I just love the fall (it's my favorite season), and I miss all the fall baking I used to do. Cinnamon! Nutmeg! Quick breads! Cookies! Pumpkin in everything! (including Dunkin Donuts' new pumpkin latte, which my husband so kindly brought me as a surprise, along with a pumpkin spice muffin, last Thursday morning). Yum.
I'm not sure how I managed to overlook this, since the very fact that I allowed myself to spend time baking is monumental in its significance, but a few weeks ago, I made Paula Deen's Orange Brownies (which are not actually terrifying, but instead extremely delicious) for this.
If you're a long-time reader here, you know I don't like chocolate, so obviously this means brownies don't do a thing for me. But these brownies contain no chocolate. Not a chip. Not a sliver. Not a chunk. Nada. And so, the world of the "brownie" opened up for me.
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter (softened)
2 tsp pure orange extract
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 TBSP orange juice
1 tsp grated orange zest
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan.
2. Stir together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl, and add eggs, butter, extract, and zest.
3. Using a mixer, beat until well blended.
4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and set. Remove from oven, and pierce entire cake with a fork.
5. For glaze, mix confectioners' sugar, juice, and zest, and stir together until smooth. Pour glaze over brownies. Cool and cut into squares. Makes 24 squares.
Look over to the right, under the Detours heading. See the link to my severely neglected Recipe Index, which hasn't seen a new entry since April? I'll bet you didn't even know it was there. I had almost forgotten about it myself. Sometime in the next few weeks, I plan on baking. It will be time stolen from at least five other projects, and I will feel guilty the entire time (the Catholic school girl guilt complex thing doesn't fade with age). But I need to start doing more things I enjoy. I need it.
Even if my hips don't.
And my pumpkin, pre-lube:
Apparently, squirrels actually prefer their vegetables sauteed in Vaseline.
On paper, being able to stay home with my daughter while still earning money looks like the best of both worlds.
But the actual practice of trying to work during my daughter's waking hours is just about impossible.
I've never been able to write in a noisy place. I was spoiled by the work environment of my first job out of college, where I was an editor and technical writer for seven years. I worked among other writers and editors, who, like me, appreciated quiet and demanded it of coworkers.
I experienced quite a rude awakening when I left there and moved to the company where I worked until last month. There, I was the only writer, plunked down in a cube farm surrounded by sales guys and tech support who not only held just about every conversation using speaker-phone, but also listened to music without headphones and would shout to coworkers several cubes down the row while seated within the walls of their very own cubes. And I was constantly interrupted by someone either requiring something of me, or choosing to enter my cube uninvited to carry on an "over-the-cube-wall" conversation with my neighbor.
It's within this circus of sound and need in which I'm currently working.
Isabella is able to play independently and without venturing off to explore an area of the house she shouldn't for approximately three minutes, and that's on a good day. After which time, she's either attempting to climb my leg, toy in-hand, begging for attention, or she's having one of her 10 daily meltdowns. And my writing is set aside.
I've done everything I can think of to carve out some uninterrupted and relatively quiet time in which to work. I've set her up with her favorite toys and books just inches away from my desk's chair. I've tried a suggestion Melissa offered of playing with her for 15 minutes, and then trying to sneak away to allow her to play on her own for a few minutes while I'm working just steps away.
Nothing has worked. She's just too young to play by herself.
I don't expect to write Pulitzer-worthy prose while she's up and around. I know I need quiet in order to write well, and I can only really get this quiet when she's asleep. But I do wish I was able to fire off an email, do a bit of research, or write some of the easier parts of one of my contract jobs during the day.
And then there's the mommy guilt.
Isabella will be young only once. Should I should spend each waking hour thinking of new ways to entertain and stimulate her growing mind? Should I sublimate my own professional agenda in favor of attending to her, at least while she's little and so needy? After all, this is what I wanted, right? I wanted to be a mom. I paid a hefty sum to be a mom. My husband stuck me in the ass with a 12-inch needle every night for 3 months so I could be a mom. I quit my full-time job to stay home with my her. How dare I complain.
But I want this. I really, really want to succeed as a freelancer writer. This dream was mine before the embryologist ever donned the space suit, took out the dish, and made Isabella. And while being her mom serves as my viewpoint and, at times, my subject matter in my work, being a mom is not the totality of who I am. It's a huge part. It's the most fulfilling part. But it's not everything.
I know she won't always be this young and this needy. I know it's only a matter of months (years?) before she will entertain herself for longer periods and I can work while she's awake.
It's just hugely frustrating right now to stand at the starting block wearing cement bricks instead of sneakers.
But what I like most about this age is the fact that I think she understands me much of the time. She may not always like what I'm saying (in fact, most of the time, I'm certain she doesn't), but I know she hears and can comprehend a lot of things. And being able to communicate with her (even if this communication is most often entirely one-sided) makes life so much easier.
