Monday, April 30, 2012

Hit the road, Jack!

We went to Disneyland last week.  Boo is 3-1/2, and we always said that we would take her when she was old enough not to be carried all day (interestingly, "old enough" is not the same as "willing", but whatever).  I'm a notoriously anxious traveler/over-packer, but I tried really extra super hard not to make everyone else crazy.  I made it until about Thursday afternoon, I think.  More on this in a minute.

Now that we're home and unpacked and the laundry is done and put away (!!!), I think a wrap-up is in order.  Chances are, this isn't our last trip to the Magic Kingdom, and we learned quite a bit about how we are when we take our show on the road.

Here are my Top Five Questions to think about when you're planning a trip.

1.  What's your priority?  What's the purpose of the trip?

Mr Incredible and I were on board with making this about Boo--her first time to Disneyland was going to revolve around her schedule, her moods, her interests.  Not every trip is going to be a pure child-focused family vacation--most of our travel is to visit family or attend events.  Those trips have a different dynamic and we have specific expectations for them.  When we're in visiting mode, we want to be on our best behavior.  We don't see relatives as often as we'd like (unless it's WAY TOO FREAKING OFTEN, and stay tuned for some future musings about dealing with family...) so there's a lot of talking and not always a lot of action.

Last fall, we flew to Arkansas to attend my cousin's wedding, and we learned that it's important to scope out where the fun is when you get to somewhere new.  You're going to have down time, and you can't depend on good weather.  We spent a lot of time driving around in the rain on our way to sit down and chat and eat.  That can be tough on kids, and they get bored fast.  Most towns have indoor play facilities, and you can sign up for a free "introductory" tumbling or dance class if you have shorties who need to burn off some steam for an hour or two.  Don't be above Chuck E Cheese (OMG, seriously, it's its own level of hell, but it can be a lifesaver).

2.  Just how much do you actually need to do?

A family vacation can have such a sense of urgency.  You don't go away often, so when you do, you want to get a lot of bang for your bucks.  And you run yourself and your family into the ground trying to do and see  Don't do that.  Don't be Clark Griswold.   If you've never been to where you're going, do your homework.  Find out the must-sees and must-dos.  Ask your friends if they know anything about your destination.  Chances are, they do, and they can give you invaluable tips.

Another thing, don't over-schedule your days.  Carve one thing in stone per day, and other stuff can fall into place as it will.  Downtime is important, even for the most enthusiastic travelers.  Will the kids take naps?  Are there places to go during downtime that don't include locking yourself in the hotel bathroom for five minutes of privacy?

3.  Is all that stuff really necessary?

I'm a notorious over-packer.  Back in the glory days, I would pack a suitcase of just shoes because you just never know if you're going to need three pairs of black stilettos.  Now?  I'm pretty confident about my stiletto needs.  If I'm not home, I'm not going to want to stomp around in 4-inch heels for 12 hours.

Mr Incredible travels quite a bit for business, so he's an ace when it comes to packing.  He can fit five days of clothes in a duffel bag and a quarter of our big suitcase.  Love him.  And now that Boo is old enough to sleep in a bed and eat from regular plates and use a bathroom, her packing has gotten seriously lighter.

Check the weather before you go.  Pack for layering, use jackets with hoods instead of umbrellas, bring at least one nicer outfit every time, and extra socks and undies are never a bad idea.  Beyond that, less is more.  It's not like you're going to the moon.  If you forget something, or find that you didn't anticipate something, chances are, you're not far from Target.

4.  What are the dealbreakers?

Before you back out of the driveway, make sure that everyone, or at least the deciders, is on the same page about key elements of the trip.  For example, I have a pretty firm "No IHOP" rule.  Mr. Incredible knows that barring some unforeseen disaster, our family breakfasts are not going to happen at IHOP while we're on the road.  We have conversations about wake-up calls and how and where we're going to spend our time (Park Hopper tickets make this an essential discussion).  Everybody in the group, even the non-deciders, has expectations about what will and will not be a part of the trip, and communication about this is so important.

Which brings me to my previous point about The Crazy.  I tend to get hyperfocused (NO!  really?  Nuh-uh.) and I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture in my pursuit of whatever I think needs to happen.

