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Archive for the ‘Making Life Easier’ Category

My husband and I have started watching The Outsider together. It is not a good program to watch before bed, let me tell you that. The music alone makes me jumpy, but then there’s the very creepy plot and the VERY creepy figure of a biped in a grey sweatshirt with a ruined/inhuman face peeking out from under the darkness of the hood that just STICKS WITH ME. Usually, following an episode with a Schitt’s Creek chaser helps dispel the creepiness, but sometimes it follows me to bed.

Despite this completely voluntary scaring-myself-out-of-my-wits, I have been enjoying a rare period of Good Sleep. It is not untroubled; I am having lots of Weird Dreams. Recently, I had what felt like a very long and drawn out version of that dream where you have exams approaching but you haven’t gone to class all semester and passing this class is necessary for you to graduate. I have not been in college for MANY YEARS, why does my brain persist in torturing me in this manner???? Anyway, by Good Sleep, I mean that I am able to fall asleep fairly easily and then stay asleep all night long. This is highly unusual for me, because I am a very light sleeper and also a champion worrier, and, as we all know, worries swell rapidly in the middle of the night when you have uninterrupted hours to DWELL on them.

But because I am unaccustomed to sleeping well, and because I am posting about this and surely jinxing it, I am sure another period of Fitful Sleep is just around the corner. (In fact, last night, I woke up at two o’clock and had a bit of trouble going back to sleep. Not enough that it was terribly bothersome, but enough that I wondered if the Good Sleep Period is on its way out.) (Cue ominous music.)

Swistle posted recently about having a hard time sleeping. I loved reading the comments, about ways to force yourself to sleep when sleep refuses to descend naturally. I especially loved one person’s suggestion to go through favorite things alphabetically – favorite foods, for instance, or TV shows, or birds, or whatever. That’s one I haven’t tried but sounds lovely.

After pondering it for awhile, I realized that I have been employing a bunch of techniques over the years to help myself get to sleep. Do you have any tried-and-true tactics that you use to fall asleep?

Get-to-sleep techniques that I have used for many years and work often (but not always, hence the multiple options):

1. A walk to/through someplace soothing. My dad gave me this technique decades ago, so it’s the one I’ve used the most. I have a family vacation spot I love, so I imagine myself leaving the house, walking to the car, getting in the car, driving down the driveway, turning onto the road, bumping over the deeply rutted gravel, passing the horse pasture, etc. etc. etc. until I arrive at the lake. The key to this one is to go through every step of the journey, imagining in as much detail as possible the surroundings and the path to get to the destination. I have also done this with the grocery store or Target – leaving my house, driving to the store, then walking through each aisle and naming pleasant/benign things as I put them into my cart. The only risk with the Target option is that I might start thinking about things I actually should get at Target, and that’s more wakeful than restful.

2. Silently reciting a poem. This one takes prep work, obviously. But it has been SO helpful. I use Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and I just go through it line by line until I fall asleep. There was a particularly brutal period in my recent past when I could NOT get to sleep and I would have to go through the poem backwards as well as forwards. I don’t think I could do that anymore, but it was a distracting brain challenge that would eventually lull me into sleep. Perhaps I should get myself a new poem to memorize so I have choices.

3. Deep breathing. This is a technique I learned during a brief stint in therapy a few years ago. It’s for dealing with stress/anxiety, but I find it helpful when I’m trying to sleep, too. In for four counts, hold for four counts, out for four counts, hold for four counts. The counting makes it hard for my mind to drift and the breathing is soothing.

4. Counting my blessings. This one has the potential to create the opposite of the intended mindset, so. Use at your own risk. But I force myself to list things I’m grateful for, even the Very Smallest of Things, like “my husband is not currently snoring” or “someone else changed the toilet paper roll.” (In such cases, it’s critical to list the thing and move on quickly or else you can wind up feeling frustrated and put upon for having to be grateful for something as toilet paper rolls in the first place.) Or sometimes I will think of a loved one and list all the things I like about him/her, from the big (“kind,” “honest,” “wakes up singing”) to the small (“drew me a picture of a cat today,” “beard tickles pleasantly when we kiss”).

