Friday, January 29, 2010

artichoke dip

this is my all time favoritest, yummiest, bestest ever artichoke dip. it was give to me by a good friend who is an amazing chef. (oh and it's super simple too)

1 cup mayo
1 can artichoke hearts
1 tbls garlic
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup monzeralla cheese

mix together...bake at 375 in shallow pan for 35 minutes...enjoy

Thursday, January 28, 2010


i was given this book by a good friend while in the hospital last summer after the birth of babies 3 & 4. i didn't read it because being extra hormonal i figured it would make me cry so i waited.

i waited a few months and read this beautifully written short story about your baby growing up. {and cried of course}

The inside cover reads:
" A mother's love leads to a mother's dream - every mother's dream - for her child to live life to its fullest. "

The first page reads "One day, I counted your fingers and kissed each one."
A page in the middle I love reads " Someday your eyes will be filled iwth a joy so deep that they shine."
A page toward the end reads "Someday I will watch you brushing your child's hair."

it's truly an amazingly well told story of how i feel and dream to see my kids grow.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


do you just dread going to the grocery store with your kids? i just dread going to the grocery store. i'm not sure why, but i do. being a mom of 4 young children, i rarely ever go alone, well lets just say, i'm rarely ever alone for anything. a few weeks ago, i was dreading a saturday afternoon trip to super target with all 4 kids, why, the babies are no longer in infant seats, it was a saturday busy, and the afternoon even busier. we have less than 1.5 hours to drive there shop and drive back between baby feedings. but we needed milk and salad along with other items so i packed up my brood and away we went.

as always, in the car i reminded my big kids "no crying, pouting, whining, or fighting. we listen and behave." "yes, mommy. we know" they chimed. okay good now that we're all on the same page. i put both babies in the stroller, big kids holding onto each side, grabbed a cart to pull behind. i gave them a snack and away we went maneuvering in between all the people, pushing a double stroller and pulling a shopping cart. i would find the item i needed and one of my kids would put it in the cart. away we went up and down aisles, getting stares, smiles and many comments {my thoughts.} since time is limited i don't engage in conversations with strangers, i just smile.

"you got the troops today" {"yep everyday"}
"wow, you have your hands full" - {"not really, my kids aren't crying like yours"}
"great helpers" - {"yep they are, i'm so lucky"}
"you're a brave woman" - {"no, just a mom of 4"}

anyway, p&a know that if they behave while we get groceries they get to check out a couple toy aisles. they are fascinated to to see if there are any new toys and play with whatever they can. then after 5-10 minutes we say bye to the toys and off we go to check out, where my little helpers LOVE to unload the cart.

after another successful shopping trip, i wonder why i was dreading it when we had so much fun together.

for me the following leads to a successful trip:
1. tell them my expectations prior to getting out of car
2. make sure they are well fed and bring snacks
3. ask for their help
4. positive reinforcement for good behavior

do these steps work for you? or do you have others that you find work? please share your experiences.

Monday, January 25, 2010

work at home

i'm a work at home mom, i own a stationery company and i have 4 young children a dream come true. working at home has it's pros and cons though. my main pro is that i get to be home with my 4 amazing children, be there when they wake up, be there when they go to bed and be there everywhere in between. my main con is that i live where i work. which can be hard to separate & can be hard to fit in any length of work time during daylight hours.

on days when my mom isn't here helping, if i have work to get done, i head to the office when the babies are napping and the big kids are playing. sometimes, i am summoned to see their creations like this...
dinosaur land...almost the entire herd heading somewhere and staged just perfectly. while my heart usually skips a beat at seeing the mess, i'm truly amazed at the thought, care and imagination that went into placing each dinosaur or toy and the fact that i was able to get an hour of uninterrupted work. so i show my enthusiasm while they show me around and tell me all about dinosaur land.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cheesy Potatoes

Every Holiday when my clan gets together, someone has to bring the Cheesy Potatoes... another tradition that has been in my family for a while. Word of warning, these are probably not low-fat. And trust me, I have reduced the original recipe list as much as possible where they still taste good.

