Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ten Activities to do With Your Kids in the Winter

If you live in a cold climate like Minnesota, chances are you’re getting sick of the chilly wind, ice, snow, sleet and frigid temperatures. Here are some activities for you and your kids –or you and your boyfriend, girlfriend or domestic partner. Seriously, if you haven’t built a fort out of couch cushions with your significant honey, you are really missing out!

Or if you have young kids and cabin fever is getting the best of you as you run out of indoor activities, these are some good ones that I like because they don’t involve screen time nor do they involve intense one-on-one imaginative play which, let’s face it, gets really tiring after a while. So these are fun games that don’t require you to dress up, speak in funny voices (unless you want to) or use too much brain power.

Enjoy! And don’t forget to laugh, it releases endorphins and will make the long, dark days of winter a little sunnier.

1. Play hide and seek

2. Pull the paper out of your recycling and make a tear-and-paste collage

3. Practice yoga poses, see which ones your kids can do with you

4. Have a dance party (with your music)

5. Play Simon Says to give kids directions “Simon says put your socks on” “Simon says put five toys away”

6. Take a bath together or move a comfy chair to the bathroom and read while your child plays in the tub

7. Pull out the miscellaneous Tupperware for bath toys

8. Go to the library (they’re still there!)

9. Make soup together with carrots, zucchini or root vegetables your child can cut with a dull knife

10. Make a fort out of couch cushions, blankets, old sheets, tack things to the wall, bring snacks inside, go all out!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Delicious Oat Muffins

"One must know oneself. If it does not serve to discover the truth, it at least serves as a rule of life and there is nothing better."
- Blaise Pascal

I came across this quote when I was researching for an article on adoption and it struck a chord. Also, as I was avoiding work, I came across a wonderful blog by a mother who moved to The Holy Land with her husband and three kids. She has a lovely style of writing and posts recipes periodically. I had to share this muffin recipe of hers because I’ve made four batches already and they are fantastic! They also fit my recipe criteria by being healthy, easy and yummy.
My favorite variations are blueberries if you use vanilla extract and sliced almonds with almond extract—yum!!
Check it out!

15 Minute Oat Muffins

1 Cup Rolled Oats (you can use the quick oats, but I prefer the old fashioned type - better flavor)
1 Cup flour (or oat bran, or whole wheat flour or wheat germ)
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or any other extract)
1/2 Cup apple juice or soy milk (today I used white grape juice, you can also use water if you don't have anything else)
1/4 Cup oil
2 eggs
1/3 Cup sugar or honey
Extras: raisins, blueberries, chopped apple, mashed banana, flax seeds, nuts, chocolate chips, pomegranate seeds, etc... (and that's just what I've tried it with! Try combining groups of extras - it's like trail mix in a muffin!)

Preheat the oven to 425 F
Mix all ingredients together
Fill 2 standard sized muffin tins, filling each cup about 3/4 full
Bake for 12-15 min

And check out Milk and Honey Momma

Monday, February 22, 2010

In the Light of Their Importance

It still hits me over the head sometimes that I am a mom, a parent. I have two kids with that man sitting next to me on the couch who used to be my boyfriend. That man who I used to dance with for hours at loud clubs and stay up all night talking, laughing and drinking with is now the person with whom I discuss groceries, public versus private schools and our daughters’ bowel habits.

It is still occasionally stunning to me that women of my generation are producing offspring. Five years ago, I would have gathered with women my age around a heat lamp outside the bar, sharing cigarettes and talking about clothes and college. Now we sit in the indoor park and talk about haircuts and infant sleep habits, and watch our daughters giggle, scream and run like happy little puppies.

We went to the indoor park last week with some friends of Twila’s from school. Three little girls who Twila knows, one of which she refers to as her best friend—I had no idea such social structures started so early. They were absolutely adorable, holding hands as they ran up stairs, slid down slides together and tumbled around giant foam blocks. They entertained each other while two other moms and I sat and talked the whole time. It was ideal, until one friend left and the girls started to get tired that is.

