ordered the Cubano, and everyone was happy. I would have cooked the shrimp a little bit less, but this made the rest of my family laugh, because I err on the side of under-cooking and everyone else feels more comfortable if whatever they’re eating is, as they call it, “cooked dead.” The empanadas were particularly the perfect size for J’s lunch, and she also had a yummy mango smoothie. After lunch we split a couple of dessert crepes: you can’t go wrong with crepes. Now I’m looking forward to warmer weather so that Cute W and I can go for Tapas and Wine and walk home.

In other news, I got a new phone! It’s pretty exciting. If you’ve been reading a while, you know that I’m about as much as a Luddite as someone who blogs can be, so my previous phone was my first “smartphone” as opposed to a track phone. Except apparently it just wasn’t very smart. I’m not sure why. I could never really check email or get onto the internet with it, and anytime I tried to add an app, there wouldn’t be enough memory. I’d be on a blogger trip and someone else would take a photograph and Tweet about it and I’d scribble little notes to myself on paper. But the absolute worst part was messaging. First, the phone didn’t support group messaging, so I’d end up with streams of conversation like this:

Mom 1:
I can drive to practice tonight.
Super!
Okay
Alright. X, you fine to drive?

Mom 2:
Great, thanks. I can drive home.
Oh, wait, we have an app’t. . . let me check
Nope we’re not going.

Mom 3:
I can drive if she can’t
Yep, got it.
What time are you picking up?

And then I’d have to piece together the conversation, which was annoying enough, but it would also take me forever, because in order to read the messages, I’d click on “Mom 1″ and my phone would say “loading. . . loading. . . loading” while I’d hold the phone and shake it and think about how my hair is getting greyer and my skin is losing elasticity and I’ve still only traveled to two continents so far. Or I’d wonder if someone had asked me if I could drive, which I could, but first I had to figure out if everyone had already figured it out. Or, I’d answer the group text, but it would only go to the individual person, and then everyone would text each other, “What did Katie say?” because this was quicker than trying to text me.  It had started to feel like I was not a functioning adult.

I still don’t understand why the old phone was so very bad, but the new phone is a vast improvement. It’s an HTC Desire 816, and suddenly I’m capable of checking multiple email accounts on the same phone (you guys! I could totally teach Hillary how to do that!), and I can text with ease (although not with two-handed rapidity of a high school girl, come on), and when I’m waiting in line I can do the sorts of things I should have been doing all along, like re-tweeting KidsOutAndAbout contributing organizations and such. The one funny thing is that this phone is large. It’s like, unmanageably large. I am a small-ish person with short-ish fingers and I almost can’t hold it. M thinks it’s hilarious: she always says, “Oh my gosh, mom, it’s like you’re holding a brick!” But, as someone who only fantasizes about having a phone, she’s a snobby iPhone connoisseur. But, generally speaking, I’m super-excited. It’s like I’ve caught up to at least 2012. And I can use the phone for useless things as well.

For example, I was sitting in traffic the other day, and I took this photograph for you. You might recognize that the station is the one that used to be a pop station, then was briefly an all-Christmas-all-the-time station and now has settled into some sort of old pop station. It plays many songs that were hits when I was an adolescent, and many of them were already bad back in the 80s, but then occasionally you’ll run into an old pop song that you haven’t heard in forever. I’ve heard both Erasure and Yaz on this station, so it gets to keep the Preset status that it lost while it was playing Bing Crosby. But do you see the song title?

 

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Clearly someone very young was doing data entry, because no one who was alive and aware in 1981 would make that mistake! And there’s a certain pride in knowing that I am old enough to know every single lyric from Billy Joel’s Glass Houses (Please! Nobody remembers any other song by Tommy Tutone) and yet young enough to text and Tweet.

Enough Already

Oh dammit you guys. Come on. For the love of humanity. Snow. We woke up to snow, and that was terrible, but now it’s snowing again?!? Seriously, are you freakin’ kidding me?

I am done. Done, done, done. I’ve ranted about this sort of thing before. But I’m not just pissed off about the continued snow. My generally pissiness is tinged with guilt. I have a couple of tubing passes that we never got around to using. It’s almost time to return the girls’ rental skis. So, if I were a better person, a person with more energy, a gal with some vim, we’d be out there, trying to make the most of this last snowfall. And by “last” I mean, for the love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, please let this be the last snowfall.