  • 1 Can cream of chicken soup
  • 16 oz sour cream (regular or low fat)
  • 1 bag - southern style hash browns
  • 2 cups - corn flakes (gestimate)
  • 1 stick melted butter (Yes real butter... no fake stuff allowed)
  • 10-12 oz shredded cheddar cheese
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Mix soup, sour cream, hash browns, butter and cheese together in a large bowl. It is easier to mix if the hash browns have thawed for an hour or so. Once mixed, put into a 9x11 baking dish. Spread the contents to cover the pan evenly. Dump corn flakes in plastic bag and break them up into small pieces - spread on top of the potatoes. Bake for aprox 50 minutes. Serve hot!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A great kids series...

My daughter's imagination and interest in books really took off with Mary Pope Osbourne's Magic tree House Series. I enjoyed her reading the books as much as she did, as the excitement of the story or the silliness of the characters led to many discussions. And yes, I have to admit, I read many of them myself...

The titles are catchy and make us laugh... what is Mummies in the Morning about? Will it be scary? What about the Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve? What will the two main characters: Jack and Annie get themselves into this week? There are many books in the series, 44 in all. But I found them readily available at the library or very cheaply priced at second hand book stores or Goodwill.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

From Baby to Toddler

John's first haircut at 17 months - he went from a rocking baby (Yes, that's a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt) to a toddler in a matter of minutes!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let them dream...

I am the youngest of eight boys - a blessing and a curse. I can remember growing up and hearing messages about what I could and couldn't do. Didn't matter the subject I always had someone looking over my shoulder and telling me what was allowed or acceptable. Sometimes it was my Mother's Catholic guilt, other times it was the threat of a slug from a brother. Yes - eight boys will fight!

With my kids, I have made a conscious effort to let them dream, let them use their imagination and creativity to be who they want to be. Let them define who they are. My daughter flew through the Barbie / Princess stage in 20 seconds. Much to her mother's dismay, she wanted to play Lego's, build things in the garage and be a tom boy. Here favorite clothes to this day are t-shirts and jerseys. Her wearing a dress is an act of Congress and bribery. I have always allowed her to dream about the sports she wants to play, the hobbies she enjoys.

I have two nephews that are bright and imaginative kids. A couple of years ago, one of them choose his costume for Halloween. He was a Pirate Fighter Plane... imagine combining a fighter plane and pirate costumes. Was he different? Most definitely! But his parents encouraged him to use his imagination, have fun and most importantly - be himself!

My challenge personally, and to all of you, is don't let stereo-types and our own limitations block our kids from becoming the person they are! Perhaps I would be a rock star today if I hadn't been told that I couldn't play the guitar when I was a kid. We set limits on our kids - instead lets encourage them to imagine, explore and most of all to dream. They are our future....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tough Choices...

There are times you look back on your life an reflect on the steps you have taken, the roads traveled and the decisions made. Ironically, my post is not related to the New Year of the New Decade. Although I am grateful for 2009 being over, and look forward to the new challenges and opportunities of the upcoming year, my reflections are not something that happens at the beginning of a new year. I am one that often looks back while looking ahead, as I am determined to not make the same mistakes twice... just as I am determined to continue to be a better husband, father and friend.

In that vain, I thought I would take a moment to give some perspective to trying to raise a daughter as divorced Dad. My daughter is 12, a great kid and I adore her. Always have... When she was 5, I made a decision to leave her mother and get a divorce. The marriage was broke, and I had stayed in it longer that I should of because I knew as a father, my leaving meant that my time with her would go from every night to every other weekend. Through counseling, much soul searching and the prayers and help of family and friends, I made the choice and I am glad I did. I have been blessed to now be married to a lovely woman who is an incredible person who I truly enjoy being with. My wife and I have a great respect for each other and constantly work on our relationship as well as parenting.

Where I struggle is watching my daughter grow and morph into a young woman... and as I watch her struggles in life, I often beat myself up thinking her life would probably have been so much easier had I not made the decisions I did. On the flip side, what would I have taught her about relationships, love, marriage and respect had I stayed? I dwell on these thoughts as I strive to set examples on what a relationship should be like and how a married couple should be. I can only pray that her life is filled with love and happiness and she won't have to deal with the heartbreak I have had to. As a father, it is my nature to want to protect my little girl and be there for her... but I also know, just as that day I choose to leave, I have to let her live her life, pray she makes wise decisions, and pick her up and support her when she doesn't.

