Sunday, May 14, 2017

Of Paint and Projectiles

Resilience has been the topic of discussion at school, so naturally, it's been on my mind.

I was talking to a friend about Mom, and about her life, and as I was recounting some of the things that have made her who she is. Resilient.

I could tell you a moving story. One about overcoming insurmountable challenges, about prevailing in the face of adversity.

(Obviously, not here. Here, she's reading with the kids.)

... Instead, I'm going to tell you the Wall Barf story.

The summer between 8th and 9th grade, we painted the inside of our house. Growing up, we did most of the home improvements ourselves. My dad worked long hours, so it was usually Mom, KidBrotherSam, and me taking on these (in retrospect) rather ambitious projects together.

[SIDE NOTE: if our family had a motto, I think it would be "shared suffering brings us closer". I should embroider that on a pillow, or put it on a family crest.]

Mom has always been good about assigning age- and developmentally-appropriate tasks, so there was a lot of taping, putting down dropcloths, and of course, painting. (To this day, I hate painting ceilings, because I can't manage to do it without getting paint in my hair. But I digress.)

She also decided on projects and techniques before the age of Pinterest (and Pinterest Fails), and web tutorials, which have changed the game a bit, when it comes to DIY anything and everything.

The idea was to do spatter painting in our living room. I'm sure her intention was to look stylish and fun, kind of like this:

We prepped, we painted, we spattered. It was really, really fun.

The end result looked like this:
Mom and KidBrotherSam. circa 1996, looking appropriately goofy for our #PinterestFail before there were Pinterest Fails


"This is awful. It looks like someone projectile vomited all over our walls," she said, accurately assessing the aesthetic we had achieved.

We painted over it, and started again. We tried spray bottles, paintbrushes through screens, and just flinging paint at the wall.

It took three or four tries before Mom decided that spatter painting wasn't going to happen. (Mom: in looking at the picture, I think it was a color choice and paint viscosity issue, combined.)

So, we took a picture to document our epic fail (before there were epic fails!) after the last attempt, and painted over our experiment, one last time.

The most important lesson I took away was that, even if a plan doesn't work out, it doesn't mean it was a total waste. It doesn't mean that our day was ruined. You paint over it, and move on.

...and we've got a funny story to tell later.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I look forward to many more funny stories.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Lunchbox Love

This year, Genevieve has been in the 4-day class at her preschool. What that means is that, along with the fantastic play-based curriculum, the kids bring their own snack.

As part of teaching Genevieve the power of independence, she's responsible for packing her own snack in her Frozen lunchbox the night before.

[NOTE: doing things for themselves gives kids better self-esteem. It's all an investment in her future! Not to mention the fact that she's packing food that she'll eat cheerfully and - best of all- I'm not doing it!]

We have some guidelines (fruit, protein, carbs), and we make sure there's nothing on the school allergy list**

The deal is: if she packs her snack, then I have time to do a note. If I have to pack it, then there's no note. (I haven't packed her snack - ever - this year.)

This has given me the opportunity to continue my own excellent mom's tradition of lunchbox love notes, and - along with making Genevieve feel loved- it has taught me that I can draw.

The notes started very simple, a short statement on a heart-shaped post-it note, but then, one day I did a doodle of me saying "I love you THIIIIIS MUCH!". And Genevieve really liked it.

She's what I like to call a "tangible media" kid, meaning, she likes stuff she can hold on to. Printed pictures, letters. And love notes. She carried the heart all over. She didn't want to throw it away, even after it's unfortunate rendezvous with the sink.

[Helpful hint: pink post-it notes will stain a white sink if they get wet. You're welcome.]

Like it often happens with me, the whole thing grew into, well, a whole thing. Mouse, cookie, apples, trees, and whatnot.

