Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bento madness begins

I'm a little obsessive about new gadgets, new ideas...some stick, some don't (yoga anyone?)

So far we're still going strong with the bento fun. I've spent the last few nights trolling around for vegan bento ideas*. I found a treasure-trove at Vegan Lunch Box and I've made a refrigerator list of meal and snack ideas. I plan to do a magnet system like Biggie does but I haven't picked up the supplies yet. For now a list of ideas, along with a mental list of what food I have on-hand, will have to suffice.

Today I made Nate happy with an easy fun snack. Didn't think of it myself, obviously - thanks goes to the internet as always. I have no idea what the strawberries are around the top - I just know I had a ton of fresh ones ready to go bad and I needed to fit them in somewhere.

* We're not vegan, not even truly vegetarian, but I like to omit animal products as much as I have the energy to deal with. I keep the house mostly vegetarian (we have brisket at Chanukah and when I'm dieting I use Lean Cuisines with meat in them for a cheap filling dinner). The boys eat vegetarian hot dogs and veggie burgers; we eat a lot of veggie chili and sweet potatoes and peanut butter and nuts and salad and tofu. If we're at a ballgame, I'm getting a hot dog and so are the boys. I don't mind the occasional drive-through for McNuggets and a Quarter Pounder. If I'm at a restaurant I'm sometimes ordering a steak.

I don't subscribe to the all-or-nothing mentality of these kinds of situations; I think the less we eat of animal products the better we're treating the animals, the earth, and our bodies. It doesn't have to be ALWAYS or NEVER to make a difference. So I keep us as vegetarian as I can manage and as vegan as I can stand. I don't read ingredient lists for minute traces of dairy - if the bulk of the product is vegan it passes my test.

We're definitely whittling out the things that are easy to replace: we use soymilk on cereal and skip the cheese and sour cream at Chipotle. I buy string cheese once every 6 months or so and only the occasional organic yogurt for smoothies (though I made a vegan smoothie yesterday and Nate went bananas for it, so that might be heading out too). I feel good about our progress and about being conscious about what we're eating and it's moral implications. More progress to come, I'm sure.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bento jackpot!

Nate starts camp in a few weeks and I'll have to send lunch along for the first time. So excited to do some fun lunches for him, and I'll start making lunches for Stewart as long as I'm adding that task into the schedule.

Just a simple one I gave the kids at the playground yesterday (fake-chicken patty, carrots, broccoli with a little asian dressing on top):

Did a bunch of research about the different types of bento boxes and really liked the description of Lock & Lock containers. Found a few here and there online but shipping was crazy and I would have had to order from 3 different stores to get the styles I wanted.

I found a listing at the Bento Store Locator at Lunch in a Box for a grocery store in Wheaton - I dragged the boys out there this morning on the way to pick strawberries at Butler's Orchard. Total jackpot! Tons and tons of different sizes of Lock & Lock containers and all of the divided ones I was coveting.

They only had a few "character" bentos but that's fine with me - they're not dishwasher safe and goodness knows I'm not hand-washing them. I'll use Ichiban Kan to buy a few more cute ones, some belts, some internal dividers, and some cute little sauce-containers and I'll have a good stock to get started with. As I do more and more, I'll figure out which ones I'm using the most and get a few extra of those.

And, most importantly, I'll stock up on a few Lunchables or something for the days I slack off. Gotta be prepared.

Get down with it

Jack's always been into music, but he's taking it to a whole new level these days. His joy is palpable.

In other milestone news, a few days ago he requested "wah-woah" (water - pointing to the cup in front of me) and then requested "more". That was the first time I could think of that he used language as a tool to get something, and with no prompting at all from me. Today when I offered him a few more french fries he took them, said "no", and then put them back into my hand. He's getting there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

School's out for summer!

Today was Nate's last day of preschool co-op and some of the parents organized a little party. About halfway through the singing portion I realized I was attending my first school recital. Sniff.

All told, I think co-op was a wonderful experience - both for Nate and for me. He matured so much, and really formed some real friendships. He learned to navigate through so many different experiences and social situations. I got to meet some wonderful parents and it even provided a bit of social life, and Jack just adored my duty days when he got to run around with the other kids.

