Treasure family dinners


Growing up, it was a rite of passage.  If someone could survive an “Elliott family dinner,” the person was okay in our book.

coming to america

What happened at these dinners?  We shared stories.  We made fun of each other, even berated each other, but in love: I don’t think any of us is in therapy because of them.  We all had the chance to laugh at my dad’s perfectionism and my mom’s quirks, as well as each others’.  My brothers and I played out movie scenes we memorized, all taking on different characters such as those in the “Coming to America” barber shop scenes. My older brother always had a quick-wit, and we laughed hard.  My younger brother was funny and a performer who kept us giggling.  I was simultaneously the most studious child in my family and the one with the least amount of common sense, asking stupid questions in an entirely unsafe environment where I paid dearly for it.  And the stories we share of these family dinners still get repeated over and over again when we are together.

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My own experience – along with scientific proof that family dinners are impactful – are reasons why having dinner together as a family is something I work hard to make happen.  To name a few benefits, family dinners help with health, brain growth, vocabulary and family relationships, as well as promote good behaviors and stave off bad ones.

If I haven’t lost you already, I’m hoping you’ll stick with me.  My husband travels a lot and my kids have activities some nights that make eating together impossible.  This means we currently eat together as a family about three nights a week.  On the nights we can eat together, I work to make these count.  Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. I keep our meals simple.  It’s okay if family dinner is Chipotle.
  2. It makes me SO MUCH HAPPIER when everyone enjoys their food.  That means I make a lot of the same meals for the sake of peace.
  3. I make big pots of spaghetti, chili, soups and stews so I can freeze the leftovers for a night when Greg is traveling or to give to a family in need.
  4. When I had babies and toddlers, I gave them what we were serving as early as possible.  Once a child is about 1, there is very little he cannot eat if you cut it into small enough pieces.
  5. I used the Deceptively Delicious cookbook when the kids were younger to help get more fruits and vegetables in them.  I’ll write another blog about healthy eating strategies for toddlers – someday …
  6. Now that they’re older, I often serve raw vegetables or a salad as the side dish and let the kids pick the ones they like.  They eat vegetables and there’s no arguing, gagging or nose-holding.
  7. Everyone has to at least TRY all the food.
  8. If you don’t like it, we’re not making something else for you.  I have a friend who grew up in a family with six kids, and the alternative if you didn’t like dinner was a microwaved, scrambled egg.  (That sounds more disgusting to me as an adult than an asparagus and Brussels sprouts pie would have as a child.)  Come up with something that works for you if you are concerned your child might not eat.
  9. Though we don’t always remember to do it, we have a “thankfulness journal” where we write down something each of us is thankful for at dinner.  This is a favorite for everyone, but especially our most reserved child, who gets a chance to be thoughtful and heard over the louder two.
  10. Another conversation starter is the “roses and thorns” concept.  Everyone goes around and shares his or her rose (high) of the day and thorn (low) of the day.  I actually got that one from the Obamas!

IMG_4135When I prioritize an activity in our family life, I often ask myself, “Will I regret doing this or not doing this when I look back some day?”  And then I remember my childhood family dinners – which sometimes went very wrong – and how they make me smile.  My mom’s spaghetti, roasts, chicken and dumplings … these foods take me back.  And none of my family will allow me to forget the night the Domino’s commercial came on television announcing (in my defense, with buffalo flying through the sky, flapping wings) that it was now selling buffalo wings.  And I looked at everyone, and before I could process the question that came to my mind, I blurted out, “Wait – do buffalo wings come from real buffalo?”

I want my children to have their own “Elliott family dinner” memories.  And based on our meals so far, I’m sure they’ll have plenty to talk about when they’re older.

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Parenting lesson #21: Two-year-olds are bipolar and skeptical.


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My little prince, NOT eating his yogurt.

Sometimes I think my daily life looks like the scene from “Coming to America” when Prince Hakeem meets his arranged betrothed, Imani Izzy.  Imani has been trained her whole life to do anything he asks of her, and he tests just how far she will go to meet his demands.  (“Make a noise like an orangutan” ring any bells?)  The difference in my life is that my prince is a two-year-old who, after getting exactly what he wants, changes course and decides screaming for the exact opposite is in order.

On any given day, we have many conversations about food, toys, and activities that go something like this:

Me: “(Prince) Ethan, you’ve been sick.  What would you like for breakfast?  Pick anything you’d like from the fridge.”

