Thursday, February 26, 2009

And Now We Really Really Really Need a Vacation

Why oh why are fresh spices sold by the pound? Or so it seems. Cilantro is sold in batches so large I could stuff a pillow with it. Basil, thyme, sage, all of them are bundled in huge portions suitable for using to cook on cruise ships. I am making Chicken Soup for the Sicklies’ Souls (more on this in a minute) and I wanted to add fresh rosemary, which meant I had to buy a million sprigs all tied together for some ridiculous NYC price. All I needed was a pinch. Inevitably most of it will go bad before I get to use it. Such a waste. The glut of fresh spices brings out some not so desirable consequences: Either I become an overspicer, putting in twelve times the recommended portion into the recipe, usually to not-so-pleasant results, or I become cavalier, using just the two best, greenest, prettiest leaves from each basil frond and throwing the rest away.

As long as I am being honest, this spice problem brings out the thief in me. I can admit that on an occasion or two I have swiped a couple sprigs of basil and stuffed them into the lettuce bag. I know, wrong, but when a recipe calls for one or two leaves, it just seems wasteful to buy an entire bag for five dollars. So if you were the one person who needed a pound of basil and found your bag a half of a half of a half of a half of an ounce short, I apologize.

What I need is an herb garden in a backyard. Or one of those windowsill gardens, at least. But I digress, as usual.

The stomach virus has visited our home, for the first time ever. I can’t believe that we have escaped illness for 22 months. What a roll. We have had little things here and there, like fevers for a day or two. But nothing like this.

It started with Avery, who threw up in the middle of the night in her crib. I felt terrible that she had to go through that alone. We cleaned her up and she slept with us for the rest of the night. She only threw up that once, but she has a fever and diaper rash and diarrhea, never a good combo. It makes her adorable cuddly.

Madeline was completely fine until last night when, out of the blue, she just stopped playing and proceeded to throw up the entire contents of her stomach. Madeline is the good eater, so by “entire contents” I mean blueberries, grapes, oatmeal, apple, a banana, pasta, peas, carrots, applesauce, more pasta and not one but two popsicles, which I bought for Avery, thinking she might need an incentive to eat. She threw up ten times (or so) over the next few hours. But today, she is back to her old (young) self and is acting like nothing happened.

Nicole stayed home from work, feeling under the weather herself. So far, she is ok, and so far, so I am. But I [we] sit hear in fear of being the next victim[s]. I reasoned that Nicole and I should binge, eating entire cakes and pies and bags of gummi bears, since it is most likely going to come up anyway. But Nicole refused to join in the reindeer games, and I felt silly doing it alone. And it is hard to indulge in raspberry Napoleans or icebox cake when everyone around you is snacking sadly on Saltines. I still say we missed our chance at no-consequences eating.

And I am really disappointed because it is supposed to be in the 50s and I was going to take the girls out for along walk and to play in the park. Instead I am sitting on the couch in my pajamas and making soup for three people who are having a hard time keeping food down.

Pictured above, my patients.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vacation: Luxury, Necessity, or Waste of Hard-Earned Money?

Nicole has a decent vacation package at work, which includes family care days and personal days and unlimited sick days, which she is too ethical to use unethically. Me, I’d have “colds” and be unable to come to work three times a month. She gets a month off, but there’s one caveat: She has to take at least two weeks of that month at once. This has got us thinking about going away for an extended period of time, which is something we haven’t done in a long time, and not really since the girls were born.

While we were talking about it last night, Nicole admitted that she gets vacation sticker shock, which is something I suffer from as well. Surprise! I never knew this about her. Maybe others suffer as well: It is this all-consuming feeling that there MUST be a better way to spend one’s money than on such folly. For me, it is acute: With the Internet, I can plan an amazing, deluxe vacation down to the last detail, but when it comes time to plunk down the credit card and book, I suddenly think “Is it worth it to spend X amount of dollars on this? Is there a better use for this money?” Even the shoestring-budget version seems extravagant. I usually decide no vacation.

You would think that Nicole and I might have discovered this commonality earlier in our relationship, but no. We have taken our share of vacations, but a lot of times it is rolled into her business trips. This has gotten us to London, Asia and San Francisco many times. I am a happy tagalong, slumming it in coach while she jets first class, and exploring and sightseeing and wandering until she gets back to the hotel. And with hotels paid for, it makes vacations cheap and unpressured. We are also big fans of the weekend away: Two or three days to New England or DC or Bermuda and then back home, which hardly breaks the bank. I think about how amazing our Fire Island weekend were: Had I know they would have stopped for a while once the girls came I might have appreciated them more.