I just don’t wanna.I’m tired of embracing winter. We actually did a day trip of skiing at Bromley, and it was mostly very fun, except that toward the end, M lost one of her mittens. Which led to general family stress, of course. We checked out the store, but because she’s at that too-big-for-kids, awfully-small-for-grown-ups size, nothing fit too well and it was all too expensive, especially for something that doesn’t fit well. Then she refused to wear Cute W’s or my mittens. J had been going strong, and M’s enthusiasm had gone down the drain, and next thing you know we’d given up and left the girls to nosh on waffles while we grown-ups skied. The season went out with a whimper. And we still haven’t gotten around to buying new mittens, which I should probably do, but our enthusiasm is low. You know I hate to shop, anyway. But then, anytime I feel the slightest bit motivated to do something involving cold weather, I remember that we’re not properly outfitted yet. And then that tiny little smidgen of motivation just fades away entirely.

So, what do I want to do?

I want to walk around outside barefoot. I actually prefer to be barefoot as much as possible. I was never a slipper person, I work out barefoot or  barefoot style with Vibrams, and not having that option in the winter is so irritating. Just for things like running the recycling out or cooking on the grill (which incidentally, I had to stop doing because the grill was snowed in, but whatever), I am a barefoot girl late into the fall and early in the spring. I’ve actually run out barefoot a couple of times already this year. As you might guess, it was pretty freaking cold. But that’s lovely, too, because freezing my bare little piggies brings on these strong sense memories from when I was a kid. From 4th through 9th grade I lived next door to a nature preserve, and one of my springtime rituals was to go rambling in the woods and take off my shoes to do a quick wade in the creek very, very early in the season. The water was just-barely-melted snow and it would always be literally painful in its frigidity, and I was sure that my mom would be appalled if she saw me without shoes, much less ankle-deep in ice water. So there was the sweetness of doing something illicit along with the joy of impending spring to make it a magic little treat each early spring. And now, running out to pull the trash to the curb, it’s like I briefly time travel 30+ years (holy crap) to those sweet spring days.

I want to sit and lean back on the asphalt and feel my palms burn while I watch the girls do a Razor RipStik ballet. (1. Yes, that is a thing that my kids do. They are pretty excellent, and I should probably record them and post it online so that they can be Youtube sensations; and also 2. Why yes, you can buy this thing on Amazon. I swear I’m not going to be irritating about this Amazon thing, but I honestly already would have linked to it, anyway, because people don’t know what a RipStik is, but while I’m at it, what an awesome Easter present–I like it when the Easter Bunny brings things to encourage outdoor activity. But perhaps the Easter Bunny spoils my children and everyone else is making due with jelly beans and sidewalk chalk).

I want to wear a t-shirt to a soccer game.  Last weekend, I kid you not, I was wearing ski pants, my heavy coat, mittens, and a balaclava to watch M’s soccer game. The referees were in shorts–apparently, there are no provisions for long pants in regulation referee uniform. Today’s soccer game was called off because of the increasingly unplayable field.  I’m daydreaming of beautiful soccer game days when J will be happy to come along and just frolic outside. Yes, we’ll have to apply and re-apply sunscreen. Sure, there was that time that I spent an ungodly amount of time checking for and removing ticks from J and her friend. Sssshh, I say to myself. Don’t think of that now. Just think of warm sun on your shoulders.

Incidentally, J just walked upstairs from the basement and said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so snowy! I hate the world!” Apparently she has inherited my bad attitude.

I Like Free Stuff And I Cannot Lie

I recently ran into someone who was a reader from way back, and she told me about the super-cool library pass program. I’d written about it a long time ago, but now’s a good time to acknowledge that not everyone in the Capital District has read and remembered every single morsel of my blog. And this person was right: it’s a great program. We were chatting about visiting museums, which made me recommend membership to her. And then urged me to make sure people don’t miss this stuff. And she’s totally right. I was going to write something new, but then my membership schpiel was so long, I’m just pasting it in. Which means that the numbers might be outdated, but the point (that memberships, especially with reciprocal programs) are a really great deal. I’m throwing it together so that I can have them, handy, and link to them from my Favorites page for easy reference.

