Thursday, May 29, 2008

Martha's mac

Like many crafty, nest-feathering women I know, I have a love-hate relationship with Martha Stewart. I kinda love the projects in her magazine. Even if I never do any of them, they look like things I would like to do if I had the time to rustle up some completely dried out tree stumps to turn into coffee tables, or the wherewithal to arrange a few hundred stems of delphinium and larkspur into a graduated color arrangement. No time for that sort of thing, but love to think I might someday.

Then--haaate!--capping off a snarky rant against a certain kind of cookout, this sentence: "And is there a sorrier state of affairs than the one summoned by the words margarita mix?" Here I have to confess that I'm a girl who squeezes her own citrus fruits whenever I make cocktails because it is SO yummy. But would I spurn a prefab cocktail if a cookout host handed me one with a smile? Hell, no! I drink and eat what's served to me, with gratitude and zero snarkiness! This particular article goes on to describe what is apparently the right kind of cookout, offering recipes for fresh peach margaritas, caviar dip, and lobster with drawn butter. I mean, please. Please! This is not a real standard! And this is why I continue to NOT subscribe to Martha's magazine (but do, occasionally, toss an issue into my grocery cart and hope that none of my friends spot me doing it).

Okay, more about what I love, though--a recipe for mac and cheese which hooked me when it mentioned breadcrumbs crisped up in pancetta fat as a topping. My mac and cheese is sadly lacking, so I gave it a whirl. One hour, half a pound of pancetta, one pound of pasta, and TWO POUNDS of FOUR DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHEESE later, I had before me the most sumptuous, kick-ass vat of mac and cheese EVER. I will never make this dish without a 2:1 cheese-to-pasta ratio again. A warning to those of you who eat at my house sometimes. Or perhaps it's a siren song.

I do love a cook who is unafraid to use plenty of the good stuff. All things in moderation, right? Including Martha.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Special (sleepy) day

I'm so lacking in sleep today that I feel hung over. Like my body isn't functioning properly and my blood is all whack somehow. Yes, I had a glass of wine last night, but it's definitely not that. Please, Sweet P! I'm going to start her on solids this weekend in the hopes that more calories will help. I'm in the magical thinking stage of trying to deal with sleep deprivation, obviously, thinking maybe sweet potatoes will help. Riiiiiiight.

Despite my bone weariness, I've promised Sister that I would pull her out of school after lunch today so I could take everyone to Pullen Park in Raleigh. Pullen Park has a huge playground along with an antique carousel, a kiddie train, and a little boat ride. Oh, and a snack bar with a huge array of ice cream and popsicles for cheap. I've been trying not to do quite so much driving lately, but I did want to do something special for Sister since she wrapped up her end-of-grade tests yesterday. Getting through two whole days of math tests is definitely worth celebrating around here! She feels confident that she passed, so I feel confident, too. I hear ya, Kat, on reconsidering homeschool once your boy has to face the EOG's. It's a lot of stress on a kid. Sister told me that one of her classmates threw up in the middle of the test yesterday and had to go home. Poor guy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Before and after in the garden

Before, originally uploaded by Secretsugar.

And after, originally uploaded by Secretsugar.

Unafraid of the big ass landscaping projects here!

Those sheets of newspaper in the after shot were expertly dampened by my own Bean so as to avoid them blowing away in today's breeze. She also expertly dampened my back, my pants, and her baby sister with that ice cold hose water, but I still can't think of a more perfect toddler gardening project!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

No rest for mama

One thing I never particularly wanted to do as a parent was the whole family bed co-sleeping thing. I like plenty of space to roll around, a pillow between my knees, and a particular sleep position that renders the boobies inaccessible to babies. Which is why I'm puzzled to all of a sudden find myself bringing a nearly 6-month old baby into bed with me every night around 3:00 or 4:00. I can't sleep worth a damn with her nursing, but she's incredibly cute and cuddly, lying there in her crib in the dark trying to charm me into playing with her. I think to myself, "Awwwww!" and, "Well, she's going to scream for the next hour if I just leave her there...."

