Friday, January 31, 2014

My kid is into gamification.

"Maybe we can use these for training."
Huh? I'm unloading the dishwasher and have no idea what Jules is talking about. When I swing around to face him, I see that he's waving a plastic tube of mini M&Ms branded with a Valentine's Day theme. They arrived the other day—in a big brown box, along with chocolate mustaches, superhero shirts and various marginally healthy snacks, all from Aunt Kate. The most thoughtful aunt/sister/friend ever. (Seriously. It's sort of insane.)

"What do you mean, Jules?"

To me, training means preparing to run a 1/2 marathon or, after a long meeting yesterday, using an iPad to teach salespeople about a product. I don't think he means either of these things. Maybe he means potty training? Right or wrong, we used to reward BMs with M&Ms, I'll admit it. But there's no one here to train. Except perhaps the cat (is it Olive or Tina?) who periodically shits on the floor seemingly out of spite

"I mean you do an exercise and you get a candy. And then you get up to Level 10 and then Level 13. You can skip around."

My first thought: What a gamified world we live in. This kid is five. My second: Shit. Has he heard me say something mildly disordered about eating—like I don't get to have dessert, or wine, if I don't run? I try hard not to stay stuff like that. Did it slip?

Turns out, I did not. Or if I did, it doesn't seem to have made a big impression, because when I probe further about the origin of his idea, asking "did you play a game like this in gym class?" he tells me this:

"No, it's just my idea. I made it up after I saw the seals getting food for doing special tricks."
[Note: His kindergarten class is in the middle of a Sea Creatures unit.] "So I thought we could do gymnastics and get these M&Ms. Use them for training. Is that a good idea?"

Sure, dude. I'm always up for a handstand contest. Game on.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rice bowls are the "low-hanging fruit" of dinner.

Over here, dinner is my deal. Generally speaking, it's my job to plan, chop, cook and serve everything my family eats. I know how this sounds but it's not about gender roles really. It's about me having gone to school to study food and eating, and then taking a job that pays me to think about food and eating. It's about me enjoying the process of planning meals (as well as cooking them) and about Jon hating this chore—the planning part—with all his being.

Yet there are some weeks when I don't participate in this enjoyable process of planning meals. When this happens, behold The Rice Bowl. Simple, customizable and lightening-fast, this fail-safe dinner solution will please the pickiest of eaters. It will easily accommodate your favorite vegans and gluten-free friends. Think: taco bar with much, much more flexibility. The recipe is essentially rice (or "rice" - quinoa, farro, bulgur also work great) topped with whatever you can find in the fridge, the freezer or your pantry.

But I always appreciate a "recipe" so I'll share tonight's rice bowl spread and I'll give it a fancy name and a proper hednote. Enjoy!

Low-Hanging Fruit Rice (or "Rice") Bowls 
This completely customizable one-dish dinner is inspired by the absence of a dinner plan. Every ingredient is 100% interchangable with whatever you have on hand.


  • Black rice
  • Canned white beans (cannellini), rinsed
  • Napa cabbage (CSA share from a few weeks back), shredded 
  • Avocado, cubed
  • Red onion (CSA share from at least a month ago), diced
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded (by Julian)
  • Pepitas, toasted (taking 3 minutes to do this makes a huge difference)
  • Frozen veggies (the gross-looking weird ones with unnaturally square carrots - my boys love them), nuked.

Cook rice, according to package instructions. Put everything else—rinsed, shredded, diced and nuked—into small bowls and let anyone eating pile on what they want.

Tip: If you have a five-year-old, or a greedy eater of any age, remind him (her) that it's not polite to serve himself (or herself) ALL of the avocado.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I am awesome at picking people. (Not to brag.)

As someone who works in the field of behavior modification, I know that social support is a major "predictor of success." A little help from your friends... It takes a village... Cliche-say it however you'd like but I think most people would agree that life feels infinitely easier, and more fun, when you have "a strong social network." And by that I mean things like...

...Your partner doesn't lose his shit (or seem at all surprised, really) when he arrives home 1.5 hours after you do and, despite the fact that the kids have been watching videos since you walked through the door, the van is not packed for your trip. Nothing, really, is packed except the non-perishable food and your glasses and the snowboarding gear, which he stashed in the car the night before. It's not because you are lazy. It's because you're ping-ponging from room to room, over-thinking every item (and periodically pausing to thumb through a pile of pictures). It's because you suck at packing.

This guy.
Also, this guy (and several other awesome peeps) ate that (see below) pasta.

