Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Recipes

Two straight days without rain (and still going, knock on wood) have shifted us into high gear for summertime fun. (It has also made me start pestering Papa to get started painting our fence already, but that's another post.)

The pool, the beach, the backyard cookout--it's finally starting to feel like summer. What better way to celebrate than with some sublime summer recipes?

Over the weekend, I saw a recipe for Watermelon soup with feta and fresh mint in Natural Health Magazine. This version from Kahakai Kitchen sounds divine.

The reliably delicious Chow Mama tempts with her double whammy guacamole and salsa verde recipes.

What about some seasoned skirt steak and grilled vegetables? Try this recipe from The Noshery.

And what summer cookout would be complete without some homemade popsicles?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Remember the Time

In the winter of 1982-83, my second grade gym class at Central Elementary held a mini make-shift Olympics. In retrospect, this was a little weird, considering it wasn't an Olympic year. But we were 8, we didn't ask any questions.

We had to pick an Olympic event in which to compete. I don't remember all the events that were offered, but I do remember which event I chose: roller skating.

I was tasked with choreographing a roller skating routine to then perform in front of the class, kind of like ice dancing only not quite as graceful.

I worked hard. I practiced every day in my grandparents' basement. The linoleum floors down there were perfect. My roller skates were snow white leather with orange wheels and an orange toe stop, a gift from my grandmother.

She was a practical woman, and being a practical woman, she liked to buy things a bit big, so that we kids could "grow into" them. She made no exception to this rule when it came to my roller skates, which were something like a size 8 or 9. I had to wear 2 pairs of ski socks to even attempt to skate in them. But it didn't matter; I loved those skates. And I knew that I looked really good in them.

I'd take my "boom box" down to the basement and skate my 8 year old heart out in too-big roller skates, grooving to my newest favorite album, Thriller. I can't even hazard a guess how many hours I spent down there, skating figure 8s in their basement to that unforgettable album. To this day I can't hear that Eddie Van Halen guitar solo from "Beat It" without smiling. With great difficulty, I finally chose the song "PYT" for my Olympic debut.

The Olympic competition itself was relatively unmemorable. I think I only managed to skate in circles around the gym because I was so nervous. But what I do remember, was how cool, how hip, how utterly cutting edge I felt in those white roller skates with the orange wheels skating around the gym to the best album I'd ever heard in my 8 years. It was a moment.

Michael Jackson might not have lived up to everyone's expectations. He's hardly the first artist to achieve artistic greatness and still succumb to personal ruin. But his detractors--even his own personal failings--cannot take that moment away from me. Michael Jackson is an inextricable part of every Gen Xer's past; he's a part of our youth. He reminds us of a time when we were less cynical, when we dreamt big and when all it took to make us happy was a pair of white roller skates with orange wheels and a linoleum floor to use them on.

That's why his death is so significant. And sad. Because it's a reminder to an entire generation of the distance between us and our easy-going, roller skating days.

So, R.I.P. Michael; may this part of your journey be less painful than the last.

I'm going to see if I can dig out those roller skates. I think they may just finally fit.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Becoming Olivia

"You know what?" my little one said, standing next to me this morning. "I'm a person."

Maybe it was the early wake up, but when she said this, I felt a flutter in my chest. And I had to blink back a little sting in the corner of my eyes.

"Yes, of course you are!" I told her. "You're a wonderful, smart, hilarious, kind person."

Next month, she's turning 3. This fall, she'll be starting preschool. She's on the threshold of making memories that will last her entire lifetime. Every day, she is becoming more of the person she is. Every day, the things that I do (or don't do), the friends we play with, the books we read, the tent forts we make in the yard---all of it--is shaping her, or at least her view of the world and of herself in the world.

This personhood she's discovered is one of the things that made me put off starting a family until my early thirties. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that I could possibly be qualified to help shape a whole new person. What I failed to realize--what you can't realize, I think, until you've actually already taken the leap into parenthood--is that it isn't our qualifications that make us good parents; it's our love.

It is our love that helps us locate that emergency reserve of energy and patience at 3 AM when the baby wakes up for the 37th time in one night. It is our love that helps us count to 10 when we see that our toddler's latest masterpiece was drawn with a Sharpie marker on the couch. It is our love that forces us to become better, stronger, more responsible people than we ever thought we could be. It is our love that trumps our selfishness and helps us do for them first, ourselves second.

