March 30, 2008

I Don't Know How You Do It

It is common for people to say to me, a mother of five, that they feel they really can't complain about having "only" one or two children. "I can't even handle TWO," they say. "I don't know how you do it."

Once in a while, like this morning, I'm left in the house with fewer than my usual number of children. Right now I'm here for two hours with just Henry: my parents took Rob and the twins out to lunch, and Paul has gone on some errands with William. A rational mind would assume that this would be an improvement: what a treat, to be here with just one child! What a peaceful, relaxing time, to have only 20% of my usual workload!

NO. It is HARDER. It is HARDER to have one child. When it is just Henry and me, he wants my attention all the time. I go nuts feeling like I have to entertain him; he goes nuts feeling like I have to entertain him. He fusses and cries a lot, and that's the only sound in this quiet house.

I don't know what to do with him: when I hold him, he squirms and kicks; when I put him down, he doesn't like that either. I move him from his exersaucer to his playroom to his jump-up, and nothing pleases him. Time goes very slowly: how long until I can give him some lunch? how long until he'll go down for his nap? oh no, it can't be only 11:24!

I'm simultaneously bored and overwhelmed. It's VERY UNPLEASANT. It reminds me of the days when Rob was a toddler and William was a baby, and I used to get weepy because I wanted to have four children but I didn't see how that would be possible when two was SO HARD.

One is HARD. Two is HARD. Really, I don't know how you do it.

March 29, 2008

Birthday Party Fret [Edited with Follow-up]

Ever since I saw the invitation, I've been dreading the birthday party I had to take William to today. It's at one of those Ark E. Ade places where you have to follow your child around urging him to be sensible with his limited tokens, and then watching as he finds out that all he can buy with his 100 tickets is 5 Tootsie Rolls, and that all the other prizes on display are DENIED.

When we arrived, the mom of the birthday child (I'm assuming it was the mom: she seemed to be in charge, so I introduced myself, but she didn't say who she was) said I could leave him. I said I could stay, and she said no, she had helpers, and she pointed to a group of nice- and responsible-looking teenaged girls. She really seemed to hope I would go, and a little impatient with me for hesitating---as if I were some sort of overprotective weirdo. So I asked William if that was okay with him, and he said yes, and I left.

I should be delighted: I don't have to stand around watching him waste tokens on gambling games set up to disappoint children! I don't have to try to figure out who everyone is, as I keep introducing myself and people keep saying, "Oh, hi!" in a friendly way but not volunteering their own names! I don't have to stand there as all the other mothers turn down cake with a little laugh, and then feel like they're all thinking, "That explains the size of her BUTT" as I accept a plate---when actually they're probably thinking, "Aw, dammit, I wish they'd asked her first so I could have said yes too!" I should be really glad to be home doing whatever I want while the three youngest all take naps and Paul plays Risk with Rob.

Instead I am a big mess of nerves. William is a first-grader, and I have left him in a building full of people I don't know. Worst of all, I told him to obey instructions, but I neglected to say that he should not obey anyone trying to get him to leave the building. How could I have forgotten to tell him that? It would be the most natural thing in the world for him to obey someone who said, "Okay, now we're going outside for the next part of the party!" I can see him following cheerfully! Who would be watching out for him? NO ONE!!!

In vain I remind myself that we live in a relatively crime-free area. In all the years I've lived here, there's only been one thing that even SEEMED like attempted kidnapping, and it turned out to be some drunk idiot. Nothing bad is going to happen. There were five teenagers and several adults in charge of about a dozen children. I'm going to go back to the arcade in an hour and a half, and William's going to be there, pink-cheeked and wired and full of cake, with colored frosting stains on his shirt that won't come out, holding a goody bag and covered in germs from the vile ball pit, and with no answers to my anxious questions designed to discover if we sent a present of approximately the right value. And all the way home, I am going to drill him about not leaving the building with strangers.

Follow-up: Of course he was totally fine and safe. On the way home I said tentatively, "Was it okay, not having me there with you?" and he said, "I had so much fun, I forgot all ABOUT you!"

March 28, 2008

House Work

We got a little work done on our house today. When we moved in more than 7 years ago, the inspector said the first thing we should do was put down more insulation in the attic. Did we MEAN to do it? Oh yes! Did we in fact take even one step toward doing it, other than saying, "We should do that attic thing"? No!

Does it lower me in your eyes if I say that my DAD finally arranged it? He was having his attic done, and I was like, "OH, um, maybe if you mention that WE also...." and so he arranged to have the estimate done, and he asked the scary guys questions about what the options meant, and he told me which ones I should initial and which ones were silly and I should X them out, and he gave them my credit card number. So all I had to do was be home today to nod knowledgeably and smile insecurely and wring my hands anxiously while guys came into my house and talked about "got a good 40, 41 here!" and "yeah, that's over 3000 cubic feet of air going out [or possibly IN] your soffits!" and other things that seemed to mean, "Things are bad, but we can plug up the holes with money!"

They put a cool red submarine-looking thing over a doorway, and blew air around, and they all seemed very pleased with the results of their before-and-after measurements, and then they left and I was pleased to have them gone so I no longer had to hide in the MIDWAY of the house: not right where they're working, so they'd feel self-conscious and watched---but also not so far away that if they needed to ask me a question they'd have to come looking for me. Whenever one of the guys coughed or cleared his throat (which happened OFTEN), I would pop up like a hand-wringing mole, eager to be available for any insulation-related issues they might need my expert input on---and they'd look at me briefly and go back to work, and I'd act as if I'd just come out to straighten the curtains ALL SET NOW KTHX! Just going back to this other room now! In a perfectly natural manner! Like I do every day in my own house!

