Jan 31 2011

Miss Manners Takes Me to Task

My love for Judith Martin is well documented, but this week’s Miss Manners’ column is particularly well-timed. See, although we had a wonderful time at yesterday’s group playdate, I was also a little bit intimidated by the hostess’s immaculate house. I still have a long list of projects that I need to get done on our own home—and the backyard is a complete disgrace, with bagged trash and unbagged wood and concrete refuse piled up in several places. I was thinking to myself, I would love to host the next group playdate but I cannot possibly, I would be shamed.

And then Miss Manners goes and tackles this question:

Dear Miss Manners:

My husband and I were recently married. He is a PhD student, and I am finishing my master’s degree and looking for work. Due to our families’ financial situations, we decided to elope to spare them the costs of a formal wedding.

We are on an extremely tight budget and only have two dining chairs, and no money for more. I have always loved entertaining, but now I am hesitant to do so because of our lack of dining chairs.

Can you please tell me if it is acceptable to invite another couple over for dinner if they will be seated in our dining chairs, while my husband and I sit on ottomans? I don’t want to offend, but I would also love to entertain company.

Gentle Reader:

Whew. Miss Manners thought she knew where you were heading and is thrilled to find out that she was mistaken.

Every other letter she has received in which newlyweds (or oldyweds) beg off from entertaining because they are lacking some equipment asks for a free pass not to reciprocate hospitality or suggests a scheme for getting donations from prospective guests.

Yes, of course you should go ahead and entertain. No guest worth having would be the least put off by your furniture arrangements.

So, I suppose the fact that I have not yet managed to decorate the house to my highest ideals does not, in fact, buy me “a free pass not to reciprocate hospitality.” I’ll wait a week or so and then issue invitations of my own.

I do think Judith Martin would give me a gold star for one thing: I sat down and wrote a thank-you note as soon as we got home.

Jan 31 2011

What’s for Dinner

This week in our veggie box we got: kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, six Yukon Gold potatoes, two onions, four zucchini which I have already transmuted into zucchini bread, seven Fuji apples, two pears, two oranges, and two grapefruit.

As always, the fruit will take care of itself; and the kale will go into one of our now-standard bulgur salad lunches. Oh! And I should report! That farro and butternut squash recipe from last week was really good; I think I’ll make it as a side dish next Thanskgiving.

Tonight I’m going to try out a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for pork loin roasted with apples, cabbage, and various spices including thyme, allspice, and juniper berries. (I like cooking with juniper berries; it makes me feel vaguely like a frontierswoman.) And tomorrow we’ll have lamb stew with the potatoes and carrots. I’m certain that both these recipes will produce leftovers, so Wednesday we’ll tackle the leftover pork (maybe in sandwiches) and Thursday we’ll polish off the lamb stew—I’ll make soda bread to keep it exciting. Friday I want to try my friend Wendy’s recipe for Dutch baby, with a broccoli-and-cauliflower cheese dish on the side. And that leaves only the chard, which will probably go into a simple pasta lunch for me and the boys.

Jan 30 2011

Sunday Playdate: Epic Success!

We are just back from the three-way playdate, covered in glory. Not only did everyone get along well, but Owen’s parents (Michael and Rebecca) offered to set up a babysitting swap with us. My reaction to this development can be summed up as YESSSSSS OH PLEASE GOD YES. I love my kids, but I miss seeing movies in theaters, going out to dinner at restaurants that have real tablecloths, and having a conversation with my husband that’s not interrupted every ninety seconds.

Robin and Davy were both delightful the whole time we were there, although Robin had a little meltdown when it was time to go. But I assured him that he’ll get to see Owen and Mariel again. And I’m confident that’s true.

Jan 29 2011

Encouragement from an Agent!

I got a pretty exciting letter today, from one of the agents I’ve queried about my novel—and the only one so far who’s requested the full manuscript. He wants to see a rewrite. He has three main concerns: firstly, that I use too many big words (“Occasionally, you introduce a word that might be beyond the average reader’s vocabulary. This can cause the sentence to drop in momentum as the reader stumbles over the word or hunts for a dictionary. For example, your first sentence contains the word ‘ululating’. While this is a dynamic opening, this word might actually work against you by alienating or confusing your reader”). Secondly, that a couple of the choices my heroine makes seem out of character or insufficiently motivated. And thirdly, that the ending is anti-climactic.

You can tell I’m a hardcore optimist, because instead of feeling daunted by any of this I’m actually delighted. For one thing, none of these criticisms concern the pacing, which suggests that I’ve actually, finally, after long struggle, managed to fix that problem. By contrast, most of these revisions are going to be easy. Swapping out any of the more outrĂ© vocabularly choices (note to self: probably don’t use the word “outrĂ©” in the novel) will be downright trivial, and clarifying motivation for the key plot elements won’t take more than a couple of extra lines inserted in the right places. The only part I’m not quite sure how to approach right now is the ending, but here’s the thing: I’ve been so focused on the opening chapters, I’ve made hardly any edits to the final part of the manuscript. I spent all my time combing through the first fifty pages, making painful cuts and tightening the action as much as I could. I’m downright relieved to hear that the beginning now works fine and I should turn my attention to the end.

