My Convertible Life

Friday, April 30, 2010


Last weekend, I spent about 24 hours away from home -- I was actually less than two miles from my house, but we could have been in China for what it felt like. Because for that 24 hours, I had no responsibilities for anyone or anything other than me-- no kids, no husband, no house, no job. It was my first time having a "sleep-over party" with a girlfriend since I don't know when -- and just like when I was a kid, I was the last one still awake and talking after everyone else fell asleep.

The time away with a dear friend (whose daughter was at home with another friend) was both strange and lovely -- strange to feel so solo, with no one asking for a sippy cup or to be held or can I do this or that, yet lovely to have time to finish a complete sentence or just be still for a bit. We saw a Sunday matinee movie, ate take-out for dinner in our hotel, slept late, got pedicures and had lunch outside, all before I resumed my regular life picking up Junius from preschool. I missed everyone at home, but being away for even just a quick "trip" made me that much happier to be back with them the next day.

This weekend, we have a different kind of sleep-over planned. This time, Junius is the one getting away -- and I think he's even more excited than I was last weekend. I, however, am terrified.

He's going for his very first sleep-over ever -- staying with Nonna and Grandpa for one night. I'm sure he'll have a blast, and I know they're thrilled that he's coming. But somehow I just can't believe that my baby boy is old enough to spend the night both away from home and away from me. What if he misses me and Daddy? What if he wakes up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep? Or, gasp, what if he doesn't even notice that I'm not there?

Deep breaths. Slow, deep breaths.

At least I'll have the Pip to keep me busy as she cries out in the middle of the night demanding, "Where my pacie go, mommy?!"

Sigh. I'm going to need a good nap come Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Recipe: Salsa Chicken Skillet

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but this recipe came from the back of a package of Kraft shredded cheese. Usually I don't even look at those packaging recipes much less save them and fix them, but this one turned out to be easy and delicious. Plus I have all this pasta in my pantry from some crazy grocery store sale, so I needed something interesting to do with it. Super double bonus: my kids ate it, too. 

And no, Kraft doesn't know I exist -- although if you work for Kraft and you're reading this, please send us some free cheese!

Salsa-Chicken Skillet
Serves 4

  • 2 cups multi-grain rotini pasta, uncooked
  • 1 lb.  boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1-1/4 cups tomatillo salsa (I used regular mild salsa because that's what I had in the fridge)
  • 1 pkg.  (10 oz.) frozen corn 
  • 1 large green pepper, cut into thin strips, then cut in half (I added some red pepper, too, since there was one in my fridge)
  • 1 cup  KRAFT Mexican Style 2% Milk Finely Shredded Four Cheese
  1. Cook pasta as directed on package.
  2. While pasta is boiling, heat large nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook and stir 4 min. 
  3. Stir in salsa, corn and peppers; simmer on medium-low heat 10 min. or until chicken is done, stirring occasionally.
  4. Drain pasta. Add to chicken mixture; mix lightly. 
  5. Top with cheese. Remove from heat; cover. Let stand 1 min. or until cheese is melted.
  6. Can garnish each serving with 1 tbsp chopped cilantro or 1 chopped green onion.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Rainbow of Opportunity

I'm the first to admit that I cry easily at the slightest thing -- sappy commercials, children's books, the last 10 dramatic minutes of a cheesy movie I've never seen. But even I was surprised to find myself choking back tears at a modern dance recital last month.

It was the Rainbow Dance Company's annual concert -- our friend and neighbor is the director and was also dancing in the show, so my husband and I took both kids to the Saturday matinee. The Rainbow Dance Company, a multi-age modern dance group, includes girls and women (and a few men) ranging from age 9 to 50+.

When the first group of dancers took the stage, Junius and Pippi were in awe, mesmerized by the sounds, the lights and the dancing. I watched the dancers -- and watched my children watching them -- and felt my eyes well up. Here was a group of (in this case) women and girls representing a range of ages, colors, shapes, sizes and ability who were all part of the same beauty, working together to make something amazing. They were so in control of their bodies, so comfortable with themselves, so powerful on the stage. I wanted to be like them, to be one of them, wanted my daughter to grow up in a group like that.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to have that kind of confidence at age 16. To feel so strong in my own skin, to mentor a 9-year-old girl who is holding her own among the "grown-ups,"  to dance side-by-side with a 55-year-old woman who is every bit as beautiful and athletic as the younger girls. What an incredible opportunity to see the world this way, to see being a woman this way.