Ethan: “I want dat yoguht peas.”

Me: “Sure, please sit at the table to eat it.”

Ethan: “NO, I DON’T WANT DAT YOGUHT!!!!”

I don’t remember child #1 or child #2 doing this.  It’s very possible I blocked it from memory like every mother does for the survival of the human race.  Or maybe my older ones didn’t really test me in this particular way.  But at least a small part of me wants to take the yogurt and dump it all over him.  Some days I probably would if I could get past knowing I’d just be creating another mess to clean.

I had his teacher conference today, and the teacher reminded me that he is dealing with normal two-year-old issues such as making good choices, following directions, and learning to share.  Honestly, it must be really hard to be two.

Unlike Imani Izzy in “Coming to America,” I actually say “no” to my prince quite often.  Over the course of a day, he probably hears “no” or “not now” or “try this instead” so many more times than he hears “yes.”  Part of that is being two and making ridiculous requests, like “Can I eat dis wip balm?”; part is being the third child and having older siblings who get to do things he can’t but would love to do; and part of it is I am an older, more distracted, more easily exasperated mom now than I was five years ago.  In all seriousness, it must be really hard to start to understand you’re a person, and have so much to learn, but have so many handicaps.

My little Prince Hakeem is testing boundaries and trying to find his place in this world.  He wants to know just how much power he has, whether I mean what I say, and whether he can do whatever he wants.  When Ethan gets an answer he doesn’t like, he simply keeps asking the question over and over, assuming I must have lied the first (32) times I told him he couldn’t have any candy.  In fact, in the car the other day he asked me seven times for my soda and 14 times for dessert in a span of five minutes, despite my answer being the same “No” every single time.  Imagine wondering at every turn if “no” really meant “no,” or if it meant “maybe” or simply “not now.”  He has to figure out these things for himself.

Now more than ever, I have to patiently and consistently deal with his antics so he knows he can trust me and what I say, and also so he can grow into someone who respects authority instead of demands power.

If he wants me to bark like a dog for fun, I’ll probably do it for him.  If as soon as I start barking he changes his mind and decides he wants me to make a noise like an orangutan, I might even do that if he asks me nicely.  But if he’s screaming about getting exactly what he wants when he wants it, he’s not going to get it because this world is not his kingdom.  And he might need to test this truth thousands of times before he believes it.

 

A Different – And Desirable – Level of Crazy


Violet Crawley
She is timeless.

I have completely neglected this blog.  There are a few reasons for it, or some might call them excuses, but I think they’re pretty valid.

  1.  I started a part-time job about a year ago, and while I love working in a somewhat official capacity, it leaves me less free time to write recreationally,
  2. Re-writing about the antics of a two-year-old does not help me cope like it did when I dealt with them for the first time ever, and
  3. I have three children.  Three beautiful, amazing, demanding and very different children.

Last weekend, some childless friends had us over with some other friends who have a two-year-old and six-month-old.  (They are in the thick of it.)  And the dad said, “Having two kids is not twice as much as having one kid.  It’s like three times as much.  It’s more than two kids.”  Yes.  A thousand times yes.  And then he turned to Greg and me, and I responded, “Three is like having five.”

Truly, once you have more children than you have arms to hold them, you are in a different ball game.  Writing about the daily shenanigans, brawls, mishaps, messes, spills, poop, and yes, pee of three children doesn’t hold the same wonder that writing about how crazy life gets when you add a second does.  It doesn’t seem like a special level of crazy anymore, because you adjust to it.  I am so used to not being able to complete a sentence or a thought that in the moments I am able to do so, it feels strange.  And if the kids are home and it’s quiet enough that I can string cohesive thoughts together, it means something bad is happening.

But I do want to write and document these moments and years.  Yes, they are crazy, but boy, are they amazing.  And I don’t want to miss the joy of what having a house full of noise and love represents.  Today, I found out that someone I know who is 17-weeks pregnant with her first child (after trying for a long time) has a cancerous tumor on her bladder.  And when you get slammed with news like this, which it seems like the past year has been full of stories of loss and heartache, it also seems a little weird to me now to vent about how challenging our healthy, crazy lives can be.  I don’t want to take these days or years for granted, or be ungrateful.  Right now I’m sure there are many, many parents who would trade places with me, who would give anything to pull their clothes out of the shower while in it because their two-year-old threw them in for fun.  (That happened yesterday.)