Probably what I should do is stop this habit now before it goes on for too much longer. But that would involve a few nights of crying and I already get so little freakin' sleep as it is!

Where's my way out of this? And why do my kids not like to sleep as much as I do? Sleep is SO delicious, is it not?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Before and after

Posting about homeschooling the other day made me realize that there are a lot of ways that my ideas about what kind of parent I would be changed once I actually gave birth. It's hard to sort out whether the differences are due to age, the fact that I have to parent alongside another human being with different ideas, or just plain laziness. So homeschooling, which I sincerely considered doing when Sister was a wee girl, has been chucked out the window. We live in the top school district in the state and so far I have nothing to complain about, nor am I at all convinced that I would do a better job teaching her than the professionals have done. Other stuff I'm not so sure about.

I used to imagine that only organic, home-cooked foods would ever cross my children's lips. Poor Sister didn't have any sort of sweet treat until she was around 2 years old--except for the organic carrot cake on her first birthday, of course. Now? Husband started giving Bean candy after dinner when she was around 10 months old, I think. I voiced a feeble protest, but Bean totally knew that her big sister was sneaking off with something delicious after her meal and there's no telling that child no. Hey, at least I still make my own baby food!

I used to think tv was the antichrist. I could probably have counted the number of hours of tv Sister watched during her first 3 years on the fingers of my two hands. Maybe not even two hands. Now we still keep the tv off after school, but Bean is in the habit of watching tv when she wakes up so that Husband can get coffee and a juice sippy cup made up and do some work on the laptop. If I'm sleeping in that morning, I'm embarrassed to say how long she's allowed to watch. And then she also watches another couple of "Curious George" episodes when she wakes up from her afternoon nap, just because she's godawfully cranky and mean as a snake. Here's where the laziness comes in--I'd SO much rather have my toddler watching tv for a little while instead of throwing screaming fits on the floor after her nap. There's probably a better way of talking her out of this behavior, but I don't know what it is and am tired of trying.

I once thought I would keep my kids away from the evils of town life by raising them out in the country amongst the trees and plants and wild critters. We'd have a big ol' country farm house and we'd live off our huge organic vegetable garden. I'd show them how we could raise our own food with only infrequent trips to a grocery store. We'd can and preserve things, too, plus bake our own bread, raise our own chickens for eggs, and even slaughter the occasional fowl for soup if there got to be too many roosters running around. Now, we live in town but aren't close enough to walk anywhere. We drive to Whole Foods and Harris Teeter for groceries like all the other middle class suburbanites around us. Our little lettuce patch--hardly deserving the name of "garden"--is overgrown with weeds. Sigh.

And let's face it, I used to imagine that I'd be something along the lines of Maria on "The Sound of Music." I'd be the real mama and not the nanny, of course, but I'd be tra-la-la'ing my way through every child-rearing day, never yelling, always coming up with fun stuff to do that every kid would love and want to do for as long as I wanted them to. Now? Well, you know if you've read my blog lately that I'm maxed out a lot of the time. I go to bed feeling good about myself only if I've managed not to yell at Sister or Bean that afternoon, and forget about any sort of enriching, creative project I might've thought up in the middle of the night when I'm up with the baby again. It seldom happens. Another sigh. It all still sounds lovely but so far from how we're living. I mean, don't get me wrong! We have a great life and happy, healthy kids, but I sometimes wonder how we got here.

Nevertheless, I'm in this for the duration! I try every day to do better. I really do. And I just came across a piece of advice in a parenting book I'm reading while nursing Sweet P before bed lately. The advice is this: "Cultivate a spirit of optimism about your children."

Yeah. Whatever my parenting aesthetic has become, I'm still trying.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Talking smack about the new neighbors and hoping they don't find this blog!

From the snap judgments based on scanty evidence desk here at the cave, this just in. We have new neighbors across the street from us as of yesterday evening. The family consists of a very short papa, a very short and pinched looking mama, and the most luminously pallid 11-year old boy I have ever laid eyes on. They are about the honkiest family I've ever met. Have you ever seen Dave Chappelle's parodies of white people? I swear, they talk just like that!

