Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gone Bloggin'

To the naked eye, it appears that I'm the world's laziest blogger, but I've actually been blogging elsewhere! Every week for the past month, I've been a guest blogger for CT Working Moms. I'm very honored to be part of a great group of female writers, who break it down in posts that range from heart-wrenching to knee-slapping.

I cover breaking news related to mismanagement of our yard, making mix tapes, being perpetually late, and breaking up a with a beloved daycare. All posts can be viewed here: http://ctworkingmoms.com/author/shawna/

Matchy-matchy mother-daughter

I've been a big fan of the site since we moved here. I don't even remember how I discovered it...probably some random internet browsing brought me to the treasure trove of diverse, honest, ridiculous, hopeful tales of working motherhood. There's always something new to read and many bloggers mean exposure to an array of perspectives, all in one place. The overarching goal of the site and the women affiliated with is for a judgement-free motherhood. Coming from a family where judging is a recreational sport, I appreciate the approach of live and let live, and am trying to infuse more acceptance into my life. It can't hurt to try.

If for some reason you can't make it over to the blog site (summer time laziness?), here's a quick recap of recent news:
  • Dave got a job! He'll be the Assistant Principal at the middle school in Berlin, CT. We are very excited for this new adventure, and thrilled he got a job a month after graduation. He is talented, driven, and has credentials for days, but I swear that guy's resume is dipped in gold.
  • I'm taking an online graduate course, in urban planning. This is the first phase of my plan to go to grad school. It's a long time goal, and despite the challenges, I really want to get a formal education in planning, and am trying to make it happen.
  • Summer! We've started going to the lake, eating watermelon, staying up late, and sleeping in. Yep, seems to be no need for an alarm anymore, because I flat out ignore it...who do I think I am? A school kid?
  • We are going to Seattle in a few weeks for Becky and Vince's wedding. I'm both elated at the thought of a vacation, and dreading the cross-country flight with two kids. We learned lessons from our Austin trip, though, and will put those to the test. Plus, prosecco.
Anyway, sorry to neglect Chez Moni. I'll be back, whenever my guest blogging gig ends. In the meantime, see you at CT Working Moms!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Good News Week

This past week was just a feather in my cap. Beyond that we finally got a glimpse of spring, a few things went down in my favor. In no particular order, they were:

1. I took home 3rd in my division for the Middletown Four Miler. This was a unique race because it started at 11:30am (odd) and was a four-mile route (also odd). Race times are dictated by hosting towns' law enforcement availability, peak weather conditions, and other factors that I'm unaware of, but it just felt strange to begin mid-day. However, my mom signed us up with her brother Kevin, his lady Janice, and some other members of the Road Rangers in this cute town alongside the Connecticut River. My mom asked my goal at the starting line; I guessed 32 minutes? She guessed 40, to which I replied she was definitely not running a 10 minute mile. I mean, she's a grandma, but she's a damn FAST grandma. We couldn't even get the math right because we had never raced four miles. I'll spare you the details, but there were a lot of hills and sunshine. I ran my heart out. One lady about my age edged up close towards the end. Thank God that race ended on a downhill, because I picked up speed and went for the glory. I crossed the finish line at 32:06, which is an 8:02 mile. I was proud, and the lady who almost smoked me came up afterwards and said, "Nice job! I tried to keep up but you just kicked it at the end!" I love that shit.

2. Voted 'Most Creative' along with a colleague (another graphic designer) at my work's FHI Day. It is a small token of recognition, and I really appreciate it. Though the award itself needs a facelift, it's hanging in my office. Guess I'll need to re-design those for next year!

3. I won a project for my company. My boss, the VP, received a call from the client that we were selected, and he shared the good news with me. This is the second project I've won for this client, and though it doesn't have the biggest budget or most prestige, it's a big deal to me because it'll probably be a fun one, I'm building a relationship with the client, and bringing work in the door. It was my first interview that I played the primary role in, and the win really feels like mine.