I've gotten better.  Yes I have.

But it still happens.  A dealbreaker on every trip you take needs to be manners:  we are kind to each other.  Not just superficial and passive aggressive and "OK fine whatever you want to do."  KINDNESS.  As tired as you are, so is everybody else, and chances are at least one person in the car is about to go all stabbity if they hear someone say or do XYZ one. more. time.  Pay attention to the people you're with, not just to where you are.

5.  Can you take extra days off from work before and after the actual trip?

We left town on Monday, came back on Friday.  Our Disneyland adventure was bookended by weekends, and I think that's the way to go.  Ideally, we also have part of at least one business day when at our disposal, just in case.  Like, when we were coming home, we discovered that the brakes on our car needed work (no emergencies, just rough stopping).  We hit town, and there was (technically) time to take the car in before the end of the day.  Of course, it's important to keep the Dealbreakers in mind when you start piling errands on before and after the trip.  Does someone in the group prefer to stay close to home once we get there?  PERHAPS.

I think my point with all of this is, don't force perfection upon your vacation.  You're not going to Hawaii so you can tell people you went to Hawaii.  You're not dragging your family on a cruise so you can have the best family picture in the Christmas card out of everybody who puts pictures in cards.  You're not taking your 3 year old to Disneyland so you can jumpstart her love of Pirates in the Caribbean (true story).  This isn't a show you're putting on.  These are memories you're building, and when your kids are grown, they'll remember how they met ALL the princesses (even the elusive Princess Tiana).

They'll remember walking across the highway to the beach instead of jumping right back into the car after lunch and going to the next stop.

And so will you.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What's your uniform?

If you were to meet me in person for the first time, chances are I'd be wearing jeans or khakis and a button-down shirt.  It is my uniform.  My friends tell me that when they think of me, this or some variation thereof is what I'm wearing.  And it's true.  I'm not one to follow (or set...) trends.  I feel ridiculous when I venture too far away from this basic get-up.  I will accessorize it, dressing it up with jewelry and fabulous shoes or down with flipflops and a beachy hat.

When I shop for new clothes, I tend to buy pieces that can be rotated into this uniform.  A denim skirt?  Perfect!  French cuffs?  Love it.  Scarf?  Um, I don't know what to do with a scarf, and I would spend the entire day fiddling with it because in my head it would never look quite right (even if it looked fine).  Scarves have too many variables.  Cool necklace?  Much better.

Periodically, I do endeavor to mix it up a little.  I look in my closet (which is sorted by color, which should surprise nobody) and if I see too much of one thing, I know it's time to go in a new direction.  I recently rediscovered skirts, and I'm liking them.  I bought one that was COMPLETELY different from my usual palate, however, and when I wore it to work, I was actually uncomfortable by all of the (overwhelmingly positive) attention it received.  Lots of bright different colors, horizontal stripes (!!!), very cute, but I realized that I prefer to stick to my basics for the office.

When we change little things about our appearance, they can make a big difference.  Last year, I completely revolutionized my hair by changing the part.  My whole life, I'm fighting with a natural part that starts over my left eye and angles back kind of diagonally.  No amount of product was really effective--by the end of the day, it always kind of went back to this weird part.  So one day I just let it happen.  Suddenly, my hair takes half the time to do, and I'm able to envision doing other things with my hair.  Right now?  Growing out bangs.  I've had bangs of some sort for as long as I've had hair.  And they don't lie flat.  The part goes right through them and it just doesn't work.  Instead of fighting with it, I'm going to see what happens if I let it win.

Comfort doesn't have to equal boring.  You can be comfortable in couture, and that's fine (awesome, in fact, and I have a jealous of you if that's the case).  When we're comfortable (not ridiculous or sloppy {sorry Britney...} ) we walk taller.  We feel like we look good, so we feel good, and that shows.  My uniform may not be all zazzly and exciting, but if it's good enough for her...

Ohhh, she added a scarf.  Hmmm.  Maybe....
..then I think it can work for me too.

Of course, some rules are carved in stone.  Some lines should not be crossed.  Ever.

