Thursday, May 31, 2012

Knowing what I want

Fairy Princess, Halloween 2010. Alyce has always known what she wants.
Last week I mentioned that I was ready to take Helen Jane's advice to figure out what I actually want (because you won't get what you want unless you know what you want). She tells us that lists help, and so lists we will have.

What I like
spending time with the people I love
birth, new families
reading about baking and cooking
making people laugh

What I don't like
the unknown
processed food (except Doritos sometimes, wine gums, and alright I probably do like processed food, but I don't want to)
low expectations
traveling without my family (except maybe once or twice a year, especially if I'm joined by husband or good friends on our way to weekend of good wine and good food)

What I want
to be there when babies come into the world
to work with women
to be with my children
to laugh a lot
to stop feeling guilty
more energy
time with my husband
some stability
to make my own corn tortillas (and other feats of the kitchen)
to learn from my mistakes
to develop a savings account
to live in a big city
to show my girls the world

What I don't want
to work in a job I don't enjoy just to pay for daycare
to prioritize making money over savoring the good things in my life
to be out of work again
to feel isolated
things I don't need
to worry so much

Having written these down, are there patterns? Is it glaringly obvious or will this take more work?

I admit that I've been pretty rotten with the analyzing stage of list-making. I've mentioned before that I'm terrible at following through on the lists that I've made. From daily to-do lists to bigger "this year I need to" lists, I write them and then look the other way. On the one hand there is something valuable in list-making that doesn't require follow through. Because I'm a visual learner the very act of writing a list stores those points away in my head for later (I almost always forget my grocery list, but if I close my eyes I can visualize the things I listed under each category. I still forget things, though, so clearly this isn't a great system.) But there is more to me avoiding my lists than just plain forgetfulness.

It's hard work.

Isn't it, though? Writing down the things you want or the things you need is work enough, because you need to listen to yourself, really listen, if you want results. Those things in life that you think you need can be awfully noisy in your head sometimes, so you have to listen hard just to get that list down in the first place. But then turning that list into action? I usually prefer to move on to something else, like making dinner or collapsing on the couch after dinner, tucked in next to my husband, watching Sons of Anarchy (we're on season three now). These alternatives are perfectly fine, enjoyable even, but they're not getting me closer to getting what I want.

I know what I want. I just wrote it down for all of you to see. Now I need to make these things happen, it's as simple as that. But there isn't a straight line from here to there (I think I might already be learning from my mistakes), so the question now is, what are the first steps? That's my homework for this weekend. I'll report back on Monday.

Have you written lists like these ones before? Will you share them with me? There's strength in numbers, you know. And I'd love to see them.

P.S. Have you heard of Health Month? It's a game, of sorts, that helps you get it together with some important health goals. You choose your own goals (anything and everything) and you score points for your ability to get them done. I chose three goals, including "Track my dreams at least three days a week," something I know will contribute to my mental health in a massive way, a strategy for avoiding the out of control feelings I get when I lose touch with the things I want in my life. (My other goals are 30 minutes of exercise three times a week and getting to sleep before 10:00 pm six nights a week.) My first month starts tomorrow!

Anyone want to join me?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A sensitive soul

I watch Alyce draw pictures all day long. She's one of those kids (I imagine there are others) who spends most of her time creating. No matter the material, no matter the canvas, no matter if it is Mama's rather expensive Moleskin day planner in red that she splurges on once a year, Alyce will draw and colour and paint her way through any mood. If Alyce is having a particularly trying day we can usually reset ourselves with a good colouring session.

You know how some people will tell you that you marry your father? Well, you know, not actually your father (though Alyce often loudly complains that she wanted to be the one to marry Papa), but someone who shares in the same qualities, suggesting, maybe, that we're not good with change. We marry, we are told, someone who repeats those moods and emotions that we've come to know and rely on, even sometimes the ones we'd rather have left behind. It turns out, I'm realizing, that we also give birth to ourselves. That is, when I'm laughing or arguing or dancing with Alyce, I'm staring at a miniature version of myself.

I don't mean that she looks like me, though I think she does. In her first years she had Matt's features and colouring, but all that is changing now. Her eyes are changing from blue to hazel and she's growing freckles at the tops of her cheeks (I have her convinced that she's been stealing my freckles in our sleep, pulling them off my skin and relocating them on hers). What I'm talking about is watching Alyce feel things the way I did, the way I still do. Alyce is sensitive with a capital everything, intensely aware of how everyone else in a room is feeling. If she senses that I'm upset with something she'll ask me over and over again about my own mood. Why are you making that face, Mama? Why aren't you talking, Mama? Why are you saying it like that, Mama? To this day I experience the world this way (ask Matt how delightful it can be sometimes). Being so hyperaware of other people's moods makes me empathetic, a good mediator, and generally a nice person to be around. But this sensitivity also lends itself to insecurity (because I'm so concerned with how other people are feeling things, including how they are feeling me) and obsession with making people happy.

I wonder how this will develop for Alyce.  No matter what we share, fortunately for Alyce, she also shares Matt's secrets, too. Will she hold on to her sensitivity and take on the stress of the world around her? Will she use her feelings to forge the closest of friendships like I did? And most relevant to our parent-child relationship, will we continue to use this hypersensitivity to add drama to all of our interactions? You see, two sensitive souls can enjoy so much together, throwing ourselves into the most wonderful of feelings, but we can also fight hard. I forget sometimes that my Alyce is only four, and so when she does things to hurt my feelings (the way all four year olds do from time to time), I feel it deeply. And then she feels it deeply. And then, well, you can imagine where this goes.