I've read around some blogs and sat at dinner tables recently with moms who do not take time for themselves, and they're burnt out. I feel like I still prioritize myself, by staying in the workforce and running regularly. I hope these decisions to still invest in myself, are evident to my girls. When Edie asks why I'm going out on a Friday night with friends, I explain that I like to see them just as she likes to see hers at school. This makes sense. I'm not saying I don't get burnt out or that I've made the right life decisions, but when I feel guilty that I'm going for a run before picking them up at daycare, I need to remember that they will thrive with a happy and fulfilled mama.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gettin' freekeh

Never heard of freekeh? Me neither until Wednesday, when my weekly delivery of Blue Apron arrived. Freekeh is a middle eastern grain, not unlike quinoa, and part of our "Kumquat-Lime Glazed Tilapia" dinner. Tonight, as dinner prep tumbled past the one-hour mark, I sipped my Two Roads beer and seriously considered how I got from chicken nugget-nuking to kumquat slicing in one week flat.

My dear sister, of course. Ashley lives in NYC, and getting dinner was a challenge for them, just like any working family. (Don't get me wrong, I enjoy cooking, but with a 10-month intent on exploring door hinges and cat food, a toddler who wants to play "queen" when we regroup at home, and a husband who works 11 hour days, my strategy is to get food on the table fast). My sister recently discovered Blue Apron, a start-up company that delivers three dinners for two adults weekly. She soon received coupons to invite family and friends for a free trial week, which is precisely how we arrived at freekeh. And blue cheese grits, and ettouffe, and Mexican chicken mole....

We received the first box a couple weeks ago, with its craftily-labeled pouches of golden raisins, mint, lemongrass, chives, and so on. Their proteins include local poultry and red meat, as well as fish. Everything is well-branded and charming, and the recipe cards spell it out, even for newer chefs. Upon receiving our first delivery, I smiled while pulling out each little bagged item like it was a precious jewel. Ah! A single sprig of rosemary. Nine raisins! How adorable!

I initially thought that my dinner prayers had been answered. A box of food on my doorstep eliminates the need to plan meals (or pretend to), or buy plastic packages of herbs which will mostly die a slow death in my fridge. I don't have to throw out chicken breasts that don't get used in time. I also appreciated the ability to try new things without doing the legwork. I mean really, who has time? (says a former subscriber to Cooks Illustrated)

Ashley likes the service because her husband quickly gained the confidence and curiosity to make the meals. This was something new, and it meant she could drink wine and flip through a magazine while he cooked. Well, sadly it didn't go down that way in our house. And Dave never implied it would. Dave likes the Cuisinart griller/panini maker, and if it's his turn to cook, dinner better make a nice sizzle on that appliance.

After the first week, we were charged a flat fee of $60 (shipping is included). I tried to stick within my budget at the grocery store - of course we still needed food for other meals, food for the girls, snacks, and drinks. My goal was to stay under $70, which I totally did....until I returned the next day and bought the rest of my grocery list. I felt guilty for blowing our budget.

Beyond the money issue, the meals take prep. Though I understand great meals take time, I loath mincing garlic like no other task, and it seems to be part of every recipe. I also, truly, do not have time to roast almond slices or make lime zest. This ain't 1954! Tonight as the sous chef and chef, I clocked some serious time over the stove while Dave did damage control with the girls. When we sat down to eat, the freekeh was yummy but the tilapia was cold, likely because I put Emmeline to bed in the middle of cooking. As Julia Child would say, c'est la vie.

After next week, no more Blue Apron for a while. I canceled our subscription. We need more crock pot, less lime zest.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

SkyMall Confetti and Other Fun Travel Tips

So the flight attendant watches your kid? Hmmm
Just returned from a trip to run the Austin, TX half-marathon with my mom and sister Ashley. Why Austin? people have asked. We picked it because the Disney Half-Marathon was sold out, we'd heard great things about the city (a liberal/democratic/musical oasis in the Lone Star State), and it fit within a couple of teacher vacation schedules that restrict our family's travel window.

