Finessing Christmas

When I was young, our Christmases were extravaganzas. My parents weren’t Clark Griswold/Christmas store-style decorators, but we had lights on the house and a big, full tree that was overdecorated and surrounded by piles of presents. On Christmas Eve, we’d don pajamas and curl up on either side of my father so that he could put his arms around us both as he read The Night Before Christmas.

On Christmas morning, we’d get up as early as my brother and I could persuade my parents to wake; make tea and coffee; go through stockings; have breakfast; go to Mass (when we were very young–later we switched to Christmas Eve Mass); come home; and open presents.

When we lived within driving distance of grandparents, we would spend the afternoon with my mother’s parents and the next day or two with my father’s. When we didn’t, my mother’s parents often traveled to spend the holidays with us (this is its own story).

We would spend the whole day at home with each other and our new gifts, playing board games and reading books–and watching movies, once VHS technology had been invented and acquired. And we’d cook our traditional Christmas dinner.

Times have changed, as they do. Most years we trade off holidays, so that we’re spending one with my side of the family and the other with Mr. Sandwich’s. Our own trees are smaller, often in height and always in diameter. I keep forgetting to locate the copy of The Night Before Christmas, and I never remember to buy stocking stuffers. Mr. Sandwich goes on an early run, as is his family’s tradition, and we eat some breakfast. We haven’t been to Mass in years.

The presents don’t all get opened on the same day. Baguette enjoys opening a few, but then loses interest, so we open one or two of hers a day until we’re done. Or we don’t. So far? Not done.

But there are 12 days of Christmas, right? So I figure there’s no rush.

BookTalk: More Please, The Hungry Animal Book


Dorothy Kunhardt is famous for writing Pat the Bunny. She also wrote More Please, which we discovered via Baguette’s speech therapist and may be the most maddening thing we own.

Baguette calls it “Make a Doggie.” I’m not sure why, because you don’t do that. You “feed” tiny pieces of posterboard shaped and colored like various items into the die-cut mouths of animals.

From a technical standpoint, I’m impressed. This was not easy to create.

From a parental standpoint, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME????

The tiny pieces of posterboard are really tiny. Every time we read this book (and when it’s in rotation, I’m talking four or five times a day), I have to do an inventory of the parts. The text is maddeningly simplistic and sing-song. And the illustrations are just bad.

But Baguette loves it, and it definitely plays into her affection for animals.

Oh, and if you lose any of those tiny pieces? Yeah, I can’t find a replacement for less than $65 (a month ago, that price was $150). Hence the inventory.

If I didn’t like that speech therapist so much, I’d feel like she owes us an apology.

Friday Five: August 15, 2014

Five things from the past week:

1) I am so relieved that someone came up with a better method of handling the situation in Ferguson. Who would have imagined that treating people like people could work? But is there still a no-fly zone over the region?

2) We went to Mr. Sandwich’s class reunion this weekend, and one of his friends brought Baguette a set of Frozen finger puppets. She loved them immediately, and showed it, and now I need to write a post about Baguette and gifts.

3) Last night Baguette had a night terror. Or a nightmare. Or she instantaneously developed a fear of the dark. We’re not really sure what happened, but all of a sudden she started crying and would not calm down unless the light was on.

4) I am so tired.

5) I have a lot of trouble figuring out what to eat. I do not know what’s going on there.


Mom-Friendly Meals

Recently, some of my friends have said, “You really seem to have this meal-planning thing down. What’s your secret?”

I do not have the meal-planning thing down. My secret is that I have a child who is slightly older than their child.

I think there are a lot of us in this boat. We think, “That person over there is doing this much better than I am.” And the truth is, they’re just working with different circumstances.

One of my college friends has a daughter about two months older than Baguette. She also has an older child and a stepchild. And when her daughter was a baby, every night this friend would post on Facebook about some amazing meal she was making her family for dinner.

Now, I know her. She wasn’t doing this to brag about how much better she was at parenting. She was doing it to show that it could be done–that often when you feel overwhelmed, it’s in your head. She wasn’t boasting, she was demonstrating.

But what I couldn’t figure out was this: how was she managing it? Like me, she had a full-time job outside of the home. Like me, she had an infant. Unlike me, she had two other children. So how was she pulling off this amazing feat?