So, I’m not sure how much I will write, I only know I want to do more.  And I hope to tell funny stories and make people laugh because they can relate, but I also might get more pensive in my writing this year.  I’m not sure what the future holds in so many ways.  It wouldn’t be my first post of 2016 without a quote from the Dowager Countess.  In the first episode of Downton Abbey, during her fight with Isobel about the future of the hospital, Violet says, “I suppose we only know what we are capable of when we test our limits.”  I am looking forward to a year of testing mine, and coming out the other end a better mother, wife, and I hope, blogger.

A “get your kids to eat veggies” idea


Okay, I’ll be the first to admit from the get-go that this idea is laborious and geared toward home cooks.  But I seriously think I came up with a great idea while driving home and salivating over the August issue of Bon Appetit.  (And even those who “can’t cook” can steam, roast in an oven, and defrost a bag of frozen veggies).

For 20 weeks from spring to fall (May to October), do a Family Veggie Challenge.  The idea is to come up with rankings for 20 different vegetables as a family to see which vegetable wins out as your family’s favorite.  I think I will wait to try this next year when Zach and Eliza are both a little older.  (So if you try this, please send me your feedback!)  Here’s the gist:

1. Each week, pick a vegetable to show-case, based on what you can get freshest in the grocery store or farmer’s market.

2. For that week, include one vegetable prepared 3-4 different ways (for consumption at 3-4 of your dinners).  Obviously, this won’t be the only vegetable you eat all week, but it needs to be showcased enough for you to try it several ways without making everyone sick of it (so perhaps every other meal).  You can even eat the vegetable out at a restaurant for one of the nights.  You can try including them in your dinner menu raw, roasted, grilled, sautéed, batter-fried, or steamed.  Of course, you can be creative and search for top-ranked recipes online.  The idea is to make them taste GOOD and not to over-do it by combining the vegetable of the week with too many other ingredients (so your kids really understand the flavor of each veggie).

3. Print up rating cards for each family member for the week and create a rating system (such as “Ew, gross”, “I can swallow this without gagging”, “These actually taste good”, and “Personal favorite”).  At each meal, write down each preparation in a left-column (such as “steamed broccoli with cheese sauce,” “roasted broccoli,” “raw broccoli,” and “tempura broccoli”) and create a chart for people to mark which ratings they choose.  Discuss how everyone has rated the vegetable each night.

4. Each week, declare a winning recipe for each vegetable based on which preparation had the best ratings overall, and collect the rating cards.

5. At the end of the 20 weeks, have your kids declare a winner – the best vegetable.  And you will not only have tried 20 different vegetables, but also 60-80 different recipes for making them.  My guess is that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy tasting for the sake of being able to rate them (even if just about every rating is “Ew, gross!”).  And in the end, you will have a documented reference bible for what vegetables your kids like the most and how they like them best prepared.  You can also give your kids free passes from 3 vegetables at the end of the challenge, so they can choose to not to eat those when you serve them.  (It really is hard to force your child to eat something and watch it come back up through the gag-and-vomit process.  They’re just not going to like every vegetable.)  This would make them have to choose their very least favorites, and would probably help get them to eat the other vegetables that they can get down without gagging.

I’m so excited about trying this out!  Maybe I’ll do a five-week trial this fall.  I think we need to get Zach a little better at consuming food at dinner-time before starting.  Let me know what you think about it!

Parenting lesson #7: The harder thing to do is most likely the right one.


Do NOT let your child be plagued by one of these.

As a parent, there are a lot of times I have wanted to change my mind about something Greg and I already decided because the easier option is so much more appealing in the moment.  Last week, for the second time, I was ready to undo potty training Zach.  (The first was in the middle of it.)

For the six of you who read my sporadic blog faithfully, you will recall that a week ago, Zach was interrupted – mid-business – by an automatically-flushing toilet that launched a powerful whirlpool attack underneath him.  The two days that ensued are a blur of pee accidents: at a friend’s house for dinner, at the breakfast table in his seat, twice in Eliza’s bed, and perhaps others that I’ve blocked from memory.  (Greg was traveling for work and I was in a place where I might have approached a stranger to “borrow” my children for a few hours.  Is anybody with me?)

