Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dear January

January, we've had our differences in the past. You are the month associated with going back to school or work after Christmas vacation. You arrive, and we note a lack of holiday celebrations in the near future. You are the epitome of winter, and don't even have the decency to be a short month. Instead, you are the maximum at 31 days. The nerve of you! And if all that weren't enough, you contain within your boundaries the most depressing day of the year (despite the controversy, I still believe it's true).

But January, since we moved to Denver you had a chance to make amends. With your spring-like weather (well, spring-like for an Albertan), and family ski week, you held out a hand of reconciliation. 2010 started out hopefully enough. The kids got colds, but in what month doesn't that happen? I even began looking forward to you as the month in which Isaac would begin sleeping better. Alas, this false hope was part of your larger scheme.

The kids recovered from their initial cold well enough. Anna embarked upon her first ski trip with her Dad and had a rolicking good time with her cousins. I remained at home, glad to have only one child to attend to (ironic, since this same scenario a year earlier would have sent me into conniptions). All seemed well.
And then you sent an army of viruses into our midst, taking down the youngest first and then moving up the chain of command with methodical precision. And no minor cold, this. Instead, you brought ear infections, jarring coughs, rivers of mucous, sore throats, and the worst of all: asthma attacks.

This last symptom was your goal all along, wasn't it, January? A stealth wheeze such that no parent could have been aware that the exhaustion of our toddler was due to hypoxia rather than simple illness. No increase in respiratory rate, no audible whistling in the breath - merely glassy eyes and low energy. Your fatal mistake, however, was adding an ear infection into the mix: a pain that could not be ignored and brought us to the doctor where your treachery was unearthed.

January, as I sit here hacking and sleepless I bid you adieu. Until we meet again, in 2011.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Longest Month

     It's January. As of today, twenty unequivocally winter days still stretch out before us. January is such a looong month, in part because there is nothing specific to look forward to
     I think Jon's family has the right idea: they all get together for a ski-week during this most winter of months. And after that's over, why it's practically February. And February is a such a short month, speedily becoming March. And March is so hopeful; you can practically taste spring around the corner. Alas, Isaac and I are not skiing so all I see is January.
     I don't mean to be in a funk, but last week was quite difficult and it's going to take a day or two to emerge. Both kiddos were ill all last week, so we didn't go anywhere and no one came here. So, Anna missed her Fun Week: her first dance class, a visit to her grandparents, and a cousin's birthday party. This sadness was compounded by her asthma acting up, and the administration of her nebulizer. She's great at using the neb, but the medication induces a sort of borderline personality disorder. She's up and down and needy and cranky and spinning and sad and manic. So it was a rough week. In fact, it wasn't until Friday that I realized that, other than Jon and the doctor, I had not seen any adults all week. Worse, I hadn't even noticed.
     Enough self-pity. Here are the fantastic things that also happened:
First, Isaac learned to crawl up the stairs. All the stairs all at once. He's thrilled with this new skill, and I wish our baby gate could go lower than the fourth stair.
Second, Anna and I made cookies and buns. I love baking with her. She's so interested in measuring and feeling the ingredients and playing with the dough.
Third, I've enjoyed watching Isaac continue to explore his motor skills. He's firmly in pull-books-off-shelves and push-shopping-cart-around mode. About three weeks ago his crawling became lightning fast, so we spent the New Year's weekend baby proofing (better late than never) and setting up the baby barrier. The latter is basically a big fence set up in a circle, with rugs and blankets to make it soft, and a lot of his toys. Since I can never fully account for all of Anna's swallow-sized toys I wanted a place he could play in absolute safety. I want to emphasize that this is a LARGE space - I'm not talking pack 'n play size. He can do a good bit of cruising and crawling and exploring in there. But does he appreciate this? No. He cries unless someone is in there, playing with him. Too bad, kid. Momma's got to cook dinner.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Always double the time needed. Always.

     Last night I made a chicken stew from Real Simple Magazine. I chose this recipe because we all like olives, and it's different than my usual fare. Also, it is indeed pretty simple.
     However, I misread the suggested time and thought it was a 30 minute recipe. In fact, it's a 60 minute recipe. Thankfully, I still started a full hour before we were supposed to eat. A good thing, since it took almost 90 minutes to prepare, and would have taken 1 3/4 hours if I had followed all of the directions. Why so long?
Here's why:

Original Recipe: Chicken and pepper stew with olives

1/2 cup flour                             3 green bell peppers sliced
1 tsp. paprika                            4 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 1/2 tsp salt                             2 cups chicken broth
3/4 pepper                                2 cups pitted olives
16 chicken thighs, halved         1/2 cup golden raisins
3 Tbsp. olive oil                       2 cups cooked rice
3 red bell peppers, sliced

Changes I made: 1/3 the amount of chicken, and halved the rest of the ingredients (except the rice). Also, added some red wine. Because red wine makes everything taste better.