My job, as I see it now, isn't to mold her into the form and shape of some idea in my head. My job is to recognize the person she is and to reflect back to her all of the beautiful qualities she already possesses. In the end, she will become herself, not my idea of who she should be. Of course I'm not talking about discipline or behavior; I'm talking about essence.

The past three years have brought us right up to now. All the minutes and moments--most of which I've been blessed enough to share with her--have amalgamated into her glorious recognition of herself as a separate, beautiful, entirely unique person. I would happily endure 100 Sharpied couches for a single moment like this.

That's love. Isn't it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wabi Sabi

There's a new favorite book in town: a richly illustrated, sparely and artfully told story of unexpected beauty, Wabi Sabi. Author Mark Reibstein and illustrator Ed Young combine poetry and collage to weave together a story everyone in your family will appreciate.



We're big fans of Caldecott Medal-winner Young's work anyway, and this book doesn't disappoint. The richly colored illustrations will entice the youngest readers, and the message about about simple beauty is a good reminder for the rest of us.

This is a book you'll keep for a long, long time.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Away We Go

Remember that first time you saw a + sign on the little stick a few minutes after you peed on it? Remember that feeling of elation and excitement? And how--either immediately or eventually--the excitement distilled into a quieter, heavier feeling, something like: Holy $%*! Am I even remotely qualified for this job?

Well, last night Papa and I saw this exact feeling played out in the new Sam Mendes film, Away We Go. The film--co-written by one of the 21st century's most talented wordsmiths, Dave Eggers--follows one couple (played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) on their search for the perfect location to raise their family. What they find along the way, of course, has more to do with the geography of the heart. Funny and sad and riddled with inspired performances (especially Rudolph's) this is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. (It's also one of the only films I've seen in a long time, but don't let this fact diminish my praise; this is a fantastic film.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Everything I Needed to Know About Motherhood I Learned From Other Mamas

Recently, I was talking with a Mama friend of mine. She's sweet, she's funny and she's as neurotic as I am; we get along beautifully. We were discussing discipline and the frustrating flurry of time outs we both seem to have been doling out lately. (Her little boy, H, is almost exactly the same age as my little one.)

Unsure of what to do, but knowing that the status quo wasn't working for her, she did what any good Mama would do: she improvised. She got out a posterboard and a set of Crayola washable markers and proceeded to lay down the law.

She and H pow-wowed. They sat down at the table, markers in hand, and began brainstorming all the rules of the house, together. H, incredibly, was enthusiastic. Eager to display his knowledge, he was tossing out gems like "Always listen to Mommy!" and "No hitting the baby!" and "No screaming out demands like a pre-K drill sergeant!" (OK, that last one is mine, not his.)

In a moment of momspiration, my friend had found a way not only to clearly communicate her expectations to her son, but to make the experience a fun one. By including him in the rule-making process and by allowing H to show off what he already knows, she already set up a positive environment that positioned her to praise him every time he suggested ideas for good behavior. Best of all, he's only had 2 time outs in the week since they wrote our their rules.

She's a flipping genius.

So, I'm stealing her idea. Today, the little one and I are going to sit down with markers and a big sheet of white paper. We'll talk about the kind of behavior I expect and that she is capable of exhibiting. We'll set out our guidelines for peaceful interaction. We'll do it together.

And we're going to get started just as soon as she's done with her time out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bedtime Stories

We're switching the little one to a big bed this summer. You know, for her birthday. She's excited, I'm excited, everyone's excited. We're going to throw on a new coat of paint on the walls and give the room a little bit of an overhaul, something to make a big girl proud. I've found some adorable linens and throw pillows.

The only problem? I can't find a bed.

Now, I know there are bigger problems in the world. And this is certainly not one losing sleep over. (Ha.) But hold on before your roll your eyes. This is a big deal in her young life. It's an enormous transition. And this new bed--wherever it is--is what she'll be sleeping on for the next 10 years or so.

What's my problem? Well, because of the shape and size of her room, I'm looking for a daybed, rather than just a standard twin. I'll spare you the detailed explanation (complete with measurements). This is just How It Is; I need a daybed. Unfortunately, there just aren't that many white, solid wood daybeds out there to be found.
Sure, there's this one from--where else?--Pottery Barn Kids.

It's cute. Heck, it's perfect. (It's also not cheap. Bed, trundle, mattresses, and delivery together come perilously close to 2000 bucks.)

But even more irritating to me than the money is the lack of options. I've poked around on Daybeds.com (who knew?) but most of their offerings, once totaled, clear 3 grand. I'll spend the money if I have to, but I kind of want to love it, you know? Love it.

