Thursday, August 14, 2014

NINE: When You've Been Married as Long as Your Age Gap

I was 18 years old, still in high school and waiting tables for extra cash. He was 27, back in college, and working at the same restaurant.

With our 9 year age difference, we weren’t exactly an obvious couple. In fact, some were a bit scandalized when we started seeing each other. What could you possibly have in common? You grew up in completely different decades! Anna, he’s, like, A MAN!

Maybe it was the way he always insisted on carrying my cumbersome food trays for me. Or the time I convinced one of his tables he was actually Ben Affleck researching a movie role. Or the evening he tenderly leaned over and whispered in my ear, You have something green in your teeth!

But somehow, what started out as late night chats closing down the restaurant turned into a 4 year journey that culminated at the end of an aisle in front of our friends and family.

Still, I think some had their concerns.

My maid of honor, however, did a fabulous job of laying all worries to rest with her reassuring reception speech:

"...It seems like nothing matters when you're in love. Through good times, bad times, through all the times, the only thing that matters is that you share them together. Age becomes nothing more then a number.

BUT, just for fun, let’s look at the numbers:

When Anna was 1 year old, John was 10. Talk about robbing the cradle!

When Anna was 5 years old, John was 14. She was starting Kindergarten and he was going into high school.

When Anna was 6, John was 15. They both had bad hair; she in sponge curlers, he had a mullet.

When Anna was 7, John was 16. He was getting his license. She was just learning to cross the street by herself.

When Anna was 9, John was 18. He was working out at the gym. Anna could be found at the jungle gym.

When Anna was 12, John was 21. Anna wasn’t a teen. Neither was he.

When Anna was 16, John was 25. Anna had just gotten her first beat-up old car. John was
still driving his beat-up old car.

When Anna was 21, John was 30. She could have a drink because she was finally legal. He needed a drink because, let’s face it, he’s gettin’ on up there!"

Today is our 9th anniversary. Today we have been married for as long as our age difference.

If we were looking at the numbers of our marriage today, just for fun, it might go something like this…

NINE: the number of anniversaries we've celebrated

EIGHT: the number of times he's forgiven me for hitting something with the car

SEVEN: the number of spills we clean up each day

SIX: the number of times we put the kids to bed every night

FIVE: the number of job changes we've had

FOUR: the number of addresses we've shared

THREE: the number of times he held my hand as we welcomed our sweet babies into the world

TWO: the couple that is more committed to each other today than we were nine years ago

ONE: the beautifully messy, perfectly ordinary, deeply satisfying life we have created together

After nine years our age difference is practically negligible. In fact, last year at a Christmas party, someone asked us who was younger and I almost choked on my cocktail (um, ME!). 

The truth is, I'm glad that the more the years go by, the less the numbers seem to matter. 

I'm glad we don't keep track of the number of hurtful words that slip out too hastily or the countless arguments over such monumental issues as to which number to set the thermostat or the proper way to fold a bath towel. I'm embarrassed at the number of times I've added more tallies under my name on the parenting ledger and made myself the martyr, instead of taking the time to acknowledge all the things he's done for me, for us, each day. 

I'm glad that the pettiness is gradually eclipsed by the mountain of I love yous that accumulate day after day, month after month, year after year. I'm thankful that there is no way to count the innumerable good-night kisses or comforting hugs or the sweet moments of simply being together. 

After nine years we've added to our romantic notions of love with the lessons that love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous, and love does not keep score. We cling to the promise that this kind of love never fails. 

After nine years he still helps carry my heavy loads. And I still kinda think he looks like Ben Affleck. 

This may work out after all.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

So What Do You Do All Day?

A pair of big blue eyes peek over the side of the bed at me. Disheveled tufts of blond hair poke in all directions. "Mommy. I want pancakes. And dip."

It's how my day usually starts, normally around 7:30am. After hearing some horror stories from friends about their 5am risers, I am grateful we seemed to pass on the sleep-in gene to our children. Because anytime after 7am is definitely sleeping in for the preschool set.

