Killing two birds with one ball: Two gross stories and a healthy recipe

I’ve had two rather minor, but still pretty annoying, health issues going on in my house lately. And, I think I’ve found a solution to both. Here’s the run down:

Bird #1

I’ve mentioned before that Jacob never quite took to baby food. In spite of countless attempts of everything made for babies, nothing really worked…unless I mixed it with yogurt. In fact, my son has never discriminated against anything in the dairy department. Cheese of all kinds, yogurt of any flavor, and milk are, by far, his very favorite foods. I even can sneak a whole jar of baby vegetables (peas, carrots, or green beans) into an equal amount of yogurt, and he eats it the same. Milk with a liquid vitamin (Polyvisol with iron is what we use) goes down no differently than its white, less nutrient-dense counterpart.

Anyway, as you can imagine, a toddler cannot live on dairy alone (even if it includes a bit of pureed veggies and a shot of vitamins)…especially if he plans to have regular bowel movements, that is. (Sorry for the TMI—I realize that not everyone is as comfortable discussing poo as I am. You should definitely stop reading now,  or at least scroll down to the recipe if you fit into that category, because this post is going to get more disgusting before it gets better.)

Generally, constipation has not been a huge issue with Jacob because, as I said, I can mix veggies into his yogurt. Plus, he’s interested in lots other foods and especially in trying at least some of whatever I’m eating. If I feel he needs to “get things moving”, I eat fruits or veggies or something else fibrous in front of him. He always ends up pointing, asking “uhzzhat” (“what’s that?”), and opening his mouth.

Lately, however, Jacob has begun a boycott of sorts. He refuses any food that he cannot feed himself. This translates into a limited menu of foods that include only those he can (a) grip with his tiny fingers, (b) stab to get onto his own little plastic fork, or (c) scoop up with one of his toddler spoons and make to his mouth without dropping or spilling it all. Mealtime has become a much longer and messier process, and it’s been especially difficult to travel (which we often do on weekends in the summer). His bowel movements have become few and far between. On a bad day, for him, going number two has been a combination of grunts and screams. For me, it has meant either rubbing his bottom nearly raw in attempt to remove the spackle-like substance stuck to it, or having to stick my fingers up his backend to dislodge rock-hard poo that got caught in the exit on its way out. Not fun. Quite horrible actually.

In case you are not grossed out enough…

Bird #2

My husband has been telling me for a while now that I belch like a sumo wrestler. I don’t know if there is such thing as a sumo-wrestler style of belch. However, the imagery sort of speaks for itself. If something coming out of the mouth of someone like me (barely 5 feet tall and about 115 pounds) can paint the picture of obese men bouncing around a ring, then something is very, very wrong. And, it’s true—for the past several years, I’ve had some serious Revenge of the Nerds: Booger/Snotty burping contest quality stuff going on. (Again, sorry for the grossness of this post, but I’m trying to get my points across.) A few years back, I felt so bloated and so much pressure in my chest that I had a bunch of tests done: an upper endoscopy, tests for allergies, and several other related exams. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. Neither they nor I ever really did.

And then there’s my belly. Again, I don’t have a weight problem. I never have. I eat what I consider healthy and exercise regularly for many reasons. Still, now, well over a year after I gave birth, I still look pregnant some days. I get asked if I’ve got another on the way about once every couple of weeks, no joke. And, that’s from the people who lack the tact to hold back from asking the question. I’m sure dozens of others are thinking it. I would be.

When I told a friend of mine about my sumo belching and non-preggers-but-looks-preggers belly, she said “duh, you have a food intolerance.” She suggested I take soy and gluten out of my diet. And, here I am, a few weeks into this soy-free, gluten-free eating plan, and it’s actually going pretty well. One of the biggest challenges has been finding substitutes for the Luna and Kashi bars in my diet, which have both soy and gluten and of which I used to eat about four a day! In attempt to find a good replacement, I’ve been experimenting with various ingredients to create something sweet, portable, and healthy to replace all the bars in my life. (I tried this before with a chocolate covered bar, but those don’t keep too well in the summer.)

In the process of my experimentation, my son has been fascinated with my creations (mostly, I think, because they are in the shape of balls, which he happens to be semi-obsessed with lately.) Thankfully for the two of us, the product of my science is something that works for my sweet tooth and soy-free, gluten-free diet and that is perfect for pushing the poop through his body and all the way into his diaper—minus his grunts or my fingers as pliers.

So, I thought I’d share. Here ya go. Drumroll, please…gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, raw, super yummy…

No-Bake Muffin Balls


1/2 cup dates (packed well into the measuring cup)

1/3 cup raw cashews

1/3 cup raw pecans

2 T raw coconut flour (it’s just coconut ground into flour)

1 t cinnamon

2 t alcohol-free coconut extract (vanilla or other extract works too—alcohol free is key)

2 T water


  1. Throw the dates and nuts into a food processor until they are chopped fine.
  2. Toss the date/nut mixture into a bowl with the coconut flour and cinnamon; mix.
  3. Stir in extract and water.
  4. Roll into 1-inch balls. (It makes about a dozen.) I wrap mine individually in plastic wrap or foil (or first plastic wrap, and then foil) so I can take them wherever I go. I’ve found they keep outside the fridge (wrapped as I have shown above in plastic wrap and in a sealed container) for about five days. They probably keep much longer in the fridge.

