Thursday, May 28, 2015

We Are What We Teach

by Allyson Haas

homeless help
I know I promised an update on the potty training, but the truth is that I’m failing miserably in that department. Well, not me personally – I have my beautiful and woefully unsung Mother to thank for that – I meant my attempts to train C. So instead of wallowing in the misery that I’ll likely be changing swim diapers whilst his peers are frolicking at camp, I instead turn to thoughts that make me happy.

This year I embarked on a project I’m calling #365waystogood, wherein every day I do a kind deed. The organizations I’ve become involved with, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned have all been life altering. The capacity to make effective change is seemingly endless. Granted, some days are “bigger” than others in the scope and scale of their reach as, to be fair, I’m only human, but just as important are those days where I affect change in only one person’s life. And this is something that, though not as socially expected as potty training, is an equally important lesson for me to teach C.

Homeless people are a common sight here in the City of Angels, especially at traffic lights and highway off ramps.  If you're raising children in any sort of urban environment your kids are exposed, from a young age, to the harsh reality that many individuals are needy.  I know that quite a few of my fellow Angelenos find the inevitable "guy with a sign at the stoplight" experience to be awkward, especially when kids are in the car.  I think that with a simple, small act, we can turn an otherwise uncomfortable situation into one that not only brings some joy to a needy individual, but also teaches the little ones sitting in the backseat (and observing everything we do) the importance of helping those who are less fortunate. 

Thus, the Betterment Bag was born: a large plastic storage bag filled with a day’s supply of essentials for people in need.  Eventually, I’d love to have a few like-minded companies send a steady supply of goods (cough, Lara Bar, Kiehls, Trader Joes), but for now, I make said bags with odds and ends: shampoo/conditioner minis snagged from hotel stays, bottles of hand sanitizer, nut/energy bars, water, gift certificates to a local quick service restaurant, a piece of chocolate to remind people that life, though sometimes bitter, can be equally sweet.  Part of what makes the Betterment Bags great is that putting them together is a fun and easy activity to do with your kids. C & I put these together, keep them in the car and hand one out to anyone we see asking for money who looks as if they could use some restoration in the faith of humanity.

Sometimes all the need surrounding us feels overwhelming, but I'll never forget the reaction I received the first time I handed out one of our Betterment Bags.  At the stoplight just down the hill from our house there was a man holding a sign that read, "homeless, hungry, please help.” So I reached behind my seat, grabbed the Betterment Bag and gave it to the gentleman.  The man put down his sign, dropped to his knees and tucked into the square of Ghiradelli chocolate I had put in the bag.  Each time I hand out one of our Betterment Bags I know that it might brighten someone's day, but the real impact is being made on Caleb, who is learning how simple it is to "be the change".

Here's what we put in today's Betterment Bags:
Betterment bag

If you don’t happen to have such items on hand, and still want to make a difference today, right this very minute, click this link and support my participation in this weekend’s Pedal on the Pier, a collaborative event with the incredible Echoes of Hope, an organization that does some of Los Angeles’ most important work in supporting foster youth.  Your support of this event will directly benefit an Echoes of Hope youth by giving him or her an incredible summer camp experience and will help teach these children that, despite the struggles they face daily, there is much good in the world to be celebrated.
Plus there's nothing like doing a little bit of good to make you forget about how very badly the whole potty training thing is going. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No Primates on Larchmont Boulevard

As I was nursing a Memorial Day hangover this weekend, and utilizing the free babysitting services of PBS while surfing the interwebs, I came across an article about the lifestyle of the rich Mommies of New York's Upper East Side.  Last week I posted a companion piece over on the Misadventures Facebook page about the "wife bonuses" these women receive, but the feature in Sunday's NY Post goes into further, more disturbing, detail about the lives of these rich and bored women.  I don't know how true all the stories are, since the articles are timed around the publication of the book Primates of Park Avenue, and that details the "extreme" parenting among the upper echelons of New York society, but let's give the Author the benefit of the doubt and assume she's telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Despite my vodka-induced headache, it got me thinking about life as a Mommy here in the City of Angels.  You all know that I'm no huge fan of Los Angeles, and that I've had my ups and downs with the various Mommy groups I've attended over the course of my two and a half years of Motherhood.  While I've never actually been accosted by a Birkin Bag-weilding Mommy terrorist, I have been given the cold shoulder from Mommies with designer diaper bags and nicer cars.  Lest you think that only rich women are exclusive, I'd like to point out that I've also been shunned by the "we live off of the grid and have a compost toilet and I would never be caught dead wearing makeup" mommies, so the exclusion crosses all races, creeds, religions and bank balances. 

