Archive for April, 2007

Nanny Poaching

April 27, 2007

The local mothers’ club–excuse me, parents’ club–is all a-fuss because one member poached another member’s nanny by offering her a full-time job, causing member number one to lose her date time and personal time. They’re going to write a policy stating that club members shouldn’t poach nannies.

    Ooohh, that’ll stop it! (I should point out that we’re talking about an organization with nearly two thousand members, not half a dozen.)

    Now I’ve had a nanny poached right out of my front yard. By a neighbor two doors down. It destroyed my life for several months; it left what I think is a lasting impact on my daughter. The scenario–we went on a nearly three week vacation; we returned and gave nanny of two years her back pay (we always paid year round, no matter where we were). The next day she quit, telling me her husband had decided while she was home on vacation that he didn’t want her working anymore. A week later I spotted her pushing the neighbor’s kid in a stroller. When said neighbor got home, I knocked on the door and confronted her. She said that the nanny had mentioned to her that she’d like a shorter day–one hour shorter–and she was happy to offer her that. She didn’t apologize. I never spoke to her again.

    Oh, and had the nanny ever asked me for shorter hours? Uh, no.

    Meanwhile, after three weeks away, of course, I couldn’t take any more time off from work to try to make a smooth transition happen; a friend was heading out on vacation, she lent her nanny to me while I started the nanny hunt. My daughter spent the better part of a month sobbing her eyes out not understanding why this person she had been so close to dropped out of her life. And since then the world has not been the safe sunny relaxing place for my daughter that it had been previously.

    Nanny pickings were slim that summer, we took the best of the bunch, honest, reliable, but not all that great at understanding a two-year-old’s emotions. OK, as Princess Di would say, "thick as a plank." Not to mention that two is not a great time to change nannies; it’s best for a nanny to know a kid for a while before said kid turns into a "charming" two year old. Nine months later we threw in the towel and opted for full-time preschool.

    So yeah, I’d like nanny poachers to be tied to a play structure so I could pelt them with playdough until they begged for mercy. But it ain’t gonna happen.

    Go to a park some time. A city park. A busy city park with lots of nannies. You might see a mom with a new baby sitting on a bench. She’s not out to enjoy the sun, she’s on a scouting mission, looking for her targets. She may be a completely ethical person in every other area of her life, but this is her kid she’s thinking about, and if she’s trying to find someone to take care of her kid, she figures all’s fair.

     I say it’s mom beware, and no mothers’ club policy is going to change that. You send out an email offering your nanny up for one day a week, face it, you might lose her. You might lose her if she goes to the park, a baby music class, the corner store–those venues aren’t posted no-poaching. And if you do lose her, and a neighbor’s nanny is on vacation, don’t tell me she’s not going to look awfully tempting to you. Forget the mommywars; the real carnage is in the nanny wars, and I’ve got the scars to prove it.

R.I.P. Catermonsters

April 19, 2007


The caterbusters sprayed on Monday. Now our yard is covered with catermonsters slowly dying. We chose the organic-friendly-to-birds-bees-and-all-living-creatures-except
-caterpillars-that-kills-slowly-by-stomach-ache-poison, instead of a pesticide that immediately takes out everything smaller than a cat within range. Figuring the birds eat dead bugs and our cats occasionally take out a bird, that didn’t seem like a good idea.

Anyway, I didn’t trust the pesticide around my plants, cats, or kids, but my daughter’s pretty creeped out by the slowly dying caterpillars, which do seem to be suffering from stomach cramps. Of course, she was pretty creeped out by caterpillars dropping on her head or down her shirt whenever she went outside. DH, meanwhile, who has been manning the front lines in the caterbattle, was practically dancing for joy when he got home last night and saw the carnage, maybe he’ll be able to see M’s baseball game this weekend instead of spending every waking minute vacuuming up caterpillars. He says, and I quote, "there’s a reason poison was invented."

This could, of course, mean the folks from Peta will come knocking at my door, stage a protest outside my house, launch a caterpillar protection movement? Yeah, seems extreme, but years ago I wrote a column talking about going mano a mano with my garden snails, and I got slammed by some serious snail-lovers.

Or maybe, hopefully, this is the last installment in the cater story.