Among our friends and neighbors, we know moms who are marathoners and triathletes, teachers and lawyers, architects and accountants, and more. I love that my daughter will have so many strong women role models to look up to as she gets older. And I love that my son will have always seen women in all these roles, so that maybe (just maybe) it won't occur to him that there is anything unusual about it. But taking Juni and Pip to that modern dance concert was a rare opportunity to see one of our mom friends in action doing non-mom-related work.

I don't know if either of my kids will want to study dance (although Pippi does adore a good ballet outfit and Junius had a blast at Arts Together's Super Hero camp last summer), but I do know this: as they grow up, I want them to be part of a group that makes them feel strong, that allows them to see the possibilities ahead, that connects them with diverse communities. And in the meantime, I'm trying to figure out how many years of dance lessons I'm going to need before I can win an invitation to the Rainbow Dance Company for myself.

Photo by Matt Kesterson from Arts Together

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday's Five: Strong Girl Books

In keeping with what has become this week's theme, today's list looks at children's books with strong girl characters in them. I've noticed that these books often kill off the mother of said strong girl as part of the set-up for the story -- as if having a mother around automatically makes you weak and submissive.

For example, Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke is the story of a young princess who learns to joust and ride even better than her brothers and ultimately gets to choose her own husband (instead of being married off) because of her unmatched skill and strength. It's a great story except for the very beginning where her mother dies in childbirth delivering her -- I mean, really, was there NO other way to set-up the story so that the princess could learn to kick some butt?

So when I find a good story with a strong girl who still has her mother, I'm hooked. Here are five that I love:
  1. Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole: Princess Smartypants doesn't want to get married, but her parents insist -- so she sets up some impossible tasks for potential suitors (including Prince Swashbuckle, who almost wins her hand, but then, well, I don't want to spoil the ending).
  2. Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke and Kerstin Meyer: Same author as Princess Knight, but this time the mom is not only alive, she's a bad-ass -- and her daughter is pretty tough and clever, too.
  3. Stella and Roy Go Camping by Ashley Wolff: On the surface, this is a straightforward story about a family camping trip where the kids look at animal tracks. But blended into the tale is the fact that their mom (not their dad) takes them camping and the big sister isn't a wuss about the hike.
  4. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch and Michael Martchenko: When a dragon abducts her prince fiance, Princess Elizabeth sets off to rescue him, outsmarts the dragon and learns something important about her betrothed (and herself) in the process.
  5. Stella, Star of the Sea by Mary-Louise Gay: No princesses or princes, but just one smart, fearless little girl with a big imagination -- and she's persistent enough to get her brother through his nerves and into the ocean.
Have some favorites you'd like to share? Or some other complaints about why authors are ditching all the mommies in strong girl books? Let me know...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Maybe I Will Be a Runner After All

"Look, Mommy, look! Like you, Mommy, like you! I runnin' jus like you!"

Wow. Never expected I'd hear my daughter say those words. But that's just what Pippi said on Sunday as she trotted down our street, beaming: "I runnin' jus like you!" She was so proud of herself. But not nearly as proud as I was of myself.

I'm not a runner. Never have been. Never really wanted to be. But my husband tricked me into it. I'd been complaining about not getting any exercise and not having any time to get exercise, so he (being a runner himself) decided that I just hadn't given running a fair try. My response was that if I was going to become a runner, I'd need some cool gear -- that Sony Walkman collecting dust in the closet just wasn't proper motivation. Then, bam. he called my bluff -- iPod for my birthday -- and suddenly I had to follow through.

After consulting one of my BFFs from high school (who I would have voted least-likely-to-become-a-runner right along with me but who now runs races with her husband and three boys), I decided to try out the Couch-to-5K running plan. The gist of the plan is that you start out running in short increments (60 seconds at first) and walking in between, then build up to longer running stretches over nine weeks until you can run for 30 minutes (or 3 miles).