In the past year, however, I've been welcomed into a group of Moms who are totally my people.  I've been blessed with incredible women friends through all the stages of my life - heck, I'm still close to my kindergarten bestie - but after struggling through that first year with the Muffin Man and the Mommy and Me group from Hell, I began to despair of ever having close Mom friends.  You don't realize until you actually have a kid just how important it is to your sanity to have a group of friends with whom you can discuss not only the color and consistency of your children's poop, but other more pressing issues, like where to get the best eyelash extensions, and why my Husband still doesn't know how to load our dishwasher after five years.

The thing about motherhood, especially if you're a stay-at-home Mom, is that it can be incredibly isolating.  Finding a group of Moms with whom you fit in, and who share similar experiences, is life changing.  Double points if they happen to live in your neighborhood so that you're almost guaranteed to run into at least one of your ladies at the local playground, which means that if you forget diapers/snacks/wipes/sand toys, your Mom friend will not assume you are a shitty mother but will, instead, graciously lend you the required item.  The sisterhood that exists is almost intrinsic to survival in the cutthroat world of parenting.  The world at large, and possibly even your immediate family, is totally going to judge your for your parenting choices, whatever they may be.  Your true Mom friends, on the other hand, accept that we're all just doing the best we can to survive the day.    

I guess, in a way, having a tight group of Mommy friends is kind of like being in a gang: you know there's always somebody who has your back.  Sure, the only weapons we roll with are diapers, snacks, and plenty of sunscreen, but we are not afraid to come after you and your rogue Birkin with a sand shovel.  And trust me, you do not want to know what kind of diseases are on that thing. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Secret Weapon in the Arsenal of Healthy Eating

by Allyson Haas

black bean brownies

Sometimes you have the kind of weekend so jam-packed full of celebrations and festivities that you relax the rules of your otherwise healthy eating. With too much ice cream, cookies and cupcakes to coo to, C's intake was in need of a healthy boost. Unfortunately for me, C is not generally a fan of anything in the vegetable family unless it's combined with a sugary fruit.  This surprises no one, said every mom of a toddler, EVER. Thankfully, at the ripe old age of 2.5, ignorance is bliss. I feel zero guilt about whipping up some of these beauties and serving one with a cold glass of almond milk. 

Packed with protein and all the other good things that beans provide (folate, fiber, iron, vitamin b1, copper, magnesium, boost in production of butyric acid which aids in lower digestive tract function) these flourless bits of heaven fool pretty much everyone into thinking they're the real thing. These are super easy to put together with staples you probably already have in your pantry: a can of black beans, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, coconut sugar, eggs, olive oil, baking powder, vanilla and salt. A couple of minutes in the food processor + 25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven = your toddler no longer whining for cookies.  And extra bonus points for the fact that you've given them something remotely nutritious. 
Flourless Black Bean Brownies

1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup dark choc chips
4 tbsp olive oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder 
2/3 cup coconut sugar ( note: you can use whichever type of sugar you prefer, but I'm partial to coconut sugar because it doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Sometimes I use 1/3 cup each of coconut and raw sugars)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt (I recommend sea salt - any color -I used pink because that's what I had on hand)

Preheat oven to 350. 

Grease square baking pan (I use coconut oil spray for this). 

In food processor, mix 1/4 cup choc chips, beans and olive oil. Pulse until well blended. 

black bean brownies
Add cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, salt and sugar (this will be everything except the remaining choc chips) and process until well blended. You may need to scrape the sides of the processor. Once it resembles traditional brownie mix (about 1-2 min of processing), pour into baking pan. 

black bean brownies

Top with remaining choc chips. Bake until toothpick comes out clean (generally about 25 min). 