I try to tie in things that we're talking about, and it's always something that's relevant to her, and she'll drop subtle-for-a-five-year-old hints, "This was a good note, but I'd really like a Frozen note."
Some of my favorites, you can click the picture to see the whole album

I have a problem addiction passion for stationary. Good pens, nice paper; I just love it. So when I decided to really start doing these, I pulled out the new set of metallic markers from Office Depot, and a black notepad, and we were in business. (I've upgraded to black index cards since then, because Genevieve was worried about her notes getting wrinkly.)

I've been asked how I do the notes, and, while I'm sure it will take some of the magic away, here it is:

First, the materials list. Obviously, you don't have to use exactly the same stuff that I do, but here it is:

- Metallic Markers, Metallic Gel Pens, or this set of brush tips/round tipped metallic markers (there are a million options for these). [Yes, I have all of these, but you don't need all of these. Unless you do, and in that case, party on.]
- Treasure box (Genevieve likes to save her notes in one of these)

I decide on what I want to draw. Let's say it's a monarch butterfly, because last week, it was. I google "monarch butterfly line drawing".
I don't own the art above the black note. That's the screen cap, for the purpose of explanation.
From there, thanks to the Ed Emberly's Make a World book , I've learned that you just have to break drawing down into basic shapes, and proportion.

(A butterfly is a circle, an oval, and two sort- of kidney beans. Easy!)

If you don't find a line drawing that you like, google some fan art. (Though, when I searched for Shrek fan art, the results were... unexpected. Consider yourself warned.)

I start with a good, central beginning point- like the eyes- and sort of work my way out from there. I'm really working at it because it gives me a lot of satisfaction to be able to do something I thought I could never be good at.

But here's the thing I've learned: the pictures don't have to be amazing, or even good. Just the effort of the doodle seems to be what matters most.

I did an Ariel earlier in the year, and then did another. Here they are:



You can see how I've upped my lunch note game.

When I picked Genevieve up from school, she asked me why I had done another Ariel note.

"Your first one was really good!" She said.

"You don't like this one better?" I asked.

"No, I just like the first one. You did a great job!"

She's so enthusiastic about her notes, that thinking up ideas and surprising her is a real pleasure.

There have been some unintended and unexpected benefits to doing a daily lunch note; Genevieve's pre-reading skills have advanced to some site words, which I learned when she was reading text messages over my shoulder. (Oops.)

She feels loved, and it's a special thing I can do to connect with her when I'm not with her.

... And it's a great excuse to buy pens.

[In case you want to follow this particular madness, I post them on my personal instagram @cuteknitter with the hashtag #lunchboxlovenotes, and I've got a Flickr album of all of them here.]

** the school allergy list includes peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower seeds, Sesame seeds, avocado, and oats. We had a full-on "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" situation when my dad was helping her pack her snack, and he suggested almonds. Genevieve, to her credit, reminded him about the kids with nut allergies, and my dad said, "But what about almonds?" I repeated, "Peanuts and TREE NUTS." Allergies are very serious, and definitely not funny, but this was, because I had to remind my father, the erstwhile almond farmer (true story), that almonds grow on trees.

Monday, July 4, 2016

How easy it is

[I've waited to share this story for a year, because I'm hoping that my friend won't remember it as clearly as I do.]

Last year, close to when Rex was born, a friend of mine invited us (me and Genevieve) to lunch. We arranged to meet at a restaurant that Genevieve and I went to fairly regularly, after school one day.

I preloaded her. We planned. We discussed what kind of manners we use at restaurants. The usual (long and extensive) routine.

When we got there and ordered, she was as good as gold. She was remarkably well-behaved the entire time we were there, on her best company manners. High fives all around!

At one point, my friend - let's call him Kristoff- leaned over to his intended - we'll call her Anna- and said softly, "See how easy it is? "

Piece. Of. Cake. Riiiiiiiiight.

I don't think he intended for me to hear him, but I did.

In that moment, all I could think is, "Are you kidding?! EASY?!"

All the hours of "please"s and "thank you"s. All of the discussions, all of the preloading, making sure that she'd gotten all of her wiggles out- but wasn't so tired that she was going to melt down in the middle of the restaurant. And all the other minutiae that have consumed my day-to-day reality.

