Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Sous Chef is a Rat

When my kids were younger, getting them to try new things wasn't always easy. I wouldn't pull out my tap shoes and top hat to get them excited, but there was definitely more song and dance involved with mealtimes than I care to admit. Even now, when they are more open-minded and have less fussy palates, adding vegetarian dishes to their menu takes a bit of persuasion.

So when my lovely neighbor-with-the-big-vegetable-garden gave me three zucchinis, each the size of my calf, I knew I had some work ahead of me. The zucchini bread was a big hit. A recipe from my brother-in-law's ex-wife, it's full of cinnamon, sugar, butter and other cake-type ingredients that likely all but cancel out the benefits of the zucchini. But I figured it was a start. Next up, I tried the zucchini and spinach gratin recipe I found online. No sugar, more savory and a perfectly acceptable vegetable side dish, the kids were willing to try a bite. One. Thank you, one is enough.

So tonight, I'm enlisting the help of a dear, animated friend. He has the utmost respect of my children; in fact, they quote him often. For those of you who are not acquainted with Pixar, I am speaking of Chef Remy, the culinary whiz of a rat from the movie Ratatouille. His experimentation/spin on the dish of his kitchen hero, the movie's title, saves the day. So I was thrilled when I found Ratatouille's ratatouille recipe online. I was even more excited when I told my kids I was making it for dinner and they actually cheered.

OK, so we'll probably watch the movie tonight for the umpteenth time, just on principle. And we'll probably even eat dinner in front of the television, a special treat usually reserved for Superbowl Sunday and snow days. These are small concessions, in my opinion.

The good news is that, even if they don't love the dish, they're likely to be so engrossed in the movie that they'll continue to munch away until--look at that!--the dishes are clean and it's popcorn time.

Cheers, Remy. Here's hoping your ratatouille saves the day at dinner time in my house too.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fresh Starts

Ever since they were babies, I've liked to tell myself that, when the kids do something less-than-appealing, and do it repeatedly, it's a stage they are going through. After all, when someone develops an annoying new habit, why should I torment myself by thinking the behavior is here to stay? Labeling it 'temporary' in my mind helps me deal with it on a daily basis without going berserk. It's how I survived Ben's entire first year of life when he wouldn't nurse for more than five minutes at a time or sleep for more than 20 minutes in a row. Every night, I told myself, "Maybe this is the night when he'll actually sleep. Yes, it's just a phase, and this may be the end of it." 12 months later, I was right. See?

Now that school has started, I can pretty much anticipate Jacob wanting to stay up late to show how mature he is, so he can watch television with Dad (up till now a no-no on school nights) and having a nightly debate with me over it. I also expect that the next two weeks with Ben will be filled with daily tears, battles and general frustration with life as he adjusts to the new demands being put on him at school, and the emotional juggling that goes along with beginning a new school year. Happens every September, and it's always temporary. Breeeathe.

The dogs, however, are another story. Aside from Flash's annual rolling in the snow game in winter, and Bailey's fall and spring allergies driving him and the rest of us nuts with the scratching, sneezing and forcing allergy pills down his throat, not much changes with them. Not much, that is, until now.

I don't know if it's repercussions of their kennel visit, their re-adjusting to being in the house, or just feeling the tension as we ease back into the school-year routine. But last night, Bailey barked for hours because, I assumed, of the thunderstorms. He's got a sore throat, but that didn't seem to keep him down. Never heard a peep from Flash, of course. And today, Flash has been barking relentlessly at... what? It's a mystery. The wind? The humidity? The errant leaf on the road? The scent of a dog that walked down his street yesterday? I have no idea. All I know is that Bailey is trying to nap to make up for lost sleep last night, and Flash has not shut up all day.

I could let it drive me bats, and it wouldn't take much. Bailey did have me up most of the night after all. I could throw him out on the run in the yard and close up the windows. Or I could just tough it out and tell myself it's a phase. Whatever is running through his little doggie mind is, must be, a passing thing. Just like Ben's start-of-school-year tantrums and Jacob's constant rule challenging. It must be. It just can't be permanent. So we'll get through it. Yes, it's just a stage, and we'll get through it, just like we always do. I just pray it doesn't take a year.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Vacation: The Aftermath

There's an energy in the universe, a powerful buzz that constantly works to keep your life in balance, so you don't go getting all, "I'm so totally cool! I've got life all figured out!" This energy is the source of sayings like "no good deed goes unpunished" and "payback's a b*tch." And there's no better time to see this energy in action than at the end of a week-long vacation.  

Think about it: if you don't use a travel agent (we didn't), there is a lot of planning that must go into a vacation. And if you are driving, things become more detailed and complex. Leaving the country too? Heap on another bunch of considerations. Bringing the kids? Strap on your seat belt, honey, you're going to be riding the Internet for many weeks to map this trip out. 

And that's exactly what I did.

Our plan was to drive nearly 1,000 miles, visiting six cities in two countries in seven days. We had two kids, lots of music, books-on-CD, snacks, DVDs, hotel reservations, pre-purchased event tickets, spreadsheets of targeted performances scheduled, and weather contingencies and back-up plans in place. Add four new tires, an oil change and tune up, car wash and charged GPS, drop the dogs off at the kennel and we were ready to hit the road.

The result? Our vacation rocked. The timing of every planned stop and event worked out perfectly. The weather was fantastic. Everyone was friendly, the car performed as expected, traffic was a dream and we took a million pictures. This is why I knew that, when we returned, the energy would find us. We unloaded the car, picked up the dogs, got milk and dinner supplies, and started the washing machine. And then the energy crawled out from under the porch and slipped under the door, as if it had been waiting for us to get home.

Before the night was over, there would be squirrels in the eaves, a barfing dog in the basement, another hoarse, barking dog with an apparent sore throat and a kid on the toilet with diarrhea, vomiting.

Welcome home. Love, the Universe.

We're taking it all in stride though. The way I see it, our vacation was fabulous, a perfect escape from the daily routines of life right before school and work start up again. Better to be reminded now of what those  routines hold in store for us, with something like a sharp blow to the head, before we are back in the full throes of them again. Sure, we're standing here stunned, sore and a little humbled. I certainly didn't account for any of this in my planning. But we're also better prepared to deal with life, in all is messy glory, when it starts up in full swing again.