... Your totally selfless friend gives you the jacket off her back to wear so you can sneak in an extra snowboarding lesson after you discover that you left your snowboarding jacket at home for a long weekend of, um, snowboarding. And then another kind friend lends you her ski coat to wear the next day for your regular lesson. And then a third rockstar friend texts you with a choice of Burton jackets for Sunday—she'll cart whichever one you want up to the mountain for you, along with her own ski stuff, her two small children and their ski stuff.

...Your friend turns up after a few hours out with "twice-price" spice packets from the country store, without your even asking, because you forgot all of the spices for the chili you're making on Friday night. This in spite of the fact that, a day earlier, you subjected all of your friends to a painfully granular list of all the food you'll be bringing so everyone will "know what we will are supposed to have." (PS: You also forgot the bagels.)

A strong social support network is also the one that, when the friend who lent you the first-day jacket discovers three small shards of the Ball jar from which she is spooning her homegrown pesto have broken into the beautiful pasta dish she prepared while tending to an infant, rallies to find the bits of glass and puzzle them together. And when just one tiny piece is left missing, someone runs next door to get hotdogs for the kids, while someone else scrapes off the top layer of pasta and a small group huddles at the table to run through a quick risk analysis, arriving at the measured consensus to play "Noodle Roulette." There are only two rules: 1) savor each bite mindfully and 2) keep the conversation dull enough to delay laughter until the danger of ingesting glass has passed.

Recounting a fantastic weekend, I take this away: I may suck at packing (and driving and controlling my anxiety-induced outbursts and many other things). I may not be good at snowboarding, or even know how to ride a lift—yet.* But I am extraordinarily skilled at surrounding myself with amazingly awesome people. And I kinda think that makes me a winner.

*I can, however, now connect turns and ride the Magic Carpet with the best of the 3-year-olds. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I spent 8 percent of my day saying the same thing.

I have been awake for approximately 15 hours. I have spent approximately 1.25 of these hours speaking to one person about taking off, or putting on, clothing.
Take off the PJs - you've been lounging around in front of that bagel for 45 minutes. We're moving on. Put on this thermal. You can't wear straight-up mesh when it's -8 degree (feels like -34) outside. Wear the jersey on top. No? Then remove the jersey.  Take off the shorts. [stare down. not worth it. we need to get to work.] Then layer on these pants. 

Notice I'm still wearing my hat.

Fast forward 12 hours:
Please put on your pajamas. I would like for you not to be naked while you're eating that pudding. (Where the hell did you get it?)
Underpants. Now. Aren't you cold? 

 It's -8 degrees.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I've got a new mantra.

It all started with a bit of crooked cutting. His goal was to follow the perfectly framed edge of the catfish photo but his scissored slipped, the edge frayed and he flipped out. "I messed up! I can't do this. Mommy, you do it."

"I can't do your homework, Jules. And it doesn't have to be perfect," I told him calmly, offering the very advice I so often can't seem to accept myself. "Plus, we're making a collage [with Mod Podge - and I could barely contain my excitement]. Sometimes it actually looks cooler if the pictures don't all have straight edges."

That he wasn't buying. Jules is a guy with an affinity for angles, straight lines and squares, just like his dad. Maybe it's those engineer genes. But he calmed down and settled back into striving for straight lines. Which went mostly almost perfectly. Lucky for us.

Then he started writing the words. The task was to capture two facts about electric eels and he was pleased by those he picked: 1) an electric eel is not really an eel—it's a fish, and related to a catfish; and 2) an electric eel can put out enough voltage to light up a Christmas tree. Fascinating really. But that "r" starting off "related" somehow made its way to the paper facing the wrong way, the mirror image of a right-facing R. He screamed and threw the crayon. "It's a stupid R. I hate this." Two short sentences containing two words that are off-limits at our house. (Those who know how I speak in the company of adults might find this amusing but I'm pretty strict on this point.)

I showed him another superb benefit of collages: You can just cut off that part. If you want, you can cut all the words apart and glue them down separately. And sometimes that's just the right art effect you're going for. He bought it. We kept going. To great success. From his determined expression, and the chatter-box commentary that accompanied the sketching of Christmas tree clearly illuminated with lots of eel-powered voltage, I could tell he was  proud. And I felt proud, too: I hadn't intervened with his vision, hadn't reached more than once for the sponge-brush to help him smooth the Mod Podge, hadn't pushed him to paint the white parts of his poster with watercolors as I'd envisioned, hadn't suggested, a second time, that he might want to find one more fact—because Ms. E had assigned them to report on "two or three" things.

