On Cleaning and Letting Go

A few months ago we hired a regular cleaning service to come every other week. After trying to stay on top of it ourselves, we realized something had to be taken off the good old to-do list.

Now we have a trust-worthy, hard working woman who helps get our house in order for three hours every two weeks. It has made life incredibly better. I don't feel as frazzled, we don't bicker as much, we don't waste time scrubbing toilets on weekends instead of playing with our little guy... It was a terrific decision.

Sure, at first I felt guilty about having someone else wash my floors and spending the extra money, but I realized we could brown bag it for lunch and save more than we'd spend on the cleaning service.

For the Yahoo! Motherboard, we were asked to write about cleaning this month. I wrote about the decision to outsource mine and why it's OK for moms to let go. Check the post out here.


Top Five Easter Lessons

It seems like once a kid hits two, the holidays are just more real and exciting. Each holiday that we celebrate teaches us a couple of things about being parents, so I thought I'd share the Top 5 lessons we learned this Easter (please keep in mind that we strictly celebrate holidays commercially, not religiously.):

1. When dying eggs find a better way to tell your child not to splash when dropping eggs into the dye without using the word "splash." The word "splash" somehow unleashes an extreme need to do so.

2. Do not compare the Easter Bunny to Santa Claus. These are two very different holidays, but a kid who wakes up expecting Christmas 2.0 is bound to ask, "What else did the Easter Bunny bring me?" after ripping through a silly basket and then ask everyone who walks in the door what they have for him. Or at least my kid will ask these questions.

3. Do not underestimate squirrels when hiding your plastic Easter eggs. One of the eggs was chewed through within an hour of being hidden. (Have I mentioned how aggressive our squirrels are?)

4. Deciding that a kid who doesn't have much sugar can eat all the chocolate he wants on Easter will back fire. W doesn't get much sugar and he has had limited exposure to candy. So, when he opened up the one egg in his basket and shrieked, "TREATS! Please don't take them away from me!" I'd be lying if I didn't feel a little stab of guilt for being a mean, treat-stealing mommy, so I assured him that it was a special day and he could eat all the chocolate he wanted. When Monday morning rolled in and he requested chocolate for breakfast I knew we might have a problem. Then today he asked for chocolate and when his request was denied, he whined, "I need it, because I LOVE CHOCOLATE!" We've created a monster.

5. When making hard boiled eggs do not use salt and vinegar, do give eggs a cold bath after boiling. I heard somewhere that adding salt to your boiling eggs would make them easy to peel. My mom recommended I use vinegar. So, I went ahead and added in both. I blame this move for the tiny, crackling egg shells that resulted in terribly ugly, pock-marked unpeeled eggs. Afterward I did some internet research and realized that I should have also given those eggs a cold bath after boiling them, though I'm confident it was too late at that point.

Regardless of our rookie mistakes, we had a great Easter. Both sets of grandparents under one roof is pretty much the best thing that can happen to W, especially when his aunts and uncles are there slipping him another piece of chocolate on demand.


Earth Day 2011

I try really, really hard to be environmentally responsible. I really do. I'm not going to extremes, but I do get the occasional eye roll from some of my friends (not naming any names) when they think I'm reaching a little too far to get in touch with my inner bohemian, tree hugger.

Yes, there are things I need to get better about (like buying new things, reusing ziploc bags, not wasting food), but each year I feel like I'm making significant changes in the right direction.

Last March we watched No Impact Man and I wrote this post. To sum it up, I was tired of complaining about the world going to hell and not doing anything about it. I set up some goals to make myself more environmentally accountable. Here they are with an update on our progress:

Goals from March 2010:
1. My office has sleeves of plastic cups for water and they are used at an incredible rate. I stopped using a plastic cup and brought a metal bottle from home. I figure I have saved over 40 cups in the last two and a half months. That's insane. If any of my co-workers are reading this... Ahem... The Alderman may have to come out on this one.

UPDATE: Success. Yay! Our Office Director gave us all cups when we moved offices in June. We're all in on it now. I have really good co-workers.

