Friday, October 26, 2012

Our Favorite Restaurant

Clara and I love to go to restaurants. I admit that I led Clara on this path. Ever since she was about three years old, I would prompt her to tell her Papa that she wanted to go to a restaurant as soon as we saw him at the end of a day. Even though I was initially the mastermind behind the restaurant requests, before long, Clara decided that she wanted to eat out, too. My incredulous husband had to deal with the two of us begging to go out to eat nearly every night after work. Despite my deep love of eating out, even I could admit, however, that for financial and health reasons, it was not feasible every night.

One stormy night this fall after a long day at school when I was too tired to even go out to eat, Clara and I devised an alternative to going out to a restaurant. We decided to bring our favorite elements of eating out at a restaurant to our home. I compiled the following list of reasons we like to eat out:

  1. We like being served.
  2. We like fancy drinks with straws.
  3. We like the ambiance of restaurants- lit candles and music playing.
  4. We like different meals than we normally would cook at home.
  5. I like not having to clean up.
With these goals in mind, we created our home restaurant, which Clara named MNMO Restaurant. I grabbed a frozen pizza and put it in the oven. I made a salad. I cooked some ground turkey just to have a little bit of protein even though it didn't really go with the Italian vibe of our restaurant. I made a fizzy drink with lime and mint and seltzer, and, of course, I made sure we had straws. The meal preparation took less than 15 minutes. Meanwhile, waitress and restaurant owner Clara got to work designing a menu. She helped to light the candles. She took my order, and the ordering process went quite quickly since there were only a few options on the menu.

Clara presides proudly over the first night of MNMO Restaurant. I'm not sure why she thinks that waitresses should wear hats, but this was an important part of her outfit that night. Note the lit candles and her homemade menu on the table.

Since that first night of our restaurant in September, Clara and I have created restaurant night at home about once a month. The name of the restaurant is never the same, and the menu offerings change every time. And sometimes, there is not even real food at our restaurant. Instead, we create a restaurant using toy food.

Clara's menu with made-up words and drawings
A healthy (albeit fruit-heavy) meal of lemon, apple, and pear.
Doll Natasha is served her dinner.
I'm a fan of our home restaurant so far. It's not that hard to mix up our meals, light some candles, or add a straw to a drink to help our dinner feel a bit more special. And, it's pretty adorable to see Clara taking my order by writing down a bunch of scribbles on a pad, even if the end result is that she's going to serve me a dish that I just made.

 The only thing I still haven't figured out is how to get someone else to do the dishes.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It’s not a new debate: public vs. private school

It’s not a new debate: public vs. private school

I never imagined that I would be considering private school for my daughter but living in an area with no shortage of choices, I found myself curious about our educational options. Interestingly, I had also been in contact with several private school parents whose enthusiasm for their respective schools was incredibly convincing. Thus, my husband and I have begun the task of touring, reviewing and debating our school choices.

First, let it be understood that there is nothing wrong with our neighborhood public school. As a public school educator, I am especially devoted to the idea that we all contribute to successful public schools by remaining loyal to them and involved in them. In fact, my neighbors speak very positively of their experiences there and on a tour; we found the teachers and administrators to be pleasant, motivated and knowledgeable about the issues that are most important to us: ability grouping, otherwise known as tracking, budget cuts that impact the arts, classroom management, innovative use of technology and promoting math and science. However, for us, the debate is a bit more complicated as my husband attended a prestigious prep school, and frankly, I wish I had such opportunity when I was a kid.

So, here we are. Our first private school open house was at a local and highly-acclaimed prep school. The tuition is in the $30,000 a year range, but the school boasts significant financial aid opportunities, which we would need in order for Sarah to attend. In the back of my mind, of course, is an awareness of the ridiculousness of spending so much money on kindergarten and on the end result of a private school education costing almost as much as Harvard. At the same time, I liked the beautiful campus, the small classes and the nurturing, academic environment.

Our second open house was of a religious-affiliated, private, day school whose tuition runs significantly lower than others in the area. It was yet another beautiful campus and also boasted small classes and individualized education. This particular school, however, had a different feel. It was warm and energetic, although less prestigious than the school we’d toured the week before. Is that why it felt different?

