Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why I Watch "Toddlers and Tiaras"

With the updates to the house almost complete, Peanut due to arrive any nanosecond, and temperatures reaching the high 80s (we don’t have central AC, but I’m sure you guessed that), tensions have been running high in the C household.  Apparently, my husband and I aren’t the only ones coping with copious amounts of stress.  A few days ago, Minnow asked me to get her coloring books and crayons so she could color at the kitchen table.  I obliged, and as she sat coloring I scrubbed some dishes in the sink.  A few minutes later I turned around to find her methodically peeling the wrappers off each crayon. 

“Minnow, why are you doing that?” I inquired.

“Because it helps me feel better.”

Interesting.  When I’m stressed I usually make a list or go for a long run, but, you know, different strokes for different folks.

I mean, can you blame the kid for feeling a little frazzled lately?  According to Baby Center, toddler stress is real, and can be brought on by the following:

“…having too many planned activities, the lack of a stable routine, feeling sick, a move, a separation from a beloved caregiver, or the arrival of a new sibling.”

In the last three months Minnow has been through two moves; has gone from living with her beloved grandparents and favorite dog, Harry, to spending the majority of her days with just me; and is anticipating a new baby to disrupt the only-child lifestyle she has enjoyed since birth.

Rationally, I understand what’s going on but, emotionally, my stressed-out toddler is making me feel like I am failing miserably at motherhood. Her usually cheerful and cooperative personality has been replaced by someone who, in her own words, “[Doesn’t] want to do ANYTHING!.”  Our mornings usually start out well, but unravel after she has finished her breakfast.  For example, on Tuesday I wanted to bathe Minnow before her swimming lesson at noon.  First she screamed because she didn’t want to get into the tub.  Then she screamed because she didn’t want to get out of the tub.  She refused to use the potty, then she refused to put on her swim diaper.  She fought me with feet and fists as I struggled to get her into her car seat, and sobbed during the five-minute drive to the pool, “But I don’t want to go to swim lessons!  I don’t want to do ANYTHING!”

Then when she got to the pool, she said, “Mommy, can me pick out my own goggles?  I want the pink ones!”

Every day has been like this since we moved into the new house.  It’s like living with someone who suffers from unmedicated bi-polar disorder, which I guess most toddlers do, in a way.  My days are spent dreaming up ways to keep Minnow happy, and those ways usually include too many Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies and too much time spent watching “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood" on the iPad.  At times like these, when I’m feeling like just about the most unqualified mother in America, only one thing will lift my spirits:

“Toddlers and Tiaras.”

Confession: There are few things I enjoy more after putting Minnow to bed than kicking back on the couch with a bowl of Edy's Slow Churned ice cream (or a Shake Shack shake, if my husband is so inclined) and watching two or three episodes of this TLC gem.  The mothers of “Toddlers and Tiaras” help me realize that even on our most out-of–sorts days, I could be making far more questionable decisions as a parent.  After all, I can honestly say that I have never:

- Spray-tanned my toddler;

- Fed my toddler Pixie Sticks, Red Bull, or something called “Tinker Tea,” which is, evidently, a concoction comprised of Pixie Sticks, lemonade, and soda (soda!);

- Called another person’s toddler “ugly;”

- Suggested to my toddler that “stripper” is an acceptable career choice, as long as she does it “fabulously;”

- Criticized my toddler for not having (or doing- I don’t know what the correct terminology is here) “pretty feet;”

- Allowed my toddler to ride in an ATV, with or without a helmet;

- Put false eyelashes on my toddler’s eyes, false teeth in my toddler’s mouth, or makeup on my toddler’s face (Although I have, on occasion, painted her toenails the same Essie color as my pedicure, so we could match);

- Told my toddler, in either a positive or negative way, that she looks like a “prosti-tot;”

- Allowed my toddler’s lunch to be spoonfuls of mayonnaise (mayonnaise!) straight out of the jar;

- Threatened to “kick the shit” out of another parent in front of my toddler (or ever!);

I don’t mean to criticize other people’s parenting styles (cough, cough); after all, being a parent is, by far, the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and I went to law school.  I don't doubt that the parents on "Toddlers and Tiaras" genuinely love their children, even if they have a funny way of showing it.  I’m just saying that the next time Minnow wants to lament her misfortune because I insist on washing her hair or giving her something other than carbs for a snack, she might do well to think about little Mackenzie or Brooklyn, who certainly have more stress in their lives than she does.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Recipes from My Ugly Blue Kitchen: Super-Delicious Chunky Marinara

With Peanut due to arrive any day (my swollen ankles and stretched maternity tees say the sooner the better), it was time for me to stock the freezer with a homemade favorite.