As it turns out, she has a shorter commute. Like, a lot shorter. Mine is an hour each way. Hers is more like 15 minutes.

See what I mean? Different circumstances.

And my own circumstances have changed. Looking back, I’m not really sure what I ate when Baguette was a baby. I cooked for her, but I don’t remember what I made for myself. After a while, I found that I could use the crock pot on the weekends to make a big batch of something. That counted as cooking.

slow cooker
I no longer use the slow cooker for oatmeal, though.

More recently, I’ve been able to use the stove a little. Last night I made shrimp with bell peppers and zucchini in Red Thai Curry Sauce, served over quinoa. I’m having leftovers for lunch.

I have no idea what’s for dinner tonight.

Again, I think there are a lot of us in this boat. So I’m starting an occasional series called “Mom-Friendly Meals.” I’m going to write about what I cook, how I choose recipes, what tools I use, how I find ingredients, and anything else that comes to mind. You can follow me on Twitter at @tragicsandwich; I’ll be using the hashtag #momfriendlymeals for these posts.

One thing to keep in mind: These are mom-friendly recipes. At our house, we all eat different things. Baguette is going through a picky stage, and while we’re trying to move her through that, I’m not going to pretend that she ate the Thai curry with me. And Mr. Sandwich has his own palate, and tends to do his own cooking. So our kitchen is very busy, but we’ve finally started eating together as a family.

Now we just have to clean off the rest of the kitchen table.

Food and Health and Stuff, with Lentils

My diet is a mixture of excellence and trash.* I know this, and most of the time it works well enough for me. But this week it became evident that it’s skewed much too far toward trash.

Thursday and Friday I felt horrible, and every time I ate something, I could tell almost immediately whether that particular choice had been a mistake. Most of the time, it was a mistake.

So–at least for now–no more bacon. I love bacon, but bacon is not loving me. And that goes true for salt in general. I was able to cut way back on salt when I was pregnant with Baguette, so I know I can do it now. And I’m cutting way back on meals out and prepared foods, because those are part of the salt-and-other-chemicals problem I’m having.

I’ve stocked up on fruit and Greek yogurt (oh, wait, I think I need more by now), and am trying to have a Yakult a day for more probiotics. I’ve pulled a loaf of pumpkin bread out of the freezer, and later today I’ll fix a bunch of hard-cooked eggs.

Also, last night I made curried lentils and brown rice–my first time cooking lentils. And I loved it! Lots of leftovers mean I’ll have several lunches during the week, too.

Curried Lentils and Brown Rice (adapted from Supermarket Vegan)

3/4 cup brown rice (I only had 1/2 cup and supplemented white rice for the remainder–it still turned out okay)
3/4 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 can vegetable broth
1 can plus 1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried minced onion
1 tsp. garlic powder
black pepper
coarse-ground white pepper

Put everything in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Lower heat until it is just simmering and cover. Stirring occasionally, cook for 45-50 minutes, or until lentils and rice are tender and water is mostly absorbed.

Further confirmation that it was time to overhaul my diet? I already feel much better. Not 100%, but much, much better.

*Not actual trash. I’m not Oscar. Even if I do have my Grouchy moments.

hackney council's newest recycling collector

Photo by clurr, via Flickr. Creative Commons.

Why Our House Is a Disaster – Weekday Edition

caution tape

We’re refinancing, and on a recent Friday, we had a visit from an appraiser. The house was not even remotely clean, although I did set my alarm for 5 a.m. so that I’d have time to at least straighten up the living room (read: put things in stacks). Instead, I was so exhausted that I just kept hitting the snooze button. Sorry, appraiser.

Mr. Sandwich and I are constantly evaluating the way we spend our time, particularly on weeknights, so that we can finish everything we need to and be ready for the next morning, while still getting Baguette to bed. What does that look like right now?

5:30 a.m.

Get up, wash face and brush teeth, unload dishwasher, wash any dishes in sink and put in drain rack to dry, give dog her medicine, open dog door, take one egg out of the refrigerator, put skillet on burner (which is not yet turned on). If it’s a day when we send lunch for Baguette, prep thermos with hot water.

5:48 a.m.
Finish bathroom routine. Shower if I’m lucky.

5:53 a.m.
Go back to bed to keep Baguette from rolling out; Mr. Sandwich gets up, gets dressed, and leaves for work.

