Foam Stickers And Heartache, That’s What Valentines Are Made Of

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that I’ll be on Newschannel 13‘s Live at Noon Wednesday talking about fun this February break.

So far, the Valentine’s Day season has been pretty predictable.

I should have remembered that J would want to get gifts for all of us (remember last year’s Love Dice?). We’d gone to Target to hunt down a box of cards for her 3rd grade class, but next thing you know she was on a super-secret mission to pick out something special for each of us. Then she was clearly saddened that M had no intention of reciprocating, even when she elaborately admired a pair of hugging stuffed monkeys directly in front of her big sister. I was about to tell M that I’d sponsor a gift for her little sister if she’d like, but before I had a chance, M decided to tell J that Valentine’s Day is no big deal and she had no intention of buying any sort of gifts. By the time it was over I had one huffy sister, one hurt sister, and a receipt of about three times as many purchases as I’d planned. As we drove home, J asked, “Mom, will you tell me how much I owe you?” And I started to respond that I could chip in for her gifts. Bad move. She was angry at the suggestion, while M rolled her eyes that anyone would pass up money from Mom for any reason whatsoever.

And, in keeping with time-honored tradition, J has transformed the “supposed to be fun” school project into a physically and emotionally taxing expression of her profound artistic ambitions (see also the Leprechaun Trap, Halloween candy graph, and other such assignments). She  chose a make-your-own Valentines kit with enough little foam-sticker letters and doohickeys for 20 cards. I advised her to think about this one. Twenty was exactly enough for each classmate and her teacher with no margin for error. Plus, constructing the dang valentines is quite a bit more work. She was up for the challenge, she assured me.

A mere 24 hours later she was weeping, panic-stricken. She’d finished five or six beautiful valentines and she’d exhausted her ideas and all the best stickers. Plus there was still the “valentine mailbox” to decorate, along with daily homework and gymnastics. Perhaps a better mother would have made her suffer the consequences of her choices. But, man, how she suffers. And then I suffer. It was so much easier to pick up the Pets in 3-D pack. She spent this afternoon signing them and taping a Tootsie Roll to each, exulting in her rapid progress all the way. Which left plenty of time for her to pick up the mess she’d left behind the other day.


Chocolate Mousse Drama

I got well just in the nick of time, because I’d signed up to make a fancy dessert for a dessert auction we’re doing at church tomorrow. I decided to go with chocolate mousse. The mousse isn’t absolutely gorgeous, but I know how to do it, and it’s freakishly delicious. Between J’s gymnastics and M’s soccer game I didn’t have enough time to get started on the mousse itself, but I decided to try to make some chocolate curls for a little fancy-pants garnish. The chocolate curls are an element from the original recipe that we decided to blow off after making the mousse the first time: too much trouble, not enough payoff. But this is a special occasion.

My chocolate curls were mediocre. I decided to try again after the soccer game.

A few hours later I was in the zone, an audio book plugged in, ready to get ‘er done. And of course J wanted to help. There really wasn’t too much that she could do.  I knew that she wanted to work on the chocolate curls, but they were hard, hard, hard. Basically you just use a veggie peeler on a chocolate bar, but it’s all in the temperature of the chocolate: too chilly and it breaks, too warm and it’s goo. I made a passable number of chocolate curls and set them aside. And then I did something incredibly stupid. I told J that I was done and if she wanted to try making some chocolate curls “just for fun,” she could give it a shot. The stars were aligned and my little Martha Stewart made several decent chocolate curls. I was shocked. She was delighted. And then I realized my mistake. “Can we put my curls on the mousse?” she asked. Duh, duh, duh, duh, DUH. I had not told her to wash her hands. She was just doing this for herself. I explained. She wheedled a bit–they were just a few chocolate curl garnishes, after all.

Always ready to offer her sage judgements, M swooped in. “Oh, my gosh!” she scolded. “Of course you have to wash your hands! There’s that stomach bug going around, remember? Mom’s washed her hands about seven times! Putting those on would be disgusting!”

