Monday, December 29, 2008

On Weddings

When my four-year-old daughter Elizabeth heard that our family friend Cindy was going to get engaged, she jumped up and down squealing—then she wanted to know what she would wear as the flower girl.
Meanwhile, former sorority sisters in three time zones began to mobilize: There were online discussions of bridesmaids dresses, go-to diets, extravagant bachelorette parties, wedding cakes.
Furthermore, members of Cindy’s church congregation, friends from a swing dancing group, colleagues at the private school where she teaches, even her Starbucks barista told her they were so happy for her. Then, they assured her that they would—wink, wink—“hold” several summer weekends open for her “event.”
Mind you, there was no ring yet in sight.
And when Mr. Right did unveil a sparkler following a four-month-long whirlwind romance, Cindy found herself with a big rock—and a big problem: How best to incorporate everyone into her wedding?
See, while most Popular Girls are well liked by everyone, Cindy is a Popular Girl truly beloved by all. And likewise, she has found a special place in her life for all of us.
Over the past 10 years, Cindy stood up in 10 weddings. As an auntie to nine of our kids, she has changed more diapers than some fathers. She’s traveled the world with us and decked the Christmas halls with us. She’s held our ponytails while we’ve had food poisoning and listened to us while we’ve whined about our jobs.
She’s been an amazing friend—and I certainly owe her one.
Which is why my first job as Co-Matron of Honor is to help her find wedding-day occupations for all the 297 special people in her life. While Cindy has already appointed 10 bridesmaids, three flower children and a ring bearer to her wedding party, I will now articulate twenty other jobs that must be filled to make her day most joyous.

1. Candle Wick Attendant. Every wedding has a near-miss with alter flames of some sort. Thus, the CWA will ensure that the Unity Candle:
a. is in its appointed position the day of the ceremony;
b. has a wick none too short nor too tall so as to produce a perfect glow in all photographs;
c. is out of all drafts;
d. is nowhere near priestly vestments.

2. Minister of Minister Pristelyness. Every now and again, a couple finds they’ve hired a officiant who is no longer “with the church.” (Well, at least this is what happened to my husband and I, but since we had two ministers on deck to preside over our nuptials, at least we’re lawfully married…) Thus, the MMP will do a background check six months prior to the service to ensure all people in vestments are certified by their dioceses.

3. Rouge Uncle Patrol. It is terribly upsetting to the bride when there is a drunk, out of control family member on the lam at the reception. This torrid individual gives spontaneous toasts that include too much information about the bride’s previous failed relationships, the couple’s prenuptial agreement and/or their presumed method of birth control. Therefore, the RUP will serve in full tackle gear and scan the reception hall continually for scoundrels before kindly escorting them to the nearest taxi cab and paying their way to New Jersey.

4. Bridal Latrine Skirt Uplifter. There really is no person more important to a bride stapled inside 500 yards of tulle meringue than the BLSU especially when the pressure’s on and the pee-pee needs to come out. This kind individual—perhaps a childhood friend?—must escort the bride to the privy and ensure none of her fluffage is dunked or dipped.

5. Deputy of Small Provisions. Undoubtedly someone in the wedding party will need a safety pin, a rubber band or extra perfume. The DSP will provide these items as well as several dozen other essentials inside a small tote on her person in case of emergency. (I once in a wedding party where the mother-of-the-groom needed underpants STAT, but that’s another story.)

6. Play list Enforcer. God hath no fury like a bride who hears a banned Britney Spears song at her own party. The PE is responsible for standing next to the DJ all night long—taser in hand.

7. Groomsmen Shepherd. This gentlemen shall:
a. Ensure all groomsmen are wearing black socks—and appropriate footwear.
b. Ensure no groomsman does permanent damage to bridal vehicle with spray paint.
c. Ensure groomsmen are not hot and sweaty from playing tackle football 15 minutes prior to the ceremony.

8. Sandwich Lady. I’ve seen entire bridal parties near collapse from lack of food and drink as they while away hours upon hours in a hot, humid “bridal salon.” The SL, then, should prepare a banal snack including a 60-40 ratio of protein and carbs. Bear in mind, this light fare should not include a trace of garlic, olives, onions or other possibly offensive cuisine. Moreover, the SL should offer small sips of mouthwash in wax cups so that bridal lipstick will not transfer.

9. Engagement Ring Tracker. While it adds drama to any wedding when a Tiffany setting slides off the sweaty finger of a bride unnoticed, it also gives some grooms a heart attack. (And EMTs, while well intentioned, never dress for such events.) Therefore, the ERT will keep her eyes on the brides’ left hand at all times, never glancing away to look at a flower arrangement, thus ensuring all gems stay in place.

10. Map Printer/Interpreter. Never assume guests will know where they’re going. They need color-coded, topographical maps with landmarks especially for women that include details like “…turn left at the dry cleaner that misplaced your favorite trench coat two seasons ago.” Moreover, the MPI should strive to have his/her soothing voice broadcast over the a.m. airwaves so that lost guests can find their way to the reception before the cake it cut.

11. Fork Buffer. Too many country clubs fail to completely eliminate water spots and/or fingerprints from the tongs of rented utensils thus angering the bride’s mother who in turn angers the bride. Thus, the job of the FB is to inspect all silverware 48 hours prior to the luncheon or dinner to ensure his/her reflection can be clearly.

12. Child Minder. Undoubtedly, someone will bring a screaming child to the wedding ceremony. The CM must quiet the child by whatever means necessary. She must be ready to serve as a wet nurse and/or administer silencing drugs.

13. Pet Minder. As more and more couples welcome their furry friends to be apart of their ceremony, PMs are desperately needed. This person must cloak Fido/Fefe in decorative leashes and bag all poop/hairballs produced in a wedding-themed parcel.

14. Transport Advisor. Even in the age of electronic travel, no one under wedding duress can be expected to remember when they’re leaving for their honeymoon, what airport they’re leaving from or even WHERE they’re going. The job of the TA, then, is to make sure the happy couple gets where they’re going. This includes following them to the airport, ensuring they get through security and safely strapping them into their first class seats before topping off their glasses of with a tasty chardonnay.

15. Bridal Bouquet Management Expert. More lilies have been squashed during the typical hug-and-run pew exit than can be counted. The BBME must thus pry the flowers from the bride’s clutch directly following the exit march so that said damsel has both hands free to kiss and otherwise greet her 425 guests without the encumbering parcel.

16. Funky Chicken Leader. All couples think this dance will be a hit, but unless you’ve got a dedicated soul willing to kick off the fun and games, the only guests rockin’ out to this old accordion hit will be preschoolers and those tethered to oxygen tanks. Have the FCL practice with a dance instructor four weeks prior for a perfected execution.

17. Video Camera Technician. The VCT will shadow the groom’s brother-in-law as he records the event for posterity. It is likely said BIL will A. forget the tape; B. be unable to turn the machine on; C. be tempted to record only the bride’s new mother-in-law’s complaints about the wedding fare and/or the long legs of the groom’s hot 18-year-old niece.

18. Back-Up Toaster. This is not the person who brings the bridal couple jam and bread should room service fail but the trained speechwriter who tucks away a spare paragraph of good tidings for the wedding feast should the Best Man decide to talk out of turn. The BUT is expected to have graduated from NYU and worked for upwards of five U.S. senators.

19. Sidewalk Clearer. There are no weddings prettier than those held during the holidays, but God forbid a bride should slide her way to the limo amidst slush and slop. The SC should personally consult local weather experts then have 45 pounds of kitty litter and salt primed and waiting outside both the church and the reception hall on the Big Day. Those attending summer weddings should construct a weather-proof awning of teak wood over a red carpet leading from church to limo and from limo to reception.

20. Pregnancy Prevention Patrol. Too many brides’ numbers are thrown off when a bridesmaid becomes unexpectedly enlarged and thus is unable to don her prescribed outfit. The PPP will call all bridesmaids every day for 10 months prior to the nuptials and remind the ladies-in-waiting of their commitments to the bride.

Over the past 10 years, Julie Blair has stood up in six weddings and attended many, many more. She wishes all the best to Cindy Zirbel and her lucky fiancé Eric, who will be married June 27 in Akron, Ohio.