2. I've really been trying to bring my own bags when shopping. Trust me, I forget a lot, but I'm TRYING.

UPDATE: 70% of the time I remember. Lately, I've been doing a lot better, though.

3. I'm only buying "green" cleaning products, which I know does not necessarily mean they are good for the environment, but it's the closest I can get.

UPDATE: 90% success. Yes, we wash our floors with vinegar, but I have yet to break up with those easy little dish washer detergent blocks.

4. I'm trying to turn off the lights. You're welcome, Mom.

UPDATE: Work in progress.

5. Guess who started taking the train? Yup! It increases the commute time, however gives me some nice quiet time to read and a nice mile long walk between the station and my office.

UPDATE: LOVE the train and since my office moved I only have to walk a few blocks now.

6. We're doing some home improvement that will help us with controlling temperature, including replacing five windows and covering a basement window well with insulation.

UPDATE: Windows were replaced and basement window covered and yes it made a big difference in heat and gas bills.

7. Less meat. Cooking with less chicken and more tofu than I usually would. (I don't cook red meat, so this isn't a huge stretch.)

UPDATE: Kind of failed.

8. Only buying organic milk/yogurt and trying to stick to organic vegetables and fruit when they look ok. (Hey, Jewel, your organic produce sucks.)

UPDATE: 80% of our fruits/vegetables are organic and I only purchase organic milk and eggs these days. (Hey, Jewel, your organic produce still sucks and is overpriced.)

My other goals were to start composting (SUCCESS!) and get my vegetable garden going (it's built and we had minimal success with tomatoes last year).

All in all, not so shabby. This year I have fewer goals, because the above are still being worked on.

Goals for 2011:
1. Get a real vegetable garden going. Tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, zucchini, and herbs shall make an appearance this year. Come over for a salad!

2. Less paper towel use. I have actually been trying to do this for the last few months and I've noticed a huge difference. Not everyone in our household is quite as compliant, but he's trying.

3. Stop wasting food. I have a terrible habit of forgetting what's in the fridge/cabinet and end up dumping stuff that's past its prime. I've gotten better, but I have a long way to go.

4. Reuse plastic ziploc bags. I have significantly cut down the number of plastic bags that I use by about 60% after a small investment in BPA-free plastic containers. Plastic bags were previously my go-to for storing food and packing our lunches. Now I use maybe two a week. Big difference.

Now that I've shown you mine, I want to know how you're being more responsible to our Earth... Did you make any changes last year that made a huge difference? What are your green goals for this year?


"Green Diapers" and Guilt

I'm trying to get ready for the new baby, so ordering diapers seemed like a good idea. Of course there are a ton of really big things that need to be tackled, but the thought of them just overwhelms me, so stuff like ordering diapers online should be an easy task, right? Not really.

I first put one box of "green diapers" in a newborn size in the cart, then I added a box of size 1. Then I upped it to three boxes of size 1 and added another box of size 2. I added some pajamas, new crib sheets, and new bassinet sheets and moved into the Check Out page. Then I saw the total and started to back track. Yes, "green diapers" are much more expensive and, though I sometimes used them for W, I wasn't consistent and don't anymore. Regular diapers just work better. I found myself wondering if Baby #2 really needs "green diapers..."

And then the guilt settled in. I started to feel guilty about potentially getting something safer and healthier for #2 when I didn't do it for #1. Sounds crazy, right? But, just think about it... Moms are constantly learning about new things that are toxic for their kids, concerns for their well being, ways to keep them healthier. It changes from kid to kid. Of course there's guilt associated with what you're able to safeguard one kid against that you were ignorant about with your other kid. But, diapers? Really?

In the end I ordered one box of size 1 diapers. This is totally insane, I know.


Pregnancy Round 2

I get a lot of questions about how this pregnancy is different from my first. It's a good question that I'm often not very good at answering. But, here is my best attempt:

For me, the biggest difference between Pregnancy #1 and Pregnancy #2 is this: It's not really that big of a deal. Sure, you're creating life. Yeah, people ask how you're feeling more often, check in to see how everything is going. But, no one is fawning over you like they do the first time around and you're not nearly as nice to yourself.

