Friday, April 29, 2011

A Greeting Card that Made My Day

The other night I made the Picket Fence Post kids a healthy, tasty dinner. I marinated chicken breast and Vidalia onions in Soy Vay Island Teriyaki sauce. I stuck them onto skewers along with grape tomatoes, red pepper slices, fresh cilantro, halved mushrooms and freshly sliced oranges. While grilling the shish kebobs, I also put fresh mango slices on a skewer. It was all served with sides of plain yet handmade (not by me) pasta and sliced apples. If they wanted to put a mango salsa onto the food, they could do that too.

The kids hardly ate a thing. One said he was too full from his afterschool snack. Another ate only pasta and sliced apples. The third ate a minuscule amount of food then also claimed a lack of appetite.

Normally, I would’ve been uber-ticked off because I spent a decent amount of time preparing this healthy meal only to have The Ungratefuls scorn it. But today I received a card in the mail from one of my friends. On the front was a drawing of mismatched kitchen chairs, a white wooden kitchen table, a bottle of wine, two wine glasses and what appears to be a salad bowl. The sentiment read as follows: “A good cook knows that it’s not what is on the table that matters. It’s what is in the chairs.”

Thank you Julie for giving me something positive to hang onto while the kids turned their noses up at yet another meal.

Watching the Royal Wedding with Reluctant Kiddos

Image credit: AP via Gawker
So I got up at 5 a.m. fully expecting to park myself in front of the TV in the family room and watch the Will and Kate wedding by myself, just me, my bowl of cereal and my cup of Earl Grey tea.

Then at about 6 when the ceremony was beginning and Kate was walking down the aisle, I decided that I just had to go get The Girl, even though she usually wakes up at 6:30 on school days in order to get out of the house by 7:15 to catch the bus. You see The Girl loves to sketch. All the time. And she mostly sketches pictures of women in various gowns and get-ups that spring from the creative recesses of her mind.

And as Kate was strolling down that aisle, in the midst of all those people – including the women wearing the funky hats (like Sarah Ferguson’s daughter whose hat seemed inspired by Dr. Seuss) – I thought there’s no way she would’ve wanted to miss it.

But as it turns out, dragging a 12-and-a-half-year-old sporty gal who disdains “girly” duds even though she draws them all the time, wasn’t such a hot idea after all.

“How long IS this?” she whined, very grumpy as I attempted to rouse her interests in the events.

In her exhaustion, she proceeded to provide comic relief, which was sorely lacking in the media coverage.

“I want a hat,” I quipped, truly in awe by the coolness of the hats and wondering why they’re not in fashion here in the States.

Don’t get one!” my daughter replied emphatically.

Soon after her twin brother showed up, The Girl fled the room, thoroughly bored. Meanwhile, I asked The Eldest Boy what he thought about the wedding. He took one look at the TV and said, “Too royal.”

As one of the many ministers spoke during the service, a kid asked, “Isn’t that the guy from The Gilmore Girls?” The child was, of course, referring to Headmaster Charleston from Chilton Academy where Rory Gilmore went to high school.

The Girl popped back into the room while she nibbled on a toasted bagel. “What’s going on NOW?” she asked.

“More singing,” I said. She rolled her eyes.

By the time The Girl left for school, she admonished me not to watch royal coverage all day, but not before informing The Spouse that should she ever get married, she wants to wear a soccer uniform to the wedding.

Image credit: Associated Press via Gawker.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Notes from a Rainy Spring Break: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Potter Mania, Patriot's Day, Passover, Clothes Shopping & a Visit to the ER

If you asked the Picket Post Fence kids, I'm guessing they'd likely tell you that they did "nothing" during their spring vacation, nothing of note anyway. We didn't go away to a warm, tropical locale like several of their classmates. We didn't go to an amusement park or a super-fun venue. We stayed home and I didn't arrange for them to party their way through the week.

