Isabella at Three-and-a-Half

Ah, three-and-a-half. Can you bring back three, please, because three-and-a-half is turning out to be a whole lot more challenging.

Don't get me wrong, I will take the emergence of sass and back-talk and epic meltdowns in Isabella any day of the week over the virtually non-stop screaming of Loud and Louder. But, this month I've noticed a big jump in intensity, stubbornness, and Big Big Emotion out of my eldest.

Mommy is not a fan.

But first, the good.

Isabella has taken to calling the babies "my sweethearts." She asks to hug and kiss them before bed each night, wants me to bring them in her (not-babyproofed) room to play, and wants to be the first to charge into their rooms in the morning to wake them up.

That said, she's also more rough with them now that they're both up and walking. She's been known to shove them or push them down when they get too close to her stuff, or interrupt her while she's reading. I get her frustration. I really do. But, everyone has to play nice in the pond, so I've had to lay down the law about physical violence against Luci and Nico.

Isabella has taken a huge interest in letters and spelling this month. One day a few weeks ago, she just started saying words, and then figuring out which letter the words begin with. We were driving past The Bagel Bin, one of her favorite places to go, and she said, "B-B-Bagel Bin. Starts with "B!" She does this sometimes dozens of times a day now. "C-C-Cold. Starts with "C!" I am so completely proud of her for doing this all on her own, and honestly, I think a lot of it has come from this video, which I recommended before, but seriously-she hasn't watched it in at least a month and yet still remembers what it's taught her.

She's also constantly writing the letters in her name, especially the "I" and the "Ls" (which are obviously the easiest ones). The "S" is still very difficult for her, but again, she's taken the initiative on this, and I am so impressed.

Isabella has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, thanks to her favorite show, Dinosaur Train. She even pronounces them correctly, which is something even I can't do. One of her favorite new games is "preschool." She takes her stuffed animals and dolls and places them on the floor in our dining room/Isabella's Baby-Free Zone. She then gives them snacks, paper to draw on, and crayons, and "teaches" them.

When my mother comes to visit, Isabella commandeers her iTouch to play a puppy game on it. Yes, my almost-60-year-old mother who is so techno-phobic that she can barely email has an iTouch and I don't even have a cell phone. What's wrong with this picture?

And now, the bad. Or "the challenges."

Isabella has become more strong-willed, opinionated, and sassy over the past few weeks. I cannot imagine from whence this came. Everything I ask her to do is subject to negotiation "How about I finish drawing first and THEN I will pick up the puzzle." Her patience level is non-existent and everything is, "Nooooooo! I want it NOW!"

Perhaps the most frustrating new behavioral attribute is her penchant for asking for something 4,000 times in the span of two minutes.

"Mommy, can I have more apple?"

"Sure, Isabella. One minute. Let me just finish this up."

"Hey, mommy. Can I have my apple, please?"

"Just a second, Isabella."

"Moooommmmmmyyyy. I want it noooooooow."

Considering the fact that I feel like an indentured servant to three small children whose needs are never, ever fully met, even when they're sleeping, this kind of badgering does not sit well with me. However, I most likely only have myself to blame for this one, considering my well of patience doesn't exactly runneth over.

But my most favorite behavioral tick of the month has to be the bedtime threats. Usually, I start Isabella's bedtime routine while the hubs rocks Luci to sleep. I wash Isabella's face, brush her teeth, and read her a story or two.

Apparently, one or two stories before bedtime is less than adequate, because she's begun threatening me:

"Mommy, you will read me these books (gestures to enormous stack she's placed on her bed) or I'm going to wake you up in the middle of the night."

Mommy does not negotiate with terrorists, darling.

And then, there's the saddest development of the month. I believe her afternoon nap is well and truly dead. In the past few months, she'd nap maybe once or twice a week. The rest of the time, she would read books in her bed for about an hour-and-a-half, and then call for me because she wanted to get up.
Now? She's taken one nap in the past three weeks. I'm torn about what to do. I use "naptime" (ridiculously short as it is here-usually the twins nap for 1.5 hours or less) to work. I need the quiet, so having Isabella downstairs and playing or watching tv doesn't really work for me, as she's constantly in my office asking me one question or another. However, I'm not sure how much longer she's going to tolerate being quiet in her room when she's not sleeping.
What do you do with a non-napping preschooler, especially if you have other younger, napping children in the house?