I knew we'd want to get out of dodge in the dead of winter, and we never have plans to do so (leave it to our family to throw in a half-marathon to make it a REAL vacation). As expected, it was great to have a plane ticket in hand; this winter has been a showcase of snowstorms, black ice, and frigid temps. I wish we were skiing or snowshoeing to capitalize on the white weather, but those activities straight up don't fit into our lives these days.
I'd say a stroller is an airport necessity
Anyway, who cares about winter? We traveled down south with my parents, who are able and willing to lend a hand (Who am I kidding? My mom is our very own Mary Poppins/Mrs. Doubtfire). While preparing the day before our trip, I thought we had somewhat of a logical packing strategy. I tripled up the girls stuff with my own so we had one decent-sized roller bag, each person had a carry-on (including Edie), we'd use our CityMini stroller with car seat attachment for Emmeline, push Edie in an umbrella stroller, and Dave would sherpa the other car seat. Easy....breezy. One hour at Bradley revealed I was way, way off. Four adults were so up to our eyeballs in kids and associated gear that we caused some serious pedestrian traffic jams in the TSA line. On one flight I realized I was holding the canopy to the umbrella stroller, which had snapped off, as a carry-on. What??

This quick getaway was not only a respite from crusty old snowbanks, but a crash course in how not to travel with a preschooler and infant, even with auxiliary forces. Let me share my new-found wisdom:
  1. Invest in one large rolling bag and pack the family's stuff in it. Forget multiple small duffels, cute kid-friendly roller bags/ride-on animals. I'm talking industrial strength, family-of-four, your-black-lab-would-fit-in-it roller bag. Pay the $25 to check it for the airlines that charge that ridic fee, clap your (free) hands, and move on to the TSA line.
  2. Cute, but it won't help you get to Gate D4 in a hurry.
  3. The diaper bag is now your carry-on. Use a small wallet and purse that fits in the diaper bag. I pilfered Edie's $2 sparkle wallet with the bare minimum of cards and ID, and it worked perfectly. I popped it in my back pocket just like a guy would, and have never felt so free (although Edie didn't miss an opportunity to remind my that it's hers).
  4. Bring snacks for yourself, too. I packed decent food options for my kids and totally neglected myself and Dave. We had to buy sub-par $10 sandwiches on the plane, and arrived in Austin nauseous and hangry (look it up, it means hungry and subsequently angry).
  5. Buy the infant a plane ticket. If you don't, chances are you'll have a squirmy/cranky/curious baby in arms the whole way. Emmeline was making confetti out of the SkyMall magazine three minutes after we boarded, and she was bored two minutes later. Honestly, even if the babes fall asleep no one is comfortable; you can barely read or get a drink. We played free baby seat roulette on the four flights (see #7 below), and didn't luck out on any of them. Although a seat is not required until the kid is two, it' is worth the hundreds they cost.
  6. Martha Stewart, take note for your next
    craft project.