Well, the upside of being an anxious introvert with strangers in the house is that the Nervous Cleaning kicks in, and my kitchen looks better than it has since my mother-in-law's last visit. Plus, I had to empty a closet for them to get into the attic, so that closet is all tidy now---er, insofar as everything is out of it and all over our bedroom.

March 26, 2008

Sugar Addict

I know Tessie likes health kick talk, so I will talk about this book here instead of squirreling it away for private consumption.

I read The Sugar Addict book a number of years ago, liked it, started following the advice in it---but gained ten pounds and dropped the whole system like a night potato. [Little joke interpretation for those who have not yet read the book: the author recommends eating a potato each evening.]

Now I'm re-reading it, and I'm finding it re-awesome and thinking of re-trying it. A lot of it is what I'm trying to do ANYWAY on my diet: eating protein for breakfast, eating more whole grains, eating more vegetables, eating less sugar. And perhaps this time I won't go around saying, "Hey, fast food is high in protein!"

Here are the things I like/dislike so far, partway through my re-read:

I like:

1) The idea of sugar as a substance that can be abused. I find it helpful to think of it not as an inherently bad thing, but as something that can be used normally (the equivalent of a drink with dinner) or not (the equivalent of needing five or six drinks to feel anything at all).

2) The idea that some people have a problem with sugar, and some don't. I find it helpful to think that just as some people can't have a drink with dinner without finishing the bottle later that evening and going out for a fresh bottle the next morning, some people can't handle their sugar normally. I have had the same bottle of vodka in my cupboard for over two years---but if that were a bag of candy, I'd think of it night and day until it was gone. Different people struggle with different things.

3) The gentle, comforting tone of the author. She sounds like she's talking to a frightened wild animal, and she knows how to release your leg from the trap.

4) The way she really seems to understand what this is like. She doesn't say, "Just stop eating sugar, you idiot!" She knows it can be a lot harder than that, and she has steps and tips and practical ideas.

I dislike:

1) The idea of sugar as a substance that can be abused. I feel uncomfortable comparing a sugar addiction to a drug or alcohol addiction. Sometimes it feels like when someone is talking about how they were only 5 years old when their mother died, and someone else says, "Oh, I totally know what you mean: my grandma died when I was 25 and I was SO BUMMED."

2) The idea that some people have a problem with sugar, and some don't. I really DON'T want to go around explaining to friends and family that sugar is like poison to me, or whatevs. *EYE ROLL*

3) The gentle, comforting tone of the author. Sometimes it seems soooooooo self-helpy, I feel silly reading it.

4) The way she really seems to understand what this is like. When she's right, it IS pretty mesmerizing---but when she misses her guess, I feel out of place and awkward, like a fortune teller is telling me things about my life that aren't true ("You will have only one chiiiiiiiild! And you will never marryyyyyyyy!").

March 25, 2008

Diet Journal

I keep a diet journal. I write my weight in it once a week, and I write down Steller Dieting Insights I have, and I make lists of useful foods, and I write down milestones like going down a size, and I write to distract myself from eating, and I use it as a confessional, and I write in it when I'm feeling very tempted to scrap the whole diet.

I recommend it. It's helpful at the time I'm writing (accountability, therapy, distraction), and it's helpful to look back and see progress: from "I don't think I can do this" to "I'm doing this!"

It's also helpful for my character, to be reminded of what a REPETITIVE, LAME, incredibly SLOW learner I am. I was looking back at my last diet, to see at what point I was able to fit in my next-size-down jeans---I don't even want to TRY them if I might not fit. And I found myself reading basically the same things I'd JUST been writing.

Easter 2006: All day I ate sweets. They all tasted too sweet---sharp and cloying---but I felt like I'd regret it if I didn't fully take advantage of this Free Day.
Easter 2008: Today I barely even wanted the candy, and ate it partly out of feeling like I'd be mad at myself later for not taking the opportunity when I had it.

Easter 2006: So I spent all morning eating Hershey and Cadbury and Reese's. Do I feel great? No, queasy. Was it really fun and satisfying? No, it was just okay. So WHY can't I take this experience WITH me, so I won't pine incessantly for the candy I apparently don't even want?
Easter 2008: I've felt queasy all day. When I eat candy, I feel yucky. But when I CAN'T eat candy, I want it ALL THE TIME. It's a CONSTANT STRUGGLE. WHY IS IT? Since candy makes me feel sick, why can't I REMEMBER that information and NOT EAT IT?

March 2006: My body feel suddenly different. I notice it feels different to wash, like after a haircut. My jeans are loose enough, I'm thinking of trying the next size down.
March 2008: I suddenly feel different, smaller. I'm tempted to try on smaller jeans. It's like instead of a HAIRcut, I got a BODYcut.

In fact, what I recommend is keeping a diet journal just once, and then RECYCLING it. No sense wearing out your wrist and wasting ink.

March 24, 2008

Reader Question: Finding Out the Sex of the Baby (or, It Has to Happen Sooner or Later)

Courtney writes:
I'd love to hear you talk about finding out or not finding out the sex of the baby. Here's the dilemma I'm facing:

I'm not pregnant but we are starting to try for #2. We've always wanted at least one boy (and our first was a girl). For some odd reason, I had decided that I didn't want to find out the sex with the next baby thinking that that would reduce any disappointment if it turned out to be a girl. Of course I feel like I have to say that I would love any baby, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I would be disappointed to not have a boy next because we are only planning on having two children.

I had just about convinced my husband to not find out the sex and now he is making me second guess my decision. He really thinks we should find out for convenience sake, but I argue that it doesn't really matter because we won't be re-doing the nursery or buying new things no matter the outcome.

I am an extreme Type A kind of girl and I hate surprises in general so in a way it was kind of an exercise in discipline to see if I could really do it (you know, character building), but now I'm starting to back out thinking that it would just be so much easier to know. I'm just so afraid that if I find out ahead of time that it's a girl then I will be more disappointed than if I'm there in the hospital when the doctor announces that it's my new daughter. What are your thoughts on finding out the baby's gender when you can vs. not finding out? There may be some of your readers out there with some advantages/disadvantages to either scenario that I haven't already thought of.

