My Convertible Life

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

That's My Girl

When I was a women's studies minor in college, I firmly believed that gender differences were learned, forced onto boys and girls by a powerful patriarchal machine.

Now, as mother to my own little boy and girl, I am constantly amazed by how different they are from such a young age. Junius apparently came hard-wired with a love for balls, trucks and trains. Pippi has this burning need to diaper all her babies and bears (and Elmo). Junius can turn any toy or stick into a gun (despite not having any toy guns in the house). Pippi begs for a hairbow and then flirts with herself in the mirror. Of course, it's not all stereotypes -- Junius is also super sensitive and Pippi is as tough as can be, and they both love running fast and making music.

But still, it made me laugh that in the same week that Pippi chose this outfit...

...her three favorite books (read over and over at every naptime and bedtime since Saturday) have been the lift-the-flap books she stole from her brother, titled (aptly and succinctly) Diggers, Tractors and Trucks.

Guess she's just reminding me that she really can be anything she wants to be -- even if it's a girly-girl tomboy. (And yes, the boots really do light up. You know you want a pair.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Bake

When I was working half-time after Junius was born, I discovered the most wonderful service: online grocery ordering from Lowes Foods to Go. Set up your grocery list online, place your order and set your pick-up time, then drive up in front of the store and let the store shopper load everything into your trunk -- you can even give them your coupons to credit toward your next order. If only they'd come home with you and put everything away, it would be perfect.

I don't use the service anymore (working less and trying to shop the bargains more), but I still use the Lowes Foods to Go holiday cookbook they gave away one year. The cookbook included this tasty, easy recipe that's perfect to take to a neighbor in need -- just be sure to make two at a time so you have one for yourself, too.

Chicken and Rice Bake
Makes 6-8 servings

1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 package (3 oz) cream cheese, softened (I actually use a whole 8 oz. container)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground back pepper
1 bag (16 oz) frozen broccoli, carrot and cauliflower mix – thawed
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 1/2 cups uncooked instant white rice
1/2 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9x13 baking dish.
2. Combine evaporated milk and cream cheese in dish with a wire whisk until smooth.
3. Add soup, water, garlic powder and black pepper. Mix well.
4. Add vegetables, chicken and rice.
5. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 35 minutes.
6. Remove cover and top with cheese. Continue baking uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture is bubbly.
7. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Found the photo here, with the same recipe.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Strategery: When Your Toddler Poops in the Bath

One of my brilliant friends suggested that I create a periodic feature offering suggestions for what to do when the shit hits the fan (or the tub, in her case) and you need some parenting advice. Given that this friend a) reads my blog, b) thinks I have answers and c) has offered material for me to write about, who am I to deny her? Plus, you already know how I feel about the importance of being open with other moms about our parenting disasters.

So I present to you the first in my new series: Saturday Strategery. Read on for the stuff I'm making up wisdom gleaned from experience, post your commiserations or offer your own advice, then send me pleas for help suggestions for additional posts.

As you may remember, I've already dealt with poop smeared in the crib, but the accidental poop in the tub is a different scenario. Ideally you'd have another adult in the house when this happens so that you can do the hand-off (meaning you take the cutie-pie toddler and hand off the poo-filled tub to your partner). But I think we all know these babies have some sort of sixth-sense that enables them to make messes like these at the most inopportune times, so it's best to have a strategery plan for going solo.
  • Step 1: Swear under your breath. Drop the f-bomb if necessary, but do it quietly to avoid the need for more strategery (see also "How to Explain to Your Baptist Preschool Teacher Why Your Child Cusses During Chapel").
  • Step 2: Yank the toddler out of the tub and wrap her in a towel. Pretend you don't see the poop. If there's a sibling in the tub, get him out as quickly as possible and include him in steps 3 and 5 (this makes it extra tricky, but generally speaking you should help the youngest and/or most poop-covered child first).
  • Step 3: Dry, diaper and dress the toddler as you normally would after a regular, poop-free bath. Unless of course, said toddler has managed to smear into the poop -- then use as many wipes as necessary to clean the toddler, dumping all the wipes into the bath towel.
  • Step 4: Swear under your breath some more. Remember that although you are the only adult in the house, you are not alone. Mothers the world over are currently swearing right along with you (and if you think you're alone, take a look at this blog post with photos). Take a deep breath.
  • Step 5: Put the toddler somewhere safe, preferably out of sight. Depending on the time of day, you may want to proceed with bedtime/naptime. If not, dump her in the crib with books or park her with a video, depending on what causes you the least grief.
  • Step 6: Although you might want to close the bathroom door at this point and pretend the poop isn't in there, it's really best to go ahead and deal with it. Drain the water from the tub and use toilet paper to scoop up the poop, then dump it in the toilet. Continue to repeat step 4 as needed. It's okay to cry a little, too. Throw away any wipes from step 3 into the diaper pail, then rinse any poop on the towel in the bathtub (you don't want loose poo in your washing machine).
  • Step 7: Use your favorite cleaner (including the Clorox/Lysol kitchen cleaner you'd use after handling raw meat -- gross analogy, I know, but you get the idea) and wipe everything down. Rinse a lot, then wash your hands.
  • Step 8: Call a friend to complain about what you've just been through. If no one is available, write something witty and gross on Facebook.
  • Step 9: If necessary, retrieve the toddler and resume parenting. If toddler is sleeping, lie down on the couch and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that one day this incident will make for a hilarious story  to embarrass your child in front of her friends.
Okay, parents -- what did I miss? Help me out here -- I'm still new at this strategery business, and goodness knows we can all use the help.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday's Five: Helen's Books