When I was two, and she a mere one, I clubbed her in the forehead with one of our wooden blocks, retaliating, no doubt, for a massive wrong she had committed against me. It resulted in four stitches for her, and an extended stay at my grandmother's house for me.
And I followed up that trick with another one when I was four years of age. I convinced her to let me play hair stylist, and I hacked off her then long, thick, blond and flowing locks the day before she was to have her pictures taken at a department store. This attack was clearly spurned by jealousy, because while my hair was long as hers was, it was decidedly not thick, not blond, and certainly not flowing.
Lest you think she was blameless, she pronged me in the head with a fork when I was 10, having lain in wait for just the right moment to get me back for past wrongs.
But once I had left for school, well...I was surprised to realize that I missed her. Even more surprising was the fact that she missed me! We wrote each other long letters. We shared (dark, gothic, and drink-yourself-into-a-depressive-state) music via that icon of the early 90s, the mix tape. She came to visit me at school, and she joined my friends and me on roadtrips- to see the Cure in Pittsburgh, Nine Inch Nails at Madison Square Garden.
We grew close while we were separated, and when she headed to Florida and later Washington for college it was difficult. And when she decided not to head back East after completing college in Seattle nine years ago, it totally sucked.
So today, I'll toast my little sister on her milestone birthday from the city in which we were born, while she celebrates across the country.
She who is an amazing artist, who is so selfless with her talent that she spent countless hours of her free time six years ago painting 20 travel-themed watercolors for the tables at our wedding reception. She who created this amazing and gorgeous Goodnight Moon sign for Isabella's first birthday.
She who is so smart, so giving, so eco-conscious.
She who is a true fashionista, and who has more style sense in her pinky finger than I do in my entire housecoat-sporting, patterned sock- and silver, hologram Doc Marten-wearing body.
And she who is a fierce friend, and a devoted sister.
Happy 30th birthday, Karrie. I love you.
So obviously, fashion is not at the forefront of my mind lately. That space is occupied by my two contract jobs, trying to get published in a local magazine so I'll have a clip file to show bigger-name publications at some point in time, and wrangling my daughter all day long. Some days, it's a true Olympics-worthy feat that I'm even able to get dressed at all, much less attempt to look remotely stylish.
So rest assured, faithful readers. I am still the poster child for what not to wear.
That said, last week I decided to bring my eyewear into the new millennium. I bought new glasses. I've worn contacts since I was about 12 years old. Before that, I rocked the big-ass glasses so popular in the 80s. Since getting contacts, though, I've only ever worn my glasses at night, before bed, or in the middle of the night when I needed to make sure that I didn't accidentally pee in the hallway closet instead of the bathroom, as I am essentially blind without them.
So, having fashionable glasses wasn't really all that important to me, because no one ever saw me wearing them.
And then I discovered that my husband's medical reimbursement account would cover new glasses for me. For free! I decided that even if I was the only one to ever see myself wearing them, it was time to toss the glasses I've had since high school (which, for the curious, was a very, very long time ago).
The old...I know. Don't show your husbands or boyfriends this picture, because they will want me.
And the new... pick me up at 8, Jake.
Instead, it's squirrels run amuck.
I live in a neighborhood of older homes (mine was built in 1925) surrounded by many, many mature trees. And for the last month or so, in my daily walks with Isabella, I've noticed the presence of an insane amount of squirrels running here, there, and everywhere. Of course, this delights the child, as she loves squirrels almost as much as she loves cheese. But one too many times of having to swerve my car to avoid commiting squirrel manslaughter has sullied my opinion of the creatures (except for Sher's baby squirrels, who are totally cute).
However, prior to this weekend, the squirrel problem didn't really affect me directly.
And then we went to a farm market, had a lovely time, bought some pumpkins, and put them on our front porch.
It took approximately one day following the purchase of these pumpkins for this devastation to occur.
I'm warning you. If you possess a weak constitution, do not go any further in this post. Turn back now.
Behold, the massacre of my husband's pumpkin.
Then, the demon squirrels turned their reign of terror on my pumpkin.
Even Isabella's was not spared the indignity of a front-porch slaughter.
We're not the only ones the squirrels have victimized. The evidence is all over the neighborhood. In fact, we're some of the lucky ones. Our pumpkins' wounds are superficial. Just across the street lies a particularly awful scene of carnage- pumpkins with their guts spilling out of the once magnificent orange orbs.
I'm not quite sure what has spurned these vicious attacks. It's not as if the squirrels want for food in my 'hood, what with the several zillion nut-bearing trees around. And we've lived here for over 7 years, and the pumpkin problem hasn't ever been this bad.
My husband has vowed revenge. He's installed a squirrel-cam, and captured this image of one of the perps, escaping the scene of the crime.
And I, ever the pacifist, simply want us all to get along.
On a tip from my sister, we have just yesterday lubricated our pumpkins with Vaseline to keep the attacks at bay. I'm hoping this puts an end to the carnage.
Back in the babyfree days when the hubs and I used to go out for brunch, I would scoff at couples dining together, but each engrossed in different sections of the Sunday paper. "How sad," I would tell the hubs. "They have nothing to talk about. Their marriage must be in a shambles."
But now? I totally get it. They are savoring the beauty and the joy of an uninterrupted and quiet meal. And as they leisurely eat and read, and read and eat, their children are climbing up the chimney and ripping out every last page of the books on their parents' night stands while their babysitting grandmother is sitting in her car drinking heavily.
As a work-from-home mom of a young child, if it isn't naptime or bedtime, it's showtime. I'm "on" every minute of every day. I can't pee alone, shower alone, and I certainly can't eat alone without my daughter wanting to either share my food or to dump it all over the floor and stomp on it with over-priced shoes.
So when it comes to eating my three not-even-in-the-same-ballpark-of-square meals a day, I don't want to be interrupted, or distracted, or concerned with doing anything more labor-intensive than lifting a utensil to my mouth. I don't want to coerce and cajole Isabella into eating whatever it is I've prepared for her that day, pick up what she's hurled to the floor, scrape drippings off her chin, and pick chunks out of her hair, all while attempting to eat my own meal. I've decided that mealtime is my time, two words that very seldom go together anymore. And so I've set up my schedule to give me those five or ten minutes of complete and utter isolation, before I jump right back in to the rest of my day.
Here's how it works. I feed my daughter breakfast between 8 and 8:30. She goes in for her morning nap (to which I am clinging with a death-grip, although she's determined to see it go) between 9 and 9:30. I eat my breakfast while she's babbling (her version of a morning nap as of late) in her crib.
For lunch, she eats around 12, and I eat between 1:30 and 2pm after I put her down for her afternoon nap. And for dinner, she eats at 5, and the hubs and I eat around 7:30.
Not only do we eat at separate times, but we also don't take her out to restaurants (family-friendly or otherwise). I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've gone out to eat and taken Isabella with me. And most of these outings occurred before she turned six months old and was content to recline in her baby seat batting at a dangling duck for two hours while I talked with my friends. For me, there is simply nothing enjoyable about strapping down a toddler who doesn't want to sit still on the floor of her living room for 3.2 seconds much less a child seat in a restaurant and try to ply her with food and entertainment, while I attempt to carry on a halfway decent conversation with my friend or husband.
I know most others find this completely bizarre. When I tell people we don't eat meals together and I don't take Isabella out to restaurants, they shoot me a look of shock and awe, and say, "No. You're joking, right?" I'm used to it, though, because I get the same reaction when I tell people Isabella goes to bed at 7pm.
"7 o'clock???? Why so eeeearly? My God, that's practically noon!"
But here's the thing. In addition to being extremely lucky with in-town family members who just about duel to the death for the chance to babysit, making nights out for us relatively easy, I also like my food at certain temperatures. I like my cold foods one hair short of frostbit and if the hot foods don't scald the inside of my mouth, well then, they're not hot enough. I would never consider pouring the milk in my cereal and going to fetch the morning paper before sitting down to eat my Special K. The milk needs to be ice-cold. As in, if I'm having coffee with my cereal, you bet your sweet arse that coffee is in the mug, sitting on the table next to the morning paper before that milk ever leaves the fridge. And eating with a small child in no way allows this freakishness to happen.
I know that I will eventually have to share mealtime with my daughter because presumably, she'll one day have the skills to feed herself without wearing more than she eats and she won't always go to bed before the sun goes down (however, if you know of a way I can arrange for this to happen at least until she's 16, please email me!). But until that point, I'll down my yogurt and OJ in private.
Viva la me time.
I am a mom who will dress my little girl up in a dress, tights, and black patent leather shoes to play ever-so-daintily with her super-fly red kitchen, instead of the mom of a little girl dressed in a t-shirt stained with tomato sauce from lunch and pants so covered in cat hair that I'm unsure of the color.
(Incidentally, I'm, like, totally jealous of this kitchen. How can One Step Ahead make a toy kitchen that's one million times better-looking than my real kitchen?)
I am a woman with not only a great deal of disposable income, but also a great deal of time. In fact, I have so much time that I can make hospital corners with my comforter, light several candles, and enjoy a martini on a breakfast tray before leaving for work in the morning.
My living room is the picture of modern elegance, and sitting under a heat lamp in this leather chair this Christmas will bring me Comfort and Joy. And also, third-degree burns.