Of course, different tuition ranges attract different clientele. The more expensive school appeared to attract a more diverse population  in both the student body represented at the open house and in the other families on tour. Ultimately, neither school could hold a candle to the diverse population our urban neighborhood school provided, but in the age of testing and political pressure, diversity comes with a fair share of challenges. Diverse schools must bring all students to a performance standard within a specific amount of time in order to avoid being pegged an “F” school or “in need of improvement” according to No Child Left Behind. If a neighborhood school is already rated, chances are they’ve suffered reductions in funding for important programs like counseling, special education and support for English Language Learners – the very groups that are ‘bringing down’ the test scores. This ‘catch-22’ is further complicated, as we all saw in the recent Waiting for Superman, by the quality of teachers in a particular school who are supported by a powerful teacher’s union and protected by a flawed tenure system.

What does all this mean for us – incoming kindergarten parents? We want to make a choice that represented the least amount of politically-motivated decision-making and the most student-centered decision-making. Ironically, we only see what the schools show us on special days. Thus, we need to explore all of our options and be as knowledgeable about what we think good education looks like. After all, we can only see what each of the schools shows us. So, we will continue on in this debate as a family. All I know is we’re immensely lucky to have any choices at all . . . more to come on this topic, for sure!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Who's the child here? One blog entry I am ashamed to post

It was almost so perfect— one of those quintessential New England autumn weekends with cool, crisp weather, colorful foliage, pumpkin picking, homemade pumpkin bread, delicious apple cider, and best of all some much-needed QT as a family.
On Saturday, we went to a fall festival. Lila had hoped to get her face painted but the line was way too long.
“Don’t worry, Lila. I’ll paint your face at home,” I happily suggested. Mama saves the day.
Lila’s face lit up as she debated out loud whether she should be a skeleton or a jack-o-lantern. Sunday morning, she was so excited to get done up as a spooky skeleton and I was happy to help create this magic for her. And so our Sunday family day began.
All was good, until what seemed like a fun suggestion turned so wrong—“Let’s stop in the Christmas Tree Shoppe.”
My husband was outwardly not interested and announced that he would wait in the car. Lila, thumb in her mouth and sleepy eyes, was reluctant at first until it dawned on her—“Is that the place with the toys?”  Then she was totally game. Cool. Mama and daughter will go in together. Dad can wait in the car.
My agenda was to just browse. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and really had no business buying anything that we don’t need (which is easy to do at the Christmas Tree Shoppe.) I didn’t need to go in the first place, but there is just something about that place that draws me in. “Don’t you just love a bargain?” Why, yes, I do.
Well, the Christmas Tree Shoppe on a Saturday in the fall is apparently the place to be… or not to be. I found myself being jerked, pushed, and elbowed. So much for browsing—I couldn’t stay in one spot for too long because of the never ending flow of traffic and the murmured “excuse me’s” down each aisle.
Lila was in rare form. She had the uncontrollable urge to touch and look at everything. “Mom! Wait! I want that! And I want that! Look here! Go there!” and the dreaded “Can you buy me that?!” 
Lila had managed to grab a few things that kept her somewhat occupied as I finished looking around. I had snagged a couple good deals, items I figured I would need for Lila’s big Halloween bash next weekend. Of course, when I went to check out I realized there was no express line in sight. Every line looked like it was miles long. It suddenly felt like they had cranked up the heat in the store. Nothing is worse than having just a handful of items and being behind several customers with full carts and a cashier in need of a price check. UGH!
Lila was clamoring on about something she wanted and I was desperately scoping out the front of store for the fastest moving line and exit. After an eternity, it was finally my turn and my mission was to check out as quickly as possible. As I placed my items on counter, Lila proceeded to do the same—a few cheaply made toys that would inevitably wind up at the bottom of her toy box and a high-fructose-corn-syrup-artificially-flavored candy thing.
“No. Lila, you don’t need that stuff. You can pick ONE thing.”
Lila was NOT happy. The whining and beginning signs of a temper tantrum quickly ensued. And I could feel my temper rising just as quickly as I tried to focus and remember the pin number for my debit card.
“Lila! Please! I can’t even think straight. I said NO.”
And then came the tears and the cool skeleton face paint started to smudge.
In my own frustration, I failed to realize how Lila might be feeling at that moment. She was in that crowded store too. She waited in a long line and felt the relief and excitement when it was our turn to check out. Only, she was told, “no.” In hindsight, I get it. In the moment, I was annoyed, frustrated… mad!
Of course, trying to get a crying, unhappy four-year-old out of a shopping cart is nearly impossible. A kind, empathetic mama took pity on me and held the cart steady. Lila lost a boot as I pulled her out. “MY BOOT!!!!!” More crying... my head started pounding.
My husband, cool and calm, innocently inquired “What happened?”
“Nothing.” I responded sharply. (Nothing I thought was worth rehashing.)
He insisted, “Tell me what happened!”
After a little back and forth, this is when the brief, yet memorable episode of “mom gone wild” happened. I snapped. I snapped at him. I snapped at Lila. Suddenly, I was the child and I wanted to go home!
At the time, I felt somewhat justified. Afterwards, I felt horrible and totally disgusted at myself. This is not how I planned for our weekend to turn out. A picture perfect family memory had turned into one of those traumatic childhood moments (when mom totally loses it) that I vowed I would never cause.
Shortly after we all calmed down, apologies were made and hugs and kisses were given.  This is one of those moments that I desparately want to forget and more importantly pray that Lila will forget. As I recognize my need to develop more patience and the ability to carefully pick my battles, the lesson learned here (for me) is that we are all human. We make mistakes. But we also make up. We admit our fault. And it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Have you ever experienced a proud mommy moment that instead turned into disappointment? And that disappointment was all the more deep because of the pride you had mistakently felt just a moment before? Well, let me walk you through just such a moment in our lives.