As of yesterday, I'm on Day 2 of Week 3. Ahem. My birthday was in December. [Short pause while you count the number of weeks between December and April.] So yeah, I started, then it got too cold, so I started over, then got sick, started over, got busy, blah blah blah. But I keep trying, starting over at Week 2. And as of yesterday, I'm father along on the plan than I've ever been -- and I've probably run more cumulative minutes in the past five months than I did in the past five years added together. So it's small, but it's still progress.

I'm running to be healthy. And I'm running to be thin. And, let's be honest, I'm running to show my husband that I can meet his challenge (thanks for knowing me so well, my love). But I realized on Sunday that I'm also doing it so that my daughter (and my son) will see running and exercise and (dare I say) athleticism as a regular part of being a girl.

I'm still not sure I'll ever be a capital-R Runner -- I'm not training for an actual race or dreaming of a marathon or anything. But seeing Junius and Pippi hopping up and down in the driveway to cheer me on as I make my loop past the house is all the motivation I need to keep on running.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday's Five: Goldilocks Movies

I love watching a movie that I don't know anything about -- that doesn't come with big expectations -- then turns out to be a lovely experience. They're the ones that are not too long or too short, not too heavy or too fluffy, not too tacky or too serious, not too violent or too mushy. It's such a pleasant surprise to spend 90 minutes or so being entertained without feeling like I got hit by a truck or need to take a shower when the movie ends.

Here are five just-right movies that we've enjoyed in recent years -- they're all a little quirky, but I like that in a film (and in friends, too, for that matter):
  1. Starter for Ten (2006): A lovely little British romantic comedy that doesn't involve Hugh Grant (yes, I do have a crush on him, but he shouldn't get all the roles).
  2. Tao of Steve (2000): Despite the fact that the promo poster makes this look like soft porn from the 80s, this was a great story with an interesting premise about guys named Steve.
  3. Happy, Texas (1999): Escaped convicts mistaken for a gay couple hosting a beauty pageant. How could you not want to see this movie?
  4. Lars and the Real Girl (2007): Okay, so this very sweet movie involves a man in a relationship with a blow-up doll. But you just have to trust me. Honest.
  5. Saved! (2004): And yes, this clever movie involves teen pregnancy and religion. But really, if you don't laugh out loud when Mandy Moore throws her bible at another girl and screams, "I am FILLED with Christ's love," well, then, I just can't help you.
What about you? What are your favorite "just-right" movies for a Friday night on the couch?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Portrait of the Artist as a Toddler

In case you were wondering, this is what happens when you leave Pippi with magic markers. She was unattended for about two minutes, and was extremely proud of herself. My husband fears this is only the beginning of her love of body ink. I was just grateful she colored her arms and not the new carpet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Singing, Dancing and Learning

When we started classes with Music Together last fall, I had visions of discovering the musical genius in both of my children. They both love to sing, dance and pretend-play musical instruments (Junius prefers trombone, while Pippi tends toward the violin) -- plus I spent 14 years in piano lessons and my mom is a music teacher -- so it seemed a perfect fit.

Today we started our third round of classes with Music Together (fall, winter, now spring). And I'd love to be able to tell you that it's been everything I imagined it could be and more. But that wouldn't really tell the whole story. The truth is that it's been a huge success -- at least enough to make me enroll three times -- but it hasn't looked at all like I expected it would.

After our first class, my son announced that he didn't want me to sing along with the CD in the car -- despite what our class instructor had encouraged us to do. This hurt my feelings (and my confidence), but I got over it -- he's 4, what does he know about talent, right? Then after a few more more classes, I quickly realized that car-singing was the least of my worries.

We were That Family in music class.

You know what I'm talking about... the one whose kids run around the room seemingly oblivious to what the instructor is doing, whose kids take instruments from other (smaller) children, whose kids shout "wake up!" in the middle of the lullaby song, whose kids take off their own shoes and then try to wear the shoes of other children, whose kids sneak over to play the piano when it's clearly labeled "hands off." Meanwhile, the other children are all sitting sweetly with their mommies, tapping and bouncing along with Ms. Angela. Yes, we were definitely That Family.

After we finished the first set of 10 classes, I gave up. I was convinced that the kids weren't learning anything, and I was exhausted from wrangling them for 45 minutes. Despite all counseling from my mother to the contrary, I figured it was a waste of time.

