Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dinner spinner.

Recently I had a couple revelations about dinner.

1) A little meal planning can go a long way.

2) It doesn't have to look like dinner to count.

We had slipped into some bad habits with dinner (summertime and vacation are great at sabotaging routine) and I needed something to help get me back on track.

It seemed every single night I was surprised we had to eat again. "But didn't we just have dinner? I swear I figured this whole thing out last night..." Then I'd whip up some scrambled eggs or quesadillas for the kids or we'd head out the door for pizza.

I knew there was a time when I was cooking healthy balanced meals but I honestly couldn't remember what that was like. Did we sit down to eat every night? What in the heck did I cook?!

I desperately wanted to get back in the saddle but I couldn't remember how to ride the horse.

So one night I asked some friends what they do about dinner. Their approaches couldn't have been more different. One meal plans, one scrambles. Oddly enough, the two methods combined are what helped get me back on track.

Meal planning is a great way to know what to expect come 5:00. And, if you're smart, it will totally cut down on grocery runs and cost (I'm not there yet). But it's a lot of pressure. It means you're definitely cooking dinner most nights of the week. That is so much work. And if you have a kid in your family who kind of hates to eat (ahem, Liam...), it can feel like a huge, frustrating waste of time.

Scrambling probably doesn't sound like much of a plan but it's where I found this little treasure: dinner doesn't have to look like dinner. It can be anything you want! Cheese plate, breakfast, popcorn and long as everyone goes to bed with a full belly, mission accomplished.

Did that just blow your mind? I'm not going to lie - IT BLEW MY MIND. I tend to get caught up in doing things the way they are "supposed to be" done (yes! still! even after dropping out of school and trying so hard to unlearn all that stuff!) so I can put a lot of pressure on myself to make things "right". If I didn't have the ingredients (or motivation) to make dinner dinner, I would just throw up my hands and suggest we go out.

You can imagine how liberating it felt to realize dinner just had to be calories. Calories consumed together? FAMILY DINNER!

I have learned this before (I even wrote about it!) but sometimes things take me a while. Plus, I knew I wouldn't be able to just plop a big tray of nachos on the table without feeling like a fraud. Not yet. But if I planned to make nachos for dinner? That I could handle!

So we enlisted the help of a spinner app and sat down to come up with all the dinners we could think of. Some tried and true (stir fry, rice and beans, ravioli...), some we pulled from breakfast or lunch (migas, grilled cheese...), some we had never tried before (quinoa enchilada casserole), some that just seemed plain crazy (free for all, fondue, popcorn!), and as many things as the kids wanted to add (pizza, macaroni and cheese, pizza...).

On Sunday, the boys take turns spinning the wheel to see what we will have for dinner that week. It adds a bit of fun as well as makes them feel like they have some control. Plus, it takes the burden of dinner mostly off my back (cooking is fun but figuring out what to make can be a nightmare).

We've done this three weeks now and it's going really well. The boys love spinning the wheel and get super excited when they land on a dinner they like. All week they looked forward to cheese plate Thursday and grilled cheese and tots last night. And when it came time to eat? It was a pleasure for all of us. (Partly because I finally figured out how to nail grilled cheese. The secret? Good bread, low heat and plenty of butter.)

Since not all of our dinners are nutritional powerhouses (it's a pretty kid-friendly spinner...), I found a way to make peace with that as well. Every day the boys have an afternoon shake. So no matter what they eat at night, I at least know they had kale and blueberries for snack.

Now if we can just quit being bullies at the table, we'll be all set. So, Liam's super picky and eats slower than Christmas? Big deal! It's annoying as all get out but certainly not the kind of thing I want to ruin our relationship over. I think I need to treat it like some people do the birds and the bees - stash a book in his room and call it a day.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I'm having a bit of a love/hate relationship with Nashville at the moment. Or maybe it's more love/fear. Which they say is actually the opposite of love. Turns out hate is just fear in disguise...

Anyway. Nashville. It's so hot right now. And it has been for a while. It's been years since I could open a magazine or scroll through an Internet feed without seeing Music City USA all dressed up and on parade.

from Country Living

At first it was kinda cool. I mean, who doesn't want to see the home they love getting the attention it deserves? (Especially since I grew up in Reno and only ever had Reno 911 to hang my hat on.) But it didn't take long before it felt like too much. And I definitely wasn't the only one who felt this way.

