Six days in Las Vegas is a lot of days in Vegas. A long weekend is nice, a sprint. Six days in Sin City is not quite a vacation, it's a marathon. We returned home, and I wondered how we made it through?
Q: With how little sleep can two adults function?
A: About four hours, with an added nap of one to two hours while grandparents in the adjoining room entertain the children.
Q: How many buffets and fine meals can be consumed in a limited expanse of time?
A: Two breakfast buffets, one at the Wynn and one at the Bellagio, one breakfast at the Wynn cafe when the buffet line was way too long (an hour wait? For a buffet? No thanks!), one breakfast at Verandah at the Four Seasons, one breakfast at Bouchon (avec les pommes frites, n'est ce pas?), and the lavish and decadent Jazz Brunch at Commander's Palace, who serve one (or two? Or was it three?) of the best Bloody Mary cocktails of which I've been fortunate to imbibe. Dinners at Olives, a famous place that specializes in Buffalo wings, Nobu, Rao's, China Grill and Burger Bar. The kids and grandparents ate at Rainforest Cafe, which is neither fine nor dining, but was still enjoyed, especially by the four-year old, who for the first time in history, ate his whole dinner.
Q: How long can an exhausted, overfed parent withstand the noisy toy frenzy at FAO Schwartz?
A: About an hour.
Q: How many tantrums will a two-year old throw if not allowed to run free in a crowded casino?
A: At least one more than necessary.
As we grew more weary, we were less able to respond to situations normally. Everything became really funny by the end, like when I returned from the buffet on our last day to find Ellie laying across the banquette while Jake was calling out Keno numbers.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
I hosted our families for a couple of holiday dinners this month. Here are a few of my favorite dishes to cook and serve.
Roasted Beet & Broccoli Slaw (adapted from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food)
2 large yellow beets (red beets are fine but will make the dish very pink)
2 broccoli stems, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup red onions, sliced thinly
Preheat oven to 425 F. Wrap beets in foil and roast for about 1 1/2 hours or until they are tender but still firm. While the beets are roasting, shred broccoli and make vinaigrette. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip off their skins and shred through the large holes of a box grater. Combine beets, broccoli and onions with the vinaigrette; refrigerate for at least an hour to marinate. Yields 4 side servings.
I like to double this recipe, at least with the beets and broccoli, adjusting the quantity of the vinaigrette slightly. I've used sweet onions instead of the red, but the red offer a nice color contrast.
Simple Salmon (from Weber's Big Book of Grilling)
6 salmon fillets, about 6 ounces each and 1 inch thick (recipe calls for fillets with skin, but I buy the salmon without skin at Costco and grill it on foil so it doesn't stick to the grill)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Mix marinade ingredients. Place salmon in a large resealable bag and pour in all but 1/3 cup of the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to distribute the marinade, and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes (or longer).
Preheat grill. Remove salmon from the bag and discard the marinade. Grill over indirect medium (to high) heat for 10-12 minutes or until fish is opaque. During the last 2 minutes of grilling time, brush fillets with reserved marinade. If you're using a skin-on fillet, slide a spatula between the skin and flesh, then transfer the fillets to a serving plate, otherwise, just remove the fish from the grill and serve warm. Serves 6.
Broccoli and Cauliflower Fritters (from Weight Watchers Super-Foods Cookbook)
2 bunches (1 1/2 pounds) broccoli, cut into bite size florets (use the stems for the Beet & Broccoli slaw)
1 (2-pound) head of cauliflower, cut into bite size florets
3/4 cup seasoned dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Steam the broccoli and cauliflower until crisp-tender, about 4-5 minutes. Cool vegetables in a large bowl of cold water, drain when cool.
Combine bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Coat vegetables in nonstick spray, toss with crumb-cheese mixture and bake, uncovered, in a 9 x 13 inch pan at 475 for about 15 minutes or until coating is nicely browned.
Per serving (1 1/4 cups): 113 cal 2 g Fat, 1 g Sat Fat, 0 g Trans Fat, 3 mg Chol, 431 mg Sod, 18 g Carb, 5 g Fib, 7 g prot, 140 mg Calc, 2 points.
Mandy Patinkin's Mom's Potato Latkes from FoodTV.com, were first made known to me by my brother in law, C, who cooks the Hanukkah family dinner on alternate years and raised the bar from frozen and/or boxed latkes by making these in 2005. I had four skillets of oil going, needing to send Rafe out mid-recipe (I doubled it) for more oil. I keep the latkes warm and crisp on paper-towel lined cookie sheets in a 200 degree oven.
Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake was all the rage on Chowhound last year, so I hopped on the bandwagon and made it, too. Having now done it a couple of times, I can tell you it's really easy to make and hard to mess up, even for a novice baker like me. Plus it leaves your house smelling of oranges. Yum. I serve it with whipped cream.
Hope your holidays were delicious, too!
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Traveling with young children is not for the faint of heart. My first child was a great traveler because he slept anywhere! A five hour plane ride? No problem. He slept. A long car trip? Perfect. He slept. A nice dinner out was fine, so long as we went near bed time, he’d fall asleep in the stroller. His baby sister, though, is the kind of child who you hope isn’t sitting next to you on a five hour plane ride. On our short trip to downtown Los Angeles on the Amtrak train last year, Ellie did not want to sit still. She didn’t want to be held. She wasn’t content to look out the window. She was the kid who wanted to run up and down the length of the train! She stood in her seat. She screamed if made to sit for too long. With Ellie, we stick to car trips.
Varying routines and modes of transportation is only the least of a parent’s worries. A bigger concern for me is the Stuff. What do we bring to keep our children entertained, how to we manage our supplies, and how many outfits do we bring in case of spills and accidents?
If you are a frequent or a reluctant traveler, businesses have now developed ways to make some aspects of being away from home a little easier for families. Urban Baby Daily sent out this great information not long ago.
Vacation Baby is an online service that delivers the supplies you need directly to your destination. Simply log on, place your order and you'll find everything waiting for you when you arrive. You can order wipes, formula, baby food and snacks, pacifiers, Tylenol, sun block, baby-proofing gear, even toys and surprises; everything you'd pack yourself, if you were incredibly organized and strong enough to carry your own weight in diapers. Most major brands are represented, so the guesswork is limited. And to make life even easier, the site offers pre-made vacation packs for diapering, feeding and bathing, as well as toiletry packs for moms and dads.
Recently, the FAA approved a safety harness for use in air travel so that parents may avoid lugging a hefty car seat among their carry-on items. The CARES (Child Aviation Restraint) device is designed for children over the age of one, between 22 and 44 pounds, who sit in their own seat. It attaches directly to the airplane seat belt, weighs less than one pound, and installs easily. It can be found at www.kidsflysafe.com.
When I searched “travel with toddlers” on Kidsgrowth.com I found a bit of humor (courtesy of www.desto.com):
8 Things My Kids Taught Me About Family Vacations
1. Whether or not a motel has a pool is more important than whether or not it has a vacancy.
2. It's possible to eat every meal at McDonald's for 21 straight days.
3. We're not there yet.
4. No matter how fast you drive with the windows down, the vent on high and a new air freshener each time you fill up, the combined scent of dirt, sweat and Funyuns from the back seat is stronger.
5. Listening to sing-a-long music to soothe the kids will have the exact opposite effect on you...as well as them.
6. Every toy in the car will be either broken or the subject of several arguments before you back out of the driveway.
7. At least 10,000 times every day you'll wish you'd left the kids with grandma.
8. The first time you take a vacation and leave the kids with grandma, you'll wish you hadn't.
Finally, remember that traveling with young children can be stressful, but the experience of seeing extended family and new destinations is a worthwhile adventure. Think of the stories you’ll tell when you get home!
Karen Pery relies heavily upon her portable DVD player when traveling with four-year old Jake and two-year old Ellie.
Originally featured in the January 2007 MOMS Club of Woodland Hills-West newsletter.
Having attended somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,874,620 birthday parties in the past four years, I’ve learned a few things about gift giving.
Decide how much you want to spend before you shop. The first gift I bought for a new friend and her one-year old child was a bit extravagant. I spent a little more than I probably should have, but I was friendly with the mom and I couldn’t resist the draw of cute girl clothes having struggled with dressing my son in sports-themed-primary color items for his first year. When his birthday came around, she also bought an outfit, but since I had to return it for a new size, I learned that she spent a fraction of what I had. She was smart! I’ve learned that while more generous gifts are appreciated and reciprocated by close friends, casual preschool and playgroup friends don’t expect it. Because we do attend so many parties, I try to cap my spending around $10-15 per gift, unless it is someone with whom we have a closer relationship, in which case I try to keep it about $20.