6:20 a.m.
Get up, counting on Baguette to not roll out; get dressed, pull her pre-selected clothes/socks/shoes off of the shelf, get diaper and wipes and put them with her clothes, scramble and cook egg, heat up food to go in thermos, put egg in portable container, put food in thermos, assemble her lunch bag, put her breakfast in her tote bag along with anything else needed that day (set out the night before). Put yogurt and granola in my lunch bag if set up the night before; otherwise plan to buy breakfast at work. Feed dog. Make sure back door is locked, cabinets are latched, stove is off, and refrigator is closed.

6:40 a.m.
Unplug anything that has been charging overnight and put in handbag. Go back to bedroom and change Baguette’s diaper. Put her pajamas in the hamper and dress her for the day. Comb her hair. After she lies back down, sit her up and comb her hair again.

6:50 a.m.
Make Baguette stand up and walk to front door. Pet dog goodbye. Pick up bags, lock door, coax Baguette down steps, put her and bags in car.

6:55 a.m.
Arrive at day care. Get Baguette and her bags out of car, sign her in, drop off tuition or hot lunch money or other paperwork as needed, and walk her to classroom.

7:02 a.m. If I’m lucky.
Leave day care. Drive to bus stop. Park car, run across street, hope to catch bus. If I do, hope to get seat. If I don’t, drive to work. It’s an hour either way.

8:05 a.m.
Enter building. Buy breakfast and coffee, or just coffee if I managed to pack my own breakfast (lunch is even less likely). Go upstairs and work.

5:00 p.m. Unless I have to work late.
Leave building. Walk to bus stop. Catch bus home.*

6:00 p.m. Unless traffic is worse than usual.
Exit bus. Get in car and drive home.

6:07 p.m.
Arrive home. Pet dog hello. Change clothes. Put away any dishes in drain rack. Pour milk into straw cups for evening and next day.

6:12 p.m.
Mr. Sandwich brings Baguette home. Feed Baguette as much fruit and/or Goldfish as she will eat.

6:25 p.m.
Take Baguette and dog for walk around the block (1/2-mile distance). Discuss day. Encourage Baguette to walk, but carry her for intermittent stretches. Let her run back and forth when the impulse strikes her.

7:10 p.m.
Return home. Pull together some semblance of dinner for Baguette while Mr. Sandwich helps her play with the hose (it’s hot out). Start her bath.

7:20 p.m.
Change Baguette’s wet clothes and feed her.

7:50 p.m.
Mr. Sandwich gives Baguette her bath. Set out her pajamas and nighttime diaper, take dog out, feed dog, close dog door, wash dishes from her dinner, empty her lunch bag and clean containers, straw cups, and thermos, probably wash the skillet from that morning.

8:05 p.m.
Dry Baguette off, put her in nighttime diaper and pajamas, let her watch Sesame Street. Continue to prep for next day, gathering any paperwork or materials needed for day care. Eat tortilla with peanut butter (if lucky).

9:10 p.m.

Go to bed. All of us, because otherwise Baguette won’t. (Note: That’s “go to bed,” not “go to sleep.” There’s no telling how long that could take.)

What’s missing from this picture?

*This is when Mr. Sandwich does as much laundry as humanly possible in 50 minutes. Neither one of us has time to fold it or put it away.

Photo by skyloader, via Flickr.

Have a Holly, Jolly, Blurry Christmas

I’ll probably post again before the weekend, but as we’re midway through our various celebrations, this seems as good a time as any to hurl holiday cheer into the Internet void.

This past weekend, my side of the family came to town for a visit. We went to Baguette’s day care holiday performance (I am conflicted about the existence of such an event, relieved that once again she was not traumatized, and won over by how cute toddlers are), bought a tiny, tiny tree, and cooked a lot of food. Sunday was our Christmukkah celebration (even though Hanukkah didn’t start until last night), which started off with breakfast (apple bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, turkey sausage) and quickly moved on to opening gifts. After that it was time to make dinner:

  • Roast prime rib
  • Yorkshire pudding
  • Maple-glazed carrots
  • Betty Crocker Potatoes Au Gratin

That last was a nod to my recovery from surgery; while I have a recipe for potatoes au gratin that I love, it is somewhat labor intensive. So I asked for suggestions, and the boxed solution was brought up as an alternative. Let’s just say I wouldn’t do that again.

