Saturday, September 30, 2006


I've recently begun using Bloglines as a way to foist some order upon my heretofore completely haphazard approach to reading blogs.

I love it. I don't waste nearly as much time clicking about to see if people have updated.

It's also quantified my blog reading; I'd never bothered to actually count my bookmarks. So I was a little taken aback by the number of feeds I've signed up for: 80. EIGHTY! And these are just blogs, not other sites. I don't comment on all of them, for sure, but I do read them all (albeit some less frequently than others).

That's a LOT of nosiness. So far I don't seem to be having any trouble keeping up, but I wonder: how many personal narratives can one reasonably keep track of before the details of a blogger's life start to become indistinguishable from another's?

How many blogs do you read? Do you think there's an upper limit beyond which the cyber chatter becomes unmanageable?

Friday, September 29, 2006

When Three Bloggers Meet

What do you get when you mix three bloggers with two four-year-olds, two almost-three-year-olds, and one two-year-old?

Chaos, you say? A complete inability to have anything resembling an adult conversation?

I'd have thought the same thing, too, but you and I would both have been wrong, wrong, wrong.

Yesterday I had my first multi-blogger meetup, with Liesl and Chichimama. I'm always nervous about setting my kids loose among other children -- experience has taught me that they are loath to share a single toy unless their mother pries it from their tight clutches or embarks on extensive negotiations about how long who can have what. But all the kids got along great; I was so proud of them, and so pleased to be able to see Liesl again and meet Chichimama for the first time.

(Okay, a compunction for full disclosure impels me to divulge that the "getting along great" thing had one exception: one little toy scuffle instigated by, of course, my grabby daughter. But at least it was short-lived, unlike some other sharing incidents we've recently weathered.)

Chichimama was as warm and personable and smart as you'd expect from her blog. I was so impressed that she was able to come, what with her impending move and unsold house and all! Her kids, C and A, are just adorable. Liesl's son Liam was quite the gracious host, sharing all his toys without any complaints.

Now if only I could replicate this play date with the ones we have with kids in our neighborhood...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The More Things Change... I Mean, the More Things DON'T Change

The only thing about this result that surprises me is that the percentage isn't lower. I am nothing if not staid and predictable.

You've Changed 24% in 10 Years

Ah, the past! You may not remember it well - because you're still living in it.
While you've changed some, you may want to update your wardrobe, music collection and circle of friends.

(As seen at Raising WEG)

I'll Take the Kudos Any Way I Can Get Them

For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of being a stay(work)-at-home mother is the staggering lack of validation for childrearing and the myriad other duties as assigned. There's no one around to pat me on the back, to tell me I'm doing a good job. I guess I could flip that around and say that at least no one is there to purse their lips and inform me that my performance leaves much to be desired. Either way, it's much like operating in a vacuum.

Although I disliked receiving (not to mention writing) performance evaluations, at least they provided an opportunity for me to hear how I was doing. Now the feedback is only indirect -- if my kids seem happy and content, if they have enriching activities and time to just relax and use their imaginations, I suppose my job performance rating can be considered satisfactory.

And as I discovered yesterday, validation can come from the most unlikely source.

For the past few days we've been bedeviled by a large black fly. We couldn't catch it, couldn't even coax it through an open door. Allie was especially concerned about this uninvited guest. At one point she was cowering under the kitchen table; "I'm hiding from the bug," she whimpered.

Finally, I successfully smacked the cagey fly with one stroke of a folded-up magazine. According to Allie you would have thought I'd cured cancer:

"Wow, Mom! GREAT job! You got the fly! Good for YOU!"

So, if nothing else, at least I know I am a competent fly-swatter.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fragile Fall Morning

What seemed like a pleasant Mommy and daughter morning while Sean is in preschool has spiraled downward into yet another Tantrumpalooza.


We went for a pleasant fall walk. We settled into building with blocks. Tra la la la. Then, the laws of physics presented themselves to the novice architect. Unable to bend the space-time continuum to her whim and unwilling to accept that you cannot really fashion a solid foundation with the wedge- and triangle-shaped blocks, Allie did what any respectable egomaniacal professional would do: she threw a hissy fit. And some blocks for good measure.