Current Likes: Picnics under the dining room table, dance parties in the living room

Current Dislikes: Cleaning up, getting dressed

Wordless Wednesday: Sisters?

My sister and I looked alike when we were growing up. We were 19 months apart, and apparently my mom wished she had had twins because she dressed us in matching outfits a lot of the time.

But Isabella and Luci? I see very little resemblance at all.

This is Isabella at 16 months:
And here's Luci in the same outfit at 16 months.

I should have dressed Nicholas in this green shirt and tan pants for a better comparison. That's where the true similarities lie.

Motherlove Gone Awry?

The hubs and I had a bit of a disagreement after watching the replay of Tiger Woods's apology the other night.

This is not about whether I think Tiger owes anyone an apology or not. In my opinion, the only person he needs to apologize to is his wife. And frankly, in my mind, the jury is still out as to whether he really is a sex addict...or just a player who never should have married in the first place.

The difference of opinion centered around his mother's words following the apology.

Following his statement, Tiger walked over to his mother, who was seated in the front row, and hugged her.

She whispered in his ear, "I'm so proud of you. Never think you stand alone. Mom will always be there for you and I love you."

The second and third sentence? I get.

The first? I do not.

His mother is proud of him? For what, exactly? For delivering a canned, rehearsed, and insincere public apology designed to save endorsement deals? For getting in front of a hand-picked crowd of friends and supporters, not taking any questions, and apologizing for his abysmal behavior not because, as I believe, he's truly sorry, but just sorry he was caught? For trying to wipe up the mess he created of his life three months too late, after first attempting to cover up the story with a ridiculous lie? For attempting damage-control on his most likely tarnished-beyond-repair image? For subjecting her grandchildren to someone whose reprehensible behavior has opened up his family to even closer media scrutiny?

What, exactly, is Kultida Woods proud of?

The hubs insists this is what any mother would say to her son in a situation like this.

As the mother of a son, I assured the hubs that it is not, at least not in my case. Would I sit in the front row to support Nicholas should he find himself an in the unique position of being the greatest golfer that ever lived while simultaneously suffering from a seriously misguided sense of his own untouchability? Sure. Would I hug him and tell him I loved him? Definitely. Would I tell him I was proud of him? Not.A.Chance.

As a mother, I'm really intrigued by his mother's choice of words. You're proud of him? Really?

What do you think of what Tiger's mama said to him?

Love and Shoes

I didn't spend all of Valentine's Day weekend summoning the wrath of the heavens on my overbearing aunt. We also took the Triple Threat to the mall to go shopping for Luci's and Nico's first official pairs of shoes.
Luci soon realized why it is that girls and shoes go together like peas and carrots.

What do you mean I can't have this entire bottom row?

Nicholas was less interested in being forced to spend time in a public establishment that didn't offer food.
TheseWill Do.Let'sGo.
Both twins wear a Size 3 and have wide feet.
Earlier in the week I decided to scour the Internet for an inexpensive, easy, and relatively mess-free Valentine's Day card project that I could do with Isabella. I found this one, and am pleased to report that for the cost of a $2.00 package of red construction paper (I already had the paint and markers) we made 10 of these to send to the Family That Loves Me And My Parenting Decisions Oh So Much.

It was a particularly craft-tacular week in my house. While picking up the construction paper at the art store, I found these heart-shaped frames, and had Isabella paint them.

I stuck in some photos of the kids, and voila. Instant Valentine's Day present for the hubs.

Who wants a kiss from the King of Hearts?

How about one from the Queen of Mirth and Light?

Speaking of kisses, here's the Kissing Bandit of the Northeast, caught in the act.
And of course, Valentine's Day could not end without the always-fun-filled Holiday Photo Shoot of Futility:

Hope your Valentine's Day was a fun one!


Thank you for all the kind words and support you offered in the comments of my last post. I know my outburst was justified, but it was gratifying to have my feelings validated. I think I am going to write Auntie Dearest an email very soon and break down my expectations for her behavior niccccce and eeeeeasy.

Breaking Point. Reached.

When I became a mom 3.5 years ago, I was 30 years old. I had a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, both in English. I was working full-time in my chosen field, and had been for eight years. I had been a homeowner for six years. I had done a lot of traveling, drove a car that was paid off, and regularly gave to charities, mostly animal welfare groups.