During a first pregnancy life becomes consumed by the fact that you're pregnant. You buy books and actually read them, check every ache and pain online, pay close attention to your body, your doctor is thorough with you at appointments, you take classes on CPR and breast feeding. You register for gifts and your family and friends throw you parties. Unexpected gifts are delivered to your front door, hours are spent at Pottery Barn Kids and Buy Buy Baby trying to find the perfect glider, rug, and car seat. The expectations on your day to day life are pretty low. "I'm pregnant" becomes a perfectly acceptable reason for why the laundry doesn't get done, you order in five nights in a row, and your husband takes over bathroom cleaning duties. You go to prenatal yoga, treat yourself to a fruit smoothie, take a nap.

And then the second time around... Well, you're already a mom and - guess what - your kid still needs to be fed, clothed, and entertained. You're still expected to show up for work (whether outside the home or taking care of your child all day), be a parent, and keep relative order in your life. No presents arrive on your doorstep. Sure, people think it's neat that you're pregnant again, but they're not waiting on the edge of their seat for news on how you're feeling or how they can help.

Eventually you get to the point where you're counting weeks left instead of months. You buy a yogurt and the expiration date is actually after your due date, which puts you into a tail spin. All of a sudden you realize that you're actually having a baby, so you go to the store and try to remember what you need. Pacifiers, bottles, baby wash. What else? You can't remember that stuff, because the first time you were given a list and someone else bought you all these things and you opened them while everyone looked on and explained exactly why you needed it and what you'd do with it. Now you walk up and down the aisles, staring at the baby products. It's only been a couple years, but it's a foreign land. You may actually spend five minutes considering whether spending $10 extra on a 100% all natural baby wash vs. 98% natural baby wash is worth it and whether you would have even considered exposing Baby #1 to the 2% of chemicals (for the record, I always choose to go with the more natural product).

You're still lifting your kid in and out of car seats, fighting him on the changing table, leaning over the crib, and chasing him around to get his coat and shoes on... Things you would never have imagined doing last time. Really, you don't think pregnant ladies should lift more than 20 pounds? Well, I've got news for you... You're going grocery shopping, stocking up on random things because it makes you feel better to know for certain that you'll use four boxes of pasta even if you have no clue whether you should stock up on new supplies for your breast pump.

You assume you already know everything, but as time starts to run down, you realize you're just as clueless as you were the first time. Well, that is, if you're me.

Note: Photo is from Pregnancy #1... That's another difference, no pregnancy photos...


Five Pieces of Advice For a Younger Me

For the From Left to Write Book Club, we read "29." This post is inspired by the book.

I've always assumed I'd age well. My mom has always looked terrific for her age, so I just assumed I would too. Aging was something I didn't really give much thought. I never did anything to help shield myself from the years and gravity to come. And now, when I wake up in the morning the creases in my face don't smooth out quite as easily. At the end of the day, my eyelids seem a little heavier. Everything just doesn't seem to spring back into place the way it used to.

If I had the opportunity to revisit my old self, I would have five key pieces of advice to make the aging process a little easier:

1. Work out every day. If you think you don't have time now, just wait. Get into the habit and stay in it. You have all the time in the world, you fool.

2. Moisturize!

3. Use sunscreen. I know, I know... You have olive skin and don't burn YET, but you will. Just wait. And having moles removed leaves scars.

4. Just because stuff is on sale, doesn't mean you should buy it... in multiple colors. You'll be getting rid of all of that stuff in five years. Invest in some really nice pieces that will last forever.

5. Finally, get a budget! You're going to wish you had started saving all that extra money, instead of spending it on entertainment that you didn't need and in five years won't be able to remember. All of those glasses of sauvignon blanc and dirty martinis could pay for your future children's education!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book as a member of the From Left to Write Book Club. You can read how this book inspired other bloggers here.


Hard Day

This is how my day started: I woke up early to get some work done (as in WORK work) because I was dreaming about it all night. I work from home on Wednesdays, so the thought of having to wait a few hours to sit down and start working was hard. W woke up 15 minutes later. I continued to work. We dropped Matt off at the train station, came home to read some books, and my computer was calling me.