To gift card or not to gift card? Even though I’ve just told you how much I spend on gifts, for some reason, I feel conflicted when giving gift cards and gift receipts, though after Ellie’s last party, I wish people had provided at least a few gift receipts. To keep it in perspective, gifts are not necessary and we certainly have more than we need. But when I’ve been stuck with duplicate items or items that are simply not appropriate for my kids, I’ve wished for some options. I think if you are unsure of what to buy a child, there is nothing wrong with asking the parent what kinds of things their child enjoys. They know that they’ve invited you and generally, people bring gifts to parties, so it shouldn’t be an awkward conversation. I think books are always safe (and I do love gift cards to book stores!), as are art supplies and Playdoh sets (so long as the child is old enough to enjoy them).
What? No gifts? A recent trend I’ve encountered at parties is the “No Gifts” statement on an invitation or the suggestion that donations to a selected charity or cause be made in the child’s honor. I like this idea, though I think I would have trouble executing it for my children. I’d like to try because I am working to instill the values of giving in my kids, though I have a hard time imagining throwing a party for my children in which they would not have the joy and excitement of opening gifts from their friends. I don’t think they’d suffer from only receiving presents from our family, and having worked in non-profit for many years before becoming a stay at home mom, I think that gifts to support important causes in our community make a greater lasting impact than a remote control vehicle. Maybe next year.
I try to keep gifts age appropriate, and when stumped, I am quick to ask another parent of a same age/gender child to find out, specifically, what kinds of things 3 and 4 year old girls like (so far, dress up clothes, My Little Pony, and Barbie dolls have been well received), even if that parent is the one shopping with me in the same aisle at Target.
Whatever I give, you can bet I'll include a gift receipt.
Originally published in the January 2007 MOMS Club of Woodland Hills-West newsletter.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Yesterday's teacher conference did not go as I would have hoped.
I left anxious, confused and frustrated. I had neither answers nor solutions, only suggestions that I will spare the dignity of my son and the school and not mention. I called my pediatrician. He suggested a couple of paths to follow, one of which seemed like a better fit for our family than the other - calling the preschool director herself to discuss the content and context of the conference.
I called again.
By the time we spoke, I had calmed down enough to come to an understanding of the information that was provided and my concerns with it. I was clear and managed to not be emotional. What I shared surprised her, too. She was quick to investigate and was able to provide me with what the teachers meant to say and not what I heard.
She also spent a bit more time with my boy after talking to his teachers. At first when I spoke to Jake about it, he told me he didn't like Miss R anymore. Then he told me more of what she said to him, and telling him that maybe he was "too smart," and that it was a good thing. He decided that he did like her. A lot.
When I heard back from her later in the day, we debriefed. I felt I had solutions, answers and a teammate to help guide my child to success. There are behaviors we will monitor and skills we'll help him to develop and remember that, for heaven's sake, he's only FOUR!
Dear readers, if you happen to be one of the six people with whom I communicated post-conference yesterday, in tears, thank you for being there for me. Thank you for reassuring me and giving me your wisdom and support. Thank you for seeing my boy for who he is and for caring for me and helping me feel like a good mother. Thank you for listening to my crazy conspiracy theories and hopeful denials. Thank you for loving me and my son.
I will rest easier tonight.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Did you have a good day?
I ask you that every day when I come to get you at school. You are so excited when you can tell me that you did, and your enthusiasm bursts with every word. You tell me that you ate your lunch (or maybe just the juice and cookies), that you played (usually with the girls, which I think is nice), and that you rode the big bikes out on the yard. Those are the good days. You are so proud of yourself!
Some days, you tell me that you just had a little cry. Maybe you fell or maybe something was loud and surprised you. You are proud to report that you bounced back quickly, and will tell me about all the good parts of your day.
Other days, I come to get you and your face tells me everything I need to know. Your teachers have the same expressions: sad and a little defeated. You can't answer simple questions or follow directions. You've chosen to abstain from lunch and activities. Something in your little head knows that it's not right but you don't know how to say it, or how to ask a grownup for help. You know that you are supposed to do what the other kids do and what the teachers ask, but you can't that day. I pick you up and hold you and we talk. Once you're out of the classroom, you can usually find a way to explain what happened, and I try to make it better. All I want is for you to try your best. You say you will and I believe you.