For anyone that has gone through a divorce, I am sure you can relate. My best advice is to love your kids and put them first.... Regardless of how things work with the ex-spouse. Never put the kids in the middle, never leave them out and never stop being a role model and parent. As my daughter is with me, they are always watching to see how you react, how you live and how you love.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ham and Bean soup

How I love Paula Deen.

this is a yummy, easy recipe that I whipped up in the crock pot instead of a stock pot, and it worked great. We had left over ham in the freezer, and I used canned beans because I was in a hurry - easy, peasy, squeezy.

• 2 pounds Michigan navy beans
• 4 quarts water
• 1 thick slice leftover spiral ham, cut into small pieces (not country ham, which is too salty)*
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• Salt and pepper
• 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

Rinse the beans in hot water until they are white. Place them in a stockpot, add the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours. Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until lightly browned. Add the onion to the pot of beans. Remove 2 cups of the bean mixture, puree in a blender, and return to the soup. Add to ham to soup mixture. Just before serving, season the soup with salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with parsley.

*Cook's note: This recipe can also be made with ham hock.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Now and Then

Do you see that? Ramona has been brought into the thousands. She certainly did not look like that when I was eating up every Ramona book I could get my hands on in elementary school. I knew exactly where she housed herself in the JC library. Up the ramp, through the door, hang a left, go past the desk, turn a paperback spinner, hit the aisle closest to the back wall, and on the bottom shelf. There she was. Ramona Quimby. Ramona Quimby - age 8. Beezus and Ramona. Heaven...yup...heaven. When I received my own Ramona books to pour over, shoot, you couldn't pull me from the couch. I. was. reading.

But I dunno...I didn't look like this Ramona. This new Ramona, all cool, kind, and with it. In fact, I'm not sure this picture would have lured me into the Ramona books and all her antics.

I related more with....well....this Ramona...

Look at that hair. Look at that face. That is Ramona. That is the Ramona that misunderstood her parents' swat with the spatula in the kitchen. That is the Ramona that tried to get her dad to stop smoking, wiped her sweater across her nose instead of getting a kleenex. I don't know if that Ramona up there in the pretty red sweater would be seen running her sleeve across her snotty nose. I don't know if that Ramona even produces snot.

I want Ramona to be in the lives of my kids. I want them to laugh at her, cry with her, and get frustrated at her parents with her - because she doesn't want to be nice to Willa Jean. I want my kids to see that Ramona and Beezus yell at each other, but they love each other too. I want them to see that Ramona's parents aren't perfect people - they make mistakes, but they love their kids and they are real. So, so, real.

Paint me nostalgic, but somethings are okay to leave in the imperfect stage. Somethings are okay to be, well, static- y like Ramona's hair...

Drew hasn't started on Ramona books yet, but he reads the new girl in town, oh yeah, you know who I'm talkin' about:

Junie B. Jones. Now look at that girl! She has some fly-aways! She is called a cheater pants. She says that May stinks. She gets caught in school because she hides in the closet. She is a rascal. She and Ramona? I bet would be BFFs if they were in the same decade - or same book.

I know time marches on and I need to join the band, blah, blah, blah, but really? There are something about the covers of my old books. My books that are spine broken, cover bent, and worn that make me warm inside. I related to Ramona, as, I'm sure, Drew relates to Junie B. And, with respect to the mama bear stuff, I should just let my Ramona books go...but maybe I'll start reading them to Drew....tonight.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

winter in mn

winter in mn
Originally uploaded by Randy Brock
The way we live.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The interferer

I’m an interferer.

It’s true. I jump in the middle of the boys’ arguments way, way, way too fast. I forget that Owen can and does instigate and therefore, should take the consequence from his brother, not in harm’s way of course, but that natural shunning thing that teaches the lesson better than I could ever imagine anyway. This started me down memory lane in which many of the most impacting lessons…I didn’t learn from my parents.