Last weekend, we attended an exhibit about animation at a local art museum. Clara got to make an animated robot and participate in a stop-motion video. (She is the first one in line in the video, and her robot is the last robot that flies off the top of the screen.)The big event of the day was that the museum had invited one of the lead animators from Blue Sky to present a workshop about drawing. 

Many of the people in the audience were adults or older children. As one of the youngest children in the audience, I was proud of Clara as she sat with her lap-size easel and sketched the characters along with the animator. She seemed so confident and comfortable, in fact, that I decided to walk around the rest of the exhibit while she continued to draw under the watchful gaze of her father.

Here are some of Clara's sketches of "Scrat" from the Ice Age movies.
When I returned to where Clara was sitting, I was surprised to see her eagerly raising her hand to ask a question. Other older children had been asking questions, but she was definitely the smallest person trying to ask a question, so small in fact, that the animator couldn't see her extended hand above the heads of the people in front of her.

"What question are you going to ask?," I inquired eagerly.  (Clara is often shy in front of people she doesn't know well, and I was overjoyed to see that she was stepping outside of her comfort zone to ask a question in front of so many strangers.)

"No, Mama... the question is not for you... it's for him," Clara replied pointedly.

"Uh- OK," I thought. I wanted to encourage her to speak out more in general, and so I urged her to stand up and raise her hand high so that the animator would see her.

The animator finally called upon her. 

Clara got nervous, and she paused for so long that I thought she wasn't going to ask her question after all.

"Go ahead, Clara- what's your question?" I inquired. (Sometimes when she does speak in a situation where she is nervous she is so quiet that she can't be heard.) I urged her to ask her question loud and clear.

Finally, she spoke- loudly and clearly...


The audience laughed. The animator took her question in stride and said that Clara's question was just the type of line they look for in animation- something that will get the crowd laughing. I turned fifteen shades of red and sunk, embarassed, onto the floor, holding Clara next to me.

After the presentation, my husband laughed and laughed... at me. For him, the funniest part of this event was not Clara's question itself but the eagerness with which I encouraged her to ask the question followed by the look on my face once she did indeed ask the question. 

When we asked Clara later on why she asked that question, she explained that she had initially thought of another question, but when put on the spot, she got nervous, and asked the first thing that came to mind. Her question made sense given that Clara often wonders about why something is taking a long time, and so it's a default question that she can easily recall.