When The Hollywood Reporter published an article about Nashville from the A-listers point of view (Eat where the Kings of Leon eat! Go to yoga with Nicole Kidman!), the comments told you everything about Nashville you'll ever need to know.

This went on for pages. Hundreds and hundreds of comments and not one saying, "Nashville rules! Y'all should come here!" I loved it so much. But, unfortunately, it didn't work.

Nashville's popularity continues to grow. Which is good - I think - but it definitely worries me.

I can't walk down a street in my neighborhood without seeing construction. Little old houses are being torn down so big ugly duplexes can squeeze every last dollar per square foot out of the zip code. Cafes and restaurants and juice bars and shops are popping up everywhere you look. You have to drive single file down the street to avoid hitting parked cars and sometimes we can't even find a spot to park at our own house.

I recently started watching the show Nashville (I'm always a bit behind the curve on stuff like this) so I totally get what all the fuss is about. It looks good on TV. Really good. And now that I'm paying attention, I realize that there is filming going on all around me all the time. Our neighborhood is practically a sound stage! I have no idea how I missed it before...

Just now for instance. I dropped the boys off at their art and music class and came over to Bongo Java to try to write (I'm feeling really uninspired at the moment but have to write something so my creative juices don't completely dry up...). As I was pulling up I realized there was nowhere to park which just kills me. Then I realized there were orange cones everywhere which I now know means there's a film crew nearby.

So now I'm sitting here, drinking some tea and typing away, watching extras walk and re-walk down the street right in front of me (thanks for the inspiration, Nashville!). It's super fun and cool but really weird at the same time. I almost want to poke my head out to see if I can tell what they're filming but the Nashvillian in me would NEVER.

And that's what I worry about. Will Nashville stay Nashville? Or will the TMZs of the world eff it all up? And if we keep building duplexes and condos and luring people here but we don't have the infrastructure to make it work (like, oh, I don't know... a school system that isn't completely broken), how long will it take to fall apart?

I say this as someone who left Reno right before the bubble burst. We left because it felt...unsustainable. And it was. The first time we went back to visit it was so sad. And its had to continue to fight its way back ever since. This feels a little bit different - the growth makes sense - but it still feels like too much too soon.

I guess if I'm honest, I just don't want Nashville to change. I love it the way it is. I love watching all the kids on our block grow up together, one Sunday S'mores at a time.

I love the people, the spirit, the soul.  I love that the bearded hipster film crew held the door for me when I got to the cafe this morning. I love that Connie Britton could walk in here right now to get a coffee and NO ONE would even think about bothering her. (Except me. But it's totally different - we're practically friends!)

I love that my boys feel like every inch of Nashville belongs to them.

I love that Nashville is getting lots of attention but I hope it doesn't go to its head. I hope we continue to know that what gives our homes value is not the price per square foot but the people inside. I hope we stop building condos and start fixing schools. I hope we think long and hard before tearing down what makes us special. I hope we don't let being Nashville turn us into something we don't recognize.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sleep training. Yeah, you read that right...

A few days ago I bought a Groupon for two months of unlimited yoga at a studio near my house. They have 6 a.m. classes every day which might seem like information a sleep lover like me could simply ignore, but it's actually the main reason I bought the darn thing. Trying to squeeze a workout in any other time of day has proven to be pretty unlikely. If I want to make exercise a habit, I need a schedule I can stick to.

I'm hoping this early-bird-gets-the-worm business is it.

But now that I want to get up early, I have to get to sleep on time. Which wouldn't be a problem (I looooove going to sleep) except that in order for Bill and I to have a little grown up time each night, we have to wait out the kids. And they aren't in any hurry to hit the sack.

See, we have ourselves a bit of a bedtime situation here. It's not good. And now that I don't want to work around it anymore, it's becoming a real problem.

We never sleep trained Finn. I know, I know...he's not trainable. But you know what I mean. We never worked out the whole going to bed thing. We've just jumped from one bad habit to another for the past four years and slept with one eye open so when he comes in our room in the middle of the night, we're ready for him.