The prospect of a snack seemed momentarily soothing, till she discovered the true incompetence of the household staff -- there are no cereal bars on the premises. And nothing, NOTHING, else will do. More tears over the injustice of it all. She was persuaded to accept a graham cracker, no, she means an animal cracker, no, no, NO, NO, for the love of heaven, NO! Not that animal cracker!

A quick trip to her bed to calm down appears to have done the trick. She is now sitting behind me, in the same chair, tracing circular patterns on my back.

We're going to try snack again. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Clothes Drive

I've been shopping for the kids' fall and winter clothes. It gives me a quick, superficial rush to restock their wardrobes each season -- hey, at least the two people in this family who outgrow their clothes at the speed of light can justifiably get a fashion infusion. (Cue weepy violin music) Meanwhile, I slap on whatever tee-shirt isn't too wrinkled or stained, along with jeans that somehow shrunk (!) over the summer.

Although the shopping process pushes my stress-o-meter all the way up to 11, what with my kids' complete inability to stay in one spot for more than a few seconds at a time, I like leaving the store with an armful of new duds. Then I get home. And then the guilt sets in. Yay, inexpensive clothes, big bargains! Boo, made possible by sweatshop labor!

That's why my other form of shopping is so satisfying. I call it "shopping in the garage." In my garage are boxes and boxes of hand-me-downs from my sister Beth (her kids are 9 and 12, and they have very nice clothes) and a friend of mine. With each season, with each new growth spurt, I rifle through the boxes to see what treasures they contain. This time I found a winter coat, snowpants, one pair of pants, and three shirts for Allie, and a windbreaker, four pairs of pants, four shirts, and a sweater for Sean.

So there's my tonic for this particular guilt issue. Next up in the "Bucket, drop in the" file, I guess, will be fluorescent bulbs to fight global warming.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Musings on Parenting and What?

When I started this blog, I intended to write regularly about books in addition to endlessly prattling on about my kids. Heck, it's even in the header up there! Lately (for the past, oh, year or so), you would be entirely within your rights to accuse me of false advertising.

I even added that list on the sidebar as an enticement to write about books. But when you are a complete slacker like myself, mucking about in the template to update the HTML code lacks a certain appeal.

Not that there is much to add to the sidebar (which I just did, by the way -- blink and you'll miss the new items). I haven't read much of anything; I'm still plodding through books at a snail's pace, still falling asleep after reading 2 pages upon settling into bed each night.

But the dearth of material isn't the only thing holding me back. I'm also struggling with a surprising discrepancy between my love of literature and my ability to discourse intelligently about it. Whenever I sit down to write my opinion about a book, I flail. I just can't seem to provide anything other than a cursory commentary. Where are the critical thinking skills that my liberal arts degree says I should have? I don't even think it's the time pressures of motherhood that's at work here; I think it's just me.

I cruise about the blogosphere and marvel at the talent there. Isabella, for example, writes about books with such deep insight; she examines themes and metaphors and historical context on an intellectual plane that I admire from far below. Danigirl's reviews are dependably witty, entertaining, and insightful. Julie can neatly eviscerate a weak book in one paragraph, and actually make me want to read nautical fiction by Patrick O'Brian. Elizabeth's ability to distill the salient points of a book in a few short paragraphs is nothing short of amazing. I eagerly await her Tuesday (or is it Wednesday now?) book reviews, both for her concision and her cogent analysis.

And then there's me. I got nothing. I've read a few family-based novels lately, and I don't have much to say about them. That might be part of the problem; books about family relationships tend blur together in my mind. And yet I gravitate toward them, almost subconsciously. One standout among this summer's batch is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, a graphic novel about the author's, well, family, but the format and content and tone are so striking that the book occupies a world far distant from, say, another Sue Miller book. It's a book with sparse text, yet each page sparkles with visual and verbal erudition and wit. I found myself re-reading several sentences over and over just because I admired them so much. Other than Maus by Art Spiegelman, I'd never read a graphic novel -- maybe as a result of misplaced snobbery on my part. I'd be interested in others (any suggestions, Rachel?).

Well. For someone who can't seem to write about books, that was a long, painfully pointless post, huh? If you haven't clicked away in impatience by now, thanks for sticking it out.

Oh, and do you have any books to recommend for me? Maybe I'll even be inspired to write about them!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

So How Did Our House Get Here Again?