And bless their hearts, they're home-schoolers, which explains the poor kid's extreme lack of color and muscle tone, plus the general air of smugness that wafts from the parents. We know a family just like them one street over, pallor, smugness, pinched wife, short daddy and all. We should probably take introductions in hand because God knows they'll probably never find each other, seeing as how the other neighbors at least never freaking leave their house. They could sit around and feel superior that their brilliant children are just too clever to attend the elementary school just around the corner.

This is bound to piss someone off out there, but hey! I warned you that it was superficial! I used to want to homeschool, but imagined my kids sun-burned, loud, robust, sassy, and self-confident as a result of their more free-form pursuits. Where's the excitement, neighbor honkies?

(Then why are you not homeschooling, bitch? you ask? Two words: too impatient. I know that about myself now.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lush life

Sunny bed, view 2, May 2008, originally uploaded by Secretsugar.

My plants are so lush this year despite the drought, I about can't stand myself! I didn't lose as much as I thought I might, given how fat and hot and unable to water plants I became last summer. Looooove my garden right now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lucky mama

Lucky mama, originally uploaded by Secretsugar.

Some days, the girls make it easy to be a good, patient mama. Yesterday was one of those days, so here's a photo of us all, at peace and happy, even with math homework, even on three hours of sleep!

Love those days. (Except for the no sleep part, that is.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Inside voice

Is there anything like "...and even if she gives a glare" in your 9-year old's Mother's Day poem to you to make you feel like a shitty mother? I can't think of it if there is.

Does anyone know if antidepressants help you yell less at your kids? I mean, I know sleep helps with that but in the absence of good sleep in the next year or so, can I take drugs for being a bitch? Non-yelling mamas, what are your secrets?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Gardening dork

Being a busy mama with kids at home plus some hobbies that I love, I've learned that at the first available opportunity--Bean out of the house with her papa and Sweet P asleep, say--I should run, not walk, to do whatever it is I'm dying to do alone. These instances are rare even with Husband home on weekends, but one such opportunity came up today. Bean and Sister gone, baby sleeping--go! I grabbed the weed bucket and a sharp little digging tool I don't know the name of, threw on some dirty pants and my gardening clogs and headed outside to my perennial beds.

What a delight! I do love to dig in the dirt and lately I find myself in the happy position of having very few spots left in my front yard to fit any more plants. It's so lush out there all of a sudden.

I managed to get an unheard of two blissful hours of gardening in before I was just too tired and hot to continue. But you know the one thing I forgot? Sunscreen. I have the world's stupidest sunburn to remind me of today's mama time. Painful, fat, dark red stripes across my lower back, the back of my neck, and on my upper arms, ending abruptly at my sleeve line.

I'm such a dork.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Growing Bean

For some months now, Bean's going-to-sleep routine has gone like this. She crawls into bed by herself. She asks for a tissue and gives her nose a perfunctory wipe. She asks for water and takes a token sip. She asks for a hug and kiss and we give them to her. She lies down and while we're fixing her blankets, she asks for a backrub. We give her a 5-10 second backrub and then she asks, "Can I tell you something?" We reply with an interested yes and she tells us this story:

There was a old guy named Spiderdam. He walks all over the place. And germs on people. And nu-fitin' an' bitin' an' fitin' an' bitin' and FITIN.'

End of story. And who the heck knows where it came from, but she says it every single day before nap and every night before bed.

Until today, that is. When I took her upstairs for nap a little while ago, she crawled in bed and very pointedly looked at me. "Do you want a tissue?" I prompted. She shook her head. "Do you want some water?" I offered. She shook her head again. I listed all the rest of her usual bedtime routine components, but she wanted none of them. "Do you want anything?" I asked her. Nope, she didn't need a thing.

I hate to see the little girl stuff disappear like that. And this time it was so sudden!

Monday, May 05, 2008


"Mama, can we use this bowl for our caterpillars?"

"Mom, can I make everyone some lemonade?"

"Mom, there's a giant slug! Want me to get rid of it?"

