December 29, 2011

Love and the art of being late

My kids tease me mercilessly for my utter lack of timeliness. I am late for everything. Which is a problem if you're a kid going to basketball practice. Or to chorus. Or, well, anywhere.

When you add that little personality quirk to a major holiday like, oh, say, Christmas, with its very many opportunities to be late, it becomes a nightmare of 2 a.m. cookie baking, crazy Christmas Eve day shopping sprints, and overnight wrapping marathons. It's expensive and exhausting.

And it didn't happen this year.

I don't know if it was the impetus of my latest new au pair heading home mid-month, and taking all my childcare with her, or if it was my sister very nearly begging off Christmas because of the never-ending holiday chaos at my house. But something snapped. And suddenly I was on time.

I finished my shopping a full 10 days before Christmas. And snagged some pretty awesome sales, too.

I had the cookies mixed and baked for my diva's holiday party three days early.

And the wrapping was done on the eve of Christmas Eve. Still an overnight marathon, but it meant I slept - mostly - on Christmas Eve proper. Which made for a much more friendly mom when the kids woke me up before dawn on Christmas Day.

I was still late for a handful of Christmasy things, some of them important. Like Peabo's school holiday party. Though I can legitimately blame that on the onlay that broke the day before (mind you, I was on time to the dentist). Of my three, Peabo is - not surprisingly - the one with the least ability to manage the whole "late mom" thing. He always knows what time it is and is constantly adjusting our clocks. Schedules matter to him. They matter a lot. So does being on time.

But, as I told him between gentle apologies, love means taking someone as they come, faults and all. Even if that someone never really knows what time it is.


Love. Forgiveness. Understanding. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Though being on time does help.

Whaddya know? Post number 37! Only 20 more to go before the end of the year ...

21 posts

The last two New Year's ... New Year'ses? New Years? Eh. The last two Eves (see, that works), I've put together a "done list" that talks about the things that got done in the year preceding. It's meant to provide a sense of accomplishment in the face of a daunting, multi-year, to-do list.

Each year my done list includes the number of blog posts I've published. And in case you haven't kept track along with me (and can't see the little archive that appears on the right side of this page), I published 57 posts each in 2009 and 2010. Some kind of weird record in consistency that I promise was not at all planned.

Not this year. This year, I published a scant 35 posts. Until this one goes up. Then it will be 36.

Which is 21 short. And entirely lame.

It's not that I wasn't doing other, deeply legitimate things. I was. Managing my kids, who've had a bit of a rough year. Managing yet another au pair transition, because our lovely, as yet tattoo-free German missed her family and decided to go home 7 months early. Managing work, and one of the biggest projects of my career. And managing my health and my house and my finances.

You know. Living.

I heard on the radio today - which I was listening to in the morning, so you can't really trust what I'm about to tell you - but I heard that if you want to keep your New Year's resolutions, you need to make just one. And you need to forgive yourself and start over if you break it. Which is kind of like how the whole diet/fitness/health thing works. So you'd think I'd be familiar.

And maybe this will be my resolution. To find my bloggy inspiration again. Because I miss the writing.

I miss it a lot.

November 6, 2011

I Can Fly

Yesterday was the last official day of soccer. Not that there's been much soccer this season. Between the hurricane, the flooding, and the freak October snowstorm, we've had enough weird weather on the East Coast to make a case for global climate change all on our own. Which means a lot of canceled soccer games.

So today, post-season playoffs began for Peabo. Which was interesting, because my redhead is sick. He's been sick since Friday, running a fever that got slightly higher on Saturday, and slightly lower on Sunday. But we all wanted to go to the game. The weather was mostly warm and very sunny, so I bundled up the redhead and snuggled him up on my lap.

The playoffs were a bit weird. There are five teams in the league. So the 2 and 5 seeds played a 30-minute game. Then the 3 and 4 seeds played a 30-minute game. Then, after a 30-minute wait, the winners played each other in another 30-minute game. The winner of *that* game goes on to play the number 1 seed next weekend for the championship.

Peabo's team - the 3 seed - won the whole playoff shebang. On penalty kicks after their second 30-minute game ended in a 0-0 tie.

If you do all that minute math, it adds up to 90 minutes plus penalty kicks. Which meant we were there long enough for a 6-year-old bladder to need a bit of relief.

So my redhead, feeling the joy of being outside and in something other than pajamas, challenged me to a footrace to the port-o-potties. Except, when we got there, we found them defaced with bad words. Bad words he could read. So he wouldn't use them.

The local middle school, on the very far side of the very large, multi-field field, was open. So I suggested we head up there to find restrooms. Another footrace ensued. He did his business, and then raced me once again back to our seats.

Which means I ran.

In fact, I ran quite far. For me, anyway.

I hate running. Hate it like the chore that it is. I've always felt like I was slogging through pudding just trying to get one foot in front of the other. I am slow and ungainly. Running is totally not my thing.

Except today it was. I ran with my redhead, and I felt fast. I felt like I flew across that field. I even beat him, which sounds ridiculous - I mean he's 6 - but he's a fast 6, and I'm a very slow 45.

And, amazingly, I wasn't breathless. Not even a little. If you'd talked to me right then, you'd never have known I'd run anywhere.

It was awesome.

The last time I tried to run, I was red and flushed and, yes, breathless, and I very nearly passed out. I also injured my hip so badly I could barely walk and spent 6 months in pain and 6 weeks on a daily regimen of ibuprofen.

The last time I tried to run, I weighed 56 lbs more than I weigh today.

I did not feel like I could fly.

Today, I ran. And I flew.

I like being an after.

(Not that I'm going to go run a marathon or anything. I'll leave that to folks like my friend Anne at Mom & Dad Track Stars, who just finished the Marine Corps Marathon and did not throw up. Kudos, Anne!)

October 26, 2011

No time

If I had time to blog ... which I don't ... I'd tell you about my son, Peabo. He somehow became a teenager overnight on me, complete with stinky teenaged feet and a compelling need to use (moderately) foul language around his mother.

That last part? Totally won't fly.

He wanted total world domination for his birthday. Again. He got this cool book called Rule the World: 119 Shortcuts to Total World Domination from his grandparents. Now he's well on his way.

I'd tell you about the cupcakes I made for his party: Martha Stewart's mint-filled brownie cupcakes. Not one of the kids liked them, except for my diva, but she likes brussels sprouts, so you never know with her.  I'm still transitioning from the Big Get Healthy to the Big Stay Healthy, so I couldn't even try them. I was smart enough to bring a back-up cake to the party, though. Talk about over-prepared - I mean, who brings a back-up dessert to a birthday party? But at least all those brownie cupcake haters had something sweet and sugary to chase down their pizza and popcorn.

I also made Peabo cinnamon buns from scratch, and the world's most chocolatey brownies, also from scratch. My first ever from-scratch brownies. And homemade mac & cheese with chicken and ham and broccoli. It tickled me pink that my Peabo, who used to eat nothing but chicken nuggets and frozen pizzas, wanted a slew of homemade birthday treats. Needless to say, I made him everything he asked for.

If I had time to blog ... again, I don't ... I'd tell you about how the crazy dog is no longer satisfied with barking at my beautiful children but is also herding them and occasionally nipping at them, and twice left little bitty tooth bruises on my Peabo's thigh. This, after all my researching and training and learning to use a clicker and pretending I don't mind having stinky, oogy fingers from treating my dog with cut up hot dogs and chicken. We're now down to the last option, the one where I call the rescue group and suggest that we may not be the right family for this beautiful dog. They are investigating. But I think the upshot of it is, perhaps, that kids with loud voices and spectrummy tantrums do not work and play well with border collie. We are stressing him out.

We'll see how it goes.

If I had time, I'd tell you about the afghan I started knitting, with fat circular needles in a rich purple and olive. It's for a friend. I think she doesn't read the blog, but if she does, well, dear, it's NOT for you! (It is, but we'll keep that between the rest of us.) I made up the colorwork myself - the pattern was for a solid - and it's blending beautifully. Except that not having time to blog means I have no time to knit, either, so I probably won't finish it until 2015. If I'm lucky.

I don't have time, though, to tell you about it. Instead you get little snippets that are not particularly well thought out.

Better than not blogging at all. Right?

And now I'm going to bed.

October 7, 2011

The Big Get Healthy, part deux

As of today, I'm an "after."
Before, with my diva,
at Christmas time

21 weeks ago I was a "before." I hated looking at pictures of myself because I didn't recognize the woman I saw. I could no longer zip my size 14 jeans, mostly because I needed 16s and couldn't bring myself to buy them. I was obese and sedentary. I wasn't sleeping. And even a little bit of stress sent me diving into a carton of mint chocolate chip.

I couldn't live that way anymore. Because of the pictures and the clothes and the bad example I knew I was setting for my kids. And because it wasn't me. So I called my longtime friend, Rhoda Waiss, now a health coach with Take Shape for Life. And I asked her for help.

That's exactly what she did. She helped.

A week later I started my Big Get Healthy.

It's a journey, and it's not over. Maintenance is a lifetime commitment.

But this stage is over.

Because today, I'm an "after."

After ... I'll get a
better picture, promise!
Today, I wear a size 4. Well, sometimes a 6, but just as often it's a 4. I wear jeans without lycra, and I can button them too. I can fit into my prom dress, which I know because today I tried it on. And it zipped, or, well, it would have if the zipper weren't broken because it's spent the last few years in my daughter's costume box. But I could clutch the edges together comfortably. And that's around a waist that has grown around 3 very large babies.

Today, I move. I take the crazy dog for a nice, long walk nearly every day. I avoid elevators and take the stairs whenever I can find them. I lift hand weights during conference calls and do sit-ups when I watch TV. I park far away from where I want to go ... and then promptly lose my car. But just think of the calories I burn hunting for it!