We'd been enjoying Helen Oxenbury's baby books for years before we discovered some of her other titles. She has the sweetest, loveliest illustrations, with stories that both my kids enjoy, spanning from sweet baby faces to a rhyming tale about the importance of appreciating the life you have.

Here are five of our favorites:
  1. We're Going on a Bear Hunt (with Michael Rosen): I love the online description of this book almost as much as my kids love the book itself -- "Full of delightful comedy and high drama, this tale of a brave family's joyous romp through sweeping landscapes is sure to win new fans."
  2. Pig Tale: This story of Bertha and Briggs, who really want to be rich and then are overwhelmed by their posh new life, makes me laugh (partly because they are pigs) -- and also reminds me to appreciate what I have and be careful what I wish for.
  3. Tom and Pippo series: These tiny little board books tell short stories about a boy named Tom and his lovey (a sock monkey) named Pippo. I'm not sure if Pippi just loves them because she loves to say "Pippo," but I love them because they're sweet and oh-so-short.
  4. Tickle, Tickle and others: These big square board books are filled with cuddly, round-headed babies of different ethnicities doing regular little baby things (like clapping hands and tickling). Pippi loves to pretend to tickle the babies at the end of the book, and I love that she sees babies of different colors without being hit over the head about big important messages on diversity (like you can find elsewhere in this blog).
  5. The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (with Eugene Trivizas): I'm in the queue to get this one from the library, so we haven't actually read it yet. But I always love twists on fairy tales, and apparently this one includes a flamingo.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Recipe: The Best Lasagna

I found this recipe in Wondertime, the best parenting magazine ever that sadly no longer exists. Thankfully, the lasagna -- which really is the best -- is still available.

The recipe makes a single 9x13 dish, but I like to double it and divide into four 8x8 pans -- that way we can have one for dinner (with some leftovers), put one in the freezer for later and give two to friends (who will be so impressed and grateful -- seriously, try it sometime).

Another trick that makes this recipe even easier -- when my husband makes his fantastic spaghetti meat sauce (with peppers, mushrooms, and other magic), I set some aside to mix with a jar of pasta sauce so that I can skip step two below.

The Best Lasagna

  • 1 lb. ground beef or turkey (or cooked chicken, Italian sausage, seafood, andouille, Gimme Lean, etc.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 26-28 oz. (about 3 cups) pasta sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp red wine (optional)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened (I use light)
  • 2 tbsp white wine (optional)
  • 12 oz (3 cups) freshly grated mozzarella (I use pre-shredded)
  • 6-8 no-boil lasagna noodles (I use 8 -- be sure they're no-boil or it doesn't work)
  • 2 cups cooked, well-drained broccoli, spinach, peas, mushrooms or other vegetables (optional)
  • 1 cup (about 4 oz) freshly grated parmesan (I use pre-shredded, but not the powdered kind)