And though I still attempted to work from my home office this week -- one day resorting to hanging a blanket over my windowed office door and banishing the children from the room so I could finish something -- between The Spouse and I, we still managed to do a bunch of stuff with the kids so they can't say they just sat around all week. Well, they can say that they sat around all week, even though they really didn't:

-- After The Youngest Boy's hockey team blessedly lost their playoff game, thus ending the season (*wild fist pump from this hockey mom*), we went out to dinner at the 99 Restaurant near us, which boasts that the day after the Red Sox win, kids eat free. Suffice is to say that the restaurant haven't been serving up many free kids' meals lately as the last place Red Sox haven't exactly gotten off to a stupendous start, and our kids certainly didn't eat free the night we dined there.

-- One weekend night, the five of us went to see The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, which was at least better than the first film version of one of my family's favorite kids' book series by Jeff Kinney. In this sequel, Greg Heffley wasn't a raging, inconsiderate narcissist and actually had a heart, unlike in the first film where he was nearly soulless.

The Picket Fence Post kids spent the whole car ride home afterward telling me how much nicer Mrs. Heffley is than I am and how, compared to her, I'm "wicked strict." I don't know whether to take that as a compliment or not.

Image credit: Boston Breakers
-- The Spouse and The Girl went to see the local women's professional soccer team, The Breakers, play their home opener. The Girl got to meet and get photos/autographs with players after the game, including with her new favorite professional soccer player, Alex Scott, who plays defense, like The Girl frequently does. I was thrilled that she got to enjoy a game where female athletes took center stage for a change.

-- On Patriot's Day -- a holiday in Massachusetts commemorating the beginning of the Revolutionary War -- The Spouse woke The Youngest Boy up in the 3 a.m. hour (yes, he really did) so they could drive up to the town green in Lexington, Mass. and secure a good spot from which to watch the reenactment of the first battle of the Revolutionary War. They returned home like twin ice cubes from being out in the cold for so long, even though they'd just spent an hour in a toasty warm & cozy restaurant eating goopy, syrupy breakfasts.

While The Spouse essentially slept the rest of that day, I took The Girl to the Emergency Room to have her wrist X-rayed and learned she'd only sustained a sprained wrist -- as opposed to a broken wrist -- during her weekend soccer game. (A follow-up orthopedic appointment took place later in the week for more laughs and wasted moments spent lingering in a waiting room, after The Girl's pain persisted.) After our ER visit, I cooked up a Seder dinner for the Picket Fence Post family. The Spouse made the brisket, while I made everything else.

-- There was ample Harry Potter mania at the Picket Fence Post household over the vacation week as I finally allowed The Youngest Boy to watch the fifth movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, seeing as though we finished reading the book aloud together last month as part of our Harry Potter Reading Out Loud Project. (We're at the beginning of reading the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.)

Early in the vacation week, I purchased Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 on DVD and finally got a chance to see if for myself because when it came out in theaters last fall, events conspired against me being able to see it, though The Girl saw it twice and took The Spouse with her once. It was a fantastic film -- much better than the Half-Blood Prince film -- and it left me feeling depressed and sad for one of my favorite characters from children's literature. I have a soft spot for Harry Potter.

-- Later in the week I took the two older kids (The Youngest Boy was visiting some classmates at the time) candle pin bowling in a bowling alley that looked and smelled like it was 1965, only minus the cigarette smoke. (I half expected to see Sally Draper there.) We met a friend of mine and her three children and I got to jabber away with my college pal while our kids bowled and I intermittently humiliated The Eldest Boy by cheering "too loudly" and embarrassing him . . . which only made me want to do it more.

-- The kids and I also spent several hours in the torturous shopping mall near us (I HATE shopping, except for books) seeking clothing items that would be appropriate for Easter, Passover and a first Communion we'll be attending in a few weeks. It always feels as though I just went shopping to get them clothes, but they keep doing that growing thing, necessitating frequent clothes shopping excursions. During our trip, The Youngest Boy was for some reason trying to press me into buying him a suit (?!), this from the kid who spends most of his waking hours trying to convince me that 40 degrees is shorts weather.