Nutrition info

Per ball (1/12 of recipe): 75 calories, 4 g fat, 1.5 g protein, 1.5 g fiber.

So, there ya go. They’re portable, healthy, yummy for mommy and kids, and they’re super easy to make. I think I have killed more than two birds with these balls. Let me know if you try them or if you have any ideas for additions or substitutions. I have a special variation with cocoa powder and walnuts that I’ll save for another day.

Until then, try out the recipe. De-constipate your kids. Have a ball.



On Holding Tongues and Choosing Battles

Usually, I don’t complain openly about my husband. Well, that’s not completely true. At times, I tell it like I see it when I’m talking to him about his mistakes and shortcomings. And, I never, ever hold back on complaining in general when I’m talking to my sister (tied for BFF with my husband). Also, when my girlfriends are grumbling about their husbands, I sometimes can’t help but to chime in.

Still, I think it’s fair to say, that, for the most part, I zip my lips when it comes to criticizing my other half…because, after all, he is my other half by choice. It would say something about me and my judgment if I bitched and moaned about everything he does and doesn’t do… when I chose him and married him and had babies with him and continue to be with him. And, generally, I think I’m good at making decisions.

Anyway, I don’t typically broadcast my marital gripes. Not on my blog—because hubby has no way to fight back. Not with my coworkers or acquaintances—because they have enough of their own complaining to do, and it’s just not good karma (especially as my husband crosses paths regularly with many of these folks). And, especially not with my parents—because all they want is the best in the world for their baby girl. If I start to insinuate that my life partner and father of my children is less than perfect, then mom and dad may start to question if he’s good enough. And, frankly, I don’t need another issue like that with my parents. We have enough of our issues.

So, onto my story…

The other night, around 8 o’clock (note: this is after Jacob’s old bedtime of 7PM), I called my father from the park. One of the first things he asked (when he heard Jacob squealing in the background as I pushed him on the swing) was “where are you?” This is when my non-open-complaining-but-hinting-at-what-I-want-to-complain-about monologue began.

Cry me a river

“Oh, I’m at the park. Yes, you’re probably thinking that Jacob is usually in bed at this time. Nope, not anymore. Joe [husband] has him on a different sleep schedule. You’re also probably wondering why it’s just us and where Joe is right now. He’s at his softball game, where he is every Wednesday night (sigh).

“Do you remember he’s off work while school’s out this year because of his new job? He’s home with Jacob all sunny summer long while I’m at work all day every day. Yes, you’re right if you think it’s hard. It does sometimes kill me to leave for work in the morning when Joe gets to spend all of the lovely day with our precious son who is growing all too quickly.

“I know. I know. You’re probably thinking that I shouldn’t work full time or that Joe should be working days instead of me…because, after all, I’m the mom. Yeah (sigh). Well, anyway, Joe stayed out late with one of his friends last night [for the first time in months—I failed to mention this part] and so, he napped with Jacob late his afternoon.

“Yeah, you’re probably surprised and thinking, ‘wow, must be nice to sleep in the middle of the day!’ I was thinking the same thing. So, anyway, that’s why we’re at the park. Joe stayed out late last night and let Jacob sleep too long. So, here I am, after working all day while Joe’s out playing ball. I’m just passing the time until Jacob gets tired (sigh)…”

An unsympathetic, but reasonable response

After this ridiculous stab at my husband, my dad said, “Yeah, I remember when I had days off with you, kids, when your mom worked or was out grocery shopping or running errands. I did the same thing. I’d let you sleep all day if I could. You take what you can get when it comes to breaks when you have toddlers in the house. Good for him.”

My immediate thought was: “Seriously? This is Dad’s response to my poor-pitiful-me situation?!” My second thought was more aligned with how I really feel: my husband does deserve a break. As much as it tears my heart in two to leave my son for ten to twelve hours each weekday, I sincerely doubt I could stay home with him as much as my husband does and remain sane all the while. I learned that about myself on my maternity leave.

I always say I admire the stay-at-home moms out there who do it. Why don’t I admire my husband? Not only does he stay at home with my son during the day, but he also works evenings and weekends. Why do I feel annoyance instead of admiration?

“Never enough” is not reason enough to wage war

The problem is, as with all things in my life, I’m always wanting more. And, that has a direct impact on my expectations for the people closest to me, namely, my husband. Truly, I love him. I’ve explained to the world what a fabulous person and father he is. And, he is. But, he also happens to be the person I nitpick the most and on whom I take out my stress. Plus, sometimes he just makes me crazy. However, just when I’m about to kick and scream and pull out the big guns, I’ll come home to a clean house and an offer from him to watch the kids while I go hang with my girlfriends.

Ever since I became a mom over a year ago, I’ve found it takes a concentrated effort in all areas of my life to let the small stuff go and to be appreciative of the stuff that matters. When it comes to my husband, it’s the fair thing to do. After all, I have plenty of my own weaknesses and regrets. If he called me out on every incident in which one of those surfaced, then my life would be exponentially more stressful, and I’d be buried in guilt. No thanks. Furthermore, I figure if I am picking fights all the time, then down the road, when I want him to pay attention, all he’ll think is “here she goes again.” That’s not exactly the reaction I want when I actually have something worth arguing about. Until then, it’s probably best I keep my mouth shut. I guess it’s true that not all problems are battle-worthy.