Today, when I get stressed ... well, I stop sleeping, as always. You can't be all healthy all the time. But I don't turn to food. I make an herbal tea and vent on Facebook.

I've lost 51 pounds.

And I'm happy. Because the woman in the mirror is the woman I expect to see. A little tired, maybe, with her fair share of crow's feet and a sprinkling of gray hair hidden artfully by highlights. She's 45, after all.

But she's me. And I'm happy she's back.

September 29, 2011

Directionally Challenged

I do lost. I do it brilliantly. It is, in point of fact, one of my greatest skills.

My sister has complained that after living in and around a certain major metropolitan area since, oh, say, the day I was born, I probably ought to know where its neighborhoods lie and how they connect to each other.

I do not. I get lost. Even in the city of my birth.

And gee, that's fun.

On Saturday I dragged my two youngest kids to the biggest mall in our area. A great big outlet style mall. Big, big parking lot. So big, in fact, that it features valet parking at three different entrances.

I know my own deficiencies. So whenever I go anywhere - work, the grocery store, the colossal mall with 87 movie theaters - I park in the same place. Always. I pick one favorite row. I know where it is. I walk down it until I find my car.

Brilliant, right? It works every time.

Unless, of course, said mall has decided to do massive construction on its parking lots. Hence the valet parking. Because there is no parking. None.

I don't pay to park at the mall. There's a sort of ridiculousness in paying to park when you're paying to shop. So we avoided the valet and, after driving around for 15 minutes, lucked into a little, hard-to-find space as someone else was leaving it. The space was not in my row. It was in the unfamiliar hinterlands. I made a mental note that the car would not be where I expected it to be. I studied landmarks. I asked my kids to help. Then we bravely left our little car to fend for itself.

In the mall, I dropped insane amounts of money on child-sized fall clothes. I'm not sure why my kids keep growing out of stuff. Possibly it's because they're kids. Oh, but I found a pair of dress pants I could wear to work, to replace all the ones I don't have anymore. And they were a size 4. 4! I'm not even kidding.

But I digress.

I got a text at that point to come pick up my oldest from his playdate. So we trucked back around the mall loaded down with our big bags of stuff, exited ... and spent 40 minutes trolling the parking lot for our red minivan that looks just like every other red minivan in this part of the world. Ours wasn't there. I pressed my panic button. No answering honk. I pressed it again. And again and again and again. Still no honk.

So we went back in the mall. Where we realized we'd come out the wrong door.

When we went out the right door, we found the car, right where we left it. So we got in it and drove straight home.

Or we would have. Except I got lost doing that too.

That'll teach me to leave the GPS at home.

September 23, 2011

Wrap Me In Happy

I found myself in my basement earlier this week. It doesn't happen often, because my basement is scary as hell. My ex-husband collected pretty much every collectible thing ever made, and he left all that collectible detritus behind him when he moved out. Now there are mazes of old boxes and the empty wrappers of baseball cards everywhere. It's a rodents paradise.

I don't have rodents, of course. I mean, who the hell knows, really, rodents are squirrely little things. But since my basement is also full of mousetraps, I seriously doubt it.

So I was down there, climbing over the tipping towers of crap in search of Peabo's old size 7s to pass down to my redhead, when I ran into a treasure trove of clothes. My clothes. My old, teeny, tiny, I used to be a skinny person clothes. 

Skinny for me predates Peabo, which means this stuff is really, really, colossally old. Like, 14 years or better. And I should have gotten rid of it a long time ago. But some stuff you just can't part with.

Like the first interview suit I ever bought, back when I was in grad school.

The only bridesmaid's dress I had that I ever considered wearing again. Except that I squeezed into it pretty much that just that one day before I grew right out of it.

An old, blue sheath dress that once fit me like a glove. I don't remember where I wore it, but I remember I felt fabulous in it. And that was apparently reason enough to keep it forever.

The slim-waisted, full cut white skirt my mom bought me for my birthday the summer after eighth grade.

The nearly backless, slit-up-to-here revenge dress I wore to my 10-year high school reunion, where I knew I'd run into my very recent ex. I'm pretty sure he didn't notice, and actually it wasn't really that racy, because when you get right down to it I'm just not that flashy. Or revengy. But it gave me the courage to walk into the room, and that's all I needed that night.

And a whole slew of what we'll call vintage Victoria's Secret - that is, some very pretty bras that I retired when I was pregnant with Peabo and never fit back into. They all have real wire underwires. Can you imagine? Real wire.

It all fits. Even the skirt my mom bought me when I was 14. Granted, it's snug. But it buttons. And I can sit down in it. And it still fans out beautifully when I spin around. Which I most definitely did when I tried it on.

That's what happens when you lose 47 pounds. You fit into not just your skinny clothes, but your very skinny clothes.

Most of this stuff is ridiculously dated. I'm talking giant shoulder pads and pocket hankies here, folks. But it fits. And while I may never, ever wear it, I put every bit of it back into my now empty closet.

Right next to the size 14s I can't bear to part with.

The black and white dress I bought at the Loft on the one and only shopping trip I've ever made with both my sisters together.

The dark orange shirt with 3/4 sleeves that I bought for my very first post-divorce date.

The soft gray sweater that made me smile every single time I put it on, mostly because someone once told me I looked pretty in it.

The form-fitting blue dress I wore on a very special Christmas date with my fella. I still remember walking home, warm and happy, in tall black pumps that left soft prints in the snow that had fallen ever-so-gently while we were at dinner. It's a great dress.

My closet is empty now, but for this handful of outdated or oversized memories. I've shrunk right out of pretty much every single thing I own.

I miss my clothes. I don't miss the extra weight, of course. And I don't want to fit back into that stuff again. But I miss my clothes. I miss the memories, and the feeling you get from wearing something that wraps you in happy.

Time to make some new happy. Which would be a lot more fun if I didn't have to go shopping to do it.

August 30, 2011

When Mother Nature Is Out to Get You

Last week, we started school. Which has led to some musings. Random musings.

First, math.

Do you remember 8th grade algebra? I do. Loved my teacher, Mrs. Vaughn, who taught me to enjoy math and take some pride in an ability to do it well. I still can't add long columns of numbers, and I'll never know my multiplication tables by heart. But at one point I could do both well enough that I managed a whole year of algebra with a cheap-ass calculator. Peabo and his generation, however, are apparently so mathematically challenged that their 8th grade algebra class requires the firm plunking down of $140. For a calculator.

A calculator that comes with a USB cord and 20 pre-installed apps. It's like an iPod, only, you know, not.

Actually, I could have bought him an iPod at that price. It has a calculator built in. And for a measly $4.99 you can get Angry Birds, too.

That thing does make graphs, though. For my fine-motor challenged Peabo, that's a plus. (Note: math pun. Ha ha.)

Second, the first day of school. Which should maybe be first, not second, except that we bought the calculator first. Or rather, hemorrhaged money in the direction of the local office store.

Our first day of school was rather interesting because after the full backpacks and the big breakfast and the cheery pictures of the kids, there was the earthquake. Because we live on the East Coast, and earthquakes are a fact of life out here.

Except they're NOT. Not ever. So my kids spent their first day of school diving under their desks and then sat outside for two hours getting sunburned for the sake of safety.

For which I am grateful.

My redhead's assessment of his first day of first grade? "The best part was when the earth started shaking! That was awesome! Can we do it again?"

Oh, please no.

But that wasn't enough. Because into the chaos of tracking down med forms and prescriptions and picking up last-minute supplies for the middle schooler, we also added a hurricane.

Yeah, that was fun. We spent hours stocking up on non-perishable food and water in case the power went out (oddly enough, ours didn't - I say oddly because pretty much the whole rest of the world around our one little block is still dark). And then I dragged all the deck furniture inside and stowed my trash cans and pulled my basketball hoop down so it wouldn't blow over.

My kids freaked out. My au pair freaked out. They asked me about flooding and thunder and wind. They stayed up late and panicked. And that's with me firmly NOT telling them there might be tornadoes. Aren't I a good mom?

Of course, I knew there might be tornadoes, so I didn't sleep a wink. My basement is uninhabitable, so I put my kids in a room that was safe from falling trees and spent the night listening to the radio for tornado warnings.

Brilliant recipe for a cranky weekend. Stressed out, sleep-deprived kids combined with physically exhausted, sleep-deprived mom. Fun fun.

And then they stayed home from school. Because although our area was spared the floods that hit farther north, so many trees are down, so many homes and businesses are without power, that school's been canceled for two days now. Likely with more to come.

After the chaos of a vacation that bumped headlong into the back-to-school weekend frenzy of shopping and haircuts and more shopping, school should have been a break. It should have gotten us back to the routine. And we love that routine. I love it. My kids love it. My aspie especially loves it. Even my new au pair loves it.

So far, no routine. Only natural disasters. And a $140 calculator.

August 26, 2011

Pampering

This is what pampering looks like.

It looks like being met at the airport with a great big giant hug and a loving tolerance of your inclination to walk into walls when you're heavily dosed with Xanax. (I also walk into walls when I'm not dosed with Xanax, but we don't need to mention that.)

It looks like being cozily tucked into bed under a downy, huggy comforter to sleep it off.

It looks like being whisked away to a gorgeous resort at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. A room with a stunning view of the city and its bridge and its bay, a cozy gas fireplace, and little thoughtful gifts that make a woman's heart sing.

And golf carts. They had golf carts, and they'd drive you places in them. That was kinda cool.

It looks trips to museums and gardens and sips of tea, movie dates and dinner dates, and a snuggle in front of the TV.

It looks kinda awesome, is what it looks like. I don't get many days off - the single parent lifestyle is a wee bit constrained. But when I do, well, it's really lovely to have someone to share them with, and who will spoil me rotten while he does.

August 8, 2011

33 Pounds

Okay, so now my blog looks like something designed by a perky tweenager with a sherbet fixation. Sheesh.

That's not my topic of the day, however. This is.