5. Mindless reading.This is something I turn to only when desperate, because I’ve read enough warnings about how screens can actually prevent you from sleeping to know better. But in dire cases, I will read something boring or soothing. In the soothing category is going through the archives of a much-loved blog, like Swistle’s or the Ask a Manager blog. (Although the latter can be potentially riling.) Or I will seek out a Wikipedia article on something I have very little interest in, like engines or stained glass or animal husbandry. Best case, I lull myself into sleep. Worst case, I learn something new which I can use to bore others to sleep.

If I absolutely STILL cannot fall asleep, I have found that the next step is getting out of the bed. Use the bathroom. Get a (small) drink of water. Walk around the house, checking on the other sleeping inhabitants. (Not recommended if you are in someone else’s house, or if you are hosting sleeping inhabitants who are not your own non-adult progeny; otherwise you risk troubling other people’s sleep for the rest of their creeped-out lives.)

Making a list often helps. Things that I am worrying about. Things I have to do the next day. Things I want to make for dinner. Things I want to eat right that second. Things I need to buy at Target. The content of the list doesn’t seem to matter as much as the act of list-making.

My Last Resort technique is to change my clothes. New underpants, new pajamas. Maybe I will even brush my hair and re-brush my teeth. It’s like a getting-ready-for-bed do-over.

I suppose the last last resort would be to just get up and start my day. But with all the above get-to-sleep techniques, I haven’t had to do that.

Yet. There’s still time.

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Last week included one night during which Carla had a bout of stomach virus (why must barfing inevitably happen at night?) and I slept a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes, one night during which I spent NO JOKE $9 (NINE) American dollars on mangoes because three of them were rotten on the inside and yet it was my anniversary and I had a beautiful piece of fish and I REFUSED to make something different than the recipe I’d planned (yes, I know it’s probably my own fault for buying non-local, not-in-season produce but I need my fresh fruits and veg, people!), and a night where a (tiny, non-threatening, and probably very cold) caterpillar crawled out of a green pepper and made my dinner very one-sided, pepper wise (I like to have an equal amount of red and green peppers).

So I think you will empathize with me when I say that I feel really crabby about making dinner (and just in general). Despite the crabbiness, dinner doesn’t make itself.

One day this week we are going out to dinner with friends, and another day we are going to an afternoon football game so I’m not sure if we will eat at the stadium or not. Either way, I’m not going to want to make a Real Dinner when we get home, so I am planning something that will easily meld into future weeks if we decide not to cook it.

Oh and look at that: this takes us right up to Christmas Eve, so I will need to figure out what I am serving for dinner on the 24th, 25th, and 26th. Sounds like a separate shopping trip, if you ask me!

Meals for the week of December 18 to December 24

  • Tacos

Note: I think tacos are my favorite food.

 

Note: I may end up swapping the zucchini noodles with the side for a different meal… the flavor profiles might be way too different for this to be a good pairing.

Follow up: Indeed, I swapped out the Asian zucchini noodles for the roasted green beans.  Also, this meal is good but it is REALLY oil-spitty. My whole stove and counters and floor and microwave were covered in oil splatter and the whole house stank of salmon for two entire days. Yuck. Maybe if there were a way to oven roast this… Also, the salmon took WAY longer to cook than the recipe suggested. All in all, this made me very cranky to make even though it tasted good, and even though my husband really liked it.

Note: This is one of my three favorite stir fry recipes. SO GOOD. As with literally all stir fries, I make it with red and green bell peppers. I also throw in some broccoli and some zucchini if I’m feeling fancy.  I also like to throw in some peas, but my husband is not crazy about them so I usually leave them out. By the way, you can make this without kaffir lime leaves — just squeeze some lime in at the end. I can get them at a local Asian supermarket, and I love the subtle citrusy essence they add to this meal.

 

Note: Over time, I have HEAVILY adapted this recipe. I use boneless skinless chicken breasts. I put in a whole head of garlic, and I sauté the garlic and onion before adding them to slow cooker. For the liquid, I use 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup wine, and I also deglaze the onion/garlic sauté pan with an additional 1/4 cup of wine and 1/2 cup chicken stock. The sauce is pretty yummy and I usually like to sop it up with some couscous, per the Martha Stewart recipe linked above (although all that link says about the couscous is to “prepare it per the package instructions.” Gee, thanks.).

