My Little Carnivore

Kate eats meat.

No two ways about it, she is a carnivore — okay, an omnivore — in her little almost 6-year-old heart, and you know what? I’m not going to fight it.

It all started with shrimp, either at a Christmas Eve celebration (we do the Feast of the Seven Fishes) or a wedding reception of some kind, and it’s gone on from there.

When she buys lunch at school (about once or twice a month), she gets the meat option (unless lunch is cheese pizza). “Hey, mom, I had popcorn for lunch today!” “You mean you had popcorn chicken today.” “Yeah, and I liked it!” She recently had a hamburger, too, which made me cringe a little bit because I’m not crazy about the idea of her eating cafeteria meat. Sorry, school. (I’m not really sorry. School lunches aren’t that healthy, we all know this.)

She asked for a piece of turkey at Thanksgiving, and I gave it to her. She ate Flora’s piece too. And had a turkey sandwich the next day.

(Flora is a vegetarian at heart. She’s equal parts appalled by Kate’s interest in meat and slightly envious of her chutzpah to ask for it.)

Here are the reasons I’m cool with this:

1. She’s eating, and she eats well. She continues to eat a variety of foods: grains, carbs, fruits, vegetables. Girl will eat two helpings of salad when I serve it. She says she eats the vegetables (or fruit) in the cafeteria, and drinks milk.

2. She continues to eat vegetarian at home. I seldom cook meat at home anyway. Dan only gets to eat with us twice a week, so it’s four mostly vegetarians for dinner each night. She doesn’t complain.

3. Eating meat doesn’t seem to bother her, and don’t think she does it to be defiant. I think she does it because she’s curious. I don’t make a big deal of it with her, and I’ve made that clear, that I’m not mad she wants to eat meat, and I’m not mad she does. Nothing constructive is going to come of that!

The only not-cool thing is when I pack her a lunch (only almost every day!), and she says she “forgot” and buys lunch instead. We’re still working on this issue. I spend time making lunches, for one, and for two: school lunches cost money. Once in awhile is fine, but I’m not putting out nearly $15 for lunch in a week. No.

When Kate is older (for that matter, when all my kids are older), I’m sure we’ll talk more in depth about vegetarianism. I am vegetarian for a variety of reasons, among them the fact that I don’t like the taste of meat. Kate does. Maybe when she understands some other issues (environmentalism, meat additives like hormones and antibiotics, the differences in local meat versus trucked in grocery store meat), she change things up.

But until then? Kate eats meat.

Random Thoughts: The But I'm Still Stressed Edition

Thanksgiving was so, so nice. Dan, the children, and I drove up to my parents’ house Thanksgiving Day. It was 60 degrees and sunny. While M napped (or, more accurately, chatted to himself in the pack-n-play), my parents took the girls to the park. Dan and I read and napped, respectively. For dinner it was just the seven of us. Kate had turkey.

My mom had spent time earlier in the week preparing and baking, so the actual day was not spent in the kitchen. God bless her. I roasted some beets. Which Kate also ate.

That night, after all the kids were in bed, we adults played a game and drank wine. It was really low-key and lovely, and my mom got up with the kids the next morning, so going to bed at midnight wasn’t that painful for me. (I’m telling you, if my parents are any indication, not only do you need less sleep as you age, but you can also drink more — not like get trashed, but have more than two glasses of wine — and still rise with the sun and/or the grandchildren at 7:30 a.m. It amazes me. Maybe they get to nap, more, too though. That’s a possibility.)

We drove back to Pittsburgh on Friday, and spent two days cleaning and otherwise preparing for the kids’ birthday party on Saturday.

This is the first year we combined the kids’ birthday parties. Between the holidays and birthdays, November through January are crazy with gifts and parties and travel. In order to cut down on travel and expense, I threw one party the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It went swimmingly — more than swimmingly. (I, personally, feel it was a stroke of genius. My husband has reservations still. It was a shitload of work for nearly three days, I’ll give him that. And, as happens when we clean the whole house, our office, once more, is trashed.)