I was hardly a green-under-the-gills teenage mother, clueless about how to take care of myself much less a newborn. And yet from the moment Isabella was born, many members of my family treated me as if I was.

It's no secret that my extended family (including my mother, one of my aunts, and my grandma) thinks of my parenting skills as flawed. I've blogged about their feelings that my treats policy is denying my kids their childhoods. My mother's belief that taking Isabella to have her hair cut would traumatize her for life. My grandma's insistence that enrolling Isabella in preschool would not only lead to Isabella spending thousands of dollars in therapy discussing her childhood abandonment issues, but that preschool was a place where selfish mothers dumped their children so that they could socialize with their friends.

I've heard it all, and I continue to hear it on a weekly basis. They contend that I grew up with very few rules, didn't go to preschool, ate as many sweets as my little heart desired, and didn't have a haircut until I was 10, and look how well I turned out! Despite my oft-repeated manta to them that I am making different choices for my children, and that different is not wrong, they neither respect or pay much attention to my parenting rules and decisions.

You see, my mother and my aunt (not the one who continually questions my mothering ability) were basically single mothers. My mom divorced my dad when I was three. My aunt had a husband who wasn't involved with his three children. And so, "the family" raised both my sister and me, and my three cousins. My mom and my aunt gave my other family members carte blanche to make decisions for us a lot of the time. There was no Internet. There was one baby book (Dr. Spock). And in the 70s and early 80s, pediatricians basically gave kids physicals, shots, and little in the way of advice. So my mother turned to her mother for parenting guidance, and followed whatever she recommended, verbatim.

I never had the intention of doing the same when I became a mother. And I haven't. Unlike my own mother did when my sister and I were young, I do not parent by committee. The hubs and I make the decisions for our kids, and we do not put these decisions up to a popular vote.

This? Is not popular in mi familiga.

And so, when they are around my children, and most especially Isabella, they disregard my rules. If we're at a family party, and I tell whomever is scooping ice cream to give Isabella one scoop, they give her two (and, mind you, this is after slipping her M&Ms in a back bedroom for the previous hour). If I say it's time to leave, my aunt will ignore me, and continue to play whatever game she's playing with Isabella. If a relative has given her a gift and Isabella forgets to say "thank you," I will remind her only to be admonished by a relative who tells me, "Oh, stop being so hard on her. She doesn't have to say thank you. She's only three." I feel as if there is nothing that I'm doing with my children that they approve of.

The most outspoken of my relatives is my aunt. She has no children of her own, and yet feels entitled to offer me assvice (and not in a kind way) about the myriad things she believes I am doing wrong. She has told me that taking the kids to the gym daycare (which is more like Club Med for kids than a daycare) is exposing them to germs, H1N1, filth, and unskilled employees. I don't dress them warmly enough. I should allow Isabella to have sweets whenever she wants them, and Isabella is only 3, and therefore should not be expected to use the bathroom or get dressed on her own, or have any chores for which she's responsible.

I have endured over three years of this kind of treatment from my aunt. She does not respect my parenting, and has more times than I can count done the exact opposite of what I've asked her to do when she's in the company of Isabella. At family gatherings at my grandma's she continually ignores my requests and the hubs' requests to please allow Isabella to socialize with some of the relatives she does not get to see that often on the main floor of my grandma's house. Instead, she takes Isabella upstairs to play in a bedroom, so she can have her all to herself. When I tell Isabella to please stop eating the cheese and crackers my grandma puts out on the hors de oeuvres table before our meal because I want her to eat her dinner, my aunt will give her more as soon as my back is turned. The list goes on and on.

And on Sunday at my grandma's house during a family party, in what admittedly was not my finest moment, I lost it. But my outburst was not unprovoked.

I don't give Isabella anything but milk or water to drink, unless it's a special occasion (for example, a friend's birthday party where it's being served). This is not a secret in my family, and they are all very much aware of (and of course, disagree with) how we are choosing to feed our kids. My aunt, sitting next to Isabella at dinner, says, "I'm going to go get her some juice, like I'm having." I very politely told her that Isabella had milk in a cup in front of her, and that her doctor and dentist recommend that she drink only milk or water, and I am following their advice. Mind you, Isabella had not even asked for the juice. My aunt would not drop it. "How about if I mix the juice with some water? What's wrong with juice? Why can't she have just a little?"