I am Irish and grew up on store-bought pasta sauce.  My husband is Irish-Italian and also grew up on store-bought pasta sauce.  After we were married and I lost my job as a law clerk, I watched a lot of cooking shows, both at home and- oddly- at the gym, where Food Network seemed to be a favorite channel among those using the treadmills.  During this time I became an enormous Ina Garten fan.  It is Ina who convinced me that making one's own pasta sauce is not only easy, but nutritionally necessary.  Have you ever read the label of a conventional jar of pasta sauce?  I guarantee you that the second ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar.

There is no sugar in my homemade pasta sauce.  In fact, there are only ten ingredients total. and it is incredibly easy to make.  It is also astoundingly delicious, at least, according to my Irish-Italian husband.  Because I want you, too, to make your own pasta sauce and not consume freakish amounts of sugar, I am sharing my recipe, which I've adapted from several sources, including Ina, below.

CMC's Super-Delicious Chunky Marinara

Ingredients per batch (one batch serves approximately four hungry Irish-Italians):

2 tbsp olive oil (I like Colavita)
1 yellow onion
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup merlot or other robust red wine
1 can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
4 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 handful fresh basil leaves
Salt to taste


Step 1: Dice the onion.  Or, better yet, if husband is around have him do it, so you don't have to touch up your eye makeup later.  Saute diced onion and salt in 2 tbsp olive oil in a Dutch oven over low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes.

Note: Don't worry about over-salting.  I took a cooking class once and the instructor declared that it is impossible for Americans to over-salt while cooking because our natural inclination to limit our salt-intake preventst us from using too much salt before it becomes a problem.

Step 2:  As the onion is sauteing, mince the garlic.  Of course you could use minced garlic in a jar, but why would you?  In my opinion, fresh garlic is worth the extra bit of effort, especially if you have a good chef's knife.  We use six cloves per batch, but we are garlic fanatics.  Adjust to your preference.

Step 3: Add the garlic to the softened onion, stir with a wooden spoon, and allow to cook for about sixty seconds, until garlic is fragrant.

Step 4: Turn up heat to medium-high, Add 1/2 cup of merlot, and cook until most of the wine has evaporated.

Step 5: Add whole peeled tomatoes and juices.  Crush each individual tomato with your hand before adding it to the pot.  You may want to wear an apron for this step!

Note, this recipe specifically calls for San Marzano tomatoes- the best on the market.  I've tried other brands, including Scalfani and Cento, and there is no comparison.  This sauce calls for so few and simple ingredients, t's important that they're high quality.

Step 6:  Add the tomato paste, stir, and bring sauce to a boil.  Lower the flame to medium-low.

Step 7: Add the herbs.  I use another dash of salt, 1/2 tsp of oregano, 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes, and about eight leaves of fresh Basil.  You can buy fresh packaged basil leaves at any grocery store, or, if your husband enjoys gardening as much as mine does, you can convince him to plant about twenty basil plants in your vegetable garden so you never run out.  Just make sure you rinse the leaves well before adding them to your sauce!

Step 8: Allow sauce to simmer on stove for forty minutes, until thick and saucy.

Step 9: Jar it!  Assuming you have leftovers (or you've made four batches, as I did), you'll need air-tight mason jars to freeze for later.  Santa brought me these mason jars last Christmas because Santa really likes my pasta sauce.

(Don't worry, Santa also brought me the J.Crew leopard flats and Fair Isle sweater I was pining for.)

The finished product!  Ready for post-baby consumption with my favorite portobello mushroom ravioli (which I buy at the Fairway.  I haven't ventured into pasta making just yet).  

The Nicest Neighbors on the Block

The day after we close, we go to the house early in the morning to meet with our prospective contractors.  The doorbell rings and I think it’s one of the painters we are considering hiring, but when I open the door, a lanky man wearing thick canvas gloves and a wide smile is standing on the stoop. 

“Hi!  I’m Jim, the garbage man.”  Jim thumbs toward the green refuse truck on the street.  “I’d shake your hand, but I’ve got my work gloves on.  Anyway, I just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood and let you know that your trash days are Tuesdays and Fridays.  Recycling on Thursdays.”

I am speechless.  In the roughly thirty years I’ve been alive, I don’t think I’ve ever had a garbage man come to my door and introduce himself to me.   In the weeks that follow, our mail carrier and our UPS man will also introduce themselves, and compliment us on the work we are doing to the house.