The battle continues

April 16, 2007

Image19 The battle of the catermonsters continues. They’ve munched through the blackberries, the roses, the agapanthus, and are starting on the strawberries. We’ve ceded them the play structure, and the cocoons, three and five deep, look like strange growths shimmering with more caterpillars crawling over them. We brought in heavy weapons (a high-powered shop vac) and are still trying to defend the house. My DH vacuumed for about 4 hours Friday night, most of Saturday, and Sunday afternoon; the teen manned the defenses Sunday morning. And still they march forward. Normally, this time of year, I’d be thinking about putting in the vegetable garden; that project will either come late or not at all this year, it’d  just be a caterpillar buffet.

I hate that I can’t hang out outside with the kids, that our only outside activity now is battling catermonsters, that the swings have been abandoned. I think that if this is one effect of global warming I’m not going to deal with climate change very well. I’m deciding that if we ever move we are not buying a house within two blocks of a live oak. I’m thinking a nor’easter doesn’t sound so bad these days.

I look at the dried up chewed up leaves remaining on the live oaks that surround our house and feel no sympathy for them; I think about how much I hate these heritage trees, the clouds of pollen, the spiky leaves they drop year round, and their "protected" status. If only the catermonsters would simply consume them and leave the rest of the yard and house alone.

Food blogging

April 15, 2007

Enchildadas I’ve been reading a lot of food blogs lately, and thinking, hey, I manage to slam dinner on the table a majority of nights a week, I could be a food blogger.

So here’s my attempt, breaking all the SVMoms blog posting rules in the process. For one, we don’t typically post recipes, we don’t want to be a recipe swapping site. For another, we try to focus on our struggles, not our wins; face it, struggles are funnier. But my attempt to be a food blogger would end quickly if I wrote about the night of the upside-down lasagna. (If really want to know the details about that one, ask my kids. But really, I swear, the floor had been recently washed with vinegar and water, so it was nontoxic and relatively clean.)

Anyway, here’s my food-blog post. Let’s call it “Chicken-Spinach Enchiladas: An Adventure in Weeknight Cooking.”

It all started on Tuesday. The plan was to have a classic family dinner, the kind I usually manage to pull together about twice a year, after feeling guilty about the amount of fast food and takeout we’d been doing.  I planned on roast chicken, garlic green beans, oven-roasted potatoes (aka “those French Fries you make, mom”), and a green salad with balsamic dressing.

Bogged down in a work project, I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer until 3:30 pm, at which point I figured I’d use the cold-water defrost method. It didn’t work. At 5:00 the chicken was still a solid block of ice. I jammed a chisel into the cavity to try to dig out the various random chicken parts they stuff in there to make the thing weigh more; I figured these were slowing down the thawing process. And I prepared everything else and told the kids to have a snack, because dinner was going to be on the late side.

At 7 pm I served potatoes, garlic green beens, salad, and hot dogs. And I put the now-thawed chicken into the oven.

At 8:30 I pulled the lovely crispy-skinned chicken out of the oven. I admired it. This was definitely a picture perfect chicken. (Yeah, I know, as a food blogger this should have been a photo op. Sorry.) Unfortunately, my two kids had already had dinner and dessert and were  getting ready for bed. While they took baths, I looked through cookbooks for recipes involving leftover chicken.

My teen, who had been rehearsing for a show and hadn’t been expected home until much later, walks in the door. Typically, he gets a dinner break during the rehearsal. He didn’t this time, and he’s starved. I’m thrilled, I hadn’t put the chicken in the fridge yet, and I sliced off a few pieces for him and ate a bit of that crispy skin myself, since it had now been officially carved. I wrapped up the rest and put it in the fridge.

OK, now about those enchiladas. It’s two nights later, 5:30 p.m. It dawns on me that I have to have dinner on the table at 6:15 and cleared by 6:35 to fit it into the evening’s schedule. I remember the chicken and pull out the cookbooks again. A recipe for Chicken Enchiladas in Desperation Dinners looks interesting.

The recipe calls for one can of white-meat chicken. But since I have no idea how much chicken is in a can, I just hack at the leftover chicken until I get bored. I end up with a heap of chicken meat on the cutting board, but a lot more still on the chicken; looks like we’ll be having chicken for dinner tomorrow, too. The recipe also calls for mild green tomatillo sauce. Needless to say, I don’t have any. What I do have is half a bag of frozen spinach. It’s green, so I dump it into a bowl and heat in the microwave. The recipe also calls for beans and rice; I don’t think I’ve ever had beans and rice inside an enchilada, usually they’re on the side, so I don’t even bother to look.

I throw the cut up chicken and heated spinach into a bowl. The recipe says to add 1/3 cup sour cream, so I scoop a couple of spoonfuls out of the container and throw them into the bowl.  (Why dirty a measuring cup?)

