I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It may be below freezing outside...

...but it is certainly spring inside!

 I might be getting too ambitious, but without an outside job to keep my mind preoccupied - I have big dreams for our garden this year. Seedlings for broccoli, cauliflower, black simpson lettuce, mesculin lettuce, parsley, sunflowers, spinach, bell pepper, sugar snap peas and cucumber are growing quickly in our basement flourescent light set-up.

The pea pods always sprout quickly, but where are you red onion?

Ayla's seeds... unfortunately, we forgot to label them!

 Add the carrot and radish seeds that are going to be planted outside and the crazy heirloom seeds I just bought online (blue pole beans that turn from blue to green when you cook them and an indoor coffee plant that you can then roast the seeds!) and hopefully we'll have our own urban homestead this summer.

 Let's hope our landlords like berry bushes better than grass!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dinner, Courtesy of the Food Network

 I've been rocking the dinner table since my new subscription to the Food Network Magazine has been gracing our mailbox. Not to pat myself on the back or anything.

 With the recent change to full-time "working from home" motherhood (as in, I don't get paid for this!), I've been focusing my efforts on (1) saving money and (2) having some sort of plan when I walk in the grocery store. Studies show that families spend less money shopping for food when they are following a menu plan or buying specifically for meals. It's true! How many times have I dropped $100 at the store and come home to nothing but snacks, Vitamin Water and tater tots? How about all of the time - before moving to Buffalo and writing a list every time I go to the store.

 I envy the women (and men, too - although I literally stared at the one guy I saw poring through coupons in the yogurt section... I've never seen a man so intent on getting the best bargain,) who have the insight to look through the store circular and then plan their meals according to what is on sale. Someday I'll get there - dream big!

But anyways, what I love about this magazine is that they divide the recipes into weekday vs. weeknight cooking. How smart - because I've gotten myself halfway through complicated recipes on a school night only to have grumpy, starving children with no patience for my wonton making skills. We've had homemade pretzels, Tilapia Milanese, Thai Pork with rice noodles, refrigerator fudge, to name a few. It satisfies my need to try something creative in the kitchen without getting too ridiculous and having to search for banana leaves.

 The magazine also includes a mini tear-out booklet of 50 ways to modify or use one type of recipe. What could be better than fifty different ways to make nachos or smoothies or uses for pesto? I have two huge bindersof magazine recipes (one that includes recipes I have successfully made and others that I'm still saving for when I have the time to make flaxseed crackers from scratch.) I haven't torn out a single page of this magazine because I want to save the whole thing.

 I'm sure this is a win-win venture for the Food Network since they have a ridiculous archive of recipes already and all the celebrity chef power working for them. It's certainly working for me! I don't know if/how much money we have saved, but the fact that we have dinner figured out on a daily basis is saving my sanity, little by little.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Who you think you are...

 I once took a "sensitivity training" seminar at work and I remember the speaker asking a really interesting question:

What is it that you fear other people assume about you? 

 Where is the disconnect between what you believe yourself to be, and what others perceive to be true? If you were to pick one quality in a person and hope that others don't think that about you - what would it be?

 I've been thinking a lot about this lately during some soul searching and the realization that now in a new city, I've got to put myself out there and make friends. I have to go through all of the uncomfortable meet and greets with other preschoolers parents and my neighbors and even the staff at the closest grocery store.

 All the while, as we are trying to make good first impressions, other people have already made assumptions about who we are based on our clothes, families, race, gender, facial expression, car; it goes on and on. Some of the choices we make are based on putting out a certain image and some choices project something completely against what we truly believe ourselves to be. It's like buying a luxury car because it is top rated for safety... but everyone that sees you driving it thinks you are a pompous superficial jerk. (Not my situation though, although the Honda minivan is pretty luxurious to me.)