At first I thought I would just reply to Courtney's email and NOT do a post on this: I've reached my LIFETIME LIMIT on hearing "It's like opening the present before Christmas!" and "There are so few surprises in life, I don't want to spoil one of them!" But then I couldn't resist: I really, really like hearing what you guys think about things. Um, as long as you don't say either of those two things, because LIFETIME LIMIT.

It's hard for me to say for sure, since I found out midway every time, but my feeling is that the surprise is the same either way: it's merely an issue of finding out sooner (less time to wait) rather than later (more time to wait). I disagree with the point of view that it's only a surprise if it comes a few months later. I was MIGHTY SURPRISED at each ultrasound, and disliked people implying that the Window of Surprise Opportunity was only open during the birth itself.

Also, for me, the boy/girl surprise is not as big a surprise as the baby itself. I like to spread the surprises out: the boy/girl surprise midway, and the Baby Itself surprise at the end. I can see, though, how it might be nice to have the two surprises happening simultaneously, so that the Baby Itself surprise can overshadow the boy/girl surprise if necessary. Or, you might instead be thinking you don't want the birth of the baby tainted by any disappointed you might feel if the baby was not the sex you were expecting or hoping for.

One of my primary reasons for finding out midway is that it takes me awhile to adjust to new things, and I wanted plenty of time to get used the situation EITHER WAY. (Another primary reason was that Paul REFUSED to wait, and said that if I didn't want to know, HE'D find out and not tell me.)

A lot of people like to know ahead of time because of gifts. In my circle, everyone gives presents AFTER the baby is born anyway, so it doesn't matter.

I think it's more exciting for OTHER people when someone waits until the birth to find out. It's hard to beat the "It's a girl/boy!" announcement.

Some people like to find out midway so that they can feel more connected to the baby, or more prepared for its arrival. I feel that way. The first half of the pregnancy, I feel weird not knowing if the baby I'm imagining is a girl or a boy. I feel happier during the second half, when I know.

Since I like baby names so much, you might think I'd want to wait until the birth so I could choose two baby names, one for a boy and one for a girl. But I find the name hunt exhausting as well as exhilarating, and I have more fun with it when I know what half of the name book to look at. Also, I hate the idea of putting so much effort into finding two perfect names, knowing I'm GUARANTEED to lose one of them. And because names are such a hobby of mine, I've even found that they can affect what I hope for: if I find a great girl name but a meh boy name, I start hoping for a girl so I can use the great name instead of the meh one.

Some people like to wait longer because they find the anticipation stimulating, and the excitement of wondering helps them to get through the pregnancy and delivery. I find anticipation wearying and stressful.

I don't think either way is "better;" I think it's only a matter of preference. The boy/girl element isn't the Christmas present, it's only the wrapping---and you can see the wrapping paper in August and still not lose the magic of Christmas.

March 20, 2008

Hail Fellow Well Met

I met Paul the first day of freshman college orientation, in the dining hall. Paul needed a place to sit. So did the guy we'd later name our first son after.

I met my first husband a month later, during a freshmen overnight retreat. We had to pair up with someone we didn't know, and interview them, and then introduce them to the group. Thanks a lot, stupid "getting to know you" exercise.

I don't remember when I met my friend Astarte, but it must have been after my freshman year of high school, because she was a grade younger than me and I didn't go to her middle school.

I met my friend Steve in fourth grade. In high school, he dissected a frog for me. He kept trying to argue me down logically: if I'd accepted a date with his friend Edward, why wouldn't I accept a date with HIM? He was just as smart, just as good-looking, just as nice. Plus, he'd handled the frog. I conceded his points, but there was zero chemistry. ZERO.

My friend Michelle was a year ahead of me. I just about cried when I found out we were assigned to share a room in the summer dorms, because I thought she was a jerk. She ended up being my closest college friend.

I met my friend Denise in chorus. We were both altos and there was an empty seat next to her. When I think of her now, I get an unpleasant adrenaline feeling in the corners of my jaw. She was one of the worst people I've ever known. If I heard that she'd died, I'd be relieved to know she was out of the world.

I met my best childhood friend Jen the summer before we started fifth grade. She thought I was going to steal her best friend away from her. Instead I stole Jen away from her best friend.

I met Al when I was playing playground tag in a group of high school friends and couldn't catch anyone. He was a total stranger, and he hissed at me, "Tell them Al's it!" So I yelled out, "Al's it!" and everyone SCREAMED and started running. Al said we could still be friends even though I didn't want to date him, but that didn't turn out to be true.

I met Melissa in a factory where we had summer jobs. I thought she was too cool to be friends with, but I was wrong. We stayed in touch for years, but eventually all she was sending me was email forwards.

I met Edward in English class. We were each other's very first date. We were 15, so his dad drove. We only went out once, which made me sad and confused. He died when we were 30.

Karen was my boss. After I quit, we became friends.

I met my friend Mairzy because she married an old classmate of mine and my mother sent me a link to the birth announcement of their baby.

John was always reading the sports pages during study hall. My friend Shannon and I talked with happy self-consciousness, knowing he was listening to us. He was kind. We had crushes on each other at the same time, but we didn't know it until after we didn't anymore.

I met my friend Liz at work. She correctly guessed my astrological sign; she said it was obvious. She called me "man," as in, "I love working with you, man, but you have got to stop talking about babies." Her boyfriend wouldn't have children, because he had to compensate for his sister's lack of concern for population control.

I met my high school boyfriend when he kept coming into the doughnut shop where I worked. His family was sick of doughnuts by the time I caught on. We dated on and off for two years. I didn't think we should date anymore, but I couldn't break it off either, so I got him to sign up with the military. That did it.