You know that Big Get Healthy thing I've been doing? Well, at this point, I've lost 33 pounds.

Pausing now for dramatic effect.

That's 33 pounds. 33 pounds that took my Body Mass Index from obese into the very top end of "healthy" for my height. 33 pounds that finally, for the first time in a decade, have me weighing less than my driver's license says I do.

33 pounds that have shrunk me right out of my entire wardrobe.

Given that I'm not finished yet - seriously, I've got about 18 pounds to go, and YES that's a healthy weight. But given that 18 pounds is a whole other clothing size, I don't want to invest in much right now. The thing is, when your pants are falling off and even your unmentionables have become unmentionably large - because after your third child you just gave up and kept all those oh so comfy maternity bikinis - you realize you need to go shopping.

My reward for passing that driver's license landmark was that I got to buy new unmentionables from a certain world-famous, colossally expensive and slightly snooty lingerie store. Mostly because the last time I was there I stood in the dressing room and cried because nothing fit and I looked horribly ugly. And so I left, vowing never to return.

On the way there, though, I got distracted by Ann Taylor. Which is easy to do. I love their stuff. And it's the end of season clearance. And I found a really pretty purple dress, a silky fancy thing that I could wear, maybe, to my sister's wedding next summer. I was holding a 10. And then an 8. And then a 10. And then the saleswoman asked me if I needed help.

"Um ... I've lost a lot of weight recently and I don't know what size I am anymore."

"Oh, honey," she said, looking me over. "You want the small."

So I took the 8. And a size 8 skirt. Two small tops. And a really stunning knit wrap dress that would have looked horrifyingly awful on me 3 months ago. Also an 8.

I tried on the wrap dress first. Fit like a glove. Made curvy things curvy. Made the middle all slender and sleek. It fit. It fit beautifully.

And I cried.

And then I tried on the purple dress. In an 8. And it was too big. Too. Big.

I know they make sizes bigger today than they used to. But still. This body hasn't seen an 8 since 1994, when I was between boyfriends, working out 4-5 days a week, and flirting outrageously with the fella I'm dating now (oddly enough), who steadfastly refused to ask me out like I wanted him to (for a lot of very good, very gentlemanly reasons).

And it's never, ever, ever seen a 6. 

So I cried. Because 12 weeks ago I could no longer button my size 14 jeans. And I didn't want to go up another size. 12 weeks ago, I'd crossed that invisible line between overweight and obese. And I didn't want to get any bigger.

But it's not just about being thinner. It's about being happier. Healthier. More active. Less stressed. Sleeping better.

It's about setting an example for my kids of what a healthy life looks like. And being there for them when they teach those lessons to their own kids.

Those wonderful ladies at Ann Taylor? They sold my teary self that full-price wrap dress that I didn't need. With a 30% friends and family discount because, they said, I deserved a celebration.

I really hope it fits when I'm finished.

...
I'm not doing this solo. I've been lucky enough to work with health coach Rhoda Waiss, a long-time friend who works with Take Shape for Life. She's got a web site of her own at feelfabnow.com. This isn't a sponsored endorsement. 'Cause it's not like anyone would pay me to blog. Certainly not with this ridiculous cotton candy design, anyway. And yes, I'll be changing it very, very soon.


August 2, 2011

Now We Are 6

It's been so long since I blogged that I barely remembered my password. Well, it's been two weeks. Not really that long. Which just goes to show you how bad my short-term memory is.

And because I seem completely unable to hold onto a train of thought for longer than 30 seconds, this is going to be a bit of a random ramble.

Here goes. 
  • We are on our 4th au pair in 4 months. I swear I'm not that bad a host mom. Really. 
  • In April we said farewell to our beloved Belgian au pair, who was with us 18 months and left as she was meant to. Then came the manny, who, well, just did not work out and left us at the end of that month. In June, we welcomed our beloved, formerly purple-haired German, whom we loved and who loved us. But a family emergency called her home, oh, about two weeks ago (oddly, that would be the last time I blogged). So, on Sunday, we welcomed a young German whose hair has never been purple. She is sweet and sincere, albeit utterly fried today. I think we are wearing her out.
  • Yesterday, my redhead hugged her. I can't remember the last time he hugged an au pair who hadn't already been here for at least 3 months. He is not a kid who touches. He hasn't let me kiss him since he was 2, and I'm his mother, for crying out loud.
  • He did kiss me today, though. On the arm. He never does that.
  • He did not, however, let me kiss him. I asked.
  • When our formerly purple-haired German had to fly home, I called my former mother-in-law in the wee hours of the morning and left a message that said, very quietly, "help." She was in her car even before I woke up the next morning. She stayed for 3 days, bonded with the grandkids, spoiled them rotten, and gave me a big giant helping hand. She rocks.
  • Then we went to the beach for a whole week with an awesome mom friend and her son, one of Peabo's best buds. The kids watched lots of TV, played lots of video games, discovered the joys of hand-dipped donuts and spent hours in the ocean. It was awesome. And that's despite the constant bickering my kids subjected us to. They gave Peabo's only-child friend a lesson in sibling rivalry I am certain he will never, ever forget. I'm so very proud.
  • There was no internet at the beach. Which means I got lots of sleep. And I finished Middlemarch. I'm not sure how I got through as many courses on 19th Century novels as I did without once reading George Eliot. She rocks too, you know.
  • I also read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. With the kids. We haven't finished it yet: it goes kinda slowly when you're reading a few pages at bedtime every night. Reading it used to be a chore because the redhead hated it. Now he loves it. I think that's because he has a scar on his forehead (seriously, he does), and his birthday is the day after Harry's.
  • Because I know you're an enormous Harry Potter fan - isn't everyone? - I'm sure you've realized my redhead's birthday was, in fact, yesterday. And that means means that my redhead, who was 5 before yesterday, is suddenly and most unexpectedly 6. 
  • I gave him a book that uses the word "jackass" twice. It's okay, though, because it's describing an actual jackass and the book is damned funny. We read it over dinner last night, and all three of my kids cracked up, out loud even, and the redhead's read it twice more on his own. It's Lane Smith's It's a Book. Check it out. Though if you've got any issues with introducing your younger kids to that kind of mildly cussworthy snark, you may want to hold off. My guy invented snark (we call it self-defense when you're the youngest of 3). So I'm good with it.
And that's the biggie. My baby is 6. I'm trying hard not to be misty about that. Which probably explains why I went for the snark.

PS For those who don't know, Now We Are Six is a brain-stickingly brilliant book of children's poems by A. A. Milne.

July 15, 2011

Sibling Issues

One thing I've always loved about my kids is that they are a team. I've tried very hard to foster that. I think it's a significant part of my job as a mom to make sure the kids know they have each other, now and always. They lift each other up, back each other up, because that's what siblings do.

A few years ago, when Peabo was maybe 9 and his sister not quite 6, they showed me they got it. Peabo was playing his first season of basketball, which he loved. And loves. He was sitting on the bench in maybe the 3rd period, watching the game, when he spotted a gaggle of very tall middle school girls in a part of the gym where people are Not Supposed to Go. So, being the rule follower that he is, he got up from the bench (did I mention he picks and chooses his rules?) and followed them in there to tell them to leave. I didn't notice this. I was watching the game. But my diva did. She went in after her brother. Good thing, too. Peabo asked the big girls to leave. They told him no. He asked them again, because that's what he does. In fact, he insisted. They said no. One of them pushed him. And then my teeny little diva, still in Kindergarten, planted herself in front of those big scary girls and said, at the top of her lungs (and she's got really big lungs), "Don't you touch my brother! He's a GOOD. GUY."

At which point an entire gym full of grown-ups turned to look, rescued my kids, reprimanded the tween-to-teens, and went back to the game.

That's having your back, is what that is. That's what sisters do, right? I mean, my sisters do. Both of 'em. My brother, too. It's the awesomeness of siblinghood.

And I think my kids have forgotten that.

These days, Peabo is heading headlong into puberty, and I think it's changing the chemical mix that defines who he is and how he responds to his world. Some of his behaviors are suddenly things he can manage. And some are ones it seems he no longer can.

And, despite being more than three years his junior, I think his sister is in much the same boat, with puberty on the not-so-distant horizon. Which means that now, suddenly, her brother embarrasses her.

So she watches him like a hawk. Did he brush his teeth? Wash his hands? Is he chewing with his mouth open? Talking when it's full? Is he drumming or singing or singsonging? Is he dancing at the table? Is he repeating his favorite phrase ad nauseum? Which is, oddly enough, "OBAMA!" ... which just recently supplanted "WAFFLES!" ... I really don't know why.

But she hovers, waiting to catch him. Which she often does. And then she's on him like white on rice. Only it's a snide, nasty, and even physical kind of rice. Or, um, white.

Bad metaphor.

The redhead isn't much better right now. He's figured out that Peabo doesn't always listen, or that he can't. ADHD can do that to a kid. So when the readhead really wants his brother to hear what he's saying, which is usually when he's mad, and often when he's not, he doesn't just say it. He screams it. Very very loudly.

It's like Peabo's siblings are angry with him 24x7. And they have no hesitation to let him know it. They're not exactly nice about it either.

And it hurts. It hurts him, and it hurts me too.

They love him. I know they do. And I have a lot of faith that they will come back to that, and to being a team. I'm trying everything I can think of to foster that. But right now, it's not working. And while I'm blaming pending puberty for the changing dynamic, it could just be the way they're handling Peabo's kind of special right now. I've always believed having Asperger's in the family is a good thing for all of us. We learn patience, tolerance, and a new way to look at ourselves and the world. We see difference in a different way. But this is their home. And maybe they sometimes need a little less difference, and a little more same.

I've started a new thing, because the old tricks aren't working. If one of my kids says something mean to another, we all shout "Rabbit!" and then the culprit goes back and starts over, only this time she has to come up with something nice to say. Got everyone laughing last night over dinner and thinking of things they like about each other.