Then one afternoon, I caught Pippi singing the welcome to class song all by herself, filling in the names of the other kids from class as well as words for things around her (as in, "Hello to potty... so glad to see you! Hello to blanket... so glad to see you!"). I was startled -- this is the child who never sits in class, takes off running down the hall and ignores Ms. Angela at every opportunity? Over the next few weeks, I realized that both of my kids were randomly singing different songs from the class without any prompting from me. Turns out that busy, crazy children are still soaking up all that music instruction when you least expect it.

So now we're back for Round 3. I'm still chasing Pippi down the hall and nudging Junius to sit up and sing during class -- and we're still That Family (honestly, you'd think by now we'd have someone new in the class who could take over that role). But at least now I know that they're getting something out of the class -- and most of the other families are used to us by now (and probably just glad that their kids are better behaved than mine are).

And when Pippi puts on Junius's train engineer hat and starts singing, "This train is bound for glory..." or when Junius taps his fork on the table while chanting, "Playing in the kitchen...," I'm reminded that my children are learning more than I can imagine every minute of every day. No wonder they can't sit still with such busy, busy brains.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ultimate Blog Party 2010

The one person I've never met who I know reads my blog is Stephanie. I know she reads because she leaves comments. (Ahem. That was a nudge for the rest of you who do know me and claim to read the blog, but never leave a comment. I thrive on positive reinforcement, people.)

I don't know exactly why Stephanie continues to read my blog given that she's never met me and doesn't know my children and doesn't even live in my state. But I do know how she found me -- the Ultimate Blog Party 2009. So if you've wandered over here from 5 Minutes for Mom's Ultimate Blog Party 2010, I hope you like what you find here and join Stephanie as one of my regular readers. I write about my family, local school board politics, children's books, recipes and meal planning, what to do when your toddler poops in the tub, good music and lots of other random things.

For those of you who don't already know, I have two hilarious children (called Junius and Pippi here), one wonderful husband (generally referred to as "my husband") and two part-time jobs in marketing/ communications/ research. And in case I get bored, there's always the blog to write, the laundry to fold, the friends to visit and The New Yorker to read. But those things don't always happen given that I can't remember the last time I had time to get bored.

Anyway, wander around, make yourself at home, leave a few comments, take some ideas and enjoy the UBP 2010. And for those of you who know me and love me anyway, even without the fancy blog party, thanks for sticking around.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday's Five: Sweet Children's Stories

Lots of the kids books we read are silly, funny tales (past and current favorites are Click Clack Moo and its sequels) or they're practical lessons about using the potty and sharing toys and recycling. But once in awhile, we run into a story that is so sweet, either in its message or its ending or its characters or its illustrations (or all of the above) that it makes me melt a little.

Here are five sweet, sweet stories that you (and your kids) can enjoy:
  1. Thing-Thing by Cary Fagan and Nicolas Debon: This story might just be the sweetest one of all. Thing Thing is a stuffed toy that defies category and longs for a child to love and love it back. Unfortunately, he's given to crabby Archibald Crimp, who throws Thing-Thing out the 6th-floor window. What will happen on the way down and where will Thing-Thing land? I don't want to spoil the ending, but it's, well, about the sweetest thing-thing ever.
  2. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman: One by one, a crowd of adorable little animals set up camp in Bear's cave while he's hibernating -- and Bear snores through the whole party. But when a sprinkle of pepper sneezes Bear awake, what will he do? Gasp! I'm not giving it away, but it's a sweet surprise.
  3. A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady Macdonald Denton: Spoiler alert, but I love the online summary for this book: "Cheery persistence wears down a curmudgeonly bear in a wry comedy of manners that ends in a most unlikely friendship with a mouse." See there, I gave away the ending that time.
  4. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems: From the author of Knuffle Bunny and the Pigeon books, this is the tale of what happens when Reginald von Hoobie Doobie is determined to convince the cookie-baking Edwina and the rest of the town that dinosaurs are extinct. The ending offers a great example of how to respond to bad news. Plus it's fun to get to say "von Hoobie Doobie."
  5. Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton: "One hippo all alone calls two hippos on the phone" -- and so starts a counting book about a partying crowd of hippos. It's silly and funny (and we like to throw our hands in the air and wave them like we just don't care when all the hippos actually go berserk), but it's also touching to see the lonely little hippo on the final page.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where I Yell at the School Board Again

So I know yesterday's post was all one big, beautiful mutual admiration society, but I'm afraid it's back to the ranting today. Thankfully, it's in the form of a letter to the editor that I submitted last night, so at least you know there's a word limit. Here you go, in case it never sees the light of the printed newspaper...