Friday, December 26, 2008

We're moving!

Time it took to shop for gifts: 287 hours.
Time it took to wrap/ship gifts: 11 hours.
Time it took to shop for holiday dinner parties: 7 hours.
Time it took to cook for holiday dinner parties: 15 hours.
Time it took to clean house for holidays: 72 hrs.
Time it took to unwrap gifts Christmas day: 22 seconds.
Time it took to organize post-Christmas garbage: 4 hours.
Time it took to do dinner party dishes: 47 hours.
Time it took this Hot Mama to decide she wants to move into a yert on Dec. 26: 2 min.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

SAH Mom's Wish List

Dear Santa,

I am a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom and Believer. I have been very, very good this year. For example, I passed up all Gymboree clothing that was not on sale. I did the dishes and laundry every single night with no complaints. (Well, very few complaints.) I volunteered at the preschool and in other community organizations to the extent that my husband has begun asking if I could simply be a "Stay-At-Home" stay-at-home mom so that he could spend time with me before I turn 40. I don't ask for much and I know you prefer guided direction to a guessing game, so here's my wish list... The majority of items are available at Target, which is my idea of a true wonderland.

1. Grown-up toothpaste. As much as I like the "Sparkle Fun" flavor that dispenses in star shapes in every shade of pink, I'd really like some plain, old-fashined mint toothpaste. Please make sure no one uses this toothpaste and that no superheros advertise it. I'd also like to request that said toothpaste does not stick to the bottom of sink basins.

2. Clean Car Carpets. I know they won't last long, Santa, but could you please have the reindeer scrub my car's carpets with an OTC spot cleanser? They have grown crusty and are a complete embarassment when the Preschool Volunteers get my children out of our Ford during car line in the morning. (If you happen to unearth Elizabeth's missing maryjane shoe, please put it under the tree in the living room. They are from Stride Rite and very expensive.)

3. Pens with Ink. I am perfectly positive that my grocery list would be more coherent and that I'd never forget the Kleenex if I owned pens that actually worked.

4. Toilet Paper Roll. William flushed away our toilet paper roll sometime in September and I've yet to replace it. (If you could please slip a check for $85 into Jim's stocking, that would cover the cost of the plumber having to fish it out of the latrine. No, I didn't want to sanitize the found spindle, Santa. That's just gross--especially after William ate a lot of spaghetti.)

5. A tasty protein-filled, high-fiber cracker. My children live on crackers (specifically Wheat Thins) and I'm pretty sure there isn't much value to them other than crunch. In fact, William has substituted crackers for fruit/veggies/protein for so long, I'm beginning to suspect he has rickets. Or maybe it is scurvy...

6. A decent-looking Hannah Montanna Barbie. I'd like to suggest that the elves put together a doll with a slightly less demonic-looking facial expression so that I don't frighten myself when I put away the toys. I'd also like to request that she wear crotch-covering skirts and have hair that does not look better than mine. Also, if she could come with an "off" button, that'd be greatly appreciated.

7. Cute Orthodic Shoes. I've asked for these every year since I was pregnant and henceforth ruined my feet, yet I have yet to find a pair of wedges that does not scream "public school bus driver." (No offense to those ferrying our children to and from the halls of learning. I know what it means to be uncomfortable so I won't hold the Fashion Don't against you.)

8. A Soda Fountain. I like my Diet Coke extra fizzy but with light ice. I have to go to a drive-thru for this combination yet no one can seem to get the porportions straight. If only I could do it myself...

9. A cord keeper. I have so many cords encircling my desk that I look like I'm manning the flight deck at NASA. Worse yet, my kids keep tripping over said cords when they're playing Scooby Doo under my desk and crashing my computer.

10. Telepathy. This would allow my husband and I to anticipate one another's needs. He thinks you gave him this gift last year but I'm here to tell you that you forgot to flip the "on" switch.

Merry Christmas, Santa. Have a safe trip. We'll leave the lights on for you.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Minutiae

It's Thanksgiving and I am grateful for so much: Good health, a wonderful family, marvelous friends. And the lingerie company Hanky Panky without which I could not do low-slung jeans at age 34.

This year, you see, I am aiming to be thankful for not just the big things
in my life, but also for all the little bits and pieces that make my
days brighter. Below is my list of Happy Minutiae not in any particular order. What's on your list?

1.The kid-sized grocery carts at Kroger, Store #673. My four-year-old
twins and I go to this Kroger specifically for this distraction. You
can't imagine how much we've learned about produce and the exchange of
money with these little carts, which really transform my children from bystanders
to participants in the process. We did our Thanksgiving shopping in 45
minutes today--that's right, 45 minutes. And we took home three carts
of food!

2. The New York Times--the paper edition. Call me old
media, but it is a true pleasure to sit down, unfold the crisp national
edition and delve into all the news that's fit to print. One airline
ride with the Times and I feel like I've earned aPh.d.

3. As long as I'm hailing the press, I have to list National Public Radio.
Entire days go by and the only adults I hear from are Nina Totenburg and Terry Gross. Without my daily NPR fix, I would know nothing about the world at large.

4. South Beach Peanut Butter bars. Most days, I'd rather pop a pill than deal with
eating but since that's not possible, I often rely on these little
goodies. They are portable and pack a protein punch.

5. My backyard trees. I never knew the impact of rustling leaves on my psyche
until I moved to a sun-drenched lot with only one tree that was
actually a stunted bush. Never again will I take that subtle "sss-sss" for granted.

6. Beautiful gift wrap. I get a huge kick out of swaddling hand-chosen
treats in brightly printed papers. I get punch drunk when it comes to
curling ribbon.

7. My husband's willingness to pack school lunches. I can't imagine most guys are up at 6 a.m. cutting crusts off of sandwiches for picky eaters, but mine does and every T/W/Th I thank my lucky stars for his generosity.

8. Nighttime Pull-Ups. I know they aren't environmentally friendly, but honestly, any invention that ensures I get more rest following nearly four years of sleep
deprivation is definitely on my list of Top Ten items to be thankful for.

9. My Dust Buster. I am by no means a cleanoholic, yet I find I feel more in control of my life so long as my steps are tidy.

10. Clever advertisements. A creative mind is a marvel to behold. I can
never get enough of thoughts conveyed in less than three words...


Thursday, November 20, 2008


I have not fallen off the face of the Earth, dear readers. I spent last week in North Carolina with my BFF (story to come) and leave for California today for the remainder of the week. I am climbing out of my pajamas to lecture at the Core Knowledge Foundation about the concepts outlined in my book... (You know the guy who crafted the term "Culturally Literate?" This is his foundation. I really, really, really hope I am not quizzed...) See you when I get back.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Quincenera

As the mother of two curious four-year-olds, I spend a lot of time explaining things.
Yesterday, for example, I laid out how the Earth spins on an axis, the chemistry behind food burning in a pan and the mechanics of that soft webbing lining the armpits of flying squirrels.
Today was no different.
While walking the paths of the Dallas Arboretum on a spectacular November day, I gave what I think was a respectable 15-minute lecture on the cultural meaning of the Mexican quincenera.
The conversation was sparked by two teenage girls done up in lacey hoop-skirted ball gowns the color of cotton candy. Posing amongst the mums, a gaggle of photographers clicked away as they moved this way and that, flicking long-lashed eyes at the cameras.
Four-year-old Elizabeth literally stopped in her tracks upon seeing the senoritas.
“Brides!” she breathed.
(You have no idea the power of brides to a four-year-old girl until you’ve raised one. With the exception of princesses, they are the bomb.)
“No, they’re not brides,” I explained. “They’re dressed up for their birthdays. People of Mexican heritage have big parties to celebrate their 15th year. They believe that girls of that age are officially adults.”
I am shooting from the hip here, pulling knowledge from my eight grade Spanish class and memories of conversations I had five years ago with my girlfriend Rocio who was quinceinered (if that’s a verb) sometime in the late 1980s.
We trail the girls until they exit the gardens, our little group peeling off to the right, the teens going to the left.
Twenty-five minutes later, we’re in the car and Elizabeth is still considering quinceneras. She is now at the point where she’s whining about wanting such a party.
I explain that it really isn’t our custom—that she’s of mixed Dutch heritage which instead means eating boiled meat and clogging in wooden shoes—but that she can have a big party with her friends next week, if she wants to.
“No,” she says carefully, “I am going to adopt a baby from Mexico.”
Of course, my little smarty pants is ensuring she can have her own quincenera—even if it won’t be for another 40 years.