Today I completed the application from the school where we hope you'll attend Kindergarten next year. The form asked me to tell them what I would like the school to know about you. I wrote that you are a bright, sweet, kind and sensitive boy who loves to learn and make new friends. I told them that you are sometimes a perfectionist.
I didn't tell them that sometimes you get so frustrated by not being able to do everything right that you decide you'd rather not do anything at all. I didn't tell them that I worry about you being a little young for your group, because I believe that you are better suited around older kids who can provide a more stimulating and challenging environment for you. We are lucky to have made some good friends, exceptional little boys like you are very rare and often misunderstood.
I figure the school will get to know you and will love you. I think you're going to do really well with the way they teach, and being immersed in such an educationally rich environment will give you the foundation to thrive in high school and college. Your daddy and I think it's the best gift we can give you and your sister, and we're very excited to see how much you grow in your new school.
I'm meeting with your teachers this afternoon so that we can figure out ways to make you happier at school. I'm going to tell them a few things I've tried with you, and give them some insights into the way you think. I'm pretty sure I've figured it out because you are just like me. I don't think we're going to come up with a magic formula or the key to unlock the secrets of how you think, but I do think that if we keep trying, eventually, we'll have tried everything and you'll have grown out of this tough phase.
I tell you all the time how proud I am of you, and am trying to help you gain the confidence you'll need to succeed. I keep reminding you that everything is going to be okay because you are Jake, and you are amazing.
I don't love when you're sad, but I always love you.
Friday, December 15, 2006
How much do you hate hearing those words? When someone approaches you (perhaps the better word is "blindsides") and says this, what do you do?
I start thinking of the past conversations, the most recent interactions, the conversations I've had about those interactions, then move to worrying (okay, obsessing) over what our Talk will include. I'm already defensive. I'm near tears. There is a pit in my stomach. I'm trying not to let it get to me and I want it to be over. Once we have the conversation, things will have to change, otherwise it wouldn't have been suggested that we have the Talk.
Jake's preschool teachers have asked to meet with me to "discuss some strategies before we go on break."
Monday, December 11, 2006
A cake is not a cake when it is a cake made of flowers, not flour, delivered on your birthday, sent by your husband, just home from the hospital, recovering from surgery, who wanted the day to be special even though you'd be caring for him instead of the other way around. A flower cake is better than a flour cake because your husband respects your wishes to be healthy and avoid refined sugars and white flour whenever possible.
A cake is also not a cake when it is cupcakes (yes, the ones with white flour and refined sugar) that you make on your birthday with your little boy who loves butter and sugar and who has decided that yours should have green frosting with pink sprinkles. The batter tastes better when licked off of little fingers. The moment is sweeter than all the frosting in the world.
A pen is not just a pen, either. What makes this lovely rollerball specimen better than any of the others stashed in my purse or tucked away in my desk out of the children's reach? This pen is not just a writing instrument. It was a gift, chosen just for me. This delightful set of pens, in their pretty colors and handy carrying case, was specifically and thoughtfully selected by my friend who knew I would love them, and I do. I appreciate the gift for what it means as much as what it is.
It's hard to be excited about turning 36, though I am. I'm now at an age where I truly appreciate being loved and being important to the people in my life.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
...my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary.
...I enjoyed red wine and didn't get a headache until two days later when an unrelated migraine struck and stayed for three days.
...I caught a cold that is now (nearly, finally, mercifully) over.
...I wondered if I should have taken the advice of the attendant at the drive through dairy who suggested that instead of rest, chicken soup, vitamin C, zinc and Zircam, perhaps a shot of tequila with the juice of half a lemon would have cured me.
...my mom had surgery.
...UCLA beat USC to end a seven year losing streak.
...my husband had surgery.
...I turned 36.
...D started a new job.
...our DVD player died.
...Rafe overcame his caffeine dependency.
...I finished NaBloPoMo and won no prizes.
...I didn't exercise.
...I missed two Weight Watchers meetings.
...I weighed my lowest since becoming pregnant with Elizabeth.
...I likely gained it all back from the treats in a "get well" basket for Rafe.
...Rafe's best friend became a father to a healthy baby girl.
...we finished all of our holiday shopping.
...the kids have become even more adorable.
...I bought two new pairs of shoes.
...I made matzo ball soup from scratch (and if you're wondering, Cook's Illustrated makes it so easy).
...I went to one movie, and it wasn't very good.