The trouble started when one girl’s mom brought out juice boxes for the two girls who had come with her, and Twila was horribly jealous. I was so sympathetic. Who hasn’t felt the pang of envy at everyone around you enjoying something you yourself would really like? Of course we have the adult conditioning to know that no matter how jealous, you don’t scream and beg and throw yourself on the ground; such training Twila does not have. They were all three sweating, panting hot and tired and then out comes the Hi C juice boxes, one for each of them and Twila was stuck with tepid water from my Klean Kanteen. And insult of insults, the mom brought a juice box for her younger daughter too. Even the little sister got one. Twila did not handle it well, who among us would have?

She screamed and cried at the obvious injustice. I spoke quietly and calmly directly in to her ear, explaining that we couldn’t share drinks—especially this time of year—when my logic had no effect I turned to bribery, promising we would get juice boxes at the co-op in just a few minutes. And ours will be organic, I said in my head. She held it together as we gathered our things to go.

But then something else happened. So typical in its occurrence I could have predicted that it would happen. The two girls who had come together buddied up now that the fourth girl was gone and they were going to get in the same car. They held each other’s little hands as we walked towards the exit and refused to hold Twila’s; they looked the other way when Twila wanted to give them a hug goodbye.

I could see the look of betrayal on my daughter’s face and could actually feel the sting of being on the outside. Everyone has experienced this I think. At least every girl and if you haven’t I have to assume you were one of the cool girls who perpetuated this kind of selective coolness. I myself was more often the girl left outside the chosen few and I knew the pain that went on in the inside of Twila’s pained expression.

The mom was helpful and insisted that her daughter stop and pay attention and return Twila’s warm goodbyes. But not before Twila shed copious tears and implored me sobbingly to make them listen to her. And I, like so many moms before me, wanted to fix the world so that it was kinder. Cliché though it is, I wanted to take her pain from her, to fight her battle; in short, I wanted to bonk the heads of those two little girls together and tell them to JUST BE NICE! STOP IGNORING MY DAUGHTER!

It was not the first time I’ve learned that no matter how much I love my child, I cannot protect her from pain; and I know with dread that it will not be my last such lesson.

And my head still spins that these are the worries that Ryan and I talk about in the dark of evening, over a glass of wine, as our little girls sleep. We don’t commiserate about hangovers anymore or bad grades or papers due, parties to plan for. At some point our lives leaped into such a different chapter that the old chapters from before parenthood seem not even to be our own lives but the lives of some other people living a parallel existence. What is it about our children that make everything else turn to shadows in the light of their importance?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

We Stumble On

As I sit and write, Jada lies across my arms raising her father’s eyebrows at the ceiling fan of which she remains so skeptical. It draws her attention constantly and she gives it the most worried look I’ve ever seen on an infant, as if she thinks it may try to land on her tiny bald head.
Sometimes she tries to smile at it, sticking her tongue out, pursing her lips, trying to draw it into a human game. But it remains stoic and still; its giant, blackness against the stark white of the ceiling stays motionless leaving my baby unnerved and unsettled.

My daughter (the older one, hence forth known as the ‘daughter’ not referred to as ‘the baby’) watches two hours of TV each morning. Is that too much? Would Michelle Obama be disappointed? When we first started watching PBS when Twila was about two and a half we watched Curious George each morning and then the TV went off. Then I got pregnant. We started incorporating an afternoon movie so that I could take a nap. Now through a slow increase, we’ve somehow arrived at a streak of PBS shows from Martha Speaks (7:30) to Super Why (a title I still don’t get but that is neither here nor there—at 9:00).

Its during this time that I post a blog or check my email or write a couple pages in my novel or try to take a couple of steps closer to publishing my non-fiction book. It’s the business time of the day, the office hours if you will, which I guess makes PBS the nanny who works for free in the mornings.