Zach had become terrified of every toilet.  It broke my heart.  He would walk up to the potty whimpering, pull his pants down, sit down, and cry, “All done, all done!” before letting anything out.  He knew what he was supposed to do, but he just couldn’t do it.  And frankly, I thought I had done enough pee-cleaning duty two weeks earlier when we trained him.  I really wasn’t interested in going back to that place.  I wanted to give up and put him back in diapers.

But I knew that Zach wanted to do what he had learned and fear was the problem.  I assumed I would confuse him if I asked him to use a diaper again.  I imagined him as a five-year-old, still conflicted about where he was supposed to dispose of his waste.  I envisioned him holding it all in anyway, afraid to let it out in the diaper because he knew that wasn’t the right place for it either.  So I didn’t give in to the seemingly easier choice in the moment.  I stuck to the plan.

I’m so glad I did.  On Wednesday morning, reluctantly, I took Zach to the museum-like house where I have a Bible study and took him to the basement, describing to the babysitters our situation.  I went down a couple of times to take him to his potty that I brought along for familiarity.  I knew he had to go.  He knew he had to go.  I was frustrated.  He was uncomfortable.  I told him it was going to be okay.  I told him the potty could not flush.  I named all the people who would be proud of him for letting his pee pee out, including Buzz Light Year and Lightning McQueen.

He still held it in.

He got to a whimpering point.  I had lost my patience.  I was done talking sweetly because the niceties were not working.  He was sitting on the potty, crying in fear.  And I stared him down.  In that tone every mother has that says I mean business, I demanded, “Zach, we have to leave soon to get Eliza, but I’m not going until you pee.  You MUST let your pee pee out.”  And his eyes got really big, with full tears waiting to fall, and he released it.  And then he smiled, and started telling me in a delighted way how happy he was that he was peeing in the potty.  It was like he flipped a switch.

That was Wednesday last week, and for the next two days, I stayed close to the toilet, asked him often if he needed to go, and gave him cookies and gummy snacks every time he got it right.  We went to New York on Friday for the weekend.  He spent hours in the car.  We went to the zoo.  He used public toilets successfully, even the auto-flushing ones.  And he has not had an accident in five days.  The training stuck.  I knew that he knew what to do.  He had to overcome his fear, and he did.  I’m so proud of him.

I know that as my kids grow, there are going to be a lot of times they’re afraid, and it’s going to be so challenging to know when to push them and when to give in.  I often ask myself what the harder thing to do is, because more often than not and unfortunately for us as parents, the harder thing to do is the right thing to do.

If you learn anything from this, remember not to put your kids on automatically-flushing toilets.  Both of my children have suffered from toilet flushing trauma disorder.  And if you have no other option (HERE’S ONE!), then cover the sensor with your hand the WHOLE time your child is on the seat.  Leave no room for accidental flushings.  It might be difficult in the moment to both cover the sensor and keep your kid from falling in, but in the long run, you could save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.

I wish there were Mary Poppins for instant potty training


It's not rocket science ... but it can feel like it.

No matter how you potty train your children or when you believe it should be done, the truth is you have to do it (well, someone does).  It is as inevitable as diapering, and feeding, and answering millions of inane questions.  And like any training, it is learned over time.  It must be worked for, like anything worth having.  Sure, there are methods for speeding up the process, but even so, the concept of “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” sounds too good to be true because it is.  Accidents after training are a part of life.  (Eliza’s been potty-trained for half her short life, and yet she pooped in the pool last week, remember?)  For my kids, so far it has been “Toilet Training in 3 Days.”  If that sounds like magic to you, read on.

This morning around 10:30, Zach walked up to his potty, said, “Mommy, pee pee,” pulled down his pants, sat, peed, got up, emptied the pot into the toilet, flushed it, and put his training toilet back together.  I’d call that success.  It was proof that he now understands not only the urge to go, but what to do with that urge before urine starts trickling down his legs.  He has kept his pants dry for about 24 hours (except when sleeping).  But about an hour later, he came and got me because he had pooped himself.  You see, in all the training time so far, he has only pooped twice, and both times it’s been during his nap (in a diaper because he’s still in a crib).  Now he has to connect the fact that yes, even for poop, he needs to get to the toilet as well.  We are far closer than we were on Saturday morning when we began, but we are still working at it.