Back in the Ssssshhhh. . . Library Secrets! post, I mentioned various extras that libraries provide, and many of them may be outdated at this point. But I double=checked, and many area libraries continue to offer a special program that allows families to visit museums and other cool cultural destinations. Basically, you check out a pass, use it to visit someplace for FREE, then return the pass. Click the links for more information about the pass programs in Schenectady, Albany, or Troy.

As I said in a post about miSci. . .

When it comes to museums, membership is an awesome plan. Okay, bear with me for a minute here. If you purchase a family membership at miSci, it costs $80.  When you’re members, you get free admission to the museum exhibitions as many times as you want for a full year and 4 free passes into the planetarium. For my family (2 adults, an 8-year-old, and a 10-year-old), a single visit to the museum with the planetarium show would cost $52 and a second visit without the show would cost $32, for a total of $84. So if we visit twice, the membership is a good idea, but then members get other discounts (like $20 off that Spark! series & a 10% discount off birthday parties and at the museum shop).

But it rocks even more than that because of the ASTC Passport Program. Many museums and science centers are members of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, which offers a reciprocal program that allows you to get into a bunch of other museums for free. Now, the one teensy bit of bad news is that the other places you visit have to be at least 90 miles away. CMOST ($80 for a basic membership) is also an ASTC member (so is the NY State Museum, but they’re reworking their membership program right now), membership at either miSci or CMOST will get you these fabulous reciprocal benefits when you travel out of town. So, for example, I could pay $80 for a membership at miSci and then travel to Boston and get out of paying admission for the family to the Boston Museum of Science ($82 for our family) and the Boston Children’s Museum ($56 for our family) or  check out Liberty Science Center ($58.50 for our family). If I made those visits, plus those couple of visits to miSci, I would save $200 in museum admissions!!

And now are you ready for your head to explode? Because miSci and a bunch of other New York museums (including the Albany Institute of History & Art, The Hyde Collection, and The National Museum of Dance) are part of another reciprocal program called the Empire State Reciprocal Membership Program. Free admission for everyone! I feel like Oprah giving out cars!

 

Books, Glorious Books!

My friend and KidsOutAndAbout publisher, Deb, has written a book! It’s Seasons and Reasons: A Parent’s Guide to Cultivating Great Kids, and actually, if you’re already signed up for the newsletter, some of it will look familiar. It’s a collection of her publisher’s notes, with all sorts of brief, thoughtful essays on parenting that will motivate you to be a better parent without irritating you. If you’re a Kindle person, click the link above because it’s FREE on Kindle until Monday. We LOVE free!

Of course, if you like to hold a good, old-fashioned book, you can also buy the paperback.

In fact, if you’re thinking of buying the paperback, you should click on the picture, because I’m doing the Amazon Affiliates thing as a little experiment. That means that if you click from my blog over to Amazon and buy what I recommended, I get a teensy cut of the money you spend. I’m not expecting to get much money, really, but it’s easy to do, and it gives you a cute little image, so what the heck? I actually tried this before, a long while back, and almost immediately, some creeper tried to buy an Amazon UK gift card with my account information, so I got spooked and ditched it before putting it into effect. This happened twice, which made me cast the whole project aside for a long time, but I’ve been meaning to try it again. This time, we look okay so far (knock on wood!).

As long as I’m suggesting books, I’ve been meaning to share a couple of parenting books that I’ve found helpful lately. I read a ridiculous number of books when I was pregnant and a parent of babies and toddlers, and then it dropped off. Basically, it seemed like things were going pretty well (I’m knocking on wood again!), so the urgency wasn’t there. Also, many of the books I read early on had a very specific viewpoint, and it made me feel a little bit like if I didn’t follow the advice, I was going to Ruin My Children. So I started coasting on instinct.

But in the last year or two I’ve had a couple of. . . challenges that sent me back to books.

I loved I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens, by Anthony Wolf, PhD. Funny title, right? He is, I kid you not, also author of Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall. Bwah, ha, ha.