I am an adult woman who enjoys furniture and floor coverings designed for a very small child. I also require a martini to enjoy the holidays.
Care to join in the fun? Damselfy is creating a list of the catalog posts here. Come on, you know you want to.
The hubs is in no fewer than five fantasy football leagues. He pulls his arse out of bed each Sunday morning at 7am (and often, this is before Isabella decides to get up) in order to listen to a fantasy football talk-radio show on Sirius. Once that's over, and the pre-game shows begin on tv, he's fixated on the tv, and runs up and down the stairs to his computer in our basement before the games start to make last-minute changes to his fantasy teams' line-ups. And once the action begins, he sits in our living room, my laptop on a table in front of him, checking his stats over. And over. And over. For hours.
The party was a lot of fun, as it is ever year. It was particularly fun for me. You see, at last year's party, I was breastfeeding. The year before that, I was in the middle of my IVF cycle. And up until two weeks ago, I was still breastfeeding. I hadn't touched more than a sip or two of alcohol in over two years. See that bottle perched so innocently at my side? Mommy had a cocktail, friends. And it was so very, very good going down.
Today, I'm guest-posting on Melissa's blog. She runs a weekly feature called Up For Debate, designed to provoke thought amongst her readers. Melissa has recently opened up her Friday feature to contributing writers, and since I always seem to have my panties in a bunch about something (incidentally, I despise the word "panties" and will perhaps have to debate its merit as a word on a future Friday), I jumped at the chance to write for her blog.
Did you know that according to this, more than half of the United States' 14,000 spas are now offering kid-friendly services? In addition, spas designed specifically for children are popping up all over, including one in the next town over from mine.
Check out my post over at A Writer's Woolgatherings to see what I think about this trend.
So instead of working FT, I'm now going to work on contract for my former employer on a project-by-project basis. I told my manager that I would be perfectly happy working 20 hours a week for him some weeks, and zero hours the next. I am in desperate need of a break. I have not taken more than two days off at a time since last Christmas. And because I work when Isabella is napping or in bed for the night, I'm hitting the keys seven days a week to stay on top of things.
My (former FT, now contract) job isn't my only job. I also work on contract for another company, and I'm trying desperately to find that extra hour or two in every day to outline and write articles for parenting websites and magazines. It's been my goal for years to make a living as a freelance writer, spending my working hours writing on topics about which I'm passionate. I don't have the FT job anymore, so I hope to find the time to make my goal a reality. Luckily, I have some great friends I've "met" through blogging who are doing exactly what I want to do, and who have been incredible sources of support as I start to get my feet wet. Thank you S and M (Oh, I am so easily amused these days).
But while our financial picture isn't as unstable as it would be if I didn't have these two writing contracts, it's far from what it was when we were a double (steady) income household. So, for the last three months or so, I've been scrimping and saving every last dime in preparation for right now. And in the process, I've discovered my inner bargain shopper.
Prior to Isabella's birth, I gave the ads in the Sunday paper about as much attention as the vegetable section of my supermarket. I've always clipped and used coupons for my weekly food shopping, but I was never one to shop around for the best deal on shampoo or milk or cat food. I thought my 82-year-old great uncle, the king of the bargain shoppers, quaint in his annual Sunday ritual of spreading out all the ads from grocery stores, drug stores, and the like, and planning his weekly shopping trips to buy canned peaches at one store for .62 cents, when they normally run $1.05, and five bottles of mouthwash for $2.00 at another because they were on sale and he had three coupons, for which he received double the value.
But now? I'm my uncle.
I've devised a very careful budget for our monthly spending. There is a certain amount we have for food each week, and with the high costs of Isabella's organics, it's essential we stick to it. And so, every Sunday, it's me and the ads, a pen, and a piece of paper. And while I once wondered who in the hell those people were who sought out deals at drugstores, I am now one of them.
It's not as pathetic as it sounds, and I can tell you that there's a certain thrill that comes with buying four boxes of your favorite cereal that normally runs $2.50 per box, for a total of $5.00 because a certain store was having a sale and offering a rebate, PLUS you had coupons.
I'm far from a pro at saving money, and I could learn a lot from Marie, who is the queen of the good deals. But I'm learning. And if I can keep us from having to fight the cats for the last nugget of food in their dishes, then all my penny-pinching is worth it.
Frankenboob Update: Thanks to everyone for their good wishes and suggestions. I'm pleased to report that as of today, Gros Piton seems to have received the message that her services are no longer needed. And while I'm glad the pain is gone, there is a part of me that's very sad because this part of my relationship with Isabella is officially over. But the brimming mug of fully caffeinated coffee I'm currently enjoying is helping me to drown my sorrows quite well.