Follow up: Man I enjoy this. Mainly I like the garlic cloves (which I halve before cooking), which get soft and sweet and I’m sure make me a real pleasure to be around for weeks afterward. We used leftover rice instead of couscous, which was DEEPLY inferior. And the chicken sure gets dry. Although that could be because I cooked this for six hours when really it would be ready in three or four. My bad. Thankfully the sauce helps counteract the dryness.

We will also be making zimtsterne over the weekend, which are delicious almond-y (and gluten free, if that matters to you!) cookies that my husband discovered last year. Santa gets hungry, yo.

Follow up: These cookies are GREAT. For future, I need to put more of the remainder egg/powdered sugar mixture on top of each cookie than I think. I was stingy with the first batch and had more than enough leftover. The last batch had a nice thick layer and it is by far the best. Also, you can’t really tell when these are done. I kept peeking at them after 15 minutes for the first batch, and ended up keeping them in for 20 minutes, and they are CRISP. The last batch I did for a scant 17 minutes and they are chewy and marvelous. Also, I could not achieve pure white glaze, like the example picture in the recipe link. Even the cookies I baked the least amount of time have a brownish tinge to them. So that’s kind of disappointing. Still delicious though. Oh! Last year, I bought bleached almond meal even though the recipe specifically says non-bleached almond meal. They were good then, and very good now with the non-bleached almond meal. The non-bleached just gives them a little bit more of a texture… like… you are chewing on a cookie that has pieces of almond skin in it (which it does). That doesn’t sound pleasant but it IS. But both ways are good.

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Aha! My favorite/least favorite day of the week: Meal planning day! Let’s get to it.

A couple of commenters kindly mentioned recently being impressed with the variety of recipes I post and cook for my family each week. First of all, *blush*. Secondly, these first couple of weeks are giving you a false impression of my typical cooking style. Well, maybe not TRULY false. But I promise there will come a day when my meal plan looks like “tacos, spaghetti, soup, chicken paprikas, stir fry” for several weeks in a row.

For now, this “posting about my dinners” is novel and it’s inspiring me to be a bit more creative in my meal planning. Also, my husband and I are trying to watch what we eat in a way we hadn’t been for a few months, and that forces me to be more thoughtful and creative in what I cook. (I could – and probably will, at some point when the novelty wears off – just do some variation on “chicken + vegetable” every day. But that gets tiresome quickly.) Also also, I get SO BORED of Our Regular Fare that sometimes the boredom alone is enough to spur me to choose more varied options.

I totally get that meal planning doesn’t work for everyone. For me, it is purely an efficiency thing: going to the grocery store is a huge time suck and I hate it. But I do admit, there are days when NONE of the meals on my list sound appetizing and I have to come up with something else on the fly. Last week, there was a day I didn’t feel like cooking, so I scrounged around for something in the fridge and my husband got Panera.

That means that I have a meal from last week to carry over to this week. Also this week are a) my husband’s work holiday party and b) our TENTH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, for which we are going out to dinner, so I have fewer meals to plan for. Woo hoo!

Meals for the Week of December 11-17

Note: This is the holdover from last week, which means I still have all the ingredients at home. I hope the parmesan is holding up okay (it is… many weeks old).

Note: My husband and I pair this with basmati rice and caramelized onions, and he also adds sundried tomatoes and feta cheese to his plate. Nothing green on this plate, but you could add a quick side salad if you were so inclined.

My notes from the last time we ate this said to use lettuce instead of cabbage. I am also going to omit the avocado from the salad and the half and half from the crèma; I found it was liquidy enough with just the addition of the lime juice.

Also, I will tell you a secret: Using chipotles in adobo sauce is one of my favorite ways to add kick to meals. But I hate the texture of the chipotle chiles. So I puree a can or two of in the blender and then spoon a tablespoon of the puree into ice cube trays. Then I have a plastic baggie of chipotle ice cubes I can add to ANYTHING – chile or crema or chicken marinade. Super easy and delicious.