And the agent had a lot of nice things to say. Listen to this: “I found your writing style to be engaging and your characters to be believable and compelling, and your manuscript is infused with levity as well as drama, and I found the work to be a solid combination of fantasy and contemporary life…You have shown yourself to be a talented writer…If these issues are addressed and revised, I would encourage you to resubmit what was otherwise an entertaining and engaging novel.”

I mean! How about that! Yes, on balance I think I’m pretty thrilled.

Jan 28 2011

The Highest Form of Humor

Just now Robin came up to me laughing his head off. “What?” I asked him.

“Farted!” he burbled. “Funny!”

It’s hard to remember now how eager I was for him to learn to talk, for the day when we could have real conversations. He talks now—really talks: he speaks in sentences as often as not, although he still tends to be economical with words. But the content of his conversation is not quite as sublime as I had maybe been imagining.

Jan 27 2011


So after I posted the news about Robin having a playdate this weekend, he got two more invitations—one from our friend Amy (hi Amy!) whose lovely daughter Elena is also a Thomas fan, so we’re going to get them together to play with some trains. And then I got a call from another mom at the park, whose daughter Mariel is a bit younger than Robin, but plays well with him. The funny thing is she’d actually told us about Owen before we met him: “You know there’s another family that lives across the street from me,” she said, “and they have a boy just about Robin’s age…” And apparently she’d called Owen’s dad to set up a playdate with him and Mariel on Sunday, but of course Owen already has a playdate with Robin, soooo (said Mariel’s mom) why don’t we all just come over to her house?

So now the Sunday Playdate has become something epic—it’ll be six adults and six kids (as Mariel, Owen, and Robin each have younger siblings) and I must admit I’m starting to stress out about it now. I mean, the “playdate” is such a weird concept anyway, because not only do the kids have to get along, but the adults have to like each other. Owen’s parents and Mariel’s parents already get along, so I kind of can’t help but view the whole thing as a sort of audition for Sam and myself. If we do well, Robin gets to have friends and Sam and I will have some new connections in the neighborhood. If we do poorly, we’ll never be invited back and Robin will be alone and friendless and eventually grow up to the be the Unabomber. Or something like that. I think I’ll bring zucchini bread: zucchini bread is approachable and friendly and says, “hey, I share your values!” Right? Right.

Speaking of social anxiety, tonight they had an open house at the preschool where I really want to send Robin. It was packed. They obviously have many more applicants than they do open spaces, which is also the case at the other preschool we toured, but this is the one where I really, really want my kids to go. They do so many things right—mixed age groups, activities that kids can enter or leave at their own initiative, an emphasis on socialization and open-ended imaginative play…plus I just love the co-op model. It’s like homeschooling, but with friends! At the open house everyone was talking about what a tight-knit group it was (they do camping trips together!). And we actually already know a lot of the kids and parents because we see them at the park, and they’re a great bunch.

(There is something knocking around in the back of my head about class, and how co-op schools silently select for parents from a certain demographic—they are substantially cheaper than other preschools, but that’s because you’re required to work as a teacher one day a week, so it’s only an option for families with either flexible work schedules or an at-home parent. So while this preschool is made up of a diverse group of families from some points of view—there’s a nice spectrum of skin colors, and at least one same-sex couple—from another point of view they are all recognizably the same. Cute hairdos, sassy eyeglasses, jobs in tech, academia, or design…I would eat paste if any of them vote Republican.)

Anyway, they are very frank about screening for families that will be “a good fit” with their existing group. So I spent the evening trying very hard to ask the right questions, make the right jokes, and leave a good impression: to say, without saying it, pick me, pick me, I am one of you. And this is only the very beginning of the preschool admissions process: next up we have the guided tour, and then the written application, and then the “supervised playgroup,” and then if and only if we are given an “Admissions Invitation,” the three observation days “when you and your child will come so we can all play together and determine if we like you if Peter Pan is the right fit for you and your family.”

So basically, while ostensibly Robin is the one who needs socialization, it’s actually my social skills that are going to be scrutinized over the next few weeks. Wish me luck.

Jan 26 2011

A Picture and a Poem

We got this bike for Robin a year too early. He’s just now getting comfortable with it:

on a roll

Watching him scoot around on the bike reminds me of a poem that hit me hard when I first read it last year: “To A Daughter Leaving Home,” by Linda Pastan.