A few days after we meet Jim, we are pulling into our driveway when we notice that the family next door- a mom, a dad, and three children- are playing together in the front yard.  When they see our car, they wave vigorously, as if they have been awaiting our arrival all day.  The kids run over to the Jeep and clamor over one another to introduce themselves.  There is an eight-year-old girl, a six-year-old boy, and another boy who is just about the same age as Minnow. 

“Do you have any kids?” the six-year old boy asks eagerly.  After living next to an elderly couple all his life, it is evident that he is hopeful for some new playmates. 

“Yes,” I say.  “We have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and,” I point to my belly, “another girl on the way.”

The kids are overwhelmed by this news.  The eight-year-old girl volunteers to babysit for me when she gets a little older and her mom lets her.  The six-year-old boy vows to let our girls come into his yard and play in his playhouse whenever they want.  The three-year-old boy smiles shyly and digs a toe into the grass.  Then the three of them run into their house.

The parents come over to say hello and we can tell right away that these are the type of people others dream of having next door.  The husband gives us their home phone number and insists we call them whenever we need a hand.  The wife rattles off the names of the best pediatricians, grocery stores, and soccer programs in the village. 

The kids bound out the front door carrying a stack of children’s books, including Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy.  On top of the stack is a handmade card.  The six-year-old boy hands the books and card to me.    

“These are for Minnow,” he explains. 

“We know it’s expensive to buy a house,” the eight-year-old girl adds, “so we don’t want you to have to buy books, too.”

I am blown away by these young children’s thoughtfulness and generosity, let alone their mature-beyond-years sympathy.  They haven’t even met our daughter and already they are willing to share with her.

Not to be outdone, when our neighbors across the street hear that we have a toddler girl, they leave a mint-condition toddler-sized scooter on our stoop with a note that reads, “Welcome to the neighborhood!  Our girls have outgrown this and we thought you could use it.”

“What is going on around here?” I ask my husband.  I don’t mean to be skeptical, but, generally, I haven’t had many positive experiences with neighbors.  My parents’ next-door-neighbors in Northeast Philadelphia literally throw dog shit in my parents’ swimming pool for sport.  In Manhattan, our neighbors didn’t take much interest in us, and we didn’t take much interest in them, because Manhattanites are, as a rule, not interested in anyone but themselves.  When we moved to Bronxville we encountered some really great neighbors, and some challenging ones.  The man who lived directly below us waited all of two weeks before knocking on our door one afternoon and requesting that we all start walking on the balls of our feet, to reduce the noise on the hardwoods.  I told him that I would happily walk on the balls of my feet, and I would relay the message to my husband.  Then I pointed to Minnow.

“But…she’s fifteen-months-old, so….” 

In the weeks following our move to the new house, various neighbors come by to greet us.  Mrs. McConnell, our other next-door neighbor, tells us that she is available for late-night babysitting.   She is approximately 94-years-old.

“I’m lucky if I get three or four hours of sleep per night,” she explains.  “So if you go into labor in the middle of the night and you need someone to watch the little one, I’d be happy to.”

“Wow, thank you,” I reply graciously.  I do not intend to take her up on her offer, given her advanced age and the fact that we met twelve seconds ago, but what a neighborly thing to say.

After I meet another neighbor across the street, she drops by that very afternoon to present me with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and a warm welcome note.  The flowers, in cheerful shades of pink, purple, and yellow, last nearly two weeks in our ugly blue kitchen.

The neighbor who lives behind us, whose name I cannot recall but whose dog’s name is “Eddie,” stops outside our house one afternoon so Minnow can pet the dog and smother him with hugs.

“We moved to the village about thirty years ago, when we were about your age,” he says.  “Once you move here, you don’t leave.”  He says that last part in an almost Stepford-ish way, and I can’t decide whether I am comforted or minorly disturbed by his words.  I mean, we moved to Long Island, not joined a cult.  Right?

Then there is the party.  Last week as my husband is tending to our vegetable garden, a neighbor from down the block, whom we hadn’t yet met, hands my husband an invitation to a party she and her husband are throwing to welcome all the newcomers on the block.  We feel obligated to go, so that Friday night we nervously process to her house, where about forty other neighbors have gathered, with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in hand to, in one neighbor’s words, “initiate us.” 