March 19, 2008

Invoice---Please Pay in Brownies

You know what's a dumb idea, while dieting? THIS: "I'm kind of hungry. I think I'll go poke around in the kitchen cabinets and see what I want to eat." By the time your slow, slow brain is saying, "Wait. Hey. Wait. I don't think we're supposed to eat that," your fast clever tummy will be saying, "HA HA TOO LATE!"

Last night I was doing what people do when they're "spoiling for a fight," except I was spoiling for a CHEAT. I saw a cookie recipe that had four ingredients (Bisquick, box of pistachio pudding mix, canola oil, egg), and within 30 seconds I was in the kitchen making them and planning to eat the entire tray with a big cup of cold milk. And then the cookies came out AWFUL (not the recipe's fault: I used sugar-free pudding, which I knew probably wouldn't work because I'd read something about most artificial sweeteners losing sweetness during baking---but I had hopes, and also I had no regular pudding).

They had to be thrown out, and instead of feeling SAVED FROM MYSELF, I went around acting as if now the universe owed me an alternative cheat. If it hadn't been too late in the evening to start baking again, I would have. And the whole diet seemed stupid, and like it's wasn't working, and like it was taking way too long to be worth it.

But then other times, like this morning, I'm admiring the way my jeans are no longer just "less tight" but actually "loose," and I'm holding the waistband away from me the way they do in diet ads, and I'm thinking, "This WORKS. This is amazing. It is WORKING. I am CHANGING SIZE by FORCE OF WILL!" And I walk around all flouncy and cute, feeling like Miss Awesome.

What's frustrating to me is that I can't hang on to the "It is WORKING!" feeling when I'm having the "The universe owes me treats!!!" feeling. In fact, even now I am seeing my weight loss as some sort of debit card: I've paid ahead, and now I am owed all those calories. My jeans are loose; therefore I may eat a batch of brownies.

March 17, 2008

This Morning

I have had a busy-bee kind of morning, mostly involving repeatedly rolling to shorts-height the ever-unrolling pants of a toddler who can't explain why they need to be rolled, only that it is VERY IMPORTANT that she be able to see her knees.

Another demand: she wanted her favorite socks. I gave in, thinking they'd be hidden by the pants anyway. But no.

I spent some time rooting around in the minivan for a lost deposit slip so I could balance the checkbook, and I spent some time reading inserts from the bank which inform us that For Our Convenience they will now be screwing us SEVEN ways from Sunday instead of the former six. We're making changes FOR YOU!

And I worked with Henry on baby table manners. Pinky out, Henry.

March 16, 2008

It's a Good Life

I am so lucky to be married to someone who cooks, and who is always trying new things to improve the recipe. That was a creative idea, putting the pizza crust into the freezer for a little while before adding the toppings! So what if the warm dough/pan turned an ice cream cake into a milkshake cake? Totally worth it!

I am so lucky to be married to someone who cares about the environment. It doesn't bother me that we now have an impulsively-improvised "compost bin" balanced precariously on top of the kitchen trash can (how long until the cats knock rotting food all over the floor?), blocking 3/4ths of the trash can's opening and also ruining one of the new bins I recently bought for the kids' toys. Nor does it bother me to hear that soon we will be involving worms in this project---possibly before someone moves the project OUTSIDE where it belongs.

I am so lucky to be married to someone who continues over the years to be an active student of life. If the children's Etch-a-Sketch has to be taken apart to harvest parts for an interesting new project, that's a worthwhile investment. Some people's husbands watch TV as a hobby. That must be.....a wonderful dull way to live.

I am lucky my husband is not one of those slobs who has to be shoved into the shower. When he takes a 30-minute shower that leaves me no hot water, that's CONSIDERATE of him to keep himself so fresh and clean.

It's good he's having so much success on his diet. He's really dedicated. It impresses me when I bake cookies and he eats just one and then daintily refuses any others, while I hoover up one after another.

ANYONE might accidentally think straight bleach was a reasonable cleaning supply. How is he supposed to know what we use to clean the bathroom, when he's NEVER DONE IT BEFORE?

He's so good to do the dishes when it's my turn. Even if they still have visible crusty food on them, it would be nitpicky of me to criticize what is, after all, a GOOD thing for him to be doing. Effort is worth something, right? Assuming that doing an objectively crappy job---when the person involved is a fully-functional, fully-sighted adult---counts as "effort."

March 13, 2008

Swistle Training Session: Storing Deals

My mom produced the coveted Pecan Roll recipe, so I've added it to yesterday's post.

The Swistle-on-Facebook experiment is so far a wild success. I found I could subscribe to status updates in my RSS reader, and it's like getting a bunch of intriguing little mini-posts. My favorite this morning was "Claire just did something strange and unprecedented and not necessarily smart. But she remains chipper." Ha ha ha ha ha! Or how about "Tonie has a plan. She's going to find you at the end of the world." You guys are so SMART and FUNNY, I would totally select your profiles from an online dating service, even if you were also short and bald.

Tessie and El-e-e were asking (almost TWO MONTHS AGO?? it feels like last week) how do I STORE all my awesome scores.

It's true, the storing is not as easy as the scoring. In fact, sometimes I turn down great deals because I don't want to handle the storage. My recent (TWO MONTHS AGO) acquisition of shoes all the way up to size 11 (when Elizabeth is only now in size 6) was an anomaly: normally I am not willing to screw around with sizes more than two or three ahead. Not only are there storage issues, but things go in and out of style and children change: the child who yesterday wouldn't consider any shoes except her pink cowgirl boots, today isn't as interested in them. Also, sometimes something doesn't work out: while I was pregnant with Elizabeth, I bought darling pink daisy maryjanes at 75% off in every size they had--only to discover that the toe box was way too short for her to get her foot into. At least I hadn't spent much.

