Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the End

When I started my food/frugality blog, It's Not Cheap, It's Garde Manger, I was immediately questioned by a number of people close to me with inquiries ranging from "so you're writing about being cheap eh?" to "What are you up to?" And truthfully, I was up to something. First, a little background.

This winter, we had a two hour delay for our kids' schools. When I went out to try to drive them to school, our driveway and street were still covered in ice. My complaints to the Superintendent were not answered but the reason for opening school when some student's roads were unsafe was later made clear in a quote from Rita Bishop (superintendent) in the newspaper. She expressed her desire to keep school open because the students needed and were dependant on school breakfast and lunches. She detailed a heart wrenching call during which a student begged her to open the school that day because he was so hungry.

I smelled BS.

First, I spend a fair bit of time at the kids' schools and, regardless of income level, I don't see ANY starvation. Quite simply, there appears to be rampant childhood obesity.

My next question to Tim was, if these families are so poor and hungry, shouldn't they qualify for food stamps? This led us to a multitude of google searches and some downright fascinating information. A family of five can receive a maximum of $793 per month in SNAP benefits (seems "food stamps" is an outdated moniker.) So we started to think about our own food budget. Did we spend more than that? It seemed like more than enough to keep a family of five from being so very hungry that they had to beg for the schools to be open in order to eat.

It can be done, we thought. Easily. But being one not very fond of failing, I thought we would give it a try before calling our shot. And, as I noted, there were those suspicious.

We started tracking our purchases. By and large, we did not significantly change the way we shopped. We paid more attention to cost but were not overly restrictive (see steak, fresh veggies and fruit, goat cheese, and large amounts of pork.) We ate well. Certainly, we were not eating Kraft mac and cheese and canned tuna every night.

So we tracked and posted. We ate awesome meals. When we got to the end of the month, I totalled it all up. Some things we had on hand but I gave it a fair estimate, generally rounding up. Do you want to know what we spent?


And let's not forget that total includes items that would carry over to the next month. We have tons of flour left. The sugar and brown sugar are unopened. We have lots of salsa, ketchup, olive oil, goat cheese, and Parmesan. There were still granola bars and Cheerios left. We have a full, unopened jar of nuts and tons of raisins. We have two pounds of frozen taco meat, three pounds of bolognese sauce, and several pounds of chicken in the freezer.

Then there is what we ate. I am constantly reading about how the poor cannot afford fresh fruits or vegetables. We bought tons of both. We ate lots of protein. We even had lots of splurge items like M&Ms. Not to mention, any family qualifying for the maximum amount in food stamps would also be eligible for free lunch and breakfast at school for their kids. For a family of five, that is six meals a day, all of which we provided in our food budget.

So tell me again how people are starving.

Don't get me wrong, I am not necessarily calling for a wholesale revocation of such benefits. But I am looking for some critical analysis of how well they are working. Just last week I received a flyer from school asking me to send in snacks for the "snack cupboard" to feed the (seemingly) starving kids. And I chaffed a bit. My family and I are living on the equivalent of what they receive from the government, (read: us, our tax dollars,) why can't they? How is it that my family is eating fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and meat on a budget that is below that which other families, described as starving and underprivileged, receive?

It leads to some pretty hard questions, the type that are not very popular when asked. At exactly what point are we going to realize that the problem is not the amount given? When will we decide that it isn't additional money needed? That the problem might lie with the receiver. When are we going to say, you know what, I can live on less, far less, than you get for free. I don't have to give anymore. You need to take some, just the itty bitty tiniest bit of responsibility for your life. Your children have no reason AT ALL to call the school superintendent and say they are starving. That is, unless you are mismanaging the funds given to you to ensure they are not starving.

It is not a politically correct thing to point out, but mismanagement of food stamp money is widespread. Maybe we need to recognize that these benefits are sometimes squandered - sold for pennies on the dollar in order to buy non SNAP approved items. And as heartbreaking as it may be, maybe we need to realize that until these parents care enough about their children to sacrifice, nothing we do and no amount we give will matter.

So, you might be thinking, while I really do enjoy your ramblings Katie, what's your point?