Pushing "perfect" (unattainable, of course) might be the number-one thing I want to avoid as a parent. Of course, I want to encourage the boys to reach—within reason. But I also want them to feel that they that they can create, or conceptualize something, and feel confident enough to share it with someone else, or lots of someone elses, before they feel like that something is fully figured out. That's how you learn, that's how you grow. That's how you get awesome. And have fun.

But I struggle with insecurity of sharing semi-shaped stuff. A lot. I spent more than a dozen years in a world where things are supposed to be edited to perfection before they leave your desk. Now, I work in a role where things have to be iterative. It's empowering. It's liberating. History aside, it's the way I actually prefer to work: with creative input from all sorts of smart collaborators. But I often need to be reminded to let go. To route what I've got right now. And, on that front, I appreciate the encouragement, the coaching.

Today, I told this to my boss when he told me not to overthink part of a project. "Often, I totally need that reminder and love that you help me with that," I'd said. "But not this time. You'd be proud of me. I'm really keeping things moving, even if it feels like I'm just throwing shit on the walls." He loved that. Truly. He even stopped by my office later to suggest a "Throw Shit" sign for my wall.

I'm thinking about it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Memories live on—even if they're not your own.

"Charlie was a boy, right?"

"He was."

It's not the first time Jules has talked about our dead cat. From time to time he even draws pictures of the spicy orange tabby he's never met, the one I adopted in 2002 after my boss Carla rescued him from a vacant lot near a church in Harlem. I'd taken the subway up at lunchtime with my friend Gabby because... who doesn't love kittens? Of course I did. But I didn't love cats. I didn't even really like them. But we got there and, as soon as I spotted the tiny ginger starting trouble—again and again—with his more subdued siblings, all shades of grey, I wanted him. He had sparkle. He had spirit. He had verve. Plus, I was moving to Vermont in a couple of months and I didn't know a soul. Jon had no real timeline for leaving San Diego. This cat could be my best friend.

It was a rash decision, one that my roommate (and BFF) Holly graciously blessed. We covered the couches and Chuck joined us in our tiny Queens apartment. A few months later, Charlie made the move with me to Vermont, where he lived out his years fiercely—a cool king, who reigned the neighborhood, who attacked ankles and who, when he wanted to, perched close for a pet—before he succumbed to congestive heart failure at five-and-a-half. We, of course, were devastated. Chuck was our first "kid." We mourned for months. And then we mostly moved on. We took the ferry to the Humane Society across the lake and brought back Olive and Tina, sister cats who act like dogs, to live with us: Jon, me and Digs.

A few months later, I got pregnant with Jules.  I'm not close with Olive and Tina in the same way I was tight with Chuck: they have each other, they have Demps (and they actually like him, unlike Charlie, who merely tolerated him) and we have a lot going on, with two jobs and two kids. Fortunately, these kids love the girls and, now that the boys are old enough to move through space in ways that don't totally spook the cats, they've forged some pretty solid relationships.


Olive has taken to resting on Julian's chest, particularly during the time, just before bed, when I'm lying with Jules, listening to music and talking. It sort of freaked me out at first—having heard all of those stories about cats snuggling up on dying people in nursing homes. But I've come to the conclusion that Olive is just sometimes starved for sweet attention and this is where she finds it—while we're relaxed and calm and still, welcome to petting a purring creature. Here where no one is screaming or dancing or yelling or screaching like a bird of prey. (Literally, a bird of prey. The boys got an eagle costume for Christmas.)

"We're lucky to have such a sweet cat, aren't we?" I ask.

"She's not a cat, she's my sister," he replies. And then, "Charlie was a boy, right?"

Yes, he was, sweet boy. And, crazy as it may seem, it means so much to me that you care.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I need to get (the cushions) off the couch.

I've been working hard not to lapse into complete sedentary-ism: making an effort to take a lunchtime yoga class once or twice a week, lowering my standard week-day run from 3 to 2 miles (the result: I've actually been doing it). I may even start teaching a lunchtime jazz (dance) class for my co-workers. I'm on semi-rare good-ish exercise streak—partly because I'm sticking to only activities I love.

I wish I were intrigued by the CrossFit craze or enjoyed plyometric workouts—my friends have had outstanding results. I've tried Beachbody's T25 program twice: Shaun T and his crew don't annoy me at all—they seem like fun, normal people whom I'd love to have over for dinner and drinks. But the cardio workouts really hurt my feet (the arches - it's totally weird) and I don't get any sort of mental rush from doing them. A couple of weeks ago—after the second T25 attempt—I came to the conclusion that I'd probably never expand my preferred physical activities beyond running, dancing and yoga-ing. Total acceptance. And then today I discovered "Secret Ninja Obstacle Course." Well, actually, not to brag or anything, I created Secret Ninja Obstacle Course. 

