Sunday, July 31, 2011

Winner winner, tofu dinner.

Thanks for commenting on my previous post! I put all the entries into a hat (there were a couple on Facebook, too) and had Liam draw a name...

First he had to fix his contact.
Okay, now he can draw a name...

Congratulations, Caddie!! Please email me your address (nomommybrain@gmail.com) and I'll get the book shipped off to you right away. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do!

And speaking of family dinner...

The other night I did a Google search based on ingredients we had in the house (mango, lime, tofu) to figure out what to make for dinner (don't you love that?). The recipe I found was so easy and delicious I wanted to share it with you!

Vietnamese Mango Stir Fry

2 ripe mangoes cut into cubes (slice off "cheeks", score fruit in skin, flip inside out and slice off fruit...like this)

3 Tbs Shoyu (or soy sauce), juice from 1 lime, 1 tsp sugar, half tsp salt, quarter tsp black pepper, mixed together until sugar and salt dissolved

1/2 C (give or take) vegetable oil

1 block of extra firm tofu (pressed, cut into cubes and marinaded briefly in Shoyu)

2 cloves finely minced garlic

1 C trimmed green beans

Half a cup of cashews (Thai Lime & Chili Cashews from Trader Joes spice this dish up perfectly and make you feel like an Iron Chef! I just left them out of the kids' dishes.)

Brown Rice (I usually make a cup at a time - bring 1 C uncooked rice, 2-1/4 C water, 1 Tbs butter, 1/2 tsp salt to a boil, cover, reduce heat, simmer for 45 minutes)

Heat the oil in a wok until very hot. Cook tofu until browned on all sides, remove with a slotted spoon or spatula and place on a paper towel. Take the wok off the heat and stir fry garlic for a few seconds in remaining oil. Return the wok to the heat, add the green beans and stir fry for a minute or two. Return tofu to wok and add sauce. Mix well, then add mango. Stir gently until warmed through. Serve on brown rice and garnish with cashews. Enjoy!

If you don't like tofu, I suppose you could use chicken (poor chickens! just kidding...kinda). We used green beans because Bill just brought them home from the grocery, but I think pretty much any green vegetable that cooks up quickly would work (snap peas, broccoli, shelled edamame...).

{The original recipe is here but I made a bunch of changes...like you do.}

PS - Bill felt it was important for you to know that Liam is not naked in these photos. It's just really hot here so the boys strip down to their skivvies every chance they get. Also? My book is the "used" copy in the photos; yours is brand spanking new and has never been man-handled by my five year old. : )

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The family dinner.

{Spoiler alert: There's a chance to win a PRIZE at the end of this post!!!}

Back in April my cousin came to visit us in Nashville (such a treat - she's my favorite) and brought me a book called The Family Dinner. I had recently written this post about our dinnertime situation so when she saw it in the store, she immediately thought of me.

Because she's amazing and thoughtful and beautiful and...

The day after she left, I picked up the book and did not put it down until I had read the whole thing. It was really cute and well written but what I loved most was how approachable it was. It had practical ideas and recipes (almost all with vegetarian modifications!) and made me feel like any steps we took toward eating together as a family were better than nothing.

Did your five year old complain and refuse to eat the entire time? Who cares? You still did it!

Does tonight's "dinner" consist of a block of cheese and a box of crackers? That's okay - just sit together and pass 'em round!

The author, Laurie David, is Larry David's ex-wife so to me it felt a bit like reading something from an old friend. Curb Your Enthusiasm was one of my late night nursing shows so Larry was totally IN OUR LIVES for a while there. We pretty much watched every episode ever made and it only took us two months of sleepless nights! (After that we took the TV out of our room. We were sooo done.)

I love how non-preachy this book is. I feel like most parenting books and cook books set the bar WAY UP HERE and then when you're (obviously) not able to leap over it in a single bound, you feel like a failure and quit trying. But this book is so not like that. It basically says forget the food, forget the fancy setting, and simply focus on the experience. The time together as a family. And if it's not a particularly enjoyable experience, that's okay too! You don't have to knock it out of the park, you just have to DO IT. Whatever that means.