It is one of the most splendid summer parties I’ve ever attended.  Every neighbor we meet is down-to-earth and intent on making us feel welcome in our new town.  I discover that around here, friendliness isn’t an anomaly; it’s a lifestyle.  Neighbors are, for better or worse, genuinely interested in one another’s lives.  If, God forbid, tragedy were to ever strike our block and the local news came to interview some of the neighbors, you would never hear someone say, “We didn’t really know the family.  They kept to themselves.”

One afternoon I am chit-chatting with my neighbor across the street- the one who gave Minnow the scooter- when her next-door-neighbor exits her house and approaches us. 

“Have you met the new neighbor?” the woman with whom I’m chatting asks.

I don’t answer because I assume she is talking to her next-door-neighbor, who has joined us on the sidewalk.

“C, have you met the new neighbor?” she asks again.

“What are you talking about?” I respond.  “I’m the new neighbor.”

“No!  This is Kristy.  She and her family are from Mississippi and just moved in on Saturday.  She’s even newer than you.”

“I just can’t get over how nice everyone is around here!” Kristy drawls.  “Down South New Yorkers get a bad rap, but we are so impressed with everyone’s hospitality.”

As she continues I wonder whether we- no longer the new family on the block- ought to bake Kristy and her kids a batch of cookies. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Laundry Dreams (And Nightmares)

One of the best things about buying a house, in my estimation, is finally having a private laundry room.  After four years of renting in buildings with shared laundry facilities and dealing with all sorts of laundry drama, I’ve been dreaming of carrying baskets of laundry to the basement whenever I am so inclined, dumping them into the washer, and enjoying the rhythmic hum of the machine as I move on to other household tasks.  No waiting for an open washer because, despite the notices posted in both English and Spanish prohibiting the use of more than three washers at a time, a neighbor’s housekeeper is occupying all seven washers and three dryers.  No racing down four flights of stairs before some neighbor who just carried an oozing bag of garbage to the trash hut removes my freshly cleaned clothes from the washer and dumps them on top of the machine.  No worrying about someone stealing my sheets and towels out of the dryer (that happened), having to comfort a neighbor’s housekeeper who was just fired from her position (that happened), or getting stuck in an elevator for a half hour on my way to the laundry room (yup, that too).

We knew when we bought this house that the appliances were ancient.  I mean, the dryer was manufactured by RCA.  Are they even around anymore?  But the sellers certified in the contract that all systems and appliances in the home were in “working condition,” so we were hoping to get away with not having to buy a new appliance until our bank account balance is restored.

The night before I planned to do my first load of laundry in the new house, I went down to the yucky laundry room in the yucky basement and ran a cup of bleach through the yucky washing machine.  No morning-after disasters resulted from this experiment.  The hose didn’t leak, the laundry room didn’t flood, and the washing machine smelled a lot cleaner.  I put in my first sorted load, closed the door, turned the knob, and prayed for the best.  Forty minutes later, our clothes were damp and smelled clean.  Success!  Time to transfer them to the dryer.  I opened the door to the dryer and WHAT… THE… F?!

“You’ll never guess what I just found in the dryer,” I texted to my husband, who by now is accustomed to receiving various S.O.S. messages from home while at work. 

“A mouse?”

It was a reasonable guess.  Although we haven’t found any evidence to date, I’m quite certain there is a colony of mice living above the drop ceiling, because that’s the kind of basement we have and, also, that's the kind of luck we have.

“Worse,” I replied.  “A load of laundry the sellers left behind.”


It was gross.  Those clothes have been sitting in the dryer for at least one month since we’ve closed!

The idea of leaving behind an entire load of laundry in a move absolutely baffles me.  If I so much as lose a baby sock in the midst of doing wash I am bent out of shape for a week.

I didn’t know what to do.  I am skittish about touching other people’s laundry, even if it’s clean.  I mean, who wants to touch someone else’s granny panties?  So I put on a pair of latex gloves and put the forgotten clothes into a black trash bag.  The clothes were dry, but smelled damp.  I put the trash bag in the laundry room closet, but immediately felt guilty.  Should I fold them? I wondered.  No, I decided, that would be creepy.  I loaded my clothes into the dryer, set it for an hour, and called the seller’s agent to arrange a pick-up time with the sellers.

An hour later, when I went down to retrieve my laundry, it was still damp.  I guess it needs more time, I reasoned, and reset the dryer.  Another hour later the clothes were still damp and I realized that although the dryer’s motor was running, it was not emitting any heat. 

“Dryer’s busted,” I texted my husband.

“But I thought you found dry clothes in there.”

“Yes, but remember, they've been sitting in there for over a month.”