Revisiting values

Sometime over the last two months, Jacob’s (one-year-old son’s) bedtime has migrated from 7PM to 9PM. This change has impacted my life in significant ways. Yes, it means that I have more time to spend with him at night after work and the gym, which has been nice. However, it also means that instead of spending those two hours cleaning, writing (blogging), or practicing step aerobics routines for the classes I teach, I am doing one of two three other things:

#1    I am playing strange games with my energetic toddler: games like get-myself-as-tangled-as-I-can-in-the-furniture-then-have-mommy-pull-me-out-repeat-repeat-repeat or like scream-loudly-until-mommy-removes-the-butterfly-magnet-off-the-fridge-and-gives-it-to-me-so-I-can- put-it-right-back-and-scream-again-repeat-repeat-repeat.

#2    I am lying in bed with him, starting at his old bedtime, 7PM, with my to-do list racing through my mind and prayers that he’ll fall asleep before 9PM so that I can deal with at least one major task. All the while, he is trying to crawl or roll away or jump on the bed, so I say “hey!” and pull him back to lie next to me (another one of those strange games that he likes to play over and over). Then begins the unintentional (but still annoying) head butting, kicking, or punching me while he gets comfortable.

#3    I almost forgot this one, but it’s not accurate to leave it out. My husband and I are arguing about who gets to go do his or her “very important” whatever while the other one keeps an eye on Jacob, or tries for two hours to get him to go to sleep (see #2 above). By the time Jacob is finally asleep at 9PM, I’m too exhausted to do much of anything.

As you were reading that last bit, you might have begun judging me or at least questioning how I do things. (Obviously, I’m okay with that, or I wouldn’t post my thoughts publicly.) You may be asking why I don’t just surrender those two hours to cherished time with my son, wondering why I don’t simply put him in a crib and let him cry, or questioning why I don’t make other time in my days to clean or write or whatever. These are all good questions, questions that I ask myself all the time, questions with answers tied somehow to my values.

Several months back I explained my step-by-step process for analyzing my values, and I invited you along for the ride. In case you didn’t hop aboard then, here are the questions I suggested we ask:

  • What do I value the most in my life?
  • What’s important to me?
  • What do I strive regularly to achieve?
  • What should I use to guide my goals and the way I spend my time?

I mentioned how there are a couple different approaches to tackling these questions:

  1. Try to sum up in a few words a broad value that is important to you.
  1. First, think about different goals or activities you value. Then, try to define broad categories that group sets of these goals/activities together.

I shared my list of values….

Kids’ Health and Development

Relationships with Family and Friends

Physical Fitness

Being Happy: Maintaining Sanity

Learning and Growing: Trying New Things

Becoming a Better Person: Learning from Mistakes

Being Thankful

Integrity: Being True to Myself

Making a Positive Difference in Others’ Lives

Keeping Life (House, Car, Office) Organized, Clean, and Clutter-Free

Before I go into what we did next (defined goals and activities that aligned with these values), I’m going to stop here…just in case you want to think a little more about values. As for me, I’m going to spend some time reflecting on my own list, possibly amending and appending to it, and hopefully living my weekend in some ways that align with it.

Catch ya on the flip side.

Ear infections, nosebleeds, nightmares, coughs, and housework: Another lovely weekend

So…I could tell you that the title of this post pretty much sums up my weekend (you know, the one that I hoped would be relaxing?). And, it would be nothing too short of the truth.  Yes, my younger son (just over 14 months old) has suffered a bout of recurrent ear infections over the last several weeks…ear infections that have him tugging on his ears 24/7 and waking every half hour or so during naps and at night, that have fought and won against two different types of oral treatments, that persisted in spite of antibiotic shots in both of his legs, not once, but twice, and that he is getting checked out once again tomorrow to determine if he needs tubes in his ears. Ugh.

Sure, my nearly 8-year-old stepson had three bloody noses since yesterday morning, nosebleeds that were messy and prolonged and that he swears weren’t caused by him picking his nose or sticking anything else up his nostrils.

Of course, I can’t forget his running into our bedroom at 5 o’clock this morning after having a “terrible nightmare” and refusing to go back into his own bed (although he had no memory of what the dream was about…)

And, alright, both boys have terrible coughs—the kind that wake both them and me every couple of hours and that make them look at me and my husband with eyes that plead for us to make it stop. We even gave a cough drop to the older one, but he said it was gross and begged to spit it out.

You already know about all the housework on my weekend to-do list (of which I completed a good amount)…because I mentioned that in another post.

And, okay, it’s true I’m wide awake now, very close to my usual Sunday night bedtime, because I’ve had more caffeine than usual today, due to being tired all weekend after all of the crap I just mentioned.


Still, it would be at least slightly short of the truth if I said I had a bad weekend.

I spent a good amount of it with my family, who I miss during the weekdays when I’m busy at work or at the gym.

I got to stay in bed and play with my toddler instead of leaving before he awoke.

I got to watch for two days and evenings as he explored his world with his little round belly leading the way. And, I got to see his smile when he discovered something that made his legs kick or bounce, or when he learned a new trick.

I was able to take some long walks with the family and just sit back and smile while big brother made faces at little brother and they blew raspberries back and forth until they were both giggling uncontrollably.

