New rain boots to muck through life.

So, I sheepishly return to my blog, two whole months since my last entry. I kept avoiding it,  waiting to see if I could at least come back with some more positive news.  I always wanted my blog to be an honest expression of my feelings and reflection of my life, no prettifying anything, but my long silence was beginning to feel dishonest. I needed a little help.

I regained my courage after buying these fabulous red rain boots.

There’s something magical that happens when you step into red footwear. Suddenly, you can muck through anything in life. Rainy days are no longer depressing. In fact, they become fun.

So here goes: things are bad in my marriage. I can’t say exactly what, some things should remain private, but just to quell any worries, I can tell you what it’s not. It’s not because of abuse, in any form, or physical disease, or addiction.

Suffice it to say, that one day I came to my tipping point. Luckily, my husband hit rock bottom pretty much at that very moment, with his depression and other issues of self-loathing and basic manly idiocy, and realized that if he didn’t do something right away he would lose his family. Finally, on his own, he is getting some helpful therapy and that’s about the only reason there is still hope.

What really pisses me off (and I’m sorry to bring in such vulgar language) is that he has it all. Really! He has a wonderful life, but he doesn’t see it. And I’m sick and tired of that being my problem. Fix it yourself.

The other infuriating point is that he was willfully blind. I didn’t realize that he could do that. There isn’t a moment that I don’t think about the consequences of my actions, but it seems like some people can shut that off when it gets too tough.

Yeah, it’s tough having a little kid that completely monopolizes your wife, but deal with it. Geez! What do you think I’ve been doing all this time? Skipping through the park with posies? Plus, seriously, it’s fun having a toddler. It’s the best thing ever. At least it is for me. We’ll see if he feels the same way soon enough.

A marriage should start solid as a rock to make it through these long bouts of breastfeeding and co-sleeping and tantrums and ear infections. I realize now that some people have weaker “constitutions” when it comes to the institution.

He has a longer road ahead on the journey to zen happiness… and I really thought he was right there next to me! Instead, he was lagging way behind and I was too busy to notice. Before having a baby, I would have waited for him. But I have a beautiful toddler now, and I can’t just stop dead on this road.

He’ll just have to catch up.

Are you ready, boots? Start walkin’.

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The Sugar Shack

Every year, close to springtime with snow still on the ground, my husband and I make a pilgrimage in the woods and head for a sugar shack. This is also known in our neck of the woods as “la cabane a sucre”, and it’s basically a chance to stuff your face. Bacon and eggs, beans in maple syrup, ham and cheese folded in a pancake, split-pea soup, and, if you have room, taffy on the snow.

What am I saying? Of course you have room! It’s the best part!

For the first time, my son got a taste. He loved it so much, he stole mine.

What do you get when you mix fresh cool air from walking through the forest and a jolt of sugar with the intense taste of maple syrup? A very sleepy baby!

 

 

I carried him out of the car seat like taffy slipping out of my arms and he barely fluttered his eyelashes. I plopped him down in my bed in full snow-gear and he had the longest nap in recorded history.

Sugaring off is such a short period of bliss. The very next day, the snow was gone.

Here’s a quick recipe I created to use up the maple syrup in a healthy way.

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I am Woman, hear me roar!

A typical day for my little family goes something like this:

7am – if not earlier – Wake up, mama! Time to get dressed, eat breakfast, then tackle my toddler and wrestle on his clothes and shoes. Despite the frantic pace, I still manage to make it funny. Alex loves it when I chase him around the house to dress him.

8am – Out the door! In the car! Drop off husband at work, and drop off child at daycare.

9am to 5pm – Work, work, work.

5:30pm – Pick up child and husband.

6pm – Fix supper in under 1/2 hour.

6:30pm – Sling supper on the table.

7pm – Husband and child watch his favorite kiddie show, Chuggington, for 20 minutes. In these 20 minutes, I sweep up the remains of supper flung on the floor – tonight was sticky spaghetti – load the dishwasher, wipe the counters, pick up toys and start supper for tomorrow night. If I get ahead now, I can save a precious 15 minutes tomorrow.

7:30pm – Bathtime!

8pm – Baby’s bedtime.

People, this is a good day.  A day like that makes me happy because everything went according to plan. It’s drudgery, yes. But the alternative is the wheels coming off the kiddie cart. Tantrums, traffic, and a tiff with my husband, can turn a frantic pace into a chaotic mess.

So I’ll take the frantic pace, and be grateful. I’m especially lucky because my husband is an equal partner in our family. He cleans, he cooks, he changes diapers, he keeps track of the bills and holds his end up, though he may complain all the way on bad days.

