Tag Archives: family

an attitude of gratitude

I have so much to be grateful for today, not least of which are these guys:

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I’m actually in Toronto right now so I have a lot to be grateful for.  My family are here.  My sister has made a beautiful home away from home for us, literally considering my family’s comfort and wellbeing in building her own family’s house.  We’re grateful to be made to feel so at loved & at home here every time we visit.

I’m also here to visit and cheer up my mother, who has been trapped inside with hew own injury, a broken lower leg, since February.  I’m grateful to have my mother still with us, and grateful to have a strong bond with her.  My sister and I are both close with our mom, another relationship we’re lucky to have.

I’m also grateful for the family I have here to visit: my sister and I have a good relationship as adults, and I adore her daughters, my nieces, who are like little sisters to Ben (grateful for that, too).  They’re beautiful, brilliant, strong, free creatures, each of whom displays emotions and intelligence in equally high amounts.  My brother-in-law is a wonderful guy who is just fun to hang out with, as well as a great husband and father.  My sister has a beautiful family, inside and out, and I’m so grateful to be only two hours away.

I’m listing out all this gratitude right now because it’s just hard to feel grateful for all these blessings when my foot looks like it lost a bar fight to someone a lot meaner:

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From last night: my foot looks like a bloated drunk who got severely beaten up

I’m really trying for gratitude here, in the form of, “I’m grateful I’ve never had an injury worse than this”, but it hurts today after all the activity and exertion yesterday and I can’t go down stairs properly and anything that isn’t being trapped in bed with my foot up causes the fluids to rush back in a very painful way.

Still, the practice of gratitude does make me feel slightly better.  Over the past year, I started using the Best SELF Journal: a daily entry in which I start and finish my day by listing 3 things I’m grateful for.  Sounds like something out of an archived Well and Good article (“The Buzzy Reason These wellness Gurus Start Their Day with Gratitude – And How You Can Too”).  It is, however, a legitimately proven tactic to improve mental wellbeing, so I have added it to my mental toolkit to deal with my depression.

Gratitude may not make up for missing out on physical activity, which is on the list of the Big Things That REALLY Help With Depression.  Walking or running outside are big needle movers for mental wellbeing.  It’s therefore extremely tempting not to be grateful for anything when I’m on Day 5 of hobbling about and don’t know how long this is going to take because I can run again without fear of messing my foot back up.  The challenge is pushing past that self-pity and finding ways to be grateful that are not depending on my physical status.

 

the nightmare before christmas, live in brooklyn!

Last Wednesday, I took the boys to see the Nightmare before Christmas – Live to Film. It was the projected film, with live music and vocals by the original cast voices. That meant Danny Elfman, in person, belting out the part of Jack Skellington, in front of a full two hundred piece orchestra and backing vocal chorus, below the projected film. It was amazing.
Featuring famous Canadian Catherine O’Hara!
Nightmare, along with Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, are part of the goth canon for my generation. Burton’s early work is what fits with the whimsical, dark faeryland aesthetic of second generation goth, both due to the constant reference of death in imagery, and the elongated lines, dark curlicues, and stark contrast stripes. That is the the Tim Burton aesthetic, and Nightmare, with its horror theme, Halloween imagery and Danny Elfman soundtrack, is a pinnacle of goth entertainment.
It’s also worth noting here that, while Oingo Boingo are considered goth adjacent, I do not believe they are considered goth canon. Except for “Dead Man’s Party“, and that I heard more as the Last Dance cover at Bar Sinister. Paul, however, enjoys Oingo Boingo quite a bit, and, as he remarked to me at the end of the movie, this was the closest we would get to an Oingo Boingo concert for a long time. The fact that it wasn’t an Oingo Boingo concert though did not stop us from occasionally quiet-yelling “PLAY DEAD MAN’S PARTY” or “ONLY A LAD!”
Ben is not yet a fan of Oingo Boingo (Paul is working on it), but he loves Nightmare and even asks to watch it in off season (That’s my baby.). He likes the movie so much that he even took a second run at watching its cousin film, the recent adaptation of Gaimans Coraline. (Still too scary.) This event appealed so much to our family that I invested in the mid-range seats at the Barclays Center so we could actually see the performers.
We walked in to find genius product placement: Hot Topic ads featuring Jack Skellington. I dislike the appropriation of Jack Skellington as this sort of bad boy symbol in general, and I squarely blame Hot Topic. Still. Genius product placement.  Then again, Nightmare does inspire some things that sound like a Hot Topic imploded into a quasar of overkill.