Don't get me started.
I think a big part of Getting A Grip is about knowing what your best path is.  In my case, that's often the path of least resistance.  I feel like when a decision is full of "no" then it's not the right decision for me.  It's important to be able to identify your comfort zone, even if only to be able to know when you're out of it.  A comfort zone isn't necessarily a rut.  Make your comfort zone a starting point.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Getting back to the center.

A week ago Sunday, Boo fell and hit her head on her bedrail (she's fine, after a run to the ER for some stitches that are already out and we've moved on to Mederma).   It was not our first trip to the ER, but it was our first encounter with a head injury and blood.  The injury itself and its aftermath knocked me off balance for the rest of the week.  I instantly became a helicopter, trying to catch her before she falls again, making that cringing intake of breath sound every time she got too close to anything that wasn't soft.  She's fearless, but evidently I felt it necessary to make up the difference.

Besides what was going on in my head, I didn't get stuff done around the house.  All I wanted to do was keep her from getting hurt again.  Don't run!  Slow down!  Be careful!  I didn't make dinner.  I didn't do laundry.  I just disconnected from the domesticity for a few days, and I'm only just now catching up.

When Something (note the intentional capital S...) happens, it's so easy to let it take over.  And that's OK for a while, I think.  We needed a few days to absorb what had happened.  It was a minor injury, yes, but there was a shocking amount of blood (YIKES) and my little girl had this awful (oh it looked TERRIBLE) wound right above her eyebrow and I was so worried about how it would heal.  There's so much to worry about, so many unknowns.  When we don't know how that Something is going to turn out, it's so tempting just to shut down.  How can we possibly think about keeping a house clean when we're so immersed in a really serious situation?

When the initial emergency is over, and you've done everything you can do to make it as OK you're able to and you've handed it over to the experts, don't drive yourself nuts reliving it.  Don't "what if" yourself to death.  You are not helping by becoming a lunatic.  Pacing a waiting room, nervously dwelling out loud about how it impacted YOU and YOUR situation is not productive, and when there is a crisis, your energy is best devoted to being productive.  Full disclosure?  Monday after Boo's accident, I think I actually made things worse by being so agitated.  I couldn't sit still, so neither could she.  At the end of the day, we were both utterly worn out.  We would have been better served by me not trying to protect her from the entire universe and just allowing her to establish her own pace (as long as she wasn't running STOP RUNNING OMG SLOW DOWN!!!).

It's hard to let go, to relinquish the care of a loved one.  I felt terrible guilt that the person who was able to make Boo all better wasn't me (although he was a very nice PA who has a 3 year old himself, and admitted to keeping a suture kit at home because these things happen).  I lost sight of the fact that making sure she was OK was the important part--we made sure she was OK.  We got her into the hands of the right people in an incredibly short amount of time.  Mr Incredible (who totally lived up to that moniker) and I were a team, and we each played our role to the best of our abilities.  And when we were calm (at least on the surface in the ER), she was calm.  There was such relief in that realization.

There is also comfort, at least for me, in routines.  I think I rediscovered my schedule on about Thursday, and it was so helpful to me to have an identifiable starting point.  "Today, I clean the bathrooms and I will do a load of laundry and I will deal with the pile in the kitchen (that was out.of.control) as my one extra thing."  And it worked.  I didn't spend time wondering how it would all get done.  It will all get done.  And we are OK.  And Boo is OK too.

All her eggs (and mine...) in one basket.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On Being A Ninja Mom

ninja (忍者) or shinobi (忍び) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan who specialized in unorthodox warfare. The functions of the ninja included espionage,sabotageinfiltration, and assassination, and open combat in certain situations. [source]

I don't know about you, but not a day goes by when I don't do most of those (assassination is rare, but I've been known to dispose of dead fish without a second glance).  There are mornings where simply getting Boo into her clothes counts is similar to open combat (and calf roping, but that's off topic).

About a month ago, I posted about the wonderful friends I have.  They're my Posse of Ninja Moms.

I realized these ladies were actually Ninjas when I was pregnant with Boo.  There was NOTHING I couldn't ask them.  They made me realize that no matter how invincible and independent and capable we are, we are never above asking for and receiving help and knowledge.

So what makes someone a Ninja Mom?

