Friday, November 30, 2007

The secret lives of nannies

A friend and I were out lunching today with our kids (she with her 3 year old and infant, and me with my 11 month old -- it was a sight!), and we couldn't help but notice a chic woman, about our age, at a nearby table with a little boy. She was perfectly dressed. Her hair was done. And her shoes were, well, of the non-mama variety. But here's the thing that really got our attention: She seemed so vacant with this little boy, who might have been about 2 years old. She hardly looked at him as he sat in his high chair and ate his buttered noodles. He babbled on, singing and chattering to her, but she hardly looked at him -- instead preferring to stare off into the distance. Her mind was elsewhere, and she seemed annoyed by him, actually. And when it came time for his faced to be wiped, she did it robotically. Clearly, there was no love in the task.

When we left the restaurant, I asked my friend Katie if she noticed this. And she had. But Katie had connected the dots farther than I had. "Did you see her True Religion jeans?" she said, pointing out the fact that the woman also wasn't wearing a wedding ring and was in too good of shape to have had a baby in the past 24 months. "She's a nanny, not a mommy."

And she nailed it.

I couldn't help but wonder what this sweet little boy's mother would think if she had been a fly on the wall. Sure, the kid wasn't being neglected, or anything close to that. But isn't engaging and communicating with a child part of the job? I shuddered at the thought that some mother out there is going about her day with absolutely no idea that her son is being carted around Seattle by an emotionally unavailable child care provider. I snuggled Carson a little tighter at the thought of it.

P.S. How about this for an idea: You know those "How's my driving?" bumper stickers? Nannies should be required to wear stickers that read "How am I doing taking care of this child? Call 1-800-TELL-MOM." : )

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Neurotic recycling practices

I've been thinking about this subject ever since I mentioned it below -- had to write about it some more. Yep, I'm a neurotic recycler. You may be too if you have ever:

*Crammed a paper coffee cup in your purse, after drinking it, to bring home and put in the yard waste bin (rather than throwing it away)

*Fretted about the fact that the lid to your disposable coffee cup is not recyclable

*Kept other paper, trash, and recyclable items with you while out shopping because there was no recycle bin in sight

*Cringed when you saw someone throw a stack of paper in the trash can

*Gotten a little annoyed (alright angry!) at a house guest who kept throwing plastic bottles, beer bottles -- you name it -- in the trash can

*Dug through a trash can to reclaim recyclable items

*Re-used a piece of plastic Saran wrap too many times for it to be healthful

*Felt annoyed with recycling plants for not finding a way to recycle lids (what's up with that?!)

*Sent recyclables, like yogurt containers and glass bottles and jars, through a dishwasher before recycling

*Worried that your dog might be contributing to the planet's decline (after all, you have to use two plastic bags on walks)

*Felt pangs of guilt for your dependence upon non recyclable items like Ziploc bags

Clearly, I need help. What are your recycling hangups? Share, and I'll add to the list!

Green parenting

Some moms in my area are starting a "Green Parenting" group, and I'm joining. (One local mom was inspired by "An Inconvenient Truth" and was motivated to do something.) I love the idea of finding ways to run a more earth-friendly household while teaching my kids (in my case, just one little guy) how to think green. In our group, there will be toy swaps, idea sharing, and -- hopefully -- lots of encouragement to make positive changes, even small ones, that are better for our Earth. And, as parents, isn't it our responsibility to leave a healthy planet for our kids and grandkids? Are you a mom in the Seattle area who would like to join us? If so, email me. I'll get you the info on our first meeting.

Speaking of green practices, I've been thinking a lot about the things I do and the products I buy these days. And even though I feel good about the "green" choices I make (reusable shopping bags, for instance, and recycling that borders upon the neurotic ... I need to devote a future post to neurotic recycling practices), there are still areas I'm struggling with. For example, how does one survive without Ziploc bags? I know, I know -- they're horribly landfill clogging. But they're so darn convenient! I need to go to a support group for Ziploc addicts. Because really, I can't imagine life without them -- especially with a baby in the home.