This morning, though, it was back to the screaming and the cranky not getting along.



Can I get a "rabbit," too?

July 13, 2011

Design

This is where you can tell I am so not a designer. Because I've been playing with my page, and it's still really ugly. I want to turn my little blog over to my sister (the older of my two sisters ... the one who creates artsy stuff on a somewhat regular basis, even if it's not web stuff) and make her make it pretty, because I've been trying and failing since I started this thing.

But hey, that picture in the background? I took it. And it's actually kinda pretty, albeit kinda hard to see. It's a picture of Paradise, on Mt. Rainier, of a little clump of flowers in the mist there. And I like it. But it doesn't exactly match my theme now, does it? I should snap a shot of a garden full of rosemary, is what I should do. I did try the elbows in the background (you can still see the elbow shot, by the profile). But that big it just looked freaky weird.

If you've got a visual eye, make a suggestion! I'm all ears. Or, in this case, thumbs. Because you can't build a web page with your ears.

July 4, 2011

Inner Peace

Next Tuesday, my Peabo starts his Extended School Year program. For most kids, this would be summer school, and it would be full of extra math and reading and other academic gobbledygook. For Peabo and the kids who go to school with him, though, Extended School Year means summer camp. It's outdoors. There's swimming and canoing and trips to the bowling alley. It's fun, loads of fun, because it's all about the social skills.

And that's exactly what these kids need.

For those who don't know, Peabo attends a terrific school that is just right for him because it focuses on kids with Asperger's. It gives them the social, language and fine motor skills they need, along with constant behavioral feedback, and even homework assignments meant to help them fit in - like "wear deodorant" or "shower every day" (when you realize that most of these kids are middle school-aged boys, that assignment makes total sense). And they are working slowly toward mainstreaming, because this private school is set smack dab in the middle of a public school, so the kids attend at least a handful of classes each day with their neurotypical peers.

I love this school.

I love it for many reasons, but the biggest is that now, Peabo has friends. Real ones. Friends he can call and chat with. Friends he can play video games with and have inside jokes with and even small tiffs with.

Last week, Peabo came up with the great idea of getting the gang together before they meet up again at camp. He wanted to have a party at my house, which I am not up for at this point, as I'm still recovering from my 56-day odyssey. So I said, hey, why not get everyone together at the movies?

Which he did. He arranged the whole thing. He called his friends and agreed on a movie and a day. He talked to parents, and handed them off to me when he needed to. He arranged a ride for one friend, set up a meeting place for the others, and made sure his siblings and the one more who joined us were occupied with each other so he and his friends could hang.

All that left me, my increasingly awesome new au pair (seriously - she rocks), and one other mom shepherding 8 kids - 6 of them on the spectrum - through the mall.

It was chaos. As we wandered through the Food Court, and the book store, and then up to the theater, you could see me and Mom 2 doing constant head counts and then calling, "wait, wait, we've lost one" (usually it was my redhead, who has of late decided that listening and staying in sight are overrated skills that he needn't be bothered with). It was friends talking over one another, laughing too loud, talking Manga and music and battling each other on their DSi's. And battling in real life, too: We went to see Kung Fu Panda 2, and if you're a tweenager who's just seen a kung fu movie, you're going to come out of it believing in your soul that you're the Dragon Warrior and your companions are the Furious Five.

It was awesome.

I spent years fighting to get this for my kid. This exact thing. An afternoon at the mall with his friends, getting goofy and eating too much popcorn.

Today, I watched my diva and my redhead, so accustomed to their brother's kind of normal, accept and enjoy his fabulously quirky friends as just that and nothing more - his friends. And I spent time with other parents who just get it, innately, because they live this life, too.

The movie is all about Inner Peace and how you achieve it (and then kick the ass of the mortal enemy you did not even know you had).

This is my inner peace. This day, and the days like this to come.

And yeah, I liked the movie, too.

June 30, 2011

56 days

I just got through 8 weeks without childcare. 56 days. 1,344 hours. And I am still standing. So are my kids. In fact, they were pretty darn fabulous for 8 straight weeks. Cooperative. Cheerful. Eager to help.

I so love my kids when they're like that. I love them all the time, of course, but it's easier when they help.

My friends and neighbors rock. For those 8 weeks, they walked my kids to school and back, invited them for playdates, fed them, hugged them, and even hooked us up with a good sitter.

All that was a lot easier to manage because there was a vacation at the end of it. In Florida, with a beach and a sunset and my fabulous fella. And that part was awesome.

My vacation was also kid-free. It was one of two weeks this summer they'll spend with their dad. I missed my kids. Weird that you can have fun and relax when your heart aches because you left three giant pieces of it back home.

I grew up - at least for a little while - on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We were there for just over a day, and it still feels like home. I don't want to move back there, because I like winter just enough that this barely Southern part of the world is the right part of the world for me. But I want to visit more, and I want to bring my kids.

But not right now.

Two weeks ago, my old au pair came to visit, and to help. Our new au pair came to stay. My kids had a week with their dad. I went off on vacation. Then we said good-bye to our old au pair, with a fanfare of tears. So now we're in full-on transition mode.

You know how my kids do with transitions? It's not pretty.

I don't know why, but my kids keep telling me they're stupid. One little mistake and they go all, "I'm an idiot!" Do yours do that?

Oddly enough, Peabo - the one with Asperger's, the one you'd think would struggle the most with change on this scale - he's the one who's handling it best.

It's the redhead who worries me. But I think he's starting to come around.

I did not get a lot of blogging done in those 8 weeks. I did not sleep much. But the Big Get Healthy is working. I'm not sleeping much, but I'm sleeping more. I'm not moving much, but I'm moving more. And I've lost 22 pounds.

Which means all my pants are falling off while I try to catch up on work, get my kids through yet another transition, and go back to missing my San Francisco sweetheart.

Eh. Who needs pants.

June 14, 2011

Lightning. Seriously?

There are a whole lot of milestones you hit as you pass through the post-divorce aftermath. Some good, some bad. On the bad side ... telling the kids. Spending weekends without them. Spending Christmas without them. Handling the first multi-kid vomit fest solo.

But some of them are of the good, life-affirming, independence-asserting sort. Managing your single-income budget. Actually getting divorced. Reclaiming your name. Going on that first, scary, post-marriage date.

You're taking back control. Moving from a life shared to a life defined by no one but you. You set your own path, create your own future.

Pretty empowering.

For me one of the biggest of these affirmational milestones came about two weeks ago. After nearly a year spent taking charge of my finances, cleaning my credit rating until it squeaked, and making copy after copy after copy of every obscure corner of my financial life, I refinanced my house. And in doing so, I became its sole owner.

I own my own home.

And then lightning struck.

I am so totally not kidding about that. Sunday night, I pulled into my driveway in the middle of a torrential downpour, was startled by a shock and a flash and a smashing boom, and the chimney cap and a handful of bricks flew off of my chimney and into the backyard.

My house, to which I have held sole title for not quite two weeks, was victimized by an act of god.

The lightning went through the phone lines. It blew up several phones, two DVRs, and whatever makes my barely-past-its-warranty desktop computer connect to the internet. It also blew something called a "board" in my heat pump, which is a nice way of saying, "Ha! We know you live in the swampy morass that is the Chesapeake Bay watershed so we are stealing your air conditioning!" (Cue evil laugh.)

You would think that after losing the manny (I don't think I ever posted about that, but the manny is long gone: I was so totally wrong about eventually coming to love him), running through a field of poison ivy, and other assorted disasters, ailments and random folderol that make life just a little more annoying ... you'd think, after all that, the rose-colored glasses would have gone slipping off into oblivion somewhere.

You'd be wrong. Though the poison ivy did test me.

You'd be wrong because all that other stuff, all those milestones, all that empowering control over your own life ... well, damn if it isn't downright cheery making.

Odd how a little empowerment can make you immune to lightning.

Ba-dum-bump.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. Keep the bad puns to myself.)

June 8, 2011

When Poison Ivy Is an Act of Love

A week ago Tuesday, the kids and I were at my redhead's second-to-last T-ball game. It was screaming hot out. And I mean screaming. Heat index over 100, even after 5:00 p.m. The kind of hot where you sweat just stepping outside.

My redhead is a pro. He ran up to join his team, played all of his three innings, and barely broke a sweat.

My diva doesn't notice heat much either. She found a friend with a soccer ball and spent the better part of an hour running the ball across the field. That girl lives for soccer.

Peabo started well. He headed off to look for a friend of his, and, not finding him, spent some time digging for frogs in the woodsy brush behind the backstop. Found one, too. Little baby frog, and if I'd had my camera I'd have gotten a picture for you.

And then the heat hit him like a Mack truck. He spent the next 30 minutes in a ball on my lap, grabbing my arms and holding on for dear life while he fought waves of heat exhaustion and nausea. We're used to this: it happens every year during the first few summer heatwaves. I fed him water in slow sips, and toward the end convinced him to lie down on the blanket beside me while I poured cold water over his head and neck.

We all went home. He got better as soon as he hit the air conditioning and ate a big old dinner, despite his telling me as often as I'd listen that he was too sick and would not eat a thing. Homemade macaroni and cheese, that's the secret. It's like appetite magic.

Then, two days later, he started to itch.

Three days later he was covered in a rash. A red, blotchy, itchy, uncomfortable kind of rash. So I rushed him to urgent care. Poison ivy. A very bad case. Bad enough that when they said, "Hey, kid, we can make the itching stop if we give you a horribly painful shot of prednisone in your thigh," he said "YESDOITDOITRIGHTNOW!"

So. He had poison ivy.

And that night, I realized, I did too. First in a handprint shape on my upper left arm. Then another handprint on the right. Followed by another. And another.