As you can imagine, and if you were lucky enough to be my husband, you would get to hear all the time, I have lots of points. But what I am driving at here is that as a society, we need to engage in more critical thinking when it comes to governmentally backed charity/redistribution of wealth. When Government Program A fails to achieve its goal of eliminating hunger, maybe the best response IS NOT to rush into setting up Government Program B to address the same issue while increasing the funding to failed Program A.

And just maybe, we need to question the premise a bit. How can a nation that has a downright alarming rate of morbid obesity be starving at the same time? You have to admit, it doesn't make much sense.

As for our family, we'll continue to live quasi-frugally. (We love steak just a bit too much to be wholly frugal.) We will also continue to give charitably. But when I read about the plight of those on food stamps, I'll remember their food budget exceeds my own.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tae Kwon Do Testing and My Massive Failure as a Parent

After two months of Tae Kown Do, the kids were ready for their first belt test, from white to yellow. Now, my whole view of the belt system is somewhat skewed by my brother, martial arts master’s, explanation. I’ll paraphrase here but he said the whole thing was basically bs made up for Americans who wanted to meet goals and jump through hoops. He said that the way a white belt really became a black belt was they practiced martial arts so long that their belt got really dirty and groody, hence, black.

But as we are in America and at a school run by Americans, we were off to jump through hoops.

They haven’t told us yet is the kids passed though it appears to my untrained eyes that they did. E did lose focus a bit during the sparring and got absorbed in some detail of his uniform but I don’t think it was enough to hold him back.

The girls went after E and looked great, smoothly performing their forms. 

And then the Great Tragedy of Parenting. The instructor, after asking some serious questions, name of their form, number of moves etc, then asked, somewhat, in jest, “What is the best Star Wars movie?” Morrigan replied, with no irony in her voice at all, “Attack of the Clones.” At which point I knew a as Mother, and a dyed in the wool nerd, that I was an utter failure.

Subsequent texts to Dominick and the reaction of Facebook Nation assured me I was not over-reacting. Fortunately, taste does not seem to be a prerequisite for attaining a yellow belt.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


After a morning of cooking, we were still at only about mid-day and lacking a coherent plan. Cleaning the closets it was for two reasons: 1) Morrigan's school is having a clothing sale next Friday and Saturday and I wanted to donate and 2) Morrigan very dramatically told me the other day how she has NO PANTS THAT FIT AT ALL. While flush with her cousin's hand me downs, they are all slim fit and she is a regular gal. But before purchasing any new items, we had to clean out the unfitting and unwanted to see exactly where we stood.

We tore apart the girls' room and had a slash and burn policy in the closets and drawers. By the time we were done, we had a big pile ready for the school and Morrigan, literally, had one pair of pants. Seeing as Mother Nature has decided we're not done with winter just yet, that probably wasn't enough.

In spite of my utter distaste and almost genetic desire to avoid the mall, that was where we had to go.

And they loved it. Probably because they are never there. On the few occasions we need something there, I generally go in, commando style, on a search and escape mission. But they were thrilled to browse. We did stay on task - the first thing done was the jeans (on sale at the Gap $12.99 each) but then they were looking through racks, trying things on and smelling perfumes.

In the end, I let them all buy a few items, with their own money, and I was a hero. We walked out, rich in lip gloss, lego, books and sparkly t-shirts. They all agreed that it was "The best day ever!" We won't be back for a while (hopefully a LONG while) but it is for the best. They were so easily pleased that I would hate to make such an outing routine and less magical. [And yes, I did just use the term magical to describe the mall.]

Bored Much?

As part of some general cost cutting measures, coupled with a desire to pare down the number of processed foods in our lives, we dramatically cut back (read: stopped buying) cinnamon toast bread. This is huge as my kids, especially Eion, can be categorized as complete addicts. And at $3.99 a loaf, their habit was running us $12 a week or more.

But this morning Eion, who was nearly in tears at breakfast, begged that we might have it again. So I commenced to baking. I am following a recipe from a blog called Pioneer Woman who did a lovely job describing and photographing the process so rather than duplicate or replicate, I'll just send you there!

I got started about 8:15 and all was well until I went to add yeast. Tim mentioned yesterday we needed to get more but he certainly didn't raise the "Holy crap! We are down to our last teaspoon of yeast!" which would have prompted an immediate trip to the store. Instead, I figured this out in the middle of warming butter and milk when it was too late to turn back. Off to Kroger.

