Feb 07The Preschool Breakfast Dance

We have a pretty good morning routine. Sara typically wakes up between 7 and 7:30, we bring her up to our room where she drinks some milk, reads and plays while we take turns showering and getting ready. Whoever showers first gets her dressed, and we all reconvene in the kitchen around 8:30. Coffee gets made, our sitter arrives, Gary leaves, and at some point between 8:45 and 9:15 Sara has breakfast.

Sometimes.

If she’s hungry.

I don’t force it, and if she doesn’t eat much I don’t stress, since I know she’s not going to waste away from skipping one meal. And the rest of the time, Sara is a great eater. Plus, she can always have a snack mid-morning. I myself am not a big breakfast eater, and am not often hungry first thing, so I get where she’s coming from.

But since September she’s been going to school two mornings a week, and on those days I find myself trying desperately to get something, anything in her belly lest she faint from hunger right in the middle of circle time. Rationally, I know that will not happen. I know they have a snack mid-day. I know intellectually that maybe if one morning she does indeed become ravenous at a time when she can’t demand a snack that she will then consent to breakfast the following day.

Knowing and doing of course, are not the same. So I find myself trying all sorts of “tricks” to get her to eat. First I experimented with different foods. Smoothies – let’s drink our breakfast! Special muffins! Sitting at the island instead of the table! These things worked, occasionally, but not consistently. Enter the iphone. (I know, cue the dark dramatic music). IF she is checking out one of her apps on the iphone, sitting at the counter, I can usually put a plate of something next to her and she will eat it.

Is this wrong? It’s not like she’s watching Real Toddlers of Beverly Hills: it’s either an educational game or PBS’s Sprout. But I know it’s a slippery slope that I’ve started down, all in the interest of getting a few cups of sustenance inside of her. Is it worth it? Anyone have any other ideas?

Feb 01What Did You Do Today Honey?

Sara is asleep (or at least in bed, singing to herself on her way to dream land), toys are picked up, and Gary and I are just sitting down to dinner. “So what did you do today?” he asks. An innocent question, one that is asked of spouses and partners in thousands if not millions of homes around the world each and every night. I get it, it’s a totally normal thing to ask, and I ask it of Gary every day. But having to answer it myself, well sometimes that makes me cringe.

For one thing, I have never been too “sharey” about work. Unless I feel like I’ve done something really great, I tend to want to let the ins and outs of my day stay quiet. And I think working for myself, especially if I have had a day without client meetings or other outside contact, by the time dinner comes, I am ready to be OUT of my own head and to turn off work completely.

But there is another issue at play that is directly related to being a work from home mom. As I’ve mentioned before, my day is fragmented, and could include drop off/pick up at school, grocery shopping, dinner prep and of course, work. So tasks – especially work – get squeezed into short bursts of time before and after my other responsibilities.  This alone constitutes poor time management (and sometimes bad prioritizing!) but it gets worse. When I am in “work time” I frequently try to cram so much into a small period of time that a)I feel like I am getting nothing done and b)I am probably right!

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Jan 19The 5:00 Shuffle

Having worked in some form or fashion for many years, I’ve definitely learned a lot about my “work cycles” meaning when during the day I am most productive, and when I am absolutely not! Mornings are great (thank you coffee!), but after I break for lunch it’s a struggle to get back in the groove. Then 4:00 rolls around and I get another boost of energy and could happily work for hours. Too bad then, that my sitter leaves at 5:30 and I am back on mommy duty. Sara dines around 6:00 and of course does not want to spend her first 1/2 hour back with me playing alone while I make her something to eat, which means I try to have her dinner prepped, if not prepared, by the time she returns to my care.

This leads to what I call the 5:00 shuffle. Each day around 5:00 I pack up my laptop and appropriate files and relocate from my home office to the kitchen. If I’m lucky, I’ll already know what Sara will be feasting on that evening, and the prep will be mindless. But inevitably, this will also be the exact time of day I am trying to finish something for a client, or have an email conversation with someone that needs to continue while I cook, or my creative juices will finally be flowing and I won’t want to shut them down.

So there I’ll be, standing at the counter, laptop open next to some raw meat or head of broccoli as I try frantically to be MOM and PROFESSIONAL at the same time. It makes for a very harried half hour, met with a hard break when Sara returns from the park or a play date.