This book was recommended by a friend who had an older child, and I found it tremendously reassuring. Wolf starts by talking about being a parent of a kid whom everyone tells you is awesome, but who can be tremendously obnoxious in the privacy of your own home. Which leads you to wonder if everything’s going great, like the general public thinks, or if you’re in fact failing miserably at this parenting gig. I totally identified with that. Then he says that if my kid appears to be a model citizen out of our presence, chances are good that everything will work out great. Phew! I also found it entertaining that, in his little vignettes of conversations with teenagers, the kids were so unbelievably horrifying, so unbelievably snotty, that I automatically felt better about my own kids. But then there were practical tips that I felt that Cute W must read, and I put little stickies in the book. By the time I was done, it looked like this:

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So, that’s absolutely helpful, and even though it says it’s for teenagers, if your child is Gifted In The Obnoxious Arts, I think some pieces of the advice could be helpful beginning at, say, eleven years old.

Meanwhile, my other child inspired me to find Letting Go of Perfect: Overcoming Perfectionism in Kids, by Hope Wilson, PhD. and Jill Adelson, PhD. It had never occurred to me that there would be an entire book devoted to the problems of perfectionism, so finding this was a relief. They offer up specific suggestions on how to make your child’s perfectionism a force of Good instead of Evil.

And finally, probably my my very favorite parenting advice book, Ellyn Satter’s book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. It’s the only book in which I feel like the advice absolutely made a difference and helped my kids to “turn out” better.  You know:  so far.   And I found this book reassuring, non-stress-inducing, and effective.

And, as long as we’re talking about books I recommend, I started a list of Favorite Books under the little Favorites link at the top of the page. I might add more, but for now, here’s one of my all-time favorite lists, Girl Power Picture Books, as well as some of My Favorite Books, either ones that I’ve read recently and loved or ones that I rated five stars on Good Reads.

So, shop away! And, even if you don’t want to do me a solid and spend money for me, you can nab the free Kindle book, which will translate into amping up Deb’s Amazon rating. And tell me what books I simply must read, too, please.

Weekend Fun in Westchester!

Last weekend we split up: Cute W and M headed to a soccer tournament, while J and I headed to LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester. J and I clearly got the better deal. The soccer tournament was a long drive to three games outside in cold, slushy rain.

When J and I arrived on Saturday afternoon, we headed over to Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, where we took a tour that detailed the history of the house and the Philipse family, super-wealthy Tories who got out of dodge when things didn’t go their way during the American Revolution. We were part of a tour group of mixed ages, and J was listened attentively and answered question after question to the point that it got comical, and other grown-ups were giving me the thumb’s up and chuckling. The whole trip gave me nostalgia pangs, because it was an historic house right in the middle of the city, just like where I used to work Once Upon A Time Before Kids. Many of the exhibits, as well as some interactive things were kids–focused on the history of slavery in New York. That’s what J found most interesting–here she is checking out swatches of fabric–cheap, course stuff for the slaves, colorful and fine for the family.

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For dinner, we headed to Havana Central Restaurant & Bar, which was very fun.

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They had live music and gorgeous decor, and I don’t think J had ever been to a specifically Cuban place, so it was a new cultural experience for her. When the server arrived, he recommended that I have a mojito or a sangria, and this was a business trip, people. I wanted to review a restaurant near LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester, and a review would not be complete without sampling one of the recommended cocktails. Or some of the recommended cocktails, I should say. Whatever. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. On the same philosophy I prevailed upon J to order a Shirley Temple, and she took one for the team. Actually, she loves a Shirley Temple, except when they’re way too sweet, and this one was perfect.  We followed this up with the most delicious plantain chips I’ve ever had. They came with a mojo dip and both J and I were shameless in our quest to scrape as many chunks of garlic onto our plantains. We were pretty much full by the time we’d finished out empanadas, but then J discovered that she loves yellow rice. This was my order, and she totally stole almost all of my rice.

Havana shrimpWe both managed to rally for dessert, too, which was impressive.

