The holidays at my parents' house are about...

...finding that my parents have accumulated more stuff and crammed it further into the nooks and crannies of this old house than I ever thought possible and there is yet another box of "J's stuff" that I MUST go through and deal with before I leave.

...having the annual conversation with my mom about how easily we non-shoppers can shop for each other.

...clandestinely eating most of my dad's Costco sized jar of Jelly Belly jelly beans, leaving the clearly lame buttered popcorn ones behind.

...spending the first two and a half weeks of December hating Christmas and vowing to request a simple, present-minimizing secret santa in our family for next year as well as steadfastly demanding nothing but a donation to a charity for myself.

...spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day filled to the brim with holiday cheer and excitement; thrilled with new, thoughtful gifts and excited to see the faces of loved ones with their gifts put quickly to enthusiastic use.

...my dad taking pains to wrap presents and hang lights with artistic flair and loving care.

...my mom making delicious, homemade breads and cookies and coffee cakes and spiced nuts and turkey and stuffing and cranberries and corn pudding and and and....

...being walked by my parents' dogs after stuffing our faces at the dining room table.

...realizing that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Top Three True-life Toddler Traveling Tips

A new installment since last summer is soooo.... last summer.

1. Bring lots of changes of clothes for the plane ride. Not because she's still a baby and might have one (or more) of those explosive poos where the brown river makes it's way up her back to her neck but because your lovely daughter is going to insist on drinking water from an open cup without help from you, thankyouverymuch, and will- half on purpose - pour it all over herself, her clothes and her carseat. And then she'll look at you and CRY hopelessly because her clothes? THEY'RE ALL WET.

2. Bring toys and books and puzzles and everything you can think of to keep her entertained and occupied. Also: bring your sense of humor when your favorite new toy for her is a TOTAL bust. (Brand-spanking new, squeaky, plush bus? Only a dim reminder of her cooler, bigger plastic bus which is AT HOME.)

3. News Flash: major airlines (US Airways, at least) don't always stock milk on board their flights. For those of you whose kids don't like (or, God forbid, are allergic to) milk, this may not be cause for concern. However, if your child is like mine and obsessed with dairy products in all forms, milk in particular, this is a SERIOUS ISSUE. I just assumed that all airplanes carried milk on board and since they are all WACKO about bringing your own liquids on planes, I didn't want to bring a big thermos of milk just to have to throw it out. Luckily for me, CG, Z and the entire plane, I brought one of those Horizon Organic juice-box-like milk packages that you don't need to refrigerate. The security dude almost threw it away but since it was sealed (he did empty all of my sippy cups into the trash can), he let it go. PRAISE CHOCOLATE. I will have to buy ten of them for the trip back.

Seriously. NO MILK. Is anyone as shocked as I am? Have I been in kid-land for way too long that I just assume everyone serves milk as an option??


'Twas the plane ride before Christmas.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I would prepare for the long plane trip east by spending inordinate amounts of time deciding which books and magazines to bring on the plane. Let's see, should I spend the 6 hour plane ride east reading a novel or the latest New Yorker? Should I bring my headphones in case I want to watch the in-flight movie? Should I bring my journal to write in, in case inspiration strikes during all my free time?

Well, you all know what happens when you have a kid. All "free time" instantly disappears. I'm not even going to bring a book on the plane, which should tell you just how optimistic I am about Z taking an in-flight nap since I am the type of person who HAS to read at all possible times (I've been known to study the cereal boxes at breakfast when there is no paper or the paper towel wrapping in the bathroom when there are no magazines.)

So my preparations for this trip are not about whether to start my new book (My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, BTW) but whether to open the squeaky, plush bus or the new books first. I can't decide if it's sad or appropriate that the presents I'm most excited for this Christmas are all for Z:

All Z's Christmas presents from us are going to be opened on the plane. So she'll have lots of new and exciting things to play with. Which will hopefully entertain her for more than 3.5 seconds before she quickly tires of them and decides she needs to lick the bathroom floor or hack a loogie at a neighbor (I didn't mention she has a cold, did I? Yeah. A lovely, consumptive-cough kind of cold. Our fellow passengers are going to LOVE US.)

I hope to be able to write a few posts here and there over the next two weeks but it might be awhile.

Have great holidays everyone! Cross your fingers for us surviving the flight!


Our weekend in the mountains: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good:

We were up for an adventure!

We went to visit our friends for their annual holiday event celebrating The Legend of Douglas Fir !

We were taking our whole family (Sweet Dog included)!

We had a friend's rain check to pay for a night at a bed and breakfast. In an expensive room with "a 2 person jacuzzi tub"! That had this view:

Z got to see snow!

Plus we got take this hat for a spin:

We were stoked!