Here's how this game goes: You put big couch cushions on the floor and, one by one, players (AKA "secret ninjas") take turns creating a jumping/balancing/memory sequence of movements that must be repeated by the other players, who are sometimes your opponents and sometimes aren't, depending on everyone's moods.

The benefits of this Secret Ninja Obstacle Course, from my perspective, are as follows:

  1. It's creative. There must be a story behind your movement ("there are swimming crocodiles waiting to attack!").
  2. If you'd like, you can make it be sort-of yoga or sort-of dance or sort-of running (more like bounding from pillow to pillow). Or you can make it all about pure Secret Ninja Moves (read: jumps with spins and arm slashing) so long as you move from pillow to pillow. The rules are up to you. (Caveat: When it's your turn.)
  3. I doesn't hurt my arches like T25.
  4. It seems to be the only thing that truly keeps my kids from beating the shit out of each other.
  5. The boys think I'm waaaaaay more fun than when I'm trying to make them write thank you notes create art to send to family.

The boys and I did triple sessions of Secret Ninja Obstacle Course today. During the last session, one guy participated in his underpants (see above). I guess it makes sense: in SNOC (pronounced "snock"), you work up a SWEAT. The boys couldn't get enough. I'm pretty sure I've started the next workout craze. 

Note: If you care a lot about your couch cushions, SNOC is probably not for you. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lowering the bar can make you healthier, happy and richer.

Maybe I've had high standards. Or medium-highish standards that have offered an easy out, an excuse, for accomplishing... nothing. If I couldn't do it "right."

If I couldn't run at least 3 miles, then I might as well not even lace up the shoes. What was the point? 
If I couldn't do runs with my friends, then snowboarding wouldn't be fun. I'll just stay home and make the chili.
If I didn't make a really amazing family calendar then I might as well just let everyone hang the free ones they got from their bank/car dealership/alma mater.  Or just use their iPhones. 

You know what I did in this fancy gear? I remembered, after a 6-year hiatus, that I ride regular, not goofy.
I practiced heelside and toeside turns and perfected hockey stops. On the kids' hill.
And then I had a beer with my riding partner to celebrate our progress. 
But, these days, there's no reaching the bars set where they've been. I can't always find time to run 3+ miles—but I can fit in 2 miles on the treadmill after the boys get off to school, before I shower and leave for work. I'm never going to ride like my past-pro (for real) snowboarding friends—but I can relearn the basics in lessons while my little guys are in their own classes so that I don't dread the family trips to the mountain that inevitably are going to happen for the next decade. 

And my 2014 calendars are going to be filled with the first 12 high-enough-resolution sorta cool photos I can find in the next 24 hours (or two, because then I'm going to bed). I've slacked just the right amount on this one: Shutterfly calendars are 50% off till January 7. 

What I've somehow finally started to learn in the last month or so is this: Lowering the bar is making me happier, healthier and richer. I think I'm becoming wise at 38. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

This year I'm wishing.

I meant to do a End-of-Year or Happy 2014 card. In it, I would capture—in words and images—good wishes for the new year. But I'm not a designer. And I'm not all that organized. And, truth be told, I spent the last week-and-a-half making very many great memories with family and friends.

Now it's January 1. There is no card. I'm letting go of that idea. (Family: I haven't given up on the 2014 calendars.) I'm not writing resolutions. I'm making a list of wishes for the next 12 months. And here it is:

  1. Lovingkindness 
  2. Connection
  3. Freedom
  4. Pleasant surprises
  5. Passion
  6. Moments of quietude
  7. Perspective
  8. Fun and games
  9. Creative breakthroughs
  10. Enrichment
  11. Adventures
  12. Good health
  13. Luck
  14. Gratitude
Most of these can be interpreted really broadly. Some of these, like #13, are simply wishes. (Or are they? Isn't luck all about perspective, #7?) Most of these will require that I set some concrete resolutions and habits if they actually are to happen. I'm pretty sure that aims involving yoga and running and dancing and more mindful parenting practices and better sleep hygiene can tip my life in the direction of most of these. 

In any case, this year, I'm ditching the resolution list in favor of my 2014 Wishes. For me—and for you. Happy New Year!