The 90%-of-the-time challenge for the 10% smooth sailing. (Your percentages may vary.)

But how do you say this without it sounding like having kids (or being a parent) is awful? (Because it's not, obviously.) And there I was, eight and a half months pregnant, about to do it all over again. 

The best way I can think of to explain it (a year later) is this: if I was to sit down at the piano and play a complicated piece of music, you wouldn't assume that (a) I sat down at the piano for the first time and the music magically flowed from my fingers or (b) that it was easy. 

And if I've learned anything, it's that if something looks easy, someone has worked really hard to get to that point. (Rome not being built in a day, and all that.)

I felt like laughing hysterically. I actually *physically* felt my eyebrows hit my hairline in utter disbelief. what did I *do*? 

I pretended that I didn't hear it. 

Because all of the thoughts and words I had couldn't possibly explain the feelings that come when you look at your amazing kid(s) and think, "I have an amazing kid."

But maybe that's just the hormones talking. Because parenting? Is not so easy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Leaps and bounds

Last Friday, both kids hit major milestones.

Rex learned how to clap, which is delightful and ridiculous, because we all cheer and clap when he does. I had forgotten how funny this stuff was; we'll be sitting at the table, Rex will clap, and then we all clap and cheer. 

Other milestones that abruptly followed: "up" arms, pulling his belly up to crawl, and - most terrifyingly - he's figured out how to pull himself up to standing.

I mentioned that BOTH kids hit milestones at the same time, so brace yourselves.

Genevieve wrote her first word. Without help.


There we were, taking our shower, and Genevieve was drawing in the steam (like we always do), and I looked, and there is was, as clear as day.


And then again, and again, and again. I may have flipped out and cheered. And squeezed her. Because YOU GUYS, MY BABY CAN WRITE!

Reproduced for you here, since the charm of writing in steam is its ephemeral nature:


I feel like I've totally hamstrung her with a name like "Genevieve". I may as well have named her "Chrysanthemum", which - let's be honest- I never spell correctly on the first pass (and even now, I used autofill and totally cheated). 

And she's definitely not a "Gen", so there goes that potential solution. She also shot down going by "Eve".

Thankfully, after a frustrating (and abruptly aborted initial attempt, after some struggles with the letter "N") she tried again the next night, and got as far as "GENEV" without help, and then asked me for the letters, which I cheerfully provided.

After that, I grabbed one of our window markers and wrote her name clearly for her, as well as "VALENTINA" (her imaginary friend with an impressive origin story, more on her another day), and "REX". She traces the letters with her finger, then writes them above (or below) in the steam.

When I told her that her name is really tricky, and that most grownups (ahem, Starbucks baristas) can't spell her name without help, she said, "Maybe I should have it on a piece of paper to help them."

My baby is a genius. And I couldn't be prouder.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


 Dear Andrew;

Happy Father's Day! The day Genevieve was born was the day we became parents, and the day Rex was born, our family was complete. But really, without us (and let's be honest, mostly me), where would they be? So, it all starts with us.

2 kids: achievement unlocked!

Thank you for being an awesome partner. We've been together for a long time. So long, that when you "solved the puzzle ball while you guys [Genevieve, Rex and I] were sleeping", and I answered, "Suuuuuuuure you did. While we were sleeping. Right."

... You produced a photo. Because you knew I wouldn't believe you.

And when I FINALLY beat the puzzle ball, and I sent you this:

Victory... Is... MINE!

This is - allegedly - rated for 4 year-olds. It took us [Me and Andrew] MONTHS to beat it.

You sent me this:

(And on a related note, take a moment to observe this:)

No resemblance, whatsoever. Or drool.

But enough about our bizarre unique marriage. On to the kids.

You go to work, drive in traffic both ways, and then we slide straight into the nighttime routine. Dinner, shower, books, bed.


I understand (at the very least, the basics) of biology, but moments like these make me marvel at how wonderful and strange having children can be:

Again, with the resemblances!
(If you look closely, you'll notice the SAME SLEEPING FACE.)

