Before we had kids, Jason and I did a fair amount of traveling. While we never ate cobra eyes or camped on the floor of a straw hut in a remote village someplace, I'd say we were more adventurous than the average American. We'd eat local food and try to explore the spirit of the place we visited. On our honeymoon to Mexico we made a point of driving the free roads, rather than the toll highway, because the free ones passed through small towns. The highway sped by everything.
Since we've had two kids, we've continued to travel with some success. Last year we had a so-so trip to Mexico and a great trip to France. This year we decided to return to Mexico again. Last year's difficulties stemmed from trying to eat out every meal with small kids on Mexico time (= waiting thirty minutes just for chips and salsa to arrive at table) and staying at a tiny hotel with no windows, only screens and a breakfast that took forty-five minutes to arrive. I got it in my head that if we stayed at a resort this year, things would be better.
We've never stayed at any kind of big resort hotel because frankly, there's nothing about being in another place when you stay at one. The uniformity that makes it comfortable and familiar obliterates any sense of what makes the destination unique. It was like going to Mexico without having to go to Mexico. For lots of people, this is ideal and I thought it was a trade-off I could make. I thought our room with windows would mean a better night's sleep for the kids. I thought three onsite restaurants -- kids eat free! -- would mean easier meal times. I thought multiple pools would give us something to do if the ocean was too rough to swim.
But as we drove to the airpot in Cancun, we passed a little stand on the side of the road selling "cocos frios", cold coconuts, and I was suddenly so sad. We'd spent a week in Mexico and never once had tortillas served with our meals, never mind the kind of food being served at the roadside stand. The kids ate free for sure, but it was hot dogs and fish fingers and burgers. And aside from quesadillas at lunch, which is hardly real Mexican food, most of what we ate was basic American hotel fare. The ocean was so warm and lovely, and the pools were super fun. But we had round-robin of family sickness. And Minna decided after one meal that she would no longer sit in a high chair and screamed when we put her in it.
Last year at the end of our trip to Paris I wrote:
Traveling with kids is really great because everyone gets forced from their routine and you discover, "Hey, that routine wasn't so necessary after all!"
This year? Not so much. Of course the routine I like that we have at home is that Minna sits in her own seat at meals. And that my children don't eat junk "kids' food" at every (or any) meal. And that Ollie sleeps more than ten hours at night. I'm chalking this trip up to a "learning opportunity". For future trips, I know I'll do better when I can control some aspects of our meals, like if we rent an apartment and can cook. More importantly: if we're visiting a place, we need to experience it as fully as possible. If not, there's no upside to the disruption of travel, and no sense for me in going away.
A little over a year ago I moved this site to TypePad and used their templates to give it a redesign. But it was never quite right, and there were always little things that irked me. So another move to a new home and a new platform and here we go again. This time I'm feeling better about the design, and most of the irks are gone. Plus it's got plaid, which is all the rage in web design these days, or so I'm told. Here's to a fresh start, and more writing, now that this stupid redesign is done!
Heather Champ's pictures of the flowering trees in San Francisco never cease to amaze me. Simply lovely, and make me long for spring when our trees in New York City aren't close to blossoming yet.
We went to Mexico last week, which I hope to write more about shortly. But for now, my favorite picture from our trip. I was sitting and reading, and when I looked up I saw this scene, grabbed my camera, and made a mad dash towards them to capture it. I got off one shot before Ollie stood up to walk towards the water.
I rarely get interview requests anymore, and usually when I do, it's because people want to hear about Evan Williams. If you haven't read this site since 1999, maybe you don't know that he and I co-founded Blogger together, and that he went on to co-found Twitter. Anyway, last summer I talked to Bloomberg about Ev for a program called "Game Changers". But there's quite a bit about the early Blogger days in the show, including some old video footage of us in our offices (and me with short platinum blonde hair!) and some old photos. It was neat to see, and made me kinda sad. Bonus for viewing: you can hear me talk about Ev, kinda like those "Behind the Music" shows where some old band mate no one remembers talks about the guy who went on to become the huge star.
Yikes! I embedded the video and it's auto-playing. So here's the link to watch if you're interested: Bloomberg Game Changers: Twitter.
A beautiful spring day in New York and after doing some errands, I let Minna out of the Ergo carrier. She walked all the way from Spring and Wooster to Prince, walked down Prince to West Broadway and made it halfway up the block to Houston St before was sat for this nice rest. She was so happy to be out walking the streets and every time she saw a dog she squealed and pointed and said, "Dog!!!" And of course every time someone passed her they smiled and waved and pointed at this tiny little person, holding my hand, wobbling along the streets of the city.