What do you share with your children? Does it change the way you parent? I think it might be changing the way I do things, or, at least, the way I'm understanding what's going on between me and my children.

P.S. That's a portrait of me at the top. I like how she captured my eyelashes. If only they were so long.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An interview with Matthew: Part Two

I'm back with the second half of my interview with Matthew, who you might also know as my husband. You can find the first half here.

With Alyce, March 2008

5. What's been the toughest adjustment since becoming a parent?

We’ve talked about Bryan Kaplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. One of the core claims is that there isn’t a lot you can do to change your children--unless you’re a bad parent, because the delta between being an average parent and a bad parent is much wider than between a good and average parent--so, you know, relax a bit. This ran counter to my intuitions, and I am imagine those of most this blog’s readers (who, by the way, are all incredibly good-looking and under-appreciated both at home and work).

I think there is a lot of overstretch in Kaplan’s argument, but I have taken from him and philosophers such as David Hume, Adam Smith (here more as a moral philosopher than an economist), and Isaiah Berlin that we are not merely soft wax shaped by our environment, including parental decisions. Again, I am not talking about extreme right- or left-tail parenting decisions, but about what is experienced in most childhoods. There is a human nature generally--driven by persistent, deep motivations such as love, joy, anger, revenge, recognition, fear, need, empathy, trust, and awe--that is trans-geographical and trans-historical, and there is a particular nature to each person that is quite impervious to change, except at the margin. Alyce and Shira are who they are, and it’s our job to curb excesses, encourage wisely, hug closely, try to set up the right incentives, promote good habits, and trust that we haven’t misshapen them.

Alyce, March 2008

I guess what I am trying to say is that I’ve found parenting to be much, much easier than I imagined. This is said with the big caveat that they are healthy and happy. I don’t know what my answer would be if the opposite were true. So, I don’t worry about their development much. For one, they have hit all of the development benchmarks, and I believe that most children develop on their own curve. The time commitment has never troubled me. I’ve never developed a rich social life, so that has not been a major sacrifice. We have DVR, and I refuse to watch anything live, including sports. And I watch a lot of baseball and basketball. Other than wishing Shira slept reliably until 6am, I have no complaints about the fatigue that often accompanies parenthood. Of course, I was lucky that you breastfed the girls, and let me sleep while you were up with them. I’ll never be able to pay off that debt. (Editor's note: You're welcome.)

For me, it is the finances that are hard. While the costs of young children are not exorbitant, there is usually an opportunity cost. Bringing another member into the household raises the amount of income we need to bring in, but we made the decision early on that Danielle would stay at home, teach part-time, and I would work outside of the home. We’ve struggled without 2 full-time incomes, and are just now working through the best way to manage our finances. So, we are not just making short-term financial decisions for ourselves, but for a family of four. (And we want more. When we tell friends that our ideal is five children, the response is never, “that’s a great idea! We’re going to do that too!” Our friends are far, far more rational than we are). I wish I had prepared more, thought more about the long-term consequences of our decisions and their financial impact.

May 2011

6. If you could only teach Alyce and Shira one thing about the world, what would it be?

Never go with a hippie to a second location.
The Italians have a saying, Lemon. 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' And although they've never won a war or mass-produced a decent car, in this area they are correct.        
                                                                                 --Jack Donaghy

The foregoing are probably the best pieces of advice that one person could give another, but probably not all that helpful in terms of parent-child relationships.

If I could encourage our girls to take any counsel it would be this: 1) Be serious as children, and light as adults. I enjoyed my childhood, but wish that I would have been more serious, as I feel I am trying to undo mistakes because of bad habits and poor choices I made all the way through undergraduate years. I want them to get a better head start than I did. 2) Don’t be cynical. Be an eyes-open optimist. Piggybacking on this is a clip of Louis CK on Conan:

Can I ask: did Conan O’Brien die or something? I can’t find him anywhere. Wait a moment...oh, here we go. He’s on TBS, on after a showing of Road House. I understand now.

3) Learn to deal with what you can never have, and life will be a joy and not a burden. (This insight I’ve adapted from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution) 4) From an interview Cowen did with Gretchen Rubin:

Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?

Tyler: Grudges and blaming other people are very harmful, in my view. Their actions really are determined by forces outside their control and it is time to accept that. Don’t blame them for what is wrong in your life.

7. What ridiculously overpriced splurge do you wish you could spend on your kids?

This paragraph is frightfully pedantic and should be skipped by everyone: In a vacuum (that is, if we are not dealing with market constraint/regulation, whether governmental or monopolistic, imperfect knowledge or other information asymmetries), I guess, nothing can be underpriced or overpriced. Price is value, the cost someone is willing to pay for something. Is a Picasso worth millions? I don’t think so, but some people do and are willing to pay that cost. So price captures value and information. The person buying a Picasso is not buying a painting, but a representation of themselves, a signaling effect to others about who they are, and so forth.

(Editor's note: Eye roll.)