Friday, October 24, 2008

William's Initiative

Our preschool hosted "Breakfast Bites" this past week in an effort to offer a time of fellowship for our school community. Donuts were provided before school for families to share; the book fair was open following the meal. Then, the kids were to attend classes.
Of course, our family would never miss this--we are, after all, all about sugar and stories.
So, William and Elizabeth attended Breakfast Bites the first of the three days with Memaw and Papa...but it turns out, William figured out the system...
Many thanks to our family friend Jeff, who apparently cleaned up William after his donut feast, and to Jeff's 4-year-old daughter Diana who got William to class on time.

Below is Diana's mother's e-mail dispatch on William's Initiative:

I attached a couple of pics of the kids from the PPatch. I also have a cute story to share about breakfast on Wed. at MES. Jeff took Diana to eat and said that Will came and joined them. Jeff said he was a bit concerned at first since WIll did not have an adult with him. He said that Will tried to take 2 donuts but he told him only one and then helped him clean up after they ate. I asked Diana about eating with WIll and she said "yes, I took good care of him and then took him to class". She sounded like a little mother in long as she waits about 25 years.

See you tonight,

Saturday, October 18, 2008

You Better Watch Out

As an only child, I am nearly confounded when it comes to the issue of sibling rivalry.
After all, the one childhood fight I remember having was with my BFF Kerry Williams over the pair of polyester pink-foot pajamas we both wanted to wear while playing "baby." I grabbed one foot and pulled while she yanked on the other; my mother--a veteran kindergarten teacher who could broker peace between India and Pakistan--heard the ruckous and quelled it with a "She's the guest, GIVE IT TO HER NOW..."
My husband is no help either.
Jim and his sister Jamie were inseperable as kids and to this day, if the three of us were in a sinking boat, I'm sure I'd be the one drinking sea water. (My mother-in-law--a veteran third grade teacher--reports that their lone childhood fight was over Jamie hugging Jim too much. It wasn't that he didn't adore her, my MIL asserts, it's just that too much sisterly affection embarassed him as a 12-year-old boy.)
Of course, I've read books.
(My vote for most creative title: "Siblings Without Rivalry.")
And I've called up friends to query them on their strategies.
("Oh, I don't know," sighed my very capable friend L., who has three well-adjusted, smart boys ages five and under. "Sometimes I just try to keep them on seperate floors of the house. On other days, I let them go at it until the screaming gets overwhelming or things get bloody.")
I've tried reason.
("How would it make you feel, Elizabeth, if William called you a 'Planthead?'")
Distraction--a staple in my toolbox during the toddler years--only rarely works at age four.
("Guys, look, an ice cream truck!")
I've even imparted religion.
("Would Jesus take all of his sister's Crayolas right before bedtime then feed them to his stuffed bear as string beans? I think NOT.")
But finally, I've found what seems to be a silver bullet--at least seasonally.
When my kids were squabbling earlier this week over whose turn it was to take the gummies out of the box, I spontaneoulsy laid down this gem:
"Children, Santa knows everything."
There was dead silence--and by that I mean you could hear the leaves falling up in Alaska. The kids looked at each other with shades of horror.
Will pushed the gummy box into his sister's outstretched hand.
"I've got good behavior," he said.
"Me, too!" shouted Elizabeth.
So, as it turns out, my Christmas gift came early this year. And while it might disappear on December 26, I'll have gotten a lot of mileage out of it.
In my house, you better watch better not cry...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Busy Day

Two years ago, if you’d have asked me what I’d do with 18 extra hours in my week, I would have told you this: I could run a small nation.
I reasoned I was so efficient by the time my twins were two years old, that I could easily serve as CFO of a South American economy while running a household and managing my freelance career.
If only I had the time…
Well, it just so happens that this year’s preschool calendar has afforded me those extra 18 hours—my kids school three days each week—and I had big, big, big plans.
My agenda included (but was not limited to):
• Making daily batches of organic vegetable puree to stir into homemade stews, soups and smoothies thus upping the nutritional content of my family’s every meal;
• Composing handwritten notes of thanks to educators who had touched my life (I would include artwork made by my kids and photographs, of course);
• Transforming my new 1-acre backyard into a private Eden complete with 15 varieties of Texas roses grown from vintage seeds;
• Sewing Halloween costumes inspired by the Victorian era for the entire tribe including Papa, even though he would likely protest.
I am shocked to tell you that it’s October and I have not yet accomplished one of those goals. Moreover, I do not have time to run Bolivia in my new 18-hour timeframe.
Heck, I don’t even have time to deal with Paraguay.
The truth is, I cannot seem to get my laundry done.
Thus, I have decided to do a self-analysis to see where the problem lies. Below is a log of how I spent my time today:
• 6:35 a.m. Woke up. Wondered if I had put enough Diet Coke into the fridge to chill.
• 6:45 a.m. Showered; peered into mirror and considered if sleek new hairstyle was actually Helmet-head in disguise.
• 7:15 a.m. Noted the absence of food in the fridge following week-long vacation; gave credit to husband cooking children Eggs-Over-Celery for breakfast; searched for missing school library books; felt significantly guilty for failing to push child to search; wondered if child would someday end up on mean streets of Philadelphia for her failure to embrace responsibility.
• 7:25 a.m. Searched for missing uniform slacks.
• 7:32 a.m. Searched for missing school bags.
• 7:33 a.m. Cursed self for watching “Dancing With the Stars” the previous night instead of perfecting Morning Rush System; wondered how many more spin classes it would take to get Brooke Burke’s abs.
• 7:34 a.m. Crammed uncooperative, whimpering child into uniform slacks; chased second child from room to room to room with hairbrush while yelling; made mental note to stop yelling before 9 a.m.
• 7:42 a.m. Opened Diet Coke.
• 7:47 a.m. Drove to preschool. Provided non-threatening definition of cancer and/or cancer-related baldness to child; outlined four preventatives of cancer intertwining the importance of vegetables and fruit into discussion.
• 8:15 a.m. Arrived at preschool. Dropped off 10 pages of leaves enshrined in wax paper complete with species names.
• 8:22 a.m. Social time! Chatted with fellow Hot Mama in parking lot.
• 8:23 a.m. Back in car. Bound for gas station/Target.
• 8:45 a.m. Stuck in Barbie aisle contemplating whether or not Barbie with iridescent wings would have more bribery power over Barbie with teeny bikini; congratulated self for choosing cheaper $5 option; wondered if daughter’s body image would be irrevocably harmed due to Barbie presence in home.
• 8:55 a.m. Hunkered down in Aisle 5 doing long division: Is it cheaper to buy 40 ounces of Jif or 22? Could not come up with answer sans paper; made mental note to enroll in community college math class.
• 10:00 a.m. Began unloading groceries.
• 10:05 a.m. Realized must clean fridge before putting away groceries.
• 10:10 a.m. Realized must clean b-fast dishes before cleaning fridge.
• 11 a.m. Pulled out Pumpkin Chili recipe. Realized I forgot to buy pumpkin pie spice, which meant all three pounds of lean ground beef would be flavorless; substituted apple pie spice; said prayer.
• 11:35 a.m. Called Hot Mama in Michigan and left voice mail; realized Kathryn and I have not actually spoken in four months, only traded life stories via voice mail.
• 11:37 a.m. Unloaded four suitcases.
• Noon. Gulped down pumpkin chili while listening to “Fresh Air” episode featuring columnist from Alaska; fretted whether or not journalism career will ever really take off again; considered whether stay-at-home motherhood was worth the sacrifice; decided it probably was (on most days); made mental note to e-mail magazine contacts regarding recent essays.
• 12:12 p.m. Cleaned up dishes; made mental note to buy new plastic Gladware.
• 12: 22 p.m. Checked out hair. Decided new cut is necessary; determined $40 was misspent on trendy flatiron; hoped like heck old stylist would take me back; mentally composed forgiveness speech for straying from her steadfast hands.
• 12:25 p.m. Took out recycling.
• 12:27 p.m. Made beds, threw laundry in hampers.
• 1:00 p.m. Realized public library books are overdue; found list of books; horrified to realize we had 66—somewhere—in the house; made mental note to tell husband to stop encouraging literacy.
• 1:02 p.m. Began sorting through kids’ book collection.
• 1:30 p.m. Considered whether or not “Curious George” books are really a rip off, as all are same plot doctored with different themes; decided Seuss is most versatile and original; lovingly patted old baby board books; considered how life would be different if we had a third child; decided not to bring this up with husband until Mastercard clears.
• 1:50 p.m. Kitchen alarm goes off indicating time to pack up to pick up kids.
• 1:55 p.m. Climbed over assorted granola bar wrappers into the driver’s seat; complimented self of bringing along water vs. Diet Coke; pangs for 82-ounce Diet Coke begin.
• 2:15 p.m. Arrived at preschool car line.
• 2:17 p.m. Wondered where the heck my “free” day went…