Thanks so much to the parents who took care of my boy while he was away from me. It was a great feeling to get to trust his care to others without worrying a bit.

In a few weeks Nate will start camp, and in September he'll start Pre-K at Yu Ying Public Charter School. He's moving into his life, and I'm so incredibly proud of him and happy for him. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jack's Monthly Newsletter, One Year Six Months

Dear Jack,

Happy Half-Birthday To You! If I was just a a touch more Martha, I'd bake you a half-cake like my friend Kara does for her kids, but this newsletter will have to suffice.

I'm excited to take you to your 18-month checkup next week because I finally have some speech progress to report. You now have XXXX real words: DaDa, "Nah" (Nate), "bay-bay" (baby), "bah" (ball), and sometimes "ba!"(up). A week or two ago you finally got interested, a little bit, in trying to repeat what I say. That seems like half the battle to me - wanting to speak. You don't always do it, and you rarely do it on cue, but here are the words you say/repeat regularly now: "doah" (door), no (said in a sweet little voice while pushing away whatever it is you don't want), "moah" (more - with just a little prompting when you want more of whatever you're eating off of my plate), "pah pah" (pepper - red peppers), and "pah!" (popcorn). I'm sure there are a few more I'm forgetting, but there's progress and that's what's so important.

I'm watching you so closely these days, scoring and recording everything you do. In a few more months I think I'll be able to take a deep breath and relax and see you doing the things you're supposed to be doing. And it crossed my mind that soon I'm going to get to really hear from you, what you like, what you don't like...I can't wait.

Last week Grandma was over and we were getting ready to leave the house. I packed your milk and a few other necessities into the stroller basket. Next thing I knew, you toddled over and decisively stuffed pink doll into the basket. Grandma thought it was amazing; I was a little skeptical that you really did it on purpose to take her with us - I thought maybe you just saw me putting things in. But since then you've twice stuffed her into my diaper bag when it was clear that we were about to go out - you want to take her with us wherever you go. When you see her, you still get a big smile on your sweet face.

You still love climbing anything you can find, and you still love being outside. Last weekend you were able to combine both in a love-fest of joy; running down the neighbor's driveway in Charlottesville over and over in the pitch dark, squealing out loud each time as you careened over the dips and bumps. You were the life of the party, of course, with everyone exclaiming over your looks and sweet nature.

You and Nate are spending a lot of time in the backyard in the afternoons; it lets me get a little work done around the house while you guys play without me. Extrapolating from your love of brooms and vacuums inside, your favorite activities outside involve rakes and shovels. Whatever keeps you happy makes me happy.

Last night we went out to dinner for Aunt Dreba's birthday and Daddy let you walk around while we were waiting for our food to come out. I looked over at a table nearby and noticed three older women all smiling and cooing in the same direction. I followed their gaze to see that you were, not surprisingly, the lucky focus of their adoring attention. You smiled and flirted, hiding behind a chair and then peering out to smile at them again, asking for Daddy to pick you up and then smiling at them while you tucked your head "shyly" against Daddy's chest. You are the flirtiest, sweetest little kid I ever knew.

You are the joy of my days, Jack. Your sweetness and love fill me up. We're so lucky to have you.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sweetness from my boy

On Mother's Day, I finally taught Jack to give kisses. After thousands of examples, he finally figured it out!

I tapped the side of my face and said "Give Mama a kiss" and he'd come over and lean in and put his lips against my cheek and say "mmmmmmmm" and then pull away suddenly with a "wah!" sound - no puckering, but you get the idea. That Sunday he also gave kisses to Grandma and Aunt Dreba.

Yesterday Jack and I had lunch with a friend and her 16 month-old daughter Bella. We were in a little private room so the kids were running around on the floor and Jack has Pink Doll. At one point I look over to see Bella holding Pink Doll and walking, as fast as she could go, away from Jack - holding out one hand to fend off any potential attempts to take the doll back. Her mother made her give Pink Doll back to Jack, but as soon as he got her he walked over and shyly handed her over to Bella. Much praise ensued. He also kneeled down a few times, trying to kiss her - she finally consented to a hug.