So, if I can, let me restate the question: What would I give the girls that we probably cannot afford? A day school education (Editor's note: day school refers to Jewish private school, for those unfamiliar with the term). For those who know our history, it is not an opportunity that we had or, in fact, could have had. The knowledge curve for our Judaism has been steep, but it can be narrowed significantly by day school. We visited one recently, and we both loved it, and you even more than me! Both through experience and our professions--my post-doctoral work has been in the Jewish world, especially on the academic side--we have gained a great deal of knowledge. But it is more book knowledge than habitual/experiential. Haym Soloveitchik has a famous article--well, famous in some places--called “Rupture and Reconstruction” where he talks about the post-Holocaust Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, and how learning about ritual practice is not passed through parents and family--that is, tradition--but through book knowledge. The yeshiva has replaced the home. And, for us, though we are not part of that world, it rings true. We have no pre-rational sounds, smells, textures, emotions, and intuitions to pass down in terms of our lived Judaism. So we need the day school to help supplement. Alyce and Shira--and may we be blessed by more--don’t have family beyond their parents to turn to, and consequently we need the help and support of the community. I don’t know how we can give this to them, but I know that we are exhausting every avenue to try to do so.

Thanks for the chance to prattle on! Can we have pizza with crème fraiche and soft mozzarella tonight? (Editor's note: If you're making it!)


Thanks, Matty, for answering my questions! And for all the parenting, foot rubbing, and reaching from the high shelves that you do.

One final note: I love reading Matt's answers to these questions. I live with the guy all the time, sleep next to him at night, see his handsome face each and every day, but I learned so much about him through this interview. His response about finances being one of the hardest adjustments reminds me just how much pressure he must feel as the primary earner in our family. I could use a reminder about that, because I think I forget sometimes. I also hope that Alyce and Shira inherit his optimism, a quality that never gets old. Finally, and don't tell him this, but even though I have actually heard all of these jokes before, I still laughed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

An Interview with Matthew: Part One

It's time for another interview today! So far we've heard from my good friends, Dani and Nicola. Today I've called in some favours and asked my husband, Matt, to answer some questions. On account of his going on and on expertise I have divided this interview into two parts. I'll post the second part tomorrow.

So let me introduce you to Matt. Some days I look up and see that I'm married to Matt and we have these two girls, and I marvel at how I am, truly, the most fortunate person on the planet. Alyce and Shira, while they have a lifetime of being slightly irritated by jokes ahead of them, will spend most of their days giggling because of Matt. He brings a lightness into our family upon which we rely greatly. And, he gives me foot rubs every single night.

Matt and Alyce, April 2010
1. Tell us a little about yourself and introduce those glorious little girls of yours. Also feel free to tell us a little about your remarkable wife, too.

Yes my daughter is Canadian-American, but I'm going to treat her just like a human baby.
                                                                   -- Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock
(Puts down Fifty Shades of Grey) Oh, hi. I didn't hear you come in. I was just reading this book about how to put up drywall and other manly tasks. Sure, I'd be happy to provide some free blog content.

I have the best little girls, Heaven and Nevaeh (edit later: DO NOT mention secret Arkansas family), Alyce and Shira.

I imagine regular readers of MDIW know Alyce and Shira. They are often the central characters in the narrative of Danielle’s life. I am slightly more peripheral, but I can get things down from the high shelf, supply foot rubs, and do our taxes. So I have some utility.

The girls’ lives--and births, breastfeedings, and birthdays--have been well chronicled here, so I just want to write some brief vignettes about them.

The densest element in the periodic table is osmium. That’s what I think of when I pick up Shira. This has nothing to do with size, weight, or shape, but the child has a low center of gravity, feels heavier than her actual weight. In any case, I don’t think it’s true that girls or women are EVER concerned with images of weight or body shape. There’s probably no books about it anyway.

Shira is finding her voice. Words tumble out of her now. My favorite is when she says “Shira” – she tilts her head slightly forward, lowers her forehead further, raises her eyes, taps her left foot, twists her hips about 25 degrees, positions one hand on each hip, and leans into “Shira,” said with a degree of confidence I can only hope to muster.

Alyce - she’s a wisp, capable of tumbling down the street from a mild breeze. She seems so big to me now, but when she is lined up alongside her classmates, she’s tiny. Some of her more maternal peers lift her at the waist, carrying her around like a bag of salt. She doesn’t seem to mind.

At Shira's birth, May 2010

Alyce has been been my synagogue mate from the beginning. In two different countries. In shuls running the spectrum from Reform to Orthodox. From rabbis playing guitar (no rabbi should EVER play guitar) to full mechitzahs. And she loves it. At our shul in Delaware she was the mascot, bringing the mean age of the wonderful, though geriatric, congregation down by at least a decade. Until Shira was conceived, Alyce was a mama’s girl. She loved me, and we were close, but she was naturally at her mother’s breast. But because breastfeeding can cause pains that mirror birth pains (I can’t believe I now have this river of knowledge about breastfeeding!), Danielle stopped nursing Alyce when she was eight weeks pregnant with Shira. At least Alyce was down to nursing just in the morning and before bed. Alyce transitioned very well. (Shira, who is still a nursling, will not.)  So Alyce and I started spending all Saturday together, to relieve a tired Danielle. We’d go to shul, the park, wherever. These are some of my favorite memories.

So, Danielle, your question asked me to say something about my “remarkable wife.” I will.

I want to tell the story of how Danielle and I got together.