Now, as a family of four, we are faced with staggering vacation costs. And I mean staggering. For example, I looked into the Rosie Alaska cruise. With airfare, this eight-day foray out west would run us at least 10K, if not more. Ten thousand dollars, for a little over a week. Are you kidding me? And yet this boat is filled each year, with people paying that much and more (or, with a smaller room, a little less). It seems so extravagant. I can’t help but wonder, is it worth it? And yet I know it is.

We are also looking into renting a house in Maine, but that, even with its kitchen and lack of airfare, would still cost quite a bit of money. And then we have this issue: Going away with the girls is more of a relocation than a vacation. Unless we bring help (more money) it won’t really be much of a vacation for us. Just all of us, in an exotic locale, trying to re-establish nap schedules. This relocation-and-no-fun theory is what stopped us from taking a free trip to China this past summer (which I sort of regret already).

But we need to get away. We need to see nature and decompress and relax. We need to just enjoy each other’s company outside the walls of our home and create new experiences. This is what life is all about, right? But I am having such a hard time saying, yeah, sure, let’s just GO. Maine, Alaska, whatever. Take the money out of savings and call it a trip. And then I think, in these scary times, during this awful recession, is this smart? Should anyone be spending money like this? Or should we be saving it in case Something Awful Happens? Are we going to be those people who die with money in the bank but no experiences to show for it? Will we always say “Let’s plan a vacation next year” and then just not do it?

I thought of house-swapping: There HAS to be someone in Maine who wants to switch for an apartment in the center of NYC for a week. Hotels are like $300 a night minimum round these here parts! Or someone in Europe: You chalet for my cube of space in NYC. But how to find those people? And how to ensure what those people are not maniacs and not homophobic?

I know even talking about vacations is a luxury. I know there are many people who can’t do that right now. I know this is a good struggle to have. But still, I am wondering how everyone else thinks about this. Do you get sticker shock? Is it worth it? Do you get away and then come home better than ever, convinced it was worth every penny? Any input is appreciated.

Naptime is over and Avery is saying “poo poo” from her crib. Back to reality. Pictured above, business trip/vacations of years gone by. Oh how easy and cheap it was back then!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Is It Wrong to Introduce Toddlers to Coffee?

Avery says “coffee,” which sounds more like “cocky,” and she usually follows it with “hot.” I let her dip her finger in mine and taste it and she loves it. Right now, she is limited to two or three dips, and after I finished I let her drink that last drop from the mug. She loves it, but the last thing I need is her all jacked up on caffeine. Caffeine plus toddler energy equals certain ruin for me.

I am sick, fighting a terrible cold. I picked it up from my friend Jen, who has had the same cold for over a week now, which doesn’t bode well for me. I have an awful cough and a sore throat (from coughing) and just feel weak and lightheaded. It is hard entertaining the girls. I say “Who wants to watch Sesame Street?” waaay too much these past few days and have ordered in dinner more times than I care to tally. But what can I do? I spent three days last week in my pajamas; at least I am dressing now. And thanks to that coughing, sneezing, aching, stuffy head so you can rest medicine, I can sleep at night. That’s progress. And I am venturing outside with the girls to pick up 30 pounds of baby clothes at the cleaners. And I have to choose which leftovers we are having for dinner. So it’s a big day.

I am dragging my feet on going out because it is so tiring, even when I am not sick, to get the girls and myself all winter-fortified. Coats and mittens and hats and socks and shoes and blankets and all. How I long for the days when I can just plop them in the stroller, slip on my flip-flops and go. My spring fever is evidenced by my recent t-shirt buying sprees, as if simply by replenishing my t-shirt stock I can bring on sunnier weather. I have also splurged on a few other spring non-necessities for no reason other than I am exited for warmer weather. This is an exchange I had with my friend Jen, the giver of colds, while I was on the phone with her while browsing through a clothing store:

Me: (picking up this totally hot shirt that I have absolutely no need for): Oh, wow, you should see this shirt. It is awesome.
My Friend Jen: Buy it!

Notice, no question of what the shirt looks like or how much it costs or anything. Just Buy It. I like the way she thinks. So now I am the proud owner of a sheer, white button down Donna Karan shirt (blouse?) that I can’t imagine wearing anywhere anytime soon. But it is maybe the greatest shirt I have ever seen. Perhaps it will see the light of day this spring or summer.

It seems like I have nothing important to say. I could complain about how we had to buy a new dishwasher to replace our two-year-old dishwasher because the repairmen said it would cost more money to fix the “old” one. Or how our stove, also two-years-old, isn’t heating properly because the door isn’t shutting properly. Or how I hate doing laundry so much that I will wear the same clothes day in, day out, just to cut the loads down to an easier size. Or how I really need to organize my closet. But it all seems so insignificant. The winter doldrums are getting to me, which seems to be a trend I am noticing in other blogs. I think we are all ready for a little sunshine and light, literally and figuratively.