This weekend we’ll have a Pirate Christmas gift exchange with some sort-of-local cousins, and we’ll spend part of Christmas Day with Mr. Sandwich’s side of the family. We’re still figuring out which part, though, so we’re not sure if we can count on eating crepes or tri-tip.

One of the things we struggle with each year is the deluge of gifts. We are by no means minimalists (which you probably guessed by seeing the random assortment of crap in the background of the blurry photo), but we are finding that our holiday gift-giving style is a bit on the lean side.

I came from a family of bounteous Christmases. It took me far too long to figure out that when people asked what I got, I shouldn’t name every gift, because no one else was getting that many. There were reasons for why my parents (particularly my mother) went overboard, and I understand them. But as time passes, that is less and less my style.

Mr. Sandwich’s family gives fewer gifts per person, and I’m finding that to be more comfortable. Sometimes the pile of gifts under the tree can feel like an impending avalanche. And I want Baguette to be aware of what she gets, not just have a vague memory that there was a lot of stuff. At the same time, I know that my family just wants to give gifts, and I’m certainly not going to tell them that their generosity isn’t welcome–because it comes from a really good place, and that’s more important than some arbitrary limit on gifts that makes me feel in control of the day.

But I do really like this idea, from Frugal Mama–stockings filled with messages rather than gag gifts!

Oh, and this rings true, from The BadAssMama Chronicles.

Blog Action Day 2011: Food

Food is distributed so unevenly in the world. A great many of us have more than we can eat–even though we can eat quite a lot. Far too many have almost none.

While I can’t stop the groups that use famine and food supply manipulation to starve others, I can try to waste less. So that’s my goal for this year: to reduce the amount of food I throw away. Right now my refrigerator has several containers that have sat there too long. The only thing wrong with that food is the passage of time. So now, rather than providing nourishment, it’s going into the trash. That helps no one. But I’ll do what I can at our house.

What can you do?

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011

Mom-to-Mom (or Dad): Lunch Time

How do you pack lunches for your toddler? And what do you pack?

Baguette is not a fussy eater–in fact, she has been known to enjoy a spicy dish or two. She’s starting to get intrigued by forks. That tells me that I might want to change up what I’m giving her–or maybe not.

Every evening (supplemented by most mornings), I cut up a variety of foods and pack them into an array of containers to make the short trip to day care. My latest theory is that the correct number of containers to own is x + 2, x being the number you currently own. (This is also my theory about the correct number of sleepers/pairs of pajamas and the correct number of sippy cups.) Because somehow I could always use a couple more of the medium and large ones. Clearly I over-invested in small containers when she was just starting out with the solids, although at the time it seemed to make sense. And I’m intrigued by bento boxes, but I’d need at least two, right? Because now I have none. But I have so many containers that bento boxes seem redundant. I’m conflicted.

And she is willing to try new things. Lately she’s taken to spaghetti, with Mr. Sandwich’s “extra garlic, basil, oregano, and hot sauce” sauce. We haven’t sent that to day care with her yet, but she does enjoy eating it from a tiny bowl while sitting on the couch. (Now, if we can just keep her from feeding it to the dog…)

Here’s what goes to day care in a typical week: scrambled eggs, fresh fruit (she loves pears, peaches, berries, and melon), sausage, hot dogs, cheese, freeze-dried fruits, freeze-dried snap peas, cereal bars. Plus milk.

That seems limited and limiting. She’s got no apparent food allergies, although her pediatrician has us holding off with nuts and shellfish for a while longer (her school is nut-free anyhow). So what else might we throw into the mix?

Christmas Cheer

I’m not training, but I’m definitely eating. Frosted cookies, fudge, carrot cake, gingersnaps, triple sec pound cake–and that’s just the desserts.

I’m also enjoying the influx of holiday cards. I really like seeing all of the photo cards. But here’s a note to many of my friends: your children are adorable, and it’s fun to see them grow up. But you know what? I’d like to know what you look like, too. Include yourselves in the family photos. And if you’re sending a regular card, please don’t pick one with glitter. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and I’d rather it didn’t.

Regardless, I love having a tree decorated, and I really enjoyed having my family spend several days here. It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m having a great time celebrating the season.

And now, let Linus explain the meaning of Christmas.