Marilyn Manson is also NOT GOTH.
I read retroactively that “Barclay’s Center will become Halloweentown!” and that costumes were encouraged, but I didn’t see anything themed or otherwise.  I did see a handful of outfits and Jack Skellington T-shirts, but no effort on the part of the venue was visible as we walked halfway around it to get to our seats.
We sat down just in time for the warm up: Disney’s Silly Skeletons, with a live score performed by the orchestra. I forget how deeply disturbing some of these early cartoons are. Multiple points in this were nightmare fuel:
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I SERIOUSLY CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE WHAT THIS IS.
The next piece was a medley of the score, with what I assume were Tim Burton’s original pencil crayon drawings. Ben was very impressed at the drawings and asked if Tim Burton was also an artist.  We had just finished explaining that yes, he was, but he was best known for directing movies, like the original 1987 Batman and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but by then the movie had started.
Overture with drawings, which someone kindly posted on YouTube
Right away for the opening number, five cast members filed onto stage, whom we assume were all original score, launching right into “This is Halloween”.  It wasn’t until Jack’s first song that Danny Elfman came out, singing “Jack’s Lament” with an incredible intensity.  I haven’t seen Elfman sing live before, so therefore I was amazed by his depth of sound.  Also, like everyone else on stage, he was clearly having a freaking blast.  Despite singing a lament despairing of the sameness of every day in Halloween Town, Danny Elfman was still downright joyful.
That would prove to be the theme for the evening.  I have rarely seen a performer enjoy themselves as much as this cast was.  Ken Page, singing the Oogie Boogie song, was delighted to be there, and was having so much fun with his performance that it took all the fear out of that most nightmarish of characters.  Catherine O’Hara came out and sang “Sally’s Song”, perfectly note for note as she did a quarter century ago, emoting Sally’s tragic longing while still having a good time being on stage.  There is something to being at a show where the performers have that contagious joy at being there.
I was just so impressed with this production.  I can’t even begin to imagine the work to take the score and sound layers apart and put them back together to sync up to the orchestra and singers.  To do so, the original creators of the idea must have had to determine where the live music and voices would cut in, and give direction to sound engineers to specifically take track layers out at those moments.  It must have been incredibly detailed work that would require stress-testing with performers.
For that matter, I can’t imagine being in an orchestra performing an entire score all at once.  That’s insane, two hours of performing a score straight through without more than the intermission break, plus the opening cartoon and overture.  How would you have the entire score on your stand and manage to turn the pages and keep up and play flawlessly for that long?  I am blown away with the caliber of musicians that performed this soundtrack, beginning to end.
LIVE FULL ORCHESTRA.
For all these reasons – for the concept of seeing a live-to-film movie perfectly edited, for the joy of the performers singing on stage, for the quality of the musicians who performed, I was so glad we were able to go.  It’s our way of celebrating the holiday season: by watching a movie where Halloween nightmares try to reproduce Christmas and end up terrifying everyone.  Every family has its traditions.  This was a particularly special way for us to celebrate ours.

holy pickles, mama!

Recently, I decided to become an even bigger Brooklyn cliche by learning to can foods. This started when I acquired entirely too many peaches a couple of weekends ago, in the course of a visit to a farm in Dutchess County. In order to preserve them, I downloaded “Canning for a New Generation” to my Kindle, and began reading about how to can.