I first met Danielle in Toronto. I moved up to Canada (a.k.a. America's Hat) in 2003 with my band, Ted Dancin'. (By the way, there is actually a DJ in Toronto who goes by Ted Dancin'. He has a Myspace page. What year is this again?) But, you know how it goes: Jimmy quit, Jody got married, shoulda known, we'd never get far (does this qualify as Canadian content under Cancon rules?).

We met my second day in Toronto, at U of T as new doctoral students in Religion. And I fell in love immediately and helplessly. She was (and is) beautiful, had a kind face, and did not say “ewwww” when she saw me. Our cohort had a class together, and we ran into each other periodically on campus. I treasured those moments when I could steal her attention. I don’t think she knew that I was head over heels in love, although I believe our mutual friend Tanya saw it. I assumed no mutual interest, and knew that she had just left a long-term relationship. I had no intention of declaring my feelings, because it seemed impossible that there would be reciprocation. After 18 months, though, we started one summer corresponding regularly. I still have the emails we exchanged during our courtship. Danielle was teaching at another university, and I was living in Toronto.

When Danielle returned from teaching, she invited me to Riverdale Farm. I thought it was just a friendly thing. (Editor's note: Oh, for crying out loud, it was so obviously a date!) We had a great time, and then our correspondence turned more serious. It was the first time--this is June 2005, for those scoring at home--that I imagined that there might be something there.

And then Oliver died. Danielle’s cat, which had had since she was 13, had been through everything with her. Our early relationship is bound up with the loss of another significant relationship.

Then we went out to dinner. I still did not know if it was a date. (Editor's note: Really? How is that possible?!) I had decided, though, that I needed to man up, muster the courage to finally let Danielle know how I felt. And I did. And she did. Now we have two little girls, two little cats, one ENORMOUS cat, and what already seems like a wonderful lifetime of memories.

By the way, I never call Danielle, Danielle. Pretty much from the time we started dating, I called her Navah, which is Hebrew for mountain goat “beautiful” or “shining.”

And you asked how I would describe myself: “Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks.  His eyes were like steel, cold, hard. Had a shock of hair, red like the fires of Hell.”

2. What is your super power? (You know you have one.) For example, I can solve most of Alyce and Shira's problems by dancing.

I just make stuff up all day. When Alyce was around Shira’s age, we went to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Museums, like theaters, are pretty much just an expensive nap. But when we visited the one in Philly, I took the opportunity to tell Alyce that her papa had painted, sculpted, and designed most of the items in the exhibitions. She was tres impressed. Plus it gave me an inflated feeling of self, and has that ever turned out wrong?

Seriously, though, making stuff up helps distract the girls when their moods turn foul. Just say something ridiculous, and they will be tied up in giggles and belly laughs, their concerns over who gets to hold Tasha from The Backgardians forgotten. 

With Alyce, June 2011
3. What's the hardest part of your parenting day, and do what do you do to work around it, or help make it hurt your head less?

Let me start with everyone’s favorite invocation - it depends.  Am I working or staying home? Are we staying at your mother’s or at our home? Is it a school day? Am I getting up with Shira? (The only people awake when Shira gets up are vampires and those on 24-hour missile watch at NORAD). The answers to those questions affect, to greater or lesser degrees, my parenting.

In general, though, I find early mornings most difficult. When my feet hit the floor, I am ready to go, to get started and get moving. I am frightfully impatient. I prefer deferring leisure to the evening. My temperament grinds against the natural disposition of everyone else in the house. I wish I could enjoy the mornings more, but when there is something to do or if I am bored, I can be, um, less than fun. I can’t say I thought through a lot of strategies about how to deal with this.
In the summer, it’s been easier, because I can just loose them into the backyard. I don’t want to simply park them in front of My Little Pony (though the new version is a great improvement on the one we grew up with…not that I would have any experience for comparison), Backyardians (solid), Harry and His Bucketful of Dinosaurs (terrific), Toopy and Binoo (oddly endearing in its manic energy), or Caillou  (I can’t speak about this show rationally, so let’s just move on).

But lately, I’ve been leaving for work at 5:23AM (5:19 if the car needs fuel), and getting home around 6:30PM, and at that time it’s about hustling the girls off to bed, especially Shira. So, I haven’t had many parenting challenges recently because I haven’t doing as much parenting. I like my job, but the travel is brutal in terms of time, and I know my wife is struggling with our taller child at times. I feel guilty--because I am guilty?--for not being there. I miss my awesome family! Hence our planned move to Toronto. I miss the girls terribly during the day. My desk is cluttered with Alyce’s paintings, but at least my wife provides a photographic journal of their day through text messaging.

With Shira, March 2011

4. Who do you look to for support as a parent?

Can you indulge a few quotes from some of my favorite fathers?