...Ellie started saying her full name.
...she also says "I love you" all the time, occasionally without being prompted.
...I started believing that I could make a career of writing.
...Jake has acquired a harem of four year old admirers from which he might choose a wife (he's told me in so many words) - I feel bad for B, she draws him pictures every day, but still he favors T. S watches out for him the most and cares the deepest. M seems sweet, but she's got a lot of competition.
...Jake also started asking where he is going to Kindergarten.
...we only went to one birthday party! (We declined invitations to three others, and had to miss one because of the surgery, though Jake never mentioned it.)
...I broke my favorite $8 pair of sunglasses.
...I read a novel.
...I think I've made twenty trips to Target, and probably ten to Trader Joe's.
These past few weeks have been a doozy but we're not really worse for the wear. We're one appendix lighter and now I can cross "diet coke" off of my perpetual grocery list. I think Rafe needed the rest (and to never again have to worry about abdominal pains that could be appendicitis!) and we both benefited from the change in perspective that comes when you are surprised with an emergent health scare. As difficult as it will be to find our routine again, I am grateful that we can.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Do you remember a couple of month's ago on Grey's Anatomy when Meredith was having stomach pains and we saw her choosing between Derek and Finn while high on morphine waiting for an appendectomy? Well, let me tell you, the real hospital is SO not like that.
I've had two recent hospital stays, once for Jake's birth, the other for Ellie's. I remember the hospital experience well enough, but my memory of each Grey's episode is fresher. Perhaps it is because our local hospital is not a teaching hospital like Seattle Grace, but being a patient (or watching one) is hardly like a soap opera at all. It is quiet. Doctors are not streaming in from the halls, in fact, they are infrequent guests, making short visits and doing a lot of work by phone. There is a notable absence of drama, activity or urgency. Doors are not shut, rooms are not private. And the lighting isn't all that great, either. Hospitals are a place for waiting.
I will gladly return to the hospitals of House, Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy week after week, but I hope to stay out of the real hospital. It's a lonely place. Hope is measured against the sounds of machines beeping and vitals checking. It is not a destination but a way station, a stopping point between sickness and health.
Friday, December 01, 2006
My team is long overdue for a win. Seriously. The last time UCLA prevailed in our cross-town rivalry match up, I was on my honeymoon. In 1998. (We watched the game from the hotel bar in Kauai. It rained. We drank blue drinks with pineapple - you know, the school colors?)
Here are some of the Best USC jokes which I'm sure have been stolen many times before:
1. What do USC and UCLA students have in common? They both got in to USC.
2. A Trojan grad and a Bruin grad were on death row. The warden came to them to ask them if they had any last requests. The Trojan said, “I’d just like to hear ‘Conquest’ one last time.”
When the warden asked the Bruin what his last request was, he replied, “kill me first.”
3. Did you hear the library at USC burned down?
They lost both books, and one hadn’t even been colored in yet.
4. A guy in a bar leans over to the guy next to him and asks, “Wanna hear a USC joke?” The guy next to him replies, “Well, before you tell that joke, you should know something. I’m 6’ tall, 200 lbs., and I’m a USC graduate. The guy sitting next to me is 6’2”, weighs 225, and he’s a USC graduate. The fella next to him is 6’5” tall, weighs 250, and he’s a USC graduate. Now, you still wanna tell that joke?
The first guy replies: “Naw, not if I’m gonna have to explain it three times.”
5. Members of the USC football team were placed in a remedial English class. “Because we are all new on campus we are going to start with the basics,” the professor explained. “Does anyone know what comes after a sentence?” All of the players raised their hands. “The appeal!” they all shouted with pride.
6. Q: What are the best four years of a Trojan’s life?
A: Third grade
Q: What do a Trojan and a bottle of beer have in common?
A: They’re both empty from the neck up.
Q: Why doesn’t USC have ice on the sidelines?
A: The guy with the recipe graduated.
Q: What do you get when you drive slowly by the USC campus?
A: A degree.
Q: What does the average USC player get on his SAT’s?
Q: How do you get a USC graduate off your porch?
A: Pay him for the pizza
UPDATE: I found a couple more.
Q: Which school has the tougher running game?
A: USC. It has a rich tradition of cutthroat tailbacks.
Q: Why did USC disband its water polo team?
A: All the horses drowned.
Let's bring the Victory Bell back home this year. For the love of all things blue and gold, go Bruins!