  7. ....Or give the child a little baby Benadryl. We've all done it and the kids are fine, and it's cheaper than buying the aforementioned seat.
  8. Rent everything at your destination. An infant car seat is a must for the plane (for her comfort, our sanity) and strollers have some benefit too, but the pack n' plays, toddler car seat, toys, and high chairs are cumbersome and unnecessary. Ashley found a service called Baby's Away that rents all things kid and has outposts in major cities. We received a Tupperware box on our doorstep with books, puzzles, and bath toys, along with inflatable toddler beds and sheets, portable cribs, etc. You can order anything. Next time, I will.
  9. Avoid the layover. One of the downers of CT living is the lack of direct flights. We can get to DC, Chicago, or Orlando pretty well, but that's about it. Our return trip included a 35 minute layover in Atlanta. I've heard the city has pretty bad sprawl, and their airport is no different. Our flight from Austin was 20 minutes late, and we got anxious when we landed and realized time wasn't on our side. We waited for 10 minutes for our strollers and car seats to be returned to gate check, and by now my brow was starting to sweat. The flight attendants at the gate refused to call the other gate and ask them to wait, so Dave ran ahead, carrying Edie's car seat ON HIS HEAD, running from Terminal C to D. Yes this also involved a cross-terminal tram. My parents had caught a different flight home and kept the umbrella stroller. Therefore I had the pipsqueak in her stroller and Edie with her own carry-on (big mistake), plus luggage. We needed to hoof it. Since this trip revolved around the half-marathon, I'm in pretty good running shape, but not with gear, while pushing a stroller, and a preschooler on foot. While booking it, Edie starts wimpering that her feet hurt, her bag's too heavy, she's thirsty. I basically grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and did my best to haul ass to Gate D4. At one point, she decides she does want to run, and she's like, "It's ok! I have super powers!" Which was very cute. Even still we didn't make the connection and spent some quality time in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport yesterday. To avoid the layover our options are to either go somewhere that Bradley serves directly, drive to Boston or NYC and catch a direct flight from there, or avoid flying for five years. 
    This might've helped haul all of our stuff.

  10. If you can't avoid a connection, build in a better buffer. By my calculations, one half hour layover + two little kids + all their sh!t - their ability to carry anything = one hour minimum to schlep comfortably to the next gate. I assume every airport is as dinky as Bradley, when in fact many of them have their own mass transit system. Don't discount the sheer size of these aero-metropolises.

  11. Load some movies on your tablet. I normally limit screen time, but all bets are off when we're on a plane or in the airport for an extended stay. Edie watched Despicable Me twice in a row and we were all better off.

  12. Dave has hereby banned all flights that depart before 9am or red-eyes. Basically, anything that seriously impacts our sleep is not allowed. So now we'll fly between 9-5, ideal times when the rest of the world wants to fly too. Can't wait to see those prices!
Layovers mean more walking practice, my favorite!
Despite the travel hiccups, we had a great trip. I wish we had one more day to cash in on the exhaustive travel, but it was lovely to feel the sun on our backs, to eat tacos from food carts (they're everywhere!!), and to race with my intrepid mom and sister, followed by one-hour sports massage at Austin's best spa. We also unexpectedly spent time with Seattle friends in town.

Cuties at the gate
I'll give you the play-by-play race account you're dying to hear next time.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Letters from the North Pole

Something came in the mail yesterday that made me laugh out loud, even before I opened it. It was a letter from Santa! I didn't recognize the handwriting, but it was addressed to Edie with a return address of 'Santa, North Pole'. And there was a stamped postmark but no location.

Mysteriously missing postmark
Simply stated return address

The letter had some pointed responses to drawings that Edie made recently - one to Santa and another to Santa's Littlest Elf, who we read about. I vaguely remember Dave bringing Edie to the mailbox to send these notes to Santa after Christmas - thank you notes rather than a wish list. Then I wondered if she wrote them while Grammy, Papa and Becky were here, and maybe they responded on Santa's behalf? But I confirmed they didn't have anything to do with it.

Dear Edie....

Anyway, when Dave came home I was like, "So Edie got a special letter from Santa today....", while kicking him under the table and opening my eyes wide to subliminally ask, Did you have a student write this?? He swears he had nothing to do with it, and when I considered how intense his workdays are and how much organizing he would've had to do to make it happen, I knew it wasn't him either. The truth is, we straight up got a letter from Santa and it made my day, maybe even more than it made Edie's. I think the letter might be associated with this USPS program, although I'd think they have a North Pole return stamp. Regardless, these unexpected things remind me that life can be wonderful and surprising. If some generous citizen takes it upon themselves to respond to kids' letters to Santa, I hope that brings them as much joy as it brought us.