Wow, M. That’s so. . . helpful. Now J feels even worse. Awesome.

I suggested that J volunteer to do her own dessert for the auction next year. “No, I’d probably just mess it up,” she sulked. Because that’s how she rolls.

The consolation prize was a little bowl of whipped cream to be decorated with chocolate curls. Both girls were crossing their fingers that we’d have too much mousse to fit into the “fine china” plastic bowl I’d bought, but sadly for them, the mousse fit perfectly.

choc moussse

We might have to buy the damn thing ourselves.

Catch Up for the Week

Oh, my gosh, you guys, the stomach bug. So. yucky. And it lasts forever. Our family, as a general rule, doesn’t get stomach bugs very often. Pretty much my kids only throw up due to transportation issues. But J’s recent sickness caught up with me on Monday, and it was about 24 hours of sheer misery followed by days of pregnancy-style queasiness. So. Let me catch you up. We were at Jiminy Peak for our annual trip Sunday through Tuesday. As always we had a terrific time, and the girls are skiing great. This year J in particular has gotten so much better:  Cute W and I have speculated it’s because she’s a super-strong powerhouse from all her gymnastics. She’s the youngest of the pack of girls, so she gets a little fretful sometimes, but when she forgets about everybody else, she’s really an excellent skier. I think that the girls are both officially kicking my butt now.

J on skis

Anyway, I was a little off by late Monday, and then on Tuesday I was definitely not myself. The morning of skiing was fun, but I made the mistake of eating lunch with my delicate stomach (how can you resist tomato bisque and a grilled cheese sandwich after skiing all morning?), and suddenly my life sucked. I bowed out of skiing before the rest of my family, so I was loading the car in spite of my misery because I was just ready to go home. Then I’d finished packing and we’d already checked out of the hotel room, and there were friends and people gathered in the one remaining hotel room, but I couldn’t bring my contagion there, so I chose a random couch in someone else’s checked-out room where housekeeping hadn’t come through yet and half-slept until the family was ready to roll. By the time we arrived home I went straight to bed, teeth chattering & feverish, with poor Cute W to deal with the unpacking and laundry. The next day wasn’t great, either, and since then I’ve had that sort of low-level, pregnancy style nausea that makes everything smell bad and almost every food unappealing. But I think it’s finally over. Tonight I ate my first real meal in a while, so let there be great rejoicing. And between our mini-vacation and my physical and mental check-out for the past few days, I’m completely discombobulated, but that’s okay.

We’ve got a busy weekend, including gymnastics, a soccer game, and all sorts of church activities before Cute W heads out for a Sunday afternoon business thing, so I’m hoping to be 100% tomorrow. So send me your good health karma please.

Oh, and today I arrived home to find M poking around and reading the blog. She was chuckling over my leprechaun rant, which doesn’t surprise me. It annoys her that I refuse to concede that imaginary creatures are imaginary, and there it was: a full confession. I thought that we might have some sort of beautiful and bonding moments, but then she read In the NICU and she was basically mocking my pain, laughing and saying what’s the big deal about holding a baby? And I had to pull the old, maybe someday, if you become a mother when you grow up, you’ll understand. . . . Which only led to more smirking. And then I told her that she seriously had to stop talking about it or I was going to get mad. And I must have had the scary tone, because she dropped it. Phew.

Lazy Links

We spent the last few days at Jiminy Peak, and now I’m not feeling well. But I’ve been such a slacker that I had to offer up something, right? Luckily, I keep a running list of links to share.

PBS Newshour offers up fourteen books that you could read in the time it takes to watch the Super Bowl. I think that we probably would have enjoyed any of these more. Seriously, I am also not a Bruno Mars fan, and I didn’t even find the commercials entertaining this year. Cute W’s over it, by the way. As a longtime Broncos fan, he’s been through worse Super Bowls.