Of course, the issue here is not juice. As I've said before, it doesn't matter if we're raising our children as vegans, Buddhists, or Rastafarians. Parents make the decisions and friends and relatives do not undermine them.

It happened again a little later that night. Isabella had been given a huge piece of cake for dessert; this after finishing a vanilla ice-cream drumstick just before. I told my mom, who was serving the ice cream, to not give Isabella any ice cream with her cake, because she had just had the drumstick. She didn't. But then later, when I sat down next to Isabella to eat my cake, I noticed she had ice cream in her dish. You'll never guess who had procured some for her. After Isabella had eaten her ice cream, and about three-quarters of her cake, the hubs told her she had had enough (we feared her getting sick, as she had just consumed more dessert than any adult at the party had that night). Of course, she threw a fit, and my aunt, who was sitting on the other side of her, picked her up and whisked her away, no doubt telling her what awful parents we were for denying her her dessert. I went after them and heard her tell Isabella, "Let's go get your dish back."

Um, no.

I told my aunt that the hubs had taken away the cake because Isabella had had enough. She gave me a look that clearly conveyed her unhappiness with me, and took Isabella to play in another room.

And then finally, as we were leaving, my aunt was carrying around Isabella (something she does all the time, and which I find odd, given that Isabella is a 32-pound, three-and-a-half-year-old). I said it was time to go, and my aunt instead took Isabella off into another room, completely ignoring my requests to take Isabella to get her pjs on (we put the kids in their pajamas when at relatives' homes so we can get them right in bed once we're home). Once my aunt finally deemed it time to get Isabella ready to go, she was still carrying her around when I asked her to please put her down so Isabella could say her goodbyes to the rest of her family, and most especially to her out-of-town relatives who were there visiting. Isabella was overtired, up past her bedtime, and high on sugar. She didn't want my aunt to put her down. I asked my aunt to please set her down, and she loudly said, "Fine! If you want her to scream, I will!"

Isabella pitched a screaming temper tantrum.

And I? Had had it.

I turned to my aunt, and yelled "Will you please stop undermining my parenting decisions??!!??"

She said, "I would never do that!"

I said, "You do it all the time!!"

And with that, the hubs scraped up a screaming Isabella from the floor, I grabbed Luci (Nicholas was already in the car), and we left.

My mom who was privvy to my outburst as well as to most of the night's ongoings, and who knows her sister well, has told me that "you can't tell your relatives how to love your child." I believe she's wrong, because what my aunt is doing is not called "loving my child;" it is undermining my parenting decisions in front of my child. This not only causes Isabella huge confusion (and huge outbursts), but it is damaging her relationship with us, her parents.

This kind of treatment will also demonstrate to Isabella that she doesn't have to listen to directions or follow rules, that if one person refuses her demands or tells her something she doesn't like, she can always get her way by asking someone else, and promotes the idea that her parents are mean and listening to them is optional.

And it's not going to happen again.

Should I have had this discussion with my aunt privately? Sure. But do I feel so good about finally calling her out?

Hell yes.

Bring on the family drama, because clearly, I need something else to occupy my empty days.

Luci and Nicholas at 16 Months

Big News in the House of Chaos and Mayhem.

This one, the one who wasn't crawling on all fours at 12 months, and because of whom we scheduled an Early Intervention Evaluation for gross motor skills, is now the first of the twins to walk. Shortly after turning 15 months, Luci went from "taking a few steps" to full-on walking. She can't yet get herself upright without pulling up on couch or chair, but she far prefers her new skill to crawling and walks about 75% of the time.

Luci has had a banner month in a number of other ways as well. At about 15.5 months, we noticed a teeny, tiny tooth just barely breaking the skin along her bottom gumline. It is coming in very slowly, but it's definitely there. I think she will officially receive the award for Months Sans Teeth, since Isabella's first teeth (which oddly also emerged at exactly 15.5 months) were much further along at this point.

And, then there's this, which is more important to me than walking and teeth: She now basically sleeps through the night. About once a week, she may wake up screaming as she has at least 3-4 times a week in the past, but the difference now is that she's able to put herself back to sleep quickly. I realize I am about to jinx myself my saying this, but I do believe this long, national nightmare is over.

My tiny future professional wrestler loves to kiss. One minute she will be tackling her brother, stealing his binky, or hitting him with a toy, and the next, she's kissing him. And loudly, complete with the ending lip-smacking noise.