I zap a baking pan with cooking spray and slop scoops of the chicken mixture onto five tortillas. (I made five because there are five people in my family and it’s a habit, even though my husband won’t be home for dinner.) Now the recipe says to top these with grated Mexican cheese. I don’t have that. What I do have is a big plastic bag of cheese slices left over from a deli tray from a fundraiser. I rip a stack of cheese slices into scraps and put them on top of the chicken mixture. I wrap the tortillas and place in them in the pan, seam side down.

Then, sort of following the recipe, I toss a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, a spoonful of mayonnaise, and a couple of spoonfuls of salsa into a bowl and mix well. This oddly pink goop goes on top of the rolled tortillas.

I decide to rip up some more cheese slices and layer them on top.

I bake it covered at 400 for 15 minutes. This was probably too long. I uncover it and brown the cheese for another 5 minutes.

And….ta da! It looks and smells gorgeous, but I have to change the kids’ knives to sharper ones because they complain that the tortilla on the bottom is really hard and they can’t cut it. Still, in the end, I feel like Sally Field (“You like me!”) when kids say that in spite of the burnt bottom they really really like this and I should make it again.

Spending the garage-sale money

April 13, 2007

Img_1024     Last fall I finally got around to selling off the toddler toys (my youngest is eight, and the pretend tool chest and toy stove haven’t been getting a lot of use in, oh, four or five years). We made a couple hundred bucks. The kids asked if they could split it. I told them no, we were going to save it for something special, and I put it in a red envelope and tucked it away.

    Last week we spent it, and not all in one place. Of course, it cost more than a couple of hundred dollars to get to those places. ‘Cause we used it for “extras” on a Mexico cruise.

    Yeah, if you know me, what you’re thinking is, you and your DH don’t seem the cruise type. Kind of true, I’m more the Club Med type, but the one time I dragged DH and kids to Club Med, DH got food poisoning and said he’d never go again, and, anyway, Club Med added TVs and phones to the rooms, defeating the main point of going, and doubled their prices, putting it right out of my league.

    Meanwhile, my Italian cousin in New Jersey got laid off from his AT&T job and used his severance to start a business selling cheap discount cruises, and he told me that if I wanted to go on a cruise he could get me a real good deal. (Everyone should have an Italian cousin in New Jersey who gets them good deals.) And it turned out his deals were far better than any spring break trip we could find at a destination that stands still, and I had that garage sale money calling to me, so away we went.

    Spring break did not come at a great time. Hubby was away on business the entire week and weekend before, which meant I had to deal with vacation ground rush, at home and at work, all by myself. Since it’s been a while since we’ve dressed for summer weather, I of course had to scramble around and buy this one a bathing suit and this one sandals and borrow flippers for this one and that one from a friend and, well, you know the drill when kids are growing way too fast. By the time I turned off the computer and climbed in the car for the drive to LA, I was completely worn out. And never did get around to picking up the size 8 Merrill sandals I had put on hold for myself.

    But that was OK. Because the first two days of vacation were sea days; which meant I could pretty much be barefoot. DH got up really early to stake out the most remote lounge chairs on the ship, so far out on the back deck that our feet were practically hanging out over the ocean in front of us was nothing but horizon, occasionally interrupted by a dolphin or whale. After the kids woke up we led them to the lounge chairs, explained that that was where mommy and daddy would be if they needed us, and that it would be really a bad idea to fall overboard (my kids are 8, 11, and 15 and have a fair amount of common sense, don’t try this with a toddler). And oh yeah, we said, stay out of the swimming pools, unless one of us decides to relocate to a lounge chair overlooking the pool and can watch you, which may or may not happen. We figured they could find for themselves what the kids’ activities were and where to get food, and they should get back to us by 5:15 to dress for dinner. (“Dress for dinner,” heels and makeup every night. Again, not my usual style, but kind of fun.)

    Anyway, back to the garage sale money. Even though we spent a fair amount of bucks for the cruise itself, for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to fork over the cash for organized shore excursions; even the cheapest are like $50 a person (or $250 for our family, and that would’ve been most of the garage sale money right there). And then there’s the whole tour bus thing, which inevitably involves less beaching and more shopping than I’d like.

    So on our first stop, Puerto Vallarta, we took a taxi to Mismaloya ($30), where my husband and I had been for two anniversaries way back when we had only one kid. We got a guy on the beach to take us out snorkeling for $10 each (we had our own equipment). Way cool, until the big tour groups came and scared all the fish away. We talked to people later who complained Puerto Vallarta had no fish. But I have pictures to proImg_0930ve that we really did see fish.