In other news, it's been insanely cold here lately. Polar vortex, I suppose. I wear a down vest in my house, drink tea all day, and hustle while outside, if I absolutely HAVE to go outside. I've also been running on the treadmill that Dave bought me for Christmas, which is on our back "three season" (i.e. one season - Spring) porch. I get bundled up in running gear, strap on my iPhone-holding fanny pack, and head on out. I warm up pretty quickly once I get a good pace going, and it's awesome to have an option to run at night without risk of slipping on ice, negotiating with commuters, and dealing with dark, cold ridiculousness. This is good, because I have about three more weeks of training before Austin, and this week, Dave and I signed up for another half-marathon. Ashley presented the idea of the Brooklyn Half, and at first I scoffed. Is it really necessary to train for a race on the heels of this one? She warned that, true to New York City fashion, entry spots would sell out in one day (and they did). Dave, Ashley, Jeff, and my mom were in. I pressed the 'register' button before reason set in. I can't seem to say no to a potential running adventure. 'Til next time!

You can never have enough purple

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bottomless Coffee

Do you know that feeling when you're dozing in bed while reading, you can essentially feel your brain waves slow down? I woke up this morning after about two weeks of a very light work schedule, and my brain waves were dormant for 45 minutes. I went through the usual motions but it was dark, chilly, and ridiculously foggy, and my brain felt the same....until I took a sip of  coffee that is. With cream. Hallelujah, that shit is so delicious. It's like the overhead florescent lights in a school gym buzz on, flicker with a slow burn for a prolonged minute until they really kick in.

This former coffee snob has accepted drip coffee. I make it pretty well at home. Since we've lived in Connecticut, I've welcomed Dunkin Donuts back. It wasn't an easy acceptance, but after two years and change, I appreciate its merits again. My latest ungodly concoction is half coffee-half Salted Caramel hot chocolate. There is no reason a grown person needs to drink it, but I can't help but think of enjoying one after a long run, or just to get the motor running on these cold, dark days. Hot damn! Also, I'm not above a drive-thru Dunkin' run. I know it's tacky and like, obese-American to rock the drive-thru, but two kids in the car is the only excuse necessary to stay buckled in.

Am I really dedicating a blog post to coffee? I suspect I need to address new content, to write about something dominating my life other than kids or running, and coffee is at the top of my list. Hmm, let's see, surely there are more dimensions to my life...

Oh, yes. I started to read a book last night. This is the first book I've read since July, and I didn't have the will to finish it, even though I liked it (The Interestings). My book of 2014 is Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, about balancing work, family, and life while rising to the professional top (if you're so inclined). I love working, I love graphic design and the experiments and research that go into that part of my job. I'm organized, driven, and am intrigued by urban planning and developing my planning skills. But I often wish I worked less; how great it was when Edie was a baby and I worked 24 hours a week and spent my other days exploring Seattle with her (coffee mug in hand of course). It was great for me and Edie, but my work suffered. I went to the office Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. After two days at home mid-week, I barely knew where I'd left off on Tuesday, and how difficult is it to build momentum on a segregated Friday? Very. My employers were saints; despite my best intentions, they must've lost money on me during that time.

Lean In explores how women can thrive in business, with or without a family. It addresses workplace inequality and overcoming internal and external barriers. Sample internal barrier: Comparing yourself to the male leadership while at work, and the stay-at-home moms while at home. Sample external barrier: The well-researched female tendency to underestimate our performance, while men typically overestimate their performance. Self doubt is an issue some days, and this book is illuminating common sentiments, many of which I never even gave a name to, and challenging those norms. Even though Sheryl, the COO of Facebook, makes an obscene amount of money and therefore has more resources at her disposal to make whatever she wants to do work, the concepts ideas apply to any class. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Yep, folks, coffee and reading. I also like impromptu dance parties, sledding on fresh snow, and scoring network t.v. pulled thanks to a $60 antenna. More on that next time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Let's call it a day

One minute, I'm on maternity leave, living the life of childish, sun-kissed days, and basking in the option to go running until 8pm. In the blink of an eye, it's dark from 4pm til 7:30am, I'm up to my eyeballs in work, and the fresh produce and meat in my fridge seem to taunt me as if to say "Heh heh, you're not gonna cook US!" (and they're right).