She is still the pickier eater of the two, and flings more than she eats. We've taken to removing her highchair tray for a minute or two to prevent the behavior. This does not please her, but we are at our wit's end with cleaning up a disaster on the splat-mat under their highchairs after each meal.

Luci has added a few words to her repertoire this month: "up" and "bup" (cup), but she's been much more focused on learning to walk.
Where to begin?
How about here?
Not much has improved in the way of his temperament. He is very needy, very whiny, and very weepy, almost all of the time.
I am taking the awesome advice I received after this post, and giving him his binky whenever he (or I) needs it. His almost non-stop screaming takes my almost non-existent patience and tears it to shreds, and like some of you said, he's not going to college with his binky in his mouth. So, rock-on, baby plug.
When he's not slowly eroding my will to live with his screams, Nico is talking up a storm. "Cup" is one of his favorite words, and anytime I open the fridge, he yells it. He's also moved on to the "D" words this month, and now says, "dog," and "door." He also says his version of Clifford: "Co-Co," and he asks for water, "wa-wa." Oh, and he says, "pee-pee" while touching his...I think you know where I'm going with this. Is this what little boys are like? Because he is seriously obsessed with it.
Nicholas loves to eat, and he is built like a marshmallow on sticks. His upper body is very round and solid, and yet he still has really skinny chicken legs. When I'm preparing his meals, he will say, "mmmmm-mmmmmm" over and over. He is getting over the terrible pickyness of the last few months, and thankfully is now a much better eater. Nico is also a wolfer. Each day, the twins and Isabella eat their snacks on a blanket on the living room floor. Nicholas will devour his in what seems like seconds, and will then lunge for Luci's and have fistfuls of puffs, Cheerios, etc. crammed into his mouth before I can stop him.
After watching his sister take off walking, Nicholas in the last two weeks has decided to give walking a try as well. He is where Luci was about a month ago: he'll take a few steps and then fall. But he's up and trying, and pretty soon, I'll have two walkers on my hands, and then, God Help Me.
The Fearsome Twosome placing their Super Bowl bets.

Exploring kitchen toys in Isabella's "baby-free" area while their big sister was at preschool. Shhh...don't tell her.


Likes: Isabella's pink teapot bathtub toys, books, and assessing his manhood

Dislikes: Inertia, serenity, and silence

Likes: Chucking food off her highchair tray, cuddling
Dislikes: Fruit, vegetables, sharing

Binky Love

As a baby, Isabella regularly used a binky until she was about five months old. After that point, she mellowed out a little, learned to self-soothe, and as a result I started giving it to her only for naps and at night. We weaned her off her binky permanently around the age of 2.5.

Luci took a binky until she was about six months old. At that point, she no longer would accept one, despite my repeated attempts to please, please take this damn binky and stop crying or mommy is going to run away and never come back. While she is the far more pleasant twin during the day, she's only just this month kicking the 3am scream-fests and learning to self-soothe.

Nicholas, on the other hand? Addicted to his binky like Tiger to Vegas cocktail waitresses with gigantic fake boobs and bad hair.

And his addiction is partly my fault.

Nico is my "spirited child." Both the twins are high-needs. Neither could be classified on their very best day ever as an easy baby. Right from the start, they screamed more than any other baby I've ever known, forced me to endure six months of colic (yes, it can last that long) during which point I seriously contemplated prying out my eardrums with a dull knife, and still, to this day, are extremely fussy and cranky. I love them to pieces, but many days I believe they are truly going to be the death of me.

Fortunately, Luci has mellowed a bit. She still has an explosive personality and can go from charming to psychotic in 3.2 seconds flat, but she is a different baby than the one she was even three months ago.

Nicholas, on the other hand, seems to spend the vast majority of the day crying. He cries when I change his diaper. Cries when I set him down in Baby Jail to throw in a load of laundry, get some coffee, or do the dishes. Sobs when I leave Baby Jail after spending some time playing with him. And sometimes screams when I'm two inches in front of him, trying to engage him with a book or a toy. Granted, his ever-present hysteria is most likely part of the reason he sleeps so well at night. The boy is just exhausted, and normally sleeps for 12-13 hours straight through (and has since he turned 9 months). But during the day, the kid is miserable unless I am holding him.