Another confession: I'm a paper towel fiend. I use way too many of them. And I feel bad about every single one. Now, in Seattle, these can go in the yard waste bin. But even so, sometimes (when I'm on a cleaning rampage) they find their way into the trash. Sigh. Maybe giving up paper towels and Ziploc bags should be one of my New Year's resolutions ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pausing to celebrate a really good day

Hi friends. Like many moms, I sometimes focus too much on what's not going right -- the messy house, the teething baby, the husband who forgot to take out the trash, the writing deadline that's stressing me out. I admit, there are many days (too many) when I throw my head in my hands and think 'can life get any harder?'

Then there are days like today -- days that make me feel silly for being so glass-half-empty. Nothing extraordinary happened, really. I didn't get a call from my agent telling me that my novel (which I'm still tinkering with) is being fought over by two major publishers. The article I'm stressing about isn't done. The house is a bit messy. Yes -- these things haven't changed. But, somehow, life just felt in balance today. And I want to pause to be grateful for it.

First, Carson slept in -- till 7:30 a.m. -- and so did I. It felt luxurious sleeping past 5:45 a.m. (my typical wake time). Then, my usually clingy babe played quietly with his toys (with only an occasional "ra-ra" or "ga-ga" while I did a phone interview. I kept thinking, 'is this my child?' Surely, I thought, he'd start screaming at any moment, and I'd have to reschedule the call. Nope -- didn't happen.

And, the day just kept getting brighter. Carson took a monster nap (are you noticing the correlation here between a baby who sleeps well and a good day for mama?). I got a million things checked off my to-do list. We went to gym class, had a coffee date, giggled, grocery shopped, and cooked -- a healthy, yummy dinner (remind me to share my recipe for a fabulous new salad: roasted eggplant, cherry tomato, and garbanzo bean).

Yep, there will always be plenty of things to complain about, worry about, weep about -- but there are plenty of reasons to smile. And today was one of them. I hope your day was one too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Baby food (that I like to eat)

Let me share my latest obsession: Earth's Best "Very Vanilla Organic Letter of the Day Cookies" -- yep, the ones with Cookie Monster on the cover of the box. I bought these for Carson recently, and of course I had to give them a little taste test.

C'mon, share! What are your favorite baby and kid foods?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Time for a nice long nap

I did it! I survived Thanksgiving. Granted, I'm tired -- really tired -- but what a joy to cook for the special people in my life. For any of you who put on a feast for a houseful of people, you know the feeling that comes over you when the last person has had their coffee and pumpkin pie and all the dishes have been washed. It's then that you feel the urge to slump over somewhere and wake up in 2008, or maybe 2009. Hibernation. That's the word. It's more than tryptophan that's kicking in, it's hostess exhaustion induced by standing in the kitchen from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. -- running from one pot to the next, checking and tasting and stirring and doing what cooks do (man, do I have respect for professional chefs).

Here are some things I learned this year:

*Don't use the bottom of your oven as a "rack." Ever. I don't know when, but on a cooking show this year, someone said you can use the bottom of your oven as a rack when you've run out of space. Uh, NO! I tried this while roasting squash and the parchment paper nearly went up in flames. Luckily, we caught the smoke just in time and didn't burn the house down.

*You can never have too much butter. I thought I had plenty (as in three packages), but nearly ran out. Next year I'm going to buy gallons and gallons of the stuff.

*Enlist help: Don't think you can put on a feast for your entire family by yourself. It's just not possible. Really, it's not -- even if you're Martha. Enlist potato peelers, carrot choppers, dish washers and the like.

*If it's not working, ditch it. I scrapped the pomegranate glaze for my turkey because the bird was looking good as-is. Why ruin a good thing?

*Lemons: Don't stuff them in your turkey; they'll slow the cooking of the hindquarters and throw off your dinner.

*And, don't forget the doggie. They watch you cook the whole meal, like my golden Paisley did, and faithfully wait for a little scrap of turkey. Don't dissapoint them!

So yes, I'm thankful for lots of things this year -- thankful that the house didn't burn down, that the food was edible, that the guests enjoyed themselves, and that my family is happy, healthy and well fed!