Speaking of books, here’s a list of sites to download free books.

Life in Pleasantville offers up education apps for middle schoolers.

 The Online Mom has best apps for staying in shape.

CNN’s got the latest list of Newbery, Caldecott, and other book winners.

Bitch Magazine shared librarians’ picks for top feminist books for kids in the past year.

Okay, seriously, that’s all I’ve got. Last night I was a teeth-chattering feverish mess, and today I’ve mostly slept and nibbled saltines, only rousing myself  long enough to make my children miserable because I don’t have the energy to be patient when they push each other’s buttons with wild abandon. Really annoying, because now in addition to feeling crappy, I feel crappy about myself. Hope everyone else had more fun for their snow day than I did!



Medical Emergencies, Family Lore, and An Overdue Apology

J’s finally getting over a stomach bug that just seemed to linger on and on. It started early on Saturday morning at her friend’s house. Or, perhaps I should say, at my friend’s house, on my friend’s newish family room carpet. Excellent. Sorry about that! Cute W rushed over to retrieve her while I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes, saying “What? Can I do something. . . ?”

She was pretty pathetic all day on Saturday, and she didn’t eat at all. Over the course of the next few days she consumed, altogether, two small applesauce cups and about 15 plain elbow macaroni noodles. Finally, last night (Tuesday), she ate a normal dinner. She’d missed two days of school and wanted to get back, plus I’d set up a doctor’s appointment in case she didn’t feel better. So suddenly she had something to prove and she rallied and managed a ginormous amount of baked chicken and steamed broccoli. I felt so relieved. Really, my kids don’t get sick very often, and by day four of almost no food I was freaking out a little bit. And it wasn’t just me.  At one point Cute W started speculating about an eating disorder and I was, like, honey, people don’t get, like, sudden onset eating disorder. It takes a little time to build up to it. But he’s really the kind of guy who gets a headache and goes directly to brain tumor. The most infuriating thing about this is that he’s actually had a couple of bizarre and rare medical things happen, so you can’t dismiss anything as ridiculous, because next thing you know, it’s been confirmed by a medical professional.

An example would be the Great Lemon Inhalation Incident. Long ago, when we lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before we had kids and we realized how leisurely and simple life in Brooklyn was, Cute W almost died. Or, that’s how he tells it. He was sucking on a lemon, and he accidentally inhaled the lemon juice into his lungs instead of shuttling it down his esophagus where it belonged. He froze, entirely unable to breathe. I watched him and his crazy faces and laughed. Now, never mind that I tend to laugh in response to feeling awkward and uncomfortable. The point was that he was apparently suffering deeply and profoundly, but to me, he just seemed to be making some goofy faces, and I laughed. Afterwards he chastised me for Mocking His Pain. I apologized. He insisted that he’d ALMOST DIED. This just made me laugh again, because I considered it to be. . .  um, let’s call it hyperbole. I was like, “Yeah, sorry, but I don’t think you were actually near death.” He begged to differ.

In the past 12 or 13 years, the Great Lemon Inhalation Incident has come up several times per year, always with Cute W talking about my mean lack of sensitivity while I roll my eyes. And these days, if the girls hear about it, they laugh and roll their eyes, too. So for some reason or other, The Incident came up at my physical with our shared doctor, and she reacted to the news of his lemon juice inhalation with genuine concern, pointing out that lemon juice is an acid, after all. Whatever, doc. But I came home and immediately passed along the concern and compassion voiced by our local medical professional, thinking that this would somehow mollify Cute W so that he could stop giving me a hard time. That was a foolish tactic. Instead, he suggested a formal apology via Facebook or the blog. So–ahem!