I love how you look at our kids.

How was Rex ever this small?


You're also the dad:

... who went on a closing hour run to the store for
- last minute glitter for cascarones
- a replacement Sophie
- Lemon Oreos, because I NEEDED them, like I needed air to breathe.
... who played the part of Elsa, exclusively, FOR A YEAR. (I was cast as Hans, remember?)
... who goes to the store with Genevieve and recognizes her for the evil genius that she is.1

... who kept filling water balloons, even when that meant that Genevieve IMMEDIATELY threw it at you WHILE YOU WERE FILLING THE NEXT ONE, which you knew she was going to throw at you the instant you handed it to her.
... who helps Genevieve with her - sometimes complex - costumes and jewelry


... who helps Genevieve find solutions to her problems.
... who takes Rex after he's bitten me, and reminds me that Genevieve went through a biting phase, too, and we persevered and were able to preserve our nursing relationship.
... who WD40'd the squeaky swings because it was giving me panic attacks. (Just because they squeak doesn't meant they'll fall, just because they squeak doesn't meant they'll fall, just because they squeak doesn't meant they'll fall...)
... who went and got the torn window decal out of the trash so that Genevieve could have closure, because she told you that she "...would never be happy again." (Quelle dramatique!2)
... who laughs when Genevieve sighs and says, "Dad-deeeee!" in that exasperated, teenage voice. (Funny now, we'll see how funny it is in ten or fifteen years.)
... who is brave in the face of terrifying monsters, and also giant spiders.
... who still appreciates our inside jokes from YEARS and YEARS ago.
... and who still seeks my counsel, personally and professionally.

So, what I'm saying is that even when I'm tired, and short-tempered, I see you. I see all the things you're doing. I'm noticing.

Someday, I'll get over the fact that Genevieve told me she loves you first, and Rex did, too, "I la dadadadada!"

IMG_4366 2
... and someday you'll get over the fact that "dada" means both "Daddy" and "I have a wet diaper".

I love you, and the kids love you.


Happy Father's Day, Andrew. I wouldn't and couldn't have done it without you. 


Also, since he definitely bears mentioning...

DSC_0207 copy
They ended up in matching outfits, UNPLANNED.

To my own dad...
... who taught me that sometimes, we are the source of our own problems.
... who taught me the importance of being polite, firm, and persistent when solving problems.
... and who told Genevieve she could have cookies for breakfast EVERY DAY, and then told me that - as a grandfather- it's not his job to say "no" to the kids. (Perks of the job, I suppose.)

1. [Apples and trees, amiright?]
2. [See "1", "Apples and trees"]

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What, now?

Genevieve has discovered jokes, and humor. It's very funny listening to her trying to put together original jokes- particularly after she repeats a joke she's heard, and then does her own riff on it.

Yes, those are mitten clips holding up her "dress".

We're also working on explaining how "funny" works, and that being funny on purpose is actually really hard. (There was some real heartbreak when we talked about this.)

Like, for example, instead of making a fart noise, she says, "Fart!" and then laughs hysterically. (To be fair, I usually laugh, too.)

[Since our household is fancy and multilingual, sometimes she says "Fart!" in another language. We are truly a cultured bunch.]

Recently, we had a golden moment. A breakthrough. A conversation that proved that all my hard work and excellent parenting was coming to fruition.

Me: Guess what.
Genevieve: What?
Me: Chicken butt.
Genevieve: Fart.

My work here is done. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

An Ode to Tired Mothers

Once upon a time, when KidBrotherSam was a little guy in diapers, my mother was tired. Exhausted. Positively knackered.

Obvious, right? It wasn't until I had Genevieve that I understood exactly what "tired" meant. (Even moreso since I have had Rex.)

It was first thing in the morning, and Mom had gotten up to brush her teeth. Instead of her toothpaste, she grabbed this:

(For childless readers, this is diaper rash cream. Not toothpaste.)
"Mom," I said.

"Yes, baby," she said.

"That's diaper cream," I said.