I constantly scold myself that I should get up an hour or so before the kids, to shower, make preparations for the day or just to soak in some quiet solitude. I should get up, but in the battle between shower and sleep, sleep ALWAYS wins.

So I usually begin my day already feeling a tad bit behind.

When I quit my job to stay home with my first child, I had a friend ask me about my new life as a stay-at-home-mom. "So, what do you do all day?" she curiously asked.

She wasn't being rude and I wasn't offended. She was a working mom with a full-time job and I often wondered how she managed to cram all of her responsibilites in a 24 hour period.

So one day this summer, inspired by other bloggers' "Day in the Life" posts, I documented our day with my iPhone.

This is what I do all day.

Spoiler alert: It's not glamorous. It's not even exciting. But it's never dull. And it's always a bit messy.
Day in the Life: Summer 2014
Jack (almost 5)
Henry (2.5)
Elise (16 months)

On this particular morning, John took our 4-year-old out for some "Daddy/Jack time." They went to McDonald's for breakfast (Jack's choice) and our son was quite disappointed to discover that they do not serve chicken nuggets at 8:00am. He cheered up when John pointed out that they do serve Sprite.

And I wonder why they think Daddy is the fun one.

I bet you'll never guess their favorite baseball team.
John has a job that requires him to work long hours, mostly evenings. He is usually around in the mornings though and he always makes the best of the time he has with us.

We didn't have any pressing errands to run that morning, so I straightened up one room while Henry and Elise destroyed another. And then we switched.

After getting the kids ready, I attempted to take my bi-weekly shower. Ok, ok, I take more than 2 showers a week. Sometimes I take 3.
And now I'm really cursing my self for not doing this before she woke up!

I finally managed to distract Elise with some toys. And by "toys" I mean all my hair accessories under my sink.


I finally wrangled the kids outside to avoid any other mishaps. Jack and Daddy returned from their morning adventure and John headed off to work.

I forgot to take pictures at lunch, but it went something like this:

Me: What do you guys want for lunch? (BIG MISTAKE)



Elise: GAH BAH GAH!!

Me: Oh, actually, all we have is peanut butter.


Me: What if I cut the peanut butter sandwich into chicken nugget shapes?

Kids: OK!!

Then, naptime. Glorious naptime.
Yes, there is an actual child in that crib. No, I did not put him to bed like that.

Shortly after naptime THIS happened. NAIL POLISH. EVERYWHERE.

OH...MY...I JUST...I CAN'T...I DON'T EVEN...!!!

Elise knocked a bottle of nail polish off the bathroom sink and it shattered on the tile. So much for my bath mats. So much for my bathROOM.

I wiped up what I could, but quick-dry polish is NO JOKE. Nail polish remover was not even making a dent. This mess was going to take HOURS to clean up. So I did the only thing I could think of...

I took a picture and stuck it on Facebook. My favorite caption suggestion: COVER(your floor)GIRL. (Thanks +Stephanie Wheeler !)

COVER(your floor)GIRL

Then I left the mess, threw the kids in the car and picked up some take-out.

We opted for a picnic on the front lawn because it's summer and you're supposed to have picnics in summer. And also because our house smelled a little like a nail salon.

Upside of a picnic: easy clean-up. 
Downside: instead of getting up from the kitchen table 19 times, I run in and out of the house 19 times. 

And then, after baths and jammies, Daddy came home.
I put the baby to bed around 8:00pm and began BATHROOM CLEAN-UP 2014

I think I may have found the one task that is even more frustrating than putting the boys to bed.

I could hear John in the next room, attempting to tuck the boys in for the night.
"Daddy, I want water. Cold water. With ice."
"Daddy, you forgot to say prayers!"
"Daddy, I want MOOOOMMY!"
"Daddy, why is pee pee yellow? I wish mine was orange."

Finally, FINALLY, as midnight approached, our floor was white again. As long as you don't look too close.

And I was finally, FINALLY off to bed. 

I needed to get some rest.

I had another perfectly messy, beautifully ordinary day ahead of me tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Grandparent Detox: The 5 Step Survival Method

My children have a lot of grandparents, several of whom we have been able to visit with this summer. My children love their grandparents and the grandparents loooooove their grandchildren.