You're building a routine so that someday when your kids are teenagers and really REALLY don't want to sit across the table from you, family dinner will be so ingrained in their lives that they won't even think twice about it. How far can a kid stray if he has to eat dinner with his parents every single night?! (That's probably a pretty weird interpretation of the book but that was my main takeaway. If I think this is hard now, imagine how hard it will be when he's thirteen! Whatever motivates you, right?)

Right away I started trying harder. Most nights I would make something (anything!) for dinner so that when Bill got home from work we could sit together as a family before Finn needed to go to bed. It wasn't particularly fun at first, but we did it. I even sat with the boys at the table when Bill was out of town which felt like a miracle of epic proportions. I used to like to wait until the boys went to bed so I could eat cereal for dinner and watch TV (classy, I know). But I forced myself to sit with my family (even though part of my family was missing) and spend time together over dinner. And guess what? It was awesome.

Liam requested this "special variety dinner" (aka - a cheese plate)
a LOT after I threw it together for our first family dinner together.

We've been doing this off and on (but mostly on) for the past few months and I think I can honestly say it's working. This week I launched back into the illustration project I started last summer (ouch) which means come dinnertime, our table looked more like an episode of Hoarders: Cut Paper Edition than anything out of Better Homes and Gardens. This is usually what derails us (darn, the table is messy, guess we better watch TV!), but not anymore.

I was amazed to find that when dinner was ready, Bill and Liam instinctively came to the table. Just like Laurie said they would! And instead of trying to find a new home for my mess or worrying that if I put away my project I might never find the time to get it out again, I just shoved everything to one side of the table and we ate around it. It wasn't perfect (it never is) but it didn't matter. We had created a ritual!

And, not only are we sitting together, we're eating together, too. Yes, even Liam! There are still rules and reminders (he has to taste everything on his plate, even if he really doesn't want to) and he may never be a member of the clean plate club, but he's doing SO MUCH BETTER. And every night we do it, it gets a little easier.

So a couple months ago when I found a copy of The Family Dinner at the going-out-of-business sale at Borders (so sad), I jumped at the chance to buy it. This book had brought so much inspiration to my home, I couldn't wait to share it with someone else. And, lucky reader, YOU could be that someone! Just leave me a comment about something dinner related and I'll put all the entries into a hat and draw a winner. Maybe you could tell me your favorite thing about family diner as a kid. Or share a recipe you like. Or link to a book or blog or website that inspires YOU. Or tell me what you ate last night or are planning to eat tonight. Or spill what your favorite Curb episode is? Whatever! Just be sure to include an email address so I can get in touch if you win. Let's say...by tomorrow (Friday, July 29) at midnight? Sound good? Okay, go! And bon appetit or whatever...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Baby love.

I love this baby.

Crazy, insane, who could believe it, madly, deeply, LOVE.

He's...I don't even know. Perfect would be an understatement.

He has the power to make me melt in about a million different ways. When I pick him up to plop him on my hip and he exhales in my ear. When he smiles a little bigger than he has to and I get to see all of his teeth. When I ask him a question like, "Do you want some milk?" and he squeals and claps like it's the best thing he's ever heard. When he hears thunder or a loud truck and fast-crawls straight to me for reassurance.

He loves it when I pretend to eat his fingers.

And gasps with excitement when I carry him out of his room after a nap.

He crawls and cruises like a little champ. Which is adorable until you suddenly realize he's disappeared. "Where's Finn? Finny? Liam, have you seen Finn? Seriously you guys, WHERE IS FINN?!?"

"He's right here, Mama," Liam says laughing. And sure enough, there he is, sitting on the floor in plain view playing with a block or looking for something to put in his mouth.

"That's so funny!" I say. "I looked in here five times already but I didn't even see him!"

"Well, he's a living thing but he's really small. It's easy to forget he's here!"

What an adorable little surprise!