The four new school board members ran on a platform of being responsive to parents and improving choice and stability in the district. These sound like nice promises, yet the board is already breaking them left and right. Whether they’re ignoring the spirit of open meetings laws or disregarding the district’s own survey showing the majority of parents are satisfied with their school, the “gang of five” appears to care only for the small percentage of parents who voted them into power.

The latest example of their disregard for families came on April 7, when the district quietly announced that magnet results would not be posted on April 8 as promised because of last-minute changes by the board on April 6. This date was already postponed from the original notification date of March 18, despite a district announcement that 60% of magnet applications have already been accepted.

Meanwhile, my family is in limbo because we do not know where or when my son will start kindergarten. While this school board pushes its agenda into action, it is actually ignoring parents, reducing options for families and wreaking havoc.

Parents—and voters—are watching. Let’s hope the school board starts listening.

Update on 4/9/10: My letter ran in today's N&O.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nice to Feel Beautiful

Despite the fact that I hardly wrote any blog posts at all and barely read anyone else's posts for the entire month of March, I'm delighted to report that Stephanie at Figments of a Mom -- one of my lovely readers (and probably one of my few readers who doesn't know me in person) -- has honored me with a Beautiful Blog Award.

It's a little cheesy, I know, but darn if it doesn't always feel nice to be told that you (or something you've created) are beautiful. For those of you really paying attention, you may be reminded of the Honest Scrap Award from back in October -- this one is the same idea. So I guess that makes me a two-time award winner. I'm sure the marketers will be beating down my virtual door any minute now.

So now that I'm done congratulating myself, here goes the award process...

1. Thank the person who nominated me for this award and post a link to her blog: Stephanie, you made my day!

2. Pass the award onto 7 other bloggers who I believe have a Beautiful Blog: The first six on this list are from local bloggers I met (most for the first time) at a very fun dinner last week. You should also know that I did not include the list of blogs named in the last award, but I think they are "Beautiful," too.
  • Pretty Swell -- in addition to having a lovely, clean design, her blog includes resources for moms dealing with post-partum depression
  • Motherhood and Me -- an honest look at motherhood and trying to be healthy, plus interviews with other bloggers (in case you don't have enough to read)
  • Adventuroo -- great tips for getting outdoors with your family, plus a groovy design for the masthead that I love (and can you call it a masthead when it's online?)
  • All Things Fadra -- just discovered her blog, but enjoyed chatting with Fadra (we sat beside each other) and love the range of topics she covers on her blog from technology to sleep deprivation
  • Tales from a Marketing Mama -- Erin covers the gamut, too, from work and marketing to babies and parenting -- and we share the "best intentions" when it comes to kid crafts
  • Dirt & Noise -- Ilina and I share an interest in local school board politics and 5:00 cocktails -- you'll definitely want to check out her Friday recipes
  • Clemson Girl and the Coach -- ClemsonGirl isn't local, but she writes a very funny and very honest blog with lots of readers (and I actually know her because one of my high school BFFs is one of her college BFFs, which I'm sure makes me cooler by association)
3. Contact the other bloggers and let them know they have been chosen for this award: If your blog is on this list, check your comments.

4. Say 7 things about myself:
  • I wish I had played sports growing up so that I'd be better at playing them with my kids.
  • I'm Catholic and a Democrat -- the two shouldn't be mutually exclusive.
  • I have a big head. Not metaphorically, literally -- lots of hats don't fit.
  • I no longer remember what it's like to take a shower every day.
  • I seem physically incapable of going to bed at a reasonable hour on a regular basis.
  • I wish my name were more gender-neutral.
  • I can't stand cheap toilet paper.
Okay. I'm exhausted now -- am clearly out of blogging-shape. Here's to more posts in April -- thanks for sticking around!