Monday, October 6, 2008


Confession: I am a total catalog junkie.
On any given day about 6 p.m., you’ll find my four-year-old twins floating in the tub while I perch atop the potty playing lifeguard. On my lap is usually a pile of dog-eared mags selling wares from J. Crew, Garnet Hill or my new favorite from England, Mini Boden.
While others might ply their minds with the national section of the local newspaper or a book of historical fiction, I prefer to segue into my evenings with something akin to Valium.
My husband, of course, thinks thumbing through a wrinkled copy of Pottery Barn Kids: Spring 2008 is a total waste of time. He is one of those intellectual types who memorizes maps and learns foreign languages in the space between shampooing and conditioning.
Mostly he worries that the glossies will actually hit their mark and lead to a purchase.
I guess I should tell him that PBK is the only reason I have yet to resign my post as stay-at-home mom.
Just looking at a picture of a color-coded playroom where children appear to share the mint green retro kitchen set gives me strength to make it through the bedtime battle then straighten up my own bomb-damaged rumpus room.
Moreover, I find that catalogs make me a more creative mother.
“Wow,” I’ll think to myself as I stroke a forefinger over the $36 “splat mat” advertised in Land of Nod. “I could make one of those out of the black trash bags to spare my new beige carpet the devastation of tempera paint.”
And so I do.
In addition, my catalog habit has resulted in healthier eating for our family.
I look at the apple-cheeked models in the Baby Gap Fall ad campaign and mentally remind myself to purchase organic grapes while at Sprouts later in the evening.
Occasionally, my catalogs even help me make friends.
While my husband has colleagues at work with whom to converse, I have “Elaine,” the operator at The Company Store.
Last Wednesday, when no girlfriend was available to take my calls, I spoke with Elaine about the potential purchase of a duvet covered in sunflowers.
“Well,” I told her, “I’m really cold down there in the Snoring Room at night so I think I need a new layer to add to the bed.”
“The Snoring Room?” she asked. “Why are you down in that guest room all by yourself, dear? You should have him get the Pillar Procedure. It stops 98 percent of all nasal reactions without the noise of one of those machines. My Earl did it five years ago and we’ve been back up in the master together ever since. Totally saved our marriage. Well, it was that and the cruise to Mexico. What’s your zip code, again, Honey?”
“75022,” I respond.
“That’s Dallas.” Elaine says. “If you can do the drive to Galveston, you might want to consider the Caribbean Royal Cruise Line.”
After 55 minutes on the phone, Elaine and I hang up.
I am thus completely refreshed and ready to scrub the pans in the sink.
Catalogs, too, give me a sense of the passing of time and encourage me to savor the precious moments with my own children.
My favorite Delia’s model—the one with the large blue eyes and the crooked front teeth—has really grown up since she became the retailer’s go-to girl three years ago. Last Christmas, her perfect mane was in pigtails now they’ve got her sporting these too-short miniskirts that make her look like a hussy despite the patterned schoolgirl knee-highs.
I swear. They grow up so fast.
I close my catalogs and put them away.
Gingerly, I lift my twins from the bathtub and gently wrap them in their towels.
Now, we’re ready for a good book.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Laundry Baskets

You’d think the new, shiny trampoline with the 13-foot enclosure would be the big hit at our house these days.
Or, perhaps you’d guess everyone’s favorite would be the pool. Filled with 35 floaties, various wooden boats, several diving toys and a waterfall, you’d think it would get a lot of love during the dog days of summer.
But, alas, even the tri-colored plastic roller coaster that sits in our vast, forested backyard sits dormant these days.
No, the hit of the month has been—drum-roll please—my laundry basket.
It is fabulous if I do say so myself.
I bought the white plastic model at a Linen-N-Things seven years ago in Rockville, Maryland. It came with a thoughtful indent for the hip. There’s also an oversized lip around the circumference for ease in gripping the container when an Everest of clothing spills over its edges.
Alas, I’m not the only one to note its form and function.
Sometime in early August, my four-year-old twins commandeered the laundry basket for higher purposes.
Suddenly, I began finding mini-moguls of shirts, pants and socks piled up in various rooms throughout the house. No sooner would I stack an ironed, folded load of darks into the basket and someone would tip the load into the bathtub and steal away with the container.
Last Friday, I found five separate heaps of clothing dumped unceremoniously in the hallway like piles of fall leaves recently raked.
Meanwhile, the laundry basket was having a marvelous time.
It first morphed into a boat. Will pushed various stuffed animals—and then his screaming sister—“through” the “Small World” ride at “Disney World.”
When that was over, it became the only prop in a dramatic afternoon at the Olympic Games. First, Will used it as the uneven bars, straddling the sides like Nastia Liukin before sticking a dismount on the playroom floor.
Next, Elizabeth had a turn with my laundry basket.
Following a hair-raising floor routine performed in a tutu to the tune of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” she upended the container and accepted a gold medal standing atop the laundry basket. It was, of course, a podium.
Afterwards, she pushed it over to her dolls, stripped one nude and gave it a bath in the container.
The laundry basket also had a turn as a grocery cart, a car and a circus cage.
I’m pretty sure no toy has seen this much action in my house since my kids discovered balls moved at around nine months.
So I wasn’t surprised earlier this week when Will made a simple request.
Following a rather rough day at physical therapy, I offered him a reward for his endeavors.
“Would you like a new truck from Target?” I asked, “Or how about a new Matchbox car?”
Will shook his head.
“Momma,” he said, a huge grin spreading across his face, “May I get my own laundry basket?”
And so we did.
It is bright blue.

On Tattoos

I’m not really a celeb watcher but I’m suddenly spending a lot of time lately thinking about Angelina Jolie following the birth of her twins.
I picture her French mansion at 3 a.m., the light from her nursery illuminating the roofs of paparazzi vans as she and Brad
(or a team of nannies) prop open their eyelids to conduct simultaneous feedings. (Even celeb babies have to eat, or so the tabs say.)
Mostly I’m wondering where the heck Angie is going to tattoo the coordinates of her babies’ birthplace.
It has been reported repeatedly that she inks them high up on her arm.
But with two new babies, this poses a conundrum.
Will she have two identical sets of coordinates done or just one to represent the multiple birth? Will they be parallel or beside one another? Whose mark goes first—Twin A or Twin B?
Perhaps the first one out of the womb gets dibs on the spot below Shiloh’s? Will this begin a lifelong rivalry?
To complicate matters, isn’t Angie running out of space on her arm to display the art?
If so, where will she put the new tattoo(s?) On her back where noone would see them? On her wrist in a bracelet formation?
I suppose they could go atop her C-section scar to be literal about it.
The folks in my morning boot camp would probably have something to say about this if I polled them.
The former track star who lapped me in the mile warm-up today sports a red ankle tattoo.
The gal who works out directly in front of me has chosen to place a sprawling cross on her upper shoulder.
Grunting Man on my left has his girlfriend’s name on his bicep.
As the sweat pools on my yoga mat, it occurs to me that that I am apparently the only one in the entire boot camp who does not have a tattoo. (The instructor is covered head-to-toe in camouflage, but I’m betting there’s one in there somewhere. Note, too, that I cannot accurately see any of the other campers because I’ve forgotten to insert my contact lenses.)
This gets me thinking: If I were to get a tattoo, what would it be and where would I put it?
I could go political and have a scribe stencil Obama’s logo on my calf and thus declare to the entire world my liberal leanings. When I ran, the calf muscle would contract and the logo would look like a flag waving.
Perhaps it would be more useful to place often-forgotten passwords on my palm. I’d have the key to on the right hand and my Gymboree pin number on the left.
Actually, what I really need are the directions for downloading my camera into my computer, though that would take up a lot of real estate.
Then again, tattoos aren’t really supposed to be practical.
Maybe I’d go all sentimental like Angie: I’d have the address of our first home tattooed on my foot—10153 Brookmoor Drive—in honor of place where my adult life started.
But wait, I’ve got it!
I’d use a phrase that encompasses this exact point in my life. It would articulate my work life and my life’s work (motherhood). I would put it in bold Helvetica type for all to see.
On my forehead I would tattoo: “SHUT THE DOOR!”