It's a love that leads to freezers stocked with popsicles, marathon games of Candyland, and one grandpa who has erected a few tents in his living room and installed a swing from the ceiling in the hopes that the grandchildren will mistake his house for a circus, no doubt.

Gigi, a great-grandmother, always brings each of the children a surprise whenever she sees them, even though she lives right down the street. One time she stopped by to retrieve a pair of sunglasses and, upon the realization that she forgot to bring any special treats, became so distraught that she insisted they pick something out of her bag of groceries loaded in the trunk (Henry took her Veggie Straws and Jack chose a can of minestrone, just in case you were wondering).

It's a dangerous love. Once the kids get a taste, they want MORE. They are HOOKED. In fact, I suspect before our visits the grandparents plot ways to guarantee their grandchildren's loyalty and affection. Let's see...we'll start with ice cream for breakfast and then we'll play Thomas the Train for 3 hours and then maybe a trip to the moon! 

You can imagine their reaction, then, when we try to bring them back to reality after a visit with the grandparents.
He wants to go to Pop & Nini's house RIGHT NOW!

Pop & Nini live 6 hours away.
They are shocked when we announce it is bedtime after the sun goes down. But we haven't even roasted marshmallows yet! They stare into the pantry in complete bewilderment. Why don't we have chocolate bars like Nini? Even the suggestion of bathing sparks a complete meltdown. But I never had to take a bath at Grandpa's howwwwse!! He said the hot tub was just as gooood!

In fact, when the grandparent withdrawal hits, it manifests itself as one long, whiny, sobbing, floor-flopping meltdown, or what I like to call "Grandparent Detox." 

How long will it take for the effects of the grandparent narcotic to wear off? It's simple, really. To calculate, you must add up the amount of time your children spent with their grandparents and then multiply that by 2. So, if your child spent 3 days at Grandma's house, it will take 6 days for him to properly detox.

Grandparent Detox is hard on children and parents alike. Here are 5 steps to help everyone survive this grueling process.

Grandparent Detox: The 5 Step Survival Method

1. Be understanding

It is important to remember that it takes time to unlearn bad habits.

Be understanding with your children and slowly guide them down from their grandparent high with baby steps. Perhaps Grandma left the Disney Channel on for the entire 72 hours of their visit. It may be an overwhelming shock to the system to quit Doc McStuffins cold turkey. Instead, allow your children a good 4 hour TV block upon returning home and gradually reduce the time each day. Use that time to get a head start on unpacking, because like the Grandparent Detox rule of thumb, if the trip lasted 4 days, it will take 8 to unpack.

Grandparents clapping for their brilliant great-granddaughter who has just learned to HONK THE HORN.
After she gets steering down they are going to buy her a pony.
2. Be firm

If there was one word to describe grandparents, 'firm' would not be that word. 

Sometimes my 2-year-old will climb out of his crib after I put him down for a nap. I calmly, but firmly put him back in and tell him to stay there or else.

On our latest visit to a certain grandparent's house, I had just put Henry & Elise down to nap when the certain grandparent (who will remain nameless) implored me to lie down and rest as well. 

After I woke up from a magnificent snooze, I found my 2-year-old in hysterics, convulsing on the floor, practically foaming at the mouth exactly like a...well...exactly like a toddler who has skipped his nap.

"What happened to Henry??" I asked Certain Grandparent.

"Well, don't be mad," she replied, "after you went to nap, he came in the kitchen and looked at me with those big eyes and I couldn't bear to put him back to bed, love his heart. So I let him sit in my lap and watch cartoons. And then he had 3 popsicles."

The closest I've ever heard a grandparent come to saying 'no' is, "Honey, I would let you have ice cream for breakfast, but your mother said no."

After several days of free-for-all living at Grandma's, your children need you to reinstate the rules and routines you've set for them. Be firm and stay strong.