Edie rocking her trademark red cowgirl boots
at the Festival of Trees

Life got intense quickly. I knew this would be one very challenging year - new baby, toddler, sole responsibility for 90% of daycare pick up and drop off, Dave's graduate program which requires many weekends at the library, not to mention training for a half marathon, and my newish full time job that is straight up busy.

Morning cuteness that melts my heart.

Those born of the Leonard clan (my mom's side of the family) can do busy. We were genetically coded to thrive amidst the crazy, the stressful, the challenging times. We are interested in everything. We commit to and hold ourselves accountable for a lot, both internal and external demands, despite our full plates (see half marathon training, above). My dad's side of the family are no less hard workers, but they generally embrace the slower lane, complete with tea breaks and afternoon naps. My Grandma Rita would've had you drawn and quartered if she caught you napping on a sunny day. She was a wonderful woman, but had incredibly high standards and, in her prime, had little tolerance for leisure.

Edie helps Emmeline snack on some puffs. She is so good at being a big sis.

Is it terrible that I dream of taking a sick day to curl up on the couch, to eat banana bread (that someone else baked) and drink hot chocolate (that someone made me) while binge watching t.v.? That sounds delicious.

Instead I orchestrate a symphony of getting myself and the girls ready for daycare. We leave the house armed with enough luggage to sink the Titanic, and hopefully our cat Frankie doesn't escape through the front door (we lose a few minutes capturing and tossing her back inside). Once in the car, I pass Edie her (dry) toothbrush from the front seat. We listen to Christmas music on Pandora on the way to school, and wave to the crossing guards. Once we've all disembarked the car, kids, gear, and moods in check, I think "This is not for the faint of heart. I wonder how a non-Leonard manages", I finesse a toddler (me: "C'mon! Off the jungle gym!", her: silent defiance) and a bundled-up baby into their respective rooms. Edie takes off her gear, scrubs in, and writes her name in the sign-in book.

These tasks would take an adult one minute, but add in the toddler factor and we're talking a good 20 minutes of coaxing and refocusing from the books, baskets of bean bags, what have you, before we get to the infant room; Edie always helps me drop off Emmeline. We take off our shoes, scrub Emmeline in, dress down, sign in, manage a day's worth of food, and kiss goodbye. Edie does quality control on all the infant room toys during this time, making sure their bouncy balls and pop-up musical toys are in good working order.

Attempt at multi-tasking doesn't go so well
- see the bottle not being fed? 
When I return home an hour later, I breeze past the (trashed) living room, clear out the sink, and let out a deep sigh before heading to my desk. Some mornings, when our routine has gone relatively well, I think, "Yeah I'm killing it! I fed, bathed, dressed, AND entertained two little ones, and got a few sips of coffee in between". Other days, the sheer energy it takes to get everyone where they need to be in somewhat sane order bests me. Kiddos - 1, Shawna - 0. It feels like I've worked a half day by 9am.

I know my woes are not unique. Every family on our street, in our town, anywhere have these days studded with minor chaos. I've lowered the bar in terms of what needs to get done in a day. If I eat a piece of fruit, go for a run, spend time on the floor with my kids, or have a decent conversation with Dave, it's a successful day.

The girls were largely unimpressed with the Claus family

Tonight I should've worked, but instead I went running with my mom, had dinner with Dave, and blogged. That's some good Shawna time, so work will have to wait. Until I'm staring at the piles of it tomorrow morning, stressed.

These are the halcyon years. The salad days.