Refereeing on the Field of Play

I am not sure how I became a referee.  I have no professional training, no skills, or even an aptitude toward determining winners vs. losers.  I am not adept at breaking up the ensuing battle when the determined loser makes a final plea to state his or her case.   With my small, even petite, frame, I do not have the physical stature required of most referees.  My soft voice, with its former honeyed tones, and bright smile that regularly adorned my face have been replaced by a raspy yell and snarling grimace with lips permanently persed in a thin line.  To adapt to my newly appointed position, my demeanor has also evolved.  No longer fun-loving and carefree, Referees are always “on-guard” I have learned – listening, watching, and waiting for the next play.  The Players on my game field scream “Mom” when they are unable to call the shot.  I never knew until now that the title I answer to mostly is also synonymous with “Warden” or “Meanie”.  In my memory of being mothered, “Mom” meant Friend and represented a caretaker wielding unconditional love and never-ending hugs.  I am not sure when “Mom” came to mean something else entirely.  Occasionally, I see glimmers of the positive side to this epithet.  For now, I am an unwitting, struggling Referee to two of the best players in the game.

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Desperate HouseMaids

Much like the intro to the popular TV show, the setting is idyllic:  large, manicured lawns framing big, beautiful houses, panoramic views of mountains from your back deck, and a beautiful sunrise warming the horizon promising potential for a beautiful day.  That’s how my day began very early on a recent Sunday.  I could be on Wisteria Lane; but, ironically enough, I live off of Harmony Road.  Yet, there was nothing harmonious about my house on this day.

Typically enough, my sunrise reverie paused when Child #1 quietly scampered into my bed depositing herself on my pillow claiming that her younger brother, who snuck into her room hours before, had wet her bed.  “Ok”, I  groggingly replied while tucking the covers around us both, snuggling, and almost drifting back to sleep again.  The sun not yet fully risen, in bounded Child #2, loudly thumping and leaping into bed creating space for himself in between me and his sister.  “Ok, climb in”, I said and proceeded to tuck them both in.

Here is where the chaos begins, which should be prefaced with the fact that Husband has now been up for hours (Yes, he sets his/OUR alarm to 4:30 AM for daily “alone” time) playing Madden on his Playstation (please ignore the fact that he is 35, a father of 2, and a successful engineer).

The chaos erupted when, despite a perfectly warm bed and a bedside clock reading 6:55 AM, Children #1 and #2 had no interest in sleeping (of course!) but wanted to be tickled followed by breakfast.  I stretched and purred preparing to fulfill their demands (Why not? The weather looked promising and free of rain, rare in this cold month of February). Stepping into the living room with two children in tow, Husband playing his game (No welcoming acknowledgement of our presence) I continue into the kitchen to find evidence of last night’s debauchery:  an empty wine bottle and glasses, sink full of dirty dishes, dishwasher waiting to be emptied, pots on the stove, counter full of clutter, and something crunchy under my feet.  Knowing there will be no pleasant start to my day beginning with the perfect cup of boiling hot tea, reading, and a modicum of quiet, I ERUPT.  Not that my mornings ever began so peacefully – not since Child #2 came along – but they occasionally have the potential.  However, today I must get to work (clock in) in order to feed noisy, hungry children… and the work never stopped.

Cleaning up in between and after each meal, doing laundry, batting at children at my feet and clinging to my legs, yelling when my requests to “Stop jumping on furniture!”, “Stop wrestling!”, “Stop throwing toys!!”, were unheeded.  Yelling at my husband to recognize my plight and wake up from his oblivion to the chaotic destruction of my pleas for order.  “What would Bree do?”, I thought.  Her version of Desperation involves subtlety to attain perfection.  She might poison her husband or exert mind-control over her children (I wish I had Mind-Control!).  I came to the realization that perhaps my brand of unsubtle demands is ineffective.  If I seek Order and Bliss (Ok, I’ll settle for Peace), I must model that.  If I want to combat chaos, I must not impart chaotic (sometimes feeling like psychotic) behavior. 