"Mama, can we pick some flowers for Dad now?"

"Mom, can I use the water from the rain barrel for my bug town?"

"Mom, can I go for a scooter ride by myself?"

"Mom, will you read me some books on the porch?"

Sometimes saying yes is easy. And really, really sweet.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Perfect Saturday

Today had been my perfect Saturday so far. I got to sleep in til the baby woke me at 8:00. Breakfast was leisurely, without argument from Sister and Bean. We all went together--all five of us! So rare!--to a big neighborhood yard sale and got a few odds and ends. (A big piece of some sort of linen blend, a piece of saffron colored gauzy cotton, and a set of gigantic, 18" long painted wooden pick-up sticks were my haul.)

Then on to the farmers' market that has sprung up near us. It was an especially nice one, I must say. Produce is still a bit sparse this time of year here unless you want to eat lots of greens, but I got a small wheel of fresh farmer's cheese and perhaps the most delicious pastry item I have ever put in my mouth. It was a small, free-form tart with a fava bean and preserved lemon filling. It was fantastic, and I scarfed the whole thing out of the paper towel it was served to me in before I even got back to the car. Locals, if you have the chance, try Phoebe Lawless' pies. Like, as soon as possible.

Mmmmm...where was I now? Oh yeah. Sister and Sweet P and I met a friend at MomArt, a local arts festival held every year just in time for Mother's Day. I picked up several things before we headed to Guglhupf, my favorite coffee shop, for a little snack-y. (It was a yummy slice of berry-laden fruit tart, but nowhere near as transcendent as my farmer's market pielet. Can't stop thinking about it....)

Two pastries, time with my family, time with a friend, hand-made stuff, yard sale shopping--as I said, just perfect! And I kinda needed a day like this.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New mama groove

I posted about this book a couple weeks ago, and have since bought my copy, read it once, and have started re-reading it a second time.

It's that wonderful. If you're the parent of young children, I recommend going out at once and picking up your own copy.

I have to say, though, that I was torn between feeling a tremendous amount of guilt that Soulemama is obviously a far more patient, talented, and family-centered mama than I am, and a tremendous amount of inspiration that I could be more like her. I could! She says all you have to do is get plenty of sleep and take care of your own creative needs, too.

Stop snickering, please.

Yeah, I know the getting enough sleep part is going to be hard with a nursing 5-month old and a toddler who both like their "sleep" sprinkled with visits from mama and papa, thanks. And finding the time to do my own creative projects on a daily basis so that my needs are met will run a close second in difficulty, though of the finding-the-time-for variety. But I'm inspired to try. Like, really try.

In the meantime, we've got some good art supplies for the big girls to use when they want. I've started asking Sister what special thing she might want to get done after school. (It was planning a "magic bead" necklace today.) And I've cut out t.v. in the evenings so I can work on my creative to-do list instead.

Next up, a banging wall on the backyard fence!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Free range kids

Has anyone else heard of Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids and the media furor over her letting her 9-year old ride a Manhattan subway alone? I heard this story on NPR a couple of weeks ago and was just thinking about it again as I contemplate summer.

For me, I grew up riding my bike along with my little brother the several busy blocks to school in Miami from age 8 til we moved to NC a few years later. We were home alone together after school and were allowed to roam the neighborhood with our similarly unfettered friends til my mom got home from work. I went up to the 7-11 by myself to buy candy. I went alone to friends' houses and didn't have to call when I got there. My mom told us not to talk to strangers and gave us certain cross streets as boundaries, but that was the extent of her keeping tabs on us while we were out. Oh, and I knew how to cook several dinners for us all by the time I was 9. Unsupervised. In the oven, even.

I've realized recently that I'd like Sister--and eventually my little girls--to really enjoy this sort of freedom as a matter of course. Sister's been walking to school by herself for two years now and enjoys a solo scooter ride about the neighborhood and solo walks to a friend's. I've told her I thought she was old enough now to go hang out in the woods if she wants and she was psyched (though she has yet to take me up on this).

What about you and your kids? Are they "free range" Were you?