Here's Jack trying to give a kiss goodbye to a very unreceptive Bella:

Last night Nate kneeled down in the corner of the kitchen and Jack came over and leaned down to give him a kiss. They spent a while hugging it out afterwards.

But the cutest was yet to come: This morning Jack was sitting next to me on the couch having a cuddle, and I felt him tapping at my cheek. Then he leaned in to kiss where he'd been tapping. Could the child be any sweeter?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nate's Monthly Newsletter, Three Years Eight Months

Dear Nate,

Life with you these days is amazing. Mostly the good kind of amazing.

I'm reminded of those months when babies start to blossom and reach for toys, sit up, crawl, walk, and run in such a short time-frame. You are bursting out all over in your own big-boy way.

You've started to pretend a lot - we often have Diego over for lunch, and I make a little plate of food for him at the chair next to yours. We have some fuzzy purple monkeys, a Mama and a baby, and you've taken them on as your babies. You bundle them up in blankets to keep them warm, carry them around your neck, and a few days ago when it was time for your TV show you sat them on the red couch and turned the TV to face them so that they could watch with you. You take yourself, and your friends, on adventures: a few days ago you and Mara built a "beach" in the corner with pillows (and you both stripped down naked to make the experience more realistic)! Instead of just smacking the play-doh around, you used it to build your first ever figure - you call him "Moley."

You have real friends now, too; today when I picked you up you told me that you'd invited Mara to go to Aruba with us. Her Mom and I got quite a kick out of that one. A few days ago when we walked out of school with Mara, you and she held hands for two blocks. You were very pleased with yourself. Today while I'm writing this you're over at Sophia's house; you've reached that age when I can just drop you off to play for a while. (When we were heading to her house you told me "I'll act politely. I'll say thank you politely!") And of course you still have your special friend Bumper. A few nights ago I brought you Bumper while Daddy was putting you to bed. I reminded Daddy the story of when you said that you took care of Bumper and protected him. You liked the story, and reaching for Bumper confirmed "He's my best friend." I had to clench my chest, it hurt so much from the sweetness. You really are so sweet, Nate. It just pours out of you.

You take great care of Jack these days, often ordering me around to make sure his needs are met. If he's in his booster seat and seems restless, you bring him bites of your meal to try to make him happy. If he's crying, you'll tell me "Jack wants to get out!" When you guys are playing on the floor together and he gets sad, you'll run to tell me and order me to go get him and pick him up. "He wants you, Mama! Pick him up, he wants you!" Yesterday you two rolled a ball back and forth for a while, and you still have your favorite "train" game of walking around with Jack holding on to your shirt. You love to sit on the recliner with Jack standing next to it and play "peek a boo" over the arm of the chair, and you recently started that game where you blow your cheeks up and then slap them - Jack adores that one. You make him laugh more than anyone else can. You are very proud of what a good brother you are, smiling when we heap on the compliments for your good behavior.

Just like your Daddy, you're becoming quite a charmer. A few weeks ago I put on some music during lunch and after listening for a while you told me "That's a pretty song!" I was wearing a red t-shirt under a wrap a few days ago; when I took off the wrap you said "You look so cute in your fire shirt!" One of your favorite phrases is "That's a great idea!" when I propose a snack or a game or a craft.

You still want to be involve in everything which makes life a little tough these days. I want so badly to just get through my chores for the day, but there you are forcing me to slow down, let you participate, involve you at almost every turn. I'm not great at it, but I'm really trying.

I've never been one to brag on my kids being geniuses; frankly you've both been pretty average at moving through the milestones. But all of a sudden I'm starting to wonder. You know the numbers up to 39, and you know almost all of the capital letters (you get a little confused on V, W, and Y). At Grandma's house you knew every letter in Froot Loops and today you knew all of the letters in Dinosaur. Today you used a purple crayon to write out your name on your dinosaur drawing, and then wanted to write my name (Mama) and Jack's. We do some schoolwork sometimes, and preschool tries to teach you a bit, but I'm honestly not sure how you're picking it all up so fast. Good thing we're working so hard to get you into a good school next year! You seriously need some professionals helping you out before Daddy and I waste all of your brain power.