Good parents have to let the lessons come as they may.

And pick up the pieces afterward.

It is so hard for me to listen to the fighting, the idle threats, the mean words, the pushes, the shoves, the tattles, the yells. It is so hard for me to not mama bear in, pick them both up by the neck and give them a little shake. It is so hard for me to let them learn on their own! ARRRRRGGGGUUUUUUUHHHHHH I LIKE PEACE!

Peace comes in small doses with 6 and 3. When it does come, it is delightful. Like the time last week at the dinner table when Randy motioned to me, “do you hear that?” and it was silence. Like the time at Target when Drew grabbed Owen’s hand to cross the street and Owen let him. Like the morning after Owen threw up all night and Drew asked how he was and gave him a hug….a real one, not one demanded by his bear mama. Like right now where their pure, unadulterated laughter floats up from the basement.

Come what may.

It is my new mantra.
It is the idea for 2010.
Come what may, and let it be.

Not every aspect of life needs to be forced, planned, and responded to by me. Sometimes, many times, I need to sit back and let it come.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Come what may

I'm a philosopher. I like to figure out what I'm thinking, why I'm thinking that, and how it all works in the greater spectrum. I am a thinker.

Every year at New Year's, Randy and I sit down and discuss the year previous, the year to come and I start to hem and haw about my resolutions, or more like reminders. I remind myself little things like: move more, eat less, drink more water. I remind myself about bigger things: organization is a good thing, one that lessens stress and relaxes the whole house. I remind myself of even bigger things: we get one go at this world, and do I really want to spend it in hurry and bustle all the time? Then I go to the big Guy and start talking about the stuff that really matters -


How are my relationships with family - immediate and extended? What have I been doing to facilitate friendships - both here and there? What have I been doing to keep my lines open with the big Gun? What have I been doing? what have I been being? What am I? Who am I?

And you see where it goes from there.

So each year, spurred from Ali Edwards, I choose a word. Some sort of reminder of all these pieces of life that I want to keep in the right order of priority for the year.

Each year, about April, I refresh and revisit - at Easter. Then about the middle of summer....the word is done.

So I've decided to change the pattern this year.

I will still revisit all those essentials and maybe put some new patterns into practice, but I'm going to let life come.

Come what may.

I know, Moulin Rouge - but really, it works here. Just let life come, worry less, invest more, love on the boys more, and relax.

It is a gift to be here. It is a gift to be healthy, in a house, employed, with family, have stuff - too much in most cases - and to be in a place where relationship...Relationship is always available, always supportive, and always loving.

So come what may.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Baked Apples, done the easy way

If you'll recall from my first Foodie Friday post here at Midwest Parents, I am not a great cook. What I cook well must be simple and fast and please the masses. For this installment, I ask you to imagine, if for only a moment, the following scenario:
You find yourself living in post-Soviet-era Russia, yea, Siberia, in a small flat with barely-a-kitchen(ette). Your barely-12-month-old is along for the ride while you are teaching English a few days a week. In the kitchen(ette), where you cook almost all the meals for yourself and said baby, you have a non-stick frying pan, a sauce pan and a few utensils to cook with. It's winter and, it is a bit of an understatement to say, the fruits and vegetables available at market are scarce. Sure, you've brought along packets of Hi-C mix from the United States so that the baby can at least get a regular dose of vitamin C, that is, once you boil the water to remove any bacteria and you grind the coarse sugar you can afford at market into powder that will dissolve and you make the drink mix and let it cool down and then you give it to the baby. But a baby can't live on Hi-C alone. She needs more vitamins. But the only fruits that are easy to find are apples, bananas, and lemons.
I'm not making this up. The year was 1995, the baby is now almost 16 years old, and me? Me? I was crazy for ever taking on such a challenge. But nonetheless, I did it, and there I was in Siberia in the winter with a baby. There are only so many days in a row that the baby can eat bananas and apple slices before it gets a little old. So I started getting creative. (Necessity is the mother of invention, afterall.) One afternoon I came up with "baked" apples.