It started with colic. Months and months of screaming and nursing and rocking and crying and not even thinking about a sleep schedule because of the loud ringing in our ears at all hours of the day and night and OMG HOW DID WE SURVIVE THAT???

After that was...I don't even know. We had a colic hangover or something. It was like we still had a newborn and were in that survival stage where you do anything that works as long as it works and when it stops working you stumble around in the dark whimpering until something else clicks and you try that for a while.

I honestly CAN NOT remember how we ever got that sweet child to sleep.

I know exactly what I did with Liam. What time he woke up in the night to nurse. How old he was when we moved him from our room to his crib. How long it was until he was sleeping through the night. When I first let him cry it out so he could get himself to sleep. How many hours he slept at night. When he liked to nap. All of it.

With Finn it's one big blur. I mean, really. ALL OF IT. I only know that by the time he learned to crawl out of his crib (something Liam never did) we were like, "Oh crap. We haven't taught him how to fall asleep on his own yet! What do we do now???"

Four years later, we're still in survival mode.

We've laid with Finn until he fell asleep a million times.

We've locked him in his room and let him cry it out for HOURS until he finally passed out on the floor.

We've given him drinks and snacks and whatever else he asked for in the middle of the night so he wouldn't cry so loud he'd wake up Liam.

We've moved a little closer to the door each night as he tried to fall asleep hoping eventually we'd be out of the room and he'd go to sleep happily on his own.

We've bribed, yelled, screamed, cried, rocked, shushed and begged.

We've talked about it a LOT.

We've gotten into good routines and bad, had successes (or, at least what felt like successes...) and failures.

But we've never, not one time, read Finn a few stories, kissed him goodnight, turned off the light, and left the room not expecting to see him again til morning.

Not once.

He's four, you guys. Is this crazy? It feels crazy...

I think most nights we just sort of do what we need to do (either hope he falls asleep while we're reading - he doesn't nap so he's usually pretty tired - or lay with him until he goes to sleep). So long as we still get a bit of time for ourselves and a good night's sleep (totally possible now that he stopped waking up for a drink at 2 a.m.!), we don't worry about it too much.

But when something comes up that makes me need him to stay in bed once I put him there - like a super early wake up call or friends coming over after bedtime - I realize just how dysfunctional our little situation really is.

Because it's not just Finn. He takes the early shift in the bedtime debacle, sucking up our evening hang time, but Liam works all night. We must have billed bedtime as special alone time years ago because he's pretty sure he's entitled to as much one-on-one with himself as he can squeeze in between the time he goes to bed and whenever the sun comes up. He reads and thinks and draws and writes and listens to audio books lays around not sleeping for I have no idea how long. He's like a nocturnal Renaissance man. Which is great. Mostly. Except when Finn interrupts him? He's not a happy camper. Plus, our bedrooms share a door and it's happened one too many times that we thought he was asleep and he busted in on our naked alone time.

Not good.

It just kinda feels like we have hardly any time without kids. And now if I want to get up early every day...something's gotta give.

The trouble is, we have no idea what to do. How do you correct a bedtime situation you've been stringing along for years? When one child won't listen to you or stay in bed and the other one can't sleep until he's good and ready?

I wish I had the answer. Maybe soon I will. So far I'm only finding out what doesn't work. Yelling, like I did last night, doesn't work at all. Not for one bit of it. Jury's still out on whether or not adding a second night like was a win. At the time I felt like I had just discovered the missing ingredient. Like, "Oh my gosh, Finn must just be scared of the dark! And Liam could probably use a bit more light for reading. How silly of me not to think of it before. This little light of mine is going to solve everything!"

We practiced going to bed and staying in bed earlier today and then, with the nightlight, I went into bedtime tonight feeling really pretty good.

I felt even more optimistic after I finished reading, kissed Finn goodnight and left the room.

He hadn't asked me for a snack or rolled onto the ground or started yelling, "No!" to nothing in particular. He wasn't following me out the door or jumping up to go to the bathroom. He hadn't picked a fight about wanting yellow juice even though he knows he's not allowed juice before bed.

He was just laying in bed. Quietly. Almost looking as if he might fall asleep.