When dinner was over, lesser chicks would have headed back to the hotel, but we were in full-on vacation mode at this point, so we grabbed some tickets to see Cinderella. Then, when we realized that we had a good 50 minutes before showtime, we did some speed-shopping. Apparently, someone on J’s gymnastics team is going to have a bat mitzvah soon, and ever since I explained to her that even though it’s a coming-of-age thing, it basically feels like a cross between a birthday party (celebrating one person with fun) and a wedding (a service to sit through, followed by a big dance party), she has been super-excited. She’d been talking about getting a dress ever since she realized that we’d be at Westchester’s Ridge Hill shopping center, she’d been lobbying hard for dress shopping. Which is not normal behavior for my daughters. Well, we hit Lord & Taylor and I knew we’d nailed it with this dress when she started twirling in the dressing room. Then it was off to Cinderella. We’d only heard about the Frozen Short at the beginning of the movie earlier that evening, but as soon as I had the new dress in a bag, we basically ran back to the theater, in a panic that we’d miss it.  J insisted she could manage popcorn (how??), and she laughed uproariously ever time Elsa sneezed. We were already excited that Cinderella was Lady Rose from Downton, but we were super-excited to see Daisy, too, playing Drisella. By the time the movie was out it was way too late, and we were shivering as we waited for our hotel shuttle, hoping that shuttle driver wouldn’t turn into a lizards, but it had still been a fun night out.

The next morning it was off to LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester. I’d been afraid that it would be too young for J, and while I think that she was aging out of it a bit, she really did have a great time. Except for when I abandoned her in the indoor jungle gym: it was one of those kids-only climbing spaces, and I sent her in to scout the location for my review. Except that I didn’t realize that it’s one of those places where they guard your kids, so when you’re ready to exit, you need a parent to claim you. This is an excellent policy in general. If I had little kids, I’d love it. But since my Free-Range 10-year-old is allowed to walk to Starbucks with her sister, and my 10-year-old’s mother is the type of woman to wander off and take pictures and check out cafe menu before the lunch rush (but seriously: the cash registers are encase in LEGO® bricks, how cute is that?), it didn’t work out so well for us.

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And, the staff there were very nice about it, but J was pretty irritated with me. Actually, she was adorable, because once I sprung her, she glared at me, pulled the notebook out of my hand, then set to work taking copious notes on the jungle gym experience. At the top, she wrote, “Parent must claim child to exit!” and then she proceeded to draw a couple of diagrams. Incidentally, she recommends that section for 4- to 7-year-olds, except she thinks that some kids might get nervous crossing over the net bridge section. Holy cow, I love that little dumpling!

I also managed to screw up my pictures. First, I had my camera in my pocket for the Merlin ride, which involved pedaling. So I dislodged my camera and it plummeted to the ground. So then I spent the rest of the ride alternating between fretting about my camera, kicking myself for being so stupid, and reminding myself to soak up J’s delight. We rescued the camera and it seemed just fine. Phew! Except–it wasn’t completely, totally fine. I’d somehow dislodged the camera’s memory card, so it took photos, displayed the photos, and then, virtually speaking, threw them away. This was a particular bummer because I had adorable shots of J raising her eyebrow while wearing 3-D glasses for the 4-D movie, and then I took a ton of photos of the newest exhibition, City Builder, which was J’s absolute favorite section of the exhibit. It was also where we met Veronica, the only LEGO® Master Builder of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester, who was super-friendly and helpful, and who had beat out a bunch of other people (mostly guys) in a series of building competitions. How cool is that? And I got a picture of her helping J to create a cool new construction project. . . . A little while later I actually noticed the alert that my camera flashed about a memory card, and I fixed it, but those photos now live only in my memory (sniff!).

It’s difficult to restrain yourself from taking photos, especially in MINILAND®, so here are a few extras that didn’t make it into the review I wrote for KidsOutAndAbout.com.

And, okay, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center are squished together, but still!

LEGO MINILAND ST PATS

Altogether things look so realistic, and then you could look up close and each of the various details is so cool:

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Plus they’re interactive, so you can hit buttons to make the lighting change or turn on sounds or move a crane. J and I loved this: the jumbo screen takes footage from within the room, so you can pose and look like you’re up over Time Square:

LEGO MINILAND JUMBOTRON

If you want more information about these places, you can read my complete review of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester as well as my article highlighting other spots called Family Fun in Westchester.

Between staying up too late, sucking down sangrias, waking up early with my girl, and the tremendously overstimulating LEGO® good time we’d had, I was exhausted, but I knew that poor Cute W and M were exhausted, and they hadn’t had nearly as much fun. So we booked it home and had spaghetti and meatballs ready when they came in. And told me that they’d eaten on the road. But I still get a gold star.

Oh! And as a gold star for those of you who’ve read the whole post, check out this week’s KidsOutAndAbout newsletter to find information on a LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester giveaway!