I taught big brother a concept in math (his toughest school subject) and witnessed as he picked it up and then raced through the problems on three worksheets from his school’s summer packet. I was able to see him get on scary carnival rides that went higher than he wanted but that he loved once he tried them, exclaiming that he was “the king of the world” after he got off. All of this was happening while little brother pointed at all the families and stuffed animals and balloons that passed us by.

We spent time running through sprinklers at the “splash pad” of the beach near our house and walking through sand with the sun warming our faces and breezes from the shore dancing through our hair.  And, after the kids were in bed, I experimented with some recipes (more on those to come).

The best word to describe my weekend is neither challenging nor annoying nor fun nor relaxing. Although each of these words describes some piece or pieces of the last two days, the best word to describe my weekend is full. My weekend was full…full of cleaning and crying and complaining and illness…but also full of love and laughter and memories that I’ll someday surely look back on longingly. That’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting—it truly is such an odd and unpredictable mix of joys and irritations, both which I imagine I will miss years down the road…

On finding balance

Like a good girl, I pulled myself out of bed on this Saturday morning, over an hour before I knew the rest of the crew would be up. In spite of my creaky body and eyes that required prying open (after staying up later than usual last night to hang with the hubby), I went downstairs before 6AM to get a jumpstart on some weekend cleaning. As I looked around our kitchen and living room, I wasn’t really sure where to begin. And, quite honestly, there were a hundred other things I would rather have been doing with my time (like sleeping in). Still, I spent the next hour or so slowly deconstructing the tower of toys, books, and mail under which we once ate dinner. Though I hadn’t seen its wooden surface in weeks, I knew the kitchen table had to be under there somewhere…and it was my mission to uncover it before breakfast.

Between ripping up credit card offers, tiptoeing up the stairs with armfuls of toys and books, and leafing through coupons and mailers, I was a little upset that my husband and I had let the house get to this point. I mean it’s not filthy or unlivable. However, it’s one of those things that if we kept at it throughout the week, we wouldn’t have to spend our whole weekend chipping away at it. But, then, I reviewed in my head the kind of workweeks we’ve had lately and how cleaning on weekdays would mean sacrificing some of the things that are most important to us, like going to the gym, taking the kids to the park, or getting at least 6 hours of sleep. Once again, my brain returned to the topic of balance and how to figure out how to best spend my time.

A few of my first blog posts were on this topic. At the time, I wondered if finding the ideal ways to spend my time, one’s time, could be distilled down to a simple equation that involved identifying:

1. Our values

2. Goals that align with these values

3. Activities that bring us closer to achieving these goals

And then, thinking about:

4. The amount of free time necessary to devote to each of these activities

5. Activities that we currently do in our free time that don’t align with our values or goals

6. When free time exists in our schedules (maybe more than we thought if we subtract #5?)

When I attempted to work through that equation, I abandoned it when things got sticky, somewhere around #5. I promised more than one of you that I would return to these ideas about balance and prioritizing someday soon. Well, today is the day that I will at least stick one foot back through the door. Here are my newly evolved (?) thoughts on the topic:

  • I think it’s absolutely, unquestionably essential for all moms (people really) to take some of their precious time, no matter how limited, to think about their values and priorities: about what’s important to them, what’s worth spending their time doing. Because if we don’t take a moment to ask ourselves these questions, then the little time we have each day will be filled with whatever serendipity brings. While spontaneity and going with the flow can be a good thing sometimes, spending our days riding with the tide may leave us feeling unsatisfied. To make the most of our days, we must make a conscious effort to prioritize our time.
  • The process to finding balance is not a one-shot deal—it’s a continual journey. It’s one that requires us to revisit our ever-changing values, goals, choices, and commitments, and to ask ourselves again and again if we’re happy with how we are living our lives and spending our time.

That’s all for today because my Saturday routines are screaming at me, and my son’s nap will be ending any minute. I promise more to come on the topic. In the meantime, happy weekend!


Division of Labor

This summer, my husband and I are trying something new…and I don’t think it’s working very well so far. As he began working as a consultant to schools last fall, his day job ended at the beginning of June. To save money, we decided he would become our full-time childcare during the weekdays while I’m at work. At first, we were both enthusiastic about it—especially the idea of one of us parenting our toddler during the days, rather than leaving him with a sitter or putting him in daycare. I must admit I was a bit envious that my husband would have his days free to go the beach or park, take walks with Jacob in the stroller, and just enjoy the sunny, summer weather. However, because this is not an option for me anyway because I work full time (and I would likely go nuts if I were home five days a week), I was mostly happy with our childcare arrangement…until we started living it.

I’ve said before what a fabulous father my husband is. He is…I mean…as much as I’m a good mother. So, mostly. We do the best we can. But, I don’t think that either of us is the problem. The problem is the two of us are the only ones sharing all the work at home while both working multiple jobs outside of the home. We’re both always on duty, tag teaming each other. He cares for Jacob when I’m at work or teaching aerobics. Then, I come home and put on my mommy hat while he goes to teach voice lessons or play softball or go to choir rehearsal or dj a wedding. When we both are home at the same time on Saturdays, there are dishes and laundry to be done, meals to be prepared, and floors to be swept and mopped (because that is where Jacob spends all his time these days). We’re constantly taking turns, with one of us doing chores and the other one running around after Jacob while he pulls pots and pans off the stovetop, gets stuck climbing under and between furniture, throws our shoes and my stepson’s toys in the garbage, and eats any small thing he finds on the floor.