To make these vegan: substitute carob chips for the choc chips, carob powder for the cocoa powder (is cocoa powder vegan?! It might be?!) and chia seeds for the eggs. 1 tbsp chia seeds + 3 tbsp water is the equivalent of one egg. (For the mathematically challenged - 3 tbsp chia seeds, 9 tbsp water)

Come on over Charlie because our house now smells like a chocolate factory - total WIN! Though in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have made something with beans the same day I started potty training.  TMI?

Wish me luck...I promise to give a full report.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Preschool Panic: You're In, Kid

Motherhood humor
You know that old saying, "everything happens for a reason?"  That was pretty much my mantra a few months ago, in the hopes that chanting it repeatedly would help alleviate the sting of the Muffin Man not having been accepted to preschool.  It was the only logical reason I could come up with for why my perfectly adorable son was one of the few kids without a school to attend in the fall. I suppose the Admissions Directors could've searched online and found my blog and decided that I'm a somewhat insane, totally negligent parent and that they in no way want me joining the ranks of the school, but I really don't think these people have time to Google every prospective family.  Anyway, this is Los Angeles, there is no way that I'm the craziest parent they met this year. 
But I digress.

At the point a few months ago when we were school-less, and I was spending my evenings crying over my wine at the thought of another year trying to juggle two children every day, I was having a really hard time convincing myself that everything does happen for a reason.  I mostly just felt like a big failure raising a little loser who was bound to have a childhood and adolescence full of rejections and life on the unpopular list.  In hindsight I see that this was a bit of a dramatic reaction to my kid not getting into preschool, but I'm still working through my PTSD brought on by all those formative years spent as a theater nerd/ugly duckling, so it's possible that I tend to blow things out of proportion just a tiny bit. 

It turns out that you can only cry in your wine so long before your spouse threatens to have you committed, so I figured a few more school tours were far less traumatizing than a 72 hour stay in the local psych ward.  I'm so glad that I managed to pull myself together, because we really did find the perfect school for Noah... and they actually accepted us.

I never would've known that this adorable institute of lower learning existed if we'd gotten into our first choice school, but here's the funniest part: it pretty much has everything we've been looking for in a preschool all along.  

It's close to our house.  In other places this probably wouldn't matter, but traffic in LA is so unbearably bad, that driving to a school even five miles away can take forty five minutes.  The school is close enough that I can actually walk, assuming I ever get my sh*t together early enough to leave the house on time.

They offer a full day program (9am-3pm). This is surprisingly unusual for preschools. Many of them are only a few hours, or just three days a week, and they charge lots of extra money if you need to keep your kiddo there after the regular school day is over.  If I want to, I can choose to pick Noah up at 12:30 or he can nap at school and spend more time with his little friends instead of at home abusing his sister.

It's affordable.  We aren't going to be bankrupted by the tuition! And I love that the school doesn't seem to have a hand out for money every few weeks. I respect that these places have to raise cash for more crayons or whatever, but when tuition is in the neighborhood of $14k a year, it would really piss me off to have the school be hitting me up for extra money every few months.  We're not exactly rolling in dough, so while I'm more than happy to volunteer my time or my writing skills, we can't be throwing extra Benjamins around because the preschool claims to need new nap mats. 

It's small and cute.  One of my biggest concerns with a few of the other schools we looked at was the size of the places. Everything was so big - the classrooms, the playground, the campus - and I worried that it would be overwhelming for Noah. I know that seems like rather an overprotective sentiment for a negligent mother like myself, but two-and-a-half year old kids are little, and that's really brought home when you see a tiny human standing next to a giant play structure. Noah's school is in a converted craftsman house, and the playground is perfectly sized for little kids.  There's even a sandbox, because nothing says "developmental play" quite like throwing sand at one's peers.    