I feel mildly guilty about watching my daughter ‘zombie-out’ in front of the TV and that’s why I’m giving it this kind of thought. Maybe it’s because we worked so hard those first couple years to keep her away from television so it still feels kind of weird; maybe it’s because my dad was always so adamantly opposed (and still is) to television and, really, any sort of media. Maybe I feel his presence when I see my three-year-old’s nose pressed against the bright, flat, screen. Why am I still talking about this?

It’s a beautiful day here on Lake Woebegone, the sun is shining, the snow is melting and the people of Lake Woebegone can begin to glimpse the first hints that winter’s reign will not go on forever. Spring will eventually come and that puts a spring in the step off all those in my home town.

Maybe I need to come up with a clever name for my own little lake. It’s a day of circling and pondering. There is so much to do (as there always is) and yet I’m in a constant holding pattern, landing gear poised but still stowed. I take so much fish oil each day yet I feel like my brain’s grey matter is being slowly suckled out of my head through my breasts.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way says that when you feel bogged down you should just do the next small, right thing. I do that a lot. I put on my blinders to the big picture and just write my short and long book descriptions. I just post that next blog, write those three more pages. I guess that’s how I get through each day as a mother too. I don’t think about the next eighteen or fifty years of worry, work and growth; I just nurse one more time, help take out and put away the next game, make the next snack, type the next three pages one handed with a baby nursing, cradled in my left arm.

What else can I do? What else can any of us do except keep moving forward? If any of us actually knew what would unfold in our lives and how long it would take we might be driven towards madness. All we can do is take the next step in the direction we think is right; on the path we think leads towards our goal. Without a clear map we stumble on, trying to make our way, sometimes still trying to figure out where we want to end up, but always lifting the next foot. And the next, and the next, and the next.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Unglamorous Throes of Motherhood

I am in the unglamorous throes of early motherhood.

My maternity jeans no longer stay up on my ever-shrinking belly but my butt and thighs seems miles away from squeezing into my pre-pregnancy pants; so I am doomed to sweatpants and stretchy shirts for a few more weeks. Though I got a new haircut to rid myself of the stringy split ends of winter, I barely find time to squeeze a shower in, in the morning, let alone blow dry and style the new cut. So I am still stringy most days and relent about mid-morning to the old familiar ponytail.

But glamor takes the very backseat—even the trunk when it comes to my worries these days. Of much greater concern to me is trying to be patient with my preschooler while caring for the infant. Each day I struggle to find balance between the needs of the younger and the needs of the older.

It’s difficult to remain patient with the child who is constantly yelling, banging toys and finding new and inventive ways to wake up my baby. But what’s even more difficult is looking into the downtrodden face of a bored three year old who has been told ‘no’ and ‘shh’ fifty two times that morning and just wants to do something fun.

I feel so boring. I’m even sick of hearing myself say ‘be quiet.’ I gave up trying to nap days ago because it just seems unfair to ask Twila to be patient, quiet and self-entertaining one more time during the day.

When Twila falls asleep at night, all the irritation and resentment I felt towards her during the day melts away and I feel only regret for my own lack of patience and quick-temper. She is such a good daughter. She is kind and compassionate and loving. Her only fault is not a fault at all just an unending drive to be three. She constantly wants to play, learn, discover, explore, experiment; build-up and break-down. I feel mildly inadequate each night as I reflect on the day.

I feel shame for the times during the day that I wanted to write, to check my email or post a blog, for the time I could have played but instead spent cleaning or returning phone calls; I feel guilty that I wanted to sit and nurse the baby and just not answer any questions.

Sometimes in my head I think just stop talking for two seconds. I swore to myself I would never be a parent who told her child to be quiet for no reason. So far the desire for silence and unquestioning has remained only in my mind but it’s there and that makes me feel guilty too.

As a mother of one, I felt like I was meeting my child’s needs well. I felt like a good mom. I don’t feel quite as confidant in that assessment anymore.