 I will continue to encourage Clara to stand up and speak out and ask questions... but next time, I will be sure to have her tell me what exact question she is thinking about before encouraging her so eagerly to speak out!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top 10 Baby Items That I Can't Let Go

As Lila grew from baby to toddler, my husband had to practically pry the onesie out of my hands. According to him, if he didn't intervene Lila would be "ten years old, going to school in a onesie under her clothes." So what. I love onesies. Lila could stretch, roll around, and play and her belly wouldn't be exposed. They're one of my favorite baby items. I eventually had to let them go, but there are several items that I refuse to give up. It is mainly for practical reasons, but I will admit, it is partly sentimental. With each baby item I hold on to, in a small way I can deny the fact that Lila is growing up. (sniff sniff)

10) Baby lotion: I remember my mother telling me that she loved the smell of baby lotion. I never understood what was so special about it until I had baby of my own. Snuggling with Lila after her bath, the scent of baby lotion (particularly Johnson's & Johnson's) brings me back to when she was a little, bitty baby in my arms. Awww. So sweet! But besides smelling great, baby lotion is actually a really good moisturizer. The whole family uses it. Love it!

9) The diaper bag: Don’t worry. I don’t actually still carry my diaper bag, but I did for a while after Lila was out of diapers. Now, I still bring a huge bag with me at all times. We need stuff—snacks, crayons and coloring books, a water bottle, a change of clothes in case of an accident…  Even if we are just running a quick errand we pack like we’re going on an adventure. Let’s face it. Everyday is an adventure with a four-year-old! After a full day with Lila, I dump out the snack wrappers, broken crayons, works of art on the backs of paper place mats, dirty clothes, sticky, crumpled napkins, and rocks, leaves and whatever other “treasure” found in our travels. Wonder if I will ever go back to carrying a cute, small purse again? My magic eight ball just responded “Ask again later.”

8) The stroller: We are relying on it less and less, but my husband and I still keep the umbrella stroller in the trunk of the car just in case. To think when I was childless, I used to shake my head at “big kids” riding around in strollers—“Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. That kid needs to walk!” Now as a mom, I am forced to eat my words. True, Lila is perfectly capable of walking most of the time and she does. But she is small. Her little legs get tired or she gets exhausted suddenly and needs to take a nap. Then what? One of us has to carry her. So, in desperation, we break out the stroller. Yes, her knees are a little high up and her feet can touch the ground. Are you judging me? Okay, YOU lug 40 pounds of dead weight (along with shopping bags and the huge purse mentioned above) through the mall and out to the parking lot. Uh huh. Yeah. I thought so.

7) Gerber puffs: Yum. This was one of Lila’s first and favorite snacks. She loved them as a baby in her high chair and still enjoys them now. Strawberry, sweet potato, apple cinnamon-- they are light, tasty, and totally addictive. And if you’re like me and mindlessly munch on your child’s leftover snacks, no worries. Puffs are a low calorie/low fat (low WW point) treat. YAY!

6) Cheerios: Again, another babyhood snack that never gets old. We always keep a box of Cheerios in the house. Now we’ve graduated to more advanced flavors such as Honey Nut and Multigrain. Lila still eats them the way she did as a baby-- no bowl, spoon, or milk. Cheerios are the ultimate finger food. Pop a handful and keep it movin’.

5) Sippy cups: Speaking of being on the move, I still consider sippy cups to be essential. Yes, at the dinner table, Lila uses a big girl cup, but any other time she is just too busy and active to be given a cup with no lid. That’s just asking for trouble. We use sippy cups around the house, in the car, playing outside, and when we are simply on the go.

4) Baby books: I have managed to donate or pass down most of Lila’s baby toys, but the baby books still remain. You know the ones— mostly pictures and just a few words on each page? They take about three seconds to read. We have advanced to longer, more complex storybooks, but every once in a while, at bedtime, Lila reaches for an old favorite. Even though it wasn’t that long ago that she was a baby, she seems to get nostalgic when I read these familiar little books to her. The cool thing is she is starting to read these books to me. As she is learning her letters, sounds, and basic spelling, she will often practice her words by reading these books aloud. Timeless treasures, they serve a whole new purpose as she develops her early reading skills. That’s right— My baby can read!