It was general chaos as I tried to oversee not only what the kids were trying on -- checking on the sizes and the price of the clothing, as well as whether the items fit them when they emerged from the changing rooms, sometimes all at the same time. I started stressing out, which generally leads to bad shopping decisions on my part. When we got home later, The Eldest Boy told me I had left some of the stuff that was designated as being in the "to buy" pile behind, though I think he accidentally left those items in the dressing room. But I could be wrong, perhaps that last discussion about boys' undergarments unhinged me. Who knows?

-- An ice cream sundae party with their younger cousins was canceled after one of my nephews got ill (before coming to our house) and we ate the sundaes without them. We visited the library once, had two of the kids' friends over to play at the house on Patriot's Day and The Girl had a sleepover with a friend one night.

Now I need a vacation from their vacation where they didn't "do anything."

Image credits: CinemagieBoston Breakers.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Breaking News from the Picket Fence Post Family . . .

. . . The 2010-2011 youth hockey season, which began in August 2010, is now, officially, over. (This makes me wonder if that nagging cough and runny nose that I've had for what seems like months on end will finally end now that I'm no longer sitting in ice cold arenas.)

Now we'll have oodles and oodles of extra time given that we now just have one kid playing Little League -- The Spouse is coaching the team -- and two kids playing travel soccer. With all this free time, maybe I'll take up a new hobby, like catching up on sleep.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Three for Thursday: The Pop Culture Edition: 'The Middle,' 'Modern Family' & 'Parenthood'

Image credit: ABC
The Middle: Don’t Cave on the Punishment

The latest episode of The Middle sparked all kinds of debate in the Picket Fence Post house about how far The Spouse and I would go to make a point and stand our ground when we punish a kid in the hopes of teaching him or her a lesson.

In The Middle’s fictional Heck family, the obnoxious, clueless teenage son Axl would not stop leaving his dirty socks all over the house. This habit was driving his father Mike absolutely insane. After repeatedly asking Axl to refrain from abandoning his socks, Axl continued with his slovenly ways until Mike threw down the gauntlet: If Mike found one more dirty sock lying around the house, he’d punish him, big time, take away something Axl cares about.

That next time occurred shortly thereafter. Mike was highly frustrated and, when Axl got all snarky and challenged Mike to take away whatever he wanted, Mike told him he couldn’t play in his final basketball game of the season . . . a move Mike immediately regretted and which his wife Frankie, behind closed doors, said she thought was idiotic. (She said she would’ve taken away use of the car, his iPod, his cell phone or TV before going to the extreme of taking away a kid’s season ending hoop game.)

And when Mike and Frankie learned that Axl was on the cusp of breaking his father’s high school record for the most free throws in a single season, they started actively looking for ways to try to back off the punishment without looking like they were backing off. They, in essence, caved.

The Spouse and I agreed that had one of us hastily punished a kid without realizing that he or she was on the verge of breaking a record, we’d likely offer the kid a choice: Miss the game OR lose the car/iPod/cell phone. However if it wasn’t the last game, too freakin’ bad. Next time, pick up your damned socks kid.

Modern Family’s 'We Love the Word'

Modern Family was so fun this week. I really needed the laughter it gave me like a little gift I didn't know I needed.

From Phil Dunphy’s ill-advised minivan shrink-wrap scheme to promote his real estate business – which would up making the family minivan look like a giant ad for an escort service with Claire and Haley serving as Phil’s escorts – to Cameron’s over-the-top middle school musical direction, I was thoroughly entertained.

As the end of the season draws near, I’m already starting to feel Modern Family withdrawal symptoms.

Image credit: NBC
Parenthood: Dealing with Teens is a Massive Emotional Challenge

Boy was NBC’s Parenthood a tough watch this week, leading up to the season finale next Tuesday.