After a practice batch of peaches in syrup, I began to get the hang of it. I have now successfully “put up” a half dozen jars of peach jam (with apple pectin, of course), three and a half pints of classic cucumber relish, three pints of “Dilly Beans!”, and two quarts of Quick Kosher Dills, using apple cider vinegar. This eliminated a lot of the surplus produce from our CSA, who seem to be having a bumper crop year of cucumber and peaches. It also took advantage of local sales on seasonal vegetables.

But one thing I really wanted to make was real, honest to goodness brine pickles. Ben and I have discovered traditional pickles since moving to NYC. We both love pickles, and we are starting to really get into the fermented kind, rather than the commercial vinegar kind. Of course, our Quick Kosher Dills were tasty, but they didn’t have that depth of flavor that comes from the lactic acid on fermentation. Also, because the quick pickles were pickled in jars, I had to add a whole tea bag to each jar, instead of being able to add a few tea bags to a whole crock, and it was just too much tea for the pickles (Tannins like those in tea make for crisper pickles, since they slow the enzyme that breaks down cucumber cell walls, and since I don’t have fresh grape leaves to add, I used black tea bags. Problem solved with SCIENCE!)

So this weekend, I took advantage of a sale on Kirby cucumbers, and we put up a crock of pickles.

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Ben neatly stacked the pickles in the glass jar. I measured spices and made brine. And together, we made pickles! (Also, the bowl to the left of Ben is relish, in the process of soaking in salt water)

Two days later, the jar is starting to smell a LOT like pickles.

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Two more weeks, and we will be ready to put pickles in jars, pasteurize them, and prepare for distribution to friends and family. And, of course, eat them ourselves. Because, as Ben tells us repeatedly every chance possible, he loooooooves pickles.

And I’m not sure how it is I regressed into being an L.M. Montgomery character, despite living in Brooklyn in 2012. First I started baking our own bread, now I’m making pickles. If only I knew how to properly sew, knit and garden, I’d be all set to live in a PEI settlement circa 1890. As it is, I will just have to be a part time urban homesteader in New York City, in a very modern age.

food appreciation for preschoolers

To date, we’ve been pretty lucky with Ben and eating. This is because when he was very small, our pediatrician gave us the Best. Advice. Ever: “just put the food in front of him”. So we did. And we kept putting it in front of him. I read somewhere that a kid has to try a new food at least five times before they will eat it, so we just kept trying. Now, Ben will taste almost anything new, even if it takes months for him to actually eat it, and we have managed to get him to eat a fairly good variety of fruits and vegetables. He eats vegetables with hummus (usually carrots, cucumber or celery) most nights as an “appetizer” before dinner. And he will eat ANYTHING that is fruit based. Berries, apples, bananas, oranges, melons, peaches…if its fruit, even a new fruit, he will eat it.

Obviously, this makes meals easier. Having Ben accept and eventually eat new foods means that we prepare one meal for everyone, with no substitutes, most of the time. We used to give him frozen mixed vegetables at almost every meal, with the green beans picked out, instead of whatever “adult” vegetable we were eating. Now, he eats the green vegetables we eat: broccoli, asparagus, green beans. I still cook a limited variety of those green vegetables to keep it to the Big Three above, or related varieties (broccolette, for example), but mostly, I can cook a meal with a protein, whole grain, and vegetable, and serve it to the kid, and have him eat it with minimal fuss. We have even been able to get him to eat vegetables when they show up in food outside the home, like when he got bok choy in his dumpling soup.

This isn’t to say Ben doesn’t prefer the usual “kid food”: the basic sweet or salty foods all kids eat. He would much rather live off granola bars and cheese sticks, fries with ketchup, grilled cheese, Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, pasta, etc. He is never going to turn down candy, especially M&Ms. He still wants nothing to do with a lot of foods, like sweet potatoes, and it’s tough to get him to eat more than a few bites of non-fried fish that isn’t salmon. But overall, he is pretty good about eating whatever healthy food we put in front of him. With the nutritional problems that run rampant in Western society these days, and a 30% child obesity rate in America that is partially linked to “kid foods”, this makes me extremely thankful to have a little boy who will eat more than the usual monotone of junk designed for a “child palate”.