  1. Heat oven to 400. Grease a 9x13-inch pan (or two 8x8-inch pans).
  2. Thoroughly cook the ground beef, garlic and herbs in a large skillet, stirring frequently and breaking up the meat. Stir in pasta sauce and bring to a simmer for about 2 minutes. Season to taste and add the red wine, if using. Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring chicken stock to a boil. Add cream cheese, turn heat to low and whisk until smooth, about 6 minutes.
  4. Spoon half the meat sauce into the pan as evenly as possible. Sprinkle 1 cup grated mozzarella over the meat mixture. Top with 3-4 lasagna noodles.
  5. If using vegetables, toss them evenly over the noodles.
  6. Pour the cream cheese sauce over the noodles and cover with another cup of grated mozzarella.
  7. Arrange 3-4 lasagna noodles over the cheese, then spoon remaining meat mixture over noodles as evenly as possible. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and the grated parmesan.
  8. Bake until brown and bubbling, 35-45 minutes (use the longer cooking time if lasagna prepared in advance and chilled).
  9. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Story of the Convertible Girl

When I was about 10 years old, my dad bought a Fiat Spider convertible that was about the same age. It was navy blue and not nearly as shiny as the one on display in this photo (at left), but I loved it.

That year,
I became a convertible girl.

Six years later, my father presumably beyond the impulse that had inspired the purchase, I learned to drive a stick on this car. To get it into reverse, I had to use all my strength to pull up on the gear shift and force it back into gear. It had a choke and a throttle around the steering column, both of which required some sort of just-right-and-not-too-much balance to keep the car running. The trunk had it's own tiny key, separate from the ignition key, and we only had one copy -- when it was open, the heavy trunk lid propped up precariously on a thin pole. There were no shoulder straps, only lap belts, and certainly no air bags or other safety features. I kept a scrunchie (it was the late 80s, people) around the gear shift to keep my long (ahem, permed) hair out of my face while I was driving. The top was manual, of course, which required getting out of the car and heaving the top up or down. And I loved every minute of it.

Thinking back, I can't believe my parents ever let me drive this car. But they did -- and through some clever scheduling of my piano lessons immediately after school during my senior year, I managed to drive this car to and from high school nearly every day. It didn't exactly make the boys fall all over me, but it sure made me feel cool.

While I was away at college, my dad sold the car -- I couldn't take it with me to school and my brother wasn't old enough to drive at the time, so I guess it didn't make sense to keep it. I suffered through graduation driving a used Ford Taurus (but appreciative for the loaner), then bought my own convertible after starting my job in the fall. The only way I survived that first year of teaching was by putting the top down when I left work at the end of the day and driving aimlessly around town to clear my head.

That car, the black Toyota Celica shown in the top left of the new blog header, also helped me lure my husband. On my welcome-to-class form the first day I saw him (did I mention he was the professor in my first class in grad school?), I responded to the question "Is there anything else I should know about you?" with "I drive a convertible." Within two weeks, I had to change into a different section of the class so that I could date him.

When we got married one year later, my husband and I made convertible ownership a family policy. Getting in and out of the low-slung car when I was 9 months pregnant was no easy task, but I was willing to manage. After Junius was born, we wedged a car seat into the back of the Celica and kept on driving. When my beloved convertible started to wear down (after a wonderful 12 years behind the wheel), we debated about getting a more practical wagon. But I think we both always knew we'd end up with the pre-owned Solara instead (see top right of header).

Driving that Fiat to high school 20 years ago, I never would have believed one day I'd have two car seats in the back of my convertible. But they fit great, the kids love it, and it makes my husband happy. It's also the perfect reminder to me that even though being a mom changes everything, I'm still the same girl I've always been.

So welcome to my convertible life -- where things move fast, life is always changing and every day is different, even when it's exactly the same. As long as the sun is shining and the top is down, I know we'll make it through with a smile.

Fiat photo from International Auto Parts.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Should Have Taken Those Juggling Lessons

This photo sums up how I'm feeling. Hope to make more time for the blog next week. 

In the meantime, I'm working on reminding myself that I'm fortunate to have such a full, busy life. 

It's definitely better than being bored, right? Not that I can remember what it's like to be bored, but I'm sure it sucked.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The School Board Is Not Listening

I spend a lot of time venting to my husband (bless him for listening) about articles in the newspaper, particularly those related to our public schools. Occasionally, I also vent to all of you. But here's the excerpt from this article published yesterday that finally got me to send a letter to the editor last night:

Kathleen Brennan, a Cary parent, said that while some parents won't get what they want, at least they're being heard now. Brennan is a co-founder of Wake CARES, a parent group that sued Wake over mandatory year-round schools.

After the N.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that Wake didn't need parental permission to send students to year-round schools, Wake CARES worked with other groups, such as the Wake County Republican Party, to elect new school board members.

"Parents are speaking out that they're dissatisfied, and the school board has given them a voice," Brennan said.

The good news for those of you tired of listening to my long-winded rants is that the word limit for letters to the editor is 200 words. So I'll refrain from lounging around on my blog soapbox and just give you the letter I sent to The News & Observer last night:

Kathleen Brennan (Wake CARES) says that while some parents won't get what they want in school options, the school board is listening and giving them a voice.

It's ironic she believed the former board didn't hear parents because board members didn't vote to end assignments to year-round schools. Now that the board majority is on her “side,” she assumes they are listening to all parents.

Yet the board is NOT listening to me, the parent of a rising kindergartner. The parent survey regarding year-round schools won't come to me, although my base school is year-round. The survey also won't come to my neighbors because they aren't parents, even though their tax dollars support and build schools in Wake County.

The board majority acts as if they are accountable only to those who voted for them – less than 4 percent of the county's eligible voters. I hope these board members will listen to all the voices in Wake County, not only those who agree with them. If they don't, they will renege on campaign promises of being responsive to parents – and they will do great harm to our schools and community in the process.

* * *
If you are also frustrated by the recent actions of the Wake County Board of Education, I urge you to write to the board and send letters to the editor -- don't just sit around and complain to your spouse. If the school board only hears from the people who are pleased, they'll assume that everyone is equally happy with their actions.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Welcome to the New Place

Ta-da! Thanks for coming over from Junius & Pippi Take the Cake. Please take a look around and leave your comments about the new place -- tell me what you like and what you don't like. It's very similar to the old space (plus I imported all the old posts), but hopefully it looks and works a little better.

Thanks again -- more soon on the new name.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday's Five: Donaldson and Scheffler

One easy way to find great children's books is to pick a library book that you really like and then look for other titles by the same author. One of our favorite discoveries started because Junius likes the word "spiffy" -- our first pick quickly became a favorite, leading us to add more books to our collection.

Here are five great children's titles by author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler. All have great rhymes and interesting, detailed illustrations.
  1. The Spiffiest Giant in Town: In addition to letting you repeatedly use the word "spiffiest," this book also lets you sing along as George becomes the sweetest, kindest, most helpful giant in town.
  2. The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child: These two books tell a funny tale about the relationship between the mouse and the gruffalo. What? You've never heard of a gruffalo? Hmmm, better get the book and find out.
  3. Charlie Cook's Favorite Book: This clever story winds through book after book after book to bring you right back where you started.
  4. Room on the Broom: Highly recommended by a friend, this book tells the tale of a witch and the friends she makes as she rides on her broom -- and about what happens when they crash.
  5. The Snail and the Whale: This is next on my list -- so fun to have another one to discover! Sounds like it will have all the fun and rhyme of the other books, with an important lesson about how little people can be strong, too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thankful Mama and a Sweet Baby Girl

According to my husband, that last post crossed the TMI line toward the end there. Sorry about that. The good news is that the plumber came the next morning and had everything fixed and running properly within an hour. I really should have trained to be a plumber instead of a teacher or a journalist -- better pay and very appreciative clients.

Anywho, I got a strong reminder yesterday that if my biggest problem is that I had to go overnight without running water while I waited (inside my toasty warm house with my loving husband and sweet children and plenty of bottled water) for the plumber to come in the morning (so that I could write him a check without worry and without having to crawl under the house in the puddles myself), then my life is really good. I have wonderful family and friends, my health and a great new year ahead -- and I am thankful. A little bad luck here and there shouldn't change that.

So instead of giving some kind of rant today about the crazy school board that just did away with assigning students to year-round schools without any review of the economic impact of that decision, I'm going to write a happy little Pippi post instead.

This morning while I was getting dressed, Pippi was playing in her room -- she's just now getting old enough that she's figured out she can do that. I love listening to her talk to herself and her toys, alternating between random snippets of songs ("Row, row, row,... ream..." followed by "Bimble bell, bimble bell, bimble bell, way!") and general gibberish.