He (finally) likes reading books together. And will even turn the pages if I ask him to. He gets so excited. Every new page is like the best thing that's ever happened to him.

His excitement is contagious. And his laugh? Like music to my ears.

I can already tell he has a great sense of humor. Like when I dance or sing for him he looks at me like, "You're joking, right?" Or winces and blinks his eyes when he tastes something he's not sure that he likes. "But he's Finny," Liam says. "He likes everything!" And he does. So far. But he also likes to make us laugh.

He loves to be part of the action and will happily play with the big kids as long as we'll let him.

(Although, this does NOT apply to child care at the YMCA. That makes him cry hysterically off and on until I get back.)

When I tell him no, he laughs like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard. And then he does whatever I told him not to do again and again, and again...

If I try not to say no ("Ah ah ah, Finny..."), he mocks me ("Aaah! Aaah! Aaah!!!").

He's hilarious.

I love him.

So, so, so much.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Oops...I did it again.

BRITNEY?!? Again?!?

Ohhhh, yeah.

Only this time, instead of a road trip with my sister, I'm going to see her with a couple of girlfriends right here in Nashville. We got our tickets on Groupon. And will be riding to the show in a mini van. Because two years in mommy years is a like a millennium and that's just how I roll now.

I'm sure my babysitter thinks I'm nuts.

But who cares? It's Britney-freaking-Spears!!! And even though I am completely unfamiliar with her new album and have NO IDEA what to wear, I have all day to get in the zone (yes, the bad Britney puns have started already...).

This morning I said, "I don't know boys, we might have to go shopping today. I have no idea what to wear to Britney Spears!"

"What about your mu-mu, Mama?"

Oh boy...

{I will try to post an update later}

Update #1 Listening to Brit's new album like it's my job...just realized "How I Roll" is a song title and I totally wrote that earlier not knowing how punny it was!

Update #2 Since shopping with a post-pardum body (9 months on, 9 months off my ass) and two children sounded like no fun at all, I decided to just go with something I already owned. Why I chose this I have no idea...

Thanks, Liam.

As soon as I put my arms down, it becomes painfully obvious that I'm wearing a denim romper from Target. But I figure if there are women wearing school girl skirts and big yellow snakes, no one is going to notice the 33 year old with her hands on her hips. Right? Now where'd I put that flask...

Update #3 OMG, that rocked!!! Britney and Nicki Minaj were amazing and the opener-opener Nervo (Australian twin sister djs!) were adorable and would have been really fun to dance to if I wasn't busy eating a soft pretzel saving my energy for Britney. I'm super glad I dressed like myself instead of trying to look like someone cooler or younger or who often goes to pop concerts because I actually feel like I fit in pretty well. I don't know if Nashville is just really different from Sacramento or if it's because the show was on a Monday instead of a Saturday (and started when it was still light out...) but there were very few people who went all out. People looked GREAT but I didn't see a single snake or circus costume. I would have been pretty embarrassed if I was the only one...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We're all in this together.

While picking out a birthday present the other day, I found a little something for our home as well.

Zen Ties by Jon J Muth is a follow-up to Zen Shorts, one of our current favs. As you can see, the illustrations are insanely beautiful. And the stories? Equally so. I love that a big bear in boxers can subtly introduce kids (and their grown ups...) to the wonderfully welcoming world of Zen (holy alliteration!).

If you were to snoop around our house right now, you might think, judging by our bedside tables, that we are are a family of devout Buddhists. (I'm currently reading Buddhism for Mothers; Bill has been working on Awakening the Buddha Within for months - he likes to read several books at a time; and Liam often gets caught reading Zen Ties or Zen Shorts after lights out.) But we're actually not devout Buddhists (or devout anything for that matter...). We're just regular people who want to live the very best lives that we can.

That desire often leads us to the used bookstore where we're drawn to anything that sounds the least bit promising. Since the books are usually priced about two bucks a pop, we find no need at all to be selective. We've brought home everything from Who Moved My Cheese? to Dianetics, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families to I Am My Mother's Daughter. Our bookshelves are full and oh so random.