Anyway. Storage.

What I do is, I have boxes in closets. For the twins, the current set of boxes is labeled "3T," "4T," and "5T and Up." I use empty diaper boxes. When I buy something new, I can just stuff it carelessly into the correct box. The careless stuffing is the KEY ELEMENT of the plan: it can't take more than 3 seconds or I won't do it and I'll end up carelessly stuffing big heaps of clothes onto shelves and into the backs of closets, not to be found until our children are disposing of our earthly possessions through sobs of---one hopes---grief and despair, rather than of disappointment that there's no inheritance to speak of and none of our crap is worth anything.

Did I tidy the tops of the boxes so that things wouldn't look carelessly stuffed, even though I JUST SAID that careless stuffing is THE KEY? Yes, I did.

When the season changes or the child outgrows clothes, I pull out the next box and poke through it. So, for example, when the warm weather left us behind in a cloud of dust last fall, I pulled out the 2T boxes to look for pants, and the 4T boxes to look for long-sleeved shirts. Pretty soon, I'll start looking in the 3T box for shorts, and the 4T box for short-sleeved shirts.

When a box is empty, I re-label it and put it at the other end of the line. After I took the 2T pants out of the 2T box, the 2T box was empty except for a couple of scraps that could go into the 3T box. I scribbled out "2T" and wrote "5T and Up" instead, and I scribbled "and Up" off of the "4T and Up" box. This takes about 5 seconds. It takes longer if what you do is turn the boxes around and and label the fresh clean side so it'll look tidier for the picture. What am I DOING? Now my picture doesn't illustrate my point at ALL!

Boots and shoes, it depends. In the front hall coat closet I have two large Rubbermaid totes; one is for snow boots, and one is for rain boots. When I buy those on 75% off (I HATE to spend full-price for something so VERY BORING), I dump them into the bin. When I need some for a child, I root through the bin until I find their size. Shoes, I put in a little heap in each closet. But if I get a whole lot, as I did with Elizabeth's maryjanes, I make a tidy row in order of size. Even if I later put stuff on top of them, they're still in order underneath.

Oops, too many 7-1/2.

Coats bought ahead are hung up in the coat closet.

Snowpants bought ahead (I hate spending money on those, too) are put in a large box in the coat closet. They probably need to move into a tote now: the box is overflowing.

There is ONE MAJOR FLAW in my system, and it is this: I haven't established a good way of keeping track of what I have already purchased. So if for example I am at the store and am confronted with stacks of cute basic long-sleeved shirts at 75% off, I have only my memory to rely on: Have I already bought enough in size 4? Or could we stand to have more?

Fortunately, when we're talking about $1.74 per shirt, it doesn't really matter if I buy too many, whereas I will kick myself if I buy too few and later have to pay full (well, sale) price, so I err on the side of too many. This rarely fails me, because I have a good memory and because I generally have a FEELING about how stocked we are. The few times it HAS failed me (one time I ended up with three nearly-identical green shirts for Rob), I've weeded out the extras and donated them to a local charity shop, tags still attached, and then I feel good about giving the shop something NEW for a change.

March 12, 2008

Beautiful Day [Edited to Include Pecan Roll Recipe]

My darlings, will you LOOK at what I had for breakfast this morning?

[Mrs. M, those two lidded bowls in the background are the grey-and-white Noritake Arroyo dish pattern I was telling you about.]

That's hot coffee-milk (half coffee, half milk) made from Dunkin' Donuts hazelnut ground coffee, and with real sugar in it instead of the Splenda I couldn't face this morning. And HOMEMADE PECAN ROLLS. My mother made them for me because I had to deal with so much barfing over the last few days. Do you need a closer look there, Droolykins?

Awwwww, yeahhhhhh. FROM SCRATCH. With BUTTER. And so many pecans, it's like a pecan PARTY. (Not a very good party for the pecans.)

I hope we all agree that there are certain times when the word "diet" is not only an incomprehensible word in a foreign tongue but actually an abomination not to be borne by the ears of the pure? I hope none of us follow that diet Oprah was on in the late '90s, where even MAJOR HOLIDAYS such as Christmas and Thanksgiving were NO EXCUSE for eating ker-razy junk food like turkey and mashed potatoes. You could have naked baked sweet potatoes in their skins and you could have some plain green beans lightly steamed and that's IT. Otherwise you might as well declare EVERY day a holiday. Have cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving? Then you might as well go ahead and have doughnuts every morning! JUST LET GO ENTIRELY, FATTY!

Anyway, this morning things looked very grim: I was up twice in the night with Henry, once with Elizabeth, and then Elizabeth spent the rest of the night in our bed shoving me off my side and pinning down the covers, and then I couldn't get back to sleep after nursing Henry at 4:30, in part because the pinehole CAT kept STEPPING ON MY HAIR. I gave up the sleep fight at 5:15, because at that point if I DO fall asleep, it's just going to be unpleasantness when the alarm goes off less than an hour later. But to go to the kitchen and remember the pecan rolls? And to have them heated up and sugarbutter-melty, with a cup of hot hot milky coffee? The sun may not be up yet, but WHO CARES? It is a beautiful day!

Edit: Okay, okay, settle down already, I got the recipe from my mom!

Swistle's Mom's Pecan Roll Recipe
In mixer bowl:
1 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. salt
1 pkg dry yeast (2-1/4t.)

In saucepan:
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick)

1 egg
2 1/2 c. additional flour (approx.)
2 T. butter (to spread on rectangle)
1/4 c. sugar and 1 t. cinnamon (to sprinkle on rectangle)

To spread on bottom of pan:
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
2 T. light corn syrup

1/2 c. 1 to 1-1/2 c pecans (see comments)

In mixer bowl, combine 1 c flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. In saucepan, heat water, milk, and butter until very warm. Add with egg to flour mixture. Blend at low speed, then beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. By hand (see comments), stir in 2 c flour until dough pulls away cleanly from sides of bowl.