Racking Up the Wins!

Some days are not excellent, like when your toddler bites another child, or when you find out that your child’s pants are (metaphorically) on fire, or the many times I’ve lost my temper or noticed that my kids have watched way too much tv today.

But, folks, I’ve been putting some Ws in the column, so I need to share.

 

Yesterday, M was looking for soccer shorts. She’s actually pretty good at this stuff, but she had been looking for a while when I stepped in to help her. She was getting a bit stressed out, because she’d need the shorts for this week’s tournament. So after thanking me for helping her, she started pointing out ways in which my attempts at helpfulness were pointless. For example, I started looking through her soccer backpack, unzipping compartment after compartment.

“Don’t look there!” she said.

“It’s worth a shot. That’s where I found your missing shin guards, remember?” I answered.

“But those are shin guards! I always take them off! But I would never just pull off my shorts and–”

She stopped mid-sentence as I triumphantly pulled out a crumpled pair of shorts.

Being M, she snatched them out of my hands and said, “Mom! Look at the shorts I just found!”

I told her that she was both awesome and brilliant.

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J likes an impeccable report card, and there was a subject in which not perfection was not achieved. There was quite a bit of weeping. The teacher’s comments, to me, implied parental neglect. I secretly made an appointment with the teacher, expecting it to be painful. I was going to sneak in like a ninja to avoid causing anxious J more stress.

On the contrary. The grading system doesn’t coincide well with how the teacher runs the class, I was told. We’re doing exactly the right thing, I was told. J had started the class strong and had improved significantly, I was told. That one issue has been resolved, I was told. At some point, I started taking notes so that I could report the numbers and quotations to J to buck her up.

Several hours later, J confronted me. She’d seen me meeting with the teacher, and she was worried and embarrassed and angry at me for sneaking around. “What happened?!?” she demanded. I explained that I knew she’d fret if she knew about the conference, and I wanted to wait until I knew what was happening so that we could go through it all at once. Then I told her that it went great, and I pulled out my pages of notes and tried to start from the beginning. But she was already crying. I skipped ahead to the test scores. I showed her how well she’d done last year. “And then I did bad!” she interrupted. No, she’d done better in the fall. And with her most recent scores–“I went down!” she wailed. No. She’d managed to go up again. Really? She finally started to believe me, and I reviewed my notes from the beginning. She asked me if she could hang the notes up in her room.

But even better, a little while later she found me at the computer and gave me a long, hard hug. “Thank you for going to talk to the teacher. And thank you for not telling me that you were going to talk to the teacher.”

W

But wait, there’s more. The other day, M heard that I was at Target, and she asked, “Oh, Mom, will you please get me some Spandex for under my soccer shorts?” As soon as she requested it, I knew just what she needed. This outdoor tournament was coming up, and it was going to be cold, cold, cold. She had one decent pair of ankle-length leggings to help keep her legs warm, but with multiple games over two days, she totally needed a second pair. I agreed and grabbed a selection.

When I got home, she jumped up happily, then her face transformed into the special kind of brilliantly WTF face that you can only produce if you are going through puberty or menopause. “But, Mom, I asked for Spandex! I mean, thanks and good effort and all that, but I didn’t mean this; I meant Spandex. I need Spandex.” There was some back and forth in which I clarified that Spandex is the brand name of a synthetic material, not the name of a piece of clothing, like “vest” or “shorts.” She had had, in her mind, the kind of biker shorts-style shorts whose main function, for soccer players, is to conceal any vague impression of underwear, which can show through white uniform shorts. Which, okay, yes: I understand. She could use a pair. But playing outdoors in April, didn’t she want long ones, anyway? She grudgingly conceded that these would work out for the tournament.

And then, a little later, she said, “You know, I think it’s lucky that you misunderstood me, because long Spandex will work better this weekend. So, thank you.”

WYou’re welcome, children.

I’m also feeling like a winner now that we’re finally refusing the NY State tests. I’ve been railing about them for a while now, and I’ve been feeling guilty and hypocritical that we were doing them, anyway. Now that I’ve finally made the decision, it feels good. Come on, people! Join me! You can do it.

And finally, I feel like we’re winning something this weekend, because J and I are on a special assignment, reviewing LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester. I’ll have a complete review available on KidsOutAndAbout.com soon. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!