Cheers everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Thanksgiving Menu

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, everything is wintry and warm and cozy, and I love it. My friend Natalie has a theory about this. As rainy and sludgy as it is here in Seattle during these fall and winter months, she says Seattleites sort of let out a big sigh of relief when the weather gets miserable. Sure, we complain about it -- the mud puddles, gray skies, endless drizzle -- but here's her theory: We secretly love it. Finally, we can forgo high fashion for comfy sweaters, cozy up to seasonal ale, and just take it slow, even blow off our social calendars for a few months. I think she's summed up half the people in this city, me included. I am happiest, I think, when the weather is stormy, rainy, and generally overcast. But remind me this in March, OK?

That brings me to Thanksgiving. How are you spending the pre-T-day week? If you're hosting, as I am, you're likely scurrying, cleaning, planning, shopping, and prepping. That describes my week, except I'm doing that with a few writing deadlines and a certain someone saying "ga-ga, ba-ba" in my ear.

I'll be preparing a meal for 12 this year, and I plan to do a very traditional dinner -- but with a few twists just for fun:

Roast Turkey With Pomegranate Glaze
Onion Gravy
Rosemary Sage Cornbread Dressing
Petite Green Beans With Shallots and Toasted Almonds
Black and Green Olives (olives are a staple, my husband tells me, in his family's Thanksgiving dinners)
Assorted Roasted Squash, With Herbed Brown Butter
Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts (with Kimchi!)
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Gingered Carrots
Cranberry-Orange Sauce
Dinner Rolls
Green Salad
Pumpkin Pie

So, we have a bit of time before the big day, so please tell me what your star side dish is! I have a feeling this menu will be tweaked a bit before Thursday.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho

I promise, my next post will be more substantive, more delicious, and more inspiring. But for now, I couldn't resist sharing this photo with you. We took Carson to my husband's (very early) office holiday party today, where we "introduced" him to Santa Claus. This was the result:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My 3:30 a.m. wake-up call

My son woke up at an ungodly hour today. My friend Wendi calls this a "cock-a-doodle-do." And, yep, that's what I had this morning: my very own cock-a-doodle-do. When that happens, life is just yucky. In case you're having a really bad day, read this and it will make you feel better. Here's a brief recap of my (early morning):

*Woke up to Carson crying at 3:30 a.m. -- I lay in bed wishing, hoping, and praying that he'd go back to sleep. He didn't.
*3:34 a.m.: The screaming is getting intense and Jason urges me to go in and resettle him. I want to say "YOU GO RESETTLE HIM! I'VE BEEN UP WITH THIS BABY THREE TIMES ALREADY TONIGHT." But I don't.
*4:00 a.m.: After many minutes of rocking, singing, nursing and so on, I lay Carson back in his crib. He SCREAMS.
*4:20 a.m.: Jason pleads with me to do something. He has a big day at work. I ask him to put his earplugs in.
*4:30 a.m.: Carson's screams are getting more desperate. He's crying like he's being tortured or something. But I know he's not. He's just crying because he's dropped his teddy bear to the ground -- like usual -- and wants to get up and play. Nobody is sleeping, so I force myself to my feet -- and start the day.
*5:00 a.m.: Breakfast this early is just plain weird.
*5:30 a.m.: I doze off briefly on the couch while Carson plays with his toys. After a 60-second snooze I awake, frantically. Carson is eating a page of my Food and Wine magazine. I scoop the contents out of his mouth and feel like a horrible mother.
*6:00 a.m.: He's getting fussy, but he won't sleep. So, I turn on public television and we find that an episode of Telatubbies (sp?) is on. Carson is mesmerized. I am horrified (really, this show is borderline psychedelic -- but maybe it's just because I'm exhausted?).
*6:45 a.m.: Time for a nap. I lay Carson in his crib. He protests.
*7:00 a.m. Finally, he falls asleep.
*7:15 a.m.: Finally, I fall asleep.
*7:45 a.m.: He's up again -- ready to start the day for real this time. I grumble and go get him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Some writerly advice

Freelance writer and blogger Susan Johnston, who runs The Urban Muse, a great blog for aspiring writers, interviewed me recently about my favorite topic (other than motherhood and food, of course): writing! Click here to check out Susan's blog and read what I had to say. Thanks for thinking of me, Susan!