If there's some way you read this site but you don't read my husband's, you should know that he's launched a new web app called Stellar. The story is here on kottke.org if you're interested. I'm totally addicted to the site these days and check it like five times a day. And that's a lot for me, considering how little time I spend online. Also I have a few invites, so shoot me an email if you'd like one. Also also? I'm so proud of him! He's been working very hard on it and I'm happy to see it open up to more people. Yay!
Update: All my invites are gone. If/when I get some more, I'll let you know. And if you're using the app I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Feel free to comment here or drop me an email. Thanks!
After dropping Ollie at school, Minna and I headed to the suburban-esque Whole Foods in Tribeca for groceries. Though she's been in a shopping cart once or twice before, today she wouldn't have it. She screamed "Nooooooo!!!!" and cried and did that back-arching thing so I could barely cram her in the carriage. Then she tried to climb out and continued to scream and cry so that after three minutes I had to remove her and put her back in her baby carrier. It made for difficult shopping.
It also made me think of this photo, which is one of my all-time favorites of Ollie and my grandmother. He's nearly one and this was his first time in the cart. He clearly enjoyed it!
Two photos from making cookies at Christmas from my mom, who finally got around to posting them. This was Minna's first time using her new rolling pin. As you can tell, Ollie's used his a lot!
Awhile ago I read Tom Sawyer in large part because I wanted a window into how kids, and boys in particular, used to live. I know it's a work of fiction, but I figured it would still provide insight into what was expected of kids more then a century ago, and what they were capable of. I loved it, and now don't feel so badly about giving my kids a bath only once a week, if we're lucky. Now as Ollie and I read together, I'm struck by world children used to inhabit.
In 1962's The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Peter wakes up to a snowy morning and goes outside to explore, all by himself.
At the end he goes home and tells his mother about his adventures outside, but the key thing is that he's had them unaccompanied, all by himself. And he's pretty young, because he's not able to join the big boys in a snowball fight. Maybe the whole thing's supposed to be a fantasy. Maybe when it was written young boys didn't go outside alone for snowy adventures, but I don't think so.
In the 1972 book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day clearly things are different. There are obvious technology differences, like going to school in a car with no booster seats (and from the looks the mom's not wearing a seat belt and there's a child in the front seat, no air bags!!), but also Alexander and his brothers are left all alone, out on the street.
By the looks of the picture, they're even in in the street. I don't need to tell you the plot point is not that their mom is irresponsible and the children should be taken away. At school, Alexander's friends have sweets and candy ("a Hershey bar with almonds"!! NUTS!!) for dessert. Do you see what kids climb on during recess?
And have you read The Tale of Peter Rabbit? Their mother leaves all the children alone to go off to the baker, even though the very farmer who killed her husband and baked him in a pie is close by! While the daughters eat blackberries, Peter gets in all kinds of trouble by himself and is almost captured by the very same farmer.
I don't read many contemporary children's books, so I can't tell you if they're filled with helicopter parents shuttling kids to music lessons and soccer practice, or if they tell the story of kids trapped inside watching videos instead of dragging sticks through snow. But the more stories I hear of kids living without the opportunity to explore and play and be kids, the sadder I get. Every time I read one of these books to my kids, I want them to experience more than just a Very Bad Day, or a snow day, or a garden adventure. I want them to see what kids used to do and to know they still can.
I love giving books as presents and lately I've been really into older children's books (more on this in another post) so I figured someone had a list on Amazon of all the Caldecott Medal Winners, right? Easy ordering for all your gift-giving needs! But I only found a Caldecott Winners Gallery 2010 to 1971. So I created a list of the rest: Caldecott Medal Winners 1938-1970.
Looking back at the covers was especially fun, as I had many of the winners from the seventies and had forgotten all about them! And the illustration/design time-travel scrolling through the covers is fascinating too.
Did you know you can follow this site on Twitter? I update the megnutcom Twitter account each time I publish here with the post title and a link to the post.
We don't let Ollie watch any TV and his computer/iPad/iPhone screen time is regulated. But when he gets the iPad, one of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos, which he picks from ones I've favorited. At some point I favorited a video of a woman making a fire truck cake because it's similar to the one I made for Ollie's 2nd birthday. He's watched this one, and many related cake-making videos, more than anything else. Often he mentions "Laurie Gaylin" when we're in the kitchen, and I had to ask, "Who's that?" Turns out she's the woman making all the cakes in his videos. Here's the fire truck cake:
So Sunday morning I was running around the house, trying to get stuff done before friends came over to watch the Super Bowl. Talking half to myself and half to Ollie, I said, "I've got to find my pastry bag!" because I wanted to pipe the deviled egg filling into the whites. (This may seem like overkill but it's way easier and faster than trying to get that yolky glue off a spoon.)
Ollie casually says, "Or a freezer bag."
"What?" I ask him, not understanding what he's even talking about.
"Or a freezer bag," he repeats to me. "Laurie Gaylin says you can use a pastry bag or a frosting bag or just a freezer bag."
Fellow bakers, your mouth must have dropped when you read that sentence, as mine did when he said it. The kid is really learning something from all those videos.
(Turns out her name is Laurie Gelman, and she's the host, not the baker. But who quibbles with a three year old?)
My freshman year in college, a former rower stopped by our boathouse following the birth of her first child. At that point in my life, and in the lives of all the women I rowed with, a 2000 meter race was the most intense pain any of us had experienced. We were quite certain nothing could top it, though some workouts and erg tests came close. So of course our first question as we huddled around her: "Was it as painful as a 2000 meter sprint?" I'll admit I was pretty sure she was going to say no.
She replied it was much worse.
Worse?! You could just see the fear on everyone's face, the quick dashing of plans for children in that very moment.
In the years that followed I carried that information with me, along with memories of rowing pain. There were times in some races where I was quite certain I would die, right there, on the spot, and fall out of the boat. I remember thinking, "I guess I'll keep rowing because everyone else is still going, and I don't want to let them down and if I die, I'll just die. And then I'll be done rowing." And that thought seemed pleasant.
Over the ensuing years I've done physically grueling things: hikes, weight training, intense spin classes, swims in a rough ocean, even a marathon. Nothing comes close to the pain of rowing. Nothing.
So when I got pregnant with Ollie I knew I wanted a natural childbirth with no epidural. After all these years, I'd be able to see how something could possibly be more painful that rowing! Because Ollie was overdue, I was induced and I managed 13 hours on Pitocin, all through the night, in agony, before I succumbed (in tears) to an epidural. Ollie was born two hours later.
With Minna I was determined to avoid that situation, and worked with a midwife throughout my pregnancy and planned for a home birth. I labored in my living room, watching the Giants vs Cowboys, then paced, breathing and counting. The counting's a holdover from rowing, when we'd do "10s" for power, or technique, and you'd just do ten strokes to focus on pulling ahead of another boat. I do 10s when I run, or whenever I face a physical challenge. I count through the pain.
Jason filled the birthing tub and after a few hours I decided to get in. Instantly the contractions slowed and the water felt fantastic. The midwife had arrived and the three of us actually just hung out and chatted, and I'd pause to do some deep breaths when a contraction arrived. Since Ollie's birth had taken so long, I assumed I had hours to go in the tub when suddenly I felt the baby and needed to push. I gave two excruciating pushes. My midwife checked the progress.
"Do you think it's five more pushes?" I asked her, hopefully.
"Oh I'd say two, maybe three." she replied.
My heart leapt!
"Well I can do five!" I said, in some kind of crazy counting birthing delirium.
I didn't need to. Minna popped out after two.
In my list of pain, it currently stands:
1. Minna crowning. Intense but very brief.
2. Ollie labor on Pitocin. Hours of long immobilizing agony.
3. Crew race of 2000 meters. Intense. Horrific. Still the worst concentrated seven-to-eight minutes of my life.
Way way down that list, everything else.
In rowing we used to always throw around the saying, "Pain is temporary, pride is forever." I get to look at my two great kids every day. In a box in the closet is my gold medal from the 1992 New England Rowing Championships. If it wouldn't be weird to wear it around, I probably would.
Somewhat proven theory: Including kids in the food process creates good eaters. I often take Ollie to the supermarket with me and I let him pick out all kinds of things to buy. Last week he really wanted to get something from the fish counter, and he picked New Zealand cockles. I broke my "keep it local" rule because when your kid asks for cockles, how can you say no?
When dinner rolled around, I made a linguine with tomato sauce, olives, and capers and cooked the cockles in the sauce. Ollie had fun eating them out of the shell at the table, using one shell to pluck the meat out of another, just like when we eat mussels. He was pretty excited to eat them.
I also include him in the cooking as much as possible, so that he's part of the whole process. Does this make him a better eater? Hard to say with my limited data set (my daughter eats anything, like she'd eat a raw piece of liver off the floor if you let her). But I do know that including him in the shopping gets us eating things even I wouldn't think of buying (like cockles!) and broadens the palate of our entire family.
I keep a list of things I want to write about on this site because I've had lots of ideas lately but not always the time to write the whole post. I recently came across this note to myself: "Babies so hairy length of body hair programmed for adult scale human." I don't recall what prompted this thought, maybe I discovered a giant hair on Minna? I guess it makes sense but really it's not seeming like something I feel like writing a whole lot more about. So if you have a baby and find him or her covered in long hair, just think about how that hair follicle is designed to grow a grown-up sized hair, and that some day it will seem normal.
Great "A Food Manifesto for the Future" from Mark Bittman containing some concrete suggestions to improve the food supply and with it, the health, of Americans. But I really liked comment #2: I can't imagine how Americans can possibly eat well until they are working less hours. I've been meaning to write about this for ages and am so glad to see someone else raise this issue. In all the discussion of obesity and diabetes, no one seems to mention how much time it takes to cook good food, and how hard that is when both parents are working and commuting long distances. I easily spend ninety minutes a day cooking for my family. Nearly every day. I'm lucky to have the time to do it.
That said I did read recently that Americans watch an average of thirty-four hours of TV a week. If that's true then clearly there's some wiggle room in the day for proper cooking, right?
A little back story: in the early nineties, when I was in college, I went on a ski trip to Colorado. We have relatives who live out there and at the time of our visit, a young cousin was training as a ski jumper. We went over to the practice hill to watch him. He wasn't doing anything like the 90 or 120 meter hills you see in the Olympics, just 20 meters.
It looked like fun, and I wanted to try. I built up from the 5 meter hill to the 10, then 15 and finished with one jump off the 20 meter hill. The measurement denotes the inrun, or how far you go straight before launching off the end into the air. 20 meters, more than 60 feet, was pretty scary and after I landed I decided I'd had enough ski jumping. Still it was great fun. When I got back to school and told my rowing teammates about it, they were very upset. I could have gotten hurt! I could have been out for the entire spring racing season! Etc. etc. None of that had occurred to me, of course. It just seemed really cool to go off the jumps and fly (a very little) in the air.
The present day, Ollie's getting pretty good at skiing, and he likes to find jumps. So this past weekend I'd find little lips and ridges on the trails and tell him to follow me. One had a backside of ice, which I only realized after I skidded across it. Ollie slid and fell. Another apparently was too big for him, because my mom saw him approach and then decide against it, even after I'd gone off. But there were plenty that were great for him, and he got a little air and the thrill of jumping.
Maybe I'm reckless and dumb. Maybe I should be more cautious. Maybe I could have gotten hurt going off the 20 meter ski jump at Winter Park and ruined the spring racing season for myself and my crew. But I guess I don't think that way. And more importantly, I don't want to think that way. I don't want to be the kind of Mom that's always worried, saying "don't do that!" The stereotype is the mom has the common sense and it's the dad that's pushing the kid to do the crazy stunts. Maybe it's some weird rebel/feminist thing I've got, but I want to be the bad influence mom. In the best way possible, of course.
Here's Ollie going off a jump at Mad River on Sunday:
I couldn't be prouder!
For a long time I've been trying to use the good stuff, trying to enjoy the nice things I have rather than save them for some far off "better" time when they'd be appropriate. I learned this lesson the hard way after saving a vintage bottle of Champagne for too long. It was spoiled when I finally opened it for a special occasion. Thing is, drinking that Champagne makes the occasion special, not the other way around.
When my grandmother died, my mother gave me her silverware. When I think of eating at her house, even when I was very little, I do not think of this silverware. I think of some stainless flatware that sat in the kitchen drawer next to the sink. I don't ever recall seeing this silver, and why would I? It was the good stuff, stored out of sight, wrapped carefully in soft flannel to protect it from scratches, tarnish, and ultimately, use.
I'm sure she used it. Sadly, I'll never be able to ask her when, or hear stories about it. But after I got it and looked through it all, marveling at the shape of the soup spoon, and the weight of the fork, I packed up my stainless. And I filled our drawer with the beautiful silverware: the little butter knives and the salad forks with funny cuts in the tines.
We now use the silverware every day, for every meal. We wash it by hand, we take care of it. But we use it. And whenever I hold it, I think of her.