Honestly, I'm actually really happy with where Noah ended up.  I know it's rather out of character for me to be such a glass half full kind of gal, but I think in the end it has worked out for the best.  I just hope the place isn't all rainbows and sunshine, or I won't have anything to complain about next year, and that would never do.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

by Allyson Haas

homemade Butterfinger

I think in a past life, nee, I know in a past life, I lived through the depression era. It's nearly impossible for me to throw out anything that has even the slightest possibility of becoming something else. 

recycled crafts
Case in point, a paper towel roll I turned into an alphabet primer. I couldn't resist peppering it with letters and having my 2 year old test his "a" game by matching stickers accordingly.  I got heart palpitations at the thought of tossing a cardboard box, so we turned it into a car. And thus, all of my spring cleaning efforts are thwarted and become crafting sessions. 

Determined to complete my spring cleaning rounds, yesterday I set my sights on the kitchen.  In a perhaps somewhat overzealous purge of my cabinets, I happened upon a bag full of Candy Corn. How anyone can actually eat this Dentist's dream of a teeth killer is beyond me, yet without fail, I find it in the back of my sweets drawer every spring.  This year, as I pulled the gaudy orange bag from the dark recesses of my kitchen drawer, I also noticed that I was at the tail end of some cocoa powder and a box of artisanal hot cocoa mix for which I overpaid three years ago. Excited at the prospect of tossing not one, not two, but three containers in the rubbish bin, I set out to make use of them.  A quick (read: two hour) trip down the Pinterest rabbit hole led me to two discoveries: one, that some people have really bad taste in interior design, and two, that a few enterprising folks were turning their stale Candy Corn into homemade Butterfinger candy bars.  That was right up my alley, and now that I've tried it, I'm pretty sure that I'm never going to be able to eat Butterfingers any other way (unless, of course, it's stolen from Zippy's trick-or-treat bin on Halloween).  

I'm sure you can find a recipe online, but I never really bother. Rough amounts noted below:

Kitchen Cleanout Butterfinger
About a cup of candy corn (or however much you have left)
Heaping scoop of peanut butter
In this instance, I made my own chocolate by mixing melted coconut oil with the last of my cocoa powder and hot cocoa mix. But feel free to just melt down some regular ol' dark choc chips. 

homemade Butterfinger 
Nuke the candy corn for about two minutes until it's bubbling-ish. Carefully remove it from the microwave (dish will be piping hot) and mix with the peanut butter until combined. Let sit for a second or so to cool off. 

homemade Butterfinger
 In the meantime, melt down the chocolate, and line a square baking pan with wax paper.  Pour the melted chocolate in the prepared pan, and spread it evenly over the wax paper.

homemade Butterfinger
Now back to the orangey concocoction of peanut buttery goodness: once it's mixed and slightly cooler, knead it with your hands to ensure it's evenly combined. Flatten it out and layer on top of the chocolate. If the chocolate is still hot, the peanut butter mixture may sink into the chocolate, which is totally fine.  Coat any remaining exposed parts of the peanut butter mixture with chocolate, then place in the fridge to cool. 
Voila!  Homemade Butterfinger. 

Eat it on its own, mix it into homemade vanilla ice cream (more on that in another post), break it into pieces and use in place of the chocolate chips in cookies. Just try not to do what I did and eat it all in one sitting.  Because now I have to hit the gym and leave the rest of the spring cleaning for tomorrow; good thing they offer free childcare. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Welcome, Allyson!

They say that with age comes wisdom.  I'm definitely aging rapidly, thanks to my children, and I'm not sure how "wise" I am, but I will say that getting older has made me realize a few things about myself.

1. I like a glass of wine after a long day with the kids.  Oh sure, I'm modeling bad behaviour, but I think that's probably less damaging to their development than seeing me stick my head in the oven after one too many tantrums.

2.  I don't care about being cool.  Look I wasn't "cool" in high school, and I'm certainly not cool now, but the difference is that I just don't give a sh*t.  I'm in my thirties and I have two kids and a freelance writing career; ain't nobody got time for keeping up with the Joneses.  If you care about being cool or being part of the in crowd at the park/school/Mommy & Me class, then we probably won't be friends, and I am totally okay with that.  