I put "baked" in quotation marks because these are not the kind of apples that are carefully cored and then peeled just around the edge and filled with sugar and cinnamon and baked in the oven. No, these "baked" apples are made in a frying pan in 5 minutes. Great for a crazy and adventuresome new mom in Siberia...and great for a more reserved mom 15 years later in the midwest.

You'll need:
1 honey crisp apple
1 tablespoon salted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
(+ sour cream or vanilla ice cream to complement the apples when served)

Let's start with the apples. Since we're in the midwest where our varieties are aplenty (unlike Siberia), indulge yourself in some Honey Crisps.

I just found out about honey crisp apples this fall. Turns out that they are hands down the best apples for baking that there are out there. They retain their texture well, their flavor is good and tart, and their color holds even after being heated.

One apple will be enough for 2-3 people. Slice it into quarters and take out the core. Then slice each quarter into thin slices, giving you 20 or so total slices to cook.

I had a cutting board in Siberia too. This one looks much like the one I had there. Um, eep.
No matter, it works well.

Now, get a non-stick skillet and heat it over medium heat. Add butter to skillet and melt it. Once it is melted, spread the butter throughout the surface of the skillet. Add the apples right away and spread evenly on the skillet surface. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, sprinkled generously over the apple slices. Then sprinkle 1 teaspoon cinnamon over the sugar-covered apple slices.

Let this cook over the heat for about 3-4 minutes. Since the apple slices are thin, they will cook quickly. Don't stir the apples at all until they get a chance to cook.

Some of the sugar will gradually slip off the apples and mix with the butter in the skillet. When you notice it start bubbling and creating a syrup, stir the entire apple mixture, trying to flip each slice over.

Cook the apples for only one minute longer. Remove from the skillet immediately and put into a covered dish to keep warm until serving.

Once you are ready to dole out the apples, garnish the fruit with a dollop of sour cream. The homemade sour cream in Siberia, smetana, was incredible, as creamy as it was biting. It was the perfect complement to any sweet fruit. Since we don't have smetana in the United States, if you want to try the apples as a smooth desert, try serving them with vanilla ice cream instead (yum!).

While in Siberia, the baby loved these apples, and so did her mom ;-) Now I have a new baby. My guess is that once she starts solid food, she will like them just as much as her older sister did. Also, not only is the taste of the apples kid-approved, the recipe is as easy as it gets. Just so I can convince you of how easy this recipe really is, when I prepared and cooked them for this post (as well as photographed them), the baby was wrapped around me in her baby sling. That's an instant winner for me.

I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Expectations: What To Expect...

Way back in the summer of 1993, I found out I was pregnant for the first time, with my oldest daughter. I was 21-years-old and knew nothing about pregnancy or infancy. My oldest sister mailed me her copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting. I was grateful. I read that book cover to cover, letting each word of wisdom, advice, and counseling sink deep into my bones.

One look at the cover told me it was time to grow up.

The woman on that cover says it all. Matronly, solemn, practical, pragmatic. She has no use for fashion or the stresses of the world or a good haircut. All she needs is her blue and mauve artificial flower arrangement, a pair of good, solid, gray flats and a wooden rocking chair in which to sit while she reads.

I could have recoiled and rebelled, refusing to take on the image. I was a typical college student of the 90s, experimenting with my identity through the newly formed grunge movement. Out was tailored and refined and melodic; in was bohemia and retro and cachophony. But this was no time to be watching reruns of the first season of The Real World. I was expecting a baby, and mothers were expected to be, well, mothers.

By the time I reach my last trimester and I was celebrating Christmas with my family in Florida, I was realizing my use for this book was quickly fading. Within six weeks I would no longer be expecting, but I would have an actual baby. My sister was quick on her feet again and gifted me with a copy of What To Expect The First Year.

Grateful for the new primer, I began reading it cover to cover, following the guidelines of how to diaper my new baby, how to dress her, how to bathe her, how to feed her, and on and on and on.

And so my education in parenting continued throughout my daughter's formative years. It wasn't until she was a preschooler that I needed to rely upon information outside of the What To Expect series. At that point, I stored away the books and saved them for the time when I became a parent again.