If I worked in an office, my end of day routine would be different. Dinner prep would still need to be done of course, though perhaps I’d be organized enough to do it the night before. But from the time I left the office until the time I walked in the door, whether that was 5 minutes or 50, I’d have the time to transition from one hat to the other, leaving “the job” on one side of the commute, and becoming “mom” by the time I walked in the door. Perhaps amid the subway jostling I’d have a few minutes to decompress and mentally make the shift.

Not that moms who work in offices aren’t always “mom,” but work from home moms almost always wear both hats at once. And while we do delineate as much as possible work time from home time, there is a blurring that does not exist in quite the same way for our office counterparts. And one of the downsides to this arrangement is no transition time. For me, it means I go careening from my work day into Sara’s dinner, play time, then bed and bath routine. When she is down, dinner gets made for Gary and I, and by the time we’re finished and cleaned up I am exhausted. Would I still feel so wiped by these few hours if I had a chance to switch gears?  Or is this just the way it is when you’re the mom of a young child? Do you feel that not having any delineation between the end of your work day and the beginning of your mom evening makes a difference? Have you found routines that help you decompress and make the transition?

Jan 10To Play Date or not to Play Date

One of the things I’ve loved most about working from home, is that not only do I get to spend time with Sara, but I also get to spend time with her friends. She has her little posse she hangs with most days, and they are all so much fun.  All of their moms work outside the house, so it’s the sitters – Sara’s included – who make the plans and see other either at the park or at someone’s house, depending on the weather. At least once a week they are at our house, spending the morning and having lunch, so after putting in a few hours on the computer, I take my break to feed them and catch up on what is happening in the world of these toddlers! I’ve gotten to know all of their parents and several times a year everyone is together (birthday parties, holiday parties etc). Luckily, I’ve also connected with a couple of the moms on a more personal level, and we’ve developed friendships that go beyond just having kids who are friends.

Now that she is in preschool, Sara’s social circle is widening.  This is great, but also brings up a tricky issue for a work from home mom. Not surprisingly, some of the kids in school (and in various other activities Sara engages in) have stay at home parents. When they want to make play dates, it’s almost always during the week, since they are looking for things to do with their child, and weekends are more about family time.

So the question for me is  – to play date or not to play date? Do I put myself in the “working mom” bucket and only make dates on the weekends or have Sara’s sitter take her? This could work, but deprives me of the chance to get to know some of the moms better.  Because let’s be real, at this age the play dates are as much about the parents having the social interaction as the kids.

Or do I allow myself to make dates during the week? If so, does my sitter just sit at home while we are off playing? And does taking a couple of hours out of my day for a play date hurt my professional self? How can I take advantage of my arrangement and enjoy perks like play dates, without feeling guilty or like this means I don’t take my career seriously?

I WANT to do both – be the mom at play dates AND the mom with some semblance of a career. And I know I am lucky to be in this quandary – but that doesn’t make maneuvering through it any easier. Anyone else struggle with this and have any suggestions?

Dec 13The Leftovers Conundrum AKA Who Gets the “Fresh” meal

One of the perks of a work from home arrangement, at least for me, is that I can start dinner during the “work day”, bringing my laptop to the kitchen as I alternately chop, simmer and send emails. This only works of course if I am organized enough to multitask and if neither the work task or recipe requires more than 65% focus! But it still doesn’t solve the problem of my making two dinners every evening.

For the most part, Sara eats everything, and we are lucky that she is as excited about vegetables as she is about cookies, well maybe not as excited, but she does like vegetables very much, so I know we have that going for us. But she eats around 6:00, and we dine at 8:30 after she has gone to bed. This means that from 5:00 – 8:30 I am doing my dinner scramble: making something for her that is – hopefully- not pasta or chicken nuggets for a second or third day in a row, feeding her, prepping our dinner while Gary plays with her, then when she is down, rushing to cook our meal so we can have a moment to sit, relax and be adults. It’s tiring! Not to mention, it can be tricky- how do I make us something interesting that can be prepped before bath time, but then sit for a bit and be prepaerd in 30 minutes or less when we are ready to cook?