Why the heck am I complaining to you about this? Well, because I'd like to know if there's some really adorable kids furniture company out there with which I am unacquainted. I need your help, Mamas. Tell me all about your cute kids furniture and where you got it. Please? I don't want the little one to end up with the Pottery Barn bed just because that's the only one I could find.

I look forward to your wisdom and good taste.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Health Food Junkies

Our hard work is paying off, Mamas! New York Times health blogging guru, Tara Parker-Pope reported yesterday on some new findings on children's eating habits. And the news is good. Chicken nugget consumption is, incredibly, on the decline! Likewise, our kids are eating fewer fries and other "empty" calories, opting instead for more nutritious soups, fruits and grilled chicken.

But how did this happen? Parker-Pope offers up several expert opinions, ranging from the recession to school programs focused on healthy living. But there's no question that Mamas are perhaps the most potent force for change in this area. The Mamas I know--most of them, anyway--simply don't allow their children to sustain themselves solely on deep-fried, high-sodium, nutrient-deficient fare. It's just not an option.

Parker-Pope points out that the under 13 set still favors nuggets and fries over healthier choices on the whole, but the shift in percentages is significant. Our persistence is paying off. And our kids have the varied palates to prove it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Oh Daddy

There's still time left to find the perfect gift for that special dad in your life. Check out my gift guide from last week, which covers all kinds of dads, from the world traveler to the eco-conscious Papa.

Or, consider a few of the ideas below if you still haven't found what you're looking for.

For the Extreme Sport Dad--This Blade Sling Pack from Shock Doctor will make him look as hardcore as he wants you to think he is.



For the Music Junkie--Any music-loving daddy would be thrilled to wile away a lot of hours lost in the reviews, the interviews and--of course--the music collected in Neil Young's latest anthology. NPR's Will Hermes even called it the "new gold standard" for anthologies. Now that's hardcore.

For the Couch-Bound Adventurer--"The Complete Adventure Collection" includes all four Indiana Jones flicks. Unbridled, swashbuckling adventure for him, lots of Harrison Ford screen time for you.

For the New Dad--Scott Mactavish's field guide to fatherhood, The New Dad's Survival Guide, is the perfect book for the daddy-to-be. Filled with slightly superfluous acronyms and boot camp-style instructions, Mactavish makes foreign topics like diaper changing and nighttime feedings familiar to even the least experienced dad.



For the Creative Papa--A notebook from the legendary Moleskine carries a certain caché that any artsy dad can appreciate. Hemingway used them. Van Gogh used them. Now the creative dad in your life can too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Write On

These days, we're making good use of our Melissa and Doug wooden easel. In addition to the hours of creativity it facilitates, it's also proven instrumental in our quest for literacy.




Every morning, the little one enters the kitchen and, after ordering her breakfast ("I'd like 64 waffles and eggs and bacon and ice cream for breakfast Mama") runs straight to the easel to see what message has been left on the white board for her.

There's always a message there, one that includes her name. We read it together, sounding out some of the letters. It's fun and playful for her, like decoding a secret message. And her face still lights up when she recognizes her name and reads it; she's so clearly proud of herself.

You don't need an easel to recreate the Morning Message in your house. A standard white board or chalk board or a few sets of magnetic letters and a refrigerator would do the trick just fine. It will be as special as you make it. If your approach to learning to read is fun, then reading itself will be fun.

Some great resources for beginning readers:
eensies

The Write Start

Starfall

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Less Is Definitely More

I read a great piece in yesterday's New York Times by Pico Iyer. In it, Iyer briefly chronicles his journey from Park Avenue to "nowhere" Japan. He explains how he stripped away the layers of "want" and "need" and "connectivity" from his life. He tells how he has found bliss in austerity.

For the modern American Mama, his chosen lifestyle must certainly seem foreign and, perhaps, unrealistic. How--and more importantly why--would anyone choose to live with so little modern "convenience?"

Iyer lost a family home in Santa Barbara to a fire. He left a writing job at Time magazine that many people (me?) would likely amputate toes to secure. He gave up his cell phone. As the he peeled off the external layers of his existence, he began to see his life with keener vision. And now, for all of the modernity that he "lacks," he has the time to "read the new Jean le Carre, while nibbling sweet tangerines in the sun." Talk about something you'd amputate a toe to do.

Setting aside my own envy at this peaceful image, I take to heart his message: Our 24/7-totally-connected-blink-and-you'll-miss-it lifestyle just isn't all it's cracked up to be. The more "connected" we are, the less connected we are--with our families, our lives, our very experience of our own existence.