By this morning, both upper arms were covered in an oozy, reddened rash that was turning stomachs everywhere. The redhead told me quite plainly that I'd have to wear long sleeves or he wouldn't let me hug him. And with good reason: I'm pretty freaky looking at the moment, and all the drying, peeling calamine lotion just makes it worse.

That I disgust a 5-year-old boy is bad enough - who even knew that was possible? But the worst part is that I itch so badly I can't sleep. And my poor body, which just figured out for the first time in years that sleep is not only good but possible, screamed "WTF!" and made me go to the doctor, where I begged and I cried  - they even gave me a tissue - and now I have my own steroids that I hope will soon make the itching stop.

Please. Oh, pretty pretty please make the itching stop. I mean, I'm a silver-lining girl. I can see the wonderful in pretty much anything. But there is no silver lining in poison ivy. That stuff is noxious. It is evil in plant form. I can't think, I can't sleep, I can't focus on anything but the extreme and horrific need to scratch.

So I complained on Facebook. My cousin replied, telling me about how our Oma, the Queen of Gardening, once made the great poison ivy sacrifice and put herself between my cousin and the evil weed (I know, I know, that means something else ... but it should mean poison ivy). My cousin got away scott free, not a rash in sight. Not Oma. She was covered in itchy ick, and I'm sure at least as uncomfortable as I am right now.

But that's what you do, right? I hate this poison ivy. But if comforting my son while he's sick and sobbing means poison ivy ... well, then, it means poison ivy. Because there's no way I'm not holding him when he needs me. Poison ivy and all.

I'm really happy for the steroids, though.

May 27, 2011

Narcolepsy. The good kind.

I keep falling asleep.

My kids left the house today for their weekend with their dad. Five minutes later, zzzzz on the sofa.

Last night, I put everyone to bed, took a minute to sit down and do a quick email check. Next thing I knew it was midnight and all I wanted to do was go back to bed.

I'm awake for important stuff. Meetings. Driving. Playtime with the kids. But give me a quiet moment, and the last five years of sleeplessness hit me over the head with a big rubber mallet and knock me cold for a good two hours.

This is what life off caffeine will do for a girl.

You'd think I'd mind, but I don't. Not even a little bit. This is a relief. A huge, giant relief. Because somewhere deep in my soul I'd started to believe I'd never sleep again. Never. Which is a scary thing, worse that the worst serial killer nightmare, and since I've had a fair number of those you're-being-chased-through-a-department-store-by-a-bad-guy-who-will-encase-you-in-ice-and-pour-acid-on-you kind of dreams, you can trust me. That's scary.

Of course, I haven't dreamed at all in years. When you don't sleep, you don't have those flashes of dream memory, those moments where you can feel yourself flying through the city streets touching the trees as you go by, or watching a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico and the ocean reflecting colors more vivid and striking than any you'd see outside your own mind.

Who knows, I might even start dreaming again. How awesome would that be?

Assuming, of course, that the serial killers keep to themselves.

May 24, 2011

The Big Get Healthy

A few days ago, I made reference to The Big Get Healthy. I debated sharing anything else about it. I mean, my success on these types of things is spotty at best.

But I'm having fun, and that bears repeating. Publicly, even.

This whole thing started, though, with some serious unfun. Just over a week ago I stepped on the scale - which I do sometimes - and realized I'd just crossed the teeny tiny line between reasonably plump and not so reasonably anything. Between that and the regular sleeplessness and the lack of movement and the amped up stress ... well, I'm on a fast track to heart disease or diabetes or something equally uplifting. And, in that sense, I'm also setting an unhealthy example for the three little people I'm raising.

So I did something about it. I got in touch with a woman I met when I was a ripe old 17-year-old. She's a health coach. She's awesome.

Just over a week later, I'm on a healthful, well-supported, medically researched diet that is having an impact. And, like I said, I'm having fun. I'm having fun because, while most of the day is heavily proscribed and well mapped out, relatively dull, and totally practical, once a day I get to be all creative and play with a meal in a way that's healthy and good.

For the record, the healthy and good part is just as fun as the creative part.

Sunday night, I had a shrimp salad. Shrimp sauteed in a teeny tiny bit of olive oil, with a clove of garlic, a bit of chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of mushrooms and the juice of half a lemon, served over a bed of greens with 3/4 cup (combined) of tomatoes, cucumbers and green onions, with light balsamic vinaigrette sprinkled over top.

Monday, it was tilapia marinated in a little fresh lemon juice and baked till flaky. I blended up a quick tapenade from 8 gorgeous, fresh green olives with a little parsley and a little more fresh lemon juice and a clove of garlic and some pepper, with 1/2 cup diced tomatoes thrown in at the end, I spread all that over the fish, then stuck it back into the oven. Great olivey goodness, with a cup of steamed broccoli on the side.

And tonight? Hard-boiled eggs - 3 of them - with a cup of steamed green beans, 1/2 cup of tomatoes and diced red peppers, a sprinkle of chopped fresh chives, pepper and 2 tablespoons of red vinegar.

See? Healthy. And yummy enough that Veggie Girl begged me - yes begged me - to make an egg salad for her.

The egg salad's the only one I thought to take a picture of. But if I come up with anything else interesting, I'll let you know!

It's been a week, give or take. That's it. And I realize this is just the beginning of a very long - a lifelong - journey that will keep me well and healthy and give my kids a mom they can emulate and be proud of.

Just a week.

But I'll take it. And you know why? It's not the life lessons I'm learning. Or the 7 lbs I've lost already.

I'm sleepy.

For the first time in years, I'm sleepy. When I'm supposed to be.

Which means it's time for bed. Good night, y'all.

May 22, 2011

Over-Caffeinated

You know what's weird? When one cup of coffee does you in. Utterly. Shakes in the hand, woozy feeling in the tummy, kinda wobbly on the legs.

Many many years ago, I gave up all of my caffeine. Every bit. I didn't even eat chocolate. This is because I found a lump and it scared me. I was diagnosed with fibrocystic breast disease, and I decided it was better to be safe (i.e., minimizing cysts by limiting caffeine) than sorry (mistaking a real lump for a cyst and ignoring it).

In the middle of all this decaffeinated goodness, I started dating a fellow who brewed his own beer. Very very yummy beer. He made one particularly yummy brew, a chocolate cherry stout, that we popped open on New Year's Eve. Within 30 minutes, my heart was racing and I was shaking so badly that I couldn't read the cards in my hand (yes, we celebrated the New Year with a card game because I am just that kind of party animal). I was shaking like a madwoman. From the caffeine in a chocolate beer.

Caffeine doesn't like me.

So I ignored it. For, like, six straight years. Until I had my second child, and a full-time job on Wall Street, and I realized that umpteen million years of pregnancy and breastfeeding had made all the fibrous cysty bits go the way of the dodo.

So I had some chocolate. Then I had some more. And some tea. And then, maybe four years ago, a cup of coffee. And then a cup every morning. And sometimes one in the afternoon, too, because Starbucks is just that yummy.

And it seemed to be going okay. Except that today I realized maybe it wasn't.

The past few days I've been on a bit of a nutritional cleansing exercise. It's part of my attempt to Get Healthy (yes, this deserves capital letters, because once you gain that last pound that pushes you across the line into obesity you realize you need to get serious). Getting healthy means eating much, much, much better. It means managing my stress. It means sleeping. Which, in turn, probably means a bit less blogging, but I'm gone so often now I'm sure y'all will hardly notice. I'm gone because the new au pair left, and I'm smack dab in the middle of 8 weeks with nothing but the public school system and a few stalwart friends for childcare, eagerly awaiting the arrival of au pair number 10, who is awesome and asks me questions and writes me emails and introduces me to her boyfriend.

So, the caffeine.

This morning, on Day 3 of the Big Get Healthy, I brewed up a cup of coffee. I left it black, which is just exactly not how I like it. And I drank it. All of it. Because I'd mixed my morning meal into it, and I had to finish the morning meal.

Hey, there, shaky shaky. In 30 minutes flat. Shaky and woozy and vaguely nauseated. After exactly three caffeine-free days.

Caffeine really really hates me. Probably it's time for me to realize I need to hate it right back.

Starbucks, I'm gonna miss you.

May 8, 2011

Sister's Day

If I had my druthers, I'd spend my Mother's Day digging in the dirt while my beautifully behaved kids played in the grass around me. I'd have a marvelous meal cooked by someone who isn't me and who wants to wash all the dishes. And the whole world would chew with their mouths closed.

Oh, so not my life. I've got a little too much chaos for that.

I settled for bribing my kids to let me sleep in. I promised them as much TV, video game and computer time as they could manage. Which meant I had a great sleep, with only six interruptions between 6:30 and 10:30 a.m.: two Aspie tantrums, one set of fighting siblings, two beautiful handmade gifts, and one breakfast in bed comprising American cheese, a Nutella sandwich and a very, very tall cup of strawberry chocolate milk.

Yum!

I got up and made a big brunch. Then I broke my own cardinal rule of Mother's Day and washed the dishes.

I brokered 37 arguments, including some with other kids in the neighborhood. I put everyone in time out at least once. I shushed the very loud and annoying barking dog. I bandaged a scraped knee and kissed away some tears. I brokered 15 more arguments and shushed the barking dog again and finally gave up and hauled everyone outside just in time to join a neighborhood walk. Which was great fun, with two dogs and three grown-ups and a passel of kids racing around on various wheeled things, until they hit a particularly steep and curvy hill, where two of mine wiped out, the redhead dangerously so, scraping his left leg from his ankle to his backside, complete with ground-in dirt. I wound up piggybacking my screaming redhead all the way home, holding my dog by the leash, consoling Peabo (my other wipee) with words. Which really doesn't work so well.

My sister arrived as we rounded the corner home.

I have two sisters. This is the one nearest me in age, hair color and height. She hasn't got kids, and my kind of chaos stresses me out, so I can only imagine what it does to her.