I’ve given up caffeine to see if that will help number two sleep better and the side effects are vast. On the one hand I sometimes forget how to write, type and spell. My hands hit the keys like I’ve had a mild stroke leaving not one intelligible word. I am sleepier throughout the day, I want to nap and sleep in in the morning without the incentive of a cup of green tea waiting for me. But I am also a little more patient with both my kids. The lack of caffeine has made me a little mellower and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The nutritionist Jeanette Turner described the effect caffeine has on the brain as stimulating the flight or fight response. She said, ‘drinking coffee does energize you but in the way that makes you want to run climb a tree.’

So maybe it will all work out. Maybe the infant’s sleeplessness will end up helping me to be more patient with the three year old.

And now, said infant screams under my chin in her new expensive (but apparently less than thrilling) baby carrier. So I sign off to go and pace the halls and play games with Twila that incorporate walking and putting folded laundry away.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I May Have a Problem

The winter draws on in Minnesota, showing no signs of relenting. The weather warmed to a balmy twenty-seven yesterday and Minnesotans could be heard saying how much nicer it felt with the sun shining. But the sun was a small relief in the midst of very chilly winds blowing, and wet sloppy sidewalks that soaked socks if one was not wearing the proper foot coverings. The sidewalks are practically insurmountable due to the ten-foot-high snow walls between the streets and the sidewalks. I felt like a pioneer crossing the rocky mountains as I hefted the baby seat over the heaped snow, holding one tiny hand of my three-year-old as we made our way to the warmth and safety of The Tea Garden on Grand Avenue.

Not even the filthy, cold of late February could keep me from my iced green jasmine tea with vegan honey. I have a mild yet completely overpowering addiction to the iced green tea at the Tea Garden. I’m not sure what it is about that vegan honey. I have my suspicions that it is derived from something highly addictive like crack cocaine, or sugar. They tell me it’s processed out of a wildflower. I have my doubts.

Jada was fussy all afternoon yesterday, refusing to fall into any sort of sound or deep sleep until nine pm last night, when I quickly followed suit. As I lay in bed listening to the sounds of her deep, contented sighs for the first time in nine hours, I thought: could I be having too much caffeine?

I hate when adverse behavior in my children can be traced back to me. It’s bad enough to have to deal with a sleepless and cranky child but to then have to examine my own behavior as a possible cause, well that’s very near unbearable. Jada has not typically been a very long sleeper at night. In fact since her birth, the duration of sound sleep at night has gotten shorter and shorter. So all along I’ve been very conscious of caffeine. Especially because the blood brain barrier in infants is not yet intact and so…well it’s a bigger deal.

So like any good mom, I did Google research about caffeine and breastfeeding and came up with a few numbers to base my daily choices on. It seemed that most professionals agreed that less than 300 mg of caffeine was a fairly safe amount to consume and that brewed green tea generally has 30-50mg of caffeine. Great, I thought. Having a slightly addictive personality (If I’ve eaten one of Matt’s Cranberry, Walnut cookies, I’ve eaten a dozen) green tea seemed like the right beverage to indulge in since I could have more than one per day. Of course, having a slightly addictive personality, two cups of green tea quickly turned to drinking green tea all day long—using the same tea bag for multiple cups and being, I thought, quite responsible about the whole thing. I mean, it is green tea after all—does it get much healthier than that?

But then I discovered the Tea Garden. Or rather was introduced to it by my brother’s girlfriend whose family is from Taiwan were (as it happens) bubble tea was invented. Something about the tea at The Tea Garden is unlike tea in the normal world. I’m convinced it’s the vegan honey but I have tried very few drinks there. Twila would argue that it’s the Tea Garden’s Tapioca pearls that make it so special. She gets an iced chamomile with pearls, which she consumes at an alarming rate leaving Tara and I glad that my brother James is recently Red Cross certified.

So after several days of this happy addiction, my baby’s sleep is no better than it was when she was just a few days old, and perhaps worse. So I am faced with the decision,:cut out my iced green tea with half honey, or live with the consequences? Or perhaps just indulge in green tea a little less. Oddly, drinking things in moderation has historically been as difficult for me, or more so than not drinking them at all .