Homer Simpson:
You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.
The code of the schoolyard, Marge! The rules that teach a boy to be a man. Let’s see. Don’t tattle. Always make fun of those different from you. Never say anything, unless you’re sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do. What else…
Kids are great, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate and they practically raise themselves now-a-days, you know, with the internet and all.
Marge, there’s an empty spot I’ve always had inside me. I tried to fill it with family, religion, community service, but those were dead ends! I think this chair is the answer.
Marge, don’t discourage the boy! Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel.
Well, I won't lie.  Fatherhood isn't easy, like motherhood, but I wouldn't trade it for anything ... 'cept for some mag wheels.  Oh, man, that would be sweet.
Tracy Jordan (30 Rock) to his son:
I’m going to love you no matter what even if you become a doctor or a lawyer or a philanthropist who devotes his life to others. I’ll still be proud of you.
Jack Donaghy (30 Rock):
Jack: Actually, Devin, I do. I have a baby daughter, Liddy.
Devin: And yet you still managed to be here all night, trying to figure out how to bring me down. Damn, Jack. You are strong. You're like Dora's friend, Benny the Bull.
Jack:...Benny the Bull. Thank you.
Danny Zuker. is there anyone who doesn’t follow him on Twitter? He writes for Modern Family. From his account (@DannyZuker):
14 years ago my wife gave birth to twin girls who brought meaning to my life, especially the thin pretty one. #HappyBdayHogFace
You can learn a lot about your kids by simply turning off the TV and talking. For example I discovered that mine are really boring.
I would never EVER hit my own child but after volunteering at his school I think it would be fine if some of you hit yours.
It's payback time, bitches!" - What I think every morning now that I wake my kids up.
And nothing to do with parenting, but:
People in movies talking about what they love about movies always makes me love movies a little less.

Seriously, though, (Editor's note: It's about time) my support for parenting--in terms of advice, strategies, and sharing duties--comes exclusively from my wife. She’s the center (centre, in case Canadian censors are monitoring this blog) of our family, which I imagine is both a challenge and an honor. I trust her judgments intuitively, and I look for her cues in parenting. (Editor's note: ok, well that was a really nice thing to say. All is forgiven, regarding that last list of 3,486 quotations).

Thank you, Matty, for sharing your thoughts on parenting and absolutely everything else. The best part about these jokes is that I've heard them all at home already! I love him anyway. Stay tuned for part two of my interview with Matt tomorrow. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

You get what you get and you don't get upset. On second thought, scrap that.

It's Friday, let's do this. I haven't posted for a few days and I just spent the last twenty minutes crafting a depressing post about something or other, but I scrapped it in favour of not being a downer at the start of what could be a wonderful weekend! Who wants to read a sad post about how lonely it is to grocery shop at ten o'clock at night? Not me. I'm depressed just thinking about that post.

Instead I thought I'd share some photos from our day at the Royal Ontario Museum this week. Alyce had an appointment in Toronto Tuesday afternoon, so we all headed to the city with Matt in the morning (since we only have the one car) and me and the girls needed something fun to keep us busy. A museum! I miss the Philadelphia Please Touch Children's Museum so much (so much), and I've been grieving its absence for a year now. The ROM, while no Please Touch, was everything Alyce and Shira needed. Its hands-on, discovery exhibitions kept the three of us busy for hours. We dressed up as queens (Alyce), knights (Shira), dragons (me and Alyce), butterflies (Alyce and Shira). We dug up dinosaur bones. We watched bees make honey and fish swim. It was a good day.

The depressing post-that-almost-was has gotten me to thinking about what I want this blog to be. I've been writing and posting for a year and half now, using this blog as venue for conservations about parenting, breastfeeding, eating, baking, being married, leaving graduate school, and starting over. I've urgently pointed you in the direction of so many of my favourite recipes that I've had friends suggest that I might need a food-related intervention. (By the way, no intervention needed. What I could really use is this cookbook. And maybe this one, too.)

Everything lately feels so out place. And I mean everything. When I wrote about having lost my sparkle I think I was on to something. It's a serious claim, to have lost one's sparkle, but I've given it a lot of thought, and yes, I'm a bit dull. Subdued, maybe. Holding myself back. Spending the day in the city with my girls, however, made me feel a bit shiny. Since we'll be moving to Toronto in five weeks I'm going to go ahead and say right now that I'm completely over-the-moon-excited to start fresh in the city. This move will mean a lot of things: that we have are both employed, we will have our own space, and that we'll all be starting something new. The move feels like one enormous opportunity to sparkle again.

But. I think we're often too quick to look beyond the opportunity that is already sitting right in front of us, right here in the actual present instead of five weeks into the future. So I will not wait five weeks to brighten up. I will start now. A very wise woman suggested the other day that you won't get what you want unless you know what you want. This piece of advice makes me think of Alyce, who repeats on a daily basis something she learned at school this year: You get what you get and don't get upset. At first I loved this lesson of hers, something to help her to manage her four-year-old disappointed feelings when such tragedies occur as not getting the pink plate at breakfast, or having to eat a cookie without chocolate chips. But no, no, no. This is truly terrible advice. I will get upset, thank you very much, and I'll channel my own disappointment into something good for this year. For many, many years.

When I read Helen Jane's advice I was both relieved to realize that yes, of course, I need to figure out what I want if I want that sparkle back, and exhausted by the knowledge that this is going to take some work to figure out. Thank goodness I like lists so much already. Next week is devoted to making lists in attempt to bring some of that good focus to my life. Less complaining, more sparkle. Vibrant, even. Lucky for you (maybe) this blog is just the place to figure this all out, a good place to find some of that focus I've been craving. That, and also what I'm going to cook this week. No matter how I envision my blog and my writing, I just can't leave out food. It is simply too important a detail to ignore.

Our day at the museum did more for my motivation than anything has in ages. I can't tell you why or how, but I can tell you that it felt good. I can also tell you that it felt good enough that we're getting a family membership.