So we are fortunate here, because Ben is an agreeable kid. But I still wanted his vegetable repertoire to expand. So I picked up “French Children Eat Everything”, a book by a Vancouver academic who moved to France for a year with her two small daughters, and had to adjust to the French “food rules”. Rules like “kids eat what the adults eat” and “slow food is happy food”. Those are rules I can agree with. Also, obviously, I want one of those Euro-trained kids who will go to a nice restaurant and eat a multi -course meal. Mostly though, I just want a kid who eats a healthy variety of food, including the vegetable based foods I think are delicious, like beet salad with goat cheese, or roasted Brussels sprouts, or collard green wraps with avocado or hummus.

So I ramped up the food introductions last week, through a variety of tactics. We got Ben to eat lettuce based salad, a food he previously said he “didn’t eat “, by introducing it to him with ranch dressing, and then rolling to vinaigrette. On Sunday, he tried the lentil and carrot salads on offer from a bistro’s food booth at the 5th Ave Street Fair, and he ended up eating several bites of each. And last night, I took a literal page out of “French Kids” and cooked one of the recipes: beet purée. But I cooked it because, when we were in the grocery store Sunday night. Ben pointed at beets and asked, “What’s this, Mama?”. I explained it was beets, and he told me, “I would like to try that.”. Of course, he didn’t eat more than two bites of the resulting dish, which was actually delicious, since it was really a puree of three parts zucchini and one part beet, with butter and salt added. But he tried it, and I will keep trying it on him and hope he develops an eventual taste for beets.

One of the most successful tactics to date, however, has been leveraging screen time. I used Ratatouille as an introduction to, well, ratatouille. I used a Sesame Street segment about colorful foods to bring in more colorful vegetables. And now, our new favorite show is Around the World in 80 Plates. Ben likes “cooking” (standing on a stool to help prep simple foods with Paul), and I figured a cooking show that goes around the world would be a great way to learn about cultures AND introduce new foods. This is actually working, because after watching last week’s episode in Lyon, France, he wanted to go shop for and cook the foods we saw on the show. So we went to the farmers market on Saturday (by bike, naturally) and bought the ingredients for salad Lyonnaise:

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That is Ben’s salad, above. I rendered duck prosciutto (instead of slab bacon) in a bit of olive oil, and poached the eggs. Ben shook the dressing, made from the rendered fat and red wine vinegar, and the assembled the salads after I tossed the arugula with the dressing. We all then broke and mixed in our egg yolks, and Ben actually ate half his salad.

This tactic of involving Ben in cooking doesn’t always work. Ben still refused to eat the mussels he helped me prepare. Or rather, he ate one, announced he did not like it, and so I quickly cooked him some plain fish as a protein substitute to go with the fries I made to accompany said mussels. But that’s OK. The point is that he ate the mussel before saying he did not like it. He tried a spoonful of beet purée last night before dismissing it. He tastes things, and then talks about how it tastes. Like we did with broccoli, we will get there with other foods. We will just have to keep offering these foods to him, along with foods he already knows and likes, and remind him that every food was, at one time, a new one he didn’t know he enjoyed.

Sharing the world from the back of my bike

I consider the bicycle to be the perfect solution for short distance transportation. Its faster than walking, yet isn’t at a speed where i lose connection to the world around me. In a car, you’re cut off from the world around you; in a subway, the subway is the world around you. On a bike, I can speed through the streets of NYC, from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back, and see, feel, and even smell every detail of the city around me. (This is more pleasant when it’s a passing restaurant than when it’s Garbage Tuesday). Living in a city as dense and fascinating as New York, i think riding a bike is the perfect way to get around.

And, because I am from the Pacific Northwest, being able to ride my bike in a city is important to me. I still take the same joy from flying through a city street, from outpacing a car in traffic, from seeking a path through the urban landscape, that I did as a teenager. Riding through traffic, I’m focused on the calculations of my own movement, and the movement of the objects around me: cars, pedestrians, buses, Other cyclists. I’m in a zone where I am totally immersed in the present moment, where I’m focused on being in motion through a fascinating, and often beautiful, world around me. I’m in complete control of my speed, connected with both the machine I’m using to move, and the world I’m moving through, and it’s an amazing mind-clearing experience.