Pictured above, is it me or does Avery, in her too-tight beret, look a little like this Marxist revolutionary? Maybe someday Avery will show up on t-shirts as a counterculture symbol.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Playdates and Museums and Untraditionally Romantic Valentine's Gifts

Perhaps the cutest word milestone occurred yesterday when I heard Avery utter “Maddie” for the first time. We were at my friend Jen’s house for a playdate (which is child speak for Children Please For the Love of God Entertain Each Other While You’re Mommies Decompress), and I had the luxury of a driveway, which meant I could bring one baby out to the car at a time. Oh, the novelty, the ease, the sweet sweet convenience. So I brought Avery out, and while I was snapping her in her seat she said “Maddie?” and pointed toward the house. I guess she thought we were going to leave her. Later on that night, she trotted out that word three times for Nicole, much to our glee.

Nicole gave me a GPS for Valentine’s Day, which she gave a romantic spin with a card about the adventures we will have together, safely guided by this new TomTom. Lost and found metaphors abound. I wanted to give it a name and suggested Amelia after Amelia Earhart, which Nicole overruled because “…she got lost and died.” Good point. As my friend Tim pointed out, that is like naming your boat Titanic. Or your space shuttle Apollo 13. Or your new blimp the Hindenburg. So for now I call it Vasco, after De Gamma, until a better name comes to me. Suggestions?

I used Vasco to get to my friend Jen’s house yesterday and it was amazing. I tend to get lost pretty quickly because I can’t read directions and drive at the same time. I’ve been to Jen’s plenty of times but always get confused on the nine-lane Jersey highways on which you need to be in an Exact Lane at an Exact Time or you end out 16 miles out of your way. One wrong move and suddenly I am at the Delaware Water Gap. So this new GPS gives me driving confidence and suddenly I feel invincible. I am ready to take some long distance trips. And I love that no matter where I am, I can just press a button and will be guided home.

There was a bonus Jen at Jen’s house: Yes, three Jen’s in one house. The other Jen is Jen’s college friend, who I really like, who was visiting from Pennsylvania. One my way home, I was thinking “Oh, that was so nice” and was amazed that we were able to talk about toxic relationships, parent relationships, Octo-mom, life’s challenges, sexism, eating disorders and fertility challenges while also minding our collective six kids. Then those angry feelings seeped in once again as I became bitter that people I like don’t live in my apartment building. I mean, is that too much to ask? I guess I could try to befriend that woman on the 5th floor with a baby the exact age as my girls. But her nasty glares and refusal to look at me and constant scowls kinda puts me off. Call me sensitive. At least the nanny is nice to me when I see her in the laundry room, which is the only time the three girls can interact.

Pictured above, is it me or does Maddie look a little like Katherine Hepburn, with her crazy hair? My friend Jen says she looks like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. Also pictured, Avery giving her infamous look. Do not cross her. Also pictured, our Valentine’s Day trip to the Museum of Natural History. We went with my brother’s family. This is the best cousin picture we could get.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

One of Those Days When Nothing Went Quite Right.

I skipped the gym this morning because I was going to run in the park with the girls. We were on the street, all dressed, zipped up, tucked in and ready to run. Until I felt the 60 mile-per-hour gusts of wind. It was intensely powerful wind. I severely underestimated it. “High wind alert” on a website seems so quaint. But it was knock-you-down wind. We turned back because there was no way I would make it to the park, let alone up those hills, with that wind resistance.

After the run I was supposed to get the car and then go visit a friend and her kids for a Playdate in the Country. But she is sick, so that plan got squashed. Well, “sick” might be overstating the case, but she has a bad cough and is sneezing, which means it might just be a cold. Part of me thinks, whatever, if the girls get sick, it’s okay. But then the rational me says, what, are you crazy? Two sick toddlers would bring me to my knees, I’m sure. Actually, I think I am more afraid of me getting sick, because it is no fun parenting two toddlers when you feel like you were hit by a bus. The girls tend to not let little things like fevers slow them down.

So instead, I packed the girls up again and pushed them against the wind to the car and drove out to Ikea. Of course, I got lost and had to call Nicole at work to Mapquest me though the final leg of the trip. It was worth it: What a paradise for parents Ikea is. We had breakfast in the café (French toast and applesauce) and then shopped for crib pillows, crab seat covers and a play tunnel. I resisted the urge to buy 100 tea lights and cork boards just because they were cheap.