Follow Up: My husband says this is too spicy. I don’t know what to do with that information.

Note: This recipe is new to me. I am a little wary of the big chunks of celery (outside of tomatoes in all forms, there is almost nothing worse than slimy cooked celery) but otherwise it sounds good.

Note: This is a Regular Stand By. My husband and I also add one each of a red and green pepper, and I chop up a jalapeno on mine.

Note: My notes from the last time we made this say, “This was pretty good. Husband liked it more than I did.” So. Hmm. I am not sure what to do with that. Maybe I will use regular paprika instead of smoked? I can tell you one thing, and that’s that I will definitely be omitting the parsley, which I hate. I also have baby Brussels sprouts leftover from last week, so I will be roasting those little guys with a couple of shallots.

Follow Up: I did indeed replace the smoked paprika with regular, and liked this much better. It was quite salty, made saltier because I think I over salted the Brussels sprouts as well (and burnt the everloving souls out of the poor things). Also, the whole meal desperately needed acid. Next time, I should make this with lemon broccoli, and/or maybe just squeeze a lemon over the chicken when it comes out of the oven. Oh, I also used thyme instead of oregano because I went to three grocery stores and there was NO OREGANO and it worked just fine with the thyme.

All right, off to the grocery store! Hope your dinner plans this week are tasty!

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Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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Do you have one of these things?

Trunk organizer

Photo from amazon.com

It’s a little fold-out container for your grocery bags. It helps keep them from falling over.

Okay, I see that the product description lists it as a “trunk organizer.” But I use it solely for grocery bags. Well, and one time I used it for seedlings that I was taking home to plant.

It falls under the category of “totally unnecessary but nice to have.” I have lived successfully without one for many decades. But my husband got one sometime last year, probably because his trunk is completely 100% empty, so things tend to slide around in there. (I do NOT have that problem.) But over time, I started getting envious of his little container, and – since I am the Primary Grocery Shopper of our household anyway – I asked him to buy me one, too.

(I could have bought it myself, you understand. But he likes to do Detailed Research on all things, which I do not care to do. Plus, he purchased the one for his car through his Amazon account, so I figured he could just re-order it. To make a boring and unnecessary aside more boring and unnecessary, the one he has was no longer offered, so he got me this one instead.)

I love it!

This is how it looks, all full:

Trunk organizer 1

There are four bags inside the trunk organizer, and then one (the big red zipped-up bag) that has to sit outside the organizer with all the other junk I have piled in my car.

Trunk organizer 2

Top view, which I see now looks like nothing but a jumble. You can also get a peek at my groceries, which included ALL THE PRODUCE.

My trunk is a mess. Someday I should clean it. To be fair, I cleaned it pretty recently. It’s just really hard to know what to do with some of the supplies I have back there. The jumper cables should stay, even though they are unwieldy and take up a lot of space. The bags have a variety of blankets and winter gear and emergency snacks and coloring books. I think there’s an old diaper bag in there, too; now that my child is FIVE perhaps I can finally get rid of that. (SOB!)

This is how it looks, without the groceries but unfolded:

Trunk organizer 3

The blue thing on the bottom right is the wing of a parrot paper bag puppet Carla made for me and insisted I keep in my car at all times. Like a talisman. That’s molting.

The trunk organizer has Velcro on the bottom, so it sticks nicely to my fuzzy trunk floor. And you can unfold only half of it, if you only need half. And there is a divider inside, if you need one large rectangle and two smaller squares, or just one or two smaller squares.

Here is how it looks, all folded up:

Trunk organizer 4

So small and compact! To allow room in the trunk for MORE JUNK!

Man, my trunk could sure use a good vacuuming. Let’s all ponder when that will happen, taking into consideration that it is fifteen years old and I cannot remember every having vacuumed it. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm.

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We are at the glorious age where Carla wakes up on weekend mornings and trots herself down to the living room and turns on the TV all by herself. My husband and I have been sleeping in until the grand old hour of EIGHT AM. It is lovely. (IT GETS BETTER!) But then she just wants to watch TV alllllll day long. Sometimes I want to give in to this, because TV is such a good babysitter. I can cook or clean or read books or look at my phone. It’s wonderful.