Trick or Treat

When you become a mother, you agree to do certain gross things not even the wildest sixth grade boy would dare imagine.
For starters, there’s the birth. No detailed book or loving girlfriend can prepare you for this. While I’ve never been to a murder scene, I now can imagine what it might look like.
Then, just as you’re coming to terms with all the gore, you start changing diapers.
As a mother, you’ll handle more raw sewage with your bare hands in your first three years of parenthood than the will the average sanitation worker in a 40-year career.
It will be runny. Gooey. Yellow. Green.
It will coat your clothes, your hair, your carpet. You will get it under your fingernails and, perhaps, all over your furniture.
For the most part, you will become immune to poop’s putrid odor.
But that’s not all.
Oh, no.
As a mother, you will actually put out your hands out so that they may serve as a receptacle when your child projectile pukes in public. You might even do it if your neighbor’s kid pukes and you’re on duty in their yard.
Moldy bananas, smashed hot dogs and patches of dried out spaghetti in your car interior become the least of your worries.
These substances all are the currency of motherhood.
Still, I recoiled in horror last week when I opened my new silver handbag in search of Mr. Mastercard.
There it sat, wedged between my favorite blue leather wallet and my husband’s cell phone, a corner of its greasy cellophane wrapper poking out.
As I pulled the six-day-old Texas State Fair corn dog into the light, I could see teeth marks on its tender pink underbelly. Petrified crumbs tinkled to the floor.
Amazingly, there was no mold.
The corn dog had been mummified to perfection in a vat of oil so nasty, no living microbe wanted to feast on it.
Still, there was a smell. A smell so strong, the fans above me began to automatically spin. The doors of The Children’s Place spontaneously blew open; customers were sucked though it screaming.
I stuffed the corn dog back into my purse (What, you thought I would surrender that cute $4.99 T-shirt?).
Clutching my purchase, I raced to the nearest trash receptacle, found the corn dog and deep-sixed it.
As I went to snap my purse closed, I spied the promising glimmer of green—a half eaten granola bar purchased the same day we at the corn dogs.
I sniffed the bar, deemed it free of corn dog cooties and popped the remainder into my mouth.
It was good.
So good.


Newbie Goes Live

My name is Julie Blair. And I am a techie illiterate.
For years now, I have pretty well hidden this fact.
I could answer e-mails. I could log onto websites. I made nearly $400 one fall EBaying my kids’ outgrown clothing.
The truth is, I’ve gotten by nicely thanks to a stable of enablers.
As a professional journalist, I’ve had people to rely on to make technology work for me. The newspaper’s librarian culled clips as background for stories; staff photographers did my photos or downloaded the images I shot on a point-and-shoot camera; the graphics department laid out my first book.
After all, I rationalized, I was so busy applying my talents to writing content, I didn’t have time to figure out the nuts and bolts of the systems that kept me afloat.
The truth is, I run short on patience and understanding.
Meanwhile, my husband is ready to divorce me.
I’ve bugged him to program the DVR, dispatch our family’s digital photos, set up the answering machine.
My ugliest confession: I was absolutely flummoxed for years when I had to plug in the printer to the computer.
His patience is wearing thin.
“I’m right-brained,” I’d whine.
He’d point out I’ve managed to earn two degrees from fine institutions of higher education. Then to shut me up, he’d plug in the cord.
But the gig is up—it has to be.
In an age where everybody and everything—including my four-year-old twins—are expected to have a deep understanding of technology, I can no longer afford to be illiterate. I’ve simply got to slow down, real the manuals and make some mistakes.
Hence, the birth of
This blog will serve as a means for me to understand the techie world and begin to get comfortable with it. Maybe someday soon, I’ll learn to harness its power.
Until then, I aim to start by posting my own family essays.
And as we all know, the biggest incentive for writers is to give them an audience.
Thanks for supporting me.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Family Lore: W&E, Ages 2-3


Once upon a time, in a land called Flower Mound, a princess named Elizabeth decided diapers were no longer to her liking.
Her mother, a very wise and astute woman, agreed it was time to introduce her child to the merits of the royal throne. Thus, the queen journeyed to the magical land of Tarjay where she traded her gold card for the prettiest potties even the pickiest of princesses would find provocative. There was a blue potty emboldened with a teddy, a green potty bearing a fish, a white potty with grand arms, and last but not least, a pink potty the color of posies.
“Oh!,” exclaimed Princess Elizabeth upon seeing her potties, “Me try them!”
And she did.
Princess Elizabeth sprinkled. Princess Elizabeth tinkled.
She dripped. She dropped.
She pondered. She puddle.
Her highness was very, very proud of her work and kindly called the entire kingdom to the Throne Room see the merits of her afternoon. Oh, how the queen and king clapped! Her twin brother Prince William spun in celebratory circles! Even the Royal Godfather, who had no children of his own and knew nothing yet of potty appreciation, could see with his very own eyes how wondrous it all was!
The bare-bottom princess beamed with delight.
But after several days of potty production, Princess Elizabeth grew weary.
“Bebe want play, no potty,” she said, with a look of dismay.
The queen, wanting to cease upon the princess’ initial interest, quickly offered more incentives. She built a library in the Throne Room complete with developmentally appropriate works about potty time. Then, she offered the princess a royal stepping stool so that her precious feet could easily reach the sink, a sink made festive by animal-shaped soaps scented with roses.
Sadly, the allure of the tap lasted for a few days. Princess Elizabeth found standing on the stool to be tiresome. Her little calves were tired. Her delicate fingers were wrinkled with so much washing. Besides, Prince William wanted to play Hide in the Royal Drapery, a game much more interesting.
Princess Elizabeth called for her Pull-Ups and declared potty time “all done.”
Now, the queen was very wise indeed. She knew from past experience that Princess Elizabeth had a will like that of the feistiest dragons in the kingdom and that if she pushed her highness on the issue, there would be no business to be had.
So she bided her time.
One day several weeks later, the queen and her entourage were shopping at Babies-R-Us when Princess Elizabeth called for a trip to the local potty. This, thought the queen, was a very good sign. So she parked her purchases and wheeled the Royal Buggy into the bathroom.
“Oh!” said the princess spying the kid-friendly facilities, “Bebe see little potty! Bebe try!”
The queen, being a bit of a germaphobe, made haste to carefully prepare a quilted space for her cherub on the petite potty. But once the place was properly prettied, her highness requested to be partially disrobed for the main event.
Not wanting to lose momentum, the queen complied with the princess’ wishes, though she suddenly realized her daughter’s royal robes were both too complicated to remove quickly in such a confined space. There were buttons to undo and zippers to unzip, and slippers to remove.
Fortunately, her highness was a creative sort and was able to busy herself by unrolling yard after yard after yard of toilet paper. Then, because the queen was taking so long and she needed to make herself useful, the princess carefully began shredding it.
Meanwhile, Prince William watched from his place in the Royal Buggy. He provided helpful instructions in a very loud voice so that both his sister and mother would be sure to hear them.
“Sit down, Bebe!” he repeated again and again, “Like Meeum!”
When no action was taken, Prince William took to cleaning out the trays in his Royal Buggy. First he pitched his Royal Sippy Cup onto the floor. Next, he dispensed his Royal Snacks. Then being a very kind and thoughtful brother, he also took care of his sister’s place.
The queen felt an unseemly prickle of sweat at her hairline.
The Great Undressing continued.
Princess Elizabeth shuffled beyond the billowing mountain of toilet paper and began conducting science experiments while she waited for her mother. She peeked beneath the lid to see exactly where the water would originate when she flushed. Then she caressed the underside of the porcelain lid to see if it was cool or warm or wet. She poked out her little pink tongue and was about to see if it tasted like vanilla ice cream when the queen finally lifted her onto the potty.
A calm washed over the threesome. And it grew quiet. Too quiet.
Princess Elizabeth swished her feet back and forth on her perch. Prince William sat at attention, mouth agape, waiting.
“Hmm,” thought the queen, “perhaps we need a little encouragement.”
While the queen had not lived long in the Land of Texas, she had learned that many in the community responded to loud chanting and arm waving.
“Prince William, we must cheer!” she exclaimed.
Thus, she stood tall in the stall, raised her arms and began.
“Go, Bebe, go! Go, Bebe, go! Go, Bebe, go!”
Prince William chimed in and together their voices rose and fell in a cadence surely heard all over the store, if not the entire kingdom.
Then suddenly, Princess Elizabeth went!
She was very, very proud.
“Meeum’s turn!” the Prince wailed, unstrapping himself from the Royal Buggy in a move so violent it nearly overturned the rig.
The perspiration dripped from the queen’s delicate underarms like morning dew falling from a magnolia. But the queen was no fool: Never before had the prince uttered an interest in the potty and she knew she must take the opportunity to introduce him to the pleasures of the throne.
She begin again to prepare the petite palette.
The unadorned princess, seeing that her mother would need her to busy herself for the next several moments, tottered off to explore the facilities next door.
When everything was finally in place, including the prince, Sister, Brother and Mother all cheered with magnificent gusto.
“Go, William, go! Go, William, go! Go, William, go!”
They tried again, even louder than before.
“Go, William, go! Go, William, go! Go, William, go!”
The prince squinted his eyes and grimaced.
“Meeum want snack,” he said, “Meeum hungry.”
The queen was relieved to have closure. And frankly, she was a little hungry herself.
But as luck would have it, she too had been inspired by all the cheering.
She gathered up her children and their Royal Robes, washed their tiny hands and parked them back in the Royal Buggy.
For a third time, she prepared the potty. Then she took to the throne.
The prince and princess started with big, round eyes at their mother.
Then quietly, they began chanting. Faster and faster their words came tumbling out. Their voices crescendoed and the words filled the chamber for all to hear:
“Go, Momma, go! Go, Momma, go! Go, Momma, go!”
And so she did.



