Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spinning plates

Have you ever seen those performers who spin plates on the end of sticks? Once they get one going, they start another one spinning. On and on it goes until the crowd applauds. As a mommy, I feel like I'm one of those plate spinners.

Eight years ago I had my oldest son and started the first plate spinning. Completely devoid of motherly knowledge (I had never even babysat an infant), I was scared to death that plate would fall and break. But it didn't.

Five years ago, I set the next plate to spinning when I had my second son. With experience under my belt, I was less concerned about letting that plate fall. I knew what I was doing. However, when post-partum blues hit me like a brick, that stick got shakey. On the advice of a wonderful friend, I sought help from my doctor, and a situation that could have spun out of control didn't.

Eighteen months ago, I added another plate to the repertoire. I was a pro at this by now. Everything has run amazingly smoothly, and every day I am thankful for my three blessings.

In addition to those mommy plates, I have set other plates spinning. When you're a mom, you take on other responsibilities all the time to enhance the lives of your children. Whether it's helping with homework, having one-on-one conversations about the bully in class, reading bedtime stories, wiping tears of frustration, patching up skinned knees, being the loudest cheerleader on the soccer sidelines... There's much work to be done. By now, I'd say I have at least 50 plates spinning. It's a delicate balancing act.

I read the other day about another mommy who just couldn't seem to find time to focus on herself because life had become just too hectic. She had written in on a forum asking for advice. It was a nice reminder that even though we as mommies feel it is our duty to put everyone else first, we also need to set some time out for ourselves.

I am extremely grateful to have a husband that allows me to do this every day. The minute he comes home from work, I hand him the kids, and he becomes the juggler for at least an hour. During that time, I workout. They know not to bother me unless someone is bleeding or unconscious. We don't even answer the phone. So if you call my house between 6 and 7:30 p.m., chances are no one will answer. I'm busy with "me" time and he's busy with "buddy" time. I think every mom needs that time to reboot, collect herself and remind herself that she is important too.

After all, without her steady hands, who would keep those plates spinning?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Civility and a cinnamon bun

Today, my littlest boy and I had coffee (well, he had apple juice) and a cinnamon bun with a dear friend of mine from high school. She is one of those friends you can lose contact with for years and then pick up a conversation with as if you'd never paused. In fact, we did lose contact with each other for several years. After high school we both went our separate ways to college. Our lives took different paths. Very different. During those years of self discovery, she became a strong conservative Republican. In fact, she went into politics after school. While I was away at college, I discovered that, though I was brought up in an extremely conservative home, I was a liberal Democrat.

After nearly a decade of not being in touch with each other, she and I reconnected about eight years ago. At the time, she was working on the campaign of a prominent Republican, and I was still driving around with a Gore/Lieberman bumper sticker on my car. Despite our difference in political opinions, we picked up our friendship right where it left off. Now it just wouldn't be an ordinary day without touching base with her on Facebook. We have a truly bipartisan friendship.

Today while sipping coffee and eating our cinnamon buns, we caught up on gossip. And we even talked politics. When we were leaving I told her that we should run for office since we are the picture of how government should operate. Two sides listening to each other, respecting each other and valuing the good in each other.

Civility and a cinnamon bun. Two very wonderful things. :–)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A whole new world

My 8-year-old, who just learned how to read two and a half years ago, just finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. A 734-page novel. Did I mention he's 8?

When he was a baby he really took to books. I'd keep a basket full of children's picture books in the family room, and he'd go through it daily, thumbing through the pages. Too little to talk or understand the words, he would study each picture. Story time was an expected part of bedtime. Most nights my husband would read to him during "buddy time."

When he entered kindergarten and started learning how to read, I kept telling him how exciting it was to learn to read a book by yourself. He'd see me reading novels and ask, "Mommy, HOW can you read a book without pictures??" I told him that when you become a good reader, you draw your own pictures in your mind. The words help you to paint the world that you are reading. When he entered the first grade, he began reading Magic Treehouse books and finally understood. He couldn't get enough. We now have nearly all of the 40-something-book set. Though always on a budget, I never have felt guilty for buying my kids books. I look at books as an investment, not an indulgence.