P.S. Stay tuned for another interview this coming Monday! I'll give you hint: he's devastatingly handsome, has two daughters, and he's my husband. Tune in Monday to see if you've guessed right!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A good game

It was a good game and a good birthday. Most of all, it was an excellent date with my husband.

It's the end of the Victoria Day holiday here, and as soon as I run down the street and threaten all those hooligans with their lives for setting off fireworks in the vicinity of my sleeping babies, I'm heading to bed. What better to celebrate a queen than with some lovely quiet. She'd like the quiet, we all know that.

Happy Victoria Day, everyone! May it be filled with the quiet sounds of babies sleeping everywhere.

P.S. Do you know Karen Walrond? She had this to say about all the complaining going around on the internet, and I think you should read. I'm with her: I'm also calling bullshit (did I just swear again?) on the need to critique and complain about Every. Single. Thing. I have done my fair share of complaining and will continue, I'm sure, to share my complaints some days. But most days I'm here to laugh and maybe, just maybe, write down enough details so that one day when I'm old I can remember just how much fun all this is. Let's do this together.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Two things

1. One year ago today we moved back to Canada, the whole gang of us. It was a difficult move. It has been a difficult year. But. We've survived the past 365 days and even had some fun in the process. Since we moved last year Alyce turned four and started school, Shira turned two and started talking, and I have reconnected with CBC Radio (but I still miss you, NPR). I've talked enough about last year, though. Time to move forward.

2. Today is Matt's birthday. He is now 54 years old. Last year, because things were kind of nuts (see 1. above), I sort of forgot his birthday. Not completely forgot, but enough so that his day didn't feel special. To say that I like birthdays in an understatement comparable to saying that I sort of like baking, so I needed to fix matters this time around. Matt's crappy birthday last year (because that's what it was) will not be repeated this year. Now that he is 65 years old it's time to bring back the celebrations. Yesterday we had a family party with Alyce, Shira, and my mum, with a dinner that included steak, asparagus, and a very full glass of red wine. We shared chocolate pudding cake and ice cream for dessert and me and the girls showered Matt with homemade cards. Today, for his actual birthday, Matt and I are leaving the girls with mum and heading to Toronto, where we will have brunch with friends before heading to the Mets-Blue Jays game this afternoon. Matt cheers for the Mets, I'll support the home team, as is my duty as a Canadian.

This is a better birthday. And a better year.

HAPPY 68th Birthday, Matty!*

*His real age is closer to 36, but whose counting?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Getting my shit together

I hope my mum doesn't read this post because she hates it when I swear. If only she knew that my first instinct in most situations to swear. I find it to be very effective. Mum, on the other hand, wisely taught me that we can always find a better word, a word less caustic and more becoming of her daughter. Unfortunately, once I left home and joined the big world of college roommates who shopped at the Gap (I had only ever heard of it in movies, but I've since made up for lost time), drank lemon drop martinis, and swore like sailors, I threw her advice to the side. I blame them, yes, but they gave me so many wonderful things, too, that I just can't hold it against them.

So today I'm not talking about organizing my day or my responsibilities as a parent who works at home. No. I'm talking about getting my shit together. My lack of energy over the past year has given way to some terrible habits. I feel like there are pieces of me all over the place. My shit is a mess.
Sorry, mum, but there just isn't any other way of saying it. Please forgive me.

Here are some of the symptoms: twice in the last week I have gone to the trouble of arranging to borrow my grandfather's car (Matt takes our only car to work) so that I could run important errands, like Shira's two-year check up, and twice I have forgotten to take the car seat out from our car to use in the borrowed one. The first time I had to cancel our plans, the second I was able to find one to borrow at the very last minute (thanks, Aunt Jo, again). This is an easy one to solve: prepare your day the night before. Easy, right? Not so much. When you feel overwhelmed by everything and you're moving at the pace of a slug, preparing the night before seems unimaginable. With long days spent at home, often working in circles (hence, needing to get my shit together), I resist planning for the next day with great determination. It doesn't make sense: the next day will be easier if I take some time to plan beforehand. I get it.

Matt will often try to encourage me to plan ahead. Around dinnertime he'll ask me, so what are your plans for tomorrow? Is there anything I can do to help? Yes, he's that supportive. But in an annoying way. He is so incredibly good at organizing his time and preparing in advance, and no matter how much I complain, I'm jealous. If you were to ask Matt what time he'll be leaving for work the next day he would tell you that since he has to stop for gas he'll be leaving at 5:19 am. I can honestly declare that I have never in my life planned my departure down to a minute. Now, I'm not beating myself up about not being just like Matt. We all have our strengths, and one of mine is spontaneity, and the ability to be really present in a given moment (because my mind isn't busy planning and keeping myself on schedule). I couldn't give this up about myself even if I wanted to, and I don't. But I would like to make my life a bit easier, and I know making a habit of planning my day the night before, getting paperwork and lunches and meeting times together, will do just that.

Here's another symptom: I spend my day wandering around the house. I'm not a lazy person, even with my low energy, but the disorder of my days, sometimes due to lack of planning, other times the result of feeling like so much of my life is in flux, makes me feel as though I have one hundred things to do and I can't seem to get started on even one of them. I'm not sure where to begin, so I wander from room to room, picking up toys, washing dishes, checking an email, responding to a student, reading one page of a cookbook. Rinse and repeat. Some of this disorder is simply a reality of working from home. There are schedules for the girls (school, naps, a million snack breaks), deadlines to meet, cleaning to do, and all of these things happen in little bits throughout the day. I  can't always decide to spend the next two hours doing a particular task because I will be interrupted roughly one thousand times by Alyce and Shira. Working at home means flexibility (which is wonderful), but it also means that I do much of my work at inopportune times. Lately this flexibility has felt oppressive, hence the need to get my shit together.