It’s International Women’s Day. And I don’t want special treatment for today. I don’t need a break, a pedicure spa, and for god’s sake don’t give me earrings. For me, today is an opportunity today to think of how to make things more equal. And I’ll know we’ll have gotten there the day that a man talks to his boss about achieving a better work-family life balance. It won’t be a woman’s issue anymore to hope her boss can tolerate the fact that she has a family now.  I know we’ll be closer to equal when parental leave will not be by default just for moms. Dads will be given the same time off and not have to worry for their jobs. Most of all, I wish for equal in a world where girls are still undesirable when born in certain countries, or hidden away, or hurt, or made to feel less than a man.

Today, I’m glad my man- a great husband and dad -is there by my side and shares the load all equal. For other families, sharing the load may mean that mom stays at home, or works part-time, or starts her own business. And dad can do the same. It’s all good.

So, ladies sing it loud: I am Woman, hear me roar!

You can bend but never break me, because it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal.

If I have t0, I can do anything!

I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman.

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Five Favorite Bedtime Books

Reading has always been a big part of our family rituals. I’ve been reading to Alex since he was a day old. I’d hold the book up for him and read out loud all the funny sound effects and voices. My husband is the best for the voices, throwing his voice an octave pitch high for little birds or low for big bears, acting out as silly as possible.

Now Alex can turn the pages by himself and excitedly points at his favorite parts. Every night, he gets to choose the books to read before bedtime. These are his most cherished stories.

What books do your children love? I need some ideas to throw in some variety!

Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman A sweet little story about a little birdie's determination and love to find his mother. The ending is so tender as they finally reunite.

Moo, Baa, La La La! By Sandra Boynton Alex gets to practice all his barnyard animal sounds, and loves to shake his finger at the three little pigs. "No, no, no. You say oink!"

We're Going on a Bear Hunt, By Michael Rosen You'll be chanting the rhythmic sentences as the family goes on an adventure through tall grass, mud, river, forest and more. And what happens when they finally find a bear? That's where there's a little excitement for the end.

Counting Kisses, By Karen Katz My favorite part is when he produces his feet so I can smooch his little toes.

Time For Bed, by Mem Fox And here we wind down the evening with soft, quiet moments between mamas and babies, and final sweet good-nights before it's finally time for bed.

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Big Hug!

Sometimes… that’s all that can be said or done.

So, here’s a big hug to a friend.

Thanks for sharing your story Carolyn. I hope it helps to write down your feelings and sadness.

Your paper boat is not alone in the sea.

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I’m back! Sort of…

Anyone wondering where I’ve been?

The simple answer is, I’ve been battling germs, viruses, and infections since pretty much November. Since Alex began daycare, my body has been host to them all. They came at me pretty much like the 3 Stooges stumbling out of an ever-spinning revolving door of disease. And anything I caught, my husband did too.

I thought I could tough it out. In September, it was a simple cold. My husband cried that he was dying, but I knew it was just a cold. In November, I got the flu. My husband cried that he was dying, but I knew we would survive. In December, during the holidays, I got a sinus infection. My energy reserves were starting to hit bottom. In January, I caught some throat virus. Now I started thinking that I was dying too.

Today, I was diagnosed with strep throat. That’s it. I’ve had enough. How do you guys handle it? Please tell me I’m not the only one living through this!

Who knew that sending your child to daycare would automatically enroll you to the disease of the month club? (edit: OK I exaggerate. I mean the sickness of the month club.)

As for Alex, don’t worry. He’s fared better than we have as he’s still breastfeeding and benefiting from my antibodies.

Slowly, I’m getting back into the writing game again. I miss reading all my favorite bloggers so much!

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Holiday Traditions or Have yourself a sane Christmas.

I love Christmas! For me, it’s all about a dusting of snow, clementines and eggnog, a big turkey dinner, and my annual ritual of watching three movies:

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life.
  2. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
  3. A Christmas Carol. The 1951 version with Alastair Sims, of course.

Most importantly, I love Christmas because I get to cuddle up with my loved ones and tell them, in words or with gifts, how much they mean to me. This year is going to be special, because I get to share this with a little man, my son Alex.

Last year, he was too small to appreciate any of it. This time around, I hope I can instill in him the idea of family, love and gratitude for all the good things in our lives. He does not know, nor care, about Santa and he has not made him a list demanding toys and gadgets.  I hope it stays that way for a long time. Though I can’t control what other members of my family will give him, I hope they have heeded my wish to keep it simple.

Here are a few moments of a new holiday tradition: Trimming the Tree!

This angel goes here.

Mommy helping out a bit.

This is what a Christmas tree looks like when a toddler decorates it.

What really worries me is people “over-gifting” and Alex spending an hour on Christmas morning ripping through a mountain of presents. I’d hate to see him in that frenzy of “give-me-more”,  surrounded by crumpled up wrapping paper. That’s not what makes Christmas special.