While we can almost always find something to take away from what we read, it's the books about Buddhism that seem to fit us best. For me it's like reading something I already knew that I was never able to put into words. Sometimes I see myself as I am now ("I totally do that already!"), and sometimes I see who I hope to be in the future. Either way, it seems to make a lot of sense. (And it doesn't hurt that the more we incorporate the teachings into our lives, the better our lives become...)

So anyway, back to the newest book in our totally random collection: Zen Ties. It's a playful and clever introduction to the idea that everyone and everything is connected. All of us affect all of us. We are responsible for ourselves but everything we do affects the world around us. Our choices, our behavior, our actions all have the power to impact others. It's up to us to decide what that impact will be.

Pretty major stuff for a five year old!

(It also taught us that we should always do our best. Liam just told me that. I asked him if he could keep himself and his brother safe for a few minutes while I took a shower and he said, "I'll do my best! That's what we're all supposed to do. Zen Ties taught me that." Awesome! But totally not helping me get to my point.)

(Yes, I have a point. Or if not a point, at least something I wanted to say.)

The introduction to interconnectedness was subtle, which I liked (nothing worse than having something shoved down your throat*) but I wasn't sure if it was too abstract for Liam to grasp. I was searching for a more concrete example that he could relate to and this morning in my inbox, I got one!

It was an email from none other than Miss Courtney Jaye herself. Yes, THE Miss Courtney. The one who sang to Liam in his room when he was a starry eyed three year old. The one whose music has been like the soundtrack to our lives. The one who my son is pretty much in love with, both as an artist and as a "very pretty girl". She's obviously a very important person in our lives.

The email was telling us about the Kickstarter Campaign she launched to raise money to help fund her trip to play the Austin City Limits Festival in September.


I had never heard of Kickstarter before but I think it's a fantastic idea. Talk about all of us affecting all of us! As I tried to explain to Liam, "Miss Courtney needs a lot of money to get to a show in Texas-"

"How much money?"

"A lot."

"Like, how much?"

"You're not going to believe it but she needs like ten thousand dollars-"

"Don't do it."

"What?"

"That's way too much money, Mama. You can't give her that."

"No, I know. I can't give her $10,000. Probably nobody can. But I can give her something. And if I give her what I'm comfortable sharing and a bunch of other people do the same thing, before you know it she'll probably have enough."

"That's cool."

"Yeah, I thought so too."

"She's a really good singer."

"Yeah, I know. It makes me feel good that we could help her."

"Me, too. Cause she's a really pretty girl and a great singer and we love her."

"I think it's cool that we can do something nice for her that will not only make her feel good but also allow her to share her music with other people."

"That's like something nice she can do for them."

"Yes! It's kinda like in Zen Ties. You know, how we're all connected?"

"Yeah, and how we always do our best."

"Exactly."

{Please click HERE to help Miss Courtney get to Austin. Thank you!!!}

****************************************
*Super random side note: When I wrote, "nothing worse than having something shoved down your throat" I immediately thought, "NOT a euphemism" which is something Bill likes to say ALL THE TIME, whether it makes sense or not.

"Can you help me with the dishes?"

"Is that a euphemism?"

I think it's one of the names he says he's going to call the blog he's never going to start. That and "Zombies Among Us." Whatever he calls the non-existent blog, the first post should totally be called, "Bill, Pete and R Kelly." It would be a video of him and his friend Pete at the R Kelly concert, which is where they are right now. For reals.


Before he left he was like, "What should I wear?"

"It doesn't matter," I said. "It will be wrong."

I really wish he'd start that blog. It would be highly entertaining.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rise and shine.

This morning at 5:05 am, Bill nudged me awake. "I think your alarm's going off."

I rolled out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. Even with my cell phone in hand, I still couldn't be sure if I heard it or not. But it was definitely buzzing and flashing something chipper at me like, "Wakey, wakey!" Five after five in the morning. WAY too early to be out of bed.