So what do I do? I have a pretty good idea. I need to sit back and consider all of the tasks I need to get done, think about my time, and separate my day as best as I can. I can't do everything, no matter how hard I try. And sometimes, just sometimes, I need to say no to making an impromptu batch of muffins because I know it will mess up the schedule I have set for myself, and no matter how good those rhubarb and strawberry muffins will taste (which will be made tomorrow, as per my schedule), I need to wait. One of my tasks this weekend is to outline all of my responsibilities and think, really think, what I need to do to incorporate these into my day. I'll get back to you with what I learn.

A lot of what I'm thinking about lately has to do with wanting to feel excited about my days. I can't always love everything I do, but I owe it to myself, and to my family, to live my life a bit lighter. Andrea Scher wrote a post last week asking, Do you know what it feels like to lose your sparkle? That's how I feel, like I've lost my sparkle. I'm usually sparkly, and I miss that. Getting my shit together is going to help me get it back.

The photos today are from my last 24 hours on Instagram. You can follow me there @mostdaysiwin.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Read: The Apple-Pip Princess

I don't have a lot of nice things to say about princess books, which is a shame, because I have nothing against a good princess. Alyce loves princesses probably almost more than she loves me (but not quite) and the dilemma I face is trying to expand her princess universe outside of Disney. (Or, Barbie.) Trust me, I've tried. There has been a lot written about why the Disney Princess brand is troubling for girls (and boys, too, though I'd like to see more written about that), and while I'm not ready to ban Ariel and Sleeping Beauty from my house (though I have considered it) I am committed to offering Alyce and Shira alternatives. Sometimes I look for stories that portray princesses with a little more depth than, say, a girl who wants to leave her family and change her own physiology to marry a man she has never actually spoken to. Other times I simply want to introduce my children to a world painted in colours other than pastel pink and purple.

I found Jane Ray's The Apple-Pip Princess at the library a few months ago and tucked it in our pile with hopes that Alyce might read it with me (rather than instantly dismissing the book on account of the lack of light purple, see above re: Disney). It was a very good discovery because it turns out that the book is both visually stunning (look at the blues, greens, and browns!) and teaches readers the values of kindness, memory, and caring for the land without being heavy-handed.

The story begins with a king grieving the death of his wife, trying to decide which of his three daughters should inherit his kingdom. He asks the princesses to impress him, and he gives them seven days to do so. His first two daughters, a rather selfish pair, build enormous towers at the centre of town, with hopes that these towers will reflect their own greatness and royal tendencies. Unfortunately, the townspeople are forced to hand over their sole possessions (like the wood from their homes) in order to construct the towers. But the princesses, convinced of their destiny, carelessly ignore the needs of their people. 

The king's youngest daughter has no idea what she could do to impress her father. She takes a moment to look over a box that used to belong to her mother, a special gift she inherited after her death, for inspiration. Her mother had loved the land of the kingdom so much that she had saved tiny pieces of it, tucked safely inside a box: a few raindrops, some sunlight, a tiny piece of a rainbow, a feather, a spider's web, a bird song, and a tiny apple pip (which I learned is a seed, because I had no idea). She looks around and sees that in the years since her mother's death the land has grown brittle and dry. The king, it seems, ignored the needs of the land in his grief.

His youngest daughter decides to revive the land using the gifts from her mother. Over the course of the seven days she plants her seed, and the seeds offered up by the townspeople, and cares for them with rain, sunshine, and all the treasures in her mother's box. Her actions inspire the town to work together for the first time in years, joining forces to breathe life back into the kingdom. She meets new friends and together they do the hard work of caring for the forgotten land. All the while her sisters sit perched atop their towers, waiting for the king's approval. 

The young princess worries that she's not done enough, but when she wakes on the seventh day she finds the land full of life, filled with colours, new plants and trees, and of course, an energized kingdom. Her father is grateful for her efforts and her commitment to both her family and her kingdom. The crown, of course, is hers. We are left with the great celebrations of the kingdom, including her sisters who have retreated from their towers.

I couldn't love this story more. But more importantly, neither could Alyce. All princesses are welcome in this house, but this story holds a special place.

Can you suggest any alternative princess stories? I'd love to expand my list (we already read The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I was all set to offer up a post on how I need to get my act together (in attempts to rediscover my lost energy), but I need to set these selfish matters aside and first share something else with you. Because today I broke my little girl's heart when I accidentally squished her pet bug.

Me and the girls were on our way to run some errands, Shira packed into the stroller and Alyce marching alongside. Alyce, who has recently become obsessed with non-flying bugs (for the love of all things please don't get her started about bees), found a bug on the sidewalk early on in our walk. It was one of these, something I have always called a Potato bug, because it rolls up in a ball when disturbed by a predator such as my daughter. Alyce was instantly smitten with her bug and declared it her pet. I think the feeling was mutual, because little Potato bug immediately uncurled himself and wandered around her tiny hand. We were already on our way to the dollar store to pick up some extra bubbles, and I excitedly told her that we could find a special bug box to make a new home for her new pet. Wasn't that nice of me?