But in all of this, I just love riding a bike because it allows me to really see the city I now live in. I can go anywhere without worrying about traffic or parking. I can see the streets around me, yet have time to notice details. And I can experience the most beautiful places in New York, along the waterways and historical edges of the city, and choose to stop, to slow down, to pass by. I am fully immersed in the city. I am able to know the city better from my bike, by covering more of it at bike speed, than I ever could otherwise.

So, of course, I have been waiting to share this with Ben. I had been planning to acquire a trailer bike: one of those half-bikes for children that attaches to a grownups bike. I mentioned this to Paul’s cousin in law when we last visited Philadelphia for Easter. She immediately went to her garage, and handed me the bike she had been using with her youngest child. “We never use it anymore,” she said. “Take it, and send a picture.”. I was delighted. It was like getting a new toy, and I couldn’t wait to connect it to my newly tuned up and fixed up bike, and head off into Brooklyn with my baby.

It took us a month, while we searched for a missing hitch piece, but Ben and I finally started riding together this weekend. I connected up the trailer bike to my bike, and did a test run with it, up to the bike store to pump up Bens tire. Ben was apprehensive at first, but finally allowed himself to be coaxed onto the bike. Then, once he felt safe, we started moving. Once he realized he wasnt going to fall, he sat on the bike, thrilled to be moving so fast, and occasionally trying to pedal (his little legs are JUST a bit short, so he can’t really pedal yet, but he does half rotations when he can). After the first test ride, Ben proclaimed the trailer bike to be “awesome”. With that endorsement, we took off our on first neighborhood adventure, and set off to ride around Prospect Park.

I found out quickly that, while having the trailer bike on the back doesn’t affect my balance too much, it does mean I have to adjust to the added weight. I can’t turn corners too sharply, and I can’t stop suddenly, so I do have to ride in a more conservative way than I usually do. The trailer bike also adds over sixty pounds (the bike is 30 pounds and Ben weighs about 36 pounds), so I’m riding with a lot more weight than I’m used to.

But it is so worth it to be able to ride with Ben on the back of the bike! It opens up a whole range of Brooklyn for us to experience. Yesterday, we actually saw the other side of Prospect Park, parts of the park we’ve never been to because it just took too long to walk there. We looped the whole park in less than half an hour, when it would take hours, even with Ben’s trike, to cover that much ground, if we had been going to the library or the Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza, we could have covered the mile and change up there in ten minutes, and not in the twenty-plus it usually takes us. Small differences, but when you’re dealing with a small child and his short little legs, they become bigger differences. Plan changing differences. Suddenly, extra minutes add up into hours, and I can travel without planning around subway lines, around bus schedules, or around Ben’s ability to walk or ride his trike.

Saturday, we managed to loop the park and pick up take -out on the way home. Yesterday, we decided on an even bigger adventure. After hearing that Ben’s BFF Aidan, and his dad Brian, were going up to DUMBO to visit Brooklyn Bridge Oark and ride the carousel, we decided to bike up and meet them. I checked a bike map of Brooklyn, loaded up the kiddo, and off we went. We coasted down the hill, from Park Slope down to Gowanus, and then headed north though Carroll Gardens into Cobble Hill. We pedaled through Brooklyn Heights, and downtown Brooklyn, and finally came out at the new waterfront park. After some confusion, we made our way to the little beach between the bridges, whe Ben happily threw rocks into the East River for twenty minutes while I gulped water and rested.