I tip-toed out into the hall to see if I could hear anyone stirring. Silence. I crept into the kitchen, found a to-go cup and poured myself a cup of coffee. First things first. I heard the toilet flush in the boat. "Oh, good," I thought. "She's awake." The only thing worse than getting up at the crack of dawn is making someone else get up at the crack of dawn. No one appreciates that. Not even when they have a plane to catch.

I heard the bathroom door open and my mother-in-law came around the corner into the kitchen.

"Good morning," I whispered.

"Good morning," she whispered back.

I handed her her coffee and we shuffled down the hall. Shoes on, suitcase zipped, out the door and on our way to say goodbye.

It had been sort of a surprise visit - we found out Wednesday she would be here on Friday - but what a fantastic surprise. Liam LOVES his grandmama, a name he only recently started calling her (we were pushing for "Fancy Pants" but it just didn't take). And little Finn has finally learned that a grandma is a boy's best friend.

It's always sad to see family go but I know it won't be long before we have another visitor. Chateau de Conran has a way of luring people back...

On my way home, I felt surprisingly awake. I had volunteered to take Grandma to the airport because there was no reason I couldn't go back to bed after I dropped her off. But now that I was up, I was starting to think I might just start the day. Then again, it wasn't even 6:00. That seemed a little early to be up for no reason.

But when I pulled up to the house and got out of the car, I was overcome with how nice it felt outside. I wasn't sweating or cursing the day I was born. There were no bugs swarming around me. I didn't have a single mosquito bite and I'd been out of my car for more than 30 seconds. Wait a minute, was that? Was that a cool breeze I felt?

I hadn't enjoyed being outside this much since Hawaii! It was there I realized that while I do love being outside, it is definitely a fair-weather love. As in, I love being outside when the weather is fair. When it's hot and humid and sticky and buggy (like it is in Nashville right now), I actually do not like being outside at all. I despise sweating and would honestly much rather hole up inside my house like a crazy person than do any number of normally "fun" activities (i.e. - going to a party, taking a walk, checking out the farmer's market, jumping on the trampoline, watching a movie in the park, gardening, taking the kids to the playground, having a picnic, getting the mail, etc.).

So when I realized this morning that being outside can be enjoyable in Nashville as long as you get up early enough, I scrapped my plan to go back to bed and got out my gardening tools. If not now, when?! I spent the next hour or so in the front yard, pulling up weeds in my sun dress and bare feet, grinning like an idiot and looking at strangers out walking their dogs like, "Look at us! We're outside! And we're not even sweating!!!"

We should have shirts made.

Thank you, Fancy Pants! (No reason I can't still call her that.) For spending time with us in Nashville and helping me discover how nice it is to be up before dawn. Who knew my happy place got up before I did?!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Back-to-school shopping.

I can remember back-to-school shopping with my mom like it was yesterday...

The summer before second grade when almost everything I picked out was fluorescent (the hot pink dress with neon green sleeves and buttons was my pick for the first day of school...and class pictures). Fourth grade was all about over sized shirts and stretch pants. Fifth grade included a mortifying trip down the training bra aisle (I practiced wearing it that summer with the long grey wig I picked up at our neighbor's garage sale). Seventh grade = vests. Ninth grade began my obsession with color-coordinated socks and rayon shirts. Senior year I bought all my new school clothes at the thrift store.

I remember standing in line at Ross as my mom showed me how to do side bends, "just in case my new jeans got a little tight in the waist." (How'd she know? I was totally sucking it in when I showed her!)

And getting to wear a back-to-school outfit to the Ice Capades with my best friend even though the first day of school was still several weeks away. (THE BEST!)

I recall choices that carried me through the school year and beyond - the skinny black pants with a side zipper that I LOVED and wore and wore and wore until I took a spill on the playground and split the butt (2nd grade).