Once my dough was rising and Tim, who is working nights, was off to sleep in the basement, complete and utter boredom set in. That boredom, and the 3 1/2 pounds of hamburger meat that needed to be dispositioned very soon (I had somehow grossly overestimated the amount of meat we would need this week,) set me off to several hours of cooking. Morrigan, while too picky to eat many of the things I make, was more than happy to help cook. We turned on the Mozart channel on Pandora and commenced to cooking.

I don't like to freeze raw ground chuck because I dislike the taste of hamburgers made from thawed meat. (And overall, not a huge fan of frozen beef.) So Morrigan and I took two pounds of hamburger and made taco meat, which is perfect to freeze and use at a later date. We also whipped up a three pound batch of pasta bolognese (yeah - more freezer meals,) baked a loaf of plain bread and got the cinnamon bread ready for its second rise. We topped off our cooking morning by making lunch for Maggie and Eion.

Sadly, this brings us to only 12:45 and I am bored again. Time to clean out the closets!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Solo Swim Meet

After a swim year marked with highs and lows (though largely lows,) Morrigan completed her last swim practice Friday. She wanted me to have a party or some other sort of celebration, which I told her was not going to happen. While I understand and fully support her withdrawal from the sport, we aren't going to fete the event.

Maggie, having had a better year, has decided she'll continue on for at least the summer. One of her coaches for summer swim team asked if she wanted to do a two month transition at Gators (another local year round swim program) rather than take two months off. After considering the offer, and waffling a bit, Mags came up to me and very seriously said, "I think I am ready to commit to the Gators for April and May. I have some gold times and I don't want to drop to silver by taking time off." The weight she gave the whole issue was downright hilarious.

Today was a last swim meet for the winter season held at the Salem Y. Our team, much to Morrigan's delight, was only sending the 8 and under kids. She and Eion stayed home with Tim, also thrilled to miss the event, and Maggie and I headed out. 

Before we left, Mags was saying she was nervous. I told her not to worry. Really, what is the worst thing that could happen? Even if you come in last, we don't care. Morrigan piped up, apparently completely uninterested in soothing her sister and squealed, "Coming in last is the worst thing ever. And I know!" I was feeling glad it was just Maggie and me going.

I know this will be a bit hard to believe, seeing as it was a swim meet, but it was delightful. Maggie was happy to have a parent devoted to just her and swam all her races in a chipper fashion. She wasn't even too bent when her relay team was so slow that when she swam her leg (the final 25,) all the other teams were done before she even started. 

They weren't posting any results so we have no idea how she did. And better yet, she doesn't seem to care. Still a little sad that Morrigan didn't enjoy swimming more, I have to say that overall, it is better this way. Maggie felt free to do well without hurting her sister's feelings by beating her. Morrigan was more than pleased to read all morning. Me? I was just happy no one was complaining.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Favorite Flowers

Last summer, when the deck was filled with flowers, Tim told me he had one that was his very favorite. It was a (largely unimpressive) pansy. When I inquired as to why it was his most beloved, he told me that it was the one flower that had made it through winter to re bloom in the spring. 

As I cleaned out the flowerpots last weekend, I found the two new faves:

Can't wait to add to them but as it may snow this weekend, I may wait.

Dressing Thematically

Maggie came downstairs rocking this look the other day. When I recommended perhaps a pink shirt, I was told "It's brown day!" Eion came down soon there after. Apparently, they had planned it out. Good look kids. Good look.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Grammar Queen

Yesterday in the swim locker room, a little girl was telling a story and started with “If I was..” Morrigan cut her off directly and said, “No, it’s ‘If I were.’” The girl went back to her story and started again, “If I was…” only to have Morrigan stop her and say “No, you need to use the subjunctive. It’s ‘If I were.’”

I do love my little nerd, even if her team mates may not appreciate her attention to grammatical detail.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Daddy-Daughter Dance

[Oh so what if it was actually the Parent - Child Dance. Daddy - Daughter Dance has a much better ring than that or Mommy - Son Dance.] Maggie & E's school had a dance last night. The reactions prior to the dance were mixed. Eion and Maggie were initially anti-dance while Morrigan was all about it. Tim pretty much told the girls that he had been looking forward to a Daddy - Daughter dance forever and they had to go. Personally, I never want to miss any social event so I was on the side of attendance. The naysayers were out voted and we were going.