Fifteen years passed before I successfully carried a pregnancy beyond the first trimester again. I didn't even bother getting out Expecting. Mine was a high risk pregnancy from the get-go, and every question I had (if it was addressed in the book at all) was answered curtly with 'you should check with your doctor.' Somewhere around month 5 of my pregnancy, I realized I should get out The First Year and at least make sure I remembered how to swaddle a baby.

As I reread the book, I found myself in shock. What was this tome of archaic, authoritative, one-sided narrative? Where was the balance? Sure, I knew a lot had changed in 15 years in childbirth and hospital protocol, but the content that was shocking to me went far beyond whether to allow hospital staff to give your baby sugar water. It was the topic of where baby should sleep that startled me.

My husband and I had decided baby should sleep with us in our bedroom. The First Year couldn't have been more against this idea. Sure, it's fine at first when you have a newborn, but later, you better get that kid out of the room. True to What To Expect fashion, the book lists out a "number of serious problems" associated with co-sleeping. Less sleep for parents, less sleep for baby, less lovemaking, and more problems for everyone when the baby has to adjust later. The short solution given was this: get the baby out of your room quickly.

Really? Serious problems? And there's no way to avoid these problems? That's it? No discussion necessary, case closed, end of story?

The book goes on addressing the issue by saying that co-sleeping seems to work fine in other societies, but not this one. "In a society like ours, which stresses the development of independence and the important of privacy, co-sleeping is associated with a wide range of problems." Again with the laundry list: increased likelihood of sleep disorders, dental problems due to too-frequent and unnecessary nighttime feedings, stunting of emotional development, difficulty relating to peers, marital problems, and even behavior issues stemming from lack of boundaries between parents and children.

Is there no room for fostering intimacy between parents and children? Bonding as a couple with the baby? Extending the intimacy that brought the child there in the first place to include intimacy with the actual child? And what's up with valuing independence and privacy as the traits of utmost importance? I mean, sure, you want kids to be confident and individuals, but isn't a sense of family oneness important too?

By the chapter on month six, the book suggests that to reduce nighttime feedings, you go cold turkey and just let the baby cry it out. Oh my. I just couldn't agree with that.

As a parent, I have oftentimes lamented at why I chose to do things the way I did with my older daughter. Why didn't I consider cuddling more with her, why did I push her to achieve and succeed and be independent so much, why did I think that strict obedience was so important at such an early age? Rereading What To Expect The First Year made me realize that some portion of my approach came from following the advice that was given as gospel truth. It never occurred to me that there wasn't only one best way to parent. How you build a family differs with who you are and what you want your family to be like. What works for one family won't work for you. The decisions you make as a parent are an outgrowth of your personality, your partner's, and, to some extent, your children's.

I haven't taken the time to read the updated version of Expecting and The First Year. Maybe the content has changed with the times and is more balanced now. At least the cover art is a little more realistic. (But they still hold on to that quilted background, like quilting is a necessary part of the transformation of woman to mother.)

Regardless of what the authors of What To Expect have decided their advice will be at this point, I think I've learned a more important lesson through my years as a parent. Take every piece of information with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Blessed chaotic aftermath

Not exactly the tranquility of our holiday greeting, but the baby seems to be happy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The End of the Sleepovers.

Slumber parties. Remember them? I sure do. They started when I was 8 or so, second grade. My mother said I was too young to stay overnight, so I spent all of second and third grade going to the party until about 10 or 11p and then getting picked up by my mother. But then, fourth grade, the magic year. I turned ten and my mother said that for my birthday I could have my very own slumber party. And then, in my retrospective opinion, all hell broke loose. I'm guessing that between the ages of 10 and 12, I went to a slumber party, on the average, once a month. They did nothing for my health. I returned home sleep-deprived and jacked up on sugar, junk food and caffeine. I'm sure my mother loved every moment of it.

My oldest daughter, Grace, had a slumber party for her 9th birthday. It was her last birthday in Michigan before we moved south to Maryland for four years. I wanted her to have one last hurrah with her friends before leaving. It was a disaster. By midnight she was crying. By 12:30a, her best friend just kept talking and talking, the other two girls laughing with her. By 1a, my daughter climbed in bed with me upstairs and fell asleep.