    We also did stumble across an iguana, while hiking around the Night of the Iguana ruins, which doesn’t look impressive in this photo


but was actually the size of my daughter when she was about a year old.

    Stop two, Mazatlan, we took a water taxi to Stone Island ($1.50 each round trip) and a funny open truck (50 cents each) to the beach. On the beach we had lounge chairs and umbrellas and sodas and beers and quesadillas courtesy oImg_0989f a shacky restaurant (our final bill was under $20), mango on a stick from a vendor ($2) and miles and miles of coastline and coconut farms and villages to explore on horseback ($12 each).

    Stop three, Cabo, we settled into a little restaurant, expecting a similar deal. Wrong, sodas were $4 each, and they wanted $15 a person minimum for taking up a lounge chair. We went to plan B, involving the bottled water we had carried from the ship and towels on the sand, and swam and people-watched. (And our teen slept, with a 3 a.m. curfew he was pretty sleep deprived at that point.)

    The rest of the garage sale money went to kids’ souvenirs, like woven bracelets and shell necklaces and pareos and other trinkets from beach vendors. And hair braiding (best deal in town, I have yet to have to comb my son’s hair, and it’s been two weeks). And pina coladas for mom and dad at sail-away .

    Random thoughts: Doing yoga in slightly choppy seas is interesting, you don’t have to pulse into stretches, the deck pulses into you.  Teen son managed to get himself hypnotized (I saw it on video after the fact); wish I had been there, I could have thought of a few post-hypnotic suggestions much more useful than bark when someone says Fido. LittleImg_0918_2 kids know when teens on the basketball court are letting them win but like it anyway. Kids will eat anything if the tall and confident waitress (but not mom) says "You will really like this" (snails, frogs legs, calamari, bring it on).

    BTW, I’m thinking I got into this cruising thing kind of late—there were lots of moms pushing strollers, or with babies in slings, and it definitely seemed like low-stress travel when your kids are at the "luggage" stage, that is, they don’t move much. Toddlers were a little more trouble; you’d have to stay off the decks with open railings and the free 9 a.m to 10 p.m. child care doesn’t start ’til age 3, but the service couldn’t be beat. During dinner after dinner the maitre d’ in our dining room carried a toddler. We finally asked him if the kid were his son. He said no, but the boy just wouldn’t let his mother eat, so it wasn’t any trouble to hold him (less trouble than having him tear around the dining room, I guess.)

    While we were gone the catermonsters took over our house, but it was worth it.

    And now to start saving so I can afford to spend the money from my next garage sale.

Attack of the cater-monsters

April 9, 2007

A week and a half ago I called the guys who trim our trees and had a leisurely discussion about the upcoming caterpillar season. Last year we had a few more caterpillars than we would have liked, they gave the kids rashes, and we thought we’d try prevention this year. We decided to spray with a biocide (friendly to pets, bees, and organic gardens) sometime this week, after we got back from Spring break and the caterpillars started to hatch.

    Saturday night we pulled into the driveway post-vacation and walked into what appeared to be a horror movie set. There were are caterpillars everywhere–covering the walls of the house like chips in chocolate chip ice cream; hanging by cater-threads from the trees and across doorways. On the sidewalks, in the cat’s food. On every plant in our garden. If you stand quietly, you can hear them munching and munching.

       We fought our way into the house and picked off caterpillars from kids and luggage, discovering that they squirt a nasty green goop if you accidentally squish them.

    Yesterday my husband spent the day fighting caterpillars.  He’d hose them off the house, but before he could stomp them into the dirt, they’d scurry back up the walls. He managed to clear a path to the front door and keep it clear for a few hours, a shortlived victory. The caterpillars have won. Going out the back door is a challenge. And forget wearing the garden clogs that I keep on the back stoop; they’re caterpillar condos now.

    Today I called the tree guys and begged them to hurry over. "Really, you don’t have to wait for them to emerge; they’ve emerged!" "We know, they said, we’re getting a hundred calls a day. We’ll put you on the list and call you the day before we come." "No, you don’t understand, I need you to come now! They’re building cocoons; they’re moving into the shingles." "We’ll try to get you in as soon as possible."

    Meanwhile, the kids are itching rashes where caterpillars landed on bare skin, the blackberry bushes are stripped, and I think I hear munching in my sleep. Aahhh, spring in Silicon Valley.