After agreeing to go, the girls immediately seized on this opportunity to get new dresses. Amazing how that "excuse to shop" seems to be hardwired into even the youngest of shoppers. 

Maggie also determined that if she was going, her best buddy Megan should also be going.

Bad news for her Dad who was also on the anti-dance team. 

In an effort to best prepare the kids for future dances, we introduced them to the concept of a "pre-party" and had Amy, Sean, Ann and kids over for home made pizza before the big event.

The dance was in the gym and largely consisted of kids dancing and adults socializing. Our girls also wanted to dance with their Dad. While I had never seen it before, there is little cuter than dancing the box step to rap!

A little over half way through the dance, the girls determined it was too loud and pressed us to leave. Eion dissented but the ever popular 2/3 majority rule won out and we were done. Seems the girls were both disappointed in the lack of "real" (ie ballroom) dancing and self conscious about their "non-real" dancing. Morrigan told us she looked "just ridiculous" when she danced. My assertion that most everyone, with a few noted exceptions, looked silly dancing fell on deaf ears. While I would have stayed to chat more, I wasn't about to battle the whole family.

I told Tim that, in the end, it was an awful lot like the dances they would be attending for years: you really have the best time at the pre-party with your friends and the actual dance is kind of a let down. We just saved them years of trouble by revealing this truth so early. 

And most importantly, Tim got his Daddy-Daughter dance pictures!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Just a Glimpse

All school year, Morrigan and her classmates have been practicing for Minds in Motion. It is a primarily 4th grade, several school dance production. And if you have been listening to Morrigan, it is the also bane of her existence. She has (surprise) complained incessantly about practice, the way she had to wear her hair, how tired it made her etc. They had a preview a few weeks ago with only the kids from her school and, truth be told, it seemed a little odd and new-agey. Thus far, zero family members impressed.

Thursday was the big performance with all the other schools at the Roanoke Civic Center. Seeing as we weren't all that excited about going and she couldn't stop talking about how much she didn't want to go, I was seriously considering calling in "sick" that day. Why waste all of our time. But Morrigan had been so difficult and oppositional that in the end, I thought going to the performance, no matter how painful, would pale in comparison to dragging her around all day. As an added bonus, they would take her to the Civic Center after school and we didn't have to pick her up until after the show at 8pm. Well played City schools - she will be there.

Still, I was expecting very little. Tim stayed behind with the other two and I went to the show alone. But after watching her smiling onstage and seeing all 400 odd kids together, it did seem worth it. I was totally wrong. Honestly, they really shouldn't have the preview - it didn't do the actual performance justice. When I retrieved Morrigan from the designated child-release area, she was bubbly and happy. She detailed the afternoon of practice, what she had for dinner, and how much fun it was on stage. 

We climbed into the Jeep and, at Morrigan's request, had the windows down. It had been 70 degrees all day and was still gorgeous out. The drive home was heavenly. She gushed excitedly about the new dress I bought her for the Father-Daughter dance the next night, in spite of not having seen it yet. I told her she could exchange it if she didn't like it and she assured me, "I know you picked out something just perfect!" I was beginning to wonder if they had drugged her.

The warm wind was blowing in and we were singing Lady Gaga at the top of our lungs as we drove along - "I'm beautiful in my way, cause God makes no mistakes. I'm on the right track baby I was born this way." We hadn't had so much fun together in ages. No surly. No complaining.

We arrived home and she spent the next hour chatting happily and being absolutely delightful. And at that moment I realized that every once in a while, we're given just enough of the child we really want to have to keep us from killing the one we have the rest of the time.

In spite of my hopes to the contrary, it was all back to baseline the next morning but that little glimpse of what may be was enough to keep me going. For now.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

For Example

So I've told you of the complete impossibility of making my eldest happy these days right? Just an example here....

Since the dawn of time, or at least since she's been in school, Morrigan has been complaining about the fact that her birthday falls outside the school year. Hence, no cupcakes at school, no school celebration. I sympathised, having a December birthday that was often glossed over. We discussed the many drawbacks of all the birthday months: Eion's was too close to Christmas, Maggie's was in a very busy month etc.