And yet, she consoled and played with my diva while I put my redhead into a tub and cleaned off his scraped leg - and if you've ever inflicted that kind of pain on your child, knowing it was what you had to do and knowing you were hurting him badly, you know what that felt like. He wasn't crying alone.

We left the bathroom shaking and sobbing. While I dried him off and bandaged his leg, my sister blew up balloons and sent them whizzing through the air. She made my redhead laugh - actually laugh, after all that - by pointing out that it sounded like a fart. And doing it again. And again.

Then she went downstairs and found a leak in my pipes and a half inch of water in the back of my basement that I wouldn't have discovered until 2012.

She also cleaned it all up.

When I said, "I give up, let's go get pizza," she said, "Yes, let's!" even though she had pizza yesterday.

She let Peabo poke her all the way through dinner. She answered the eternal question, "Do you like waffles?" about 93 times. She listened to my diva's fabulous Mother's Day story that lasted through three car rides and an entire meal. She laughed at the redhead's jokes, and made him laugh right back.

And at the end of the day, she told me she had fun. Despite the screaming and the crying and the barking, and the stressed out, exhausted kids, and the stressed-out and moderately well-rested mom. She had fun.

I know it's Mother's Day. But I'd never have made it through this one without her. So I'm renaming it Sister's Day in her honor.

Because I'm glad she's my sister. And I don't tell her that nearly enough.

May 1, 2011

9/11

A few months ago, Peabo learned about Osama bin Laden in school. He learned the facts of the 9/11 attacks. What happened, and when.

Now he will learn that Osama bin Laden is dead.

I will try to explain to him what that means, and what it does not.

It does not mean an end to terror, or an end to war. It does not mean we can get back the lives or the innocence we lost on that September morning. Nor does it mean that our soldiers will get to stop fighting.

I don't want to remember. I don't want to remember the cranky nearly three-year-old and the big deadline at work that kept me from making my usual train into lower Manhattan that morning, and maybe saved my life. Or the view from the bus as we inched our way toward the Lincoln Tunnel and saw smoke and flames erupting from the first tower, then the plane slamming into the second. Or the fear that gripped every person on that bus as the authorities first cleared the tunnel, then sent us through, aware - all of us so very aware - that New York City, that our nation, was under attack. The shock as we watched the towers come down on a little black-and-white TV in the office of a man I'd never met before that day. The dust that was everywhere when I came back to work. And the smell that burned into our nostrils and our brains, and lingered, for weeks afterward.

But I will. I'll remember all of that. I'll remember the former colleague who took me in, four months pregnant and unable to get back to New Jersey, back to my son. The strangers who made sure she and I both had food and shelter. The quiet of busy Manhattan streets deserted of cars. The kindness of the people who lined them, handing out coffee and water to those who fled the devastation. The sacrifices, the bravery of our first responders. The neighbors and friends and friends of friends who died, who escaped, who survived. And the man who gave up his seat for me on the overcrowded train when we were finally able to go home.

I took a breath that day and held it. I held it through the birth of my daughter four months later. Through a change of jobs, a multi-state move, and the birth of my second son. I held it through my divorce, and through all the days that make a life.

Today, I let it go.

Just like that. I let it go.

April 15, 2011

Nouns, Nouns Everywhere

I'm a bit slow on this ... but for those who may be as yet unaware, April is Autism Awareness month.

It's April. And I am aware. Because I live on the spectrum with my son. My oldest, my first-born. And I'm lucky, because sometimes I get to take a vacation.

He doesn't.

Which is not where I meant to go with this post, to the fact that Asperger's Syndrome is a forever thing, and that sometimes it makes me sad for the things that he'll miss, the things that will be harder for him. And for his siblings, too. But it's the wee hours of a Friday and my brain isn't firing on all cylinders, because by Friday, I'm usually pretty darn sleep deprived. And after a long week, those rose-colored glasses slip a little down your nose, and not everything is so cheery.

Which I guess is why, when I started thinking about how I'd blog for Autism Awareness, I kept thinking, how much more aware can I be? My kid's very high functioning, and I know that means there's a lot about autism I don't know. But I am aware of his kind of autism. I'm aware of his triggers, his tantrums, and the things that bring him back. I'm aware of how he talks, and how to listen so he feels like he's heard. I know how to help my other two get a word in edgewise so they can feel heard, too. I get them. And I get him.

And then I read this lesson plan on autism from the PBS NewsHour written by my friend at Bigger Box of Crayons. It's a cool lesson plan. A way for kids to learn about other kids, to open their minds and their hearts, to learn something new that will make them better, kinder, more patient people. A way to make a difference for people like my son and the many others who live on the spectrum with him.

The best lesson plans teach the teachers, too. And sometimes even the parents. 

My son was my first. And some things that might have been little tiny red flags from a baby Peabo didn't resonate with me as anything other than quirky. Maybe because I had nothing to compare them to. As an infant, he wouldn't let anyone but me and his dad hold him. He never made eye contact for long. He was eight weeks old when I flew him across the country to visit his grandparents for the first time, and he pitched a tantrum so long and so strong over the change in his routine that I had to call a doctor friend for help (she said, "drink a beer," and whaddya know, it worked).

And when he learned to speak, he only learned the nouns. Just the nouns.

His very first word was "happy." I know, that sounds like an adjective, doesn't it? Not to mention an emotion, which Aspies are notorious for misreading. But for Peabo it was neither. It was the first word in his favorite book. So for him, "happy" meant "book," which is most decidedly a noun, a big ole person-place-or-thing kind of noun. Every word that followed was a noun, too, until sometime after his second birthday, after he'd labeled his world and the whole alphabet and given every letter its sound.

Six months later he was reading. Because letters and sounds are objects, too, just like nouns, and his brain is an object-oriented database.

He processes the world in objects. In nouns.

Now I am more aware. Because his parsing his world into parts of speech makes sense to his grammar nut of a mom. His world is just a little clearer to me. And maybe that will give me another way to help him.

If you're feeling more aware, too, take the next step and do something about it. If you're a parent or a teacher, put that lesson plan to work and teach people - of all ages - to understand. E-mail your legislator and beg for increased funding for special education and autism research. Help. It will make a difference.

Because my son lives on the spectrum, surrounded by nouns.

Though I'm very glad that "happy" is one of them. Even if it's an adjective.

April 5, 2011

Stress and Ice Cream

I just polished off the tail end of a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream, the green kind, which, for the record, is the kind I don't even like. When I go for mint chocolate chip, it's the white kind, the natural kind, the Breyers kind. The green stuff? Blech.

This is where I go when I am stressed. To the green stuff.

And these days, it seems to be the only way I know that whole stress thing is even happening.

The single mother of three (amazing, gorgeous, fabulous) kids, who is working her backside off, who is managing budgets and bank accounts and groceries and home repairs and a dog who won't stop barking (but is well loved all the same), who is fighting for (and sometimes against) her tweenager with Asperger's Syndrome, who is mothering a sometimes sad and angry tweenish nine-year-old and a sometimes sad and angry five-year-old who wants his mommy all the time and only gets her sometimes.

Oh, wait, that wasn't a complete sentence.

I think the stress just lives here. It lives here in the loud and the barking and the rarely ever leaving my house. It lives in the bad grammar and the dirty dishes and the kids chewing with their mouths open. It's so present I don't notice it until something happens to make it bigger.

It got bigger. It got bigger because the au pair we've lived with and loved for 18 months had to move on into her own life. And because the new au pair arrived (although I'm sure, now that we've made it through the first week, that we will come to love him, too).

Transitions suck. And kids - especially the little ones - don't really understand good-bye.

They do understand ice cream.

Too bad I'm not sharing.

March 30, 2011

The "A" Word

Cussing. Cursing. Swearing. Whatever you call it, my kids are totally obsessed with it. Only I won't let them use the actual words. The first time Peabo dropped an F-bomb on me, he got a 30-minute time-out and a stern talking to. What I hear now is three kids hollering about "the bad 'F' word," "the bad 'B' word," and even "the bad 'O' word."

The bad "O" word. That's a new one.

And that's why I'm talking to my kids about Asperger's Syndrome. I don't want it to be another word we never say.

I read a few autism mom blogs by better informed moms with better therapies and better strategies for working with their kids. And I know many of them have been open and honest with their kids from the get-go, giving Asperger's a name.

I don't think I've been dishonest with my kids, though. I mean, Peabo's in seventh grade, and he's a bright, bright kid. He knows he's different. He's been through endless testing and retesting, through OT and PT, through tantrums and suspensions. When he was mainstreamed, he had a full-time aide and different testing and time in the Resource Room. But it took us forever to get the label. Peabo was identified at the age of three by his very astute preschool director, but despite ongoing, persistent effort, we didn't get a formal diagnosis until he was in 5th grade. So our conversations were not about labels but about differences. About how some people need more help than others. About how everyone has things they do brilliantly, and things they do poorly. About how what works for him doesn't always work for his siblings.

We just never used the word.

For years, I've watched my two younger kids struggle with their big brother's more challenging behaviors. There's the talking and the talking, and the repeating and repeating. There's the tantrums and the threats and the hating to lose. And his siblings have responded ... mostly with fingernail scratches and the occasional kick to the shin.

Not okay.

Veggie Girl's been talking to someone from time to time about her feelings. When this someone heard about the fingernails, she suggested a book: Autism Through a Sister's Eyes: A Young Girl's View of Her Brother's Autism.

So we started talking about autism. And Asperger's Syndrome. We used the words.

There's already one bad "A" word. We don't need to have two. Or three.

I told Peabo about his Asperger's over dinner one night (because the dinner table is where all the best conversations happen). He said, "Asperger's? Huh. May I have more bread, please?"

Since then he's learned from many of his friends that they have Asperger's too. He - and his siblings - have learned more about what that means. We've started the conversation.

I kinda hope it means the kids will stop beating up on their brother. Though, being that they're siblings and all, that's seriously unlikely.