The point is that I wanted to give up.  It seemed inexorable at times, and Zach just seemed to be struggling so much.  But now he’s proud of himself and his new skill.  I would still recommend this book to anyone looking to potty train his child.  It’s just intense.  It also has some flaws, so even if Greg and I are partly to blame for our kids not “getting it” by the end of a morning, the book should shoulder some responsibility.  The most frustrating thing about this book is that it makes it sound so easy, so if you have issues, it does not give you troubleshooting help.  For example, it gives a specific process you are to go through with them when they wet themselves, yet we almost never made it through that process without our kids peeing during it, which completely derails what you know you’re supposed to do.  It also doesn’t account for children who cry throughout the process because they are upset about wetting themselves, or sitting on the potty, or peeing out the front of the toilet seat.

Regardless of the details of this method, or any method anyone uses, it takes a lot of effort to get your children to connect their brains to their bladders so they pee in a potty before they pee on you or your furniture.  Accepting the responsibility of toilet training is accepting that you’re going to have a lot of crap to clean up, accepting it’s going to be gross and uncomfortable at times, and accepting that your wishes are basically on-hold while you go through it.  In retrospect, it’s a Cliff’s Notes version of the whole parenting experience.

It’s not magic.  There’s no Mary Poppins, spoonful of sugar, snap your fingers and it’s done process.  No matter how you do it, it’s hard work for everyone.  But in the end, you get to look back and realize what you’ve accomplished, and be thankful you’re not changing poop diapers any more.  And I’m hopeful I won’t be cleaning it off of Zach’s legs or washing it out of his pants very soon, too.

Someday, the war will be over, and our everyday battles will be a distant memory


Eating peas one at a time took too long. I preferred to get it over with, putting one on each spike of my fork per bite.

Some days my kids don’t eat.  What I mean is not a lot and not what I want them to eat.

I used to see parents out with their kids in restaurants, judging them for allowing them to eat bread, french fries and ice cream for dinner.  Now I’ve been there and done that to keep them quiet.  In my defense, we’ve taken the kids to some nice restaurants where I’ve weighed the unavoidable disapproving looks for malnourishing my children against those glares I would get if a tantrum about anything ensued (like someone using someone else’s crayon, or one or both not wanting to sit in a seat).  Malnourishment wins a lot of the time.  It’s called picking your battles.  Even at home, mealtime can be a mine field.

Me: “You can eat your dinner, or you can not eat your dinner, and then go straight up for a bath, without building a fort and without a popsicle.  It’s your choice.”

Eliza: “Mommy, I don’t want to build a fort.  I don’t want a popsicle.”

Seriously?  I know she’s lying.  But right now, I’m trying to deal with the not eating, so I can’t get into a discussion about whether she’s telling the truth because I have to deal with the consequences of her answer.  I cannot get sidetracked by her efforts to derail me.  So, we take her up for bed and that’s that.  She doesn’t eat.  My 41-inch tall, 31-pound daughter chooses to go without food.  (She might get to move out of her car seat and into a booster by her sixth birthday.)  Zach refuses to eat any part of his dinner about half of the time.  The pediatrician assures me that he must be getting enough in the earlier parts of the day.  But how infuriating it is that he won’t even taste what I’ve cooked!

I remember my childhood.  I remember secretly feeding my veggies to the dogs.  I remember refusing to eat.  I also remember my parents threatening to reheat the food for breakfast if I didn’t eat it right then (and they did).  When I realized they were serious, I started negotiating.  “I’ll eat 3 peas.”  “No, Christine, eat 20 peas.”  “Four.”  “Ten, and that’s final.”  And then I would hold my nose and gag and make all sorts of crazy torture-enduring faces at them while I drank the peas down with milk.  And now?  I actually like peas.  And I enjoy most of the vegetables I didn’t like as a child.  I grew up and had to make a decision about whether I wanted to live a healthy lifestyle or not.

Someday I’m going to look back and see that the truth is, my kids get food.  They get nourishment.  The probably get more calories each day than 80% of the people in this world.  Could they do better?  Sure.  Everyone probably could.  But there are actually kids who don’t have enough food.  And there are actually kids who don’t eat, like they must be intubated to get the nutrition they need.  I saw a news story on it once.  Those are real problems.  What I face is … annoyance and a lack of control.  (Welcome to parenting 101.)

Thus, I’m hopeful that if my kids see Greg and me eat well, they will grow up to eat well.  I hope they one day make good food choices on their own, because at ages 2 and 3, they aren’t capable of it.  And that’s okay.  I have to stop looking at all these obstacles (they don’t eat, they don’t sleep, they fight, they’re defiant) as battles.