We had preschool at Elliott's house yesterday and you were particularly tired and had a full-blown meltdown when it was time to leave. I had to carry you, flailing wildly, through the house to get to our car. The other Moms, and the nannies too, were shocked: they all commented that they'd never seen you cry before. These are women who see you every morning and teach you once a week - but you are normally so good, so even-tempered, that they never have to think twice about your behavior.

You and Jack are hugging, not fighting, in this picture - I promise:

I worry so much that I'm not doing enough for you, not doing right by you. I focus on the mistakes I'm making, the times I'm short with you, the opportunities I've failed to give you. But I look at how sweet you are with Jack, how good you are at school and with your friends, how loving you can be with me when the mood strikes you, and it's clear to me that something is right. I'll hold onto that, and keep working as hard as I can to be a good Mom to you.

I love you so much,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A true connoisseur

Clearing out some old items, I found some old crib bumpers that nobody's using. Preparing to trash them, I got Nate intrigued with the idea of making a second "Bumper" out of one of them.

Tonight we took off one of the covers and cut it down to be the same parameters of our beloved Bumper. Nate was happy and took off with both of them. I asked him to give it a test run: stick his thumb in his mouth and stroke the Bumper tassles through his fingers (how he soothes himself to sleep every night). He stopped, gave it a go, and approvingly said "Not bad!"

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Great Urban Race!

A month or two ago I saw a posting for the Great Urban Race and felt like I finally found the secret of life. I have loved scavenger hunts my whole life, and am obsessed with The Amazing Race. I got my equally nerdy sister on board and signed up to run today's DC race.

It was just as much fun as I thought it would be. And we were just as good of a team as I thought we would be.

There were 340 teams of 2 people, and my hope was to come in the top 100. Deborah was pushing for the top 50. I thought we'd done pretty well, but I was thoroughly shocked by how well - I still can't really believe it. As it turns out, we crossed the finish line 27th but when three teams in front of us got big time penalties (for mistakes they'd made during the race) we ended up 24th, qualifying to race in the National Championships in New Orleans! We have no idea if we'll go for it, but we were really proud to have done so well, and to get medals hung around our necks at the awards ceremony.

We strategized a lot in the days up to the race, and decided on some techniques:

* No laptop during the race but we'd bring one to the start line, use it to frantically Google when we got the clues, and plot out our route with that information. Then we ditched the laptop with friends of my sister who worked in the restaurant where we got started (alternate plan: ditch the laptop in the trunk of my car)

* Take the time at the beginning to make sure we understood where each of the 12 spots would be around Virginia and DC, and plot our route carefully to get through the stops in the smartest way possible.

* Use the iPhone and Blackberry Google and Google Maps features.

* Take the time to read each clue carefully to make sure we didn't end up with a time penalty at the end.

* Use friends as resources to help us with tough questions. Our Mom and Dad ended up being a huge help too!

(All of these strategies were totally legal)

Check the bottom of this entry to see our 12 clues (we were allowed to skip 1).

We started at the Crystal City Sports Pub and ran to the Metro, taking the blue line to Rosslyn. Hopped off and made our way to Ledo's Pizza to do clue number 9. We didn't make good time getting there and ended up on the wrong side of Route 50. Other teams were on the wrong side too and made their way to the pedestrian bridge; Deborah and I scaled down the embankment and crossed on foot. Mavericks. Got the spaghetti and moved on.

Headed on foot to the next two clues in Arlington. Ended up walking up a taxing hill that really slowed us down. We hit a CVS to try to find a shower liner (clue 1) but they were sold out. Made our way to the comedy venue in Arlington (clue 8) and I rocked the house with a joke that Deborah's friend supplied us with ("What kind of cheese isn't yours? Na-cho cheese!") We got our tickets and headed to Combat Sports International (clue 7) for our workout. Talk about insult to injury - we had to do push-ups, kicks, jabs, and lunges!

Headed to the Courthouse Metro to catch the Orange line to McPherson Square. We jogged north towards the cluster of clues around Thomas Circle. Got our picture taken at the statue of Martin Luther (clue 10) and tried to figure out how to handle clue 1.