He has not the slightest idea how to self-soothe, and so I give him his binky. It is the only thing that calms him down (and I have tried everything-music, tv, new toys, etc.), and sometimes even the binky doesn't work, but most of the time, it does. I am trying to avoid giving it to him. I really am. But the soundtrack to my life is his screaming, and when his sister chimes in, it is all I can do to not get in the car and drive away. Their crying really, really bothers me. The hubs is always telling me to just ignore it. But when I'm going on the 10th straight hour of solo childcare, and the twins have been screaming off and on for eight of those 10 hours, that is much easier said than done.

So, I plug him. He spends a lot of time with his binky in his mouth, and even though I take it away once he's calm, he's often crying again, or "asking" for it by saying "bi-bi" soon after. And I give it back to him.

I know he's still very much a baby, and that many 15-month-olds still regularly use their binkies. But I would like to transition him to using it only for naps and bedtime. I just have absolutely no idea how to do that and keep from going crazy at the same time. I am also envisioning a very, very rocky weaning process in another year.

If anyone has any suggestions, I am all ears.

Why I Love the Internet

Without email, every person that reads and comments (especially comments!) on this blog, and Facebook, I would be more cranky than I normally am. A whole lot more cranky. Being home with three small kids, especially in the winter when the weather often keeps us cooped up, does not make me happy. The Internet is not only the source of several of my freelance gigs, but it's also my link to the outside world. And I rely on it heavily to keep my sanity hanging by its thin thread. I need that connection to my friends (both "IRL" and blog/Facebook friends) to remind me that there is indeed life outside the daycare center that doubles as my home.

A couple weeks ago, I was emailing back and forth with Jamie about the high cost of keeping three fast-growing children in clothing. We both have twins and an older child. Spending a lot of money on kids' clothes is something neither of us want to do (I couldn't do it even if I wanted to!) given how quickly they grow out of them, when she offered to send me some of her older son's clothes for Nicholas. Given that her son looks like a Baby Gap model in every photo I've seen of him (the adorableness cannot be denied: just look at him!) and the fact that Nicholas is soon going to need an entire spring and summer wardrobe, I readily agreed, and then proposed the idea of a swap. I offered to send her size 3-6 and 6-9 month girl's clothing for her equally adorable four-month-old twin daughters, and she would send me 12 and 18 month clothing for Nicholas.

Behold, the power of the Internet and the kindness of a person I may never meet "in real life" (but would absolutely love to):

Some of the clothes she sent were brand new and had the tags still on them. We're planning on doing another swap in a few months when Luci outgrows her 12-month clothes.

Thank you SO much, Jamie!

Really Awesome Meal-Planning Tips (Otherwise Known As a Post I Did Not Write)

When it comes to meal-planning and cooking healthfully, I am a complete novice. You all know my sad tale of woe.

I want to change the way my family eats.

And I want to change it now.

I'm giving this online meal-planning service a try (look for a review when my one-month trial is up), and I've also made it a point to start using the weekends to create menus and to cook healthy meals and snacks. In addition to the zucchini muffins, I've made granola bars from this book, which I've owned for years, but never used past the time when my kids moved past purees-thanks for the recommendation, Stephanie!), and soon I plan on returning to my bread-baking roots and making my own wheat bread.

These are all great things, but I also needed advice on exactly how to meal-plan, how to make sure my kids' nutritional needs are being met, and how to stretch a limited budget to accommodate organics when we can afford them. I was chatting with Sasha about some great tips I had received from a friend, and she suggested I ask her to guest post here, since it seems so many of you are interested in these things too. Fortunately, my long-time friend Kellie, a fellow mom of twins, and the meal-planning and cooking queen of the free world, agreed to share her tips.

This is Kellie.

And these are her super-cute four-year-old twins.

I hope her tips help you as much as they're helping me. Thanks again, Kellie!

When Kristi asked me to do a guest post on meal planning and feeding a family, my first instinct was to scream NO! I am not a writer; I am a teacher and a biologist. My father (who made a career as a technical writer) would be the first to tell you that I am not a writer. So you will have to excuse me, I am no Kristi!!

My first confession is that I like to cook. This is definitely harder if you don’t enjoy cooking. The second is that my husband and I have always planned our weekly meals, even before kids. The only bump in that was when I was on bedrest for 6 weeks at the end of my pregnancy, then we had take-out, a lot of it. Now I work full time and have preschoolers so I NEED a meal plan or my head would fly from my body.