3. Use threats

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that you have very firmly explained to your child that we cannot just hop in the car and rush to the store on a whim because he wants Lucky Charms. You don't care that every time he sees Grammie they head to the store for Lucky Charms, it does not happen every time he sees Mommy. (Your husband begrudgingly adds that he never got Lucky Charms when he went to the store with Grammie and he lived with her for 18 years!) 

If your determined explanation still results in a glorious tantrum, it might be time to employ a new strategy.

Truth be told, it's really not a fair fight. Of course the children prefer the grandparents to mommy. Case in point:

GRANDPA: Takes children to stable to give hugs to horses.
MOMMY: Takes children to doctor to look at fish tank before getting shots.
See. There's that pony I was talking about.

GRANDMA: Showers children with gifts whenever she sees them.
MOMMY: Threatens to take away said gifts if children misbehave while she is showering.

MOMMY: Takes kids to grocery store, bank and dry cleaners.
GRANDPARENTS: Take kids to amusement park, children's museum and zoo. In one afternoon.
And also manage to squeeze in a quick trip to the salon.

OF COURSE the children will fight you with every fiber in their being in hopes of escaping back to The Place Where All Their Dreams Come True.

Threats may be your only weapon against them, as in, "Stop your screaming and get up off the floor or you WILL NEVER SEE GRANDMA AGAIN!!!"

4. Seek help from a higher power

Sometimes, the only way to succeed is to admit defeat.

When all else fails, close your eyes, bow your head, and call a grandma.

Beg her to take the kids for a few days.

5. Repeat steps 1-4

Grandparents, if you are not careful, these children may be taking a permanent vacation to your house!

Wait. Is that what you've been plotting??

Oh, you guys are GOOD.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Flank Steak, 2 Ways {Freezer Meal}

We are a meat and potatoes kind of family.

I would like to write that we are a vegetarian, kale-loving, green smoothie-drinking, salad with no dressing-eating kind of family. It sounds so fresh and healthy. But it's not true. We love meat.

My kids, myself and my husband, especially my husband, all love a good steak. There is nothing better than a thick, juicy, perfectly cooked cut of beef. However, it's also one of those dishes that is reserved for special occasions, or at least a relaxing Sunday night. 

But sometimes we cheat. Sometimes we throw a steak on the grill on a Tuesday. This is our weeknight steak.

Flank steak is a lean, somewhat tough (i.e. less expensive) but flavorful cut of beef that benefits from the tenderizing effects of a marinade. My favorite marinades are a southwest-style marinade and a sweet teriyaki-style marinade. I've included my recipes for both below, hence Flank Steak 2 Ways! 

I like to buy flank steak 2 or 3 to a package at Costco, marinate them in a ziptop bag and throw them in the freezer for a great steak any night of the week!

When flank steak is marinated, cooked quickly at high heat, and thinly sliced, it practically melts in your mouth. This recipe calls for grilling the steak, but if you don’t have a grill, you can prepare the steak on a large cast iron frying pan.

Southwest Flank Steak is smokey and slightly spicy with a touch of sweetness. Chili powder and cumin give it that distinct southwest flavor.

Grill the steak for about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare.

Serve with grilled vegetables in an attempt to be more healthy.

Slice the steak in thin strips against the grain.

The Asian Flank Steak is prepared the exact same way.

I like to live out my vegetarian fantasy by placing my beef atop a mountain of greens and colorful vegetables, much to the dismay of my carnivorous family.

Serves 4-6

Mix the following marinade and pour over a 1.5-2 lb. flank steak. Freeze in a Ziploc bag.
-1/3 cup olive oil
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
-1/3 cup soy sauce
-1/4 cup honey
-1 tsp cumin
-1 tsp chili powder
-1 tsp thyme
-1/2 tsp paprika
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Serves 4-6

Mix the following marinade and pour over a 1.5-2 lb. flank steak. Freeze in a Ziploc bag.

-¼ cup brown sugar
-1 tsp garlic
-1 tsp ginger
-½ cup soy sauce
-1 Tbsp sesame oil
-1 tsp red pepper flakes

Thaw steak completely before grilling. Grill about 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare steak. The extra marinade can be brought to a boil, then simmered in a small saucepan. It can be used to drizzle on top of the grilled flank steak.