I always pictured my three-year-old son’s first love as a sprite of a thing.
She’d have sparkly blue eyes, bouncy pigtails and a contagious laugh. This little girl—her name might be Caroline—would appreciate William’s sweet nature. She’d admire his artwork and quiet humor. At recess, Caroline would hold William’s hand as they sat under a tree and talked about clouds. She’d help him find Bear if he went missing. She’d even embrace his crazy twin sister with a knowing smile.
But we mothers are often wrong.
William, it turns out, loves a 40-something hippie chick named Anna Dewdney. This woman is herself the mother of two small children one of whom is named Cordelia. She resides somewhere in Vermont.
I know few other things about Ms. Dewdney except that she has really, really long brown hair and enjoys rhyming. This information I gleaned from her two famous (at least to us) books, “Llama, Llama Red Pajama” as well as “Llama, Llama Mad at Mama.”
Her picture is right there, on the back of the book jacket. She’s smiling—and bundled up, of course, because it is cold in Vermont.
William—my obsessor—became attached to Anna’s first book at age 2; he discovered her second story a month ago. Both volumes are now dog-eared and regularly toted from room to room along with Bear, his inflatable green guitar and various Fisher-Price Little People figurines.
William can recite “Pajama”—the story of a small llama’s ability to cope with separation from his mama—and do all the voices. He’s learned what rhyming is from the story and how to do it even if his rhyming “words” are just made up mumbo-jumbo.
This is quite the life achievement when you’re three and, thus, it leaves an impression.
So I suppose I should not have been surprised when young Wills wanted to send a valentine to Anna D. After all, everyone else in the family had been accounted for.
“Mama, we gotta send Anna Dewdney a letter,” William said, his hands busily adding “fringe” to a red heart I had just cut out.
“Uh huh, sure” I said as I swept up three pounds of glitter from the floor.
“No, mom, right now,” he said, scissors in mid snip, his hazel eyes looking up at me with the seriousness of a law student’s.
“Sit down,” he instructed, “and start the words.”
He pushed a piece of white construction paper in front of me.
“Tell Anna Dewdney,”—William always refers to the author by both first and last names out of respect, I’m sure—“that we really, really like her books. And that she should do a video. No, wait, a movie. I should make the movie. I’m gonna make the movie after I go to college in California. It’ll be about llamas. Good ones. Ones that don’t make you scared at night. That like to shop. In grocery stores. With their mamas. Tell Anna Dewdney to write more llama stories but they have to have covers that aren’t blue. I don’t like the blue ones.”
I scribbled furiously as William’s words tumbled out.
“Now, Mama, we’re done,” he said, scrambling down from the table. “You go get the stamp and an envelope.”
Hopping on one leg, he worked his way over to the dining room where he plucked a sticky return address label from my Christmas card pile.
“Now, let’s go to your office,” he commanded. “You’ll get Anna Dewdney’s address from the computer.”
Right. From the computer.
Dear God, I thought to myself as I ascended the staircase, please let Anna Dewdney’s address be out there in cyberspace. Please. Please.
William pulled up a chair as I booted up the computer.
I fiddled around for a bit then—holy Moses—there it was.
Anna Dewdney lives in Putney, Vermont, town of 2,634 people, median income: $40,000.
“William, I got it,” I said.
“Good job, Mama,” he said, “I knew you could do it.”
I stuffed the letter into an envelope, he stamped it, then we marched barefoot to the mailbox together. My arms quivered as I hoisted all 38 pounds of William into the air so that his little arms could reach the red flag. He pulled it up ever so gently, popped open the door and carefully snuggled Anna Dewdney’s letter between the bills.
I plunked William down on the sidewalk.
“Nice work, Mama,” he said brushing his hands together, a grin spreading from chin to cheek.
I hope Anna Dewdney—and her llama friends—can appreciate a good story as much as we do. Often, real life is better than fiction.