Meal Planning 101:

1. Get yourself a couple great cookbooks and flip through them for ideas. I use the library to try out cookbooks before buying them. OR find some good websites to browse. You may not make meals from these sources all the time but it will help you to get new ideas. I really enjoy My Recipes and Crockpot 365. These sites help me to be inspired. I also heavily use Rachael Ray and Cooking Light magazine.

2. Include your family. My kids each plan one meal a week. This started when they turned 3. If they each pick the same meal I ask one of them to think of something else. Most often they choose spaghetti (so exciting). My husband always has some useful input too like “Let’s grill this week”, or “I like steak”.

3. Consider your lifestyle. I work at night 2 nights per week but it is important to me that my family still has homecooked wholesome meals on those nights. So I choose something from my slow-cooker book for those nights, I make dinner before I leave for work, and then my husband has only to make noodles or cous cous, and steam veggies and plate!

4. Try something new every week. This will increase your repertoire.

5. I try to plan a couple vegetarian meals each week. My husband doesn’t love this…

6. Think about the recipes before you follow them. If health is important to you, you may need to make some substitutions to recipes. Kristi’s zucchini muffins are a great example. I don’t use prepared pie crusts because they contain partially hydrogenated fat (SCARY!), and I reduce sugar or substitute honey or maple syrup where I can. These are still simple sugars and are metabolized like white sugar BUT you are getting lots of extra vitamins and minerals, a compromise of sorts!

7. Find a local source of food, a farmer’s market is a great place to start, and some cities have them open year round. You can make connections this way and often find a healthier and cheaper source of food! Consider a CSA as well, it may force you to become more creative with those veggies. This website is a decent resource for finding some local food .

8. Make big batches and freeze leftovers. This may save you a night of take-out. I roast chicken in the crockpot and freeze it, then I always have cooked chicken to throw into meals.

9. Give yourself permission to order out sometimes. Sometimes ya gotta.

10. Share your meal plans with friends. This is the best way to get better at it. I did this with an online community at first and it was very helpful. Your friends will share their best ideas and you’ll get new recipes.

This will help you to increase the number of whole foods you feed your family and save you money. There is a certain sense of satisfaction in making meals that are yummy and nutritious and meal planning really helps. And if you are looking to lose weight, planning is the best way to do so! I lost 60 lbs (twice!) by planning what I ate.

Here are a couple of my meal plans and quick recipes. HAVE FUN!

Sunday- Lasagna with garlic bread and spinach salad (chicken sausage in my lasagna)
Monday- Crockpot Salsa chicken burritos with mango
Tuesday- my son’s night BLT pasta
Wednesday- Butternut squash soup and sandwiches
Thursday- My daughters choice Paprika chicken (Pink chicken) over egg noodles with Brussels sprouts (YUM!)
Friday- make your own calzones
Saturday- chili and cornbread

Sunday- Pomegranate Beef (crockpot) with smashed potatoes and steamed green beans.
Monday- Marinated chicken (crockpot) sandwiches with cous cous and frozen veggies
Tuesday- Blue cheese and dried cherry turkey burgers with sweet potato fries and grilled peppers and onions
Wednesday- Baked ziti (crockpot) with bread (son)
Thursday- Grilled glazed salmon with spinach balls and lemon noodles (daughter)
Friday- Make your own pizza

Crockpot salsa chicken
Place in crockpot:
2 frozen chicken breasts
1 can black beans rinsed
1 jar salsa
1 can/bag corn drained
Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Stir in a block of cream cheese 30 min before done.

Roasted Chicken Breasts
Place several aluminum foil balls on the bottom of the slow cooker.
Rub a little butter under the skin of several split chicken breasts. Place in crock. Roast on High for 4 hours. The meat will fall of the bones.

BLT Pasta (adapted from Rachael Ray)
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
Half a box pasta
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
Italian seasoning to taste
Black pepper to taste
Fresh tomatoes depending on the season
½ c white wine
1 bag spinach and arugula salad
3 pieces uncured bacon cooked and chopped
Olive oil

Saute onion in olive oil til translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 secs, add tomatoes and seasonings to taste (I hate HATE to measure, it’s why I don’t bake much). Add white wine, cook about 20 min. Meanwhile cook bacon and pasta. Dump salad into a bowl. Drain pasta and dump on the salad, add sauce to taste (this usually makes enough for 2 meals of sauce in my house). Mix and add the crumbled bacon. Add parm cheese if desired.