But life is short and the months of babyhood fly by. What seems like a never-ending battle, a phase that will last forever, is a quickly fading memory before its even been fully dealt with. So we make changes and sacrifice and life keeps blowing by, undaunted by our struggles.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Life, Death, Squirting Milk, and The Lion King

My daughter and I watched The Lion King this past weekend. I haven’t watched it since I was a girl and it came out in theaters. I remember feeling that it was my favorite Disney movie back in a time when I really liked Disney movies. To date I think it might be the least sexist of the Disney classics.

It had been such a terribly stressful few days leading up to the weekend (almost cliché in its overwhelmingly parental moments of diaper filling, baby crying and milk-squirting) that I forced myself—all day—to stay off line (not that my computer was online with all this slushy, router-blocking, snow we’ve been having in the mid-west) and to stop seeking my phone which has been lost, I’m certain, somewhere in my daughter’s disastrous bedroom for almost three days now, and to simply be with my daughter, to read books and watch movies and hold the baby and to try and do nothing more.

As the opening scene commences—Rafiki marches through the crowds of reverent beasts to beholden the new born king, first paying respects to the reigning king and then blessing the new king with a sort of “animal baptism” then presenting him to the beasts of the Savannah amid stamping and trumpeting of animals who then bow before him as the sun parts the clouds and touches the baby lion in a sort of blessing from heaven—I am already in tears.

I cannot say how much of my emotion was brought on by post-pregnancy hormones and how much of it was due to the surprising beauty of this opening scene. There was a strange awesomeness to this scene that I missed as a child. Maybe it was knowing how the story unfolds: a classic hero’s tale about the displaced and rightful king having to make his way home to realize his full potential and save his people. There are certain tales like this that—no matter how many times they are told—still touch us and move us deeply.

When Mufasa lay motionless on the ground after rescuing Simba from the stampede, my daughter got tears in her eyes and said, “Mom I want to see him move again…why isn’t he moving again?” Even after I tearfully explained that he was dead, she persisted in wanting him to move, not understanding why being dead meant he couldn’t move and I realized: this is her first encounter (fictional or otherwise) with death. We both sat on the couch, holding each other and sniffling.

Later that night, Twila asked more about death, resurrection, life and heaven. “Is it dark in heaven?” she asked. “No,” Ryan and I supposed, “I think its light there all the time.”

“And will everyone be there?” She asked grinning, “Even Flicka and Tutu?”

“Yes, absolutely,” I assured her.

“I can’t wait to go to heaven!” She smiled.

Ryan and I locked eyes and grimaced at the obvious impasse.

How do you explain the utter sadness and grief of death on the heels of selling the whole “heaven/ resurrection” idea? And I thought, not for the first time, that perhaps I indulged too much in those ‘omega 3 fatty acids’ when I was pregnant.

“Well,” I began cautiously, “you’re going to be here for a long time—we’re supposed to enjoy life here on earth for as long as we have it. Life is a gift we’ve been given and we shouldn’t hurry to heaven. Because when people go to heaven we miss them here on earth.

“But when am I going to die?” she asked realizing for the first time the implication of leaving this earth.

“Not for a very long time,” we punted. At three I absolutely refuse to entertain the notion of anything less than a very long life here on earth.

I was glad, that night as I went to bed, that we watched Lion King. Parts were sad and brought us through a darkness before the eventual beauty of Simba’s return. It made Twila sad and made her think about death and life. And that’s what good stories do, they make us examine life, experience—if for a brief time—sadness and even death so that we may more fully appreciate life, the life of the hero, and our own lives.

That simple movie reminds me of the essence of writing, the reason I love writing, it takes the reader through a journey of emotion. For a time, you enter into the lives of the characters, forgetting your own life and at the same time, living it more fully as you see aspects of your own life through the experience of another. The stresses, the hardships and worries of real life both melt away and yet become more real as we live, for a time, in a hero’s journey; we see our own life as our hero’s journey.