We had a lovely time at the park, too. Aidan and Ben got to ride the carousel. For them, it was just a carousel ride, but for us grownups, it’s an experience. Jane’s Carousel is in a clear plastic enclosure on the East River, to protect it from the weather. It is an exquisitely restored carousel that was orginally commissioned, like a work of art, for the then prosperous city of Youngstown, OH, in 1922. The horses are beautifully carved and painted, the floor is honey-colored wood, and even the ceiling is gorgeously detailed, painted with flowers and vines and butterflies. It’s a fantasy carousel, even more so because of where it’s located, across from Manhattan, with views of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The music it plays is from a pipe organ and an automated drum, and combined with the grass, the sunshine and all the happy families out for Mothers Day, it felt more like we were in a small town, part of a community, than in the big, impersonal city. It was just astonishingly beautiful, and it made Ben so happy to ride the carousel with his buddy.

After that though, we had to say our goodbyes and ride home. We followed the bike lanes back down through Red Hook, east into Carroll Gardens, down through Gowanus, over the canals, und the subway…and back to the start of the hill up to Park Slope. They don’t call it the Slope because it’s flat. It’s called Park Slope because there is a very long slope that leads up to the neighborhood. It’s just under a mile, five long streets, from 2nd Avenue to 7th Avenue. I shifted down several gears, and took it one street at a time. Unfortunately, by then, Ben was starting to get tired, hungry and crabby, and was whining that the hill would make him more tired. As I pushed the pedals, gasped for breath, and just tried to keep moving, i kept hearing “I’m tired, Mama. I don’t want to ride anymore,” and only the threat of walking (“I will stop this bike and we can both walk it home!”) got him to stop whining.

But we made it home successfully, albeit with slightly frayed nerves. And except for those last few minutes, it was a wonderful bonding experience. While that bonding is the best part of the rides, I also love that being on a bike lets Ben see the world around him. While we were riding through Cobble Hill, he suddenly observed, “These are pretty houses, Mama.”. And they were. We were in a section of brick town homes, some painted colors, some left reddish brown, and Ben noticed that. I want my baby to grow up to really notice and observe the world around him. Letting him see it from the back of my bike is worth every second of the ride up the Slope.

weekend recap: hiking, bowling, DWTS

Every weekend, we try to spend quality time, as a family, engaged in Wholesome Activities. We try to find educational activities he’ll enjoy, or physical activities we can do as a family. And usually, we can find a couple things to do each weekend that give us that quality family time; Mama, Dada, Ben. Our general goal is to (a) spend time together as a family and (b) wear that kid out so he will take a nap and go to sleep at night.

This Saturday, I woke up to find a marine layer over Southern California. I love misty days here, when it’s cooler, damper, and more like the climate I grew up with. Also, the San Gabriel Mountains look like the North Shore with low cloud cover. Immediately, I suggested to Paul that we go outside and enjoy this lovely weather by taking Ben hiking. Los Angeles is actually a really hiking-intense city, even more so than Vancouver, because of all the trails in the hills and mountain parks that surround the city. Unfortunately, everyone always seems to be trying to hike those trails at once, which means crowded trails, impossible parking, and a wilderness experience that feels more like a poorly kept city park. We usually try to avoid this by going out to the SGV, and going hiking in one of the parks that connects to the Angeles National Forest up there. Our favorite, by far, is Eaton Canyon Park, out in Altadena, past Pasadena – like everything else, a 30 minute drive away.

We’ve been to Eaton Canyon a few times now, and it meets all our criteria for Family Hiking. There’s a minimal incline in most parts of the park, which is great for someone’s short little legs. The trail is well-kept and clear, again, great for someone who’s used to paved streets and sidewalks. There’s tons of animal and birds to observe. And there’s even a well-kept, fairly extensive, nature center and botanical garden, where the local flora and fauna have been carefully curated and organized and labeled. This includes Ben’s favorite part of the park, the WALL’O’SNAKES…a wall of terrariums with local live snakes in them, including examples of the poisonous ones.