Now in heavy rotation from the library: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

Whoa, Nelly, we are not in Whoville anymore! I have to admit that we had mostly kept close to the simple Dr. Seuss books -- Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Marvin K. Mooney, Fox in Sox.

Now that the kids have longer attention spans and can handle more complex books, we've been dipping into the socially conscious Seuss canon: The Sneetches, Horton Hatches the Egg, and now The Lorax.

The Lorax was published in 1971. It's a delightfully unsubtle fable about the destruction of the environment solely for the purpose of personal gain:

I meant no harm, I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
Of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
To the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering … selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.

Delightful but demoralizing, since of course its lesson has been largely ignored in the 35 years since publication.

Sean is entranced by this book (in fact, he was hovering over me as I typed the preceding quote, growing increasingly impatient as he waited for me to return his book). He's been asking countless questions about the plot and the characters, both while we're reading and throughout the day. I can't recall the last time he found a book this intriguing.

It's a perfect opportunity for us to talk about the environment and trees and animal habitats and how all that can be tossed aside in the name of greed. Sean doesn't understand the Once-ler's impulses: "But why does he cut down the trees? Why did he cut down the last tree? Why is the sky so dirty? Where did the Lorax go?"

I refrained from talking about the irony of the publication and distribution of this book: how many trees were cut down for its pages, how much pollution the chemicals that bleached the paper and the ink used for printing caused.

My smugness over this unvoiced observation dissipated quickly, however, as our conversations continued. I was pointing out all the things in our house that are made of wood, that once were trees: the tables, the chairs, the floor, the frame of the house, the newspaper. . .

Phooey. So much for environmental self-righteousness. Instead, perhaps I should address another fascinating subject: hypocrisy on the homefront. I'm pretty familiar with that one.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Car Conversations (Or: The Flip Side of That Other Post I Wrote about Sibling Bonds)

Allie: Look, Sean, you're wearing a blue shirt.
Sean: No, Allie, it's red.

(Context: Sean is wearing a red shirt. Allie knows her colors but is exercising her God-given right to be ornery.)

Allie (laughing): Blue! Blue! You're wearing a blue shirt!
Sean (rising to the bait like a fish): NO I'M NOT! IT'S RED!
Allie: Blue shirt! I like your blue shirt!
Sean: (Raises his hand as if to strike Allie)
Me: (Threateningly) Sean! No hitting!
Sean: Allie, I'm ignoring you.
Allie: No, you're not!
Allie: No, you didn't.
Allie: No, you didn't.
Sean: YES!

This scene continued for a few more rounds until I suggested that they both ignore each other silently. Who needs the radio when you travel with your own personal Laurel and Hardy?

Monday, September 18, 2006

No Lessons Learned

One year after I wrote this post, it would appear that nothing has changed. If anything, the situation seems more intractable, more hopeless.

To all the fallen, peace.

In Which We Meet Big Blue

Somewhere in the fields of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, you would have seen a frazzled family of four running alongside an unmoving train about to leave the station. Just like in a movie. Huffing and puffing, they swooped onto their coach with just 1 minute to spare.

Fortunately the engine just smiled:

Yep, we finally made it to Day out with Thomas. I had wanted to do this last year and never got around to ordering tickets. This year we ordered tickets for July and had to cancel our trip because Allie got sick. And this time we almost missed the train. But it all worked out in the end, much to the kids' delight. Their only complaints were that the other trains weren't there ("But where is Percy? And Spencer? And Toby?" Sean asked, more than once) and that Thomas didn't say anything in response to their hearty "Hi, Thomas!" and "Goodbye, Thomas!" ("Why Thomas isn't talking?" Allie wanted to know). I can just imagine that it's nothing short of magical to see one of your favorite characters come to life, mute or not.

Here's the math: An hour and a half car ride each way for a 20-minute train ride. Plus obligatory time mucking about in the mud to mingle with the masses in the toy tent. Leaving me to conclude that this racket must rake in a fortune -- there were easily 80 bazillion people there.

Racket or not, I think it was well worth it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

This Little Critter Went to Market

I may have mentioned that I am not the best role model when it comes to a well-balanced diet. I do try to set a good example, but largely my approach can best be summarized as "Here, eat these fruits and vegetables that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole."