Flank steak is best eaten medium rare; well done will make it too tough. When the steak has cooked to your preferred level of doneness, remove from the grill and place on a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil to hold in the heat and to keep the steak from drying out, and let rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice the steak against the grain. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Milestone You Hope For, But Don't Admit

'Flower', 'hotdog' and 'swing' are a few of the most recent words Elise has added to her rapidly expanding vocabulary. At 15 months old she can say well over 50 words which is far more than her brothers were speaking at this age. Henry, in particular, had about 5 words by 15 months and some of those were made up. At 2 and a half he is now speaking perfectly fine, which just goes to show that they all catch up eventually.

One milestone Elise has not yet mastered is WALKING. She was slow to crawl, so I'm not at all surprised that she is not toddling around the house yet. It's just that my arms are getting really tired. Also, it's summer now and the cement is hot and the playground is mulchy, so whenever we go outside she is not inclined to crawl around on surfaces that cause discomfort to her knees. Instead, she prefers for me to indulge her every whim and cart her around like her personal walking chauffeur.
Elise not walking outside.

Elise not walking at the park.

"Fow-a!" she yells, and I haul her over to smell the flowers. 

"Swing!" she demands, and we trot over to the playset.

"Ball!" she points across the yard and I say, "Let's just stay here and swing for a little bit."

"No! Nnnoooooo! Ball! BALL! BAAAAAALLLL!!!"

I am ready for her to walk.

Occasionally I try standing her up, stepping back and reaching out my arms. "Come on, Elise! Can you walk to Mama?"

"No." she states matter of factly. 

Sometimes I show her videos of her peers walking. My friend's 10-month-old recently took off and is practically jogging around his house.

"Look at this baby walking, Elise!"

"Walk-y, walk-y, walk-y" she chants in a sing-song voice. 

"Yes, he is only 10 MONTHS OLD! You've got 5 months on him! It's kind of embarrassing, really. Don't you want to walk like the baby?"

Elise at the strawberry farm.
Not walking.
Instead, she made Grammie cart her around.
"Now take me to that strawberry."
"And feed it to me."

At least her refusal to walk has benefited her communication skills.

Another word she has recently mastered is 'Elmo,' or as she calls him, 'Melmo'. In fact, this post is about how Elmo himself helped my baby achieve her latest milestone.

The funny thing is, she has never actually seen an episode of "Sesame Street," because I am vehemently opposed to toddlers watching television.

JUST KIDDING. No, it's because her brothers hog the TV and she has never expressed interest in watching cartoons about mutated turtles.

Her only Elmo exposure has come from books and hand-me-down toys and still, SHE LOVES MELMO.

I'm not sure what kind of muppet voodoo Jim Henson did to create the ultimate toddler celebrity, but they are all crazy about that little monster. I can only assume that Elmo is the toddler equivalent of Will Ferrell. Think about it: everybody loves Will Ferrell for reasons that can't be explained, he is rather furry too and the more you watch his movies, the funnier they get. I think toy manufacturers need to create an Elmo doll that says all Will Ferrell's catchphrases like Elmo needs more cowbell! and You're Elmo's boy, Blue! I would totally buy it. Yeah, you would too. See what I mean?

Anyway, Elise's favorite Elmo toy is a moving, talking doll passed down from cousins to my oldest when he was little. Basically, it's been through 4 children before her. It used to dance and stand on one foot and tell all sorts little stories and jokes. Unfortunately, one day my 2-year-old decided to use Elmo as a weapon and hurl him down the stairs at the 4-year-old. Jack ducked out of the way just in time, but poor Elmo smashed on the hardwood floor and broke his leg. Now, when his switch is flipped on, he immediately collapses to the floor and exclaims Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please? And since he will never be able to stand again, that is the only phrase he says.

Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please? Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please?

And STILL Elise loves Melmo.

She crawls around the house, dragging him behind her. Uh oh, Elmo fell down! Can you help Elmo up, please?

"Uh oh," she repeats.