The other thing that is sticking with me (aside from the loveliness of a small gathering on a holiday, and the success of the party) is that my mom worries about me and my stress. She made the point a couple of times: So much stress is bound to have physical consequences. I agree with her, but I’m not really sure what else to do.

I see a chiropractor once or twice a month to help with back and neck issues (she’s *awesome*).

My biggest stress reliever used to be exercise. And I don’t get exercise any more. I’m in terrible shape. (We’ve been over this.) I would love my workplace to install a gym. I wonder if I can make that happen. Believe me, it’s the only way I would get regular exercise. I cannot get up any earlier, and the thought of trying to add a workout to the end of my day — stresses me out.

I still read, about 20 to 30 minutes a night. That helps me wind down a lot. Sometimes I catch some TV. I usually have a beer or a glass of wine.

I also, almost daily, have a cigarette. (Outside.) (This is not going to help my mother’s peace of mind.) I’m not proud of this fact. I’m struggling with it (as with so many other things.) But it’s something I do to destress. (I know, ironic.)

I’m not really sure what’s next, what else to try to change, what I’m going to do in the long run for my health.

This is where I am.

The Annual PodCamp Dilemma

Monday Update: As much as I feel the change of focus and session topics will benefit me, I will have to wait until next year to attend PodCamp. Something else came up that makes it pretty much impossible for me to go. The scales tipped in favor of the kids, and I’m cool with that. I hope that PodCamp moves back to September. The move to October (because of a venue conflict) had me — obviously — feeling like I was shoehorning it in.

Also, my mom’s comment made me LOL. Thanks, Mom, mostly for calling me a young person.

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This year’s PodCamp Pittsburgh (#pcpgh7) is next weekend.

PodCamp is always a dilemma for me. I’ve been to two of them, and they are super enjoyable and educational. I meet new people (or meet people IRL for the first time). Last year, I even presented, and it was awesome.

PodCamp is moving from a personal-type event toward a business/professional type event this year (the topics, I should say). Sessions are about social media marketing, blogging for business, social media for non-profits, entrepreneur-ship (and I would like you to know I spelled ‘entrepreneur’ right on the first try, BOOM), and so on.

And I would desperately like to go. I am having a real “what do I want to be when I grow up” phase in my life right now, and social media and social media marketing are part of that. (Incidentally, this has been going on since I attended my first PodCamp in 2009.)

I registered (General Rockstar) about a week ago. I’ve been dithering ever since and here’s why:

1. Logistics, logistics, logistics. I can’t get a babysitter for all day Saturday. I could probably go to the afternoon sessions, and maybe a couple on Sunday.

2. Sunday would require bribing my husband substantially. It is his only day off every week, and for me to decamp to what he views as a social event (leaving him with the three children) verges on traitorous.

3. I see PodCamp as an immersive event, and I just can’t be immersive this year. So is it worth it to go? I probably can’t network much. I probably can’t stay to socialize after the sessions are over. (Okay, maybe one drink.)

4. Since it’s changing focus, I may not know that many people going this year. I know more personal bloggers than professional social media marketing people. That’s neither a pro nor con, but see #3. (And I’m shy.)

5. All the other stuff going on in my life right now. I am planning two birthday events (Flora’s classroom party, and the kids’ party — I’m doing ONE family party for all three children); the holidays are fast approaching; THE BATHROOM IS BEING REMODELED, which if you can’t tell from me yelling, is a big huge deal/nightmare; three kids to manage.

What is pulling at me to attend at all is the fact that I want to move toward being a professional in social media. (Gawd, does that sound naive or pretentious? I can’t decide.) And I don’t mean I want to be a Justin Kownacki or Chris Brogan. I would kind of enjoy, however, being Dana Sheehan. (I don’t know if Dana knows that, or if she even remembers meeting me.)