Liam wasn't even reading. He caught the fever Finn had a few days ago so he was much more subdued than usual. He wasn't exactly interacting with Finn like I keep hoping he will (a little encouragement from a big brother goes a long way) but he wasn't complaining about him either. He was just laying there quietly, looking as if he might drop off to sleep.

The whole thing felt very primed for success.

But before I even made it back to the living room Finn needed to find his baby owl and dug through the toy boxes until he did. And then he had to pee again. Then Bill got home from a dinner meeting and laid with the boys for a few minutes. Then Finn needed to tell me something. Then Liam said the light was keeping him up so Bill turned it off.

The whole thing would have felt like a huge bust except every time Finn got out of bed, he went straight back to his room and shut the door. He may have even climbed in bed for all I know! Eventually it got so quiet I have to believe both boys are asleep.

It wasn't a perfect night or exactly what I had hoped for (I have bizarre expectations sometimes) but it didn't really interfere with our grown up time. And since I started bedtime at 7:00, it won't make a dent in my early morning either. Plus, I already worked out a solution with Liam where he won't bug us at night if we let him stay up as late as he wants.

I can live with that.

It makes me wonder if the situation is really as bad as it seems. Maybe it's my reaction to the situation that's really the problem. What if, instead of getting angry when Finn gets out of bed, I just address him like I normally would and go back to whatever it is I'm doing like I did tonight? If I don't react to the situation will it stop being "a problem"?

Or might it really stop being a problem? Like if we start letting Finn have his bedtime his way, will he eventually get comfortable enough that he'll be able to just lay quietly and fall asleep? I actually kind of think that might happen. Like if we make time for "sleep training" and give it the attention it deserves, we might be able to get into a really good habit.

Which means I'll probably be able to get into a good habit, too! Finn will be sleeping, I will be exercising... this is starting to feel like a major turnaround!

(I really hope so...)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Character type.

Now that Finn is in playschool, Liam and I have two days each week to really focus on homeschooling. Most of what he does at home (math, spelling, typing, coding via Minecraft, etc) is self-directed so I don't have to help him. But, as I discovered yesterday, being with him while he works definitely has its advantages.

We were sitting at the kitchen table when he realized he couldn't finish his typing lesson until he passed a 60 second timed test. For how freaked out he was, you would have thought the test required him to let Finn clip his fingernails.

The kid was trippin.

"Just try it, bud," I said. "You'll probably do fine. Sixty seconds is a lot longer than it sounds. Trust me. I've played Candy Crush."

So he tried. Sort of. He got about four words in and then started to hyperventilate and cry, "I can't do it! I can't do it!" while skulking down in his chair and staring, terrified, at the little digital clock on his screen.

I was shocked.

It's one thing to get performance anxiety (that level in Candy Crush is hard) but it's quite another to give away your power out of fear. I stared at him, mouth hanging open, mind racing, as he let a stupid machine torture him for a full sixty seconds.

When it finally ended and he stopped looking like a beaten puppy all I could think to say was, "What was that?! Liam! What the heck just happened?"

"I can't do it!" he cried. "I can't do it with the clock!"

He was so distraught, I could hardly believe it. I mean, really. I had no idea what to say. So I sent him out to the trampoline to bounce it out of his system. Then I googled some stuff, took a few deep breaths and walked out to join him, reminding myself, "Don't be a jerk. Don't be a jerk. Don't be a jerk..."

When I got out there I threw all the armchair psychology I could at him, hoping something would stick. I told him he'd never be able to do anything he didn't believe he could do. I encouraged him to get out of his own way. I begged him not to give away his power away so easily. I told him that things can only bother you if you let them and that most things that happen "to us" have nothing to do with us at all. (I used the "mommy wars" and my refusal to participate as an example - I swear he thought I was making the whole thing up!) I told him it didn't matter AT ALL if he never learned to type but he could not go through life sabotaging himself like this.

"You have to change your story," I said, bouncing up and down. "You've told yourself you can't perform under pressure and now here you are finding another way to prove you're right. Change the story! Tell yourself a new truth! Prove to yourself you can do this!"

He was skeptical but we were getting sweaty so we came back in the house and he tried the test again. And again. And again. He was less hysterical but still too scared to actually focus.