So today I had a brilliant idea. I used Elmo to help my daughter achieve a major milestone. No, it was not walking. It is the one milestone that mothers secretly hope for but never admit.

Today, while Elise was busy not walking, I dug out an old Elmo DVD and popped it in.

She paused. She looked at the screen. She pointed. "Melmo. Melmo. Melmo! MELMO! MEEEELMO!"

And there she sat for the next 20 minutes thoroughly engrossed Elmo's World.

And I cleaned the kitchen without anyone trying to "help" me unload the dishwasher.

Elise may not be walking yet, but PRAISE THE LORD she is watching TV!

So if you'll excuse me, Elmo is doing a riveting impression of a horse right now, which means I have 20 minutes to go SHOWER IN PEACE for the first time in 15 months!

I'll take it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Childhood Revisited

"You guys didn't really take many family vacations when you were growing up, did you?" my husband asked me once, several years ago, while we were flipping through old photo albums.

I had never really thought about it before, but he was right. We went to the beach a couple of times, but never anything beyond that. There were no trips to Disney or educational forays to Williamsburg or long treks across state parks.

It's not that we couldn't afford it, although I'm sure money was tight in my parents' early marriage. My father was still in college when I was born, after all.

"We didn't need vacation," I answered, matter of factly, "We had my grandparents' house."

My grandparents live in a small town in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. To my sisters and me, it was our own little slice of heaven. It wasn't the tiny Appalachian town itself that was so enthralling, although the occasional trip to the Wal-Mart was always exciting (note: in small towns the mega-store is not referred to as simply "Wal-Mart." It is always THE Wal-Mart). No, it was my grandparents that made our visits so special.

From the minute my parents dropped us off up until our goodbyes, we knew that our grandparents had carved out this week just for us. The kitchen was stocked with our favorite foods and the days were blank canvases waiting to be filled with romps in the creek, tire-swinging, raspberry-picking or firefly-catching.

One of our favorite pastimes was dressing up in my grandmother's old gowns from the 50s and 60s. We'd spend an hour selecting the perfect combination of dress, wig, gloves and jewelry. The final accessory was always a couple of pairs of Grandpa's tube socks, balled up and stuffed down the front of the bodice to give an air of authenticity to the ensamble. Mamma, as we call her, was delighted to see us parading around the house in her vintage sequined top or a glamorous cocktail dress. Over the years, even her wedding gown became tattered and kool-aid stained after countless hours of dress-up. "Now tell me, how many wedding dresses have been this well-loved?" she would laugh.

My grandpa always had a surprise or two in store for us. Once he brought home an enormous refrigerator box from the local appliance store. We quickly fashioned it into a house, made Grandpa sit inside and fed him sandwiches through the tiny window. Another time he and I trapped a perfect little white bunny in the yard using the old carrot-under-the-box-propped-up-by-a-stick trick. Years later I learned that Grandpa actually got the rabbit from a pet store and stuck it under the box while I was asleep.
I think I named her Buttercup.
When I visit now, I'm taken aback at how quickly I'm transported to my childhood. The summer air still smells of honeysuckle and everything that's familiar. A small piece of me lives forever in those hills, along with the memories ofl Mamma's contagious laugh and Grandpa's late-night tales of the frightful Gohumpy that lives just up the holler.

When I first got married, I wanted to share this part of my past with my husband. And he's been to the house and he loves my grandparents too. But there are some things you just can't impart with words and grown-up visits.

This week my oldest is having a vacation of his own in the Kentucky mountains. This is the 3rd summer he has taken a solo trip to Mamma & Grandpa's house. 

My grandparents have been texting me photos  of his time with them. (yes, TEXTING. They're hip like that.)

He is swinging...

...roasting marshmallows...

...eating his favorite foods...

...dressing up (after a quick trip to the Wal-Mart)...

...and enjoying his own slice of Appalachian heaven.
I see his face and I recognize that joy. And I am blessed knowing that a piece of me and a piece of him are intertwined in those same hills.

We share the same love for the same two people in the exact same way.

We are sharing a slice of childhood.

And it sure is delicious.