And more importantly, short of us eating at 6, how do I only make ONE meal? Do I make it so it’s fresh for Sara, and then we reheat it later? Do I make something fresh for us, then she eats the leftovers the next day? Are there things I can prep once and then cook twice – once for her and then later for us (ie a piece of fish). A few weeks ago, I found a recipe that looked interesting and easy – chicken marinated in a mild yogurt/curry mixture then roasted on top of some squash and brussel sprouts and served with nan and yogurt.I decided to give it a whirl, and let Sara be the recipient of the fresh from the oven version.

She gobbled it up (yes, I know, I am very thankful for a child who greedily stuffs brussel sprouts in her mouth and then asks for more!). Later that evening I rewarmed it for Gary and I, and it was just as good. So good that we gobbled it up. So good that the next night we gobbled up the leftovers eagerly, which is something I rarely do. So good I could not wait to make it again.

I was thrilled – a delicious, healthy, easy recipe that I made once but served twice without the person getting the “seconds” eating something that tasted reheated. This is any parents dream meal, not just one who works from home. This could easily be partially prepped in the morning and then finished/cooked after work with minimal effort. Find the recipe here and see for yourself.

I know there is not one right answer, and that I will constantly be changing things up so that none of us is always eating the leftovers, but I consider it a small victory when I find something that works!

Do you have any favorite cook once serve twice recipes?

Dec 07Giving Thanks

I know that Thanksgiving was more than a week ago, so this post is a bit tardy, but I hope you’ll indulge me anyway under the theory that Thanksgiving is really the the start of a “season” of holiday and cheer and celebration, and not just one day.

When Gary and I were dating, and it came time for Thanksgiving, instead of choosing which family to spend it with we decided that we would host ourselves. It’s usually the only time of year that both our families are together, and the guest count ranges from 8-16 family and friends depending on who has what going on.  I love Thanksgiving – it’s a holiday all about food so how could I not – but usually it’s also a stressful time. The grocery shopping, the prep work, the logistics of getting everything in and out of the oven on time and ensuring it is still hot when we eat: it’s a bit of a challenge even for an experienced host and entertainer like myself.

The year I was pregnant, morning sickness was in full bloom and Gary came down with a 24 hour stomach bug Thanksgiving morning. He stayed in bed most of the day, emerged for the guests and had to carve with rubber gloves! The next year, we thought we hit the lottery when our six month old who was famous for mini naps, took a marathon three hour one just when we needed to prep and cook the most. Turns out, she was teething and had explosive diarrhea the rest of day. Last year she was more mobile, and needed more supervision, so we basically took turns cooking and playing with her, which of course caused everything to take twice as long to finish.

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Dec 03The Honey Do List

We’ve all heard the jokes and seen the bits on sitcoms about men and the “honey-do” lists that their wives give them. “Fix the roof” “Clean the garage” “Put gas in the car” etc. But lately I’ve noticed a shift towards women having a never ending list of tasks instead. And yes, I know, it’s not news that a lot of women complain that even though they have a full time job outside of the home, they still bear the brunt of mommy and household chores. In fact, in most two working parent homes it is the woman who returns home first at the end of the day, to take over primary care giving duties from the grandparent/nanny/daycare or school that assumed that role between nine and five (or eight and six, seven and seven …. )

In this day and age, I like to think most men are stepping up to the plate and partnering in a way they might not have say, ten or twenty years ago. My husband for instance, is an amazing partner and co-parent and does as much as he possibly can. But the fact still remains the fact: I physically am in our home during the day and so I have more to do. Laundry needs to get done? Even if he puts it in the machine before he leaves, I am the one who moves it along its journey back to our drawers. Make sure we have food for dinner? Me. Food for Sara? Me. Arrange for the AC guys to come and investigate that strange noise? Me. Snacks and diaper bag packed for the outing to the park? Me. Again, I am not trying to bash my sweetie in any way – he does a lot when he is here, and does what he can from his office. But my “honey do list” contains items that MUST happen, even if it is at the expense of my own work. Pressing deadlines aside, how do I balance an average work day with the demands of the house? Especially on the food front. It’s one thing for Gary and I to order take out if I don’t get a chance to get to the store, but for Sara it’s not so simple.