It's not completely hopeless. I do eat apples. And carrots and corn and celery. Oh, and guess what the other vegetable, the one I eat every day, is?

Raw spinach that may or may not be laced with Escherichia coli.


(Warning: not-so-seamless transition ahead) I edited a manuscript several years ago that concerned an outbreak of E. coli spread through raspberries. In that manuscript I encountered what is to this day still my favorite digusting term, "manure slurry." Yum.

The more I learn about farming, the less I want to eat anything at all.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Siblings, Sans the Rivalry

Somehow, when I was not paying attention, my kids developed a brother-sister bond.

And it's not just one based on squabbling and battling over toys, although those often make up the dominant motif in their relationship. No, it's an actual connection, one that they will share with no one else, including me.

It's a lovely thing to behold. They have their own private games and jokes, schemes and songs. They entertain each other far better than I ever could. I know for sure that I am not your go-to gal for crawling in and out of the kitchen cabinets for a pretend train trip. Or for re-enacting scenes from Finding Nemo in the bathtub. Or for concocting elaborate scenarios wherein Allie's stuffed dog needs to be rescued by firefighters.

And they have actual conversations with each other, ones in which my participation is discouraged or even disdained. If I try to interject, I'll hear, "I'm talking to Allie, Mom." (When did I become Mom, by the way? Not till you're at least 8, Mister.)

It's setting the stage, I know, for a lifetime of private conversations, many of which will be about Jeff and me and how hopeless/clueless/embarrassing/annoying we are. They will have shared memories that I will have forgotten, they will have a context and perspective for their childhood together that will differ markedly from mine. All this is good. It's healthy and normal. And yet it makes me somewhat sad.*

I guess I am already fearing my future obsolescence. Seeing them develop selves and relationships that do not include me is forecasting a time when I might just hear from them over the phone every once in a while. A time when I know they will talk to each other, that they will know things about each other that I will not.

It's enough to make me embrace the toy disputes that require my mediation after all.

*Jeff read this right before I posted it and is now convinced that I need therapy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why I Am Not A Preschool Teacher

In my attempts to come up with art projects for the kids, most of the time I am scraping the bottom of a shallow pool of creativity.

Art Class usually goes something like this:

Me: "Who wants to color? Let's get the crayons out!"

A child: "I want to paint!"

Me: "Paint? Ummm, I think it's dried up. How about those crayons!"

I tell you, there's a waiting list for this type of dazzlingly simplistic approach to preschool art.

Yesterday, we thought outside the box, explored a new paradigm, plowed through an entire ream of business clichés, if you will.

Gentle readers, I bring you the Nature Collage! No crayons were harmed or even touched during this process.

It started with a trip to the park. After the usual cavorting and endless rounds of swinging (or, rather, being pushed on swings -- when do kids learn how to swing by themselves, this lazy mother wants to know), we searched for things on the ground that could be used for a collage. Allie, who loves to collect rocks any time at all, could not be persuaded that pebbles are best suited for gluing on construction paper. Hence, her haul of boulders to the exclusion of anything else:

Even though she insisted these rocks would work just fine for her collage, I managed to discreetly place some other, more usable items in her basket. Sean was a bit more even handed during his hunt.

At home came the fun part: glue! We actually ran out of glue because of the glee and wild abandon with which Sean and Allie doused their construction paper with glue. And unlike our experience with other misguided attempts at creativity, the kids were both enthusiastic AND careful. And so proud of their work:

Sean's collage

and Allie's

Art class dismissed. My creativity pool has been completely drained. Check back round Halloween, when it might be replenished again.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Post Birthday Secrets

I should know by now not to divulge even the most benign of secrets to my kids.
Yesterday was Jeff's birthday. Late in the afternoon the kids and I made a cake and wrapped his presents. The kids created cards for him (Oh the trauma! What should have been a fun activity ended in a fit of tears over perceived artistic limitations -- Sean was inconsolable over his inability to draw a fish. Not that he had even tried drawing a fish before deciding he JUST CAN'T DO IT, MOMMY!)


Right before Jeff came home I told the kids that I wanted to reserve the cake as a surprise -- "Let's not tell him till after dinner."

Jeff had barely gotten out of the car when Sean and Allie shouted out the door, "We made a cake for you! It's in the dining room! Come see!"