Real-time directions (for our house, anyway):

4:29 - put baby in play pen; baby commences play; toddler (who has been ill) is occupied with something or other
4:30 - begin cooking brown rice
4:32 - begin slicing peppers (who has them pre-sliced? It's such a cheat to list sliced veggies in the ingredient list.) 
        - pretend to be a Wiggle at behest of toddler
4:35 - baby commences fussing; remember to make green beans for baby (no stew for you!)
4:37 - mix together flour, paprika, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper
        - pretend to be Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother
        - baby commences screaming
4:39 - pick up baby and attempt to soothe
4:45 - nurse baby
4:55 - abandon all principles; turn on Baby Einstein for both toddler and baby
4:56 - cut up chicken (again, I'd like to note the cheat factor in listing "halved chicken" in the ingredient list)
5:00 - coat chicken with flour mixture
        - put oil in a large pot and heat on medium high
5:02 - realize that the wrong burner is on, and am about to burn paper plate on which coated chicken is sitting
        - in mad dash to turn off burner, knife hits numerous clean utensils and smears chicken juice all over them ( #*@$@!!)
5:04 - begin browning chicken thighs
5:05 - sick toddler asks for cuddle, but mommy is cooking. Bad mommy.
5:08 - baby commences screaming
5:10 - abandon principles again: hold baby near hot stove as I flip chicken
        - note that toddler is asleep; poor little toddler
5:12 - arm tired; put baby down in front of fridge to play with magnets
5:15 - baby almost crushes finger in lazy susan; back into play pen!
5:16 - baby screaming
5:17 - begin eyeing wine bottle
5:20 - remove very browned chicken (which has now been cooking for double the amount of time it should be)
        - deglaze pot with a bit of wine; add peppers, 1/2 cup broth, rest of salt and pepper
5:21 - pick up baby
        - stir peppers occasionally
5:26 - garage door opens!!
5:27 - hand off baby to husband
5:30 - peppers too soft
        - add chicken and remaining ingredients, including garlic that was forgotten earlier
        - simmer, covered for 15 minutes
        - congratulate self for buying the pitted olives
5:33 - turn off rice; let sit with lid on
        - set table, do some laundary
5:40 - rice is done (for a change)
5:48 - chicken is cooked through (at this point, I was supposed to uncover and simmer another 15-20 minutes. oops.]
         - begin waking up toddler
5:50 - wrath of toddler incurred
5:55 - sit down to eat

6:45 - finally drain rest of green beans, now devoid of all nutrients
     So, how did it taste? Well, Jon added sriracha sauce and Anna basically sobbed and had tantrums all through dinner. But I really liked it, and will make it again.
     It's been awhile since I tried to cook a meal right before dinner. These days I'm all about the slow cooker, or making meals early in the day (while someone is napping) and reheating later. I think we'll go back to that for awhile.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Looking Ahead

   I've never done New Year's Resolutions. I think that mid-winter is an odd time to begin anything - it's hard enough to get the usual things done. I'm much more likely to resolve, and follow through, in the springtime. Be that as it may, a new year has begun and I'm thinking about goals for our family for the upcoming year. Most of these will likely begin once the lost year is completed (in the spring!), but it's helpful to list them now. Perhaps you will keep me accountable.

(1) Buy a new bed. It's no accident that this is the first item on my list, but it will likely be the last thing we do. I want a super soft king size from Urban Organics. Alas, the organic part (which I'm not even that interested in) jacks up the price. We could certainly last another year with our full size, but as a life-long insomniac I'd rather not.

(2) Convert our master bedroom to a rumpus room. Jon will only consent to this if we call it a rumpus room. That's fine with me - I just want a better use of the space. It's a large room, and all we do is sleep there. What a waste. Additionally, I have more craft supplies than clothing, so the walk-in closet isn't even used to capacity. We'll see how this works. I'm not sure the spare room is compatible with Goal #1, so I need to get out the measuring tape first.

(3) Start discussions about getting a cat. I'm still undecided, but I read somewhere that having pets improves the development of empathy in children. That may justify the pet hair. A dog is out of the question. I dislike dogs.

(4) Figure out how to exercise. Jon and I used to be active, but nowadays we're either too tired or the logistics are overly challenging. Winter does not help things, so this may remain on the back burner until spring has sprung and over-sized sweaters are no longer an option. It's also inherently tied to #5.