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Nov 17Kumquats, no Bananas

Occasionally in the mornings we give Sara a treat and let her watch Elmo’s World, especially if either Gary or I have left early and the other one needs to occupy her so they can get dressed. Today was one of those mornings, and after snuggling with her for a few minutes listening to Elmo impart the joys of water, I slid out from under the sheets and in to the bathroom, not giving Elmo or the rest of the Sesame Street gang another thought.

Four hours later Sara bursts through the front door after a morning at the park, and starts rambling something I can’t quite grasp. Sara speaks extremely well for a two year old, but there are definitely times she resorts so “Sarese” and it takes a few tries to figure it out. As I’m listening, it slowly dawns on me that she is saying “kumquats.” Yes, kumquats. A word I have probably uttered out loud less than five times in my life, and certainly never in the time that Sara has been alive. I mean, I’ve had them before, but never gave them any thought, never bought them, never anything with them.

But here is my daughter bouncing around the kitchen laughing saying “kumquats, no, bananas.” I ask where she heard about kumquats.

“Telly on Elmo. Kumquats, no bananas.” Cue hysterical laughter.

I rack my brain, but am still coming up empty, an so push it a little further. “What color are kumquats?” I ask.

“”Yellow” she says, without a second’s hesitation.

“Kumquats mommy, kumquats, buy me kumquats. I NEED kumquats.”

Usually she “needs” things like ice cream and cookies, so I definitely wanted to encourage this new found -albeit likely temporary – obsession with a small little obscure fruit. So off we go to the local store, with me still trying to figure out how kumquats made a cameo on Sesame Street, but also with me quite concerned that we might not find any once we got there. Is it kumquat season? Is there a kumquat season? And how exactly do you eat one – I had only had them in dishes, never on their own.

After much searching in the produce aisle we did, thankfully, find a box of yellowy orange oval kumquats. At home Sara took a bite, and pronounced it good, but tart, very tart.

And as she proceeded to take about one bite from several of these tiny fruits, I did finally solve the mystery of where this kumquat knowledge originated. On Sesame Street, just before the closing credits, they sometimes have Telly talking with a girl about eating fruit. She is deaf, so is using her hands to tell him which one she wants. He mistakenly thinks she is asking for kumquat, but no, her peeling motion really shows she wants a banana!
So I guess it’s hats off to Sesame Street for introducing Sara to the kumquat. Now, I just need to figure out what I am going to do with the rest of the box ….

Nov 10Embracing “Mom” Means Redefining Me

Some girls know from an early age they want to be moms. They play with baby dolls, Barbie dolls, younger siblings, pretending to be moms, orchestrating the daily movements of their little charges.  And as they grow up, go to school, take jobs, travel, wherever their paths take them, they know without a shadow of a doubt that becoming a mom is something they will do.

I was not one of those girls. I spent the requisite amount of time with Barbie and baby dolls, and loved children, but never saw motherhood in my future. When I met my husband, we were both old enough that I thought “yippee, hopefully he is beyond the point of wanting children.” I was wrong.

Flash forward a few years. We’re happy newlyweds, and having been laid off from what I considered my dream job, I’ve decided to go entrepreneur and create a board game about food and chefs, Celebrity Chef! The Game.  Professionally I am exactly where I want to be. Life is great, and I am so in love with my honey that we decide to try and make a baby.

Looking at it practically, as someone who was only a few months away from the launch of her first product, we decided to start trying in late August, our calculus was it would take at least two-three months of trying before anything would happen. Then I’d be pregnant for nine months, giving me almost a year of “uninterrupted entrepreneurialness” before any baby would be on the scene. We’d figure out the rest of the game plan then.

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Aug 09Grill Baby Grill

Image from the 2005 Chrysler Hemi Grill Contest

There are 2 areas of my life where I had complete control before I met Gary and now I have none: wine buying and grilling. I don’t know how the wine thing happened, since I love wine and we even got married in Napa, but over the years it did, and as long as there is a bottle ready for the drinking, I’ve realized that I don’t miss having to actually choose and buy it. Occasionally I do worry that he’ll be on a business trip and, in looking for something to pair with my leftovers, I’ll open a $25 or $30 bottle of wine, but hey – I’m worth it! (more…)