On floured surface, knead dough in about 1⁄2 c flour until smooth, elastic, and bubbled under surface, about 10 minutes. Put in greased bowl, cover with plastic and cloth, and let rise in warm place for about 1 hour until doubled. Then punch down well and rest under inverted bowl for 15 minutes.

In small bowl, combine brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Spread evenly on bottom of greased 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle on the pecans.

In small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Roll dough into 12x20-inch rectangle, spread on 2 T butter, and sprinkle on the cinnamon mix. Roll up dough from long side, forming a 20-inch-long roll, and seal edge.

Cut roll into 20 1-inch slices, and place them cut-side-down in the 9x13-inch pan. Cover and let rise for about 1 hour until doubled.

Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes until deep gold. Cool 1 minute, then invert onto rack, holding pan upside-down to let topping drip off.


I got this recipe from my friend Judy when we lived in the Midwest 25 years ago. Everything she made was especially yummy, and she wasn't the sort to stint on butter. Take out several sticks right at the start, so they'll be room temperature when you need them.

For the pecans, I err on the side of generous -- which doesn't seem to hurt the final product. In the last batch, for example, I finished off a bag of pecans and found I actually had more like 1 1/2 cups -- in fact a generous 1-1/2 cups heading toward 1-3/4 -- and I wondered if I might be reaching the point of diminishing returns, but no. It's okay to settle for 1 cup -- I've done it myself many a time -- but when they're done you'll find yourself picking your rolls with an eye to which one are the most nutty, whereas with 1-1/2 cups there's no fighting. [Swistle note: This is absolutely accurate. Skimping leads to fighting, and to sad-looking, picked-over rolls when the good ones are gone. With 1-1/2 cups, every roll is excellent.]

I just noticed the recipe says a HALF c. pecans. No ... definitely more than 1/2 c. I'd say. 1 c. minimum.

I use a Kitchen-Aide mixer, and keep using it even where in the first paragraph it says "By hand ... " switching to the dough hook as it gets thick. Then I let the dough hook knead it for the 10 minutes. Judy made hers by hand, and hers were certainly as good. [Swistle note: I don't think that can be possible. But I'll admit Judy made some nummy treats.] While adding those 2 to 2-1/2 c. of flour, I do it just a half-cup at a time and let the dough hook get that mixed in before I add the next half cup. I think that works better than just dumping it all in at once, which is what I used to do.

The last couple times I made them, I used bread-machine yeast, since that's what I happened to have on hand. It worked fine.

These are easy and satisfying to make. Yes, you do have to be around the house for several hours and you have to check to see how the rising is coming along and so forth, but they're not at all hard to make. Or to eat. ---Swistle's Mom

March 11, 2008

Back From the Barfing Wars

I am back from the Barfing Wars---or at least I am on my way home from them. Last recorded barf was early this morning, and it was produced by a child who'd had very little to eat the entire day before, and since then she's pinkened up and eaten a good lunch (without barfing) and is looking a lot better. Paul is back to work today, Rob and I are feeling better, Edward hasn't barfed since that first time, William and Henry never got it at all.

While I was awake in the middle of Sunday night, resting my face on the insufficiently-cool bathroom floor and wondering whether I'd barf next or Rob would or Elizabeth would, or whether perhaps the baby might barf all over his crib, my main thought was, "I don't think I can go through another pregnancy." You know how when you're not sick, you think it's pretty bad to be sick, but when you ARE sick you can't believe how bad it feels? I think this is why sometimes people say "flu" when what they have is a cold, and why sometimes they say "migraine" when what they have is a headache: it just feels SO BAD, and words like "cold" and "headache" don't cover it---either for the sufferer or for the employer/spouse who is expected to sympathize and make accommodations.

When I was feeling queasy and weak, it brought back to me so strongly the first three months of pregnancy and how it feels like that THE WHOLE TIME. I remember being in the first trimester with Henry and thinking there'd be an upside to miscarriage. That thought SHOCKS me now, truly shocks me. But when I felt so sick and queasy and knew I had at least two more months of it, it seemed perfectly reasonable, perhaps even preferable.

I feel a little flattened by those thoughts now, because I REALLY WOULD like another baby, and it seems crazy to be dissuaded by a little short-term NAUSEA, and yet. Well. It just feels SO BAD. So bad! Stomach flu for 2-1/2 months! And yet here I am in the daylight, feeling better, looking at the Henry I got out of it (GOOD TRADE), and it's hard to imagine how bad it felt.

Well. Let's see. Other news. Oh yes! I'd paid for that fabric-protection stuff they offer you when you buy a new piece of upholstered furniture, mostly because I was too shy to say no, and so I called about the recliner Edward barfed on at the beginning of this whole ordeal. They sent someone out this morning, and (1) he was cute, and (2) he was non-scary, or as non-scary as any Stranger In My House can be, and (3) he made that recliner look nearly BRAND-NEW. I won't know how good a job he did on the smell until the sun hits the fabric sometime this afternoon, but I might have to get my furniture cleaned from time to time now that I've seen how nice it looks. I wonder how much it costs? If I weren't such a SAD WIMP, I would have asked him while he was here and he probably could have done our other recliner (a golden color that looks grubby now) at the same time. But I AM a sad wimp, and so here I am with one gorgeous recliner and one grubby.

March 9, 2008

Resemblance to Daisies: Low

This morning Paul left for the grocery store before I took a shower, to beat the crowds (at the grocery store, I mean, not in our shower). As he pulled out of the driveway, I headed downstairs with a load of laundry--and found the basement covered with huge puddles. I was contemplating the puddles with the detached inability to problem-solve that hits me whenever I'm surprised, when I heard Edward suddenly start crying, and Rob and William yelled, "Edward threw up!!"