Well, we’ll see how it goes and I won’t stress out about it before it even happens. I’ll remind myself that I can’t impose my values on others. After all, people are just so happy to have Alex in their lives they can’t help themselves but to give the whole world to him.

It’s all part of my new philosophy to keep it Zen. Recently, I helped produce a news feature with my friend (and fantastic reporter), Caroline, about how to deal with holiday stress. The lessons shared are worth repeating here:

1. Have a holiday budget

Don’t let consumerism go out of control. One gift is enough. And you’ll feel a lot less stress if you had time to make it personal and thoughtful, and fits within your budget. Create lists and amounts you want to spend. Avoid last-minute shopping and impulse buying. It’s a little too late to be thinking about that today I think, but the man we interviewed had a beautiful tradition of writing a letter to his wife, expressing all this gratitude and love for her.

2. Avoid overbooking yourself

Saying yes to too many events can leave you burned out.

3. Limit your exposure to toxic people

Budget your time for those must-attend events. We can’t always avoid them, but you can limit them to one or two hours. Don’t make it a whole-day affair because it will get overwhelming if it’s with people you’re not comfortable with and make you more stressed. Just say you have another commitment and you must leave.

4. Stay healthy

Get enough sleep and don’t overdo the food and drink.

And if you overindulge, go for a walk and take some fresh air.

5. Avoid sad triggers

Try to stay away from things that can provoke sad or negative thoughts.

Commercials and movies exposing the perfect family and perfect holiday are only edited versions of reality. Wallowing in them will only increase your feeling of loneliness and disappointment. It’s normal that things don’t work out perfectly. Just do your best, and take time to enjoy the good things.

Be kind to yourself and those you care about.

So, Merry Christmas to all. And God bless us every one.

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Seven Confessions

Reading over my last post, I realize I painted an incomplete picture of my life. Anybody who doesn’t know me might think, well this mom has it all… good for her (with a thick layer of sarcasm).

Then, my friend Caroline over at Spoiled Fruits of Empire gave me the opportunity to be a little more honest about myself. She nominated me to play this little game where I reveal 7 things you didn’t know about me, and then share 15 newly discovered blogs for the same badge of honor. Plus, you make a link to the blogger who originally nominates you.

I’m so happy to plug SFE. If you haven’t yet, pop over for a visit. Caroline is a great writer, and her blog posts are the wittiest prose I’ve come across. One of my favorites, and the one that got me hooked, was about her daughter Poppy and her doting grandfather. If she printed out all her posts and bound them in a book, it would be a best-selling hit and soon after a based-on-a-true-story movie.

Now, it’s my turn to spill the beans about myself. In no particular order, here goes:

  • Lately, my husband and I have been fighting at least once a week. We bicker daily even, quick little outbursts of frustration, and mostly it’s about parenting issues. Usually it’s worse on days when my husband hears stories from other parents describing their perfect children. “How come ours doesn’t sleep well? Why does he throw his food and make a mess? Why doesn’t he listen? Why is he freaking out? We must be doing something wrong!” My answer is a variation of “Get a grip!” Then I tell him to read this book and that book and I give him the short version explanation. Clearly, he’s only read the pamphlet on parenting and had no idea it could get this tough. Yet, he’s really a loving husband and father who just worries a lot about doing a good job.
  • I’m an Austenite. No, I do not reside in Austin, Texas. I read, and re-read, all of Jane Austen’s novels. Yes, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it, but I usually crack it open once a year. There’s something that thrills me about how Austen turns a phrase, plus I’m a sucker for romance.
  • I’m a very stubborn person. The best (or worst) thing you can tell me is that it can’t be done. Watch me.
  • My house burned down when I was 10. On my birthday, no less. This sucked for a long time. My parents and brother took me to the mall to buy me a gift. When we returned, the firefighters had blocked the street and my house was in flames. Sometimes I wonder, was it a good thing that we were not home? Or would we have been able to save our house on time if we had stayed?  I’ll never forget the time I stepped back into our home, and found our beautiful Christmas tree tossed across the living room and holes hacked in the wall by axes to find the source of the fire. Half the house was gone. My father, equally as stubborn as myself, tried to fix the house himself and over 20 years later, he’s still fixing it. I’ve lived all my childhood in a dumpy house.
  • I’m a freak about a neat bed. The bed sheets must be crisp and taught. The blankets must be straight. I drive my husband bananas because he could sleep on a pile of dirty laundry and I’m always rearranging the covers. Of course, now that I co-sleep with my son, consequently sleep-deprived most of the time, I think I can now sleep standing in a messy closet if I had to.
  • I sneeze funny. I always try to hold it in and it comes out like a squeaky mouse, like this: Ha-Tchweeeee! One day, while I was driving, I tried to sneeze with my eyes open. Absolutely impossible.
  • I can’t stand a hungry person. I must feed them. I only have 1/8th Italian blood in me, but it seems enough to compulsively yell, “Mange! Mange!” and to load up their plate up with food. I’m the Nonna with a black cardigan and a white apron.