Instead, they are opportunities for growth.  I’m here to teach them to make good food choices, and teach them how to behave and have self-control even when they’re tired (hmm, am I capable of that?), and teach them how to value putting others first, and teach them to be agreeable or others won’t want to be their friends.  (And okay, that sometimes, a person is just asking for it and that’s when you slug ’em.)

Someday they will not be children any more.  They will still be mine, but my prime time for parenting will be over.  So I want to get over the random days they don’t eat and realize that this, too, shall pass.  It’s not letting them win the battle, it’s giving up fighting at all.

Parenting lesson #4: Your to-do list will never be the same again


If you’re a mom, it’s more like 10 or 10,000 things

There is nothing that will re-prioritize your life like having children.

Your to-do list expands overnight when you’re pregnant and you feel the pressure to read the countless books there are on hosting your little human parasite, birthing it and taking care of it.  Once you have the baby, your to-do list is almost entirely decided for you.  You never know how much time you’ll have before the baby needs you, so you have to decide whether to take a nap (as everyone advises), do laundry, eat something, do the dishes, write thank-you notes, or somehow try to feel like a normal person by talking on the phone to someone or e-mailing.

When I went back to work, the weekends became a juggling act of errands, going through mail, and trying to have “family time.”  Personal, pre-children projects like scrapbooking (laughable!) weren’t even in my “top 200 things I want to do list.”  When I quit my job five months later, my priority became figuring out what to do with an 8 1/2-month-old who couldn’t have a conversation.  Then I found out I was pregnant.  Of course, our biggest to-do list item became getting our personal wills done, as the thought of the government deciding what to do with our parent-less child would have been an overwhelming one without pregnancy hormones in play.

When Zach came along, my priority was surviving.  My to-do list was to -NOT-die, and not accidentally kill or maim either of my children from lack of sleep.  Honestly, the first few months of Zach’s life are a complete blur.  I wish I had started blogging then, but even the idea is ridiculous because, well, when could I have done it?

And here we are, with a 3 1/2-year-old and a two-year-old, and things seem a bit more manageable, but now my to-do list has more weighty items on it, like teach the kids to swim, figure out how to build Zach’s character, and research where we should send Eliza to kindergarten (because that decision is, scarily, a year away).  And of course, the scrapbooking from pre-baby days has fallen off the list, because it’s never going to get done.  I’ve come to terms with that.

The thing is, having kids pushes a lot of things you thought were important in life out of the picture.  And kissing them goodbye in return for newborn cuddles was a really tough pill for me to swallow.  I like control and I like thinking about myself.  But what I’m coming to realize is that I’m just beginning to understand what’s really important, and our kids are showing me that.  I am sitting here trying to think of what my normal, after work to-do list was like before we had kids, and I can’t even remember (maybe planning home improvement projects?).  I think that is more evidence that a lot of it didn’t matter; it isn’t lasting.  What’s lasting is leaving a legacy of children who will love others like we love them, and care about others like we care about them.

So if your to-do list is currently diaper-changing, spit-up cleaning, and round-the-clock feeding, hang in there; it will change again pretty soon.  Perhaps not to something easier, but at least, in my opinion, to something more rewarding.

I’m forever changed, and I wouldn’t ever want me – or my to-do list – to be the same again.

Top 7 things that make my life easier right now


We all know we get by with a little help from our friends.  I thrive off of getting good tips and guidance from other moms.  And when I stumble upon something that works great for me, I love to share it with others.  So here are the top things that come to mind right now when it comes to making my life easier.  I hope you’ll chime in, too!

Keen shoes: I buy a lot of used things like clothes and toys, but I generally buy new shoes (or very gently used ones).  I think the marketers at Stride Rite convinced me that until age 5 or something, it’s very important for kids to have new shoes as they learn to walk and run (away from you).  I looked and looked for summer sandals that would work in and out of the water, protect my kids’ toes, have a whole heel, be comfortable and durable, and had good reviews.  I found Keens, and though pricey, they are worth every penny.  I have washed them in the washing machine and they don’t smell at all, even though my kids wear them just about every day without socks.  They still look new and I’ve had them a couple of months.  I am a believer.  I found mine online at backcountry.com for much less than they sell in retail stores.