This year, he asked me if he could begin the Harry Potter series. I was hesitant because I was afraid he wouldn't understand them. Not only are they longer than any other books he had read, they also are written by a British author, in British dialect, and are much more complex than what he was used to... but he wore me down. His brother gave him Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in December, and since then, he has taken off. After he completes each book, we watch the movie as a special treat. It amazes me how he can tell me in which chapter each scene occurs... and in most cases, he can tell me the specific page!

I don't write this to say that my child is a genius or prodigy... (though to me he's a superhero)... I write this because I am bursting with pride that my child has discovered this whole new world of reading. And he loves it. I didn't discover my love of books until I was an adult. I can only imagine if I would have fell in love with books sooner. I am so happy for him.

His love of reading has rubbed off on his little brother now, who's 5. He now keeps his very own basket of books that he totes around with him. And oftentimes at night I can hear my oldest reading to him when it's well past bedtime... but I don't gripe.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Catching Leprechauns

Eight more days, well actually seven. That's how many more days my boys and I have until we perfect our leprechaun trap. When my oldest child was in kindergarten a couple of years ago, his class, led by an amazing teacher, made a leprechaun trap. You see, the week leading up to St. Patrick's Day, someone kept coming into their classroom at the oddest times, when the kids were at recess or lunch, and would trash the place... papers on the floor, disheveled books, chairs fallen over... The teacher told the class that in the past, she had problems with tiny leprechauns sneaking into her classroom around St. Patrick's Day looking for a place to hide his gold. So the children built the a trap, hoping to catch the leprechaun AND his gold. Sadly, the children didn't catch any leprechauns that year.

Last year, my boys and I constructed our own leprechaun trap. We took an old box and covered the top with paper, in hopes that the leprechaun would fall through and be trapped. My oldest child even drew a picture on the outside of the box telling the leprechaun that there was gold inside. Alas, the little bugger escaped our trap, left a trail of green behind and some gold-wrapped chocolates and a cute poem for the boys.

This St. Patrick's Day, my boys are a little older, a little wiser and a lot craftier. I'm hoping we can construct the perfect leprechaun trap. We've got mere days to start. I wonder what our little friend will leave us this year? *wink*

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A comforting creation

I love to cook. I love the way that making a meal at the end of a stressful day can be so relaxing. I love the way creating something delicious gives such a sense of pride and accomplishment. I rarely cook big meals these days. But on days like this, when the air is crisp and cold, I crave comfort. And tonight, I found comfort in the kitchen.

I decided to make a big pot of homemade minestrone. The entire house smells of it, as I type. When I finish posting this, I plan on fixing myself a big bowl of it along with a big chunk of crusty, multi-grain bread and a nice glass of cabernet. Pure comfort. I thought I'd share the recipe with you folks. Bon appetit!

Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of dry ditalini pasta
6 cups of organic/free-range chicken broth
7 garlic cloves, sliced
1 large yellow onion (or two small onions), roughly chopped
1 cup carrots, diced (I use the baby carrots -- they're easier to prep)
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
1 14-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz can petite diced tomatoes
3 large zucchini, chopped
1 large russet potato, chopped
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 TBSP tomato paste
1 dried or fresh bay leaf

Cook the ditalini pasta until al dente, as directed on package. Drain, rinse then drizzle with olive oil and set aside.
In a large dutch oven, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom (a couple of tablespoons should do), add the garlic and cook just for a minute on medium-high. DON'T burn it!! Reduce heat to medium and add the carrots and onions. Cook until the veggies are soft and the onion is transparent, but not browned. Add the rosemary and oregano and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to high and add the cannellini beans, diced tomatoes, sweet potato, russet potato and zucchini. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste and bay leaf and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer until all the veggies are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Right before serving, add the pasta and remove the bay leaf. Sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese if you like. And serve with crusty bread.

And there you have it... a comforting creation.