"Yes, baby," she said, continuing to put Desitin on her toothbrush.

It was obvious that she was on autopilot, even to my six-year old self, "Mom. Mom."

"Yes, baby. I heard you," she said, putting the Desitin-ed toothbrush in her mouth.

A horrified look, toothbrush out of her mouth, "This isn't toothpaste."

"That's what I TOLD you, Mommy," I said.

In retrospect, I imagine my part looked something more like this:

As an adult, I thought it was funny, because WHO KEEPS BUTT CREAM NEXT TO THEIR TOOTHPASTE?

Well. Funny story...

I would like to present an Apples & Trees ProductionTM** (the first of many, I'm assuming)

I present, my own Desitin toothpaste moment:

Genevieve was a baby. I had cut my hair short while I was pregnant, and spiked it using hair glue. This exact hair glue, in fact:

For your reference, I do keep my hair products on a shelf, next to...

... My toothpaste. Which looked this:

I'm sure you can guess what came next. I unscrewed the cap and started to squeeze the tube, and that was when I looked down and realized that it was hair glue I was applying to my toothbrush. It was in that moment, where I Understood, and I felt solidarity of a whole, new kind with my mom. And maybe also some real empathy, since You Can't Really Know Until You Know.

So, to all the tired mothers, Happy Mother's Day, from my family to yours. But most of all, to my own amazing mom.


... And keep the diaper cream FAR from your toothpaste.

(Just to be safe, you may want to have your coffee before you brush your teeth.)

**  Apples & Trees ProductionsTM, brought to you by Apples Who Do Not Fall Far From Their Trees

Monday, April 18, 2016

Not-My-Mom's Chicken Soup

When you feel like this...


You should make this. 

According to KidBrotherSam, and Mom. (Pinnable image, just in case)

Chicken soup wasn't really something that I grew up eating when I was sick. Chicken broth, yes, by the gallon even. But when I was sick, all I really wanted to eat was plain basmati rice and plain yogurt. That's it.

I never really intended to have a special chicken soup recipe; rice and yogurt was good enough for me. As with many of the good things that happen, I tripped over this recipe when I was looking for a recipe that was both gluten-free and nightshade-free.

(This is harder than it sounds, since nightshades are both delicious and frequently used as substitutes for wheat. I was cooking for a special-diet crowd, and I was determined to find something that would please everyone.)

Enter my favorite soup cookbook: Soup: A Way of Life, by Barbara Kafka. I bought it for a specific squash soup recipe (Quibebe, which is unbelievably tasty and savory), and I've found that her recipes are reliably delicious and not fiddly or overly complicated. Her vegetarian borscht is also amazing, though it requires the village (you know, the one it takes to raise a child?) to help peel and dice ALL the vegetables. [Luckily, it serves a batallion, so you'll have plenty to feed all those helping hands.]

Over the years, I have adapted it to be my own, which really means modifying it to be The Way I Like It. My tastes swing towards really flavorful food, so your mileage may vary. For me, this is a panacea. From ennui to the flu, this makes everything feel better, and it freezes really well.

There are other upsides to this soup - the way that I cook it - the main two being that (first) you only really need to be upright for 15 minutes (on and off), so even if you're starting to resemble the undead, you can have some delicious chicken soup. Second, it's a pantry dish for me. So, no zombie-runs to the grocery store.

I know it's good, because when KidBrotherSam was on his way home from college, he asked Mom for "that amazing chicken soup" which he described as "the best thing he ever put in his mouth". To which Mom informed him, "That's not MY chicken soup."

I had to write this up, because once I was too sick to throw ingredients in a pot, so Andrew and I had one of Those Relationship Talks.

Me: Andrew, make me soup.
Andrew: Okay.
Me: Make it EXACTLY as written in the cookbook. [Sometimes he likes to get fancy.]
Andrew: Okay.
Me: Except use three big cans of chicken broth.
Andrew: Okay.
Me: And Sriracha instead of jalapeño.
Andrew: Okay.
Me: And-
Andrew: You know you're basically changing the whole recipe.
Me: ...
Andrew: Please write it down, and I'll make it.