But. No amount of TV is ever enough. My child is addicted to TV. She looooooves it. I love it too, so I completely empathize. But I also want her to enjoy non-TV activities, like riding her bike and playing on our backyard playset and exploring nature and building LEGO creations etc. etc. etc. And… she gets a teeny bit mean after she’s been watching shows for a while. And… TV consumption makes her want to consume MORE TV.

Listen, I am no TV detractor! There is some great programming on TV, for kids and adults alike. You can learn things from TV, from concepts about friendship and self-control, to new vocabulary words, to famous operatic scores (I’m looking at you, Bugs Bunny).

But, because she truly seems addicted, and because she gets a little mean, and because she needs to occasionally do other things – like move her body and flex her brain – we limit her TV consumption. During the school year, there is no TV on school days. There are exceptions, of course. If we go out to dinner, we bring an ipad and she can watch TV after we order food. If we go on a car trip that’s longer than an hour, we bring the ipad. If it’s a vacation day or a weekend day, we limit TV to an hour or two, depending on various factors. This works for us. Other people have found other PERFECTLY REASONABLE media-consumption strategies. I do not care if your kids watch hours of TV a day if it works for your family.

Anyway, I have gotten off track from my original point. Which is that my kid and I both like TV. Yet I cannot stand most of the TV shows she likes. My Little Pony, yuck.Daniel Tiger, yawn. Puppy Dog Pals, eye glaze. Barbie, more like barf-y. And I am not going to settle in to watch Real Housewives of New York Cityor Stranger Things or even old episodes of Friends with Carla.

But I have found something that we can watch together! MasterChef Junior.

We picked a season at random on YouTube (season 6, I think), and watched the whole thing together, episode by episode, over a number of weeks. We had such a good time!

It’s about kids, so it’s geared toward kids. Which means there’s none of the yelling and cursing I associate with other Gordon Ramsey programs (he’s the host and one of the judges of MasterChef Junior). The premise, like all other competition reality shows on TV, is that you get a big group of contestants and then give them challenges, whittling the group down until you have one winner.

But all the contestants are age 8 to 13! Which makes them relatable to Carla. And they are all SO TALENTED. And, even better, they are all super articulate and kind and gracious. So even when they lose and get booted off the show, they have these really sweet, grateful things to say. Like, “I’m super sad to be going home, but I really learned so much while I was here! And I made so many friends! And I am just so lucky that I had this wonderful opportunity!” Seriously, they are more gracious losers than I’ve seen on ANY OTHER competition reality program.

The other thing I love about this show is that it has Life Lessons that Carla and I can talk about while and after watching. In one episode, a little girl gets overwhelmed and starts crying. The judges step in and help her recover her equilibrium, and she calms down and gets back to cooking. So Carla and I can discuss how awful it is to feel overwhelmed, and how it happens to everyone, and then we can talk through some strategies for recovering from that feeling and doing what you have to do.

And we can talk about losing, and how upsetting it is, but how there are really good things that come from trying your best at something, even if you don’t win. And how to behave in a gracious and sportspersonlike way, rather than allowing our hurt feelings to bubble over into anger and pouting and kicking things on the way out the door.

And we can talk about hard work, and putting in your very best effort. And how it takes really focused energy and a LOT of practice to become really good at something.

I like to think that these conversations have a decent chance of sticking, when she can apply them to what we’re watching.

Anyway, watching Season 6 together was a lot of fun. I think Carla got a little bit bored by the end (I think there were 14 episodes), so we haven’t started a new season. But maybe we’ll do so in the future. And I’m trying to think of other similar shows that we might try instead. I think she’d like So You Think You Can Dance or maybe evenProject Runway, but neither of those shows is geared toward kids, so I’d worry about adult topics or nasty language. (I loved the Christian Siriano season of Project Runway, but some of the very sassy trash talk that made him so charming is not really what I want to model for my five-year-old.) I’d also like a show where the contestants are as gracious about losing as the kids are on MasterChef Junior. But that may be a fool’s errand.

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