Water Wow products:  These are great because you fill these “pens” with water and they draw, and unlike Color Wonder markers, they don’t need lids and won’t ever dry out.  The color is already built into the pages.  Eliza has not gotten bored with them, Zach is now using them, and every friend who has tried them has loved them.  They’re especially great for car trips and restaurants when your kids, like Zach, are still in a phase when they eat crayons.  I stumbled upon a couple of packs of these at Kohl’s and just went back for more.

The Good Nite Lite: Thanks to a reader recommendation, I FINALLY ordered one of these a few weeks ago and have been using it with Eliza.  It took three nights for her to understand that she couldn’t get out of bed until her “sun” came up.  Now she doesn’t come out of her room until after 7, and is sleeping past then sometimes.  It is magical.  I can’t wait until Zach is able to understand what it is.

Deceptively Delicious: Every time I tell someone I bought this cookbook, I hear something about some lawsuit.  I don’t care who’s suing whom; I care about getting my kids to eat semi-well-balanced foods.  I hear there’s another cookbook just like it called the Sneaky Chef.  Buy that one if you think she came up with the idea first.  The bottom line is it is genius and it is making me think more creatively about how to add nutrients to everyday foods my kids like.  And when I do my meal planning, I am looking to it right now for at least one or two meals a week.

Coated tablecloths and place mats: These are fairly expensive tablecloths that have acrylic coating, so they wipe clean like a countertop would.  I have ruined all of my machine-washable tablecloths with stains.  Not only are these coated linens machine-washable, but a sponge works really well at getting food off.  They are Ah-MAY-zing and well worth the money.  My kids spill spaghetti sauce on them, and hours later I wipe them perfectly clean without a trace of stain.  I have Le Cluny place mats that can be found online here, and I have a Sylvie Jourdan tablecloth.  You can find them on eBay.

Bull Frog Marathon Mist:  We are super anal-retentive about sunscreen.  I have tried kid sunblock after kid sunblock, and my kids always seem to end up burned or splotchy at best.  But I recently bought this continuous spray SPF 50 sunscreen and it’s fabulous.  It is so easy to spray on evenly, soaks in without feeling greasy, and protects them like nothing else I’ve found.

Evita, the silver bullet

My minivan:  I rock a swagger wagon, and am proud of it.  I’ve named her Evita because she has liberated me.  There really is nothing else like it for utility and value.  You tell me what other vehicle can haul 8 people, allow you to take out all the seating and transport 5 X 8 sheets of drywall or a dining room table and six chairs (like we did), and tow a 3,500 pound boat, all while getting 20+ miles to the gallon.  On a day-to-day basis, it’s also awesome that I can leave my double and single stroller in it with the back row folded down and fit all 6 bags of groceries I buy at the same time.

Dinner dilemmas and solutions


If you want to be cured of perfectionism, become a parent.  I can’t tell you how much I am struggling to rid myself of this terrible disease, especially in the area of meals.

Before having kids, I definitely looked down on other parents for allowing their kids to eat McDonald’s and other fast food.  Just the other day I told Eliza we were leaving the library, and she said, “So we’re going to stop at Old MacDonald’s for lunch and get chicken nuggets and then go home and eat and then take a nap.  Okay?  Okay.”  How quickly they learn what’s behind the facade of those golden arches.  It’s amazing how living out being a parent can quickly change you.  I read a friend’s Facebook post about how she had two glasses of wine, a fudgesicle and a sleeping pill for dinner (sounds good to me!) and her daughter had pot stickers and chocolate milk.  And instead of thinking about how awful that was (which is what she was implying), I thought, “Hmm, cabbage, meat, carrots, dough, oil, milk and chocolate.  That just about covers all the major food groups.”  See, I’m changing.

But kidding aside (because I do have to laugh about my kids’ eating habits, otherwise I would cry even more than I do already), I daily struggle with getting them what they need.  It baffles me how a child can eat just about every vegetable known to man between the ages of six months and a year, only to shun every single one of them by the time she’s 18-months-old.  Once you add another child into the mix, it just becomes more stressful, because every child has different tastes.  (And I’m sure each subsequent child exponentially worsens the problem and can plunge you deeper into becoming a short order cook.)