This realization did not arrive that arduous day in February.  That day ended with my having a “Mommy Time Out” with Husband eventually pitching in to assist with management of the kids.  To be fair, Husband does provide help and unrequested support on many occasions.  His support does not always came in the timeframe I would prefer; however, after nearly 11 years of marriage, I am still learning that my inner clock is not fully wired with his. 

Weeks after my day-long tirade, I can now begin to feel more results from practicing strong yet austere demands versus screamed ones.  Or, maybe its the fact that they know an eruption can occur at any moment… Mom’s an active volcano!

Now that I have my children’s attention, I am not sure how to gain my husband’s.  His retreat into Oblivion is a result of a busy, stressful work schedule, the pressure of being the sole provider of his family, and his refusal to give all of his time and energy freely to his family… still holding on to the vestiges of his youth.  Mothers MUST give ALL of themselves ALL of the time – it’s a job requirement and it’s the way we’re wired.  It may take some Moms longer than others to realize when or how that total self-eradication occurred (I fall into that category); and, maybe some Fathers do not realize that their wives are no longer the carefree, sexy women they married.  Carefree?  Young children demand every ounce of your attention and listening skills at all times.  Sexy? Only when I have time to bathe, dress, and have had a few glasses of wine to erase the memory of daily battles.  Desperate?  Every Damn Day.  But, those moments when your child hugs you for no reason, smiles and says, “I love you, Mom”, peals of laughter, and funny made-up faces… these are the moments that make up for the chaos.  These are the endearing moments I remember in fits of desperation.

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Valentine Party Turned Mosh Pit

I almost declined the invitation to the party scheduled rather late on a recent Thursday night.  Since this was a Valentine’s Party, I decided to brave the cold, dress to impress, and prepare for a late night out.  My date looked dapper in his houndstooth flannel, button-down vest and newsboy cap.  Always well-dressed and with a contagious smile, I happily squeezed his hand as we walked into the main room.  Beautifully decorated for the evening’s theme and packed with partygoers most of whom were already grooving to the electric guitar riff from the hired performer energizing the crowd with upbeat party tunes.  After a bit of dancing and mingling, we enjoyed making our own ice cream sundaes (childhood faves are the latest adult indulgences, don’t you know… who can pass up ice cream, whipped cream, and sprinkles?  Who?!?).  High on sugar and all things unhealthy, the crowd grew wild as the music grew louder.  I realized, as I stood on the outskirts of the dance floor, that 3 year olds can “mosh” just as wildly as 16 year olds.  My date, my 3 1/2 year old son, grinned wildly as he flung himself into friends, stomped, rammed, then fell on the floor.  He wasn’t alone – his peers, girls and boys under the age of 5, all behaved uniformly.   Discussing with a Mom-friend what we were witnessing, we realized that “sugar” created a similar reaction that alcohol might in older age groups.  Perhaps it isn’t the substance but the environment that creates this rage-like activity:  fun energy, friends, and music.  What a great night!  As the performer, Geoff Johnson, packed up his gear and bode his guests a good night, my son stood at his feet reverently in awe of the stringed “machine” that created such fun.  Gaining Mr. Johnson’s attention, my son ushered a resounding and heartfelt “Thank You!”  for tonight’s performance.  As we headed out, he stopped and offered another “Thank You, Ms. Donna!” to the event’s planner, Ms. Donna, Director and Owner of Child’s Play Learning Center (we are enrolled at the Hickory Road location).  Beaming proudly for my son’s excellent manners, with ballons in tow, we walked hand-in-hand out the door, into our car, to home with a goodnight kiss sure to come.

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Restaurant-Style Dining at Home…the Modern Approach to Family Meals?