Oh and hey, if you happen to know what the bad "O" word is, do tell. They've totally stumped me with that one.

March 19, 2011

Kiss Me, I'm Irish

I celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Despite the hefty dose of Dutch in my blood, there's still a wee dram o' Irish in there, and a great big dram o' Irish in my kids. Their dad is just one generation removed from the green hills of Skibbereen, and while he's not so into the shamrocks, I've taken it upon myself to give my kids a healthy appreciation of their Irish-Americanness.

I celebrate St. Patrick's Day with food, of course, because that's how I celebrate everything. If it doesn't involve a big meal, it's simply not a celebration. Giant, comfort food holidays are the bomb. I'm a particular fan of giant, comfort food holidays that are also dirt cheap. Give me five pounds of potatoes, a big bag of carrots, a fat head of cabbage, a hefty slab of corned beef, some Dijon mustard and a fine bottle of Guinness, and I will give you a St. Patrick's Day meal that could make banshees cry. Though, um, they do that already.

It also makes my kids cry. They each like exactly one thing in this meal, and absolutely nothing else. Hence the tears. The redhead eats the meat (with ketchup), my diva eats the potatoes, and Peabo - surprisingly - gobbles up the cabbage. No protein in cabbage, so I'm not sure where that comes from.

And that's St. Patrick's Day. Big crock pot full of cheap eats, and everyone wears green. No big bouncy bunny handing out baskets full of jelly beans and chocolate. No soot-covered fat man in a red suit passing out gifts. No magic. Just corned beef, cabbage, and kids clad in green.

Except there's supposed to be leprechauns. I didn't know about the leprechauns.

The night before St. Patrick's Day my redhead was apopleptic because he doesn't have any green pajamas. Apparently there were leprechauns coming, and if he didn't have green pajamas, they'd pinch him in his sleep.

At which point I did what any good mother with a freaked out kid would do. I said they weren't real.

Wait, did I say that was a good mother move?

What I was supposed to do, as it turns out, was find the kid some green pajamas, then meet the leprechauns downstairs and help them throw sofa cushions on the floor, dye the milk green, and leave a trail of coins. When you don't know this, though, the little green guys play a trick on you and do nothing at all, leaving you with one deeply disappointed five-year-old the next morning.

So I said they weren't real. I put the kid to bed in brown pajamas. And I ruined the magic.

Did you know about the leprechauns? Because in my day it wasn't leprechauns who did the pinching. It was any budding masochist amongst your group of besties who caught you greenless. I guess in this day and age, that would be considered bullying. So pinch-happy friends have been replaced by leprechauns. Yes, even in school.

Which I found out when the redhead came home, full to bursting with news.

"Mom!" he shouted. "You were wrong! They are real!"

And he told me about green footprints on the windows and tables in the classroom, chairs upended, and chocolate coins everywhere.

The leprechauns couldn't find him at home so they came to his classroom instead.

Magic.

And next year, I'll be able to help. Food and magic? Why that's almost like Christmas.

March 11, 2011

Positive Dog Training

March is running away from me.

Might be nicer if March were running away with me. To someplace green and relaxing and warm, with endless acres of quiet. Sleepy, restful quiet.

But no. March is simply running, very quickly, and headlong on into April.

And it's very very noisy.

Turns out that border collie - have you met Oswald, the border collie? Well, it turns out that border collie and full-on Aspie tantrum don't get along so well. We get amped up tweenage Peabo on an "I don't wanna do my homework" tear, and Oz goes "What the heck? That young sheep is misbehaving!" and starts barking the roof down. Which amps Peabo up further. Which amps Oz up further.

My loud house has gotten a whole lot louder.

I've combed through every dog training book I could find - which in my house means exactly one book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training, because of course I haven't had time to go to the library and look for more. Did you know that barking is a sign of stress? Much like your typical Aspie tantrum, oddly enough.

I also learned that dogs don't understand English. So I can't tell Oz to be patient because tantrums don't last forever. In fact these days tantrums are generally quite short, unless there's a dog barking nearby feeding the madness. Oz doesn't seem to hear that. He thinks I'm barking too and just barks louder.

So I worked on the other side of the equation: Peabo and his junior cohorts. Every person in this house under the age of 20 now has instructions to lie down the instant the dog starts barking. It's hilarious. Aspie tantrum begins. Dog starts barking. All three children promptly lie down. Dog goes, "Huh?" All three kids giggle. Tantrums - both doggy and human - averted. Because it's really hard to be upset about your homework when you're laughing at the dog. And it's a routine. Routines are genius.

Probably I should have bought the Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Child Training a few years back. I'm trying treats and clickers on them next.

February 28, 2011

Gelukkige Verjaardag

Today is my amazing au pair's birthday.** Or, it was, when it was still today. Given my night owl habits, I think it's tomorrow already.

Birthdays in our house start just one way. With breakfast. Big, gooey, fabulous breakfast. When the diva and the redhead go birthday happy, their preference is always - always - chocolate chip pancakes. And for Peabo it's all meat, all the time. What can I say, the kid likes his protein. Usually he wants sausage and bacon and more sausage with a bit of cheese on an English muffin and a hefty dose of cinnamon rolls on the side to satisfy the little tiny sweet tooth he's been burdened with.

This morning, we made a birthday breakfast for our au pair. And that meant I was up early. Earlier, in fact, than I wanted to be, because my kids take this tradition so very deeply to heart.

The first hit was at 6:00 a.m. On the nose. A full hour before I'd set my alarm to ring.

"Mom! Mom!" That was Peabo. "You wanted to make breakfast for our awesome au pair!"

"Yes, and I will," I mumbled. "But I'm going to go make it after my alarm goes off. Okay?"

He went to go watch the news. It's his latest thing. He tapes the news at night, then watches it in the morning, and we talk about it at dinner. That's pretty cool. (Albeit totally beside the point. But you wanted to know, right?)

Then came the Diva. Who got the same response.

"Okay. Then I'll go make her a card." So she left, and my redhead climbed out of my bed and followed her. (Wait, how did he get there? I missed something. I musta been sleeping.)

Then the dog - remember the dog? - went berserk. Can't sleep when there's barking, so I woke up and got to cooking.

For my au pair: Pancakes. Bacon. Eggs. Raspberries. All on a tray with a pretty napkin and lovingly handmade cards from the two who like to make them. We tried to feed her breakfast in bed, but it's hard to get everyone ready for school when they're watching someone else eat, so we wound up with a big, family breakfast at the table, with manners and everything.

I so totally love that.

This is her second birthday with us. When she came to the U.S., she was 18, and more mature and responsible than most fully grown grown-ups I know. Now she's 20. Still mature, and nearly a fully grown grown-up herself.

Of the many, many wonderful au pairs we've had, she's the first who stayed with us for more than a year. She fits into our family as though she were born to it. I don't know if it's the hint of Dutchness in her Belgian self that clicks with the hint of Dutchness in our American family. Or maybe it's her experience with Asperger's, which she has in spades.

The best of our au pairs have been far more than just daycare providers. They were - and are - family. And this au pair, she is just that. Family. A big sister to my kids, a friend to me, and in many ways the daughter I'd have had if I'd started my family twenty years ago instead of twelve.

In just over a month, she goes home to the family who raised her, who made her this special and entrusted to her us. My kids and I owe them a great, big, giant thank you for that.

We call her Chuck, because Peabo likes it that way.

Gelukkige verjaardag to you, Chuck. You're the best birthday gift ever. And we are gonna miss you like crazy.

**Published nearly a week late because, well, you know. Timeliness is not exactly my strong suit.

February 23, 2011

Home Cookin'

Tonight was a first for me. Well, I mean, it was and it wasn't.

The "wasn't" part was a class A Aspie tantrum sparked by my good home cooking. Not a first. There was a time when I'd spend hours slaving over a hot stove creating a dinner crafted from honest-to-goodness fresh ingredients that had never spent any time in a box, only to have my Peabo run screaming from the table. He'd spend a good 15 minutes letting us all know exactly how awful the meal he hadn't tried yet would taste.

Home cooking was a break in the routine, right? He was used to the box. He wanted the box. He expected the box. When he didn't get the box, he'd tell me. In his own special way.

Then, about a year and a half ago, I embarked on The Great Home-Cooking Campaign. I've spent the better part of the last eighteen months foisting such disgustingness as homemade meatloaf and brussels sprouts onto my kids. After a while, they learned to like it. Yes, even the brussels sprouts. They eat meatloaf and baked ziti and a dozen different vegetables, including lima beans. We've introduced couscous and polenta and herb-rubbed pork tenderloin. In fact, yesterday I served chicken with fennel and olives. They didn't like it much. But they tried it. And they didn't run screaming.

Until tonight. Another class A Aspie tantrum sparked by my good home cooking. Only this time, it wasn't because I was cooking. It's because I wasn't.

My stove broke. Or rather, half of it did. I'm down to two usable burners. Which means that braised pork chops with broccoli and from-scratch macaroni and cheese went from planned to impossible. I make my veggies in an electric steamer, but I still needed one burner for the pork chops, one burner for the macaroni, and one for the cheese.

A change in plans. And my Peabo had his first home-cooking tantrum in months. Because he'd rather have my food than food that comes in a box.

I am quietly proud.

Oh, and also? He calmed himself down. He calmed. Himself. Down. Then he sat and he talked to me, and he figured out how to be okay with an unexpected change in the menu.

Progress on two fronts. So I get to be quietly proud of him, too.

And by the way, that chicken with fennel and olives stuff whipped up by the Proud Italian Cook? That is some darned awesome yumminess. Go make it. Like, right now.

February 20, 2011

Too Osum Mom

My five year old wrote that. On the back of an envelope. It was for me. See? "To Awesome Mom."

It totally made me cry.