So, it went into the cookbook. And now, it's all yours, and Pinnable, if you so choose.

Jasmin's Healing Chicken broth:

  • 3- 49 1/2 oz cans of chicken broth (I like Swanson's)
  • 1 bunch of scallions (or an onion can be substituted, preferably white, but yellow works, too)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro (or parsley if you find cilantro to be "soapy")
  • 2+ Tablespoons Ginger Paste (more if you have the energy to mince it fresh/ like it stronger)
  • Squirt of sriracha
  • 2+ Tablespoons Garlic Paste (more if you have the energy to mince it fresh/ like it stronger)
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice of 4 lemons (or more to taste)

OPTIONAL: (for when you're up to adding solids to your soup)
- Alphabet noodles, ramen noodles, or rice
- Precooked chicken, preferably from your leftovers, though a precooked, grocery store rotisserie chicken also does nicely

Pour the chicken broth into a huge pot. Splop in the ginger and garlic paste, toss them in the pot. Add the Sriracha. Mandolin the onion/ finely chop your scallion whites, throw them in the pot. Get the pot to boil, then drop the temperature setting for a 20-minute simmer.

While it's coming to a boil, wash and chop the cilantro, and juice the lemons. Then, SIT DOWN. (Do not go to sleep with a pot on the range.)

[If you want noodles, now is also a good time to start the pot of water and the noodles. DO NOT add the noodles to the broth, let folks add their noodles separately. Just keep the broth separate; you'll be happier.]

Around the 20 minute mark, toss in the lemon juice, add the cilantro, give it a stir, turn off the heat and let it sit while the noodles finish.

Serve it in a fun mug, put the noodles (and/or other extras) in the mug first, then add the broth. Freeze the extra; if you're not feeling well, 2 minutes in the microwave gets the broth ready to drink.

And, if you needed any further endorsement, this soup gave me one of my first The-Student-Has-Become-The-Master moments: when I delivered soup to Mom and Sam across the street when they were quarantined to Knitmore West. 
There's nothing like taking special chicken soup to your mom when she's sick.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I'll cover you

Today, we had a park play date with a couple of Genevieve's classmates, and their wonderful moms.

ChrissyG and I had been trying to connect for a while, and our schedules aligned. I told her that Genevieve had a play date, and in her usual chill way, ChrissyG was up for a trip to the park. 

At one point, we had the girls on the carousel, and Rex in the stroller. 

[Theoretically, I could have put him in the ergobaby carrier and had him on with me, but that's the beauty of hindsight, isn't it?]

Then came the constant tug-of-war that is life with two kids; ride the carousel with Genevieve, or wait with Rex and the stroller on the sidelines. 

Ride with Genevieve, it means a lot to her. TUG.


Stay with Rex; he's a baby and will cry. TUG. 

"Mommy, ride with us!" TUG. 

You can't stick ChrissyG with babysitting; that's not why she came along. TUG. 

ChrissyG saw me in the midst of my dilemma, about to sacrifice Genevieve's real and present needs for Rex's theoretical and only possible needs, raised an eyebrow and said, "Ride the carousel. It's two minutes. Rex will be fine. I'll take good care of your baby."**

I can't even tell you how relieved I felt. 

"I'll take good care of your baby." Magical words, because you know you can rely on them.

Because you realize you're being ridiculous, but it's okay, because it's normal; ChrissyG understands. She's been there. Thrice. 

That's what friends- best friends- are for. That gentle reminder that you're not as alone as you might feel sometimes. 

And if you're being ridiculous, they'll tell you. 


**I swear my mom said that same thing when Genevieve was a baby. Clearly, I keep excellent company. 

Monday, April 11, 2016


Mom: Thank you for giving me grandchildren who love to eat.
Genevieve: I don't like to eat! Except when I like to eat...
Me: What you like is to be contrary. 
Genevieve: I do not!
*All adults*: Knowing glances and smiles