This was another place where DC knowledge came in handy - when the second CVS was also sold out of shower liners, I stopped in at the 7-11 just north of where we needed to be. Bought a popsicle there (clue 6) and they directed me to a little store that sold me a liner. In truth, they actually GAVE me a liner because all I had was a credit card - I'm going back tomorrow to give the nice guy his $1.60.

We dropped the liner off at N Street Village (clue 1) and jogged south to work on the cluster of clues around the White House. First we took our picture of 12 or more people (clue 2) and had our picture taken holding up 19 fingers (clue 4). Huge thanks to Mom and Dad for solving this one for us! We actually took two pictures: one with 19 fingers up and one with 20 - the clue was open to a bit of interpretation and we didn't want to take any chances!

We got a little hung up finding the exact location of the bench (clue 5) in Lafayette Park, so we pulled a weak one and scanned around for other teams. When we saw people in orange sitting and having their picture taken, we headed their way and joined in. Voila.

We jogged off to the ESPN zone and took way too long getting a good picture of one of us shooting a basketball. Shockingly, this is the best of a whole group:

More jogging, then walking, then jogging, then walking...we had planned to make our last stop the American Indian museum (clue 11) but realized the Hirshorn was a lot closer (clue 12). Thanks again to Mom and Dad for unscrambling the letters and heading us in the right direction - the Crouching Spider statue!

Deborah planned it perfectly to jump right onto the Yellow Line, just a few blocks away, to get us straight back to the finish line in Crystal City. We had the frustrating experience of getting into the Metro and finding a 12 minute wait - lots of teams caught up to us while we were waiting for the train.

When we got to Crystal City, we were determined to just gut it out and run the whole way but our bodies just weren't up to it. We did our best, and towards the end I pushed Deborah to run a bit more. We had stayed ahead of the group we were trying to beat, so she asked what the point in keeping pushing was, and I said so we could do the best we could do. We gutted it out and ran the last block and then gasped for breath for 10 minutes.

As we crossed the line, the guy checking people in told us "You're right on the cusp." I swear by everything holy that it never crossed my mind that it meant anything - I honestly figured it was the cusp of the first half verses the second half. A few minutes later Deborah came over to tell me that we were in shot of the top 25 and 6 hours later I honestly can't believe it. In the end, the winning team came in at about 2:30 and we came in at 3:08. Mapping it out, it looks like we covered about 5.5 miles - jogging and walking when we had to.

Whether or not we go to Nationals, this will not be the last race we run!

12 clues:

1) Find a DC organization whose mission is to "empower homeless and low-income women to claim their highest quality of life by offering a broad spectrum of services and advocacy in an atmosphere of dignity and respect." Choose one of the three items below and deliver it to the guy with a guitar there:

a. A new size 42 - 54 D or DD bra.
b. A new shower curtain vinyl liner.
c. A new set of twin sheets.

You must get a 'brochure' after delivering your item to receive credit for this clue.

2) DETOUR (choose one of the following two):

a. Take a picture of 12 or more total real people with at least two real people wearing a shirt that clearly says 'Washington, DC."
b. Take a picture of 12 or more total real people with at least two real people wearing a Washington Nationals shirt.

3) Solve the following puzzle (it was a cryptogram). When solved, it told us to "Find the Super Shot in ESPN Zone and take a picture of one teammate shooting one of the basketballs with super shot clearly visible in the picture."

4) The Obamas decided to have a slumber party last night and were trying to figure out who to invite to the White House. Malia, being the older child, choose to invite double the amount of Sasha. Sasha invited an odd primary number of friends, the next one up from her age. Barack said it was unfair for only the girls to have guests over so he had a few of his buddies join the party - the other living presidents. Michelle then felt left out so she called up her girl friends, Hilary, Condoleeza, and Sarah to come by as well. Then she thought about it and uninvited Sarah. Grandma Robinson decided to invite all 69 of her Chicago friends to show them the White House. If each guest and each Obama / Robinson slept in their own room, how many rooms in the White House were unoccupied that night?