WRITTEN: Summer 2007

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
Goodbye, Kraft macaroni and cheese. Adios, apple chips. So long, bacon bits.
Three hours into my cleaning spree and I was still on jet fuel. Bags of trash blooming with my family’s favorite foods mounded around me like the some bizarre plastic mountain range.
I pulled forth a brimming container of Jif peanut butter, one of the four foods my three-year-old son will actually consume, and squinted to make out the label. It read: “Made from roasted peanuts and sugar. Contains 2 percent or less of molasses, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean), fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono-and diglycerides and salt.”
I gasped.
It was bad enough that the J.M. Smucker Company was loading up a childhood classic with heart-clogging oils but it was even worse that they were sneakily declaring the fact. By telling shoppers that “2 percent or less” of a product is involved in its packaging, it seems the harm is very minimal.
Well, they weren’t going to fool this momma.
They might as well replace the peppy red, blue and green striped label with a skull and cross bones. Jif was poisoning my children!
I dunked the peanut butter into the open trash can with certain aplomb.
I always got like this after a good seminar.
And the night before had been a doosey. Nutritionist Lexie Smith had visited my twins club and made a case for eating natural, organic food. Dump anything with a pesticide sprayed on it, she advised, do away with refined flours, and forget you ever heard of sweeteners like Splenda which were created in laboratories. It is also smart to avoid food additives like dyes and, of course, fast food, she added.
“Do you ever wonder why French fries discovered in your car seats days after you passed through the drive-through look the same as when you opened the container?” she asked. “That’s because bacteria won’t touch it. And here we’re pumping our kids full of these products.”
Then, she backed up the importance of healthy eating with scary numbers: Childhood diabetes is skyrocketing, many tweens have been found to have corroding arteries, infertility strikes more Americans than people of any other culture.
Diet alone, she added, can prevent the majority of diseases and ensure your body works like its supposed to.
I concluded right then and there that it was a dereliction of duty to ever again put marshmallows atop my kids’ cocoa.
And so I began dumping.
And dumping.
And dumping.
Five hours after the start of my project, my pantry looked clean enough to have Martha Stewart inspect it. There were hardly any of those toxic boxed food items left; the canned goods included only staples like chicken broth and diced tomatoes. The remaining pastas were whole wheat; I had organized my spices according to the Dewey Decimal system.
Bravo, I though, as I shut the door and cracked open a Mother Earth Mango juice.
The next morning, however, I noticed a flaw in my plan.
It was 6:21 a.m. and Will wanted breakfast. (Well, he never actually wants breakfast, but I feel it is important to at least put something in front of him so that when the Department of Child Neglect comes calling upon noting his boney ribs that I can truthfully tell them I tried to feed him.)
With all of the peanut butter, cereal and nitrate-laden bacon long gone, there was nothing for him to eat. I poked around my now neatly arranged baking section and—ah ha!—spied some whole grain Quaker oats.
I considered making old-fashioned, stovetop oatmeal. Well, there was just no way he would eat it. I mean, even the organic stuff sporting happy, furry Elmo on the box was routinely rejected.
What else could I do with it?
Then, inspiration struck.
I would make a healthful oatmeal bar like the kind marketed in the “easy breakfast” section of Kroger except without all the transfats.
I called to Will to put on his pint-sized apron and gave myself another pat on the back—the nutritionist said that children who prepare their food are more likely to actually eat it.
Together we found a cookbook.
That’s funny, I thought to myself as we leafed through it. All the recipes including oatmeal were for cookies. Well, I’d just have to improvise.
Will cracked the eggs and plopped them into the bowl.
The next item required was butter. Two full sticks. Even if there was a lot of it in the recipe, at least it was natural, I reasoned. That noxious margarine stuff could limit a child’s IQ, I just knew it could.
Then the recipe called for sugar. Lots of it—almost three cups—both the brown and the forbidden white granules.
So, there’s a little sugar, I thought to myself. At least I didn’t use Splenda. And the kids were going to eat the bars long before nap time so they’d have plenty of time to burn it off before I tried to put them to bed.
Just as I was about to get the mixer going, I heard Twin B banging on the door.
“Don’t move,” I told my little chef. “Momma is going to get Sister.”
Five minutes later, I had the blonde begging to help the brunette. But as many cooks know, too many in the kitchen spoil the broth.
Will tightened his grip on the Mix Master and glared at Elizabeth who was eagerly pushing a chair over to the counter. Faster than you can say “cardiothoracic surgeon,” she scrambled up and made a move for the long wooden spoon in her brother’s right hand.
Chaos ensued.
In an attempt to save the morning, I fished a bag of M&Ms out from behind the Organic Cheez-Its. (I kept them with a clean conscience, you see, as they are my potty training incentive.)
I poured a cup of candy out on the counter and told Elizabeth to sort out the blue from the pile so that Will could continue to stir the bars in a sister-free zone of contentment.
Meanwhile, Will had taken the opportunity to try out the goo as a new hair gel. And butter being what it is, shaking the slop free from his curls took me a few minutes.
I looked over at the counter to see Elizabeth jamming 400 dyed M&Ms into her mouth. (I assumed that Easter Bunny pink was probably not a color found in nature.)
“Rainbow!” she screeched as she dumped the remainder of the one-pound bag into Will’s batter.
To sum it up, the breakfast cookies—and that’s what they turned out to be—were terrific. Extraordinary, really. Especially when warm.
Especially when washed down with an ice cold Diet Coke.



I knew instinctively that the peace in my home had evaporated even without looking up from my book.
It was nap time on a sunny week day. I had indulgently snubbed the dishes, creeping upstairs to the quiet of the guest room with a new novel and an old patchwork quilt. One hour after I had put the kids to bed, a glass of ice tea now sat neglected and perspiring on the night stand as I thumbed through the troubles in someone else’s life.
But suddenly, my breath caught. My house was absolutely still yet I knew as sure as the sun was in the sky that my two-and-half-year old daughter had just Hudinied her way out of her crib for the very first time. I knew, too, that she had tiptoed across the playroom with all the stealth of a cat burglar and now stood just outside the door.
She was most likely naked.
I tore my eyes from the text and fixed them on the doorway.
Elizabeth had at least taken the time to accessorize her birthday suit. Her chubby feet were rammed into pink plastic doll shoes and a pink felt purse heavy with rocks dangled from the crook in her arm.
She was so delighted with herself she couldn’t even speak, a grin the size of Texas plastered across her face.
I was simultaneously awed and angered.
How I managed to also be surprised by her newfound skills was beyond me.
After all, everyone had told me that one day my twins would climb out of their cribs.
In fact, in the past year and a half Elizabeth had proven herself a master of undoings. She bested the scientists at both the Britax and Combi companies, learning how to wriggle out of the child restraints in her car seat and stroller. She could open any child safety lock on any interior door so long as it was at eye level. And for kicks, this child unscrewed the lids of various jars in the pantry--jars so tightly sealed by my manwich of a husband that I had to call a locksmith to make a PB&J.
I sighed inwardly. In order to get my child to stay in her room and provide her even a chance at resting, I would have to reverse the locks on her door and lock them from the outside so that she could not escape.
I immediately called Grandpa, our go-to handyman, and within hours the job was done. The only complicating factor, we noted, was that Elizabeth’s bedroom was part of a circular floor plan that linked her space with two bathrooms and a guest room. That meant that five doors total had to be locked in order to keep Elizabeth from exiting her bedroom into the hallway--or entering a bathroom or guest room, all of which provided scary opportunities for a curious toddler.
We would have to be very vigilant to make sure that Elizabeth stayed put.
(William’s bedroom is not part of the circular floor plan; his room is on the opposite side of the catwalk that serves as our playroom. He has only one door which is easy to lock but, of course, he is not the kind of toddler who would ever consider climbing out of his crib.)
That very night, like so many in our household, proved to be inspiration for Barnum and Bailey.
Despite my efforts and that of my mother, who often joins us for bedtime, Thing 1 and Thing 2 leapt out of the bathtub, racing throughout the maze of rooms that make up the second floor. They looped from one room to the next like professional NASCAR drivers, howling as the two grown-ups slammed into one another trying to catch them. Finally, we decided the best strategy was to work together to flush them into the playroom and lock the doors behind us.
Here we go, I thought, as I twisted the springs: One lock. Two. Three. Four. Grandma would turn the fifth when she exited Elizabeth’s bedroom.
With the children finally out in the open we were able to separate them--often the key to diffusing the pre-bedtime bursts of energy--and carry them off to their individual bedrooms.
More than one hour later, my husband and I were relaxing over dinner when we realized Grandma was still upstairs with Elizabeth. It was not uncommon for Memaw to extend bedtime with Elizabeth, as our precocious child had a winning way of convincing even the most structured caregiver to stretch out bedtime.
On the other hand, Grandma was known for snoozing and it was very possible she had fallen asleep in Elizabeth’s bed.
“I’m going up there to get Memaw,” I told my husband.
I trundled up the stairs and decided to peek into Elizabeth’s bedroom via the bathroom so not as to be in her line of vision is indeed she was still awake.
I pushed open the door to the guest room and there was Grandma, perched on the edge of the guest room bed.
“WHERE have you been?” she whispered, “I’ve been locked in up here for an hour! I didn’t want to wake Elizabeth by passing through her room, so I’ve been trying to flag down passing cars through the open window.”
We slide back down the stairs.
“You locked the doors, right?” I asked.
She plopped down at the dinner table, grabbed a dinner roll and nodded affirmatively.
Just then, a door creaked upstairs and a little blonde head poked out.
“I’ll get her,” my husband said.
He reappeared 15 minutes later, triumphant.
“Okay, I got it,” he said, “I made sure all five doors are locked. There is no way she can get out now.”
Overhead something thumped.
We heard a door open and close.
Elizabeth appeared at the stop of the staircase with her rock-filled purse in one hand, that Texas-sized grin sprawling across her face.
“Hey, Daddy,” she whispered, “BOO!”