Ninja Moms rally around you when scary pregnancy things happen. They laugh when funny pregnancy things happen, and they share their own experiences and they make a point to help you feel like you'll be OK as a mom.  The first week you're home with a new baby, they bring meals and they stick around for a couple of hours so you can take a shower and a nap.  They pass along clothes and all sorts of good stuff that their own kids have outgrown.  They make HUGE fusses over the successes and gave realistic suggestions for the struggles.  They help so much in ways you never could have anticipated.

As your children get older, the Ninja Moms are the ones who tell you which emergency rooms have the best pediatric protocols because such information is valuable and luck favors the prepared.  They tell you which soccer league is a good one and which one to avoid.  They give you strategies for navigating theme parks.

Ninja Moms do not judge other moms on their parenting style or decision (as long as lives are not threatened).  They may not necessarily agree with this or that, but the core belief of the Ninja Mom is that we pick our battles, we ask for help when we need to, and we do not force our battle strategies onto other Ninja.

This lady?  Totally a Ninja Mom.  She gets it. I'm definitely going to buy her book.

While the original meaning of "Posse" refers to a group of citizens assembled by the authorities to deal with   an emergency (such as suppressing a riot or pursuing felons), the term posse is also used for any force or band ... often also figuratively or humorously. [source] 

When Ninja Moms gather, it's a Posse, because chances are there's an emergency going on (am I right or am I right?).  That emergency may involve a ladies spa weekend two states away, but that counts (IT DOES.).

These could totally be moms.  Just go with it.

The moment when you look around at your life, and you think "Yeah, I got this." you are a Ninja (whether you're a mom or not).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Top Five Things I'd Say To My Mom

My mother passed away 23 years ago today.  I was 16, and it was horrible for a long time, but it's OK now.  Really it is.  I will always miss her terribly, but I'm good.  Even after something really awful happens, things work out and the universe has a way of righting itself.  Trust me on this one.

Over the years, and especially since I've become a mom myself, I've had moments where I thought, JEEZ I wish I could tell her or ask her about blah blah blah.  It's usually nothing big or existential, but it's the stuff that you really can only talk about with your mom.  You know what I mean.  So today I'm going to break it down.  If I had One More Day, these are the topics that I'd be sure to bring up.

1.  When we had The Talk when I was 12 or 13, you said kind of in passing that you didn't ever have trouble getting pregnant.  That has stayed with me for all this time.  For a while, I thought you were just trying to scare me about sex, and maybe you were, but always in the back of my head, I remember you saying this.  I didn't entirely believe you until we decided to start our family and five seconds later I was pregnant myself.  Lesson learned.  We would probably spend a big chunk of our One Day talking about stuff like this.

2.  Dad hates Beef Stroganoff.  This may not seem like a big deal, but I laugh about it often.  You made it for us at least once a week, and he ate it without a word.  The first time I made it for him, he looked at me and said, "You know, I'll be OK if you don't ever fix this again. Ever."  He ate it probably 1000 times for you.  He picked his battles, and this one wasn't worth making a fuss over.  That's the kind of marriage that I strive to have, where the sacrifices are small but their impact is large.

3.  Dried fruit on road trips is a bad idea.  What on earth were you thinking?!  How did you not know this?  From one mom to another, if you must give your kids snacks that cause bathroom emergencies, make sure that whoever is driving the car doesn't insist on making it all the way to freaking Albuquerque before stopping (I'm looking at you, Dad).

4.  Thank you for teaching me about skin care early on.  You were right.  I wear sunscreen every day, and wash my makeup off and use good moisturizer every night. It was kind of a drag in college to be pale while everyone was tan, but the skin on my neck could belong to a 25-year-old.

5.  I cannot make a decent piecrust, and I know you could. Your grandmother made the best piecrust in the world, and she taught you.  Show me.  This would be useful information.  In return, I'll show you how to make bread.  You'll love it.

There's more, of course.  Stuff that just comes up randomly.  I think of how you let me use the crinoline from your wedding dress to use for a Halloween costume because my skirt just didn't look right.  I think of all the times you rolled your eyes when I asked what's for dinner because I get it now (OMG can I get in the door before hearing this?!).   I still polish the silver every year the night before Thanksgiving, whether we're going to use it or not, but I found some stuff that works way better than whatever you insisted on using.