The Bad:

We leave on Wednesday for two weeks on the East coast; our little grinchy selves haven't finished our holiday shopping; we don't ever go on "weekend adventures" because we are hermit-y stress-cases; and did I mention WE'RE FLYING ACROSS THE COUNTRY WITH A 19 MONTH OLD TODDLER ON WEDNESDAY?

The plan for Saturday involved all over-stimulating festivities taking place at Our Blessed Hour (aka. Z's naptime). This should make ALL people in close vicinity VERY NERVOUS.

The woman running the B&B didn't seem too happy about our little arrangement and only agreed to let us use our friend's rain check after he called and "charmed" her. Plus, our room was called "Arabian Nights". Hmmmmm.....

The Ugly:

After our Douglas Fir celebration we beat a hasty retreat to the B&B to check in for a late nap for Z (Ooo! Ooo! And us too, oh please oh please oh please.) With the crib set up in our closet sleeping alcove:

we were quickly deflated by Z's utter lack of exhaustion. We tried in vain to convince her she was as tired as Mommy and Daddy- "I know! Let's all try to lie down and close our eyes! Won't that be FUN!?!?!" - and eventually resorted to entertaining her with endless verses of "The Wheels on the Bus".

Our Arabian Night did not include a romantic jacuzzi for 2, but instead we cleaned ourselves in this:

That, ladies and gentlemen, would be an old, cramped shower with a half filled bottle of antibacterial hand soap and a family-size bottle of Tressemme shampoo in place of the high-end toiletries of my snobby, daydreaming expectations. Seriously, no matter how you slice it, that's a FAR CRY FROM A TWO PERSON JACUZZI TUB. Not pictured: the stained towels and trial sized, looked-like-it-came-with-the-Sunday-paper-and-a-coupon bottle of Oil of Olay moisturizer.

Where were my plush robe and Crabtree and Evelyn bath products? Where were my bright, clean, Turkish cotton towels? And most importantly, WHERE WAS MY TWO PERSON JACUZZI TUB?


Do as I say, not as they do.

Z has always been an observer. Whenever she enters a new situation, she prefers to wait at the edges and watch, preferably while being held by Mommy or Daddy. It's interesting to watch her watching. She notices things I don't; fixating on objects or situations that I would never focus on. Above all, she loves to watch other kids.

Unfortunately, lately she's been laser focusing on other kids... as they throw ear-splitting, mind-melting tantrums.

Yesterday at our Parenting Ed class, Z spun all the way around in her chair to STARE at a girl pitching a fit over not being allowed to run around with food. You could totally see the gears turning in Z's head as she watched the tantrum unfold: "So THAT'S how it's done. Let's see, I better remember this.... high pitched wailing, arms and legs flailing, limp-and-yet-spastic when Mom attempts to pick you up... GOT IT."

I tried in vain to distract her from Tantrum 101. When she later asked for something she couldn't have, the tantrum storm clouds started to gather on her face and so I tickled her and then distracted her with something else. It worked, thank Chocolate, but totally made me sweat. I know our distraction days are numbered.

At the playground on Monday, a boy a bit older than Z (who seemed to be working on his dissertation: "Why holler when you can scream: advanced tantrum techniques for the overachiever.") had one of the scariest tantrums I've ever seen. The poor mom was trying anything and everything to calm this kid down, finally resorting to bribery. When even the bribes didn't work, she glanced over at me and I tried to silently speak with my eyes: "Dude. If bribes don't work, WHAT CAN YOU DO?"


Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.

After a brief, fantastic period of time where Z seemed totally unfazed whenever I left the room, she now has earned a new nickname: "Velcro". These days, I cannot leave the room or even move a few feet away from her to cook a meal, use the bathroom or read Us Weekly glance at the mail without her attaching her body to my leg. And wailing, of course, "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy", with no end in sight.

Plus, she's crying a bit at our goodbyes. This breaks my heart.

Most of the time she doesn't really want much interaction with me. She just wants me THERE. By her side. Watching her.

I know the feeling.

My mom just had a minor surgery that could have discovered bad, unthinkable things or could mean fine, okay things. And it really better mean fine, okay things.

My mom and I have always been really close. I moved across the country after college partly because it was far away from my parents. I never really rebelled (had no reason to) so I had to individuate in some other way. And physical distance was it.

But I always want my mom's presence. We talk often, sometimes daily, and finish each other's sentences. And I want her around for a very long time.

We're going to New Jersey to be with my folks for the holidays and I will fill myself up with her presence.

Because I want my mommy around. Just THERE. By my side.


Yesterday morning, breakfast.

Clueless but Hopeful Mama: Dude, we should totally play hooky next Thursday and go see that new movie Juno. I'm dying to see it.

Chic Geek: (looks aghast) Watch what you say around Z.