So. Should I go, even though I can probably only do about 5 hours/sesssions total? I really need to decide this weekend. It’s a free event, technically speaking, but it still costs me a lot (energy, points with Dan, time, time with my children). I’m still trying to figure out if it’s worth it.

What say you?

Meatless Monday: Quick Update on the Schedule

Here’s the update: if you feel stressed out by daily dinner making during the week, I cannot endorse making a weekly routine strongly enough.

Making a plan, like I did, simplifies things magnificently. Plus it puts a structure in place for me on the weekends when it comes to cooking ahead.

The only thing I haven’t nailed down so far is the Saturday night pizza. I guess part of that is the fact that on Saturdays I have a lot of CSA vegetables that need to be used. (My pick up is on Thursday.) So Saturday is a bit of a crapshoot depending on how busy the day is, what’s in the freezer, and how much time I have. This Saturday, for example, I didn’t cook dinner at all; we went out because we needed to run errands in the evening. Having a night like this, on a weekend, doesn’t stress me out very much at all. It’s kind of nice to not be locked into something.

Sunday I cooked (for the most part), three meals: Sauce for Monday night (broccoli cream pesto that I can’t wait to try); a vegetarian Irish stew in the slow cooker for Tuesday; and Sunday dinner (which was raviolis, salad, and Quorn nuggets).

Monday morning, I made the pasta for Monday night.
I’ll make a loaf of Irish soda bread (from a prepared mix) either Monday night or Tuesday morning.
Wednesday morning, I’ll probably cook the mini corn dogs for that night.

It’s all very structured and comforting to me. I get the sense from the kids that they like it too. Part of it is probably the routine (kids like routine, trust me on that) and part of it is that stressed out Mommy’s not driving home saying, “So what should we have for dinner tonight??”

Anyway, if you find yourself at sea when dinner time rolls around, especially during the week, I would suggest putting together a plan like this. It really is awesome.

What works for you and your family when meal time hits?

Random Thoughts: The Who Am I Edition

A few notes from the week thus far:

1. Dan and I finally copped to the fact that we need a new coffee maker. The Mr. Coffee that has served us faithfully for nearly 10 years is… well, I don’t really know what happened. I cleaned it at least annually, and then this year, I probably cleaned it twice within six months, and the coffee still just tasted bad. Indescribably bad.

Thank goodness for VIA.

I put out a query on Twitter, as I am wont to do, regarding a recommendation for a replacement coffee maker.

The response was overwhelming: Twitter recommended I get a French press, maybe two (one for loose tea).

So we will be getting a French press (or two) in the near future, and possibly another Mr. Coffee for when we need to make more than 3-4 cups of coffee at a time.

Thanks, everyone!

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2. I have been doing so well with the meal schedule that I actually have enough for two nights of (mostly) leftovers, tonight and tomorrow. I need refrigerator space and storage containers! So: cleaning out tonight and tomorrow.

3. One of the secrets to doing well with the meal schedule is cooking in the morning. I usually make pasta Monday morning for that night’s dinner; Tuesday, I get the rice steamer set up, or (as I did yesterday) make something like veggie chili before leaving for work. I had never even contemplated this step in the past.

4. This organization thing is going pretty well (knock on wood). Packing lunches at night, and putting dishes away in the morning, plus prepping some food in the morning is leading to extra time in the evenings. Of course, that means I get to do stuff like go through M’s clothes to update sizes and seasonal wear, or more efficiently take care of paper work, but STILL.

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5. I added something else to the evening schedule: violin practice. (Related: I may have lost my damn mind, as I told a friend on Twitter yesterday.) I’m starting Flora out with 15 minutes of practice each night (she’s not even playing real songs yet). We’ll see how it goes. We chose violin as a starting instrument because: 1. we don’t have a piano, or room for one at this point; 2. lessons are at school, during school. She’s taking part in group lessons; 3. renting a violin is super, duper easy and not very expensive.