I don’t know whether my family’s eating habits are common or not, but I simply cannot imagine that other families don’t struggle with preparing healthy meals that EVERYONE will eat.  The four of us each have our own likes and dislikes, hardly any of which are not shared.  I eat a mostly vegetarian diet and prefer more gourmet tastes, muscle-man-wannabe hubby has a more basic palate and requires a strict diet that combines specific proportions of calories/calories/fat/protein, the 5-year-old is extremly picky disliking mushrooms, any specks of seasoning/herbs or “combined” foods, and the 3-year-old, my food-loving, omnivore will eat (or at least try) most anything (provided he’s not in the mood to be influenced by his picky sister) but finishes within 5 minutes and is off and running sticky hands and face no obstacles for walls, furniture, or floor.  

I realized quite recently that our family meals are evolving to a restaurant-style approach:  much like ordering off of a menu, we have begun preparing different meals for each individual’s taste.  The kids often eat the same meal, but husband and I customize our plate per our own dietary needs and preference.   None of us enjoy a heavy dinner; so, especially during the week, our evening meal is not an elaborate event.  Salads, soup, quick pasta/grains (quinoa, rice, couscous), veggies (or Mexican meals, which we generally all like) are all easy options for us to prepare separate dishes in 30 minutes or less. On the weekends, we find it much easier to eat later than our children who finish so quickly and want nothing to do with our food (generally, something that goes wonderfully with a plummy, deep wine!).

This post is not a confession of our dining imbalance but rather a claim of our attempt at familial accommodation.  I have spent years preparing traditional family meals each evening amidst crying, arguing, and wasted food that remained after the children were sent away….and, no one enjoyed anything.  Dinner was a nightly aggravation.  Eventually, my husband and I decided to choose peace rather than war.  Maybe we are the ones raising the white flag surrendering to the louder, angrier mob; regardless of the reason, our compromise has provided a much happier crowd. 

What solutions or compromises have you implemented at dinner time?

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Places to Take Kids When It’s Cold, Rainy, and You Don’t Want To Spend Much Money

Brrr…. another wintry day mid-February.  The Winter continues to freeze us at a time when Atlantans sometimes have spring-like weather.   Crawling the walls myself with cabin fever, I have come up with a few very affordable “field trips” for the kids when their activity level is high, my patience is low, and we all need to get out.  Here are a few:

  • McDonalds or Chic-Fil-A.  My favorite is actually McD’s – not for the food (sorry, MickieD’s!) but for the larger play area since my kids are on the older side of young.  Chic-fil-A caters to toddlers with its smaller play area with lower-height tunnels and climbing areas.  At either venue, the idea is not to fill up on fast food (for any of us) and spend $10.  No, no… we pack a lunch (occasionally supplemented with chocolate milk, apple dippers, etc).   I do feel obligated to spend some money since I’m using the facility, so we buy the toy at McD’s and/or hot cholocate (the occasional coffee for me – it’s not Starbucks, be warned, but it’s not complete drivel, either).  Bottom line:  Kids burn energy, I take a magazine, and we get out of the house for a couple of hours for $5 or less.  Bonus:  The Best McD’s around Woodstock/Canton (based on the perspective of a 5 and 3-year old) are: 
  1. Roswell’s McD’s at Crabapple at Hwy 140 (#1 for it’s HUGE play area, lots of tables,  and climbing area);  
  2. Holly Springs McD’s off of Holly Springs Parkway and Ridge Rd (#2 for its Treehouse-themed climbing area – beware, parents, on very limited table space);
  3. Canton’s Riverstone Pkwy location (#3 for the rubber floor under the climbing area, lots of crawling and hiding spaces, 2-story wall of windows for lots of sunshine and high-climbing fun!) 
  • Story Time.  Libraries and public bookstores all offer Free Storytimes at varying times and locations.  Libraries usually offer a craft activity, as well.   In my experience, storytimes are usually best for less-active   children.  At 2 1/2, my son had a very hard time not interrupting storytime by doing cartwheels and running around the room.  However, at 2 or younger and now at nearly 4, I found storytime quite age-appropriate.  A friend of mine with a well-behaved 18-mos old recently confessed that she felt her son was not ready for the quiet environment.  Commiserating with my own memories of raised eyebrows from patrons and staff at local libraries, you might weigh whether your child’s typical behavior will be appropriate at the time of day the storytime is offered as many are around 11 AM (near lunch time).  You also might start at a local bookstore vs a library as bookstores provide a more forgiving environment for children.  Noise is acceptable and wiggling the norm at most public venues; plus, shoppers aren’t there to study or research. I highly recommend:
  1. Foxtale’s Booke Shoppe in Downtown Woodstock.   The best storytime out there!  Every Saturday at 11 AM, either Ms. Jackie (one of the owners) or a storyteller will read from a selection of age-appropriate books correlating with an upcoming holiday or based on a collective theme.  After the reading, which the children are invited to participate in by turning pages or answering questions,  the kids are invited to dance to music from Foxtale’s selection.  Finally, after the children’s wiggles have been released, the children can select temporary tattoos.  The private Children’s Room at Foxtale’s also allows for parents to shop in the store,  if they like, during the 45-minute storytime.  Many of the same kids also attend so mine are beginning new friendships.  Parents should know that Foxtales is a wonderful bookstore specializing in independent and local authors.   Consider Foxtale’s for your child’s next Birthday Party, as well.  My daughter’s 4th birthday was held here and enjoyed by all!  They provided goodie bags with a book, a fabulous cake; and we had run of the park area just beyond their doors.
  2. Red Door Playhouse.  Located next to the historic mill at downtown Roswell (Hwy 120 and Roswell Rd), this will become a monthly outing on your calendar!  The Playhouse offers a FREE, one-hour, storytime once per month (usually, the 3rd Sat- the next one is scheduled Feb. 20) throughout the school year.  With stadium seating, a huge floor mat and stage, children (from toddlers to about 8-9 yrs) are invited to participate in music (with instruments), dance (to guitar tunes played by one of the directors), improvise onstage with a themed story (dinosaurs, magic, fairies, animals, are all examples of themes we’ve loved).  A great venue for birthday parties, as well as adult improv comedy and plays!
  • Toy Store Field TripBeware:  This is only recommended as a reward for good behavior since you WILL leave with a purchase!  Not only is it evil to take your children to a toy store without buying something, you will have WWIII if you don’t.  Some local toy stores have toys under $5 (including books – or splurge on a $10 puzzle or craft activity) with great play areas that will engage your kids for a bit.  My faves include:
  1. Learning Express – free craft activities some Saturdays + a great Lego train table and kitchenette
  2. Anklebiters – with a 2-story “treehouse” with child-size piano, bedroom, and kitchen, my children want to live here!  I love this store, too, for the hard-to-find yet well-priced boutique brands.  The independently owned store always carries adorable boutique clothes and accessories. 
  3. HoneyBee Toys – boutique toy store with a train table, car table, kitchen area, and story times during the week.  A convenient location next to Kroger at Hickory Flat makes this a must-visit!
  • Trader Joe’s or Harry’s Farmer’s Market. 
  1. Trader Joe’s small store features healthy, affordable nosh, samples, a “find the bear” activity with “reward”, kid-sized carts, balloons… my kids think it’s almost as good as a toy store.  I like the small floor plan – if my son steps away from my side, he couldn’t have gone far.  If you’ve never visited Trader Joe’s, take your young one and just go!! 
  2. Harry’s is a bit larger but with ethnic foods, yummy bakery and gelato stand (not to mention great chai lattes & hot chocolate!), the trip can become educational as kids feel welcome to try interesting foods (produce, meat, cheeses, veggies, etc) that they might balk at when served on their plate.  Also with kid-sized carts, young shoppers feel encouraged to wander but the shorter aisles and open areas make it easy to keep up with them.  Check out the great all-natural, children’s toiletry section, children’s healthy snacks, etc.
  • Music Stores.  I don’t have great recommendations in this category yet as my 3 1/2 year old is just now reaching the level of maturity I would expect when entering a store full of really loud and sometimes delicate instruments.  There are quite a few stores in my area and I plan on posting recommendations soon.