Oh my dearest husband W, I am so sorry for the pain that you had to endure when you sucked that lemon. And more than that, I am sincerely sorry for the mental pain and anguish that you suffered seeing me, your wife, apparently unconcerned and even making light of all of the physical and emotional pain. When you are married, you’re supposed to support each other. I am sorry that I did not call 911 that day. Sure, we probably would have had to shoo the medics away in the time it took them to respond and climb all the way up to our 4th floor walk-up, but then at least you would have had the proof that you need that I care for you. I am very pleased that you survived this dangerous incident, not least because you helped me produce two fabulous humans, but also because I love talking and laughing with you, when it is not about my history of offenses.

In fact, for the record, that time that I said that it would be really awesome to be a wealthy widow living in New York City it was entirely because I was so deeply miserable in graduate school. I was supremely jealous of the women I’d see auditing the history lectures, because they’d chat about heading out for lunch or to the Met next, and then ordering take-in for dinner, while we were too poor and overworked to do any of those things. This remark was in no way calculated as an actual wish for your death, and I am sorry that I didn’t think about the massive amount of psychological damage that this throwaway remark would do to you for a decade and counting.

Also, had I any idea how much teasing I would get for the next twenty years over those two drunken make-out sessions I had with a boy named Snake in college, I would absolutely have skipped the whole experience. There were certainly plenty of other boys with less ridiculous nicknames.

And, okay: you liked me first. I’ll concede the point. But I’ll love you longer!


Tom Chapin and Friends Ticket Giveaway!

I’m very excited to offer a giveaway for tickets to see one of my favorite music makers for little kids, Tom Chapin!

Bravo Tom Chapin56

I’ve actually seen Tom Chapin in concert, and he sings a really great show: lovely songs and boisterous ones, too, and plenty of opportunities for audience participation, singing and gesturing along with the music. I think my favorite Tom Chapin song is This Pretty Planet.He manages to entertain kids without being grating on parents’ nerves, and his show really feels like a beginner rock concert. Or it did when we went. Very fun!

Tom Chapin and Friends will be at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for one performance only, at 3 pm on Sunday, February 9, 2014. The giveaway is a Family 4-pack of tickets for the show. To enter, please comment (one time only) and tell us about at least one of your favorite songs to sing with the kids by this Friday 1/31 at noon. The song doesn’t have to be a Tom Chapin song; it doesn’t even have to be a kids’ song or exactly a kid-appropriate song. In fact, at our house we’ve been singing a lot of Kacey Musgraves’ Follow Your Arrow. But I digress. The point is, I’m going to choose a winner using, so you don’t have to offer up an impressive comment. But I know from long (and tragic, bitter) experience that giveaways are the rare posts when people are motivated enough to actually comment (posts in which I feel particularly sorry for myself and the one about an obscure song from my elementary school days are close runners-up). So if you’re actually commenting, might as well share something so that I can have a little imaginary you in mind for next time I’m writing something. If you don’t mind.

Good luck, everyone, and thanks to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for offering up the tickets.

Running Around, Then Slobbing Around

I spent today housebound. We got a phone call at 7 am reporting that J had barfed at a friend’s house. Cute W ran over to pick her up, then he brought M and her friend to a morning soccer game while J and I hung out: reading, snuggling, napping, and carrying a big bowl around the house. After the soccer game Cute W went out scouting for groceries and dinner, but the rest of us girls just stayed in. It seemed like J was perking up around dinner, but then she took a turn for the not-so-great. Then M got a late sleepover invite, and I relented on the general one-sleepover-per-weekend limit because our day had been unbelievably lame.

On the other hand, it was a lovely recovery after running around yesterday, which started with some volunteering and a meeting first thing in the morning. Then I ran home and got online to purchase Book of Mormon tickets. The website kept crashing and when I tried, no one was even answering the phones. I pouted for a couple of minutes but then, a $100 gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket and a massive yearning to see the show compelled me to just get down there. That’s the splendor of the flexible, work-from-home schedule, right?

Well, let me tell you, it was cray-cray.