Yet still, I heard about this all the freaking time. Every February, I was deluged with requests for "half birthday" merriment. (I refused. It is what it is, you just have to suck up when your birthday falls.)

Our school district is considering moving the start date of school to mid-August. I was telling Tim how much I opposed this maneuver the other day when Miss Morrigan pipped up, "They can't do that! Then my birthday wouldn't be in the summer anymore and it would be terrible to have it during school!"


I can't help but think of a colloquialism Tim's Dad graced us with that, while I find it somewhat nonsensical, seems to fit here. The girl wouldn't be happy if someone sh*t in her lunchbucket.

He's Back

After an all too brief retirement, Eion's Indiana Jones persona is back with a vengeance. Luckily for his teacher, he seems to have timed this with her return from maternity leave. Welcome Back Ms. DeFazio!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mardi Gras Supper Club

We were a few days late, but our Supper Club was Mardi Gras themed. Scheduling difficulties meant we hadn't gathered in a few months and everyone was in a festive mood and happy to be together. The food, as ever, was excellent, the hurricanes were lethal and conversation buoyant. 

The next day was Tim's birthday and we had designs to bake a cake and have company to celebrate. But alas, a power outage for the better part of the day (and maybe those hurricanes a bit) derailed our plans and we mostly spent the day relaxing. The kids felt a bit robbed by the lack of cake but were willing to settle for the donuts we picked up when we were out seeking much needed morning coffee. 

St. Patrick's Day Parade

The last time I went to the Roanoke St. Patrick's Day parade was when Morrigan was still an only child. Years of Tim working, bad weather or both have somehow kept us away. But this year, Tim was off and it was a gorgeous day. Perfect for spending some time downtown.

We chose a spot near the start of the parade. While it wasn't something we had thought about, being early means all the people in the parade are still flush with candy and other trinkets that the children happily gathered.

E, sporting his fedora, found his hat to be his preferred candy collection vessel. 

There were several bagpipe and drum ensembles. They all seemed to be playing the same song but it added a nice bit of continuity.

There were DeLorean cars, fleets of Corvettes, girl scout troops, a gaggle of cross dressing Dorothies, police, our Senator Mark Warner (who Tim refused to let me heckle, deeming the holiday non-political), firemen, Shriners and, god bless the South, three different Sons/Daughters of the Confederacy contingents.

It was really much larger than I remember, lasting about 90 minutes. And we had a great time. Provided the sun is shining next year, we'll be back. Though the children want to be in the parade. What the hell - we'll take the top off the Jeep, crown them the Princesses and Prince of Stone Mountain and drive in the parade tossing out candy. After all, we look Irish, we are Irish and we're sporting names like Tim, Katie, Morrigan, Maggie and Eion. We are St. Patrick's Day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Science in a Sack

Today I volunteered for Crystal Spring's Science in a Sack program. I showed up promptly at 9:20, as directed, only to find that the gig didn't start until 10am. Not to mention, the cafeteria, where we needed to set up, was occupied by Spanish class. So I spent 40 minutes in the PTA room with five other Moms. I was not amused.

But at long last, the kids came in and we were underway. I had an experiment proving the equal and opposite force idea. I quickly discovered that all the kids knew what the outcome of the experiment would be before we started and they were mostly interested in blowing up balloons and playing with straws. The best reactions I received were when the balloons went rouge and flew across the cafeteria. And when the balloons made noises similar to farts.

I would call it a waste but Maggie really appreciated me being there. I got a huge hug when she came in and she couldn't wait to get to my station. That and the kids looked really cute in the lab coats.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Small Victories

Yesterday we received the ribbons from a swim meet a few weeks back. Now, this whole situation is anxiety provoking for me. I know Maggie placed 5th or better in every event she entered and won a first place. I also know that Morrigan was in her usual position of DFL and there are zero ribbons forthcoming.

I anticipate tears.

But to the surprise of the entire family, none came. Not even when Maggie stopped in the dining room, where Morrigan was doing her homework, in order to admire her first place ribbon. Or when she then took it into the next room for her father to admire. Morrigan didn't take the bait and held it together entirely.