The point I’m trying to convey is get creative.  Think about what is available in your area, what might be of interest to your child engaging him or her either physically and/or intellectually.  The joy you’ll receive from a few minutes resting (not yelling!) and witnessing the smile on your child’s face is worth it! 

If you have any recommendations not listed above, please post!   I love finding new places for new adventures!

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Balsamic Vinegar is Sexy

Yes, I said balsamic is sexy.  No, I don’t have a food fetish (although I do love to eat).  While I currently may lack the more conventional type of sex-appeal (I am a mother of 2 that’s been married over a decade, for Pete’s sake!), I freely acknowledge that food is sexy.  Something magical happens when balsamic meets food – the dish just becomes better.  It carmelizes mushrooms, brings out the ripe sweetness of berries, makes your salad zing, and makes your baked goods so moist and delectable.  Oh, yes… have you ever added balsamic to dough?  

Craving a molasses flavor for healthy muffins my daughter would enjoy, I happened upon a recipe for Fig and Molasses Muffins at The Voracious Vegan.  When reading Tasha’s (author of The Voracious Vegan) opening sentence for the recipe post that these  muffins as “sexy”, I knew right then that this was the recipe for me.  Tasha accounts the sexiness for the brilliant combo of fig and molasses; I counter that it’s the combo of the molasses and balsamic that makes these muffins so uniquely yummy.  You must try them!  With cocoa powder, spices that include nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, a scosh (sp?) of brown sugar, heft amount of molasses, and only a tad of balsamic, these muffins are grown-up-good.  My young kids like them, too!  Fig may have taken this to another level, but I substituted the dried fig (since I didn’t have any on hand) with dried plums (ok, prunes already!) that I marinated about 20-30 in more balsamic to make sure that were overly plump and juicy.  I also added flaxseed (about 1/4 cup) to up the nutrish level.  The second time I made these, I made the same modifications but also sprinkled the tops with chopped almonds and a couple of Ghiradelli chocolate chips before baking.  Mmmm…

Having such great results with balsamic in my muffins and knowing that vinegar works as a tenderizer to all things pastry, I decided to try this magical ingredient in my 2nd attempt at empanadas.  I found a great, low-fat vegan empanada recipe at The Vegan Ronin.  Sorry, “Ronin” but mine didn’t come out so flaky!  I used homemade applesauce, which was probably the culprit since my sauce was chunky and not as liquid as a puree like you get in your store-purchased bottles.  But, I had faith in the recipe and tweaked it – my husband loved try #2 admitting that the first attempt was a bit dry.  My 2nd version replaced about half the applesauce with about a 1/4 cup of low-sugar apple butter (from Whole Foods – so good!).  In lieu of the white wine vinegar in the original recipe or the apple cider vinegar I used in recipe 1, I used 1 tbl. of balsamic.  I also increased the butter from 4 tbls to about 8 (or, 1 stick).  The dough came out beautifully!  So moist, easy to roll, a little delicate to work with (could have used about 6 tbls of butter & less apple butter).   We filled these with several types of fillings: 

(1) “Authentic” Empanada filling of scrambled “ground beef” with black beans, veggie cheese/cheddar, sauteed red & green peppers, shrooms, onion, black olives, raisins, lots of spices, cilantro, etc;

(2) Pizza Pie filling:  a pat of tomato paste spiced with Italian herbs, Veggie cheese slices (mozzerella), Yves  “pepperoni”, balsamic-glazed sliced portobello; 

(3)  Spinach!  The Favorite – hands down – as selected by carnivorous hubby and picky young kids:  in your food processor, throw in fresh spinach leaves, couple cloves of garlic, couple tbls. of shalots &/or red onion.   Spread a bit (maybe 1 tsp – just enough to lightly coat) of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese onto the empanada round, heaping round of spinach mixture (maybe 2tbls depending on size of dough round); if you’re not making this vegan, you can crumble a bit of chevre/herbed goat cheese – otherwise, use a veggie cheese.  I also added a couple slices of balsamic-glazed portobellos to some of these.  So yummy and a great way to get kids eating spinach! 