3. I am not crafty.  I would love to be.  Heck, I bought the glue gun and I have the Pinterest boards, but that's just not my forte.  I don't decorate cakes, or design homemade valentines, or throw parties ripped from the pages of Martha Stewart.  I am pretty much a one woman "Pinterest Fail".

One of the greatest aspects of getting older is that I've learned to accept these things about myself.  I no longer try to do (or be) things that don't come naturally to me.  You need someone to write a press release about your party?  I'm your gal.  Looking to add a few more jokes to your script?  Give me a call.  In need of a unique and never-before-seen Halloween costume?  I am not the lady to help you with that, but I will find someone who can make it happen.

In that vein, I've decided to bring on a Lifestyle Editor here at Misadventures in Motherhood.  I know what I'm good at - telling jokes, writing copy - but you, dear readers, deserve more.  You deserve to be able to stop by the blog and find inspiring crafts and delicious recipes written by a professional baker.  You should be able to find party ideas that are created by real Moms for real kids on affordable budgets.  Which is why I am thrilled beyond belief to welcome Allyson Haas to the Misadventures team!  

Motherhood humor
Allyson Haas
Though missing the "butcher" title, Allyson fancies herself a baker and artisanal ice cream maker.  The founder of The 95th Street Bakery and United Scoops of America, Allyson creates unique and delicious treats in her home kitchen.  Outside of her domicile, you can find her chasing her mini around LA, attempting to get her children's books published, and trying to change the world one kind deed at a time.  Follow her on Instagram at @allysonhillary and @365waystogood.  

I met Allyson and her son, Caleb, at the Mommy and Me class from Hell.  If the only thing I got from the class was a friendship with Ally, it was totally worth it.  Allyson is truly amazing.  She bakes, she crafts and she throws incredible parties.  Oh, and did I mention that she doesn't have any childcare and her son doesn't nap?!

I honestly and truly don't know how she does it, since most days I'm ready to throw myself in front of a train by 2pm, and I do nothing domestic.

I'm so excited to see what Ally shares going forward.  I just hope that my husband doesn't start to wonder why the only thing I do around the house is order take out.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sometimes Motherhood is an Aquired Taste

Should I have a baby?

Recently I've been thinking a lot about this whole motherhood thing.  I don't know if it's because Mother's Day is this Sunday, or if it's because we're coming up on quite a few changes in the next couple of months - preschool, the Little Lady turning one - but whatever the cause, quite a bit of my limited brain space has lately been taken up with thoughts about motherhood. 

You see, I was extremely ambivalent about having children.

I've never particularly liked kids - I love my nieces and nephews, obviously - but I am not one of those women who see a baby in a stroller and immediately want to hold it or coo at it or, if we're being really honest, interact with it at all.  It always kind of annoyed me when my friends would have kids and immediately stop being available to do anything or, worse, want to bring their children along.

For me, the only thing I cared about, and had a desire to pursue, was a career.  Other women dream about the fairytale wedding and the pink or blue nursery while I dreamed about making an actual living doing something creative, and there was no room for a child in that equation.  Which was fine, when I was 22 and 25 and even 29, but all of the sudden I was facing down the barrel of 35 with no career and no kid, and seriously examining my life choices.
And then I accidentally got pregnant.

I didn't want to be pregnant.  It didn't fit into my life plans, and I was not at all ready to disembark from the career express and take a detour on the motherhood local.  Financially we were barely able to afford a decent meal at a restaurant, let alone the expenses of raising a child.

On the other hand, the window of my childbearing years was closing faster than the island clam shack after Labor Day, and the Hubs didn't fancy fathering his first child when he should've been settling into retirement.

So the question I ended up asking myself was "would I regret not having a child more than I would regret having one?"

My answer was a resounding yes (which surprised me, honestly).  I came to the conclusion that if I chose not to have a child I would always wonder just what it was that I'd missed.

Three years and two kids later, I'm glad that I decided to give the whole parenting thing a shot.  But motherhood is not for everybody, and that's okay.  Some days, when the kids won't nap, and I'm exhausted, and I haven't showered in almost a week, I wish that I could return my kids to Cedars Sinai and go back in time to that weekend when I forgot to use my diaphragm.  Oh, man, I used to enjoy sleeping until 10am and reading the Times and drinking hot coffee that hadn't been microwaved six times.  But no amount of sleep, or news, or even scalding caffeine can hold a candle to a sweet little boy voice whispering that he loves me or Rose's unbridled excitement to see me every morning. 