(5) Get Isaac to sleep through the night. This may not seem like a difficult thing, or even something that needs help from me. But it is, and it will.

(6) Do something with the yard. Anything. Anything at all.

I'll end this post with a paraphrase from one of my favorite books.
"New Years has come.
Last year has gone.
Next year is another one!
Every year, from here to there,
funny things are everywhere."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Security Theater

Welcome to Airport Security Theater! We're your hosts, the TSA and *insert airline here.*

     We see you noted our schedule change: instead of arriving at the airport 2 hours in advance for an international flight, you arrived 4 hours ahead. Good for you!
     Ah, I see you also noticed our little practical joke. That's right! No matter how early you arrive, you can no longer go through customs until your flight number is called - approximately one to two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. Boy, is there egg on YOUR face!
     But don't worry, your flight will probably be late anyway - delayed somewhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours. We don't like to tell you exactly how delayed it will be, as we feel this adds suspense to the program. "Keep 'em guessing," that's our motto!

So let's review today's performance:
Act I
     We'll welcome you to a long line as you wait to check in. We've disabled all the self-check-in kiosks, to give you more of that face-to-face interaction that you crave during these troubled times. And just to "keep you guessing" we'll frequently call other travelers to the head of the line. These are customers who missed their flights yesterday, because we were calling other travelers to the head of their line! Brilliant comedic tension, no?
     Next, you'll arrive at the head of the line only to find that your tickets have been voided. Although you obviously made it here and you've paid for the ticket, we'll attempt to inject some drama as we note that only your infant (issued a paper ticket) will be able to fly the friendly skies. Bet you're loving that face-to-face interaction now. And don't worry - we'll take good care of your little guy.

     Take a break at the far end of the airport at our child play area. After all, you have 2-3 hours to kill until we call your flight number. Maybe. Better get lunch now, since you don't know the next time you'll be able to eat.

Act II
    We've called your flight number! Come on through customs. Hurry up, and join the long slow line. Better make sure your toddler had a potty break beforehand, since there won't be any bathrooms for awhile. And I'm so sorry, but as this is a serious performance we simply can't allow other media to compete for your attentions. So no - your toddler cannot watch a DVD or use her Tag Reader. We are serious about security. (ooh! alliteration!) We'd much rather have your child meltdown, as this will take your mind off how mind-numbing the whole experience is.

    Congratulations, you've made it through customs and are headed to security. Hope you've got only one small carry-on with "essentials" per passenger, or we'll send you back to the beginning. Think we won't? Talk to that poor sap over there.
     As part of our "interactive" performance model, you, the customer, get to choose which security line to stand in. So many choices! Which one moves the fastest? Refer back to our motto.
     Alas, you've chosen the slowest line. No matter - this gives you more time to observe our procedures. Notice how every single passenger is patted down, and every single bag is manually searched. Since we take security seriously (alliteration! again!) we'll even pat down your toddler and - wait for it - your infant. Because you never can tell who has explosives in their underwear (or diaper). All part of the experience, my friends. And to think, you paid for this! A lot!

Act IV
    After repacking all your bags at security, please sprint down the halls to see if your airplane is still there. Please hurry: we at the airport have a betting pool as to who will miss their flight and I have a lot riding on you. No doubt you've heard that many an airplane left half full yesterday. We did this on purpose so that no matter what you find at the gate, you will look surprised. Again, we like you to feel involved in the performance.
     You made your flight just as boarding began! Good for you! No time to buy food? So sad. Won't be anything on the plane, either.

Act V - The End
     Good news: you may use your DVD player, and your baby food made it through security. Bad news: you and your family must remain seated during the last hour of the flight. We do this to make you feel that we take security seriously (!!) And truly, to thwart terrorism. Everyone knows that terrorists are only sneaky during the last hour of the flight. Additionally, despite the fact that we announce this procedure on all media outlets and at the beginning of the flight, we are confident that this "sit down" procedure will take terrorists by surprise, and that they will certainly comply. After all, we are all in this together. 

    I'm not annoyed at any of the employees at the airport. They all did their job beautifully and were polite and helpful. I don't even have a problem with some of the new procedures. My fundamental complaint is the temporary, reactionary nature of the whole thing. They're cracking down now, but why? Is a terrorist attack any more likely during these couple of weeks than in a month or so? Or course not. Most of these horrid flight delays and lines came because people (fliers and employees) didn't know what to expect at the airport from one day to the next.
     If the TSA wants to improve security, then just write it in stone and do it. But first, give the procedures real thought. What's the point of keep us in our seats the last hour of the flight? What's the point of no DVD players in the customs line? Ridiculous things like that. Things that are obviously theatrical and empty.