CBHM: What? (frantically searching patchy short term memory banks) "Hooky"? I can't say "hooky"?

CG: (eyebrows up) No. D. U. D. E.

CBHM: "DUDE"?! I can't say "DUDE"?!

Z: Duuu!!! DUUUU!!!

CG: Jeez, why do you think I spelled that?

CBHM: Sorry. *belch* Uh, excuse me.

Z: (laughs and claps.)

CG: (slaps palm to forehead and dreams of a second, less profane wife.)


Seriously, I've weeded out all manner of F- and S- and, my personal favorite, M-F-S-, from my daily language. Can I not say "dude"?? I will agree that I overuse this appellation, especially since I grew up in New Jersey not the Valley, but still, is it THAT bad to hear a little girl say "dude"? (I actually think it might be cute.)

The belching? OKAY FINE, the belching needs to go.


Next year's resolution: get a new brain.

Last year's New Years' resolutions included "remembering loved ones' birthdays". This was a tall order for me, the Lady with the Swiss Cheese Brain. Let's see how I've fared......

Back in September, I called an old friend (yes sir, Captain Backlash, you are OLD) and sang him my traditional, spectacularly off-key (if I do say so myself) rendition of Happy Birthday. It was all so lovely, except that I was off by a whole month. Did I remember to call him on his actual birthday in October? Negative. And I'm pretty sure I sent his birthday present to his old address. Score: Birthday Black Hole- 2, Lady with the Swiss Cheese Brain- 0.

Yesterday I was reminding myself all day to call my niece who turned two yesterday. Or so I thought. After we got all the way through Happy Birthday (We mercifully attempted to keep it on-key for her. Her ear drums are still so young and fragile.), my sister-in-law informed me that her actual birthday is today. Oops. Happy Birthday, my sweet little niece!

And I'm sure there are countless folks whose birthdays I totally flaked on.

The truly sad thing is that I actually set up one of those birthday alarm email dealies and I STILL got all these wrong. It was, like most things, user error; I apparently entered a bunch of birthdays wrong.

Instead of a birthday alarm (too gentle, too imprecise), maybe I need a birthday cattle prod?


Power (NOT) hungry.

I had to hold Z down so she could be catheterized last week and again for her kidney ultrasound on Monday. She's now on her second round of antibiotics to hopefully kill the UTI that WILL NOT DIE. (I'm rhymin' like Simon!).

Sweet Dog had to have a benign growth removed from her belly today and is now pathetically cowering in the corner with her elizabethan collar on.

I don't like that I have to make these decisions and be the one who inflicts pain and suffering (even when it's for their own good). I hate that I have so much power and responsibility sometimes. The consummate follower, I have never been comfortable being the one in charge. Perhaps I should have thought that through before deciding to have kids? I'm not the best at taking charge in my Mom role; I get all ostrichy and want to stick my head in the sand SO BADLY and just make someone else deal with it. (Which, as CG will attest, I often do).

I fret over every decision- We gave in and gave Z food before dinner yesterday because she was cranky and pissy and we had friends over and I was embarrassed and wanted her to BE QUIET. Have I now doomed us to a toddler-run dinner time for ever?

She looks at me sometimes lately, grins her defiant grin and I think, she KNOWS who's in charge and it's NOT me.


Aqua Net as culture.

My parenting education class has devoted the last three weeks' classes to "culture". As in, this week we're supposed to bring in something from our culture to share. A food, a song, a nursery rhyme. Anything.

This would not be a problem if I felt I had a culture.

Two weeks ago, we all went around the room giving a brief synopsis of how we teach our child(ren) about their heritage and I happened to be last in line. I was sure someone before me would say what I had to say- "I'm a European mutt with no real culture to speak of."

Instead, everyone had very impressive stories to tell about how their child was half Chinese and half Japanese and they were being spoken to in both languages at home to encourage polylingualism, or how the mother's family is German so she learned German specifically in order to pass it along to her children or how their kid is taught to prepare traditional Oaxacan foods by a grandmother and a great-grandmother. My mutt comment was met with quick, sympathetic nods.

Still, on Wednesday, I'm supposed to bring in something that typifies my culture. I'm running through all my options here: care to vote?

I'm from New Jersey- How about some Aqua Net hair spray with an explanation of how I'm teaching her to tease out her bangs? Salt water taffy from da shoah?

My dad's family was partly Polish, somewhere down the line- Maybe I'll buy some Trader Joe's pierogies and pass them off as a family recipe?

My mom's family is a mix of everything WASPY and European, including English- If I stick with English, I've got loads of nursery rhymes: Humpty Dumpty was supposedly about Richard III, can't I just claim that bouncing Z on my knee to this rhyme is my culture literacy project? How about London Bridges? Hey, I even attempt to speak ENGLISH at home!