He's been in Kindergarten for just over 100 days, which I know because he and my au pair recently counted out precisely 100 Honey Nut Cheerios and brought them to school on the 100th day. A hundred days of learning means he can read like a pro. He knows letters have sounds. That one O makes an "awe." That two Os make an "oo."

Now he's using those sounds to write.

And he thinks I'm awesome. Or, you know, osum.

This is the kid who greets me after school with a happy "Hello, cute mama!" Who never thinks that one hug is enough because he'd rather have five. Who curls up in my lap in his fuzzy mornings and sticks his finger in my bellybutton. The kid's a morning-hater, like me, and I love him for it - enough so that I forgive the wacky bellybutton thing.

He's also five. Inside the envelope was a heart that he'd written on and colored on and then cut up to make a puzzle. He was beaming when I finally put it together. He wrote, "I love Mom. Mmmmm!" I guess because I'm yummy. And then he drew a brown me and a blue him and a whole bunch of decorative brown circles. He read me the words. Then he pointed at the pictures. "That's you. And that's me. And look, I'm pooping!"

He's pretty osum too. Poop and all.

February 6, 2011

Girl Time

In elementary school circles - or at least in ours - the annual Father/Daughter dance has taken on prom-like proportions. There's dress shopping and hair doing and dinner out with dad. And that's no less special when your dad lives in one house and your mom lives in another. In fact, on some level, it becomes that much more special because it means on this one day each year, you get alone time with each of your parents.

Yes, I said each of them. Because the Father/Daughter dance isn't just a night out with dad. It's also an afternoon with mom. And that's all about the girl time. It's about trying on dresses and shoes and stockings. It's about manicures and hairstyles and finding the right something in mom's jewelry box.

And it's about getting to know each other.

That's what my daughter and I did today. We shopped. We groomed. We coiffed. And I learned something I didn't know before.

My diva looks like me. That's not a surprise. She knows she looks like me; I know she looks like me. But I didn't know she was proud of it. She is, though. She's proud to look like her tired, wrinkly, plumply middle-aged, glasses-wearing mama.

I expect that to vanish the second her age ends in "teen." But for now, and for nine, I'm touched.

February 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Little Foodie

This is what a birthday looks like for my diva, who really ought to consider being a pastry chef when she grows up, because that girl is all about the baking.

It started the day before, with a little birthday sugar cookie she made for herself in her Easy-Bake Oven, complete with pink ruffled icing and little sugar flowers. She even shared it with her brothers, her au pair and me. Which was a surprise. Because she's not just about the baking; she's also about the eating, and she doesn't much like to share.


Then there was the birthday breakfast in bed, with homemade-from-scratch cinnamon buns, scrambled eggs and fruit salad and a rose in a bud vase, all of which were incidental because the buns were the only things that mattered.

By the way, have you ever tried to make breakfast in bed for a morning person? The trick is to tell them you're making them breakfast in bed even though they're wide awake and fully dressed. Then they run upstairs and wait patiently so you can pretend you woke up first.

After that, we had a big birthday party which featured many, many crafts, the highlight of which was the chance to decorate one marbled vanilla/chocolate cupcake to within an inch of its life. And then eat it. Before dinner even.

And finally, yesterday, a festive school party featuring mom's homemade sugar cookies. We briefly considered purchasing big, thick, yellow-iced sugar cookies at Giant - at my urging, because really that's a lot of baking, even for me. Then my diva said, "Oh but mom yours are so much better," and I caved. What can I say. Kitchen flattery from the kids who once ran screaming from my cooking totally does me in.

I wish I had time for a proper tribute to my gorgeous girl, but I'm working like a madwoman at the moment and need to get back to it. Suffice it to say, she's nine now. Nine. It still surprises me. She's as tall as my shoulder and can add fractions and write stories and sing songs most people actually want to listen to. She tries everything - every food, every sport, every everything. She's fearless and creative and just a little insecure, and some days all she really needs is a great big hug from her mom. I could not love her more.

Happy birthday, sweetie.

January 21, 2011

Rose-Colored Bifocals

Back in the days when I had time to read - so much time, in fact, that I was reading for a living ... if you can call incurring thousands of dollars in student loans a living. Which, you know, you can't. So, uh ... yeah.

Anyway, back then, my eyes were on a steady diet of Chaucer and Virginia Woolf. It was grad school. It was an English lit program. I read. I read a lot. And my eyes forgot how to see far away.

So I wore glasses, and I kinda liked them. They gave me that sexy librarian vibe. Or so I thought. Possibly that was all in my head.

The glasses were a fleeting thing, though. I wore them for about three years, after which my eyes learned once again that life can happen at a distance.

Twenty years of nearly perfect vision later, I'm buying glasses again. See, about a month ago, give or take, I got lost. This is not unusual. I get lost so often that my sweet and thoughtful fellow got me a GPS for Christmas - one that talks to me from time to time just to remind me I'm driving, and believe me, the rest of you are grateful that it does. But this particular lostisode was pre-Christmas. Pre-GPS. What's worse, I knew where I was going. I didn't get lost because I was lost. I got lost because I missed my turn. And I missed my turn because I couldn't read the street sign.

Dangerous much?

So I went to the optometrist. I plonked down a ridiculous sum of money. And now I'm soon to be the proud owner of a brand spanking new pair of glasses that the much younger woman at the shop told me were fashionable but not flashy. I have no fashion sense. She smiled at me and said I looked great after saying a few times I didn't. So I decided to trust her. 

You want to know the best part? They're bifocals. Or, rather, progressives, which is a nice, modern way of saying bifocals. Apparently I can't see close up, and I can't see far away. I can see in the middle, though. I guess that's something.

Bifocals. Feh.

I don't feel like a sexy librarian anymore. I just feel old.

You think maybe they'll make them with rose-colored lenses?

January 16, 2011

Cinnamon Buns

This is not a post about vomit, though it wants to be. There was a time when I thought all my posts would be about vomit, and aren't we all lucky that didn't happen? But this post does start with vomit, and that's as good a place to start as any.

Oh, actually I guess it starts with Sarah McLachlan, because that's where I was for a small chunk of Monday, watching her perform. Fortunately, she does not sing about vomit, though she does tell birth stories on stage, which is what I'd do if I were a famous singing person. She played a good, solid three hours, so I got home late, watched an episode of something to settle my brain, and then went up to check on my kids. My diva, my lifetime solid sleeper, was awake.

"Mommy, my tummy hurts."

We were up for another two hours. I'll spare you the details.

The next day she had a fever, and she kept that fever holding steady right on through Friday. Her teacher sent her work home so she wouldn't fall too far behind. But really, who wants to work when you're sick? We'd get a page out of her, then a fair amount of complaining, then another page. We got her through a few math sheets, and one writing sheet, and she was clearly done. But the work mountain wasn't much smaller.

So I bribed her.

She had one assignment - a read-and-summarize assignment - about bread-baking. So I pulled out my gorgeously stunning Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking book, and I said, "You do that last summary and learn about baking bread, and then you can pick any bread you want out of this book, and we'll make it this weekend."

And we did. She did her assignment. And this morning I baked my first yeast bread, with the best possible helper a home chef could have. She loves to bake, this girl. She also loves cinnamon rolls. And who wouldn't?

With great praise to the editors at Williams-Sonoma, who wrote this fabulous recipe. (Also, buy this book. It's teaching me to bake. It's awesome.)

Cinnamon Rolls


For the dough
2 packages (5 tsp) active dry yeast
1 c (250 ml) whole milk, heated to warm (105-115 F / 40-46 C)
1/2 c (125 g) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
5 1/2 c (845 g) all-purpose flour (plus extra for the work surface)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground mace
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 c (125 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the filling and egg glaze
6 Tbs (90 g) granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
About 1/4 c (60 g) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
1 large egg, beaten

For the vanilla glaze
1/2 c (60 g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, sifted
1/4 c (60 ml) heavy (double) cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (essence)


The book has instructions for you to work by hand or by stand mixer. I have a stand mixer - the pride and joy of my kitchen - so that's what's typed out here. And if you want the sticky buns variation that looks utterly to die for, well, you'll have to go get yourself a copy of the book. Did I mention that the book is awesome?

By STAND MIXER: To make the dough, in the 5-qt (5-l) bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes (mine never really got foamy, but we'd measured the temperature of the milk precisely and set the kitchen timer, so we went ahead with the recipe, and it turned out just fine). Add the granulated sugar, eggs, flour, salt, mace, orange zest and butter. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed. Add a little more flour as needed (we didn't need it) for the dough to come away from the sides of the bowl after a few minutes of kneading. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl.

Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

To make the filling, in a small bowl, stir together the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. Line a half-sheet pan or rimless baking sheet with parchment (baking) paper.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut it in half with a sharp knife. Lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour. Roll out one half of the dough into a 10-by-16-inch (25-by-40-cm) rectangle. Brush the surface of the rectangle with half of the melted butter, then sprinkle evenly with half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Starting at the long side farthest from you, roll up the rectangle toward you into a log.

Cut the log crosswise into 8 slices each 2 inches (5 cm) thick. Place the slices, cut side up, in a circle, side by side and barely touching, on half of the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough, melted butter, and cinnamon-sugar mixture, arranging the rolls on the other half of the pan. For crisper rolls, space them evenly on the pan.

Cover the rolls loosely with a kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm, draft-free spot until they have doubled in size and are spongy to the touch, 30-40 minutes. Alternatively, place the rolls in the refrigerator and let them rise slowly overnight (that's what we did).

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 F (200 C).

If you have refrigerated the rolls, let them come to room temperature for 30-40 minutes. Brush the rolls lightly with the beaten egg. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a roll comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.

Just before the rolls are ready, make the vanilla glaze. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioner's sugar, cream and vanilla until the sugar dissolves completely and the mixture thickens slightly. Let the rolls cool slightly in the pan on a wire rack, then brush on the glaze while they are still warm. Pull the buns apart and serve warm.