Okay, there you have it. Some of it is weird, some of it quirky. So now…

Tag, you’re it! (But only if you want to play along. Really, I’ve made this list to thank my favorite bloggers and to share some great blog resources for cooking and parenting.)

The fun stuff:

Just Wondering – Matt is a cool Seattle dad who loves to photograph gargoyles in his beautiful city. He uses some high vocabulary words, which I think makes reading his posts a lot of fun and get me thinking deep thoughts. Plus, his children are beautiful and sweet. Read this cute little post about their potatoes.

Momma Be Thy Name – Stephanie is the proud and exhausted mother of a toddler and baby twins. Consequently, she has great parenting insight and a life-saving sense of humor. Her latest post describes what her household is like when everything goes well.

On Becoming Mommy – Nikki is a healthy fitness mama who shares loads of ideas on healthy eating tips  for toddlers, on what’s worth buying for moms, and rounds up advice from other moms for great strategies on the first year. Her son is adorable, and I love reading the latest update on his new words.

Sapphire and Rain – I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman with more gumption. I say that with the highest respect I have for Jess, a single mom who has returned to university despite the heavy debt and stress load. She inspires me. Her little boy is a cutie and genius, just like her mom. And funny to boot.

The Monster in Your Closet – Another blogger who greatly inspires me. In the high seas of the Internet, Deborah challenges hundreds of readers to call-to-arms. Not only does she manage to read and respond to nearly everyone’s comments, she’s also a great mom and a published author, who loves  making silly stick figure cartoons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I really got to start watching those.

And now for the useful stuff:

Veggie Smugglers: It’s hard to think of nutritious meals for toddlers. This mom has a zillion ideas and all kitchen and kid-tested in her home in Australia.

Chasing Cheerios: This blog has me wistfully wishing to be a stay-at-home mom. Loads of ideas on fun crafts and activities for toddlers. A few kooky ideas too… who decides to dye bags and bags of rice for a Rainbow Rice Pit? She does!

Simple Kids: When you need tips on a more zen parenting style, fun craft ideas or interesting books, visit Simple Kids. Oodles of fun links!

Made By Joel : Crafty Daddy alert. This is the kind of dad who can make bits of wires into a fun toy.

Smitten Kitchen: Mouth-watering stuff, all made from scratch, which fuel my dreams for a future life when I don’t have a toddler hanging off my leg.

Inquiring Chef: More food porn and great recipes, particularly this one, No-Knead Pumpkin Rolls. It was much easier than expected and delicious too!

The Pioneer Woman: She has the Best Pizza Dough recipe I’ve ever tried. Don’t doubt me on this. I’ve made it often, and all my friends have begged me for the recipe. It’s easy, and can stay in the fridge for up to 4 days. But that’s not the only reason why I love this blog. Her husband wears chaps. Yup, he’s a real honest-to-goodness cowboy. Oh goodness, check it out.

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When mom is at work…

I’m really feeling good about the daycare I found for my little guy. The webcam, which I have opened all day while I’m at work, gives me a much-needed link to him. Yes, I do manage to get work done. Actually, a lot of work done. Without it, I would be a wreck and would not be able to concentrate on any tasks.

Here are a few things I have seen him do that squeeze my heart:

- He’s started a book club. Regularly, he will sit down and pull out a book from the shelves. Seconds later, two or three other toddlers join him. I imagine they discuss the incredible appetite of the Hungry Little Caterpillar, perhaps as a metaphor for his emotional desire for love, but then all agree that he must just love eating fruit.

- He puts a doll on the floor, covers it up with a tiny blanket and pats its back. Maybe it’s some type of cognitive therapy for his sleep issues?

- When he’s done with his lunch, he takes his plate and gives it to his caregiver. Sometimes, he empties out the leftovers in the trash himself. I’m so proud.

My colleagues love to peek inside the daycare bubble too. It’s a little world, safe and snug, of toddler fun, naps and snack time, which cheers up just about any curmudgeon.

But there’s another reason for my “spying”, as one friend called it. I want to know what he’s up to, so I can share his day though we are apart. When I pick him up, we “talk” about his day and how great it was. If the lesson plan was about apples, that’s what we talk about when I put him in the car seat. My daycare ladies also provide me with notes in their Toddler Daily Report.

The best part of my day is picking him up after a long shift at work, learning about the fun and games, the number of diaper changes, his nap times (was it a good one?) and tasty meals.

These read like the finest literature for me:

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Cute Little Song

I don’t know about you, but I never tire of cute little babies playing in high speed to a cute little song.

Credit: Francis Vachon‘s 9-month-old son

Song: Ensemble, from Coeur de Pirate (beautiful chanteuse from my town)

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