3) Lullabies: Despite Lila confusing me with Alicia Keys, I can not sing. But that doesn't stop Lila from requesting her favorite baby lullabies at night. It's a special part of our bedtime routine. Lila, my audience of one, is probably the only person who will request an encore of my vocal performances.

2) Wipes: What would I do without wipes? Whoever invented this wonderful all purpose cleaning item should be honored. I keep them in the huge purse, in the car, in the bathroom... everywhere! And use them to clean everything from sticky hands to spilled juice to dusty furniture. This is one baby item I will probably never give up. 

1) Baby blankets: Sentimental, warm, and comfy, Lila still uses the same blankets she did as a baby. Sure, she is no longer swaddled in them, but they still keep her secure and cozy. When she wakes up in the middle of the night and comes to our room, her blanket comes to. She won't let go of her blankies. The best one was hand knit by a family friend. Can't get more special than that! 


Friday, October 5, 2012

What's for Lunch? 5 days of School Lunches

At Clara's school, PreK students are required to bring their own lunch. I can't wait until next year when Clara is allowed to join the school lunch plan, but in the meantime, we are doing the best we can to make healthy, colorful meals for Clara. I feel lucky that she goes to a school where the lunch plan provides healthy choices. I still shudder when I think of Jamie Oliver's tv expose of some school cafeterias where the only large utensil in the kitchen was a box cutter because all of the food was frozen and came out of boxes!

When I first realized that Clara would have to bring her own lunch every day, I panicked a bit, and then I looked online to see what other parents were packing. One of my favorite mama food blogs is the Full Plate blog. I loved looking at the variety of meals, and so I'm sharing with you a week of Clara's lunches in case it might be of help to you, too!

Monday: Barbecue chicken with dipping sauce (Clara loves to dip!); green beans; nectarines & grapes ( The BBQ chicken was from the previous night's dinner. Many of Clara's lunches start with leftovers from dinner the night before.)
Clara's verdict: Yum! She ate it all.

Tuesday: Pork; sugar snap peas; mozarella/tomato/basil salad with balsamic vinegar; plum
Clara's verdict: She said, "The plum was too juicy and too hard to eat." Clara prefers her fruit cut up. She loved the mozarella salad, but didn't love the basil. (I was a little sad about this since the basil is from a plant we have been growing in our back yard since the spring- one of my only successful herb plants- ever!)

Wednesday: Turkey and provolone cheese roll up on whole wheat wrap; salami; sliced apples (with a little lemon on them to prevent browning); sugar-snap peas; Annie's cheddar bunnies mix
Clara's verdict: Yum! She ate it all.

Thursday: Ground turkey; tortilla chips & shredded cheese; grilled green peppers & tomatoes; grapes
Clara's verdict: Everything was good except for the grilled green peppers. She liked them the night before at dinner when they were hot, but not cold the next day.

Friday: Sunbutter & Jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread; fresh corn on the cob from our farm share; organic applesauce (you'll notice that by the end of the week her meal got a little less colorful and creative- I think the quality of her lunch is in direct proportion to my energy level.)
Clara's verdict: She loved it. This was a happy surprise because it was the first time she had Sunbutter. Her school has a strict nut-free policy, and so I was afraid the teachers might confiscate her sandwich thinking it had nuts (this did happen last year!)... so I wrote a note to the teachers explaining that it was nut-free Sunbutter made of sunflower seeds.



I knew I wanted a container with multiple sections for Clara's lunch, and I loved the variety of bento boxes that I saw other moms using online. We ended up purchasing the Anchor Hocking 4-cube lunch box at the Container Store

 We bought these cute Crocodile Creek ice packs this summer. 

And then, it all fits snugly into an REI lunch bag. 

Oh, and I can't forget one of our favorite purchases- the "Light My Fire" spork that Clara uses proudly. Clara likes to use a spoon for many food items, so it gives her the choice of always having a spoon or fork on hand. And, it's pretty cute to hear her refer to her spork.

As I mentioned, Clara's school is nut-free, and so I put together a list of nut-free snacks that I can easily reference to make sure the snacks are OK for school. I usually put two small snacks in her lunch each day. This year, I'm trying to organize and bag enough snacks on the weekend and keep them accessible on a counter so that I can easily pack the snacks without too much thought throughout the busy week.


Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies
Tortilla chips
Pretzels/pretzel sticks (not Snyders)
Rice cakes

String cheese
Babybel Cheese circles
Veggies and white bean dip
Veggies and hummus
Organic Unsweetened Applesauce
TJ's Applesauce Crushers
Back to Nature Honey Graham Sticks
TJ's Fruit leathers
TJ’s freeze dried mango, pineapple, banana chips

Happy Eating!


Monday, October 1, 2012

What to do with a day of freedom?: No Technology Sunday- Part 2

Recently, I detailed my experiment to turn off technology on Sundays.

The rules I made were no computer, no TV, no cell phone. (You can see below that I did allow myself to take photos on Sunday so I wasn't 100% technology free. I was just trying to eliminate the technology that felt intrusive). You might be wondering what did I choose to do with the abundance of free time on Sunday? Mostly, I didn't try to fill the empty time with something else. I didn't try to make plans ahead of time. I just tried to be more present in each moment... very zen, right?

Saying "Yes" More 
On a typical day, I find that when Clara asks me to do something while I am working at my computer that I often ask her to wait for whatever she wants to do, and sometimes this means that whatever she is asking to do doesn't end up happening at all. Since starting my no-technolgy Sundays, I found myself saying "yes" much more often than usual, and it felt good.

Sunday #1: Clara about to fly away at the end of a church picnic.

Clara: Will you read another book to me? How about a third book? A fourth book?

Me: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Clara: Can we do an art project together with tape and glue and markers and paint? (This means taking down the big art bins from the top of a closet- not a big deal but something that requires a chunk of time to clean up so it tends to happen monthly rather than weekly).

Me: Sure.

Clara: I want to look at every box of snacks in the grocery aisle and pick a special snack I want for school.

Me: "OK," I said, as Clara carefully and proudly placed a bag of baby goldfish crackers in our cart.

It was interesting to me how these slight shifts in our interaction felt so significant in their impact. I liked the feeling of shopping for groceries without any rushed sense of urgency. Even if others around me were walking at lightning speed, I felt relaxed knowing that whether it took me 30 minutes or 50 minutes to finish our shopping that it was OK- we had enough time. We enjoyed the experience more- I let Clara push the cart herself until it became too heavy for her to self-navigate. 

Less Technology= More Time for Creativity
Later, at home, I had fun curling up on the floor next to her and making artwork for her dollhouse together as part of our "art project." And I loved being able to read book after book to her since on a regular day, we usually only read one.

 Sunday #1: Making Artwork for the dollhouse.

 Sunday #1: Some art for the dollhouse dining room table.

 Sunday #1: The Upper floor of the dollhouse gets an art makeover.

Sunday #2: Picnic at the beach as the sun sets.

 Sunday #3: Clara chose to return to the beach the next week.
I found that the time we spent away from technology on these Sundays seemed to be in inverse relation to the amount of time we felt we had. Each moment of the day felt longer and fuller. I know it's not fair to totally blame technology for feeling rushed. This experiment wasn't just about giving up technology but also about being very mindful about how I spend my time with the emphasis being on spending time with Clara. Nonetheless, it felt especially freeing to be apart from my computer, cell phone, and TV during this time. I felt like I gave myself permission to be more creative with my time.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Technology-Free Sunday is so appealing to me. I have always had an affinity for "old-fashioned times" often feeling that perhaps I was born in the wrong century. When I was seven or eight years old, the power went out at my house, and instead of lamenting about the lack of heat and TV I decided to create an old-fashioned inn in our house. My siblings and I made menus for the inn, and we designed programs for a musical performance to provide entertainment for the evening. I remember proudly handing out our handmade programs to our small, but captive audience- our parents. When we got older, we expanded our cast to include three of our cousins, and our audience expanded accordingly to grandparents and our aunt and uncle. These performances remain some of my most cherished memories from childhood.

For the past few Sundays that Clara and I have tried this experiment, I found that these Sundays provided a sense of self-renewal as well as a renewed sense of connection between Clara and me. I can't be sure how long I will keep it up, but for now, Sunday is my favorite day of the week.