That girl of mine carried that bug for twenty minutes without so much of a squirm or complaint.

We entered the dollar store, where she was instructed to hold on tight to that bug, lest we lose him in the middle of all that plastic and reduced priced candy. We found what we were looking for, a cheap, clear, reusable plastic container, and waited in line to pay. Just before it was our turn in line Alyce, with concern in her voice, piped up: Oops, Mama. Where did my bug go? I stepped aside to help her look for him. Do you see where this is going? Are you preparing yourself?

The bug crunched under my foot. Alyce gasped. I gasped. And then the tears began. Alyce's first words to me (because this was all going on in slow motion, it seemed like hours before she spoke up) were, Mama, why did you kill my bug? Of course she's asking me why. In her mind I would be just as careful around her pet bug as I would be if Shira were underfoot (note: I've stepped on Shira at least a dozen times). I wouldn't step willy-nilly without thinking, so then I must have done that on purpose. Right? But of course I didn't. I treasured that little Potato bug because my Alyce was treasured it so.

Her tears were big and they were real. They were not the "I didn't get what I want" tears, but the "my Mama just crushed my soul" kind. I scooped her up and apologized, reminding her that I was sad, too, that I had accidentally killed her bug. She accepted my apology, wiped her eyes, and explained that the only thing that would make her feel better was candy. Since we were right next door to a Dairy Queen, I did the next best thing: ice cream cones before lunch. All was forgiven.

That didn't stop her from asking me repeatedly on the walk home, why did you kill my bug, Mama? Fortunately, since I was getting tired of answering that question every thirty seconds (I had already grieved and moved on), she was soon preoccupied with filling her new bug box with special things for the new bug we were looking for. And did we find one? Yes we did. He was named Princess Bug.

What do you do for your children when you crush their spirits? Ice cream is my usual, go-to fix for all serious troubles.


(At the time of this writing, one hour later, Princess Bug escaped her clutches and is currently hiding under the deck. Alyce is taking a rest now from bug hunting, but she's promised to find another. I'll watch where I step from now on.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Catching up from the weekend

Hello, Monday! It's that time again. Time to get yourself ready for the week, write a new list (or three), and get your act together. Or, maybe that's just me.

But first, how was your weekend? My weekend was delightful. A birthday party for Shira and the best Mother's Day on record were the highlights, but our weekend also included finishing season one of Sons of Anarchy, our new favourite show (have you seen it?), and some very delicious food. The weather was everything I dreamed May would be: sunny, warm, but not too warm, a little breezy, and flowers blooming at every turn.

I also spent the usual time nursing Shira, who at two years old is showing no signs of weaning. That's cool with me, we're good. I'm curious what her doctor will say today at her two-year check-up. When I took Alyce for her 18-month check up a few years ago the nurse practitioner told me that I should stop breastfeeding. What? I'm not sure if she was just misinformed, or offering terrible advice just because she's not a fan of breastfeeding a toddler. Whatever, we kept on nursing.

Speaking of extended breastfeeding, here is an incredible post on how breastfeeding helped a four year old girl recover from a difficult and stressful surgery. See Yes, she's 4, and yes, she's still breastfeeding over at Normal, Like Breathing. (Thank you, Jo, for passing this along!)

Last week was a busy one, so I also spent some time this weekend catching up on Reader. Here's what I found:

Helen Jane's Solutions for a painful internet. Really, this is a must-read for anyone who spends time online.

Anyone want to join me in an online cookbook club? The first book is  The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber. This club comes from the same woman who inspired my own cookbook club, and I'm excited to get reading.

A simple recipe, but a great one. Baked brown rice? It was the perfect companion to roasted veggies, some fresh sprouts, and some feta cheese.  I'll be making this again soon.

I'll be making these asparagus and gruyere tarts this week.

What are your plans for the week?

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating Two

Yesterday we celebrated Shira turning two. There were party dresses, cake, presents, balloons, and a few family and friends. It was a small gathering perfect to mark this very special day. Shira beamed.

We don't have a baby anymore, Matt told me last night after the girls were tucked in bed. I ignored him for a minute. I was unwilling to concede that detail. But he's right. We don't have a baby anymore. We have two children, four and two. Do you know how I can tell that Shira is no longer a baby? Because I watch her take comfort in people who aren't my boobs me. For the first two years she was all mine, breastfeeding or not. She turned to me for almost everything.

I think I'm witnessing the very beginnings of a transition in her, a move away from me and Matt and toward her sister. No, this isn't where I start sobbing that my baby is leaving me, because she will never leave me as such. She came from me, she is me. But the relationship that is growing between her and Alyce is something apart from me. I don't understand it because I have never experienced it, but I have my suspicions. There is so much emotion between the two of, so much intensity. They argue (oh how they argue), they manipulate, they scheme, they giggle so hard they lose their breath. At four and two (see, there it is again) they already have a special language, and I'm not included. Is this how it all begins?

Shira was the star of her birthday, and Alyce, devastated as she was that it wasn't her birthday, was excited to celebrate with her. Even when it was clear that Alyce's skin was crawling with birthday envy, she took joy in Shira's day. And maybe even one day, one day far into the future, Shira will let Alyce play with her new dollhouse.


P.S. If you are interested in Shira's birth story you can find it here.