Later, as I was pulling out Jeff's presents, I heard Sean inform him, "I'll help you open the shirt!" Not one to pass up an opportunity to combat her brother and jockey for primary position, Allie shouted "No! I will open the shirt! I will!" You can imagine Jeff's shock when he pulled away the tissue paper and found out that he had received, yes, a shirt.

I guess I should be impressed with the kids' attempt at circumspection over the next gift. They waited till Jeff was opening it to helpfully point out, "It's a book, Daddy!"

At least they didn't realize what one gift was (season 4 of The Shield), so I got away with one surprise. I suppose it's no wonder preschoolers don't make the best espionage agents.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Can They Mishear Lyrics Like This Till They're 20?

Perhaps I haven't done a good job of screening the music that comes from the car radio. Or maybe it's just that there's only so much Laurie Berkner one can withstand before desiring something a little edgier regardless of the passengers present.

Whatever the reason, my kids have latched on to a few songs that are a bit too old for them.

Have you heard that really popular song by Gnarls Barkley? The one that goes "Daisy and Crazy! Daisy and Craaaaazzaayy!"?


How about last summer's smash hit by Gwen Stefani, "Holla Back Grail"?

Then again, maybe I needn't be that worried…

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Thanks for the warm welcome! A few of you wanted to know what I've been up to.

I started out the summer with a simple goal: provide the kids with a fun, enriching warm weather experience while maintaining a semblance of sanity.

And by golly, I think this goal was mostly met. I had put together a wish list of sorts -- things I wanted to do with the kids so that I'd feel marginally successful as a stay-at-home parent. As opposed to, say, my winter and spring record, which was spotty at best.

I think I managed to strike a balance (Pow! Smash! There goes that balance, flattened like a pancake!) between having active fun and just chilling out. We had a variety of play dates, splashed in the ocean surf several times, went to a kiddie amusement park, attended a Phillies game (Sean's first, and Allie's "What do you mean I'm not old enough to go? Just wait till I tell my therapist about this when I'm all grown up"). We traversed a lot of heretofore unknown nature trails with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

We even braved the zoo with just one parent for my two children. Yes, my friend was there with her two kids, but hers actually stayed with her most of the time. Unlike mine. I wound up darting around like a madwoman trying to keep up with Sean and Allie, leading me to conclude that a Valium or two per trip would be a welcome benefit of zoo membership.

Trivia: Throughout the course of the summer Allie was bit by approximately 875 mosquitoes. Her brother, exposed to the exact same insect repellant and the exact same atmospheric/geographic conditions, was bit by 1. My daughter, the mosquito magnet.

We just returned from a family vacation to Rhode Island -- my mom, my sister and her family, and Jeff, the kids, and I shared a house in Narrangansett for about a week. Lots of fun, even with torrential downpours and 65-degree weather for several days.

As for the "chilling out" portion of balance, there were plenty of stretches of just going to the park or squirting each other with the hose or playing in the yard. I've decided, in a bit of post hoc analysis, that it wasn't laziness on my part, really. It was more like passing along a cherished childhood memory: the languid pleasure of merely hanging out in the summer.

By mid-August I had started looking at my watch (or where my watch would be if the battery hadn't died 2 years ago) and thinking "Okay! So when does school begin again?"

Next Monday, as it turns out. Enough with the fun in the sun! (says the person who whimpered her way through the chilly and dark winter. . .)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tap, Tap, Tap

Is this thing on?

I'm hoping that blogging is not too much different from riding a bike. Once you learn how, it's easy to pick up where you left off, right? Perhaps it's fortuitous, too, that the gap between my last blog entry and this one is not nearly as large as the yawning chasm between my last bike ride and now.

It feels odd, sitting here typing an entry. I've enjoyed my break from blogging, but the maelstrom of thoughts in my head is now demanding to be calmed. The best way for that, I've found, is to let my fingers be the amanuensis for my oft-addled brain.

What, the prospect of reading unsettled, unfocused thoughts doesn't entice you? Okay, okay, I'll talk to the Mimilou marketing department and see if they can whip up a more compelling campaign. Just don't expect me to get anywhere with the content development team; they are beyond hopeless.

(*self-satisfied sigh* Yes, it's good to be back. Where else can I so readily unleash my self-deprecation on an unwitting public?)