Wordless (But Not Soundless) Wednesday: Dinner Music

My house.
5:00 p.m.
Each and every weekday, while I prepare our evening meal.
Who wants to come for dinner?

(If you remember, these two screamed during dinner for the first 8.5 months of their lives. After an all-too-brief lull in evening-related screaming, they've transitioned to pre-dinner tantrums. One of these days, I will look back on this time in our lives and laugh, right? Right?)

Life Lessons from Real Housewives

I was watching a DVR-ed marathon of the Real Housewives of Orange County the other day (somehow, I forgot that the 5th season started in December, so now I'm catching up. Oh, and shut up, the show rocks!). On this particular episode, one of the housewives invited the others for a "Girls' Weekend" in Florida.

One of the housewives was all for it. Two of the others, however, were not. Of these two women (one in her early 30s, the other in her early 40s), one (let's call her Housewife A) was not allowed to go without her husband and the other (Housewife B) did not want to go unless her husband came too. The first one said that she and her husband never go on trips without the other, and while she wanted to go on this Girls' Weekend alone, her husband would not "let her" unless he came too. The second housewife said that she and her husband also did not travel separately, and that she and her husband have a "perfect marriage" and never want to be apart from each other.

Much as this show seems to mirror my life (like, ha), I could not relate to the "we're married, so we don't travel solo" argument.

I have three kids under the age of three-and-a-half, I'm extremely middle class, and we struggle at times to pay the bills. I have spent the night someplace other than my house exactly twice since Isabella was born: once when the hubs and I went to Toronto when I was about 10 weeks pregnant with the twins (or rather, during the brief period when I believed I was only pregnant with one baby), and the other was just last month when the hubs gifted me with a night alone in a hotel near my house.

It wasn't always this way. Pre-kids, the hubs and I traveled a lot: Europe, all over the U.S., Canada, etc. I am still not used to living a life less-traveled. Most of the time, we traveled together. But sometimes, we traveled separately. I went to visit my sister in Seattle solo. He went to visit his friend in North Carolina solo. We didn't do it often, but it happened. And neither of us had an issue with the other doing it.

Now, the hubs goes on a "Camping and Golf" weekend with his friends each October. He's been doing this since before we began dating 13 years ago. They golf, sleep in tents, drink beer, fart, and freeze their arses off for two days. Do I like it when he goes? Since having kids, no, I don't, because his absence means more work for me, even though my mom is usually able to come and stay for us during that weekend. But prior to having kids, did I care that he spent the weekend away with friends? Not in the slightest.

I don't have a similar annual weekend away with my friends, although I certainly would love one. At least with my circle of friends, most of whom have young children, it's harder for mom to get away than it is for dad. Should it be this way? No. But it is. And frankly, it was hard for me to get away up until I stopped nursing the twins last November. Since August of 2006 when Isabella was born, there haven't been very many months when I wasn't nursing or pregnant (until now, that is).

Housewife A? Eh, whatever. If you want to stay married to a controlling jackass, that's your problem. But Housewife B thinks a "perfect marriage" is made up of two people who can never be apart from each other. This, I find troubling.

I don't think a couple needs to spend every day together in order to have a good marriage. In fact, I think time away is a good thing. Marriages are made up of two separate and unique people who are not simply absorbed by the marriage when they exchange rings. Of course the marriage as a whole is important (hugely important) but it's also important to devote time to the other relationships in each person's life (friends, extended family, etc.), and for each person to devote time to himself/herself as well.

I will contend that a marriage in which both people do not spend time apart (when the opportunity arises and when money and circumstances permit) is quite the opposite of a "perfect marriage." My marriage is important to me, but so are my relationships with my friends. Oh, and I'm pretty important to me, too. And just because I want to spend time away with them (or all by myself), that does not mean my marriage is a bad one, or that I don't love my partner.

So, where do you stand:

Right on, Real Housewives! Married People are Attached at the Hip, Yo!


I'm With Kristi, Who Never Goes Anywhere, But Really, Really Wishes She Could, With or Without Her Husband.

Quick Snapshot:

  • 34-year-old writer and
    mother to a daughter
    born in August 2006 following
    IVF and girl/boy twins born in October 2008 following FET. Come along as I document the search for my lost intellect. It's a bumpy ride. Consider yourself warned.

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