Every Saturday (the only day my husband and I are both off from work), a conversation something like the following ensues:

Me: Can you please take Jacob while I go do X (really important thing that I’ve been waiting all week to do–something like pay the bills or put away all the laundry from the weekend before)?

Husband: Sure, it wasn’t like I had anything planned for the day except spending it how I spend every other day—chasing after our son. We’ll see you tomorrow when you’ve checked off everything on your to-do list.

Me: Really, all I need is 30 minutes. Can you watch him for 30 minutes while I do Y? Oh..wait, I really need to do X though…and Z. Well…I think I can get by just doing X…or no…Z. (I look over at Jacob.) Oh! What does Jacob have in his mouth?! (Remove old, dried up piece of cheese with dust on it from Jacob’s mouth.) One of us should sweep the floor today. Okay, I’ll go throw in some laundry, and then I’ll take Jacob so you can go mow the lawn and trim the bushes. Maybe I can sweep the floor if he takes a nap today?

To say the least, this whole system exhausts us. I just wonder if things will take a turn for the much, much better when Jacob starts daycare three days a week in the fall. With both of us having days off from childcare at the same time, I’m hoping our stress levels will simmer down a bit. Who knew household chores and yard work would become luxuries after having children?

Always Our Babies

“Just look at my baby, all grown up.” I’ve probably heard this line hundreds of times…from teary moms watching their children wave from school bus windows on the first day of kindergarten or from fathers beaming over their sons’ or daughters’ graduations. I’ve even heard it from my own parents through the years, when my brother moved out of state, when my sister was accepted to a graduate program, and when I was pregnant. These are words that one can’t fully understand until he or she has a child of his or her own. These are the words of proud parents, reflecting on how time passes so swiftly by, and how although it all happens before their eyes, they still cannot fathom how their children go from helpless infants to curious toddlers to rambunctious grade schoolers to argumentative teenagers to adults, who are looking at their own children and repeating the same line.

My baby is hardly a year old, and already, I find myself asking where the time as gone. On vacation this week, and then with my husband and stepson gone again this weekend, Jacob and I have spent much more time together lately. And, it’s been priceless! But, it’s made me all too aware of how much he has changed and is changing with each passing day.

Ma’s milk in the morning

I’ve written many times about my journeys in breastfeeding. I’ve explained how it may have been one of the most challenging and also the most cherished parts of my first year as a mother. And, I’ve talked about how difficult it was for me around that first-year mark when I was contemplating whether or not to wean him.

At fourteen months old, I see the end of breastfeeding in plain sight. For the past couple months, Jacob’s taken little interest in nursing during the day or even before bed. By the light of day, he’s been too busy exploring, and before bed, he’s far too impatient to wait on the slow release of ma’s milk. Still, each morning when he awakes, nursing has been the first thing on his mind. Although from the beginning my milk supply always has been the greatest in the morning, I still find it simply amazing how my body has adjusted to his new schedule. As I stopped pumping months ago and his breast milk breakfast doesn’t really affect any of my eating habits—drinking coffee during the day, or having a glass or two of beer or wine at night–I’ve been perfectly satisfied with his choice.

The past few mornings, however, have been different. Jacob’s had a pretty bad cold and has been very congested. Though bottles or cups seem to adapt well to these changes, my breasts haven’t been quite so compliant. Even after I’ve suctioned his snot with a nasal aspirator (way better than a bulb syringe– check out the link if you haven’t tried one), he has a hard time suckling. Each morning, within minutes of waking, he’s come to my breast and attempted to nurse, but then through significant sniffles, has rolled away, crying in frustration. I think my morning milk supply has dwindled a bit each day since this pattern began. And, that makes me a little sad. My emotions are nothing like the hormonal swings I experienced when he reduced from eight feedings to just one over the course of two days. However, I am grieving a little over the loss of the closeness that nursing has provided to us since his birth.

Small wonders

Then, there are all the new things he picks up every day. He watches my husband and me as we get dressed and then grabs clothes and tries to put them over his own head. He waves his hand to push away food and says “ah duh” (all done) when he’s had enough of something. Just this morning, he was reaching for the spoon so much when I was feeding him that I figured I would see what he would do with it. Without thinking, I put the spoon in his left hand. Immediately, he shook his head back and forth, put the spoon in his right hand, scooped up some yogurt, aimed the spoon at his mouth, and even got a bit in there (as well as all over himself and the highchair.)

I mentioned a couple weeks back that’s he’s been pointing at all sorts of things and saying “uhzzhat?” (what’s that?). His vocabulary is growing all the time. He loves to say the names of animals and their noises. His two favorites are “daw” (dog) which he follows with “ruff ruff” and heavy panting, and “dow” (cow) followed by “mmmmmmmmmmm.” And, he tells us what he wants, whether it’s “muh” (more), “buh” (up), “ah-tzha” (outside), a “dottle” (bottle), or his beloved, “zsha-zsha” (his brother, Jackson), or “dada”. (I’m still not convinced he ever has said “mama” to refer to me…although of course, my loving husband insists he says it all the time.)