"Liam, I really don't understand what you're afraid of," I said as kindly as I could. "It's just a dumb computer. That timer can't hurt you if you don't let it. Shoot, it can't even hurt you if you DO! I mean, really - what's the worst that can happen?"

"I don't pass the test?" he said, skeptically.

"Okaaaay," I said, nodding. "Then what?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what's the worst thing that can happen if you don't pass the test?"

"Um...I have to take it again?"

"Yeah. You have to take it again. And what happens if you pass?"

"Um...I guess I move on to the next lesson?"

"Yeah. Which is what? More typing?"


"So, does it really matter if you pass or not? I mean, either way you're typing letters."

"That's true."

"Just think of this as practice. One minute of practice..."

He tried a few more times but was not making much progress. We decided it was best to take a break for lunch and after trying my hardest not to beat the dead horse, I brought the conversation back around to the test.

"I actually can't believe how scared you are of the clock," I said. "I've seen you go up against things that are way more powerful than a free online typing test and you were never this scared."

"Like what?"

"I mean, the ocean for one. It's actually WAY more powerful than you are. Like, worst case scenario? I don't even want to think about what would happen. But you're super brave at the ocean."

"Yeah," he said, taking a bite. Then he got really excited. "Mama, imagine if this computer had legs and tried to do what I do at Kole Kole beach. It would be like bzfftz pzssfff... and totally crash!"

"Oh yeah," I said, happy to hear things turning around. "You are WAY more powerful than this computer."

"Totally," he said smiling. "There's no way this thing could do what I do."

"So why would you give it your power just because someone programmed it to have a timer?"

He got quiet and then said very seriously, "I have absolutely no idea."

And just like that I could see the rewrite beginning to happen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soccer mom.

Finn's soccer season started and it turns out it's the cutest thing ever.

1. He wears shin guards and cleats and has already found his jock stance.

2. His buddy Coen is on his team (and so is a friend from school!).

3. He looks like he actually knows how to play soccer like, half the time! The other half? Precious.

4. His team is called the GREEN GIRAFFES and every kid on his team is the kind of cute you just want to gobble up.

First game is on Saturday. This soccer mom cannot wait!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The artist formerly known as Finn.

Recently the boys started an art and music class once a week. It is the first time they’ve taken a class together and, I have to say, it might be the greatest thing that’s ever happened EVER.

And I'm not just talking about the two hours of uninterrupted me time which is ahhhhhmazing.

It's so fun for me to hear about a class from two different points of view. And since I'm used to Liam's less-than-detailed responses to, "How was your day?" (good, fine, hard to say, not sure, etc), I feel like I'm finally getting a glimpse into the kids' school experience outside the home. Finn has told us all about Bluegrass and Beethoven, sang us a song about five groovy buttons, and filled every blank piece of paper he can get his hands on with a masterpiece.

I think he's really found his stride as an artist. There's no end to this kid's creative energy! He just draws and draws and draws. Or paints and paints and paints. Basically whatever medium is in front of him becomes his obsession.

AND, as if that wasn’t cool enough, he's even become interested in writing!

We were at dinner one night and Finn wanted to write his name at the top of his coloring page like Liam did. I looked up from my watermelon salad and saw Liam teaching him how. “Do a straight line down and then two across for your F. Yep, like that. Now an I is just a line down with a little dot on the top. Perfect. Now two little mountains for Ns. You did it! Finny! You wrote your name!”

Now Finn just writes his name. Like, no big deal, I got this.

But what’s even cooler than that? Now that he knows letters make words he wants to write all the words. He’s constantly asking me how to spell things and when I write them down, he copies them. They're not always in the right order and sometimes it looks more like cuneiform than actual words or letters but HE'S WRITING!!!

“Mama, how do I write Princess Leia?”

“How do I spell Earth?”

“How do you write YOUR name?”

It’s amazing. It didn’t feel like reading or writing were on this guy's horizon at all and yet, here we are. It’s incredible to witness kids acquire new skills. They all do it their own way, in their own time. Sometimes you just have to be near enough to help (or applaud) when they’re ready. Or get a big brother to pass the baton at exactly the right time.

Monday, September 1, 2014

There's no place like home.