Quotes from the Playroom

"Hey, Mom, if my wingspan gets any bigger, I'm going to need new pajamas." -- Elizabeth

Elizabeth refuses to graduate: Kindergarten has been such a hit that Elizabeth does not want to move up to first grade. "Mom," she said last night as she hugged her Lamby in bed, "I definately do not want to go to first grade. They don't have many parades in first grade. In fact, I haven't seen any first grade parades at all. So I think I'm going to do kindergarten again."

Back on the dole: Elizabeth today decided that she's done--DONE--with earning an allowance. The week-long experiment began at her behest. She had been earning 50 cents each Friday for carrying her dishes to the sink, planting her dirty clothes in the hamper and hanging up her bath towel. "I am quitting the allowance," she announced today. "It is much harder than it looks!"

The Benefits of a Tonsilectomy Are Many: William says: "I get to have ice cream all day long! And nothing nutritious at all! For a whole week!"

The Highest of Compliments: We've had tremendous preschool teachers over the past three years but noone, apparently, holds a candle to Mrs. Kindergarten.

"Oh," said William as he climbed into the car after Day #3 of kindergarten, "I love elementary school! And I love Mrs. C! And since I've had four teachers so far, that's saying a lot!"

From Kindergarten to College:

I long ago realized that my children do best when we explain upcoming events to them in detail--repeatedly. They know what to expect and can set aside any fears, going on to joyfully anticipate whatever we're doing.

I employed this theory when it came to kindergarten, of course.

Following the Parents' Open House, I spent an evening describing the exact set-up of Room #202 to Elizabeth. I verbally diagrammed the tiny chairs, the height and length of the lockers, the placement of the computers. I further talked about the other parents I met and re-inacted my conversation with her kindergarten teacher. I even detailed what the teacher was wearing--a chocolate polka-dotted sheath and kitten heels.

Thirty minutes later, I asked Elizabeth if she had any questions. I figured she'd express fears about getting lost or not knowing other kids.

"What I want to know," Elizabeth said, "is this: What's inside a tooth? Is it a solid, a liquid or a gas?"

We love geography: William and Elizabeth were debating the whereabouts of Iceland this afternoon.

Elizabeth: "Where is Iceland?"
William: "It is North."
Elizabeth: "How far North?"
William: "About 13 minutes."

It was a bad day for life-threatening viruses at our house last week. Memaw was talking with Elizabeth about the importance of hand washing. "Oh, yes," said Elizabeth as she scrubbed away, "I don't want to get the mumps or the weasels."

Momma needs to brush up on world leaders: Elizabeth came home from preschool with an Indian bindi beneath her blonde bangs and jingling a series of bangles on her arms. "Mom," she asked, "If Ghandi preached love and peace, why did everyone want to get rid of him?" Despite my liberal arts degree, I had to run to Wikipedia.

Daddy blows a fuse at Wal-Mart: We hear from a good source that Daddy lost it while buying groceries today. (In his defense, we deployed him with a list that included 572 items and two hungry four-year-olds.) Apparently said children were begging for potato chips. Said children continued to pull bags of chips off the shelf and dump them into the grocery cart. After warning said children 200 times to please put back the chips, Daddy grabbed one bag and smashed it's contents to smithereens. He made his point, of course. The downside: The bag popped open, spewing potato-y goodness geyserlike throughout Aisle 4.

Some restaurants need to continue branding: Elizabeth's favorite new eatery is "Crackle Barrels."

Love at first taste: Neither of my kids has ever had soda pop. That changed at a pal's birthday party this weekend when William discovered the joy of Sprite. (This was not my idea. Another little friend careened on a sidewalk and was given some as a distraction from various injuries; of course, everyone else wanted some too.) After taking a sip, he cradled the can in his still-chubby fist and gave us a huge grin. He sipped and sipped and sipped. Children ran off to play atop the huge wooden tree fort at the nearby park; others gathered around a pinata. William didn't budge. He sipped and sipped and sipped. When he was done, he tipped the can upside down, held it above his head and shook it, looking for more. "Can we have Sprite for my birthday?" he asked. Yes, I suppose we can...

REMEMBER THE OLYMPICS? William does. We followed an Audi to school today--the car's trunk features four looped silver circles. "Mom," said Will, "the people ahead of us were in the Olympics!" At that, he began humming the Olympic theme song.

LIBRARIAN IN TRAINING: Also on the way to school today, W & E began debating the nature of tornados. Were they "stuck" to the ground or did they "fly" through the air? "William," said Elizabeth matter-of-factly, "They are in the air and they jump over water. I read it in the nonfiction section of the library."

Christmas quotes:

Grandpa to Elizabeth: "A Hannah Montana doll? Is she from Wyoming?"

Julie to William: "Of course there is a Santa Claus! Who else would drop a 5-pound rainbow-colored lolipop into your stocking before 7 a.m.?"

Elizabeth to Grandparents following a trip to see The Nutcracker: "You better take me to a restaurant that serves healthy food or Mom will fire you."

Proof that I'm getting my money's worth from my children's Christian preschool education:

1. Elizabeth got into the car today and, sniffing, said, "Do I smell frankenscense?"
(When quizzed, she also knew that the three kings brought Jesus gold and mhyrr. She also knew mhyrr is a spice.)

2. Both W. and E. can sing the dreidel song; William knows the rules to the game.

3. Elizabeth's new imaginary friend is named "Nineveh." That's right--she named her pal after the ancient city named in the Bible located in what is now modern-day Iraq.

4. Elizabeth looks at the Harvest moon and says, "Jesus had a bigger star!"

On foreign exchange students:

Our lovely new neighbors have a super-cute foreign exchange student from Germany who played "Snow White" atop our trampoline with four children for what seemed to be two hours. Of course, she is now legendary in our home.

William: "We need a foreign exchange student."
Me: "Where do you want to get one from?"
William: "The foreign exchange student store."

On four-year-old measurements:

Elizabeth is making toast.

E: "William, how much jam do you want?"
W: "Oh, about four pounds."
E: "No problem."

Under the category of Things I Don't Want to Know: Elizabeth informs me that she ate ALL of her fruit salad while perched on the potty pooping.

An Oh-Crap Moment: I went to the kitchen this morning to get myself a drink and I automatically poured the milk into a sippy cup... The children, mind you, were at preschool...

Elizabeth: "Hey, Mom. Will, Dad and I are going to China. You can stay here and take care of the house."

Elizabeth loves the Midwestern fall: "It's a show for my eyes!"

Elizabeth's definition of psychic: "Lucas is my SIDEKICK. He knows things before I say them!"

Under the category of Things I Never Thought I'd Say:

Julie to Jim: "I never thought I'd be in favor of burning books but our school librarian can begin with 'Barbie's First Sleepover.'"

About the Author

Julie Blair began her professional writing career at the age of 18 at her hometown newspaper, The Niles Daily Star, located in Southwestern Michigan. (She often had to call her mother from the pay phone outside the newsroom to get directions to her assignments, but that's another story.) Since then, she has earned a BA in communications and political science from Hope College in Holland, Michigan and an MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). While Julie has written for several national newspapers and magazines, she is most proud of her work as a staff writer for Education Week. Her first book, "Building Bridges With the Press: A Guide for Educators" can be found on She will begin work as a columnist for the Dallas Morning News in the fall of 2011. In addition, she is working on a travel guide called "Sandcastles and Strawberries: Exploring Michigan with Kids." Julie lives in the Dallas area with her husband Jim, seven-year-old twins William and Elizabeth, and 20-month-old Charlotte.