So, I opened it up and kept working until... A little hand slammed his Woody doll onto the key board and the screen of my computer flipped, as in went upside down: I tried not to yell. I kept my cool, told him he did something very wrong, broke my computer, and mommy was very upset. Very upset, because you can't slam toys like that. You just can't.

And then I felt terrible. It was my fault. He still deserved time with me before my mom came to get him, but I have no self control. And now I had three documents on my desktop that I had to email to a designer with no idea how I was going to do it. (I ended up turning the computer upside down and reversing the direction of the mouse to painfully attach each document and send the email.) Then I used our other computer the rest of the day feeling terrible about how my morning with W went.

Things got a little worse when I went to the doctor for a check-up this afternoon. She doesn't seem super confident that I'll make it to my due date (5/27) or even to May 19th, which is an event for work that I want to be at. The baby's head is down, he's definitely dropped, things are falling into place. I know I have more time, but we're getting there.

So, I did the only thing I could at that point: I got into the car, called Matt, and I cried. This doesn't happen often. I don't cry and if I do, I certainly don't call someone to do it on the phone. But, I called Matt and cried because I felt bad about what happened with W and the thought of having this baby early completely freaks me out. I couldn't internalize these feelings anymore, I have been for longer than I realized. How am I supposed to prepare W for sharing my attention, how am I supposed to learn to control how easily I get distracted?

I don't want more computer incidents to happen. Thankfully resourceful Matt fixed it and I'm posting this now with a screen right side up. Yes, most things are fixable, but feelings aren't. I don't want W to remember times like this, times when I should be focused on him, but aren't.

And, you know what? Emotional basket case doesn't look good on me. So, I sucked it up, forced myself to make us a nice dinner (eggplant ragu pasta) and promised myself I'll be better tomorrow.


On Negotiation and Manipulation

Scene: Living room after bath time, W wrapped in a towel on my lap

Matt: "It's time to put on jammies."

W: "Don't say that!"

Matt: "Nope, buddy, it's jammy time."

W: "After we watch Monsters Inc."

Me: "Nope, no Monsters Inc. tonight."

W: "I don't like baths."

Matt: "You have to take them or else you'd be stinky and then you'd walk down the street and people would say 'here comes that stinky boy.'"

Me: "And you don't want people to say that about you. You want them to say 'what a nice boy!'"

W: "No, I want people to say 'what a mean boy!' I want to be a mean boy."

Me: "You're not a mean boy. Who are you mean to?"

W: "You."

Me: "You are? Well, I think you're nice."

W: "I don't love you."

Me: "That hurts my feelings. I don't think you mean that."

W: "Then can I watch Monsters Inc. now?"

Me: "Nope."

How quickly they learn. Too bad I'm not falling for it. I appreciate a good negotiation, I do. But, he'll figure out soon enough that I won't be manipulated. Nice try.

Parents - 1, W - 0


Meal Planning Inspired by Lunch in Paris

For the From Left to Write Book Club we read Lunch in Paris: A Love story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard. This post is inspired by that book.
I read this book at the right time in a lot of ways. If I'd read it a couple of years ago, I may have been dragged down into a self-pity stupor, lamenting about my ordinary life, my fear of taking risks, chugging along down the road well-traveled. But, that was then. And now I can say that I'm pretty damn happy. I have a great husband, an amazing kid, funny & supportive friends, a challenging job that I actually like, and a really loving family. Sure, I dream of a big house with a wrap-around porch, rocking chairs, and an expansive kitchen with a fireplace. (Details, details...) But, all in all, I'm content. I feel like I'm where I should be now (or pretty close).

Before, I would have internalized my frustration of missed opportunities, of never taking some leap that could have meant a totally different life. It's a trait Matt and I share, that I hope we don't pass onto our children. We both expected big things for ourselves and have talents that would have demanded risk, but played life safe for the most part. Neither of us expected to have the life we have now. It's probably what we love and hate in each other the most.

Anyway, here I am... Feeling OK with life, but dealing with pregnancy exhaustion, which has made cooking dinners tough. The recipes in the book, tales of daily trips to the market, and focus on drool-inducing meals were a little kick in the pants. I don't have the time for daily trips to special markets, to spend hours creating dinner, but I was inspired and for the first time in a while I meal planned using this book for the majority of this week's meals.

I sat down on Saturday morning to read through the recipes that I had flagged, made out the shopping list and six hours and eight stores later I realized I may have gone a bit too far. To get all the ingredients, I spent most of Saturday running from store to store... Trader Joe's, Costco, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Williams Sonoma, two local butchers, Treasure Island, and The Spice House. Trader Joe's and Costco didn't have whole canned tomatoes or fresh eggplant. I couldn't find piment d'Esplette anywhere (but The Spice House recommended a substitute). The first butcher didn't have any fresh chickens or pancetta. And I really needed a new dutch oven and a cake pan.

By the time I got home I was beyond tired and my knack for not thoroughly reading recipes and underestimating time meant that starting the braised beef at 6:00 meant eating at 9:30. But, Matt and I had an unexpected private dining experience. It felt really good to take the time to create a special meal, enjoy something so simple.

This morning I made chouquettes for a late breakfast and then started our Chicken and Sweet Pepper Stew at 4:00 to ensure W could have dinner with us. It took more time than I usually spend cooking on a Sunday, but the little guy's enjoyment and the opportunity for us to sit down together to enjoy such great meals was worth it. And, honestly, so is the quiet time I get to spend in the kitchen, clearing my head and just focusing on something I really like to do.

In the end all that meal planning and running around was a bit in vain... We have another meal's worth of Braised Beef, so it will be making a return on Monday. And I turned the leftover sauce from the chicken stew into a quick pasta sauce for Tuesday with some browned ground beef, fresh herbs, and crushed tomatoes. I didn't pre-prepare the Eggplant Stuffed With Quinoa or Lentils with White Wine, Herbs and Tomatoes as I had planned. I never did get around to making that yogurt cake... But I have a refrigerator full of their ingredients and hope I'll get to it on Wednesday and Thursday -- If I have the energy.

Hopefully photos like this will continue to inspire me even when I'm feeling exhausted and pregnant and sorry for myself for living in the suburbs:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book as a member of the From Left to Write Book Club. You can read how this book inspired other bloggers here.


Photo Mini-Sessions for Kids Fight Cancer

We just had W's hair cut, which I put off as long as possible because I really love his hair long. I have yet to find a hair dresser who can give a kid a longish cut. So, we've got the baby business school look going on over here these days. I'm not a big fan of this cut and the timing isn't great, considering he's having his photos taken next weekend, which is the point of this post. Sharing a cool opportunity with all of you...

Want to get your kiddo's photo taken and support a good cause? Photographer Julia Franzosa is doing mini-sessions for a $75 donation to benefit Kids Fight Cancer, a local organization that "provides pediatric and adolescent cancer patients with a safe, educational, and entertaining environment which reduces the stresses, side effects, and emotional struggles confronted during cancer treatment." 100% of the session fees will be donated to the organization.

Nothing makes me happier than opportunities like this... A way to support a worthy organziation while just doing the things I would normally do. And, it's time we get this kid some new photos. You might remember his last photo shoot from this post and this post. He's like a different kid now. It's time and I'm so happy to have this opportunity.

Interested? Here are the details:

When: April 9th, 20 minute sessions throughout the day

Cost: $75 (100% of this fee will be donated to Kids Fight Cancer)

What you’ll receive: 20 minutes of photography time for up to 2 children, up to 10 custom edited proofs in your gallery to choose from and two 5×7 prints. (you can purchase two blocks of time if you would like to capture your entire family) PLUS: 50% off any additional prints or products!

How to book: Email julia@julia-franzosa.com or call (773)342-1280 to book your space. There are a very limited number of sessions available so be sure to contact us ASAP Note: I am not receiving anything in return for this post. Just like to share great opportunities like this when they come to me.