There was the distinctly uncomfortable scenario of parents learning that their 16-year-old was having sex with her boyfriend. Sure, the mom, Kristina Braverman, had come right out and asked her daughter Haddie if she and her boyfriend were having sex, so when the girl eventually told her they were, Kristina should’ve had some kind of plan about what she’d do with that information. Instead, Kristina, who first had sex at age 15, looked baffled and uncertain as to what she was supposed to do next. Her husband Adam was horrified, wouldn’t even look at Haddie and had a great deal of trouble dealing with the contrast of him seeing her as a little girl and seeing Haddie as a young woman who was discovering her sexuality. (I covered this in more detail in my episode review.) The subject of teenage sex was dealt with in such a realistic fashion that The Spouse was definitely squirming in his seat.

Then there was the sadness surrounding the whip-smart and edgy Amber, the high school senior who plunged into a downward spiral when she learned that she didn’t get into either of the colleges to which she applied. She started doing drugs, drinking and engaging in reckless behavior, including showing up at a restaurant to meet her mother for dinner while high and dressed bizarrely.

It just breaks your heart as a parent to watch a child endure emotional pain and watch her mother Sarah struggle with how to help her child guide through this wrenchingly difficult time.

The entire episode made me admire parents of teens – which I’ll become at the end of the summer – all the more for the challenges with which they must deal and still attempt to retain their sanity.

Image credits: Eric McCandless/ABC and NBC.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Notes from the Grade 4 Invention Convention

We here at the Picket Fence Post household thought we'd be able to breathe easier when the fourth grade Invention Convention concluded (although the hockey season is still ongoing, but that's another matter). And at first we did.

The Youngest Boy did well this afternoon explaining to the parents who attended the Invention Convention how his creation, the "Dog-O-Feeder," works: You train your dog (in this case our dog Max) to press on the wooden lever, which will lift the clear plastic square in front of the hole in the plastic container filled with food allowing the dry kibble to tumble out.

That Dog-O-Feeder represents a whole lot of sweat and a mess o'drama, mostly experienced by The Spouse, whom The Youngest Boy preferred to help him with the school project.

But alas, just when I thought all was well with the world and the stress levels were dropping, the Dog-O-Feeder broke: When The Youngest Boy took his invention out of the car seconds after we got home, the paper bag into which I'd placed it, which was wet from the rain, broke and part of the plastic on the invention snapped off. More drama.

Feeling guilty that the bag broke, I tried to immediately smooth things over by cravenly passing the buck and promising that The Spouse would repair it when he gets home from work, even though I'm sure he thought he was all done with using his power tools until the next school project.

When Big Brother Becomes the Lunch Lady

Let me state the following for the record:

1. I think it’s a wonderful thing for public schools to teach children about healthy eating habits and inform them about all the cool things that good food can do for one’s body . . . as well as the distinctly uncool things unhealthy food can do.

2. I applaud the classes formerly known as Home Economics – my middle schoolers’ Home Ec classes were called “Family and Consumer Science” – which teach children how easy it is to prepare healthy meals that also taste good.

3. I am on board when school officials – from teachers to administrators – encourage children and parents to bring healthy foods for lunch and snack times.

4. When there are students with airborne food allergies, I think it’s appropriate for the school officials to take steps to protect the students with the allergies. No one wants a kid to get sick because the child came in contact with a peanut butter sandwich.

5. I wish there were more physical education classes.

6. I wish the Picket Fence Post family lived close enough to my kids’ schools so that they could walk to school each day, therefore encouraging daily exercise.

7. I further believe that, in their role as members of the school department, it’s laudable to be concerned about children’s health and well being.

All of that being said, I would never want school officials telling me that I can’t send a lunch of my choosing to school with my children (allergy issues notwithstanding). I wouldn’t want them confiscating the snacks my children bring into school simply because the food items don’t represent the same "healthy" choices they would’ve made had they been my children’s parent.

But that’s what happening in some Windy City public schools. Seriously.

The Chicago Tribune profiled a public school on the west side of the city, Little Village Academy, at which “students are not allowed to pack lunches from home,” the paper said. “Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.”

The principal told the Tribune that she was protecting the students: “Nutrition-wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school. It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus Coke.”