And, Jacob spends his days learning and exploring. He pushes buttons, flips switches, turns knobs, and pulls objects in and out of containers. (The trash can in our kitchen is the center of his world. He has placed—or attempted to place—toys, hats, shoes, magnets, picture frames, and all sorts of other things in there.) He also reaches for anything he can get his hands on—which is an ever-expanding repertoire of items as he grows. We’ve had to move dishes and kitchen appliances to the back of our countertops, and we officially have stopped using the two front burners of our stove. Though he’s still a bit of a wobbly walker, he hasn’t given up on learning to run, though he has moved on from Yoda and yoga.

And, to think, this bright and active little boy was the tiny creature kicking and squirming inside my belly just over a year ago…the fragile little doll that fit perfectly in the crook of my elbow…and only months ago, the one whose only movements were rocks and head bobs and whose only ways to communicate were to grunt and cry.

It’s all going way too fast. Before I know it, he’ll be walking up the steps of a school bus or pulling away in the driver’s seat of a car headed halfway across the country to start a life of his own. These are the thoughts that fend off the stresses and frustrations of motherhood…

What is vacation?

I’m not very good at relaxing on vacation. In fact, I’m not very good at relaxing period. In spite of several concentrated efforts over the years to mellow out, I’ve always been high strung. I’m not always stressed; in fact, I’m often in high spirits and energetic. It’s just that I’m hardly ever calm—I sort of swing back and forth between feeling absolutely fabulous and feeling fully frazzled. The only times I’m really relaxed are after a glass or two of red wine or maybe during those last few minutes before I dose off to sleep at night. Vacation isn’t much different for me.

Heading to Ohio to visit my family and friends is the way I’ve spent nearly all the time I’ve had off from work since I moved to Connecticut in 2002. Living thousands of miles from the relatives I love and the irreplaceable friends I’ve made through the years is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And, it’s especially difficult since having children—there’s a large part of me that wants them to have everything I had as a kid. I want my Jacob to grow up camping and boating with all his cousins and celebrating holidays and birthday parties with kids screaming and running around and breaking things, and adults laughing and cooking and complaining in the background. To say the least, I jump on any opportunity to go back to my Ohio, and I end up making the trip by car at least two or three times each year.

However, when I return from a “vacation” to my hometown, I have mixed feelings. I’m thankful that I get to see a few of my good friends and family. It’s especially nice to visit with my grandma, who probably doesn’t have a lot of years left in her, and my dad, who is one of my favorite people in the whole world (and who is so proud to be a grandpa). It’s also nice to reminisce and catch up with my aunts and uncles and my old friends who have kids now too. But, the trips don’t feel very vacation-like—because they’re so jam-packed! It’s breakfast with X, lunch with Y, coffee at the Zs’, and dinner and drinks somewhere else. It’s hardly a vacation in the typical sense of the word. Sure, it’s wonderful in its own way. I just hate how it leaves me after the vacation longing for downtime and a break in the same way I was longing for it before I left. These go-go-go getaways tend to stress me out even more than my day-to-day life. When I return from vacation, I often find myself saying “all I need is a vacation.”

So, what’s the solution? What do others—who live miles away from their family and who actually enjoy spending time with them—do for their vacations? I’m looking for some help here, so please send me a note if you have suggestions. I have three main thoughts about the whole thing: (1) more of my friends and family members need to come visit me (I mean it, if you’re reading this) (2) I need to plan my vacations a little differently, and (3) maybe I need to squeeze a little more of the relaxation part of vacation into my everyday life.

Although I have little control over who visits me (did I already say that you are all welcome to stay at my home and eat my food and enjoy Connecticut without a care in the world if you come out this way?), I have control over #2 and #3 above. Here are some thoughts:

How to get the most out of vacations

1)      Carve out time for rest and relaxation. Schedule a day or two without visits, between days that are crazy busy. Or maybe only schedule one activity per day and plan to relax for the remainder of each day.

2)      Clean before leaving. Although I could spend several whole vacations cleaning my house and still not be satisfied, I think it’s good practice to at least straighten the surface of things so it isn’t overwhelming to return home. Although I did the laundry (mommy’s job) and my husband did the dishes and took out the trash (his jobs) before we left, we were greeted post-vacation with floors begging to be mopped, toys everywhere trying to trip us, and the whole place needing some major work. That is not a good place to be after vacation. Even if I had felt refreshed (which unfortunately, I didn’t), the mess alone would have ruined that.

3)      Pay the bills, and catch up on mail beforehand. Again, this one came crashing down on me as soon as I stepped inside my home. A huge stack of bills and mail needed my attention before I went back to work. I spent at least 2 hours sorting through envelopes and on the phone with automated billing to utility companies the day I returned.

4)      Spend some time outdoors. This is a biggie for me. And, I should know better than to spend the majority of my vacation inside air-conditioned hotel rooms, houses, restaurants, and fitness centers. I grew up fishing, hiking, swimming, biking, etc. Outside in the open air is what I love and where I’m happiest. I lose sight of that all too well.

Better yet: How to squeeze a little vacation into day-to-day life

1)      Read a book or magazine for fun. Did I mention I read my first magazine in several months last week while on vacation? (And, it was while I was on the elliptical machine, and I only got about half of the way through.)