At some point, I realized she was calling for me, so I peeked into her room to find her holding Elmo by the hand (which makes him sing the "Sesame Street" theme in Spanish) with her pretty monogrammed burp cloths spread all over the floor. She had pulled a diaper and a new package of wipes from the changing table and had been wiping Elmo's bottom, but she couldn't fasten the diaper by herself.

"Emmo dia-puh?" she asked, handing me the diaper and placing Elmo's tushie squarely on one of the burp cloths. After I got him properly suited up, she took Elmo into her arms, cradled him with a kiss, then tossed him over the side of the crib. "Night night, Elmo," she called, before dumping every book in her room on top of him, one at a time.

As I struggled not to laugh in front of Pippi (she was being so earnest about taking care of her "baby"), I realized I couldn't remember Junius doing this when he was her age. Maybe I've just forgotten -- and he certainly "mothers" his baby bear -- but the baby-doll instinct (or at least the impulse to keep a diaper on anyone small, which I certainly understand) seems much stronger in my daughter than in my son. Don't get me wrong -- she'll play with cars and balls and blocks, too, but she really loves to put on her dress up shoes, hook a little purse over her arm, and push that diapered Elmo around the house in her stroller.

Crazy stuff, this parenting -- but it's a funny show to watch.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bad Omen? Or Nowhere to Go But Up?

My husband likes to say that, when I met him, I'd had the longest winning streak of anyone he knew. That may have been true (I found him, didn't I?), but I've also had some jarring losing streaks (like mono at age 30 that knocked me out of work for a month) to break up the wins. Thankfully, the good times always came back around -- but I'm a little worried about this start to 2010 that's causing me to flashback to five years ago.

In the final days of 2004 and the opening of 2005...
  • While visiting family in California, we borrowed our niece's car to drive to San Francisco. The car was vandalized at the train station where we parked outside the city (side and rear windows smashed in). After trying to drive the car back to Davis in the rain, we finally gave up and called my husband's sister and her husband to come rescue us. Oh, and I was about 13 weeks pregnant, so you can imagine how even-keeled I was about the whole thing.
  • While trying to get home from California, we sat in the plane on the runway for 3+ hours before finally taking off -- then missed our connecting flight in Chicago after running (literally) through the airport and ended up spending a few hours of sleep in an airport hotel before catching an early morning flight home. Did I mention I was pregnant?
  • On my first day back at work after the holidays, my wallet was stolen out of my office by a con-man who (through an elaborate scam that I won't detail here) was able to charge several purchases to my ATM card before I realized what was happening. (Thankfully, the Credit Union took great care of me once we got the mess sorted out -- but let this be a reminder to all to NEVER EVER tell anyone your PIN, even if you think they work for your bank. Ever.) And again, did I mention I was pregnant and emotional and exhausted?
Thankfully, despite the disastrous beginning, 2005 brought us great gifts -- namely, one beautiful, healthy baby boy. He came with his own craziness, but he's definitely worth it.

I tell you all of this now because here's what happened today:
  • A water pipe burst under the house this afternoon. It was a comedy of errors (okay, it wasn't funny at the time, but you have to laugh so as not to cry) while I tried to locate the tool to shut off water to the house (we have no inside-the-house shut-off) and then attempted to figure out how to use it while my husband coached me over the phone.
  • Our home warranty won't cover the plumbing problem because it involves freezing weather and a hose bib. Really? I'm paying you over $500 a year so that you can NOT cover things that break?
  • UNC lost to the College of Charleston tonight. C'mon, Heels!
  • When I reminded my husband that 2005 turned out to be a great year after all (because of course, we both went back to that jinx when the pipe burst today), he said, "Oh no. I hope you're not pregnant." But clearly that's not a problem as I started my period this morning -- this may seem like a good thing, except that it also means I'm on a 26-day cycle. At this rate, I'll end up menstruating twice a month before the end of the year.
Okay, so that last one was probably more than you wanted to know. But it really was the perfect ending to a completely stellar day.

The good news? The plumber is coming tomorrow morning, so hopefully we'll have water again by tomorrow afternoon. And in the meantime, we have wonderful neighbors who are going above and beyond the call of duty to take care of us.

Hopefully this is all a good sign that 2010 will be just as fruitful as 2005 was -- but in a totally different way.