She had gone to group sleepovers before, mostly with Girl Scouts. In first grade, she went to an all-night sleepover with the whole scouting "cluster" at her elementary school. We got a call about 11p that we needed to come pick her up because she had teased a kindergartner in the girls' restroom. By the end of first grade, she went to the troop overnight at a local science center; in order to make sure all went well, I volunteered to chaperone. I got little more than a pain in my back from sleeping in a sleeping bag on a hard floor. I could go on and on. Here's the quick summary: I hate sleepovers.

And yet.

They seem to be part of every kid's experience in the United States. A rite of passage, so to speak. It makes it possible for kids to bond with one another and be independent. When they're older, it makes it possible for them to spend longer hours with their friends without having to drive home late at night. It's just part of being a kid/tween/teen.

Wait. Hold it right there. Did I include "teen" in that generalization? Let's take a few steps backward and reconsider.

Is it really necessary for teens to have sleepovers? I say no. I haven't denied one yet, but I don't think there are going to be any more teenage sleepovers at my house.

First of all, anything that teenagers are doing after midnight is no good. If we assume they aren't doing anything illegal, the best they are doing after midnight is becoming sleep-deprived and acting stupider and stupider as the night drags on. They're drinking sugar-laden, caffeinated drinks, watching whatever comes on tv after midnight, and eating candy or junk food.

And then there's sex. Oh yeah, I said it. When I was a teenager, way back in the 80s, my parents had the strict gender-based rule: no members of the opposite sex in your bedroom, no members of the opposite sex at sleepovers. Problem solved, right? Wrong. For better or worse (I think for the better), all of my daughter's friends are quite open about their sexuality. They have been since eighth grade. And a number of them are queer. That's fine, except it makes things a bit more complicated. When planning a halloween sleepover this year, my daughter asked if one of her gay guy-friends could spend the night because, well, he's gay. I said no, thinking the gender-based standard made sense (?) Then she correctly countered with saying that one of her lesbian girlfriends was sleeping over, so why couldn't a gay guy sleep over too? Hm. I suddenly realized that there was no easy solution. I couldn't say she could only have gay male friends and straight girlfriends stay over. And what about friends who are bi? I could go straight to the opposite side of the field from the gender-based rule and say that co-ed sleepovers are ok regardless of orientation, but frankly I could never understand how parents convinced themselves that no hanky-panky was going on in these situations anyway.

Lastly, LASTLY (and oh, this is really my favorite vice about sleepovers), there's "the morning after." Oh, how I LOVE to interact with sleep-deprived youngsters after they've indulged in an entire evening of malnourishment and adolescent banter. They truly are gems in that condition, I tell you. Gracious, grateful, polite, kind, you know? I mean, if I love interacting with my own teenage daughter alone when she is in such a state, imagine how much more joy could be mine by multiplying that by 4 or 6? (cough, cough, hack, excuse me while I go clear my throat of all this sarcasm...)

So here's the new lay of the land as I see it. Sleepovers start at about age 8. One friend spends the night, that's it. Lights out and voices quiet at midnight. DO YOU HEAR ME? LIGHTS OUT AND VOICES QUIET AT MIDNIGHT!!!!!! My kids can spend the night away, but they have to be home by noon the next day. And once my kids hit high school, sleepovers are a thing of childhood, something you put to the side in lieu of more exciting, mature teenage activities. You can stay out with your friends until late at night. Be home by curfew. But sleep at home in your bed, under our roof where I know you are safe and rested.

The End.

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's the most horrible time of the year

Am I the only one who finds the first week back after New Year's the bleakest of them all? The festivities are over, we're all trudging back to the normal routine, the winter weather is suddenly no longer charming, and we're all realizing that the egg nog and candies have indeed had their effect on our waistlines. Right now my den has become "De-Holiday-ication Central," complete with a 7" desiccated Douglas Fir and more bags of discounted holiday paraphernalia than I care to admit to. And through it all, I just keep nibbling on the leftover gingerbread men and red, green and silver chocolate kisses.

The day before we left for Christmas weekend, December 23rd, I had my prescription for migraine medicine filled at our local pharmacy. I just picked it up yesterday. They had messed it up, billing it incorrectly and giving the incorrect amount of pills. It took 2 hours this morning to sort it out.

The weather outside is frightful, no? We don't even have it that bad compared to the rest of the region; we're in the 20s with flurries. My recollection is that this same time last year we were having days in which the temperature stayed sub-zero around the clock. Still, the clouds won't break and it's making things a bit dreary.

Just yesterday, my oldest daughter, a high school sophomore, brought me a note from her orchestra conductor. The note came home two weeks ago, of course, but I was just getting it on January 3rd. The message? She needs to perform her solo piece with accompaniment at a school recital in a week. There are two catches: she's not ready to perform it...and I'm her accompanist. I hadn't even looked at the music until I saw the note. Eep.

The laundry is piled up in the basement, the kitchen is a mess, the baby is turning 5 months old this week and I STILL have not sent out birth announcements. I've been trying to hang window treatments in the den and in the nursery for months to no avail and we're still trying to solve the problem of sweating windows throughout the house (maybe it's an unknown setting on the humidifier we had installed in March?).

My birthday is coming up in 3 weeks and I'm feeling old. And fat. And tired.

And yet...

In each of these annoyances, isn't there a blessing?

I have a home, one I have wanted for years. The first home my husband and I have ever shared, even though we were married for three years before having one home we called "ours." More than that, it is more than I could have ever dreamed I would have. Plenty of space, lots of comfy corners, and beautiful wildlife that visit every day.

We have a driveway that needs to be cleared if we want to drive out of the house. But we have a car and a driveway and places to go in the car.

We have clothing to put on our backs to keep us warm. More than we need, in fact. We should donate some of our less-used coats and sweaters to a charity. Especially at this cold time of year.

I have health insurance with prescription coverage. And I can afford the co-pay. Yes, I could bitch all day about how broken the system is when it takes so long to get the medicine I need. But five years ago, I was suffering without the medicine, dealing with migraine pain with overdoses of OTC pain medicines because I didn't have sufficient insurance coverage. I'm definitely better off than I was five years ago.

About a year ago, I got a piano for free through our community's freecycle. Because of this, I have been able to enjoy making music in my more dismal moments. Sure, I've got to practice my head off in order to perform with my daughter in a week, but it's a simple pleasure that doesn't present itself often. It's a pleasure I wouldn't have at all if someone else hadn't given their piano to me.

We had a wonderful gift-giving season, full of family time and plentiful provisions. Food was flowing, and the smiles were all around. The gifts were spot-on and I went out today donning all new clothing. Clothing that fit around my broad belly. My broad belly that really isn't that broad, but I'd like to believe that I should have my 25-year-old body back despite my lack of discipline.

There, now. I think I've gotten my head screwed back on straight-like. A new year full of blessings.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Breakfast: Sausage and Cheddar Quiche

Happy 2010!

Here's a special recipe my family likes, in lieu of the traditional egg, cheese and bread casserole.  Add some fresh fruit, orange juice, and mimosas and you've got a fantastic breakfast for New Year's Day.

photo credit:  fooooey 

1 pie shell                                                   1 cup half and half (or milk)
3/4 - 1 c cooked pork sausage                    1/4 t garlic powder
1/4 c green onion (I use less)                      1/8 t pepper
1 T minced parsley                                     1/4 t salt
1/4 c chopped green pepper                        1 1/2 c cheddar
3 eggs                                                         1 T flour

Preheat oven to 325°.  Combine cooked sausage with green onion, green pepper, parsley, garlic powder, salt, pepper and flour.  Mix well.  Spoon into pie shell and top with cheese.  Combine half & half (or milk) with eggs, beating until foamy.  Pour evenly over cheese.  Bake in 325° oven for 50 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and quiche is set. 

Serves 6.

You can bake the quiche the night before and keep it in the refrigerator overnight.  Reheat at 250°/275° for 30-40 minutes.  (Check quiche after 15 minutes and increase temperature if middle is cold; raise to a maximum temp of 325°.)