And that career I was so worried about giving up?  It looks pretty different these days - no glamorous gigs in Elko, Nevada - but it's going just fine.  Better, in some ways, than when it was the singular focus of my existence.  Nothing cures procrastination like knowing you've only got 45 minutes before your kid wakes up to ensure that you always make a project deadline.

It turns out that having a child means giving up much of the life you used to lead, but you gain so much more in return.  Don't worry, though, I haven't changed too much; I still have no interest in holding some stranger's baby. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Let's Sleep Train This Baby: Part Three

He's putty in her (tiny) hands.
You know what the biggest obstacle of this whole sleep training journey has been?  My Husband.

I thought that we were both on board.  We had discussed our plan of attack at length, and after some initial success things were starting to look up.  But as with all things children related, if you take one step forward it's pretty much required that you follow that with three steps backwards.  And so, just one night after our uninterrupted stretch of beautiful, life-giving slumber, the Little Lady was back to her old tricks.

Which would've been fine, if my Husband weren't such a pushover.

Here's the thing about Chris: he seems tough - six feet and 185 pounds of pure, grouchy New Yorker - but the man is no match for a crying child.  On the one hand I appreciate this about him, and it's certainly one of the reasons our relationship works, but on the other hand, I'm holding him responsible for the six nights of horrible, terrible, no good very bad sleep that we experienced last week.

As you'll recall, the sleep training thing was progressing pretty nicely.   Just as I was beginning to think that there was hope for my no longer looking like a Mombie in the near future, Rose started waking up again.  And, in response, the Hubs jumped out of bed and gave her a bottle.  Which, I will remind you, is exactly what we agreed not to do any longer.

Let me also remind you that Rose does not need to be fed in the middle of the night.  Based on the number of pretzels she shoved in her gaping maw yesterday afternoon she may never need to eat at any time again, but she certainly is not waking up because she's hungry.  But she's no dummy, so when a bottle of warm, delicious milky was presented to her by the Hubs (AKA Sleep Training Enemy Number One), she didn't hesitate to suck that bottle dry.  I don't blame the girl, I mean if someone came into my bedroom in the middle of the night and offered me a fresh, warm, chocolate covered donut, I wouldn't turn it down.  Don't even think about waking me up for middle of the night sex, but donuts? Yes, yes please.

The Hubs continued to insist on offering a nocturnal milk buffet and, not surprisingly, Rose started to wake up more often rather than less.  Of course she did, I mean the kid knew that every time she woke up and cried for more than 30 seconds, Daddy would come running with her drug of choice!  Finally, after a very long night that included four wake-up calls, just as I was beginning to despair of ever again being able to leave the house without spackling myself with under eye concealer, I came across an article from Parents Magazine titled 5 Things to Avoid When Sleep Training Your Baby.

Right there, in black and white print, the third reason down on the list is "extending night feedings".  The article might as well have had a photograph of a Father and said "this guy, right here, is the reason you are failing at sleep training".  Even in my exhausted, sleep-deprived state, I mustered the energy to get out of bed and dance a little jig because a Doctor, a real life Pediatrician said that our baby wasn't waking up because she was hungry.  I finally had written proof to show to my Husband and maybe, just maybe a medical professional's advice would be enough to convince him to stop feeding our daughter in the middle of the night.

I will be forever grateful to whoever came up with the idea for that article because it was the only thing that finally persuaded the Hubs to cut the Little Lady off.  Guess what?  After a couple rough nights during which Rose woke up twice and I had to go in and pacify her (literally, with her pacifier), she's resumed sleeping through the night.  It is a beautiful thing to consistently sleep through the night.  So beautiful in fact, that I feel like a new woman and I am completely and totally prepared to forgive the Hubs for screwing up the sleep training plan in the first place.

Assuming, of course, that he buys me a really nice Mother's Day gift.

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