Thank heaven for small miracles. And for the coming end of the swim season which brings us the end of Morrigan's swimming career.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's Tough Being Six

Last night Tim was working until midnight and rain had kept us largely cooped up in the house all day long. So it was with giddiness that I looked forward to escaping to a birthday party for one of Eion's classmates. It was at a local gymnastics center and they had been kind enough to include siblings. While I know they wouldn't be any trouble, I feel guilty dropping off all the kids and bailing on the hosts so I decided to stay.

It seems the kids were as happy to get out as I was and were zero trouble during the party. Including Eion, who I was concerned about since he felt a sweater and corduroys were an excellent outfit for tumbling.

Sadly, the birthday girl was not having near as much fun as Team McK. About a third of the way through the party, she completely derailed and never quite got it back together. We've all seen it, or lived it, before. The hype is just too much and then the actual birthday is overwhelming and it ends in tears. I think I have some lovely pictures of Eion crying at his 2nd birthday and Morrigan at her 3rd.

But before the sadness, I had a fascinating conversation with the birthday girl's Mom who told me she was so happy that Eion was in her daughter's class this year. I smiled and nodded, knowing full well that based on his performance last year, there should be no way in hell that anyone was rooting for him to be in their kid's class. She went on to say how her daughter could be painfully shy and having familiar faces made transitions and change much easier.

I had never even considered that it would be a problem to have a whole new configuration of classmates each year. (It should come as no surprise to any regular reader that timidity or shyness simply don't happen around our house.) I don't think I've ever even discussed it with the kids. Other than occasional passing disappointment that a best friend is in another class, they just move on and make the best of it.

Granted, they seem to have inherited their Mother's hyper extroverted personality. When a friend asked if I found people who were very quiet and seldom spoke a challenge because you couldn't tell if they were happy, I replied that I just assumed they were doing great and figured their silence gave me more airtime.

Anyhoo, with all the wildly vacillating emotions and strife we've had lately, it was downright refreshing to find out that other families had struggles that I did not need to worry about hitting our house. Are we perfect? Hell no. But we've got shy beat!

Batter Up!

As Morrigan rails about how she is good at nothing and never comes in first, I couldn't help but think how there should be more reading contests. Now there is someplace she could kill it. The child, quite literally, can read faster than me. She absorbs books.

Then she came home the other day all fired up about the local minor league baseball team, the Salem Red Sox. We've attended games and the kids liked them but the level of enthusiasm here was disproportionate. That was until she explained to me that they were indeed having a reading contest.

You would attempt to make a "home run" by advancing from base to base by meeting or surpassing a certain threshold. The first two weeks, you have to read 4 hours total in order to get to first base where you get some little prize. Might be a temporary tatoo. And so on until you reach home plate and are awarded a ticket to a Salem Red Sox game.

Since Monday, she has recorded 15 hours of reading. But you want to know the funny thing? I think it is on the low side. She wrote in her 4 hours yesterday around 4pm and then proceeded to continue to read until we left for a birthday party at 6:30. At this rate, we'll be receiving season tickets.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Excellent, When Excellent Doesn't Really Mean Excellent

For the past few weeks, the kids have been getting ready for Spring Festival. That sounds like fun, doesn't it? Well, Festival is truly a misnomer. This perky name is used to cleverly disguise a morning spent in a waiting room while your children are whisked away to play memorized piano pieces for judges in some other classroom.

My attitude was lacking considering the rocky road we've travelled thus far to reach the competition. Morrigan was, unbeknownst to me, not practicing her duet for three weeks since she "hated it." When her lapse was discovered, along with the fact that neither of the kids seemed to really know any of their pieces, an onslaught of extra rehearsals, individual and group lessons ensued. Just this week, both girls have spent 3 1/2 hours with their teacher practicing. While I do appreciate her commitment, this has jacked up my week and had the girls in a state of open revolt.

But the "big" day finally arrived. Regardless of outcome, at least we were done. Maggie's duet partner has a conflict today so they are going to the make up day Monday so it was just me and Morrigan headed to the festival.

We drove out to Hollins in the rain where I, surprisingly, did not get lost and found the building with ease. Morrigan looked darling, having chosen her Easter dress for the occasion. These were the highlights. It was downhill from there. She came out looking glum and I asked her how she did. "Fine." she told me with a face that directly contradicted her response.

Turns out she received an "Excellent" on her solo and duet performances. And according to my tennis partner's daughter (who also received excellents) they are the grade equivalent of a B-. Seems Superior is what one wants. Personally, I don't much care. I want the girls to play piano in order to lead a richer, fuller existence. To be exposed to music. And I figure in real life, if you make a mistake while playing, most people won't notice anyway.

But this attitude was not shared by Morrigan, who burst into tears in the car ranting,"I never do well at anything. I got a stupid excellent when I wanted a superior. And I never do as well as Maggie. [Author's note: seeing as Maggie has not performed yet, I don't know how she can be so sure.] She gets ribbons in swimming. She'll get a superior." And on, and on.

Which leads me to a moment of parenting that sucks. I want to take her in my arms and tell her she did great and those judges didn't know what they were doing, no matter how untrue that is. Assure her she's just as good as Maggie no matter what she thinks, regardless of the veracity of the statement. But instead, I do what will make her a better person, no matter how much it hurts today.

I tell her that, while I don't care about the scores and am not comparing her to Maggie, if she wants to improve, there is only one route: practice more. That her ignoring her piece for three weeks, generally refusing the methods her teacher assigns and complete intolerance of the metronome all impacted her outcome. That her mediocre score was the result of her lackadaisical practice.

It was a long and tearful ride home. And I felt terribly mean.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

First Signs of Spring

I knew spring was on its way when Tim and I were able to get out and take a big 3 /12 hour walk the other day. But then as I was grilling the other day, I saw my other favorite sign of spring: daffodils. The girls were out directly to pick them from the field. And so began the annual parade of flowers off to school for the kids' teachers which is yet another thing I love about this time of year. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dr. Seuss Day

Who knew that Thing 1 tshirt purchase would be so useful. First, it was Eion's choice for his school picture. And today used for the day at Highland Park Elementary where the kids were encouraged to dress as their favorite Dr. Seuss character. According to Morrigan, she was "the best" Thing 1. We were just happy she was feeling positive.

Nine Going on Teen

I know that I am not supposed to compare my kids. I keep telling myself that. But it is getting really, really hard not to these days. Maggie is our sunshine girl. Every day is great. All new things are adventures. Any time she does get down, she rallies quickly and is back to her optimistic, smiling baseline.

And then there is Negative Nelly.

Morrigan has never been the pure force of smiles her sister is, but these days, we feel like a teenager came in and took possession of our eldest daughter. Every morning starts with the litany of reasons why this day will just be the worst. Among recent scapegoats:

Not swimming. I hate swimming.
Today will be terrible - I have Spanish.
Tuesday is awful. I hate Minds in Motion. It is boring and makes me tired.
Not Friday. Now it will just be the boring weekend.

And so it goes from there.

I hate my clothes. There is nothing I want for breakfast. I don't like the choices for lunch. My book bag is too heavy. My coat is too hot. I don't like sitting in the middle (or back) seat. The car door is too heavy.

Then a break while she's at school and someone else gets to enjoy her rants. After school, she's right back at it.

School was boring. I don't want to go to swimming/piano/Tae Kwon Do. We don't have anything to do today it will be boring. I don't like what's for dinner. We don't have any good dessert choices. I don't have any free time. I don't have any new books to read.

And on. And on. And on.

So here's the question (rhetorical Mother, you don't need to email me), can we change her? There's a big part of her that reminds me of myself as a kid. I was Negative Nelly. (My brother Dominick was our Sunshine Maggie and let me tell you, as a child, his sunshiny ways pissed me off.) In many ways, though I think I have vastly improved, I still can be that girl.

Where does that leave me as a parent? I've been trying to teach Morrigan that, no matter how hard it may be, to try and approach everything with a positive attitude and it is more likely to end up positive. Like a GOOD self fulfilling prophesy. And, you ask, does this method meet with success? Yeah, not so much so far. That is where the cocktails come in. I know they work.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Just for Fun

Because I don't have enough to do (HA!), I'm writing another blog that is part fun, part food and all frugal. It's not CHEAP, It's Garde Manger is up and running. Feel free to visit and find out even more mundane details about our lives!