Right now, Zach is anemic and Eliza’s iron levels are low.  I am constantly walking a tight rope, where one side is force-feeding what they need, and the other side is letting it go.  I try to stay in the middle, constantly offering good, nutritious food (along with special treats) and trying not to freak out when they refuse to eat it.  I often require Eliza to eat a certain number of bites of whatever it is we’re having before she can be finished.  But I also try to make meals that all our family can eat, which is very hard to do when you have a 16-month-old, a 2-and-3/4-year-old, and two adults whose idea of a delicious meal is a soy-ginger glazed filet of salmon on top of a bed of pea shoots.  (If that sounds good to you, too, the recipe is here: http://aveceric.com/wp/recipes/season-1/seared-salmon-with-sauteed-pea-shoots-and-ginger-soy-vinaigrette/)

So, I figured I’d write about a few of the ways I TRY to keep my sanity when it comes to feeding my kids.  Let’s face it – it’s one of the biggest struggles because they MUST EAT TO SURVIVE.  Please, if ever you were to comment with helpful tips, now would be the time I would beg you to do so.

1. Meal planning – I generally don’t go to the grocery store without planning.  I take a list based on the 4 or 5 dinner meals I plan to cook.  I plan the week’s meals out on either Sunday, Monday or Tuesday (depending on when I get the energy and make the time).  When I run out of inspiration and ideas, I look to the cookbooks and cooking magazines I have on-hand.  To help plan out the week’s meals, I use the “What to Eat” pad from Knock Knock Stuff (http://www.knockknock.biz/catalog/categories/pads/kk-pads/what-to-eat-pad/).  I write my grocery list each week on the back of the “What to Eat” sheet from the previous week.

2. I keep a list of meals that get eaten –  It’s impossible to remember what works for each kid and also what they BOTH end up liking.  Plus, their tastes continue changing and evolving.  So, if I need some go-to foods or meals, I consult this list.

3. Breakfast is key – My kids eat the most in the morning when they are hungriest.  I take advantage of this and generally cook old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal with fruit, or I make them a spinach and cheese omelet, or I do both.  (I keep a frozen bag of spinach instead of the boxes of it, so I can dump a few ounces in a glass bowl with some water and heat for 30 seconds and voila – have a serving of spinach.)  I save cereal for those mornings I just don’t have energy.

4. Sneaky sneaky – I add pumpkin to pancakes, parsnips to mashed potatoes, and do things like roast kale and call it “potato chips.”  (At the very bottom is my recipe for kale and Eliza loves it!)  If you make it fun and cool, your kids are more likely to eat it.

5. Don’t give up – I am constantly reminding myself of this.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planned a great meal, served it, and been greeted with blank stares and, “I don’t like its.”  It is frustrating and exhausting.  But just like every other parenting challenge, you must not give in and stop trying.  If you eat a wide variety of healthy and nutritious foods, your kids will, too.  You just have to stay the course.

6. Don’t give in – Eliza has to at least try every food I put in front of her before she can leave the table.  My friend, Debbie, has a five bite rule.  Your kids will not die if you force them to eat food they don’t like that you know they need.  Remember, you’re the parent and you know best.

7. Give yourself a break – Date nights or nights when you put the kids to bed and cook together with your spouse or a friend are the perfect times for making a pizza or heating up some frozen chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries for the kids.  I will be the first to tell you – it is OKAY to do this sometimes!

This will not be the last time I write about meals and planning them, I’m sure.  I’ll try to post some of my kids’ favorite recipes over time.  For now, tell me what YOU do!  We can all use a little inspiration, even those of us who are perfect.  😉

KALE CHIPS – enough for a small side dish; ingredients: kale, about 1 Tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 375 and make sure there’s a rack pretty far from the heat (if your burners are on the bottom of the oven, put the rack near the top and vice versa).  Get out a big cookie or baking sheet.  Then pull all the kale leaves off their stems, and while doing so, break the leafy parts into small pieces of equal sizes, like a small potato chip.  As you’re breaking them apart, put them straight onto the baking sheet.  What you want to do is make sure all your kale “chips” are the same size and thickness.  Some kale is big and thick, and some of it is more “baby,” so the leaves are thinner and curlier.  So try to separate them out even to that degree so you bake “like kale” with “like kale.”
Once you have a tray full so the pieces are all in one layer, drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil on it, and sprinkle on some salt (I use kosher) and freshly grated pepper.  Mix it all together with your fingers so all pieces have some seasonings and oil on them.  Bake them for 11-13 minutes, watching them at 10 minutes.  They go from perfectly baked to burned in about 1 minute.  So as the thinnest pieces start to turn brownish, you know they’re done.