So of course I went running upstairs, and I found what looked like a gallon of curdled milk soaking into the recliner and carpet, and Edward was screaming in dismay. And I may be a compassionate mother in many ways, but there is NO CHANCE of me scooping a barfy child into my arms and holding him tight until AFTER he's cleaned up, so I soothed him with WORDS while I wondered if I should try to clean up the recliner or just pitch it into the front yard and hope for it to be swallowed by the earth. And in any case, Edward had to be cleaned up first.

And that's when Henry started crying, and I discovered he had a stinkers diaper.

I realized that although I theoretically could handle this alone, I didn't want to--and since Paul wouldn't even be at the store yet, I could call him on his cell phone and tell him to come back home. I called---and heard his phone ringing from the top of our bureau.

I mobilized the troops, sending Rob and William for a bunch of towels, and Rob to fill the tub with warm water, and William to get baking soda to put into the tub. I stripped Edward down and had him stand on a hard floor as opposed to the carpet, since carpets are Barf Dowsers.

Then William came up and said he couldn't find the baking soda. And I went to check on Rob's progress and found that he'd filled the tub with cold water even though I'd told him it should be warm and had confirmed with him that he'd checked it and it was in fact warm. Also, the shower curtain was in the water instead of outside the tub. And because dismayed frustration is the emotion that leaves me least able to control my temper, of course I yelled at both of them, and I marched William down and showed him the baking soda EXACTLY where I'd said it would be and where it always is, and I invited Rob to feel the water and tell me if that was called WARM or not, and I chewed them both out for not listening to instructions.

Then I apologized, and put Edward in the tub, and had Rob and William supervise him while I changed Henry's diaper and tackled the recliner/carpet mess. I don't want to talk about tackling the mess.

Then I took the laundry basket of revolting towels and clothing down to the washing machine and added half a box of baking soda, and put my barf-speckled pajamas in there too, and went upstairs and got dressed even though I hadn't showered yet, because I find I can't really tackle tough situations in my pjs and socks. And I went back downstairs to examine the basement.

Luckily there was no water in the carpeted areas, only on the cement. And it looked like it was coming from a leak in the bulkhead, not from the ground below. And it looked like it was not getting worse. And nothing was sitting in it except plastic containers and the boards we put under boxes to keep the damp from seeping in. So I rescued a few unprotected things that were on dry cement but might not be soon, and went back upstairs.

I bathed Edward. May I take a moment to recommend baking soda? Before I discovered it, I used to give a barfy child MULTIPLE baths in strongly-scented soaps and STILL not remove the barf smell. I used to put barfy clothes through the washer MULTIPLE times, spraying them with Febreze between each load, and STILL not remove the barf smell. Now I put half a box of baking soda in the washing machine and the barf smell vanishes. I put the other half of the box into the tub, leaving out enough to make a paste to work through the child's hair, and the barf smell vanishes.

As I was drying Edward, Paul came home. I told him the news: basement, barf, CELL PHONE VIOLATION. He said it made sense that Edward was getting sick, because SO WAS HE. He said he nearly threw up in the grocery store parking lot.

And so all day, Paul has been lying in bed, gasping and groaning and asking me to make a batch of Gatorade to replenish his electrolytes. I haven't taken a shower yet, so I'm not quite as fresh as a daisy. I suppose I could take one now, while the three littles are napping, but I would rather talk to you. Venting to friends is what keeps me from having something more significant to complain about, such as jail time.

March 8, 2008

Want to Be My, Um...Friend?

This is a LITTLE WEIRD. But...I have a Facebook profile now. And so if you want to be friends with "Swistle Thistle," you can be. What is the POINT of that, you may be asking yourself. AS AM I. seemed like it might be fun. So I did it on a whim. And now we will see if it IS fun, or if it is just weird.

March 7, 2008


I have a bottle of expensive French perfume. You know how pipe tobacco can smell delicious? That is the basic idea of this perfume.

Swistle: Want to smell my new expensive French perfume? *offers neck*

Paul: *takes deep whiff of neck* Mmmm, nice. Flowery.

Swistle: It's SMOKY.

Paul: ...

Swistle: Want to try again? *re-offers neck*

Paul: *takes deep whiff of neck* Mmmm! SMOKE!

Swistle: ...

Paul: Have you been...*waggles eyebrows suggestively*...BARBECUING?

March 6, 2008

Spam Fret!

You know what makes me feel a little queasy, and causes me to lose faith in my fellow man? The fact that spammers would not send out spam if it didn't sometimes work. There are ACTUAL PEOPLE clicking those stupid things and handing over money. I know this observation has been made before, but it keeps hitting me afresh.

And speaking of spam, I was looking idly to see if an email I was hoping for had maybe gotten stuck in the spam filter, and I found FOUR non-spam emails in there. FOUR! Two containing time-sensitive questions! And that's just in the last month: spams get deleted automatically after 30 days, and I had TOTAL FAITH so I NEVER CHECKED! How many people have I appeared to TOTALLY SNUB over the last year and a half? AAAAAAAAAGH!

And I can't even say, "If I haven't gotten back to you, it's my spam filter's fault," because sometimes I do take kind of a LONG TIME to answer, and I HAVEN'T been answering emails for the new baby name site but have just been tucking them all aside for later use. Well, how about this: if you have been thinking, "...Hey, why hasn't she answered my email?" (unless it's for the baby-name site, because so far I'm not answering those, just saving them), it wouldn't hurt to re-send your email. And I'll start checking the spam filter more often.

Also, look how Henry sucks his fingers:

I'm just going to start saving for braces now. No sense waiting.