It's funny the things that stay with us long after someone is gone.  After the initial shock of the loss wears off, you remember the weirdest stuff, the most insignificant conversations.  Replaying them over and over can make you nuts, but over time, there's always new information to be found in them.

I wish my mom had known me as an adult.  I wasn't an easy kid, but I think I've turned out well.  That's a reflection on her, I think.  She gave me a good foundation in spite of what a jackass I so often was.  Sometimes, I'll do or say something, or make a gesture that is SO my mom and I'll think, "damn, I get it now."  So much of what seems important turns out to not matter even a little, and the things we do in passing and the remarks we make offhand are the legacy we leave.

Monday, April 2, 2012

By request: Food: How to make it really good, really fast

A couple of weeks ago, I put a link to a survey up top, and after a couple of modifications (read: if you took it before last Wednesday, please feel free to take it again because it's different) I've started getting some feedback.  Yay!  One of the new questions is about what topics you'd like to see me address in terms of Getting A Grip.

Our first requested topic?  Food.  Amy in Texas would like some ideas for quick easy dinners.  I'm on it.

Let's back up a little and take a look at what the staples are in your pantry.  Cooking dinner for a family on a weeknight requires preparation--you can't just walk in the door after work and bibbidy-bobbidy-boo up a healthy tasty meal without a little forethought.  If the only thing you could make from scratch is D Batteries basted in Pickle Juice, you need to go to the store.

What do you always have on hand?  If you go to The Google and type "pantry staples", you come up with 2 million results for things you should keep in your cupboards at all times.  I like the list that How Stuff Works has--these are basics, and if you have them, you can come up with all kinds of good stuff.  Add in some family favorites (at our house, Rotel tomatoes are a party in a can, and we like the big bag of frozen vegetables from Costco...) and you'll have a good foundation for a week's worth of food, including leftovers.

On the bottom shelf of the rice/pasta aisle is where the bags of bulk beans live.  Buy one of those bags.  Yes, it's a lot of beans.  Pinto beans are the khaki pants of the kitchen--they're not fancy, but they go with everything else you own.  Trust me.  Fill your stockpot about 1/3 of the way with beans and the rest of the way with water, and soak for 24 hours.  Then, put them in quart freezer bags, and they're an easy addition to just about any dish.

In our freezer, we always have boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef, tilapia, shrimp, and Italian sausage.  Ideally, I will put one of the above in the fridge the night before so it's ready to cook when I get home.  If I forget to do that, putting it in a sink full of lukewarm water gets the job done in about half an hour.

Pork chops and chicken breasts are super easy to cook, and it's not hard to make them interesting in the process.  Before you handle the meat (that's what she said), grab your seasonings and such.  Kosher salt, ground pepper, thyme, sage, cumin, garlic or onion powder are all in my regular rotation.

With chops (I like big thick boneless ones), set them on a piece of plastic wrap (because you don't want the trichinosis...).   Heat a skillet that's big enough to hold all of the chops without crowding them, drizzle olive oil and a pat of butter (YES I SAID BUTTER) and let that start to bubble over medium-high heat.  Season each side of the chops with whatever combination of flavors you like, then flip them over and repeat.  Put the meat in the pan and brown so it's got a nice crisp crust on top and bottom.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until it's done in the middle with a little bit of pink, about 20 minutes.  Maybe flip them once more while they're covered.

Chicken breasts can be cooked just like chops are, but I like to dredge in an egg wash with some Frank's Red Hot and some flour before I season them.  It makes me feel like I'm eating fried chicken, which is a guilty pleasure.

When you remove the meat (heh) there are these great drippings and stuff in the pan.  You want to dazzle your family?  Deglaze the pan and make a sauce.  Leave the pan on the flame, toss in some diced onions and saute for a minute or two.  Add some crushed tomatoes (too fancy?  ketchup or barbecue sauce work) and some chicken broth or wine, and voila!  Fancy main dish.  Serve with some steamed vegetables sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and your family won't know what hit them.

Cook more than you need, and you'll be able to take the leftovers for lunch a couple of times, and you can even incorporate the meat into a salad later in the week.  WINNING.

So there we go.  I like to cook for my family, for no other reason than it's something I'm good at and a kickass meal is one way I show my love.

Let me know if you try this, and how it turns out!