The paper said the students have two choices: Eat school lunch or “go hungry.”

The same article highlighted another Chicago public school where “officials allow packed lunches but confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt.” Say "bye-bye" to that bag of Oreos.

Schools are educational institutions, not prisons where you get the food they put on your tray or nothing else. Both of these policies step waaaaay over the line and infringe upon parental rights, although I’m sure the school officials mandating that students buy lunch have dollar signs in their eyes with guaranteed revenue for crappy fried mozzarella sticks or lukewarm American chop suey.

A blogger for The Stir put it more bluntly in her post entitled, “School Thinks Moms are Too Dumb to Make Kids’ Lunch.” “Let me be the first to say bull-pucky,” wrote blogger Jeanne Sager. “If I can’t make healthy enough food for my child, pray tell me, why are you even letting me be her parent? Are you going to take her shoe shopping too? How about finding an orthodontist? Paying for it? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m not responsible enough to take care of my kid . . . until it starts to inconvenience them.”

What do you think about these school lunch/snack policies? Overstepping or overdue?

Image credit:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Looking at the Kids' Dizzying Schedules & Trying to be All Zen

Youth hockey season’s not yet over – The Youngest Boy’s team is still in the playoffs – and the schedules for The Girl’s and The Eldest Boy’s soccer teams are already rolling in. We haven’t yet been given the practice/game schedule for The Youngest Boy’s baseball team, but I'm sure those games and practices will be slated for dreadfully inconvenient, overscheduled times.

Plus The Eldest Boy has upcoming band events, there’s a middle school science fair and a grade school invention convention.

*deep breath*

There are already conflicts galore with all these schedules – some on an ongoing basis, like one practice at the same time as another kid’s math extracurricular activity – and The Spouse and I are trying to figure out ways to make everything work.

Last fall, I thought my head was going explode, particularly in light of The Youngest Boy’s hockey league where there were no regular practices time and games/practices could be scheduled with little to no notice (like 12 hours). I spent a lot of time being pretty ticked off because my schedule was spinning out of control, hijacked.

And then I started taking yoga again after a very long hiatus,cut back on the caffeine and started getting more sleep. I tried hard to be okay with missing the occasional things, with having shortcut dinners (pancakes, scrambled eggs or sandwiches) when there wasn’t time to make something all Martha Stewart-y, with the fact that this crazy, hectic period of time will not last forever. Instead of wasting all of this negative energy by raging about insane schedules and games that are slated for smack-dab in the middle of church or which overlap with other events, I decided to just say, as pithy as it may seem, “It is what it is,” and try not to get all worked up about it.

Easier said than done.

As the kids’ sports and academic project schedules are ramping back up and the kitchen whiteboard is laden with stuff we're supposed to do, I’m having trouble trying to maintain that Zen mode.

*more deep breaths while trying not to hyperventilate*

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Harry Potter Reading Out Loud Project

I've frequently mentioned on this blog -- as well as on my parenting blog that preceded this -- that The Spouse and I had been engaged in a multi-year effort to read the entire Harry Potter series aloud to our youngest son, currently age 9.

We've been at this since 2009 and have, to date, read 2,750 pages of the seven-book series to him. Oftentimes his elder siblings join us as they're fond of listening to the tale that they've likely memorized by now because they've read the books so many times that I've lost count.

Just this week we finally finished the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (my favorite of the series) and, as soon as I said, "The End," The Youngest Boy clamored for us to immediately start the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, despite the fact that it was past his bedtime. We acquiesced because, hey, he was asking to read a book. At least he wasn't asking for TV or video games.

Given that it has taken us what feels like forever to read this series -- we try to read it a couple times a week, but don't always get a chance to do that, particularly when youth sports and school stuff is pressing on our time -- I decided to chronicle the back end of our project with a new blog page called, cleverly enough, the Harry Potter Reading Out Loud Project. When we finish our reading sessions, I'll update what page of the book we're on and what's happening so you can follow along with your favorite Potter moments.

Image credit: