Monday, December 30, 2013

A Thank You Letter To Santa For What He Didn't Bring Us

Dear Santa,

I hope this finds you well and resting up following your 15 million mph Christmas Eve journey. I assume you are now either on a beach in Bora Bora sunning that Belly Belly, or en route to  your annual detox at the Betty Crocker Clinic for Frosting Rehabilitation. And I know you've had more than your fair share of mail in the past month or so, so I won't take much of your time.

I just wanted to say thank you. Of course, thank you for the obvious- all the gifts you brought, the memories we made, the great times we had. Cheers to you, big guy. How you manage to get it done each year, spreading laughter and loot to an average of 822.6 houses per second, is truly amazing. I can barely manage to deck my own halls and here you are bringing joy to the entire globe in a night. Wow, just wow.

But more importantly, I want to thank you for what you didn't bring. As I'm sure you will recall from your NSA-worthy pre-holiday surveillance program, my little boy (who is not so little anymore) lost both his front teeth in December. And of course, every adult he encountered (including me) serenaded him with one of the worst Christmas songs of all time (second perhaps only to the one with the donkey): "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth…" and he'd happily sing along, adding Legos, a remote-controlled helicopter, and a pair of ski gloves to the chorus.

And many of those things appeared under the tree: the Legos, the chopper, the gloves… but no teeth. Not in a package, not in a stocking, not even in one of the "Happy Birthday" gift bags I ended up having to use when I ran short on tape (and the will to live) after hitting the wall during the annual all night wrapathon. No teeth. And for that, I thank you.

Because somehow I have the feeling those teeth will mark the beginning of the end of something so simple and sweet. It won't be long before that innocent little gaping grin will be replaced by a sullen scowl, a snide remark, or worse yet- silence. With those adult teeth will eventually come adult worries, adult responsibilities, adult fears, and at times, the weight of the whole adult world.

Santa, the move from "little boy" to "big boy" has already been heartbreaking enough. Have you seen the other side of the clothing store- the one where sizes don't have a "T" after the number and instead of footy pajamas that say "I Stole Mommy's Heart" they have ripped up jeans and t-shirts with skulls and crossbones and snowboarders? Not that there's anything wrong with snowboarders, I just didn't get the memo that at age 6 my son automatically switched from Team Mom to Team Shaun White.

There are other sure signs he's growing up, and I'm not just talking about the shoes he's rapidly outgrowing, or the inevitable obsession with bodily functions. I can already see him looking at the world in a different way, realizing that not every story has a happy ending, and not all boo boos can be made better with a bandaid. I know that he's becoming more and more aware of loss, of hardship, and his mom's inability to actually kiss away all the pain.

And he also now has really stinky feet.

So thank you, Santa for not delivering on the front teeth for Christmas. I feel like you've bought us some extra time, and I promise to use it wisely. I promise I will laugh at his nonsensical "Knock Knock" jokes, I will  cuddle and tickle him until my arms ache, I will hold his hand in public, I will keep the magic alive, and keep him young as long as I can.

Adult teeth can wait.

For now, I still have a sweet little boy with a big gaping grin.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Discovering the Magic of Christmas as an Adult

I think I owe you an apology.

If you've ever sprinkled reindeer dust on your lawn, donned a hat with a sprig of mistletoe hanging off the front, or placed a giant inflatable penguin on your lawn, I'm sorry.

If you take your pets sit on Santa's lap, have elf shoes in an adult size, or any garment of clothing with a bedazzled "Ho Ho Ho" across the chest, I ask for absolution.

And most of all, if you are currently driving around in a car with antlers stuck to the top and a red nose on the grill, please forgive me.

Because for the past few decades, whether you know it or not, I have been making fun of you. I've mocked you silently and not so silently, rolled my eyes at the sight of you, and poo-pooed your holiday spirit. I've called you some not-so-nice names and questioned your intellectual prowess, and for that I'm deeply, deeply sorry.

Because I get it. I finally get it.

It took me 40 years and a little girl who grabbed my hand and yanked me out of an otherwise dreary, stressful day as we wandered through the grocery store parking lot, my brain processing through its never-ending to-do list (holiday and regular editions combined) on autopilot.

"OOH, Mommy look!!!!" she squealed in delight, her blue eyes blazing with excitement. "A Rudolph car!!!" She threw her head back right there in the middle of the parking lot and giggled hysterically. Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to the car.

"Shhhh! He's sleeping!" she warned me. "You can't touch him- he's…MAGIC."

And that's when it clicked: the magic.

I'd heard about it in songs and movies, but never actually believed in it.

And because I didn't believe in the magic, it was just easier to scoff at those who did.

Don't get me wrong- I certainly didn't grow up deprived as our tree was piled high with presents (most of them purchased in my mom's annual Christmas Eve shopping frenzy we dubbed "The Closing of the Malls") and the table overflowed with food. We wanted for nothing… except maybe a little magic.

I'm quite certain my scholarly, professional, serious, immigrant parents didn't even know about the magic. It's not like it comes in the "How to Live in America: Holiday Edition" newsletter. They did their very best at melding their version of Christmas (a serious, deeply religious holiday celebrated on January 7th as per the Orthodox calendar requiring 40 days of prayer and abstaining from all animal products to prepare) with that of their new home (Trees! Cookies! Lights! Elves! Beginning in August!!) as best they could, but there was very little pretense. And not much magic.

So for years I told myself the magic wasn't necessary. In fact, it was just plain excess. Who needs magic when you can have a perfectly fine holiday without it? I blanketed myself in reason and rationality aside so I could focus on other elements of the holiday season, like stress.

When I had my own children, I convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by not overindulging them in Christmas magic or saddling them with lofty expectations of magical holidays. Wouldn't magic only lead to disappointment when the (wo)man behind the curtain was revealed? Wouldn't it take away from our focus on the real meaning of Christmas? Who needs magic, anyway?

Turns out, I do.

Because this year in particular, Christmas started to feel a bit hollow. Already stretched far too thin in every direction, coping with a loved one in the hospital, faced with mounting work pressures, school parties, the shopping, the baking, the wrapping, the endless planning of every second of every day, there were only 2 choices: give into the stress, or give into the magic.

I chose Rudolph.

So here's to you, reindeer car. Here's to balancing the reason for the season with giggles and wonder and fun. Here's to not hiding in the past, but taking the best of what you've had and deciding for yourself what you want the future to be.

And here's to losing yourself in the big blue eyes of a 4-year-old girl.

Here's to a magical Christmas.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Who Is That Looking Back?

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not quite recognized the person staring back? You know, the one who has apparently been walking around with a Hello Kitty sticker stuck in her hair for the past 8 hours? The one with the lines on her face that can't possibly be mattress marks because it's now 2pm and it's not like that face spends all that much time on a mattress anyway? The one with the slightly really completely harried look in her eyes? Yeah, her.

I recently saw her and she scared the bejeezers out of me. She looked frazzled, frustrated, and out of focus, even after I put in my contact lenses. Sure, it's natural to be tired when you have 3 kids ages 6 and under, a busy job, and a busy life. But the woman in the mirror didn't just look tired. She looked somehow off-center.

Later that morning,  I stopped at a local coffee shop known for posting inspirational and thought-provoking messages on the wall to pause for a few seconds in between dropping off 2 kids at 2 different schools, going to the grocery store, prepping for a conference call, scheduling interviews, writing up articles, and returning the 827 emails in my in-box while doing some online Christmas shopping, all before having to run the school shuttle in reverse. I looked up from my tall soymilk chai latte to see "Have You Found Your Center?"written in chalk next to the free-trade, organic, lovingly cultivated Sumatran fresh roast blend of the day.

Clearly, that sign was a sign, I thought. I decided it was time for a change. A perspective shift. A re-centering of my center. It was time to get my zen on. And so began a mission to find my focus, a Journey to the Center of… Me.

Church seemed like as logical a place as any to start. Sunday: the beginning of the week, so I'd begin there. We go to church every Sunday but this week I'd make a special effort to recommit myself to prayer. To focus on my faith. I'd remember the Sabbath and keep it holy… MOLY! How the *&^% (oops-tack one on to my list for confession) did I forget it was Sunday? I sprint back home from what I thought was going to be a leisurely Saturday morning jog (would the person who stole an entire day from my memory please kindly return it?), bolt through the shower, throw a dress in the general direction of my body (some people think I'm all fancy but really, who has time for separates?)  and do the same for the kids. Oops, 2 are boys. OK, they can wear separates.

We somehow make it to church and take our seats in Spiritual Siberia, the section outside the actual sanctuary reserved for families with young children. Not unlike animals in a cage, we peer longingly at the parishioners and wonder what it's like on the other side. Except some of it use it to play peekaboo with the ushers.

I bow my head and attempt to block it all out. And for a moment, it works- I feel myself re-centering, I hear a voice from within… it seemed to be calling me and tugging at my heart…

No, make that my eyelids.

"MAMA!!!! OPEN YOU EYES!!! WHAT YOU DOING???? MAMA!!!!" my two-year-old screams, his tiny hands planted on either side of my face. "We do ring-round-rosie?" he asks hopefully as the congregation joins hands.

The rest of mass passes in a blur of diversionary tactics/snacks/pleas/bribes to sit still, 5-10 laps around the building chasing a runaway toddler, and a long explanation in the hallway as to why the Sign of Peace should not involve ninja moves of any kind. We leave and I am worn out and out of breath, unsure if we went to mass or some new form of religious Zumba.

Later I decide to try meditation. Two kids were napping, one was playing outside. The house was, dare I say, silent and still. It was the perfect moment for ME to be silent and still and re-center myself. I headed up to my room, my safe zone, my sanctuary…my four loads of unfolded laundry.

So first I'll just fold this laundry, put it away, and then I'll meditate, I tell myself. But if I'm going to fold laundry, I'm going to need some music. So first I'll just go grab the iPad so I can listen to Pandora, then I'll fold the laundry, put it away, and then I'll meditate. But now that I've got the iPad, I can't help but give a little love (or at least a few "likes") to my Facebook friends and maybe update my status (Mona is meditating. Namaste, peeps!), and then I'll fold the laundry, put it away, and then I'll meditate. Just as soon as I take this quiz about how many 80s movies I've seen, which reminds me that I need to find a good recipe for pecan pie for Thanksgiving dinner, because my favorite 80s movie is When Harry Met Sally and who doesn't love the whole "Waiter, there is too much pepper in my paprikash, but I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie"thing, which also reminds me that I need to register for the Turkey Trot, which makes me think of the picture my 1st grader drew of a turkey trying to run away from a hunter, which totally cracks me up…

Wait, what was I going to do? Oh yes, meditate. But now the kids are up from their naps and they are rolling around in the unfolded laundry and playing Row, Row, Row Your Brother with the laundry basket while I run to block access to the giant waterfall, aka the staircase.

Maybe something more active would work? Still zen and soothing and totally re-centering, but not so…still? I'm (clearly) not great with stillness. We move downstairs (on foot, not in basket) and I head to the entertainment center to search for my favorite yoga DVD.

"Ooh, movie time!! Can you make popcorn? Can we watch the Muppets? Can I sit in your lap?" says the world's sweetest 4-year-old as her big blue eyes glow with excitement. We grab a blanket and cuddle up on the couch. Yoga can wait.

Later that night, once all the bedtime stories have been read, after all the goodnight hugs and kisses (and the accompanying 8-10"Just one more?" hugs and kisses) have been distributed. I make one last re-centering attempt: a hot bath. I start to run the water in the beautiful jacuzzi tub that was such a draw when we bought the house, the one I envisioned using for nightly luxuriating soaks… the one we really only use to bathe the kids and that currently houses a tugboat, two plastic frogs, some squirt guns, and the lingering scent of "No More Tears" shampoo.

I catch a glimpse of myself as the tub fills and the bubbles part to the side, revealing the clear water in the center. And that's when it hits me. Maybe I'm not off-center after all.

Because you see, I am AT the center- the center of a bubbly, chaotic, sticky, messy world. In my world, it is loud, it is crazy, it doesn't sit still, and if you look closely you'll probably find it is more than a little bit wrinkled, it is likely wearing two different socks, and it may have remnants of breakfast stuck to its sleeve. It's full of crazy deadlines, school projects, dance class, soccer practice, birthday parties, late night work, and early morning workouts. When we go to church, we take the scripture literally and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. In my world there are epic battles over toys and who is looking out whose window and why is she breathing the air on my side of the car? But it's also a place full of giggles and hugs and wonder and excitement and most of all, love.

And here I am, at the center.

Yes, I am tired, and yes, I am at times frazzled. I could certainly use more zen in my life, more yin in my yang (or is it yang in my yin?), more OM and less OMG. I should really strive to do more downward facing dog to balance out my upward facing temper. And one day I might even learn to be still and meditate.

But am I off-center? Not a chance. 

I am right where I need to be. I am exactly who I need to be. 

And I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Caterpillars to Butterflies With a Stop in Paris: The Many Transformations of Motherhood

When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to spend my junior year living in Paris, France. Ooh la la! As I packed for the adventure, I just knew it would be transformative. Like the title character in one of my favorite movies of all time, Sabrina, I would leave a slightly (ok, totally) gawky, awkward, frizzy-haired, caterpillar, and return a sleek and chic butterfly- or as they say in Paris, un papillon.

Audrey Hepburn plays a young girl in Paris, circa  1954

That's not quite the way it happened.

In my defense, it's not like Audrey Hepburn was EVER, even for a fraction of a second, gawky or awkward, and I'm sure it took a village of Hollywood hairdressers to transform her lovely locks into something even vaguely approximating frizzy for the "before" shots.

But back to me. So off I went to Par-EE where I did my best to absorb the language, the culture, the je ne sais quoi that all French women possess. Along the way I also absorbed a lot of croissants, baguettes, and brie. Oh, I was a caterpillar all right- The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I gained about 25 pounds during my stay in the City of Lights, which did not exactly help with Operation Papillon. And the whole frizzy hair thing didn't get any better on the other side of the world.

Monet's Gardens at Giverny, 1993
But I did learn a lot about myself, including the fact that I was born without the scarf-tying gene that all French women possess. Try as I might (and I did try) I always ended up just looking like I was being choked by a yard of fabric. Try as I might (and I did try) I never looked anything like a French woman. And that's OK. Because what I did learn in that year away from my family, my friends, and the language and culture I grew up with, is that I am still me without all that. Strip away the trappings that seemingly define you, and what you're often left with... is you.
A random train was calling my name, somewhere in Europe. 

Unfortunately, the lesson didn't quite stick. Upon returning from Paris I said au revoir to my evolved self and reacquainted myself with the American tradition of trying to be things I'm not. I spent years trying to change myself myself to fit in with various crowds, always coming up short, feeling somehow "less than" as a result. I played the roles and dressed the parts: the intellectual, party girl, the suburban mom, the corporate ladder climber, and yes, even at one point in my life, the Club Med showgirl.
Club Med Turkoise, Winter 1995 

But none of those were me, and none of them felt quite right. I always found myself feeling like an outsider wearing a costume (sometimes literally) that didn't quite fit. It wasn't just the jobs, but the whole package. As my "finding myself" years stretched into decades, I started to wonder- was it just me? Was being just me just not enough for me... or for anyone else?

Until one hot summer day in 2009, when God sent me a message. It was a 7 pound, 12 ounce message which arrived gently and with barely a cry.

Sweet Baby Girl

One minute a bundle was placed in my arms and the next two big, blue eyes blinked back at me with an intensity I'd never experienced. I could see instantly that this little girl knew who she was. She was laughter, she was love, she was chocolate frosted cupcakes and warm, sandy beaches all rolled into one. She was pure joy. In fact, I was so sure of it, I knew right then and there it was literally her middle name.

Joy arrives. 

And since that day, she has more than lived up to it. At age 4, she is still so blessedly and unabashedly bold, so completely absorbed in being herself that she doesn't have time to even consider an alternative. If there is a song playing in her head (and there usually is), she dances with abandon, not giving a moment's thought to whether the rest of us can hear the tune or know the moves.

Beachside ballerina. 

Not only does she march to her own beat, she leads the band with a plastic recorder while wearing a skunk suit.

Leader of the band.

She is a girl unafraid of making a bold fashion statement, the kind that involves mixing multiple prints with multiple muppets.

Style maven. 

And when it comes to accessories, she's got a plan of her own.

Work it, girl. 

And so for the past four years, that fearless girl, my sweet Cecilia Joy has reminded me that we are meant to live our own lives. Not the one down the road with the fancy catalogue furniture and the Pinterest-perfect porch decor, not the one that looks so impossibly put together each morning at preschool drop-off and only wears yoga pants to do actual yoga, and not the one in the office down the hall that seems so much more accomplished or at least seems to be able to accomplish work AND a full night's sleep. No- we are meant to live the life we are given and to live it with joy. Or in my case, with Joy. 

Joy squared.

I'd like to say I've religiously applied that mantra to my life and have effortlessly blossomed into my very own butterfly at last, but progress isn't always linear and I've had my share of slip-ups. Lately I've found myself back at the comparison game, which is one I always lose. I've been spending too much time looking at what others have, or what they've achieved, or where they've been and wondering once again why I don't ever seem to fit in. 

And at the same time I've seen the first traces of self awareness creep into my little girl's brain. I can see her watching other kids closely, studying their words and their movements and trying to imitate what they do. I see her hesitate ever so slightly before she moves a certain way or says a certain thing, the wheels turning in her brain as she seems to question if she's doing the "right" thing. I watch her holding caterpillars in her hand and wonder what she's thinking. 

She calls them callipiters. 

So for her, and for me, it's time to make some changes.

For her, and for me, I left a job I didn't love, one which was rapidly turning me into a person I didn't love, a job I was holding on to because it was easier than finding my own path. 

For her, and for me, I'm recommitting myself to celebrating the things that make me different, and the wonderful people in my life who embrace those differences because, really, who has time for anyone who doesn't? 

For her, and for me, it's time to be OK with who I am and where I am. 

No more waiting for some magical transformation to turn me into a butterfly. Maybe I'm already there. Any maybe I'm not. But either way, I don't want to wish away all the joy (and the Joy) that's already here. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Monuts- Chocolate Edition

What kid doesn't love chocolate? And what kid doesn't at least occasionally turn up his nose at green stuff?

So what if you could somehow make the best of this situation by giving them chocolate with some strategically placed green stuff hidden in the mix?

Enter the Chocolate (and avocado- shhhh!) Monut.

In case you've forgotten what a Monut is, click here for the original version and the story of how Healthy Mona and Not-so-Healthy Donut came to find common ground... hence, the Monut.

But why stop there? Because everything's better with chocolate, right? And what's better with creamy, dreamy, fudgy chocolate than avocado? That's right, avocado. Much like chocolate, it's also creamy and dreamy, and it really deserves more than just a ride on the occasional tortilla.

Avocados are a superfood- loaded with healthy fats, vitamins, and nutrients, and can be easily added to many baked goods, puddings, and smoothies without altering the taste.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly an advocate of hiding vegetables in food. I really believe that kids need to know what they're eating and why they're eating it.

But I'm also a fan of reality, and in reality even my veggie-loving kids who live in a home where there are only 2 menu options (take it or leave it) have anti-green tendencies. So if you need to pull the occasional sneak maneuver, trust me when I say I won't judge. Neither will your kids when they bite into these delicious, chocolaty donuts. I mean, Monuts.

1/2 ripe avocado
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk (I used almond, but soy or cow's milk would likely work just as well)
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray donut pan with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the avocado and sugar until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined. Stir in the vanilla.
In a small bowl, combine the white and wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt.
Slowly add the dry mixture to the avocado alternately with the milk, until all is incorporated.
Spoon the mixture into the donut wells and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the donuts spring back when you touch them. Cool completely before removing from the pan.
Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Unofficial School Supply List for First Graders

I've heard the horror stories about new math, inventive spelling, and lattice multiplication, but I thought I had a few years before my children's schooling left me dazed and confused. After all, my oldest is only going into first grade- how hard can it be?

Then along came glue dots.  

I remember glue pots, glue bottles, glue jars, and that awful gluey rubber cement stuff we would inhale and then use to make fake boogers (admit it- you did too). I'm familiar with glue guns and glue sticks, but glue dots? What are they and why are they on the first grade school supply list? 

Even Target couldn't answer my question, and in my book, if they don't sell it at Target, you just don't need it. Unfortunately, St. Patrick School does not feel the same way, because glue dots are apparently very necessary to first grade success. 2 packs of them, to be exact.

So what to do about this important but elusive supply so critical my child's academic future? I couldn't very well send him off to face first grade lacking in the appropriate adhesive, now could I? I searched the other big box stores and was still glue dotless until finally I turned to the one source I knew would not let me down: Facebook.

My trusty friends were quick to the rescue, and although the answer was slightly terrifying, for the sake of my oldest child I put on my big girl pants, stepped boldly where I usually fear to tread, and purchased 2 packs of glue dots from the craft store.

Once the dust settled on Operation Glue Dots, I got to thinking about the supply list. As comprehensive (and expensive) as it was, it still seemed so incomplete compared to what was ahead. How I wished I could arm my son with everything he'll need to tackle the challenges of the next 12+ years of formal schooling. But there's no Trapper Keeper (do they even still make those?) big enough for that. If I could I'd fill a 5-subject notebook (single ruled) with the mistakes I made and make him memorize them every night with a quiz each Friday, but I know he needs to find his own way. So instead, the best I can do is pray I've prepared him to do just that.

Still, there are a few tweaks I'd like to make to the official supply list.... 

Washable markers are great, but sometimes life's most meaningful projects are the messiest ones, the ones that leave our fingers stained, our shirts a streaky mess, and our minds a blur. While some marks are permanent, I'll always be there to help with the clean-up. Or better yet, to pass on the tools he needs to clean up on his own. 

64 crayons sounds like a fantastic deal, but more isn't always better. I pray he won't be dazzled by metallics or mesmerized by glitter. It takes years to figure out your own true colors, much less anyone else's, but when you surround yourself with the colors that bring out your best and you can't go wrong. I don't care if no one else likes Burnt Sienna. What I do care is that he becomes the kind of kid who sees that no one is eating lunch... I mean coloring...with Burnt Sienna and he reaches out to Burnt Sienna to give it a chance. Because sometimes the most beautiful colors are left sitting in the box.

What's with all the No. 2 pencils? Why not a No. 1 pencil, or a No. 3, or a No. 658? I hope this dear child never stops asking questions, never loses his curiosity. May he fill his pencil box with it and always keep it sharpened.

And I completely agree with the fine folks at St. Patrick School. Adhesive will be necessary. Life is sticky, and he'll need to be even stickier to get through it. He'll need to stick true to what he believes, to stick by his friends, to stick up for those who need a hand, to stick with his goals and his hopes and his dreams. And we'll need to stick together through it all, especially since the path to becoming a trapeze artist/astronaut/garbage collector/doctor isn't an easy one.

So for my sweet boy as he enters first grade I wish endless supplies of whatever sticky substance will keep his gentle spirit grounded, his innocence intact, and his heart and mind open.

Even glue dots.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Move Over, Cronuts- It's Time For Something Leaner....Monuts

Those who know me well would probably agree that "Mona" and "donut" and are not exactly words that go together. But believe it or not, I've been on a major donut kick this summer! No, my brain hasn't been taken over by aliens (unless you count my children) But I have discovered, thanks to a $2 garage sale find, that I can make my own, healthy, baked donuts for special treats. We've made chocolate, blueberry, cranberry, strawberry, and you-name-it-berry donuts, but so far the reigning favorite (as declared by my trusted band of taste testers) is this whole wheat baked cinnamon version. It's not the kind of thing we eat every day, but for a treat- absolutely.

So yes, you CAN put Mona and donut together without compromising your health goals and ideals. Behold, the Monut.

2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups almond or soy milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat donut pan with baking spray.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.
Spoon the batter into the baking pans, filling each one a little more than three-quarters full. Bake for 17 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Dip each donut in the cinnamon sugar, either on one side or both sides.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Accident

I knew it would probably happen at some point, which is why we were prepared.

And then I knew it did happen, because one day I picked up a child from camp who was wearing a pair of green and orange neon plaid shorts with a bright red Angry Birds t-shirt.

"Ummm, that's an interesting outfit," I said as nonchalantly as I could as he climbed into the car.

"Yeah, I had to change because I had an accident," he mumbled under his breath before excitedly launching into a detailed retelling of the conversation that he and his friend had on their banana phones at snack time.

But all I heard was the accident part.

In the past when this had happened, I'd tried different approaches. I'd most often been Comforting Mom (hugs and kisses will fix this!). Occasionally, I was Scientific Mom (nope, no bladder infection but you haven't really lived until you've taken 3 children into a bathroom at the doctor's office and asked one of them to pee in cup while the others cheered him on excitedly). And once or twice, though it pains me to admit it, I'd been Angry Mom.

Because even though Rational Mom knows that this is TOTALLY normal, that this happens to ALL kids, that he is just FINE, every once in a while Crazy Mom swoops in. And Crazy Mom is convinced that she must fix this immediately lest he end up the only freshman in his college dorm who needs Pull-ups in size 18T because Crazy Mom is well, crazy.

So this time, I thought to myself, pushing the Crazy down as far as I could, I'd be Cool Mom. Easy, Breezy Mom. Relatable Mom. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Of course, it helps to actually BE cool if you're going to take this tactic.

But this was no time to get bogged down by details. I'd just have to wing it with my limited understanding of coolness. Let's see... Cool Moms definitely don't overreact. Cool Moms probably bake cookies. Cool Moms probably tell funny stories. Cool Moms exude a Cool Vibe that is so irresistible to children that they can not help but be swept up down the Cool River of Understanding.

So I whipped up a batch of my famous quinoa cranberry protein bars (so Cool, right?), poured two icy glasses of lemonade (literally Cool!), and invited my sweet boy over to the couch, a normally crumb-free zone (how Cool is that?).

"So, you want to hear something funny that happened to Mom?"

"Yo mean the time you got sprayed by the skunk and then you had to go to the store to get the stuff that makes you not smell like skunk and everyone was saying 'Oooh, it smells like a skunk in here!"

"Umm, no."

"How about the time you fell down in a mud puddle when you were out running and ripped your shorts..."

"NO!" I interrupted, feeling a little warm under my Cool Collar. Deep breath....

"A different story," I replied gently, regaining my Cool Composure. And I proceeded to tell, in great detail, the story of how when Mom was working in TV news there were often times when we were out in the field for many hours away with no bathroom in sight, and how on one of these occasions when Mom was 6 months pregnant with a future Broadway star tap dancing on her bladder, Mom had been holding it ALL freaking day in the back of a live truck while staking out a house in the middle of nowhere, and Mom had even briefly considered asking the cops if it might be OK to cross the yellow crime scene tape just for the briefest of moments to use the suspected meth lab's toilet since there is no real way for a giant pregnant woman in a maternity suit to discretely squat down in a field without having Mom end up the unwilling star of someone's viral YouTube video, and there was no field to squat down in anyway, so when the police finally came out of the house for a press conference and Mom stood up that's when gravity reared its ugly head so if your'e wondering why Mom's blazer was tied around her waist during those live shots, there's your answer.

We shared a good laugh and I gave my Cool Self a mental high-five.

"And so you see," I continued Cooly, "Everyone has accidents. Even Mom! I just want you to know that it is totally OK that you peed in your pants today. It happens!"

He furrowed his little brow and looked at me with utter confusion in his green eyes.

"Mom! I didn't pee in my pants. I was washing my hands after art and got water all over my shorts. It was an accident." He grabbed a bar, downed the rest of his lemonade, and headed toward the basement to play.

"But cool story!"


Soooooo Cool.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Peanut butter oatmeal banana energy bars

I recently came across an article listing the 10 Worst Foods To Feed Your Children (or yourself in my opinion!) and it may surprise many parents to see granola bars on that list. While they might seem like a healthy snack option, packaged granola bars are highly processed and usually loaded with sugar. So what can you grab-and-go for energy on the run? I have several easy, homemade solutions.

Here's one that we're loving right now that takes all of 5 minutes to prepare- peanut butter (and you can substitute any nut butter or sunflower butter) oatmeal banana energy bars.

There's very little added sugar, no flour, no oil, and no butter. They freeze well and make great lunchbox treats or a simple breakfast alongside a bowl of fruit.

1 1/2 cups oats
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond or soy milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1-2 large mashed bananas
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter


1. Mix together the oats, light brown sugar, baking powder, kosher salt and ground cinnamon.
2. Add in the vanilla extract, milk and egg. Mix the ingredients together.
3. Then add in the mashed banana and peanut butter. Combine all of the ingredients.
4. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased 8 by 8 inch metal baking pan. Bake at 350 F degrees for 20-25 minutes.
5. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rollercoasters vs. Merry-go-rounds

I've never been one for rollercoasters. They go too fast, too high, then too low. The twists and turns are stomach-dropping and vomit-inducing with names like "The Mega Beast" or the "The Death Spiral." Not to mention those little tiny bars that come down to allegedly hold you into place while you are hurtling through space at tops speeds in a supersized slinky... upside down. No thank you, no rollercoasters for me. They are just too scary.

I'm sure I inherited the anti-thrill seeker gene from my dad, who also chose to keep both feet firmly planted on Terra Amusement Parka Firma. While my brother and my cousins soared into the stratosphere on the Blue Demon's Revenge or some other equally terrifying contraption, my dad and I would make our way over to safer ground. Past the spinning tea cups (vertigo, anyone?) and the Ferris wheel (if wheels were meant to be this big then I'd like to see the cars that go with them) to our happy place: the merry-go-round. Dad would stick to the big bench seat but since I was such a wild child, I'd pick a nice, tame looking horse somewhere in the middle row- enough room to roam but still pinned in by his pals in case he got any funny ideas. 

That tinny, canned music (which did well to drown out the screams from the coaster around the corner) would come on and off we'd go. Up (just a little) and down (gently), around and around (not too fast), I'd hold onto the pole and feel the wind in my hair. After a few rotations I might even feel bold enough to let go, turn around, and wave to Dad in his seat behind me. But mostly I kept my eyes closed and tried to will that ride to keep going. One more time around, I'd think to myself, and smile when my silent prayer was answered. I never wanted it to end. 

Once when I was about 8 years old, my dad and I were wandering through a festival of some sort when we came upon what we thought was a gentle boat ride and decided to hop on. Little did we know it was the Pirate Ship Of Doom that may have started out gently but picked up steam (and height, and velocity) with every SWOOP to the right which was followed by a WHOOSH to the left, leaving us briefly suspended and staring perilously at the ground at each terminus before it plunged back into action. "GET ME OFFFFFFFF!" I screamed. But he couldn't- we were both helpless until the ride ended. 

Lately life's been feeling too much like that ride. We've been traveling far too fast, crashing down way too hard. Feeling so helpless as one too many giant hills left my my stomach in a permanent state of drop as we hurtled through a dark tunnel with no end in sight. Illnesses, injuries, work stress, family stress, home stress, it's all felt like a rollercoaster and I wanted to get off. 

And then I saw a merry-go-round and I wanted to get on. 

My husband and I were celebrating our 10th anniversary in New York City and taking a morning stroll in Central Park. The weekend had been lovely, albeit somewhat weighed down by the mental baggage I had stowed in the overhead bin and under the seat in front of me. We had reservations for brunch and I knew we might be late but there was just something about that music, something about the carefree smiles and the little girl holding her daddy's hand as they stepped off the carousel.

"Please can we ride it?" I asked him a little too desperately, trying to keep my voice steady.  

And so we did. 

Middle horse for me. 

Up and down, around and around. 

Tears streamed down my face as I closed my eyes and prayed it would never end. 

But of course it did and when the music ended and the merry-go-round slowed to a stop, I knew it was going to be OK. 

I knew that somehow, whatever came next, we'd make it through the ride. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Evolution of a Runner

"I can't do it."

Her voice is loud and insistent, and I recognize it immediately. She may be a child, but she knows how to get her point across, so I do everything I can to drown her out. Headphones in, music blaring. Come on, Adam Levine- don't fail me now. But no matter how high I crank the tunes and how much inner ear damage I do, I can still hear her. 

"I can't do it."

So I choose to ignore her and go about the business at hand. I make my way to the starting line, check that the number is securely pinned to my shirt and give one last tug at the shoelaces. One final hamstring stretch, set the stopwatch, and take my position at the back of the pack. The gun goes off and though her voice is blaring and my legs are shaking, I'm carried forward by the momentum of the group. 

"I can't do it!"

 She yells this time, and as the faster runners zoom past it's almost enough to bring me to a halt. But I keep going because I know that voice all too well, and I know that eventually, she'll stop. I know that it's just a matter of pushing her aside, of pushing forward, of pushing through. I know that because she's me. 

She's me at 8 years old, an awkward, uncoordinated, overweight elementary schooler in gym class, trying to negotiate a way out of the Presidential Fitness Test. You remember the annual ritual: how many situps can you do in one minute? How long can you hang from this bar? How many pull-ups can you do? How far can you jump? How fast can you run one mile? Top finishers got certificates, medals, and bragging rights on the playground. Those who came in last... didn't. 

As a consolation prize, I got a lifetime of negative self talk. I'm not blaming the Presidential Fitness Test or whichever founding father created it- it was simply the annual showcase of my fitness-o-phobia. Gym class became the elementary school equivalent of waterboarding, and that week of testing in particular was to be avoided at all costs. Ear infection, stomachache, sore ankle- you name it. Anything to stop the voice which grew louder each year: "I can't do it." 

A few decades later, I decided to makeover myself and become a runner. It was a move sparked mainly out of frustration- I had accomplished many things on many levels, but fitness still eluded me. Overweight, overworked, and underpaid, running seemed to be the cheapest option for a grad student. I grabbed my shoes and hit the path near my apartment, hoping no one would see me and call my bluff. "I can't do it," she'd say as we started to jog. But I thought as long as no one was looking, or timing, or keeping score, maybe I could try. 

For months I ran nearly every day, not very far, and slowly at first... oh who am I kidding, slowly at the end, too... stopping to walk each time a "real" runner came by so as not to insult him/her with my inferior efforts. I thought about subscribing to Runner's World magazine, but feared I might be arrested for mail fraud. So instead I'd discretely grab a copy from the grocery store checkout lane and stuff it under my cereal box on the conveyor belt. 

I entered my first 5K in 1998 in scenic Big Sur, California. I had never run with a watch and had no concept of whether it would take me an hour or a day to traverse 3.1 miles. Turned out it took about 35 minutes. And for every one of those, until the very moment my feet crossed the finish line, I heard that voice inside my head yelling "I can't do it!" But I did. 

Since then I've logged tens of thousands of miles, lost dozens of pounds, gained plenty of muscle, and crossed finish lines of every variety from 5K to marathons, but I still hesitate to call myself a "real" runner. Oh, I just like to go out jogging, I'll say in that self deprecating way so many women have of downplaying their own accomplishments. No, I'm not a "real" writer, I just have a little blog about family life. 

And every time I show up for a race I find I am not alone- that voice is right there with me, telling me that I can't do it. As the faster runners leave me in the dust, she yells. As the woman pushing the double jogging stroller passes me, she yells louder. As the local sensation in his 70s who runs while juggling three basketballs passes me, for a second I start to believe her.

Then something happens. At some point I settle into my own breath, I settle into myself, and the voice begins to fade. The pounding of shoes on pavement begins to take on a familiar and comfortable rhythm. I might even pass one or two of the early sprinters (Team Tortoise in the house!) but I barely notice. I just know that it has finally gotten quiet in my mind and the relief is palpable. 

So why do I do it? 

I do it because I need to prove that girl wrong. 

I do it for my own little girl who needs to know that she can do it. For all my kids who need to know that success doesn't always mean being the best, the fastest, or the strongest. That there is value in competing even when you don't stand a chance of coming in first. That sometimes to lose, really is to win. 

I do it because I work hard every day to train and live a healthy life, and crossing the finish line is a celebration of that effort. 

I do it because it is incredibly humbling for a type-A overachiever to work so hard at something and still not rise to the top.  

I do it because I really AM a runner.

I do it because this is my life... and I will run my own race. 
Chicago, Oct. 1999: My first marathon

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Milestones- are they just for kids?

When our first son was 6 days old, I called my husband at his office in a panic.

"I've....Made....A....HUGE....Mistake!" I managed to blurt out between ginormous, postpartum hormone-fueled sobs. Fearing our newborn baby boy's very life was hanging in the balance, I explained that in my sleep-deprived fog, I had scheduled the all important 1-month well baby checkup for the wrong day, and that our precious cargo would in fact be 33 days old at the time of his visit. I didn't know how this could have happened, because I had taken my planner (this was the pre-smart phone era, back when a pad was still made of paper and had no "i.") with me to the 2-day visit and carefully scheduled out the next 6 months worth of checkups, each one clearly noted and annotated on my calendar. And now... this.

What about all the critical development that would take place in that span? What about all the milestones? The all-important MILESTONES! You know the ones you read about in What to Expect When You Don't Know What the *&^% to Expect So You Cling Onto Those Books For Dear Life?

Less than one week into baby ownership and I had failed to stick to the recommended maintenance program. Did this void the warranty? Would child protective services come after me and take the baby away?

Three phone calls, a lot of pacing, and half a jar of jelly beans later, the very kind staff at the pediatrician's office had talked me down off the ledge. I called my husband back with the good news- those 3 days would not be the determining factor in our child's future.

"Hmm," he said thoughtfully.
"Hmm," I agreed.

Fast forward nearly six years and two babies, and the conversation was a little different.

"The pediatrician's office just called and it looks like we're three months late for Eli's 18-month check up. Did you know we were supposed to take him in for an 18-month checkup?" I asked my husband in a remarkably calm voice.

"Did you know he's 21 months old?" he asked.

"Hmm," I said thoughtfully.

"Hmm," he agreed.

Now trust me when I say I'm not exactly proud of my Slacker Mom tendencies with baby #3 and I did get that appointment in right away (much to Eli's dismay, since even his advanced age was not enough to get him out of the shots required at the 18-month appointment). And while I am confident in his development I still sat there and filled out the detailed surveys checking each and every last milestone. Yes, the MILESTONES.

There are the large motor milestones: Can your child walk up the stairs while holding on to only one of your hands? Only if you can catch him. Can your child climb onto a chair, a stool, or a bench, or stack pillows on top of each other in order to reach things in higher places? Yes, and I'd appreciate if you'd stop giving him so many ideas.

And the fine motor milestones: Does your child pick up a marker or crayon and imitate writing/scribbling? Your Honor, I submit the dining room wall as Exhibit A (I think it's an A. It might be a dog). Does your child eat independently using a spoon or a fork to feed himself? Uh-huh, and I can't wait for him to be able to pronounce the "r" in "fork" because it's a bit embarrassing when Mr. Independent Eater screams out for his desired utensil in the middle of a restaurant.

There are cognitive milestones, communication milestones, creative milestones, social milestones, sleeping milestones, waking milestones. 4 full pages, front and back, of questions about milestones.

Contrast that with my own recent annual appointment, which was all of 3 minutes long and most of that was devoted to an ill-fated battle between a very full bladder and a very small container. Let's just say there are certain milestones that a woman who has birthed 3 babies should not have to meet.

But you see, there was no discussion of milestones at all, and considering I have a very big birthday (the kind that ends in a 0) looming in a few months, I think I could have used a little milestone check-up.

Sure I've hit the traditional societal marks: college? Done. Grad school? Got it. Career? 4 and counting. Marriage? Check. Kids? Check, check, and check. But what about the more subtle milestones? The things we feel we "should" be able to do by a certain age?

If only there was some sort of roadmap for being an adult, a handy chart or list of milestones to check off to make sure we're staying on track, or an easy prescription to fill when we fall behind. But I guess that's just for kids.

Because part of growing up means that you're now in charge of your own milestones, of deciding for yourself what is important and what isn't, what constitutes success and how to measure growth.

So even though I'm approaching age 40--or 480 months, if you prefer--my large motor milestones might be slightly lacking (I can't fold a fitted sheet and if you can, you just might be a witch), my fine motor skills could use some work (I can't apply eye makeup without looking like a victim of domestic abuse), and my social development might be a bit off the mark (giving a speech to hundreds of people = cake. Making new female friends = brutal), it's taken me nearly 4 decades to realize I am who I am for a reason. And that's one heck of a milestone.

On the way back from my doctor's appointment I called my husband.

"So what did the doctor say?"

"Not much, but I'm right on track," I told him.

"On track for what?" he asked.

"Me." I said with a smile.

"Hmm," he said thoughtfully.

"Hmm," I agreed.

Eli demonstrates the all-important self feeding milestone. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

It was just lunch: how one meal rekindled old feelings

We made plans to meet in a place miles from home. It's just lunch, I told myself.

I'd never done anything like this, so I suppose it was normal to be nervous. I was excited and hungry. It felt wrong, and yet right. With first date-type jitters I put on fresh lipstick in the parking lot, checked my hair one last time in the rearview mirror, and headed in.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some ladies from the office and instantly got nervous. Would they see us? What would they think? Would they tell someone? Should I just turn around and leave? It's just lunch, I reminded myself. 

Then I saw him, took a deep breath, and decided to go for it. 

And just like that, for the first time in our ten year marriage my husband and I met for lunch in the middle of the week.

We've always worked far away from each other, with commutes that take us in opposite directions, so I guess the opportunity never really presented itself, or we never presented the idea to each other. But on this particular day, an otherwise unassuming Thursday in January, business brought us to the same part of town at the same time.

"Why don't we meet for lunch?" he suggested the night before, and we agreed on 12pm at one of our favorite locations (Let's just get all the "nooner" jokes out of the way right now, it was JUST lunch, people).

I thought about it all morning. 9:30am meeting = 2.5 hours until my lunch date! 11am conference call = get to the point people! 11:45am traffic jam leaving the office parking lot = SERIOUSLY???

And then there we were. He was waiting with a pot of my favorite tea and that same floppy hair I fell in love with more than a decade ago. 

Sure, we have regular date nights, but there was something so easy about this. No babysitters to arrange, no racing around to prepare dinner for those staying home so that we can leave and go sit somewhere and talk about those staying home before heading back home. No toddler clinging to one leg on the way out the door, leaving a firm coating of guilt and goldfish crackers on my skinny jeans. No warnings to stay on your bottom or else and no complex negotiations involving a requisite number of bites took place. No referring to oneself in the third person, and no third, or fourth, or fifth person at the table. It was just lunch. 

I'd love to say we discussed something deep and meaningful, but we didn't. Just some basic talk about work, about home, about plans for the weekend and an upcoming vacation. It was ordinary, and yet not. The same, and yet different.

In our every day lives we are so entrenched in the roles that we play: Mom, Dad, daughter, son, sister, manager, employee, etc., that it's easy to forget that were are also just us. Two individuals: Mona and Mark, who very much enjoy each other's company. And lunch.

So for 48 minutes we gobbled up as much we could. Then we put our many layers back on- coats and gloves for the cold, multiple hats for the roles we play, superhero capes for good measure. We went our separate ways: back to the office, back to business, and eventually back to the home we've created together.

I was just lunch, and it was absolutely delicious.

And for the first time in a long time, I felt perfectly full. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tofu: It's What's For Dinner (Really. And You'll Like It. Really. I Promise)

Many of you have asked over the years how I get my kids to eat healthy foods, and I know a lot of you have also made New Year's resolutions to change your diets for the better, so I thought I'd start sharing some of our favorite recipes here.

Keep in mind that I am Egyptian, which means I was born without the exact measurement gene. I grew up surrounded with incredibly delicious food and incredibly vague instructions. If I ever dared to ask how long to bake a certain dish, I'd hear "Just cook it until it's done." Duh. So what did you use to flavor that dish? "Enough salt so that it tastes good, but not so much to make it salty." Perhaps it was all an elaborate ploy to ensure that the recipes were not replicable and the chef was the only one capable of producing the desired results. Well played, Egyptian ladies.

Somewhere between there and Martha Stewart-esque precision is my happy place, which we'll call The Land of Non-Recipes.

I'm a firm believer in meal planning and spend most of Sunday afternoon prepping meals for the week ahead, but tonight's non-recipe, Tofu Veggie Unfried Rice can be easily and quickly thrown together after work.

Start with some tofu. That's right, I said "some." We're very technical around here. However much comes in a package. Drain the water then cut it up in cubes, or better yet- buy the stuff that's already cubed. Some people go through an elaborate ritual of pressing the tofu between plates and freezing it for better texture. Some people are also professional lion tamers.

And that's right, I also said "tofu." I know you've heard it before, but I'll say it again- it's good for you, it takes on the flavors of whatever you put on it, and it really CAN be delicious.

I brown the tofu in a wok with a tiny bit of canola oil. Resist the urge to push it all around the pan with your fancy Top Chef moves, and instead open a bottle of wine. Let it get nice and brown on one side, then stir a bit, then drink more wine.

Take the tofu out and add some aromatics. That's a fancy term for stuff that smells good like garlic, ginger, and onions. I use "some" of each. A handful of chopped green onions, a clove or two of minced garlic, a little grated fresh ginger. Add some veggies, whatever you have on hand. Crunchy stuff like carrots need longer to cook. Try to chop everything the same size, or else the food police will come and arrest you. Or your food won't cook evenly. I'm not sure which, so I don't take chances. Also try not to chop your fingers off.

Meanwhile, make some brown rice and set it aside. (You'll note that "some" is a fairly standard unit of measurement in my non-recipes.) I usually make a big batch of it on the weekends and use it in recipes throughout the week.

Then comes the sauce. Mix a few tablespoons of soy sauce (I like the low sodium stuff), a few more of rice wine vinegar, and a heaping spoonful of hoisin sauce. If you haven't tried hoisin, I highly recommend it. It's thick and molasses-y and oh so flavorful, and best of all you get to sound like a bona fide foodie when you say it. Like this: "Honey, I need to run out to get more hoisin sauce." Now you're cooking!

Add the rice and the tofu back into the wok with the veggies, then add the sauce. I like to thrown in some frozen peas at this point because they add color, and because my 18-month-old needs more projectiles to throw at us during meals. Let it all cook for a few minutes and then you're done. It took much longer to write this than it did to prepare it.