2)      Connect more with family and friends by phone, email, and Skype. That way, maybe I won’t miss them so much and run to Ohio whenever I have a day off….maybe.

3)      Go to the beach or the park after work or on the weekends. The outdoors just feel vacation-ish, no? Maybe it’s just me.

4)      Have a special dessert or a drink more often. I need to stop saving hot fudge sundaes and red wine for vacations and my birthday. I think there are a few good non-vacation days here and there that deserve them.

5)      Have friends with children over to the house. I’m all about healthy background noise… that sure beats the television (which we don’t have).

6)      Eat a home-cooked meal. Slowly. I’m always eating Luna bars or microwaved frozen meals or canned soup or something else quick and easy. My aunt made an amazing meal for us last week—pulled pork, homemade coleslaw, and old-fashioned macaroni and cheese (not Kraft from a box). Not only was it delicious, but we took our time eating it. We actually had a conversation over dinner. I hardly ever do that.

7)      Exercise outdoors. I almost always go to a gym to get any sort of exercise. Why not spend that time taking a walk or jog outside?

8)      Watch a child play and explore. This one goes along with the last a little..because being at ease when a child is playing is much easier if outside. At home (in our hotel room, at others’ homes, in public, etc.), I spend so much time blocking my little guy from making messes or having accidents that I’m hardly relaxing and just letting him explore. The other day at the beach, we found a shaded area in the grass, and I took him out of the stroller. He picked up a shell and pulled up a few blades of grass and did all sorts of creative things with them. It was so interesting and relaxing to watch him examine the shell and the grass from all angles and then to combine them into miscellaneous games. (He put the grass on the shell and walked with it, stuck the shell in various holes in a nearby park bench, dug into the mud and sand with the shell, and of course, as he does with everything now, brought the shell toward his mouth while shaking his head “no”—mimicking me when he tries to put objects in his mouth. It’s adorable actually.)

Any other ideas? Please. I need them…in a serious way…especially for sneaking a bit of vacation into my every day. Like I said, it takes a lot for me to find inner calm before, during, and after vacations. I’m always wondering where I can find me my mellow. Maybe it’s time to stop saving up for the couple of weeks each year labeled vacation and instead start doing the things now that soothe the soul?

O Zsha-Zsha, Where Art Thou?

Zsha-zsha. That is, by far, my one-year-old son’s most frequent word. Not ma-ma or da-da or ba-ba, but zsha-zsha. It’s what he calls his big brother, Jackson (my stepson who turns 8 years old this month). It’s the very first thing Jacob says when he gets out of bed—because our weekday routine has been going into Jackson’s room to wake him for school as soon as we are awake. And, it’s what he says whenever he hears one of the doors of our house open—assuming it’s Jackson coming home from school or returning from spending time with Mommy, Nana, Papa, or Auntie.

Over the past year of Jacob’s life, and especially over the past few months, Jackson has been so much to him. He has been his entertainment and instant recovery from tears—Jackson can make Jacob giggle uncontrollably by just looking at him or jumping in front of him. He has been his mentor, showing him: what is okay versus gross or weird to stick in his mouth, where he never should put his fingers, and why superhero costumes and Star Wars toys are cool. Jackson also has been Jacob’s best friend. In spite of the almost seven-year age difference, Jackson happens to love spending time with “The Cutes” (his nickname for Jacob) as much as Jacob loves hanging with his Zsha-zsha. They chase each other around the house, read together, and bang on all things that make noise in our home.

This week has made me realize that they have an even more special connection than what I’ve witnessed thus far. Jacob has always gotten sad when Jackson has left, looked for him in his room and said his name when he’s gone, and ran toward the door and greeted him eagerly when he’s returned. As we’re on vacation, it’s been over a week that the two of them have been apart, and Jacob is having a hard time with it. As usual, the first couple days when we were still at home, he awoke calling out “Zsha-zsha” and pointing to Jackson’s room. When we entered Jackson’s doorway, he kept saying, “Zsha-zsha? Zsha-zsha?” and looking under the covers on his bed. When we went downstairs, he combed the kitchen and living room, probably thinking Jackson was hiding in one of his usual spots. The whole weekend passed as usual too—with Jacob running toward the door anytime it opened and shouting, “Zsha-zsha?!”

The hardest for me has been since we began our road trip to Ohio. Boys near Jackson’s age and height and with his hair color have been in a car next to us at a rest area or at the pool or in the elevator at our hotel or bike riding by us at the park. Jacob has stopped whatever he’s doing, pointed at the boy, and shouted enthusiastically, “Zsha-zsha!!” as if finding exactly the thing his heart most desired. When he’s begun to realize it’s not Jackson, his exclamation has turned to a repeated question until the “Zsha-zsha?” trails off.