  Personally, it always drives me insane when a friend later tells me that they thought I was an indulged Sewickley snob or a primadonna. Why, when everything I feel and believe goes against those attributes, would anyone think those things about me? Okay, growing up in Sewickley - I'll give people that one. It's a beautiful,safe and overly wealthy community. Does that mean I've ever lived without a concern for money? No way.

 Is it my blonde hair, female body (and the assumption that I only obsess about shoes and handbags), relative youth or preppy clothes? I just like to wear classic stuff! And I either bought it at the thrift store or 75% off at Target. I hate when people give me a hard time, assuming that I don't know what its like to go through bad times. My life has been blessed in many ways - but I've also seen some pretty horrible shit. Just because I have it relatively together, does not imply that I have lived a flaky, easy, superficial or materialistic life.

 What bothers you? Do you hate it when someone says, "I never pegged you for a Republican/Democrat/accountant/artist/chef/mother/father/whatever."? Do you wonder what they thought you should be?

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's like Ayla on Repeat

Instead of everyone commenting that Elliot looks like me or Gregory or any one of our siblings (except you, Eve, even though I wish I could birth an Asian child... I just don't think my wildest dreams will come true!) - they are saying that he looks like Ayla. 

 It's true, especially when I dress him in pink - which is a frequent occurrence. But he really does look just like Ayla did as a baby. Our genes skipped around a bit and Jackson is just his own man, truly unique from the beginning. Elliot may have updated the Stanton/Abell look with some dimples and a birthmark, but sometimes the similarities are unnerving. Watching Elliot develop month to month, and as he uses each recycled toy, it's a little hint of Ayla all over again.

 Can you see it?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hipster Highchair

How did we find ourselves with three kids and needing a high chair? One would think that we have every necessary baby accessory by now. But during this move, the high chair we'd used with Ayla and Jackson was left behind. It was a beautiful wooden (antique?) chair that had weathered the biter biscuits, yogurt and smooshed pasta. Before Elliot was born, Gregory's father thoroughly cleaned and refinished it.... leaving it in much nicer condition than our children did. And now that Gregory's parents are grandparents four times with babies visiting often - that beautiful highchair should stay at their house.

Unfortunately, that meant we had to buy a highchair! And I was not excited about the prospect of dropping the absurd amounts of money that highchairs require. $300!!! - no way, I could get a new washer for that! I thought about using our swing as an alternative... but it has toys attached to the tray and Elliot was more interested in eating those than his pureed carrots. I had hopes that we could forgo the chair and just hold him while he eats, but that is an insanely messy endeavor.

 Do you see now that I am cheap? Plus, this is too late to be making a major baby investment. I won't say Elliot is our last baby for sure (because if I declared that to the world, I'd be pregnant with twins in a minute as punishment), but I'd rather not spend money on things that we only need for a year.

 Finally, I found something on ToyRUs.com that seemed reasonable, the cute Inglesina table chair. It's perfect! The price point was a perfect compromise for me. I can spend $60 on a little chair that fits on our table at home, but can be easily taken off and travel with me to restaurants. I used it twice during my last visit to Pittsburgh and everyone in restaurants was intrigued.

 Elliot loves sitting with us at the table, as well as his opportunities to grab at everyone else's plates. It is surprisingly secure, not like past models that children used when I was growing up. Apparently those table chairs dropped to the floor constantly... a funny prospect when it's happening to someone else, but not my Elliot!

 Two drawbacks:

 (1) It doesn't fit on every table. I couldn't fit the "legs" all the way under the table trim at Azul's, but attached it to the table edge instead. Most parents wouldn't be comfortable with that, but I sat underneath Elliot to catch him in a disaster... but it held for the 45 minutes I needed it to!

(2) To secure the twist-tight coupling, you have to turn it LEFTY-tighty, RIGHTY-loosey. Now that messes with your brain!

  And while I wouldn't call it a drawback, Elliot loves kicking and bouncing in this little chair. His excitement shakes our Ikea table and spills drinks constantly. Oh well, I'll take spilled coffee over spending hundreds of dollars on a huge highchair anytime.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Things Gregory says in his sleep...


(Gregory gets mad at me for messing with him as he falls asleep... saying, "What? Huh? Say that again?" I wouldn't be so cruel to post what he says on my blog. But I am cruel enough to joke about it!)

Weathering the Seasons

 In the parenting section of our new library, I found an interesting topic: the seasons of parenthood. The process of becoming a parent (whether it be by natural birth, adoption, remarriage, etc.) changes people in profound ways and the journey changes pretty much day by day. The authors focus on how parents come to terms with each age bracket their children go through, up until the day that roles reverse and children take care of their parents. The constant change in children's needs and the resulting dynamics between partners and all of the subconscious beliefs that mothers and fathers push onto their expectations of their family life... wow! Being a parent, a conscious parent that is, is really hard. And it stresses every aspect of your life. This book was a little bit like therapy: someone outside of my direct circle telling me it is okay to be completely overwhelmed sometimes.

 That being said, I only read the first four chapters. The book is called The 8 Seasons of Parenthood: How the Stages of Parenting Constantly Reshape Our Adult Identities. Amazon.com has some great reviews here. The book has to be back at the library tomorrow and I'm only ready to face what happens into the elementary school years. Assuming that I haven't gone mental by their teenage years...I'm going to need a lot more than one book.

   Here is what I know the first years of parenthood to be:

  (1) During pregnancy, a woman enters the celebrity state. Everyone notices her, everyone wants to talk to her (or worse, touch and ask intimate questions of her). She basks (or despises) the new attention; and therefore it changes the way people view her. In my opinion, this is where outside scrutiny and judgement begin. A woman usually has to drastically change her behaviors when becoming pregnant, whereas her partner doesn't have to really change a thing. Unless a woman was already caffeine, alcohol and nitrate-free; she has some big adjustments. Her partner is referred to as the roadie (see what I mean about the cheesy terms?) and must now make an ego check to get used to their partners' new status. This is just the beginning of change for some couples and their families. Or everyone can just be cool and go with the flow - it's been known to happen.

 (2) The first year of a child's life is the sponge stage.  Life is saturated and consumed with this new little person and their intense, ongoing care. I've found that parents react very differently to this first year. I feel that Gregory and I were unnaturally easygoing with Ayla as our first child. I didn't ask anyone to wash their hands when holding her or tiptoe around the house or pledge their undying devotion to her. It was our job as parents to live and die for her - and I understood that not every other person was going to feel that way about my baby. But regardless, she consumed my every thought and I became aware of that "heart outside your body" feeling that happens when you are crazy in love with a baby. Everything a newborn needs is put before your own needs. The sponge stage can also be really hard on fathers/partners because all of a sudden, they have to adjust their lives. Sleep is interrupted for the first time (unless sleeping next to a pregnant person in bed was difficult, which of course it can be!) and life is again, turned upside down. While a woman had 10 months to prepare because her body was taken over... a partners life doesn't really get crazy until this first year.

(3) The preschool years turn you into a family manager. Pretty self-explanatory - except that not only are you managing a schedule, meal times, school, diapers, potty training, manners, etc., you are managing your own identity (or return of one) after a long time with no free time. This is where I get scared for mothers and fathers that completely throw their own social lives away with newborns. It's hard enough to watch our kids grow up  - but if you've based your entire identity on that child needing you... things can get a little depressing. Most important lesson of this stage? The only control you have is self-control. Amen. When you can't leave a room without one kid smacking the other or markers drawn all over the wall - it feels good to know you can at least control yourself. Umm, at least some of the time.

(4) And elementary school - you are the travel agent. I don't quite know how this is going to be done in our household. I was essentially an only child for the first six years of my life (my brother is 8 years older than me and could handle his extracurricular activities). So when I took ballet, swim classes, art classes, piano, etc., my parents could focus on those things and not really be torn about which child is going to be able to do which activity. How are we going to have Ayla, Jackson and Elliot pursue all of their extra classes and sports?

  The authors took some of the metaphors too far and used cheesy summations with their seasons vocabulary, but overall this book was both eye-opening and validating.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Artist on the Potty

 The past two days have been a reckless attempt at potty-training with Jackson. I say reckless because we haven't read a single book, article, what-have-you about appropriate techniques. We just know that he is a stubborn little boy who can't be bribed by cookies, candy, TV or money. Yes, money (he liked to carry around coins; I'm guessing he doesn't understand the deeper significance of those metal pieces.)

  We've had two successful wee-wees so far. One was, I think, a product of just sitting on the potty for a few hours and something had to happen. The other started by accident on the living room floor and he was compliant enough to then go on the big potty. Usually when he goes on the floor he then continues to hold it until wearing a diaper.

I know all of this potty talk is highly engaging and interesting to those of you who don't have kids... so I'll get to my point. While we were sitting in the bathroom for a length of time yesterday, I thought I would keep Jackson occupied with the camera. He loves taking pictures and I will share this "photo essay" about his experiences thus far.

We reverted and let him have a "baba" in the hopes it would get something going!
There's nothing like a nice picture on the potty!
C'mon already!
My own "baba" to help with the stressful process of potty training.
"Just go wee wee! PLEASE!"
An artists' rendition of the bathroom door.

 While it's cute to hang out in the bathroom for hours on end... I think I'll be making a trip to the library this weekend for helpful resources. What to do with a little boy who finds nothing wrong with peeing on himself?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leading the Witness!

Welcome to the first episode of Law & Order: Toddler Town. I am the defense lawyer. Jackson is the witness. And Ayla is the tricky, prosecuting lawyer.

Ayla's new favorite "big sister" activity is to ask Jackson if he wants to do stuff. It is always something that she wants too (smart little girl!) and is almost always with the most inopportune timing.

My case in point:

"Jackson, do you want to have a popsicle?" - Said right after we've brushed our teeth for bed.

"Jackson, do you want to play my princess Disney game?" - I've just told her no, and he can't play it by himself - he needs her help with the controller.

"Jackson, do you want to go to Nano's house?" - We are three hours away!

"Jackson, do you want to go for a ride in the car?" - It's tempting, but we don't let them drive just yet.

 This goes on all day long. She asks him a loaded question, he gets excited and yells, "YES!" and then I'm the jerk for saying no. Or the defense lawyer screaming, "Leading the Witness!"

 Once again, I've been outwitted by my own children.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Elliot's New Room

 We are making progress here in our new house. I've only taken pictures of the few places that are free of boxes and debris and have a clear functioning quality to them.

 Let the feng shui soothe your soul....

Gregory painted this beautiful blue before we arrived. Elliot is our first boy to have an "appropriate" hue in his bedroom!

Ahhhh, where I sit and try to nurse him quietly. Until one of his siblings comes busting in the room. The large curtain is hiding the closet where I am keeping all of my clothes.

Changing table and old curtain... someday I'll make it to JoAnn fabrics to make him one that matches the blue paint.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bad Mood Penguin

If you woke up feeling like I did... you might need the Bad Mood Penguin to brighten your day!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The family that vomits together...

...Prays together?

 I promise I'll explain. 

 Yesterday evening was turning out to be a pretty bad night. With two toddlers and an infant (who can no longer be trusted to stay in one place when you leave him there), I am often torn between five different tasks at any given moment. It was the kind of night that Elliot was dead tired, miserable but wouldn't take a nap. He would fall asleep in my arms only to scream in the crib. Or he'd be asleep in the crib and then Jackson would come busting in the room. Or Elliot would just hear his two older siblings screaming and crying over some random toy and lose all interest in anything else.

I was getting frustrated. I was already annoyed with our real estate situation and the impossible feat of making dinner.

 Set scene: Ayla & Jackson are only happy together while throwing toys down the stairs from their rooms. Including legos!!! OCD nightmare! Elliot is finally happy sitting in his swing, chomping on a biter biscuit. I am boiling water for their pasta and trying to finish my chicken chili.

  Elliot starts to cough and then spits up a little bit. Then he looks red in the face and starts to vomit. A LOT. The most I've ever seen from him. Sorry to be gross, but I get spit up on every day. That doesn't phase me. It's the real might-be-stomach-flu vomit that makes me cry. Ayla & Jackson came downstairs to see why I was crying and were fortunate enough to catch a full force projectile from the swing.

  Then Ayla starts to gag. A lot.

  I yelled for her to leave the room before I had two messes to clean up.

 And here is where the prayer comes in:

  Everyone forgot their concerns with dinner, fighting over Barbies and throwing legos. Jackson was crying because he didn't understand what was wrong with his baby brother. So while I wiped up the poor guy, Ayla took Jackson into their room and started praying.

She prayed that Elliot would never get sick again. Amen to that. (And it worked - it was just a fluke moment, everyone here is healthy!... for now....)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nightmares in Real Estate

Disclaimer: I know there are good, honest real estate agents out there, I just haven't worked with any yet.

Here are two things you don't want to hear from a real estate agent,

1. "This is just how things go."
2. "I'm not making very much money off of this."

 How's that for professionalism? When it comes to the sale, purchase or rental of your most valuable possession it isn't very heartwarming to hear that your agent doesn't really care what happens. Because that's what the second statement means to me. To have the nerve to tell me (as a client) that you aren't making enough money off the transaction, they might as well say, "I'm putting little to no effort into this."

But anyways, my angst goes back to the first agent we used when purchasing our house in Leetsdale four years ago. It was only the third property we looked at and worked with this agent only by chance. I won't mention her name, but even if I did, I don't think she'd ever understand how it ended up on the world wide web. She wasn't very savvy. Let's call her Pepper Lazypants. She showed us a crap house in Bellevue and mentioned that we were looking to stay close to the Sewickley area. Ms. Lazypants then happened upon our house as a foreclosure and showed us the property.

We loved it immediately.We won the bidding war and set out to have the house inspected. It turned out that the house didn't meet Leetsdale occupancy codes and needed a few handrails, etc. in order to be sold. Ms. Lazypants tried to make us pay for the changes. It's a good thing we aren't gullible idiots (at least all of the time) and called her out on it. Every step of the way, she tried to take advantage of the fact that we were first-time homebuyers. Every question we had was answered with, "This is just how things go." In reality, she just didn't know the answer and was too inept to figure it out.

 After a little bit of time, we realized that she was going to be absolutely no help at all and proceeded to deal with everything ourselves. I remember the night that Gregory and I were buying our stove for the house and he finally yelled at her on the phone, saying, "It's about time you did one thing for us!". I should have known what a dunce she was when she couldn't even find the property the first time we looked at it. She was blindly driving around Sewickley looking for our house on the other Broad Street. At the signing she tried to make a joke out of it (me sitting in the car with a newborn for 30 minutes while waiting for her is never a joke), I stung her with a "that's why they have zip codes!" comment.

But in the end, it worked out for us. I don't know if Ms. Lazypants made her $20 off the sale of the property; I would hope that she is not still employed in the industry. We got a great deal and didn't let her take advantage of the situation.

Four years go by and we have to move. Rent or sell? We opted to rent because we want to know the Buffalo area better before buying our home here.

Renting seemed like a good option because one ad on craigslist generated about thirty responses within a few days. Hiring the management company, though? NOT a good option, we are now finding out. Again, I won't name names - but Pittsburgh has about one option in personal property management, you can narrow it down.

Basically, I think we are in the same situation again. Either this guy is an outright liar or just doesn't know what he is doing. Everything he says then suddenly turns out to be false. And I'm tired of dealing with dishonest, lazy people. We even got the classic line, "I'm working for free right now". Really? Do you think I care?