This Saturday, after some poking around in the Nature Center, and some wandering on the tiny trail of the Botanical Garden / Toddler Trail, we set off to hike across the dry wash and up the trail fork of “Moist Canyon”. We walked up the canyon for about twenty minutes, stopping to observe animals that neither Paul nor I could name, beyond “hey, look at all the birds!” or, “listen to the woodpecker”, or “look, a snake on a rock!” (small, non-venomous). Eventually though, Ben informed us his legs were tired and we decided to hike back down. By the time we walked the ten minutes back to the dry wash, Ben was insisting on being picked up:

And then, after all that hiking, he decided to take a nap on Paul’s shoulder. Did I mention the kid weighed in at 36 pounds last week?

After the hike, we came home to make one of Ben’s favorite foods: tofu tacos. Ben, being an LA baby, is used to being able to get food truck snacks. Since he loves tofu, one of his favorites is a tofu taco. Seriously, he’ll take tofu over anything else – chicken, beef, fish – as a taco filler. I just toss some tofu chunks in a mix of soy sauce and Sriacha, pan-sear them, and put them on a tortilla with some cheese and salsa. It’s toddler fusion food! But with all the hiking and lunch, Ben didn’t go down for his nap until after 3…and he didn’t wake up until almost 5, which left us in a zone of being Too Late for an afternoon activity, but too early to eat dinner. Quick, someone find a filler activity!

Then it occurred to me, why not watch Dancing with the Stars with my son? Seriously, even he can get the concept. Famous people learn to dance with professional dancers, and the worst person gets kicked off. Yay. Ben likes seeing dancing, he loves music – sure, it’s completely devoid of educational value, and is the entertainment equivalent of feeding my kid a Lunchable, but it was Saturday! So I checked with Paul to be sure it was OK, and then Ben and I watched an abbreviated version of the season premiere, where we fast-forwarded through everything except the practicing (“see? look how hard they’re working!”) and the actual dances (“look how much they practiced!”)

Sure enough, Ben freaking LOVED DWTS. Every time a couple started dancing, he would tell me, “Look, Mama! They’re dancing!” We would watch people’s feet to see how they were doing, and I tried to explain to Ben that the professionals had practiced for a LONG LONG TIME, but the famous people were just learning, and Why Practice Is Important. Then, for the Results Show, I skipped the first 40 minutes of it, and just ran the last three minutes where the decision was made. We talked about how Not Everyone Is Good At Everything, Including Dancing, So Someone Has To Get Kicked Off. Look, I’m trying to redeem myself as a mom here, letting my kid watch reality TV…but honestly, he likes choreography and he likes music and maybe it’s only the entertainment equivalent of one of those Lunchables with reduced sodium and a fruit cup?

And then we get to today, when Ben asked if he could watch TV. We agreed this was OK, and I asked him what he wanted to watch, expecting Thomas, or Dinosaur Train, or something. Nope. I got, “I want to watch Dancing With The Stars, Mama!”

“But Ben, we watched that show yesterday. We saw all the dances. There isn’t a new episode yet.”

“But I want to see who gets kicked off,” he told me.

I snorted with laughter, and went looking for a family movie instead. We ended up watching Free Willy, which I actually never saw…even though it’s probably partially inspired by the gong show that was Sealand of the Pacific, the marine park across the street from where I grew up. Hey, we saw Dolphin Tale Friday, why not a movie about another special Troubled Youth and Marine Mammal bond? Besides, movies are a Special Treat for Ben on the weekends – on weekdays, he’s limited to thirty minutes or less of educational programming. On weekends, we let him watch movies, which he loves, and we just try to curate to make sure there’s some sort of Discussion Topic we can get out of it. (I’m sure we’ll spend this week talking about dolphins and orcas, and doing Related Art Projects. I’ll have to find and print pictures of marine creatures tomorrow for a collage)

But earlier today, we took Ben bowling for the first time. I found a bowling alley up in Glendale that had bumpers. PROGRAMMABLE bumpers, even: they only showed up when it was Ben’s turn! Jewel City Bowl even had shoes IN BEN’S SIZE. Ben also got their special six-pound ball, which he had to roll, because his hands were too little to hold it. He absolutely LOVED it though, and cheered and grinned the whole game. I’ve got photos and videos we’ll have to put up this week, because a three year old bowling is freaking ADORABLE. It also gave us a new family activity, something Ben can do with us, and probably with our friends and extended family as well. Bowling is a super-social activity, and having Ben be able to play it gives him a new way to spend time with grown-ups. Next weekend, we’ll have to try mini-golf.

wednesday recap: freelancing, cooking, seasonal sponge painting, and interviews!