Then I took the girls to the promised land: the ball room. I told the girls all about it as soon as we got in the store. As we passed it, I taunted them with “Looooook, ladies, the baaaaaaall rooooooom.” I promised them we would go after we finished shopping. And I kept my word. I was at the front desk trying to figure out how to sign them in when I saw the sign: Must be potty trained. I thought about lying, but knew the diapers would give it away. I was devastated, as were the girls, who could see the room and slide, filled to the brim with balls.

I then pushed the girls a quarter mile through a giant parking lot to go to the toy store. It seemed easier to do that then to take them out of the stroller, strap them into their car seats, collapse the stroller and drive the quarter mile. But no. It was so windy that I almost choked on a pretzel goldfish I swiped from the girls snack bag. I literally opened my mouth to chew (ok, so I was chewing with my mouth open) and the wind pushed my lips back in a centrifugal force sorta way. We made it, wind blown. I wanted to take them on a toy-buying mini-splurge. I planned to walk out with several big bags. But as I walked up and down the aisles, overwhelmed by the selection, it all just seemed like so much quantity and no quality. The more I saw, the less I wanted to buy. I mean, how many electronic alphabet-song singling toys do two girls need? I was annoyed with how there were “boy” aisles and “girl” aisles. Gender-stereotype much? And how much pink there was in Girl Land. Then we came upon a tower of balls and the girls lost their minds. That was my cue to wrap up quickly and leave. They ended up with a couple of books and Cookie Monster slippers, which, it turns out, don’t fit because apparently my children have huge ankles.

Not surprisingly, my Octopulet mom comments generated some commentary. I see both sides of this mess, I really do. I just have a hard time calling her crazy for wanting children. Who gets to decide what is a rational number of children to have? She claims that six embryos were transferred into her: My first IVF doctor transferred four into me. He said given my history and the quality of the embryos, even one baby from four embies was a long shot. And how many stuck? Zero. Yet, I guess I could have been mom to six (if two embies split into twins). And people would probably call me crazy. But all I wanted to do was fulfill my particular family desires.

For most of us, fertility circumstances and financial circumstances dictate the size of our family. If we all sat down and figured out how much it costs to raise a child I think most of us would not have kids. College alone, in 18 years, will most likely run us 200K per child. Minimum. So that is 50K a year. Per kid. (when I went to college in 1990, it was 30K a year.) And that is just undergrad. I look at families like the Duggars and think, how do they do it? One way: They don’t send their kids to college. That saves a bundle. They don’t ever pay for child care. That saves a lot too. Still, the other expenses, it has to add up.

Yes, 14 is waaaaay too many kids, given her circumstances and her extremely limited financial limitations. Yet I say that she is propelled to procreate by her love of children, and that is what drove her to have more. Brad Pitt and Angelina have six, and say they will have many more. I guess because they are married and rich, we think nothing of it? Or Mia Farrow? I think she has over 14 children, and several have special needs. But she is rich, so no one calls her crazy. So is that it? If you have a husband and money you are sane. Single and poor and you are crazy.

And these poor (literally) kids, who will grow up and know how they are mocked. These kids who will never know what financial security feels like, who will never know what it is like to shop for new clothes. They will most likely live on welfare their entire childhood. And yes, California’s taxpayers are footing the bill for their birth, but these are children? Do we turn our backs on them because their mother is “crazy?” The vemon ad anger I hear in some reports on the news and read in the papers: “Why do WE have to support THEM?” Because they are children. And they didn’t ask to be born. Ad they are here. Turning our backs is not a very Christian/democratic/pleasant option.

The Duggars sure make big families look fun and carefree. But most families of that size don’t usually end up in the black on family finances. I still say that a cell phone company approaching the Duggars and asking to rent land is luck. But that is just one type of luck. Some luck we make and some luck we land in. I am living my own combination of luck: Two healthy babies, born even after I was told that my chances were slim, after years of trying. With all that I have seen in the fertility realm, that is indeed luck, times two.

A three-day weekend is on the horizon, since Nicole has Monday off. That is very exciting.

Today, at dinner, Avery and Madeline ate hummus with a spoon. Avery is saying “oon” for spoon. And she is fond of saying NO NO NO if we try to feed her. But I think my favorite word moments are when Madeline crawls into my lap to read and book and says “uck” (duck) and “tweet.”

Pictured above, Avery in her tunnel. And Madeline the little bookworm.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who Wants to Move to New York's West Side?