Coming home from vacation is often the worst part of the trip. You have to say goodbye to a dreamy destination (boo), pack (blah) and travel (ugh). Then it's back to normal life and business-as-usual (wah).

Actually, that last part isn't much of a problem. I'm usually pretty excited to get home and get things rolling again. I miss my home and pets and friends, can't wait to sleep in my own bed and have a strange urgency to unpack, get organized and PURGE (after living out of a suitcase, a whole house full of stuff seems like way too much of everything).

But this homecoming was a little bit different. We came home to a house that felt weird. Our dog had fleas while we were gone and while our house-sitter and bug guy did a bang up job taking care of everything, things were still a bit off. The beds didn't have sheets or blankets, toys and towels and pillows were bagged up all over the house, and everything made us feel itchy.

*not actual size* this is just how it feels...

I spent the first day home vacuuming and washing everything that would fit in the washing machine and dryer. Toward the end of the day, a couple neighbors and their kids stopped by and I was telling them my sob story ending with, "But don't worry - we're finally flea-free!"

My neighbor was petting Penny and right at that moment said, "Oh, look. Here's one!" Then she pulled a tiny black jumping bean off Penny's back and I started to itch all over again. You should have seen Penny's face - total shame spiral.

The next day I started from square one. While Penny was getting washed and combed, I washed and combed everything in the house. By the time Bill got home from work our house finally felt like ours. We all had clean sheets and pillows and things smelled and felt like normal again.

So the next day, we acted like life was normal again. We saw friends and went to the park, did regular laundry and finally went to get groceries. On our way, I suddenly noticed smoke coming from my engine. The temperature gauge was on H-O-T and I was half afraid my van would just stop working or explode. Fortunately we were almost the the grocery store so I just took it easy and coasted into the first parking spot I could find.

I called Bill (kind of my solution to everything...) and he said he'd leave work right away to come help. He also called our friends who lived right around the corner from the grocery store and by the time I got what we needed and came back outside, I had a whole crew of amazing people there to help me.

There really is no place like home.

I thought our awkward homecoming was finally taking a turn for the better. Sure, bad stuff was happening, but bad stuff happens to everyone. Not everyone can step back and marvel at the safety net of awesome people who are there to help when things go awry. I was almost glad my van blew a gasket - it gave me time to step back and count my blessings.

After a wonderful night with more amazing friends, we woke up feeling grateful and beyond happy to be home. And then, we found yet another flea on Penny's back.

And then another.

And another.

I ran to the vet to get the end all flea treatment (Comfortis if reading this is making you itch). When I got home Bill said, "I think I know why all this is happening." He was giving me that 'it's all your fault' look and I knew exactly what he meant.

I had accidentally brought home a piece of lava and a piece of coral from Hawaii and he was convinced we were now suffering from Pele's curse. I know what you're thinking. Accidentally? Sure... (Or maybe you're thinking, Pele's curse? What the what?!) But I promise I had no intention of taking anything from the island.

Bill had all kinds of rocks and crystals on his bedside table from a rock shop he stumbled across in Reno. (He had been reading about energy healing and was eager to try cleansing our chakras. Super cool, by the way.) When we were packing to go home I grabbed the lava and coral we brought home to admire and threw them in the suitcase with the rest of the rocks, not realizing they were meant to go back to the beach.

So now, apparently, we're cursed.

We've had the ongoing hex of fleas; an overheated car that needed a pipe replaced (mine); a flooded, moldy car (Bill's); and headaches all week (we think we got re-addicted to caffeine on our trip because when we came home and had tea in the morning instead of coffee, we got caffeine withdrawal headaches that just went away).


We also had a house-sitter and bug guy who were more than willing to help us out from afar, friends come to our rescue and help fix our car, TWO dinner invitations two nights in a row ("How lucky are we?" mused Liam), a sleepover, a girls' night, a fantastic first day of school for Finn, a new art and music class for both boys that they love (which means TWO WHOLE HOURS EVERY WEEK JUST FOR ME!!!), and a homeschool hangout that made me grateful for our school situation all over again.

If I had to bet, I'd say we're probably not cursed. But still, no reason to square off against a volcano goddess.

You win, Pele. Thanks for everything.