Of course the busted dryer meant that my dream of doing laundry on a whim had been placed on hold.  Two days later, I loaded two bags of laundry into the Jeep and carted them to my in-laws'.

This past weekend, we made an unplanned visit to P.C. Richard to purchase a new dryer and, hell, while we’re at it, we might as well buy a washer, as well.  Our brand-spanking-new, state-of-the-art, top-rated, glass-top Samsung washer and dryer were delivered this week.  They look a little out-of place in our yucky laundry room in our yucky basement (I was actually embarrassed when the delivery men arrived to install them), but aren’t they gorgeous?  It turns out laundry dreams really do come true! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


After the movers drop the last box in our new home (and I do mean "drop;" several Crate & Barrel wine glasses are sacrificed in the move), I walk from room to room, surveying the job ahead.  It is overwhelming.  My in-laws have agreed to watch Minnow until 8 p.m. that evening, and I quickly realize that we will not be finished unpacking by the end of the day, or even the end of the weekend, as I had naively hoped.

I can't decide which I find more loathsome: Packing or unpacking.  Wrapping everything we own in multiple layers of bubble wrap and entrusting their fate to the storage gods is draining- no doubt about it- but I am having a difficult time unpacking because I don't yet know where anything goes.  We went from too little space to too much space, it seems.  This box of cleaning supplies could go in the linen closet, but it would be just as at home it in the laundry room.  Should that framed photograph of the Natural History Museum hang in the living room, or the den?  This vase would look equally elegant in the dining room or in the foyer... Also, there are some rooms in which we cannot unpack at all because the painters- God love them- are still painting.  They're going on four weeks now.

"I don't know where to begin," I say to my husband as I pry open boxes and then push them aside.

"Start in one room," he suggests.  "Do as much as you can in there, and move on to the next."

But in which room should I start?  The nursery is a logical first step, because I want to ensure that Peanut's room is ready, should she decide to move in early.  Then again, maybe I should start in the kitchen, the hearth of the home.  But the idea of spending an afternoon filling old, decrepit cabinets with my gleaming stainless steel cookware saddens me, so I decide to seek solace in the most cheerful corner of the house: My master bedroom closet.

In a home this old, it is rare to find one spacious closet in the master bedroom; it is absolutely urban legend to find two.  I feel like my husband and I hit the Power Ball with our equally-sized His and Hers closets.  Having a place to hang my clothes in the bedroom is certainly an upgrade from our first New York City apartment, where my closet was in the living room.  Here, we kept the antique bronze doorknobs- an homage to the former owners- and added fluorescent lights to each closet and the double light switch outside.

Obviously, a new closet calls for new hangers.  A few days before the move Minnow and I find boxes of these fun hot pink hangers, which would perk up any closet, from Bed Bath and Beyond.  They are slim and space-saving, which is important because  I am using them to hang my silk blouse collection, which is sizable.

Like a hoarder, I am big on saving shoe boxes.  I use them to store my most precious shoes, including a few pairs from the J.Crew collection.  Luckily, this closet has adequate shelf space to hold numerous boxed shoes, as well as a laundry basket packed with handbags.

I've had the shoe rack below since my freshman year of college.  It couldn't have cost more than $10 at Bed Bath and Beyond, yet it has proven to be one of the most useful closet organizers.  I've removed the top rack so that my clothes have more room to hang.  To maximize the remaining space, I stack shoes one on top of the other and plan to switch them out seasonally.  Hello, espadrilles!

Because we don't yet have master bedroom furniture, I am temporarily storing folded items in these stackable hot pink cubes from Ikea.  This cube contains all my running gear, which is washed and ready for my first post-partum run in about eight weeks.

Focusing first on the master bedroom closet is cathartic for me.  After my wardrobe is organized, balance is restored to the universe and I feel energized to tackle the rest of unpacking- room by room and box by box.

Of course, we all deal with stress in different ways.  While I am busy getting reacquainted with the clothes that have spent two months hanging in a cedar closet in my in-laws' attic, my husband works on this:

Aside from ample closet space, another benefit to owning a home is having a little land on which to plant a vegetable garden.  The tall plants are Beefsteak and Sweet 100 tomatoes- perfect for summer!

Never again will I need to buy parsley at the grocery store, thanks to my husband's green thumb.

Thyme and rosemary: Two of our most frequently-used cooking herbs.

I've got big plans of preparing jars and jars of fresh basil pesto in my ugly blue kitchen...

...which is probably the room I should work on next.