Take a picture with the White House clearly visible and the answer of the above clue shown by teammates holding up the proper number of fingers.

Leah's note: depending on the reading of "their own room" the answer was either 19 or 20. We took a picture with each one held up, just in case. Mom and Dad solve this one for us - thanks guys!

5) Victor Hugo wrote that genius and this were "one and the same."

Find the commemorative spot that marks where "the Park Bench Statesman" would wait for his.

Take a picture of both of the teammates sitting on the bench with the bronze plaque set in granite block clearly visible in the picture.

Leah's note: INSPIRATION and genius are one in the same, so we had to look for a bench where Bernard Baruch waited for inspiration.

6) Return to the finish line with one of the following items:

a) A toothpick with an American flag attached to it.
b) A wooden Popsicle stick.

7) Take the short lesson at Combat Sports International. After successfully completing your lesson, the staff will give you a flyer. You must return to the finish with this card! This clue is only available from 1 pm - 5 pm so strategize accordingly.

8) Comedians are waiting to judge your best joke. Find the venue in Arlington where T-Rexx is scheduled to perform later tonight. If your joke makes the judges laugh, you'll get a ticket (return to the finish with this) and the clue is complete. If your joke doesn't make the judges laugh you must perform another joke. Your joke can be simple and does not have to include both teammates. Our judges are looking more for effort than hilarity.

9) Find the Rosslyn Ledo Pizza. Go directly to the buffet table, take one strand of spaghetti, and take picture of both teammates eating it Lady and the Tramp style (one teammate eating it on each end).

10) Take a picture of all teammates in front of the specific statue of "The Philosopher" shown on the right.

Leah's note: This was a hard one to find on Google. Searching on "The Philosopher" didn't yield anything. When I looked closely at the photo, I thought it said Martin Luther, and I knew that clue 1 was right next to the church that houses Luther Place (another DC advantage). We tried Googling Martin Luther and found it right away. Thank goodness for good eyesight!

11) Take a picture of all teammates in front of a real Bombardier in the National Museum of the American Indian.

Leah's note: This is the one we skipped.

12) Unscramble the following words and take a picture of all teammates in front of this sculpture:


Leah's note: I had studied the clues from previous years and had seen that Anagrams were a frequent clue. I loaded a great Anagram program on my iPhone, but when I tried to use it on this clue it didn't find anything! After the race I realized that it was searching in the sub-category of English Names, not all words. We wasted at least 5 or 10 minutes working on that one, and finally Mom and Dad figured it out for us!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Harris Teeter triples

Easy run at HT, helped out by my long-suffering Mom who handled 20 coupons for me:

Aquafresh: $1.99 minus $.75 coupon (tripled) = free - donation
Huggies wipes: $3.29 minus $.75 coupon (tripled) = $1.04 each (69% savings)
Wet Ones: $2.89 minus $.75 coupon (tripled) = $.64 each (78% savings)
Ban deodorant: $2.59 minus $.75 coupon (tripled) = $.34 each (87% savings - donation)
Ortega refried beans: $2 for 2 cans minus $.75 coupon (tripled) = free + overage
Granola bars: $2.50 minus $.75 coupon (tripled) = $.25/box (90% savings)
Applesauce: $3.54 minus $.60 coupon (tripled) = $.87/package
Frank's Hot Sauce: $.33 minus $.50 coupon (tripled) = free + overage

The whole trip cost about $12 and was worth every penny!


I was lying in bed with Nate after reading him a pre-nap story and we were talking about the trip he's taking with Stewart today, up to New York for the weekend. I told him I'd miss him and be thinking about him. He mulled it over for a little while and then said to me:

"Mama, always always always I love you."

(Leah: "Always always always I love you too!")

"But sometimes I have to go someplace."

("I know.")

"But I'll come back."

He went on for a while, with various repetitions of "Always I love you" and "Always I want you." He further explained that sometimes his Mommy or Daddy says he has to go someplace, but that he'll always be back.

Not five minutes before this happened, I had to haul his limp screaming body up the stairs because he was refusing to take a nap. How can just one child be so amazingly soul-fillingly sweet half the time and so grumpy and stodgy the rest?