Follow the Vegan Ronin’s recipe for full directions.  This recipe was fun to make and allowed the kids to help (they filled!).

On a side note, while I’m not yet practicing a vegan lifestyle (still in the “flirting” stages of veggie diet), I enjoy using vegan recipes especially for baking.  The removal of non-dairy ingredients does NOT compromise flavor and only increases the health-factor.  I’ve had great results so far and look forward to learning more about vegan cooking.

About Balsamic…

If you are not yet acquainted with the yumminess of balsamic vinegar, the method is similar to a wine.  The authentic process calls for a concentrate from crushed grapes to be stored in a wooden box and aged or fermented for a minimum of 12 yrs.  Balsamic was created in Modena, Italy (where most of the balsamic vinegar still comes from today) over a thousand years ago.  Creating this elixir was passed down through wealthy families and given as an heirloom to newlyweds.  Balsamic was not as popular or as accessible worldwide until the 1980’s.  What we buy at the store is not “real”, authentic, balsamic just like the bottle of $3 cinnamon is not “actual cinnamon”.  It’s interesting to note that “balsamic” is derived from the word “balm”, which refers to something that has soothing and healing properties.  The vinegar itself has been known for its healthful qualities (it is from a grape, after all, and everyone by now should know about the many benefits of grapes thanks to polyphenols and antioxidants).  I love learning new things and found most of this data from http://www.modenabalsamic.com/ where you can also purchase authentic balsamic vinegar.

Hope you are inspired to add some “sexiness” to your next meal!

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Everyday Adventures… Fulfilling My Various Roles

While a rare, beautifully sunny day late January, my day started stressfully and never improved.  The alarm clock failing to alarm required my rushing to get dressed, get the kids dressed (without yelling!), get kids to school  (different ones!), me to work, complete work in a compelling tone and quick pace, meet with boss quickly, pick kids up (one late!), get kids home to rest for 30 min. while solving various quarrels, get kids ready for church group (late to choir!).

Today, I had a realization:  I’m not performing any of my roles effectively.  Thinking back to my full-time, career-focused days, sometimes I was spread so thin, wearing so many hats, that nothing was accomplished very well.  Sure, all of my bases were covered (well, most); but, juggling yielded an inability to give more than very minimal effort to any one task.   This is where I find myself today despite the fact that I’m no longer a full-time, career woman.  While I work part-time and career is no longer my top priority, I am expected to be sharp and creative when at work – all cylinders go!  However, sometimes all I can think about is the time I’m missing with my kids.  Like today… missing my son’s Cowboy Round-up party in his Pre-K group.  Sure, sounds like nothing but I find as the kids grow-up it’s really the little things that matter.  So, I find myself giving half the effort I should be to work. 

My main role is “Mom” yet because I work part-time – and am somewhat of a creative idealist with aspirations and unrealized dreams – I find myself wishing I had more “me” time to spend working and writing.  Cleaning the house, of course, is another distraction to my ideal perception of being “Mom”.  Therefore, my kids receive only half the mothering they should.

Whatever sliver of my energy that remains (think I’m in the negative side of zero here most of the time) goes to my role as “wife”.  Can’t say that I know how to solve this one at this point, but I am trying.

Back when I worked full-time, my solution to this realization would most likely be delegating something to someone else so that I could be more effective to at least one task.  But, when your bosses are your husband, your kids, and your employer, which do you choose?  The answer I would like to choose is my family – being a good Wife and Mother is the most important job I could have…but it only pays in hugs!

Guess this will be an Adventure to be Continued….

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