And choices that were more aspirational than anything I would have actually worn to school - the ankle length prairie skirt (peach and white floral) and white lace shirt that I buttoned all the way up and accessorized with a cameo brooch (5th grade...I can only imagine how lovely it must have looked with my wig).

There was the year I flew to Seattle by myself to visit my aunt and cousin and got to go shopping at stores I had only read about in Seventeen (Banana Republic, United Colors of Benneton, Nordstrom...).

And the many "mini-vacations" my parents took us on to San Francisco where we'd get to shop at the Esprit outlet on our way to a Giant's game.

Back-to-school shopping was never just about getting clothes for school. It was an event in and of itself. A day to think about the coming year and who you wanted to be. It honestly felt like that trip to Mervyn's could completely shape my future. And even though I generally regretted most of my purchases the moment I stepped foot on the bus ("Neon is out and Guess Jeans are in? Darn..."), for a few short weeks I felt like I had it all under control. Because this year was going to be THE year. And I had just the wardrobe to make it happen.

With the final countdown to Kindergarten underway, I couldn't help but think that a back-to-school shopping trip was exactly what I Liam needed. So what if he's a boy who has to wear standard school attire? Back-to-school shopping is not about the clothes; it's about the experience.

And that's exactly how I sold it to him.

"You mean we could go on a date to a restaurant and I could get french fries and Sprite?"

"Exactly!"

"And it will be just you and me?"

"Yep!"

"And we get to go to Old Navy afterwards?"

"Mmmhmm. Does that sound like something you want to do?"

"Pshh-yeah," he talks like a teenager now. "I totally want to do that!"

It was a date! First, as promised, we went to Red Robin for lunch where he was all, "Why do they call it Red Robin? Don't they know robins are brown with red chests? If they wanted to call it a bird name, they should have used Cardinal. That would have made a lot more sense."

Pshh-duh.

When we got our table, I made a point to take the seat facing the restaurant so he wouldn't be distracted by all the flair (plus, I hate having my back to a room). What I failed to notice was the TV mounted to the wall directly above my head. Moments into our date he had completely zoned out.

I turned around to see what could possibly be more interesting than my recollections of Kindergarten and back-to-school shopping trips. Looney Toons on mute. Of course.

He was rapt. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could pry his eyes off that TV. Even when I called him out on it (several times...), all he could do was laugh. "I know...I'm trying...it's just...that guy keeps falling!"

I craned my neck to see who it was. "Oh, yeah. That's Coyote."

"It's so crazy," he said laughing. "That guy keeps coming up with these plans to trick that big bird but nothing works. He just keeps falling off that rock!"

If you've never watched someone watch the Road Runner for the first time, it's pure comedy. So I let it go. It was supposed to be his special day, after all. If he wanted to spend it trying to figure out what was wrong with Wile E Coyote, he could be my guest. Besides, the waitress had already complemented us on his manners and polite behavior. We could afford to coast for a bit.

After lunch, Liam wanted to play at the playground for a while before we went to Old Navy (there's a park in the middle of the shopping center). And since he's way into Super Mario Brothers at the moment, he was Toad and I was Princess Peach. (All this means is that he talks in a funny voice and refers to me as "Peach". I can do that.)

The actual shopping part of our shopping trip was next. It was...easy. There was a big display of polo shirts and khakis so all we had to do was choose the colors we liked and find the right size. But because this was a special trip, I made Liam try everything on. It was a first, but he was a natural.

Maybe try the sweater now...and stop licking the wall.

Mmmm...

Yeeoww!

Yeah, you're right about the shorts. Total cholo on Easter...

After Old Navy he was done. "Can't we just try one more store while we're out here? Please?"

"No," he said. "I'm ready to go."

"But..." How could I explain to him the importance of this trip? The life-changing possibilities of the right shoes or a perfectly fitted polo? That after this there would be nothing standing between him and the first day of school. I mean, he couldn't go to Kindergarten yet. We were just getting started! And yet...

I sighed and accepted the inevitable. "Are you sure, buddy?"

"Yep," he said confidently. "I'm ready."

That makes one of us...