I spent yesterday right where I am now: on the couch in our living room, with my newly upgraded laptop (I upgraded the hard drive last week ). I have actual work to do again. Of course, it is not of the paying variety of work, because everything is in “pitch mode”, or “rampup mode”, or some sort of mode that will take a lot of work to earn a paycheck. But I still like having work to do, and being a consultant definitely gives me more creativity than I had before. I have a completely free range of motion I didn’t have at my last agency, and I can propose anything I want without being limited by red tape.

I also managed to get dinner on the table right when Paul and Ben walked in the door. Ben comes home and yells “Mama!” and gives me a big hug, every day. Then he tells me, “I’m hungry. My tummy’s empty”. Last night, I had the timing down perfectly, and I was able to hand him dinner immediately. When I cook, I plan for a meal for myself and Paul, and then deconstruct it and modify for Ben. Last night, Paul and I were having braised chicken with fennel, mushrooms and tomatoes, over whole grain bow tie pasta. For Ben, I modified the sauce by pureeing the vegetables with some spinach and extra bottled marinara, added ground turkey, and handed him his pasta right when he got in. The kid plowed through two bowls of the mixture. It was perfect – he was just hungry enough to eat, but not so hungry that he was too grumpy to eat. THAT is why he needs dinner exactly on time, because my kid, like his dada, has too little reserve fat on him to be able to skip meals.

After dinner, Paul and I were trying to entertain Ben with some sort of craft. I hit on the bright idea of sponge painting. For those of you who were never in elementary school, this is when you use squares of sponges and paint to dab colors on paper. The sponge makes a print, and you can mix colors for shading and effects. I dumped some of Ben’s paints onto a paper plate palette, cut up a sponge, and immediately showed him how to dab-dab-dab paint into a tree shape. Then we learned about what colors you get when you mix other colors. And then Ben smeared the paint everywhere to make a giant smudge. Oh well. We started over, did more trees, added a pumpkin, and called it a Fall Scene.

ME: “Look, Ben! [dabbing red and yellow on a tree] The leaves are changing colors! What season is it when leaves change colors?”

BEN: [blank look]

ME: Oh. Right. SoCal baby. Not so much with the changing leaves.

Paul and I, having grown up with seasons, are used to doing Seasonal Crafts in elementary school. We did the colored leaves in fall, cotton ball snow in winter, tissue paper blossoms in spring. But Ben has NO FREAKING IDEA what’s supposed to happen in seasons because we don’t have them here. He knows it gets hot in summer, and rains a bit more in winter, and that’s it. I know he thinks snow is a local phenomenon, not a seasonal thing, because he’s seen snow in May in California. The seasonal craft concept is just a concept to him, because seasons are something that only happen in books and on TV. To be fair, even when I was growing up, seasons weren’t like they were in books, because we had so many evergreen trees, and it rarely snowed in Victoria. But in Ben’s world, “winter” is something that only happens when we visit Pennsylania or Canada. When we move someplace that isn’t L.A., he will have a LOT of adjusting to do for actual weather.

But overall, Ben and I came up with a really nice fall scene:

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And now, the good news: I have INTERVIEWS! One is with a full service agency in Pittsburgh, and the other is with a social media agency in NYC. Both are great opportunities that I’m super psyched about, focusing on social media, with a lot of room for growth and strategic thought. And both were flexible enough to arrange for me to have interviews with key personnel visiting the West Coast, instead of requiring me to fly to the East Coast for a day. The only problem is that their key people want interviews on the same day, next Thursday. No problem…except that one interview is in San Francisco. I’m asking to reschedule the L.A. interview to Friday, but I just love this. I love that I’m back at the in-person interview stage again, and that everything is moving forward once more towards gainful employment.