Diet P0rrn

I haven't mentioned the diet for awhile, and you are probably thinking you're on to me. "Yes," you nod wisely. "This is what happened with Couch to 5K, and with Modified Couch to 5K, and with that whole Cleaning Program: big talk, and then a Suspicious Lack of talk."

But no! I am in fact still on the diet. I'm past the stage where the weight loss makes clothes "less tight," and now I'm into the stage where it makes them "loose and unflatteringly sloppy-looking." I've had many, Many, MANY slips (brownies! cake! clearance Valentine's candy!), but I haven't had that feeling of kind of HOPING I've blown it so I can go back to eating what I want. I keep thinking, "Okay, Swistle, right back on it now dear."

It helps that I am a person who likes eating the exact same meals day after day. The less I think about food, the better. I have chocolate-milky coffee (half microwaved skim milk, half coffee, with Splenda and baking cocoa) for breakfast (with cereal or eggs if I'm hungry), turkey-vegetable-chickpea soup for lunch, chicken-vegetable stir-fry on rice for dinner, and fat-free sugar-free pudding for dessert (I recommend the cooked kind, which is an utter pain in the ass to make but I think more delicious than the instant kind). Snacks are milky tea, furtively-eaten marshmallows, various foods purchased "for the kids," swigs directly from a bottle of booze, etc. (Snacks need some work.)

I have a Freebie Day coming up: Easter candy is the best of all seasonal candy, so on Easter I eat ANY KIND I WANT and as much as I want, all day long. Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs! Cadbury Eggs! Hershey candy-coated eggs! Cadbury candy-coated eggs! Hershey marshmallow eggs! On my last diet, this led to a several-day binge instead of the one-day planned splurge, but life went on after that so I'm not much worried.

In the meantime, Diet P0rrn:

See's Candies: Centerfold

March 4, 2008

My Shift Ends at NEVER O'Clock

10:30 p.m.-- Swistle goes to bed and lies awake thinking about something totally stupid.

11:00 p.m.-- Still thinking. And now also thinking about how many minutes this has wasted.

11:20 p.m.-- Drifts off to fantasy of winning a $1,000 gift card to Target.

11:30 p.m.-- Elizabeth wakes up crying. Swistle goes and gets her and brings her back to Swistle's room, then lies awake again thinking with increasing anxiety about how she would get the kids out of the house if there was a fire.

11:40 p.m.-- Swistle gets kicked in the neck by a toddler who wants to lie sideways with her head on Daddy's pillow.

12:15 a.m.-- Drifts off.

12:30 a.m.-- Henry calls for service from the 24-hour cafeteria. He would like a refill on his bottomless cup of milk, purchased 9 months ago.

1:00 a.m.-- Back to bed. NO THINKING. GO TO SLEEP. STOP THINKING. Swistle falls asleep and dreams about a gentle, pleasant canoe ride. A canoe ride that cruises past a giant, half-submerged, tipped-over, dark-metal boat.

1:45 a.m.-- Swistle is actually grateful to be awakened by the sound of a nearby toddler about to barf, and before reaching full consciousness is already halfway to the bathroom with the toddler, who throws up mostly into the sink, greatly reducing barf clean-up time.

2:05 a.m.-- Back to bed, with toddler on towel. Swistle lies awake wondering if this means the whole family is going to start barfing. Is she imagining it, or does her tummy feel a little queasy?

2:25 a.m.-- Drifts off. Dreams about elevators, and about missing the bus.

5:28 a.m.-- Paul's alarm goes off. Swistle thinks, "Oh, thank goodness I can sleep for another 37 minutes."

5:29 a.m.-- Henry wakes up yelling.

5:35 a.m.-- Edward calls, "My get up too?"

6:05 a.m.-- Careful not to move her sore neck too much, Swistle puts the coffee on.

6:30 a.m.-- Swistle realizes the coffee maker will not work when it is not plugged in.

March 3, 2008

In My Dreams

1) Giant nasty vehicle-like robots that destroyed anything out after sunset. I was out after sunset. I took refuge in a house that didn't have a working bathroom.

2) I went to Jen's house for a mothers' group meeting that opened with each person doing a little improv a capella singing. Jen's husband was in the background telling the triplets that he still needed to fix the freight elevator, so they should take the regular elevator. I dream about elevators frequently.

3) Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were in my bedroom explaining how Scientology could improve my sex life. Tom was being really gross about it.

Meanwhile, a toddler was kicking me in the neck because she wanted to lie sideways with her head on Paul's pillow and her feet on mine.

Coffee brewing? CHECK.

March 2, 2008

Funny or Sad?

Edward, as a DVD started up: "YAAAAAAY! Cah soon to DVD!" (coming soon to DVD)


Me: forgetting to put creamer in my coffee and not wanting to get another spoon dirty. Seeing sippee cup of milk abandoned in living room.. Considering. Shrugging. Using.

March 1, 2008

For At-Home Parents: In Support of Considering the Weekend the Busiest Days of Your Work Week

  • The other parent will see how much work you do as you are racing back and forth with spritz bottles and laundry baskets.
  • You will have another adult to watch the children while you are working, rather than having "helpers" and distractions.
  • If the other parent is goofing around, you can use the "toddler choices" format to say in a friendly, pleasant tone of voice, "Do you want to clean the bathroom, or do you want to watch the kids while I do it?," instead of bringing out the screeching tone of voice to say, "Why is YOUR weekend 'a weekend' while mine is just MORE OF THE SAME??"
  • The other parent will then have a mental picture during the workweek of you working-working-working, rather than having a mental picture of you lying around complaining.
  • This will free up time during the week, when no one is around to see you lying around complaining.
  • Instead of Monday being the day when you have to deal with all the mess generated by having an extra person but less work, the Monday House will be the best.
  • Weekends are a disappointment anyway (We'll get to sleep in! It'll be great having another adult to help! We can relax and have fun!), and so you might as well improve the rest of the week.