I ended up spending about 3 hours on this particular errand. Luckily I had a good book and a chocolate bar in my backpack, so I was golden. I thought that we’d be in pretty good shape since the internet and phones weren’t working, but I barely managed to nab seats halfway back in the balcony on a weeknight. They’ve since sold out completely, so I’m still feeling pretty triumphant, really. Whoop, whoop!

The only real problem with the massive time-suck was that I ended up late to my blood donation appointment, which I’d planned carefully so I’d be home in time for J.  So I had to bust the proverbial move, be careful not to mention that lunch was a chocolate bar for fear that they’d disqualify me, and then squeezed my fist like a maniac. Bleeding quickly is one of my talents. I arrived just a moment or two after J.

Then there was schlepping J to her friend’s house so that she could spread pestilence and vomit on her living room carpet, throwing together dinner for M and her friend, and heading out to my Snobby Book Club, where I stayed out slightly too late for my own good. But it turned out to be a good move, since today was spent mostly on the sofa!

Hope you’re all doing well and that you don’t get this stomach bug!

Booster Shot

The other day I walked down into the basement playroom and saw this:


I knew right away who’d written it, because I have one daughter with boundless, verging-on-cocky confidence, and then there’s J.

J, who recently came home with three tests marked 100%, 100%, and 95% + 3 bonus points, and moaned that she’d known that spelling word, how could she be so stupid? These little shame-spirals of hers drive me crazy not only because it’s sad to see her so upset, but because they have no relationship with objective reality. It makes me angry with her, really. I’ve told her that she’s wrong. I’ve pointed out that perfection is overrated and that anyone who’s successful has met with plenty of failures first. I’ve said that it’s disrespectful to moan over an almost-perfect spelling test when there are kids who struggle much harder than her and do worse.

And she’s not always like this. She’s got M as a model, and in the right mood, she’s just as cocky and bold as her big sister (like when I said that they’re confident about my unconditional love). But while M has this uncanny, positively Orwellian ability to spin all reality into her preferred viewpoint, which is that she and her friends are awesome-sauce at all times and in all things, J walks a tightrope. She demands excellence, if not perfection, and falling short of her own standards requires punishment.

Actually, I just thought of a perfect demonstration of that. In two separate incidents, each of my children has broken something made of glass in a fit of temper. When M did it, she was shocked for a moment, then looked me straight in the eye and said, “I didn’t do that. You did.” When J did it, she started hitting herself in the head and sobbing, yelling, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m horrible, I’m horrible!”

Okay, I got sidetracked there, but it’s just funny that both creatures could be raised in the same household with the same gene pool and be so different. I’m sure plenty of you have experienced that.

J does well: she behaves in school, she gets good grades, and she works hard. So she is rightly confident much of the time. But I’d love to help her build a little more resilience when things don’t go her way. And I keep telling her that she needs to change the way she talks to herself in her own head, because I can’t make her a happy person: she’s in charge of that.

So when I see something like that awful chalkboard, my stomach drops and I’m fuming at the same time. I want to shake her. But instead I just did some editing. Because even if she’s got to learn to do this for herself, she’s only 9. Luckily, I’ve got plenty of time to teach her.



A Random Accumulation of Almost-Posts

Okay, I’ll acknowledge it. I haven’t been the most attentive blogger lately. It was much easier back when I’d hover near the girls at bedtime, because there wasn’t much that I could do except read or write, and it was at the end of the day, when often I’d have a story to tell. Anyway, I almost started to tidy the house, and then I realized that I still haven’t posted since Monday night. And I was stumped. So I looked through some of my almost-posts.

One day, I took this photograph of a drawing J created for me. If you’ve been experiencing Common Core elementary school math, you’ll recognize where she’s getting this odd format for a snack request. And yes, I know it’s a terrible picture: you can click on it to make it larger and more legible:



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I also started a rant in which I discussed my cookie snobbery, but when Cute W heard about it, he advised me against publication. But I’d started out by explaining that I am raising young sweets snobs, and I think that this is okay for a wide audience:

It started when we cut down our Christmas tree. We went to Bob’s this year. I really like them. As Cute W was tying the tree to the roof, M asked if we could please get some hot cocoa on the way out. Sure, we said. You only get your Christmas tree once a year, and the occasion clearly deserves cocoa. J agreed, as she always does. We got our cocoa, sat down, and the girls each had a little sip. And then they were pretty much like: never mind. Never mind?!? What the hell? I just spent good money on that! I took a sip of the cocoa, and I thought that it was pretty good, chocolatey and sweet. But I didn’t want to drink it. I knew that we’d be eating plenty of goodies later while decorating (like in the picture here, and the recipes from my Christmas Fun page), and I didn’t want to waste the calories. But they are children. They don’t care about calories. Then they said that they were used to our cocoa at home. Cocoa made on the stove top with warm milk and Ghiradelli baker’s chocolate and milk. I haven’t had much hot chocolate lately, but apparently I’ve spoiled them for instant cocoa forever.

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I also started to keep track of what the girls were saying on New Year’s Eve, like I did last year. But the show was lamer than expected, so overall commentary was down. All I managed to get down were these:

J: “Did you hear her [Jenny McCarthy] say that that guy needs a mint? That’s really rude!”


M: “Wait, is Robin Thicke always a creeper?”

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And at some point I read this astrological allegory in which they said this about Libras (my and J’s sign):  “To you Libra I give the mission of service, that man may be mindful of his duties to others. That he may learn cooperation as well as the ability to reflect the other side of his actions. I will put you everywhere there is discord, and for your efforts I will give you the gift of Love.” And this seemed so apt for J, because she is always playing the peacemaker/pushover role. She agrees with whatever we say and she gives in to M constantly, and she’s always settling for what everybody else wants, both here at home and when she’s playing with her friends at recess. Which makes me a little crazy. Anyway, none of the other descriptions seemed particularly apt for my family, but J clearly conforms to what the stars are telling her.

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Here’s some beer from The Bier Abbey. Yeah, I meant to talk about this a while ago. They have many tasty beers. That’s about it. Never mind.


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Okay! Well, I don’t know how this went for you, but for me, it was the equivalent of cleaning out a closet. I feel quite refreshed, so thank you very much.

Future Food Stylist

Lately, I’m not allowed in the kitchen from 2:30 to 3 pm. That’s because J has been making us fruit snacks. Sometimes they’re two courses, frequently they’re accompanied by fresh-squeezed juice, and they’re always presented with flair.

Honeydew melon in an orange peel with strawberry-sliver garnish (served with the orange juice):


Frozen mango chunk with sliced banana served with a kiwi puree:


Frozen raspberry-grape-peach salsa displayed on an icy mosaic plate:


It’s rather delightful. Of course, there are a few drawbacks. Sometimes there’s a bit of a mess. Often a fruit snack will require the use of several dishes and cups and a juicer and the sides of our box grater that are the most challenging to clean. Sometimes food is abandoned. . .



or the fruit is prepared in a way that doesn’t perhaps take advantage of all that it has to offer.


For the first day or two, I overlooked this, not wanting to rain on J’s fruit-snack joy parade. But on a particularly egregious day that included spills and a bag of frozen fruit abandoned to defrost on the kitchen table, J got some coaching. I told her that delightful snacks become less delightful when the mess involved takes more time to clean up than I spent enjoying her creation. Since then the clean-up process has vastly improved.

Occasionally, J’s creativity is. . . more creative than I’d like. Like the time she explained that the little black decorative flecks were “avocado zest.” But in general she makes some pretty good stuff, and M is game for the snacks, too. She likes to be fed and served, so it works out great. One day M was late and we had another sixth grade friend over, and I was grateful when she politely choked down a Dixie cup full of kiwi-orange juice.

And I think that she’s getting better, actually. Here’s today’s creation:

IMG_4165Served with this cup full of what turned out to be hand-whipped cream:


It was such a success that she insisted on making more for dessert tonight.