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

Jan 25 2011


Owen’s dad called! Robin is going to have his very first playdate this weekend! I am all a-twitter.

In other news, Davy had sweet potato for dinner tonight and he liked it a lot:

sweet potato

Jan 22 2011

What’s for Dinner

This week in our veggie box we got: two bags of baby spinach, a bunch of kale, a bunch of chard, two bunches of varicolored carrots, a bunch of radishes, four zucchini, two onions, four oranges, three pears, two grapefruits, six apples, three sweet potatoes, and six small red potatoes. I also didn’t get around to making the zucchini pizza last week, so we have three more zucchini on hand (and getting shriveled), which I think means it’s zucchini bread time.

The kale will go into a bulgur salad lunch for me and Robin. And the fruit is always gobbled up straight, so I never have to worry about that. As for the rest of it: tonight I think I’ll make polenta with chard, and tomorrow we’ll have roasted chicken and potatoes with a spinach salad. Then on Monday, pork chops smothered with apples and a sweet potato casserole. Tuesday I’ll make soup out of the chicken carcass, and Wednesday I want to try this recipe for farro and roasted butternut squash, probably with maple-glazed carrots as a side dish. Thursday some kind of pasta dish, and Friday, leftovers.

Jan 21 2011

I’m Not Lazy, Just Exhausted

Nights around here have continued to be difficult. Davy still isn’t sleeping for more three hours at a stretch, and Robin almost always wakes up too, needing cuddles. I wrote Nina a few days ago:

After another round of sleep-fail last night I’m resolved to get Davy his own crib. He’s so unlike Robin—he really doesn’t like to be crowded when he’s asleep. Here’s what happened last night, which was absolutely a typical night:

I put Robin to bed at around 8:30. Robin insists on being cuddled to sleep—he won’t go to bed unless there’s someone lying down with him. Once Robin was asleep in his own bed I moved over to our
bed. Meanwhile Sam was bouncing the baby to sleep. When Davy was asleep Sam laid him down beside me, making sure to position him so he had plenty of room in the bed.

This arrangement worked fine until nearly midnight, when Sam decided that he’d like to go to sleep himself, and moved the baby over to the center of the bed, causing him to wake up and cry. I nursed him and Sam bounced him and I nursed him again, and we eventually got him back to sleep, but from midnight to 2am he slept fitfully—waking up periodically to squirm and cry before drifting off again. As a result I got almost no sleep during this period.

At 2am Davy woke up crying and didn’t go back to sleep, so I changed him and was giving him another feeding when Robin woke up and started calling “Daddy, bed–Daddy, bed, please.”

“Are you going to get in bed with him?” I asked Sam.

“Yeah, in a minute,” Sam mumbled, and promptly rolled over and went back to sleep.

“Daddy, bed, please,” Robin chanted. “Bed, Daddy, bed.”

“I’m feeding the baby, I can’t go over there,” I said to Sam, who snored deeply.

“Bed, Daddy,” said Robin, and then, apparently deciding that if the mountain wasn’t going to come to Mohammed that Mohammed should go to the mountain, climbed out of his bed and came over to ours.

At this point I shook Sam ferociously and said rather grumpily, “He’s up now, are you happy?”

“What?” said Sam, startled. “Huh? Robin, what are you doing out of bed?”

Then Sam and Robin went back to lie down in Robin’s bed, and Davy got Sam’s half of the bed, which made him perfectly happy, and everybody slept soundly until 5:30, when Sam’s alarm went off. Then the baby wanted another feeding, and Sam got up to go to work (feeling all achy because he spent half the night sharing a twin bed with a three-year-old). Afterwards me and the kids all went back to sleep until a bit after 7, when Robin woke up. This counts as “sleeping in” and as a result I’m actually fairly well rested today, on a relative scale, even though I haven’t had more than three hours of consecutive sleep for…oh, as long as I can remember.

Last night, though, was different! I was having an allergic reaction to something, so we went and got some Benadryl (I haven’t had any allergy problems since we moved into this house, but apparently there’s something in the air right now). It knocked me out like a light and I went to bed at 7:15. Sam put Robin to bed and ended up sleeping with him all night, with the result that Robin didn’t wake up and Davy slept well. I still had to get up and feed him every three hours, but with the Benadryl’s influence I fell asleep again immediately afterwards, and when we all got up a full twelve hours later I felt…amazing. It’s not even noon yet and I’ve done a load of dishes, three loads of laundry, taken out the trash, swept the floor, scrubbed the stove, and cleaned out the refrigerator—all in between things like feeding the kids, changing diapers, and playing with dinosaurs. I don’t even recognize myself. I’ve been sleep-deprived for so long that I’d forgotten what having energy feels like.

In retrospect, this also probably also explains why I was sick for six weeks the past couple months. I’ve been completely exhausted, of course I’m going to have trouble fighting off or recovering from illness.