Jackson and Jacob have been trying to connect via Skype, but their schedules have not yet aligned. On top of Jacob being sick (he was prescribed eye drops and an oral antibiotic from a walk-in clinic for eye and ear infections), the way I can’t let go of stress even on vacation (another post for another day), and the busyness of squeezing in visits to every friend and family member we know in the area, this has made the vacation a little harder than expected. Still, this week has been a welcome change of pace and a wonderful gift to see our loved ones. And, I’m sure the boys will be ultra-thrilled when they are reunited in a few days. Plus, it’s nice to have a few reasons to be okay with vacation coming to an end…

Gifts for Me

Corn is sort of a big deal where I come from. When you drive through parts of Ohio, it’s like trekking through a gigantic corn maze—with the road as your path, corn on all sides, and questions about when you’ll find your way out racing through your mind. One of the required courses at the junior high I attended (almost two whole decades ago!) was called Ohio History. In that class, I wasn’t surprised to learn that corn is one of Ohio’s biggest crops. (I also have random memories that Ohio consists of 88 counties and boasts “Hang on Sloopy” as the state’s rock song…I’m still not 100% clear on what useful knowledge I acquired from that class.) Anyway, when I was a kid coming up in this corn-field-covered state, we ate corn on the cob almost every evening and then popcorn each night before bed. So, naturally, when I return to my native soil, corn greets me. The first meal I ate at my dad’s, on Monday night when we arrived, mirrored many meals from my childhood: ham, baked potatoes, and corn on the cob. In my eyes, it doesn’t get much more Ohio than that.

I love my Ohio. Since I arrived less than 48 hours ago, I’ve gotten to catch up a lot with my dad, who, regrettably, I only get to see once or twice a year since I moved up north. He’s such a proud grandpa. Yesterday, I also got to meet up with one of my best friends since the same year I took that Ohio History class. Jacob and I met her and her little boy, who’s just a few months younger than Jacob, at the park for a lovely afternoon of running after Jacob, complaining about our husbands, and commiserating about motherhood being much harder than we expected. I guess the lovelier part was just seeing each other and each other’s boys and sharing in our frustrations and joys. After all, that’s what friends are for.

One other beauty of Ohio is that it’s daylight here almost a whole hour longer than in Connecticut. I’m not exactly sure how that happens, something to do with both states falling into the Eastern Time zone but being in different locations in relationship to the sun. Regardless of the science behind it, the bottom line is an extra hour of summer each day! It’s like a dream. However, it means Jacob has been staying up until almost 10PM each night, and is crankier than ever in the evening. (That’s not the “like a dream” part.)

Oh, and I should mention that in Ohio, it is true that the people are warmer than in the New England area. Hugs and handshakes and smiles are far more common here. Strangers are friendlier. The twenty-something on the treadmill next to me, the biker in line behind me at the gas station, the custodian who was repairing our (hotel) neighbor’s lights—they all said “hi” and “how ya doin’” or struck up a conversation on something or another when our eyes met. This would be strange in Connecticut. (If you don’t believe me, I’ve tried it. I’ve carried that part of Ohio with me in my personality. People in the Northeast end up giving me funny looks when I talk to them without a good reason.) Yesterday evening, when I was walking through Meijer (an amazing grocery store that’s sort of a cross between Stop ‘N’ Shop and Target but with many more organic food options and less expensive prices on both clothes and food), I got at least four, completely genuine, “how are you today, miss?”s from various, (seemingly) legitimately happy employees.

I look forward to Meijer trips when I visit Ohio. In general, at home or on vacation, grocery shopping rejuvenates me. I’m not sure if it’s the bright lights or my brain working so hard with all the detailed comparisons of products and ingredients or what. Either way, yesterday evening was all that…plus my husband so graciously offered to entertain Jacob at my dad’s house while I went to the store all by myself. Freedom! My plan was to get groceries for our hotel room with a kitchen (so we don’t have to spend a bunch of money on eating out). Two hundred dollars (not much of a savings) and two hours later, I had a cart full of groceries, and I felt renewed!

On my way out of the store, my eyes landed on an Ohio Lotto machine with a ticket inside that read “Gift for You.” Although I’m pretty sure the message’s intention is for people to buy the ticket for someone else as a present, I thought that I deserved a present. After all, I am on vacation, and I was enjoying some time to myself. Unfortunately, the gods, or fairies, or whatever power from above who doles out the lottery wins thought it gift enough that I was in one of my favorite places with my loved ones, and even getting a little break from my wonderful but exhausting Jacob. I can’t argue with that.

The heavens bestowed upon me four other things over the last day. This time the angel running the control panel wasn’t so kind. First, yesterday morning, my precious Jacob woke up with a terrible cold—a cough and a stuffy nose. By late evening, his darling eyes started to produce gobs of green goo, which I now attribute to some allergy at my dad’s house because today he is fine. Second, Mother Nature paid me a visit to remind me that my son scaling back to nursing just once a day means the return of her monthly crimson routines. (The almost two-year hiatus of such visits from Aunt Flow while I was pregnant and nursing sometimes seems like reason enough to have another child. Why does she always come when I’m on vacation??)

In the spirit of discussing the important women in my life (as I’ve paid homage to the lottery fairies, my angels, Mrs. Nature, and my annoying red relative all in a single post), my third “gift” came from one female who I’ve failed to include in my blog thus far: Constance, my trusty computer. In spite of staying up hours past my bedtime last night with my husband (something I hardly do these days), I awoke at 5:30 sharp this morning. No, my alarm was not my crying son or even the sun (which also rises almost an hour later here than in Connecticut.) It was the moans and wails of my computer whining that it had been too long since I had played with her and commanding me to blog. And, when I finally did, my fourth “gift” arrived—the internet was down at our hotel…all day. Although I’m hoping to keep Constance at bay for a couple of days with this long post, I’m not sure when it will actually be published. (By the time you read this, the answer has come and gone.) Until next time…