Bust a move, and possibly a hip.

(This will be my last post about my birthday, I SWEAR. I fear I'm turning into one of those people who's like "Omigawd! It's my birthday month! Are you able to come to all 12 of my celebrations?!?!!")

On Saturday night, a wonderful, saintly visitation from the heavens (aka. a "babysitter") arrived, allowing us to drive to Hollywood for a fabulous evening of adult fun.

We ate dinner with friends, drank, chatted, spied a bona fide movie star (Helen Mirren looks HOT in person. GO old broads!), and bar hopped (Does one bar, after dinner and before the dance club, count as a "hop"? When you're 35, IT DOES.). No one needed their mouth wiped or the dolly's diaper changed or a book read to them afterward (Can I get an AMEN?).

We then went out dancing at a club where I can guarantee you, no one in the crowd knew what a "snack trap" was or had recently sung all the verses of "On Top of Spaghetti". After sizing up the empty dance floor and my ticking babysitter clock, I took a deep breath and headed, with T, to the dance floor. It felt so good to be dancing.... for the first 3 minutes. Then it felt ASTHMATIC. I was WINDED, people. I have NEVER been winded on a club dance floor before. It was truly sad, fun and exhilarating but sad.

It made me resolve to step up my workouts. No more wussy, 20 minute, sweat-less elliptical workouts for me, man. I've got to make sure that the next time I get on a dance floor -probably not for another 2 years but still!- I'm a little better conditioned.

It all just served to remind me of what I truly know for sure: (Watch out, I feel an Oprah moment coming on) we all need joy in our lives. And dancing is the surest, fastest, bestest path to Joy-with-a-capital-J for me.

My man has been chasing some joy lately; CG has started flying lessons. To see his face afterwards is a thing of beauty (uh- hard core, studly, MAN beauty, that is.). The boy is LIT UP like a Christmas tree. We all deserve to have things in our lives that make us feel that way. And dancing is it for me.

So I hereby resolve to get my butt on a dance floor sometime in the next.... 6 months.

Oprah would approve of attainable goals.


My dude was SO dead.

To find something new and scary and life-enriching to do for my birthday, I kept coming back to firing a gun. Lucky for me, my friend T was all: "I own a boat-load of guns and grew up shooting them". And I was all: "HAHAHAHAHA" because T is best known for his time in professional musical theater and his penchant for breaking into song. Neil Diamond songs to be exact.

But I guess he wasn't kidding because yesterday, CG and I picked up T and his case full of guns (!) and we drove to an indoor shooting range in Burbank.

The range is in a nondescript industrial building right off the freeway. Walking in, I was obviously sticking out like a sock-n-sandal tourist and I pushed my little camera deeper into my purse so as not to appear the total newbie. It was cold in there but I was sweating beneath my layers of clothes and jumped every time I heard a shot.

In the lobby, we signed our lives away, T's guns were inspected, he bought some ammo and targets, we got goggles (to "protect our eyes from the flying shells." OMG. WTF. *deep breath*.) and ear muffs (that did NOTHING to protect my delicate ear drums from the loud pops of the guns.)

We passed through a double door system (the "man lock") like the double doors at dog parks and entered the range itself. The pops were so loud I jumped and my heart raced every time one of the dudes in there (there was LOTS OF TESTOTERONE flying around) fired a round. I kept thinking, one of these guys could be a wacko; he could totally turn around and kill us all. How dumb would my birthday "celebration" feel then?

T gently, kindly showed us how the guns worked, shot a few rounds, and passed the first gun off to CG who steadily fired a few rounds himself. (Go Cub Scout, GO!)

Then, it was my turn.

After a shaky start with a few really bad shots (there is, in fact, a hole in the ceiling that's allllll me) and an explanation from T that "putting the target in my sights" didn't mean just looking at it and aiming in that general direction, I actually got pretty good. As in I hit the target in the chest, repeatedly.

(Quite possibly the worst photo of me ever but I had to show proof that my dude would have been SO dead.)

T told us before we started that the first few rounds would feel weird and shaky but that soon we would want to get all Rambo and pop off a bunch in a row POW POW POW POW but that that was against the rules, you have to have a 1 second pause in between each shot. I didn't believe him but it's true. By the end of the hour, I wasn't sweating anymore (though I was still warm from the adrenaline) and I wasn't jumping at every shot either. And I had to remind myself to slow down my shots so that I wouldn't get in trouble with the Head Gun Dude.

I feel like if I ever had to use a gun to protect myself or my family, I could. I still keenly felt the destructive power of the gun but I also felt like it was okay, I could do this, I DID it.

And that is a great way to feel on (or around) your birthday. Even (especially?) if you are a former card carrying member of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns.

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