I can’t watch the news anymore because I don’t want to hear one more thing about how crappy everything is. The economy sucks, politicians suck, traffic sucks, weather sucks. Everyone is stressed out and everyone is losing their jobs, their homes and their minds. And I am reaching Obama-mania fatigue. The media is continuing its love affair with him, even when faced with a few lapses of judgment in appointing tax evaders to high positions. If Bush did that, he would be crucified. I don’t want Obama dragged through the coals here, but can we at least try to start this administration with as few law-breakers as possible? I am glad, at the very least, that Obama admitted a lapse in judgment with the Daschle debacle. It is refreshing, I must admit, to hear politicians say “my bad.”

Also hot in the news, Jessica Simpson’s weight gain and Chris Brown drama, because I guess we don’t have enough news to report. And this whole octuplet mom scandal. I’m skipping past the ethics question here for minute because I think the focus should be on these 14 kids, and not how hey got here. The media is reporting how no companies are forking over the freebies that other big families in the news get: The free houses and food and diapers and scholarships and formula and clothes and such. I can’t help but to think 14 kids are being punished because of this mother’s decision to have a huge family. Your mom’s an idiot, so suffer, little babies, suffer. No food for you.

Everyone seems to hate this mother. Even the grandmother — her own mother — is bad-mouthing her. To play devil’s advocate here, is it so wrong to want and have a large family? This, of course, leads into the question of having more kids than you can afford. But that in a way implies that large families then are only the right of the wealthy, and that is just wrong.

People seem to love the Duggars and their 18-and-counting kids. What is the difference? The fact that there is a mother and a father? The fact that they aren’t on welfare? I think it is luck that the Duggars don’t receive financial assistance. The father mentioned how he rents out land for cell phone towers. That pays a LOT of money. Our condo has a couple on our roof and we get six figures in “rent” a year for it. For tiny, three-foot towers that don’t do anything but take up air space. (We as in the building we, not we we). So that Duggar land is generating lots of tower money and that is just luck: Luck that a tower was needed in their area and luck that their land was high enough to support the tower.

Not everyone sits down and does financial planning before they have babies. If they did, I have a feeling there would be a lot less children in this world. Personally, would not like to have so many kids that I need to navigate the bloated social services system and rely on food stamps to supplement or grocery budget. Two is a nice number of children for us. Two we can put through college and grad school and help with down payments. Two we can keep in clothes and toys and hobbies. Two we can take on vacation. Four? No so much, literally. So we stop at two and count our blessings, and see what happens down the road. I don’t think it is right to have 14 kids and then exist on welfare and food stamps and the kindness of Corporate America, but the reality is some people do it, and children shouldn’t be made to suffer for it. It isn’t their fault they were born. And people have kids because they love kids and want a big family and big, noisy dinners and happy holiday reunions, not so they can get free diapers and a schedule of church ladies coming over to help at feeding time.

If Nadya was married, the media coverage would be different. If Nadya was wealthy, the media coverage would be different. But she is poor and single and has funny lips, so she is being very much attacked. She made her choices, and while I may not agree with them, it isn’t my life. But I feel sorry for those kids. My judgment: When the heck did she have time to get a manicure? In the interview footage I noticed her nails were all French manicured. And long, as in how do you change diapers long. That seems like a misuse of priorities.

And please, reporters and media outlets, it’s “transfer” and not “implant.” If only it were so easy to “implant.”

My last news point: This whole A-Rod thing: What a loser. Sorry if that offends some, but he denied ever taking steroids and he did, for years. So he is a liar. And why should we believe him now? Oh, suuuuuure, he only took it in Texas because he was under so much pressure and wanted to prove he was “worth,” as he said. No pressure at all, I’m sure, when he moved to New York and joined one of the most famous teams ever and started breaking records. That is the perfect time to quit steroids and just try to make it on your own. I think he should be tested daily. I wish he could be fired. On a side note, every time I see or hear a story about steroids, I think, hmmm, what can they do for me? I consider what it must be like to have the strength of three moms. Hmmmm… do I need a prescripion? Or do I just go hang out in a locker room to score some?

New words: Avery says mote, for remote, which is used to flick on the much loved Sesame Street. Boons means balloons. Knee. Up. Ook for book. And both say mess, usually after a meal, while pointing to the floor. Everyone's a critic.

And in personal current events, I met Role Playing With Kids and Wife his past weekend and it pissed me of in the end because I was mad they live so far away. Why can't ALL the people I like live in my building?!? Long-distance relationships are fine, but close-distance relationships are better.

Exciting news to announce soon! And, again, it has nothing to do with having babies. Well, not really.

Pictured above, a hodge podge: The girls on a walk; graffiti art and an entry from my nephew’s journal. He is in kindergarten and brilliant! (note to parents: Apparently Coraline is scary.)