I'm not advocating a mass pilgrimage to the lesser populated regions of our world. I'm not even giving up my Blackberry. But I do think a gentle reminder of what we have--and how much of it is so unnecessary--does us all some good.

The point, after all, is that we all have everything that we need already. It is within every one of us to realize our own bliss, to recognize our own wealth. When we do so, when we really acknowledge all that we have, when we let go of the petty "emergencies" we experience daily, we might just find ourselves with the time to nibble tangerines in the sun while reading. Wouldn't it be good?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Party! Party!

The little one has a big birthday coming up next month, and I've begun planning the party. At least, I've begun thinking about planning the party...

Last year, we had tons of fun making a great big mess in the back yard.

This year, I'm looking for another fun way to celebrate my favorite little girl. Cookie always has great party ideas. But the best ideas usually come from other Mamas. So, I'm appealing to you, my creative readers, for ideas.

What are your favorite party ideas?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Drama Queen

There's been a good deal of play acting going on in my house lately. Often, these dramatic vignettes center around A. A. Milne's most beloved characters, Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl and all the friends and relations in the Hundred Acre Wood. It's a sweet, heartwarming chapter of her childhood that I feel blessed to share with her.

Of course, she directs as well as stars in most of these performances (mainly one acts). I assume mainly the character roles as well as taking on the tasks of property master.

This morning's performance began over the monitor.

Little One: Owl? (Pause.) Owl? (Pause. Pause.) OWL?!

Mama: (Looking at the clock, which reads 5:42 AM.)...mhrphmhph...

Little One: OWL!!

(Pause.)

Little One: OW-WOL!! I. AM. READY. TO. GET. UP. NOW. OW-WOL!!

Mama: ...


Scene.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mamaista

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to the hippest new daily for Mamas , Mamaista.

Mamaista, like any savvy Mama, is always ahead of the curve. Whether you're talking accessories for bébé, fashion for Mama or organic sunscreen Mamaista will have the scoop and deliver it daily to your in box, for free.

Founded by media maven and Mama, Elina Furman, Mamaista is plugged into the innovative, the stylish and the practical--the trifecta of urban motherhood. Mamaista does the research so you don't have to. And she looks great doing it.

Check out Mamaista on Facebook too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Father's Day Gift Guide

Father's Day is almost here. Do you have a gift? Do you have a plan that doesn't involve glue sticks, glitter pens and macaroni?

Some cool ideas to consider:

For the Everydad: A personalized My Daddy and Me book from iseemyface.com. (Via the Cool Moms at Cool Mom Picks.) What dad wouldn't love the attention?

For the World Traveler: The MoMA online store has a sleek, sophisticated passport travel case that any 007 dad would be proud to carry. Bonus idea: Stick some recent photos of the little one(s) he hasn't seen inside. (Psst! This gift is less than $15!)
For the Primper: The perpetually un-frilly Kiehl's has a Daily Energizing Kit that's masculine enough for any Dad, but decadent enough to make him feel pampered. Includes something called the Ultimate Man Scrub Soap. Grunt.


For the Green Daddy: The Universal Hybrid Charger from Solio. This little solar powered gem will charge his cell phone, his iPod (or MP3 player), his GPS--even his digital camera! Bonus idea: Make him a "We Love You Dad" playlist for his iPod, sync it to his iPod, and have it charging and ready to go on Father's Day morning!
For the Grill Master: Forged stainless steel skewers from Williams-Sonoma. These skewers will help him tackled everything from steak to shrimp to vegetables like a pro. Tack on the Ultimate Grilling Rub Collection for the Super Chef.


Still undecided? What about a custom gift card from Barnes and Noble complete with your own photo? Make one here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Giveaway Winners!

It's Monday morning, the sun is shining and I have the winners of the final Mama's Month giveaways! I can't think of a better way to start the week.

Myra G. Shelly H.L., you two are the lucky winners of autographed copies of Andrea Buchanan's book Note to Self, a collection of inspired and inspiring essays by women. Thank you both for your Facebook entries!

And Becky, your good, old-fashioned blog comment won you this sand-tastic Sand Play Set from Green Toys! May it bring you and your little one(s) hours of safe, eco-friendly fun in the sun!
Winners, email your mailing information to me at mamascup@gmail.com and I'll get your winnings off to you shortly.
Thank you to everyone who made the first annual Mama's Month at Mama's Cup a tremendous success! Mamas make the world a better, safer, cleaner and more interesting place. Never forget it.