Speaking of writing, do you have a burning question about the freelance life that you need answered? Email me, or post a comment and I'll answer it here.

Ta-ta for now. The baby is teething (how else can I explain the random fussiness?). It's been a long day. No creativity left. Not even an ounce.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saved, by cookies

So, I got brave tonight and pulled out a cookie sheet. I know, I threw in the towel and gave up baking -- for good, I thought -- but somehow I found a spatula in my hand this evening and somehow I gave way to a chocolate-chip cookie craving.

I tried a new recipe, courtesy of my sister, Jessica (the best baker I know). I'd share it with you, but sorry -- the recipe is top secret. Jessica's not into her big sis divulging her best creations online. Besides, these cookies are valuable -- as in, Jess could make a killing on them. And when she writes a cookbook, I'm sure this recipe will take it's rightful place. Let me tell you why: First, they're light. I know what you're thinking, and let me assure you: They don't taste light. I don't know how she did it, but they're crunchy on the outside and gooey and soft on the inside. A perfect cookie combo -- and the perfect remedy to extricate me from my baking funk.

Ah, it's good to be in harmony with my oven again.

A prune revival

Have you heard? Suddenly, prunes are hot. Whether you call them prunes, or dried plums (I think the latter sounds a little more appetizing, don't you?), the shriveled purple fruit is the latest culinary comeback kid. No longer happy to languish in your grandmother's medicine cabinet, prunes seem to be everywhere -- and in everything. I just saw a recipe in a food magazine for prune cake (mmm!) and then there is that new product, Sunsweet Ones, which I think sounds like a good idea -- especially in light of the recent news about their surprising health properties.

Speaking of plums, each year, our Italian plum tree produces too much fruit for us to use. So our golden retriever pitches in and eats two every morning for breakfast in the summer months. Not this year, though. I intend to beat her to the punch.

So, please share: What are you making with prunes these days? As soon as I can find the courage to bake again (you may remember, I threw in the towel recently), I'm going to give that prune cake a whirl.

Happy (blustery) Monday. It's a windy, rainy mess here in Seattle.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Retiring the Baby Bjorn

All of you mothers and fathers out there, you're going to identify with this post: We reached a big milestone recently. I "retired" Carson's Baby Bjorn. For the last few months, my back began to ache the minute I snapped him into the carrier. But because I couldn't imagine life without the Bjorn, (how would I shop, carry in groceries, do anything without it?) I resisted and hobbled along, clutching my aching back while Carson was strapped in, happy as a clam. But then I heard about a new baby-wearing contraption: the Ergo. This newfangled carrier allows you to wear your baby, well your child, up to 40 lbs. It also has backpack capabilities. So, in short: I ordered it. Carson loves it -- and so does my back.

So, farewell Bjorn. You've been good to us. Here is a tribute to our time with you -- the things I won't ever forget:
*The walk we took around the neighborhood, with our colicky boy in "Bjorn training" screaming so loud the neighbors looked out their windows to see what all the clatter was about.
*The many mornings I strapped my fussy baby in the carrier and paced the floors until he fell asleep for his "nap." Then I would sneak to my computer and quietly answer emails.
*The exploring we did -- all over Seattle.
*The way Carson used to chew on the front panel of the Bjorn until it was soaked with slobber. Ick.
*The time someone stopped to tell me that my baby in the Bjorn was the "perfect fashion accessory." There was no response.
*The many cups of coffee sipped above a baby's head.
*The time the clasp didn't snap all the way, and Carson fell out of the Bjorn, landing in a safe (and soft) spot -- thank God. Yes, it was pure terror.
*The joy of going through life with a baby attached to me.

Here's to you, Bjorn. And, just for fun, here are a few of our favorite photos:

The Bjorn was the morning nap spot for a while.

Baby's first airplane ride to San Diego -- here, getting off the plane and posing with the pilot.

A big boy, enjoying his final days in the Bjorn.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Goodbye, Burt

A few weeks ago at the Whole Foods Market in Seattle, where I sometimes shop, there was a woman giving away samples of Tom's of Maine toothpaste. Someone asked, "Are the ingredients still the same now that you're owned by Colgate-Palmolive?" I have to admit, I was a little shocked. I've been buying Tom's products for years, because I think they're great. Plus, I like the fact that I'm supporting a grass roots company rather than a multi-national conglomerate. And, they're toothpaste is yummy. But when I start to imagine that it's being made in the same manufacturing plant as, well, dish detergent, it's a tad unsettling.

And then, I read in a newsletter this morning that Burt's Bees has taken the same path. Yes, adorable, all-natural, home-grown Burt's Bees. In case you haven't heard, they've just been snatched up for $950 million by Clorox -- yup, the company that hawks noxious toilet bowl cleaner.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I quit

You know the old saying: You can either cook or you can bake, but you can't do both? It's true. Let me explain.

Being partial to cooking, it has always bugged the heck out of me that I have no baking confidence. Zilch. (Well, that's excluding my pies -- I do make a mean pie.) So over the past month, I start baking -- like mad. There were brownies. There were tarts. There were cookies, breads, cakes, and lots of muffins. I whipped and I folded and I blended. I measured, kneaded, whisked, and frosted. There were highs and lows -- some good, and some just "meh" -- but the majority of the things I pulled from my oven were pretty much, well, yuck.

And last night, my baking journey ended -- with a really terrible batch of Hawaiian rolls, which had the exact texture of, how do I put this lightly, rubber tires. (Still, there is one upside to bad dinner rolls: You know who your true friends are when they slather them in butter and eat them without a single complaint. Lisa and Fletcher, you guys are the best.)

So, please make me feel better. Tell me about your baking blunders, that is, if you have any.

Bye for now. Going to rid my kitchen of muffin tins and cake pans.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The thing about baking soda

I have a love-hate relationship with Arm & Hammer. On one hand, baking soda is essential. Where would my cookies and cakes be without it? But I have a bone to pick with recipes that call for copious amounts of the stuff, rendering each bite of cake, muffin, cookie -- you name it -- tasting of aluminum.

The last two things I've made, pumpkin spice bread and chocolate chip cookies (yep, I finally made the Deceptively Delicious recipe for chocolate chip-chickpea cookies), both had this over-the-top metallic baking soda taste. Gross, I know.

So all of you baking experts out there: Can you cut back on the amount of baking soda in a recipe and be alright? Or maybe there's a baking soda brand that doesn't taste like, well, baking soda?

Advice? I think I'll email Dorie Greenspan.

Trick or treat

Carson was a turtle for Halloween this year. He's only 10 months old, so he didn't know what was going on when Jason and I got him all dressed in costume -- complete with a tail and hat. We tried not to let him see us giggle. I'm convinced that dressing your kids up in goofy costumes is one of the bonuses of parenthood. It was priceless!

As the sun set, I put a bowl of candy by the door -- Kit Kats and Reeces Peanut Butter Cups. I have to admit, I felt a little guilty about this. I'm into health and wholesome eating, so part of me felt as though I should have stocked the bowl with fruit leather or granola bars. But, no. Not tonight. For one night of the year, let them eat candy.

Maybe someday Kit Kats will be sweetened with fruit juice, made with organic chocolate, and come standard with 5 grams of fiber. But for now, I'm going to just go with it.

And so we waited, and we waited. [Insert sound of crickets chirping.] There were no ghosts or goblins ringing our doorbell, no supermans or princesses either. And the bowl of candy just sat by the door, looking a little lonely and sad. What happened to Halloween, we wondered? It certainly isn't the event I remember as a child.

Then, just when we were about to turn the lights off and call it a night, there was a knock at the door -- at 8:55! Three pre-teen girls, dressed in costumes I didn't recognize (Madonna, maybe? Brittney Spears?) were on our front stoop, candy bags in hand. And that was it for Halloween.

After we closed the curtains and turned down the lights, I began to wonder if Halloween is morphing into something else. Private parties? Organized shopping-center candy giveaways?

Maybe door-to-door trick-or-treating has gone the way of the buffalo. Maybe. But part of me will always love the personal nature of trick-or-treating -- kids braving the cold to greet their neighbors. And come October 31, I'll be keeping a bowl of candy by the door -- even if it's just for me.