6. The perfect bribe for my children (or, conversely the perfect thing to take away as a consequence): computer time. They watch a lot of YouTube Pokemon videos or play games online (fantage, coolmath). They each get between 20 and 30 minutes at a pop.

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7. We will be shopping for materials to make the Halloween costumes this weekend.

Yes, I told the girls they could be Pokemon, and, yes, I told them we would make their costumes. Further proof I have lost my damn mind. Rest assured: I am still sane enough to know that SEWING the costumes in out of the question. It will be more a matter of… constructing them.

Michael will be a monkey, in a costume being passed along to me. So that’s all right.

What totally crazy and/or out-of-character things are you doing lately?

Meatless Monday: The Schedule

Hi! How are we this week? Let’s just act like every thing’s normal (and Michael at least *is* back to normal), and plow on ahead with What Else I am Trying to Keep My Sanity During the School Year.

On my post about the kids’ schedule, there were a couple of food-related suggestions that I am taking under consideration. I’m playing around with a very simplified menu plan. I hate getting to quitting time and wondering what I’m going to give my children for dinner when we get home. I decided that had to make changes in a concrete way.

Here is the (still being tweaked) schedule so far.

Monday: Pasta
Tuesday: Rice/Ethnic (tacos are big)
Wednesday: Brinner OR Mac & Cheese, Veg Baked Beans, and/or Notdogs
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Sandwiches (and Soup, sometimes)
Saturday: Pizza (preferably with homemade crust)
Sunday: Slow Cooker/Comfort Food

Meals are usually a main dish, a protein (beans, nuggets, or the like), and a vegetable and/or salad.

If a child doesn’t want what I am serving, she is welcome to something else, as long as she can make it herself. She has to try at least one bite of dinner first. So far, this has worked out well.

I need to remember to cook more food — my kids are growing, and consuming more, plus I like to have different things to pack in their lunches. In additon, I am counting on having leftovers at least one night (Thursday is CSA pickup night, and we usually don’t get home until nearly 6 p.m.).

I am learning to incorporate tricks and tools into my meal planning as well. For example, my rice steamer has a timer on it. I just put the rice (or other grain) in, pour in the liquid, and set the timer. When we get home, we have the base of our Tuesday meal. On Mondays, I usually boil the pasta in the morning as we’re getting ready. Soup is something I make ahead of time (usually on a Saturday or Sunday), and freeze half of. At this point, I have nearly a month’s worth of soup in my freezer (corn chowder, lentil, and tomato so far)!

Another meal type that will make the rotation, especially as spring and soccer roll around is a cold-type or picnic meal (h/t Kim Z., aka @observacious) that we can eat at the park or soccer field as needed.

Having a general menu plan like this helps me so much. I hate meal planning, and I hate not having a meal plan. Instead of reinventing the wheel every week, this gives me a template to work from. Pasta can be penne with marinara sauce, or tortellini with vegetable balls; Tuesday can be rice with beans or soy crumbles with taco seasoning in burritos. And cooking a lot on the weekends (as happens, depending on our weekend activities) takes a lot of pressure off when soup or leftover night rolls around!

What do you do to make cooking easier for you?

Back-to-School: The Schedule, Mine Edition

First, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. You all gave me encouragement, and some good ideas. I really appreciate it.

Second, in addition to my attempts to create a routine and good habits for my children, I decided that I needed to do the same for me. Having a nanny taught me the value of a neat house and organization, and I don’t want that to slip away.

My biggest challenge is to STICK WITH THIS. I want to get lazy, but getting lazy will lead bad places. Bad, disorganized, highly stressed out places.

Here are the general goals each day:

Empty the dishwasher in the morning, and put the breakfast dishes in. This means I come home to a clean kitchen.

Help the children get through the evening without losing my shit. Mileage varies on this one. Pickup and drive time seem to be particularly fraught.

Have a weekly meal schedule (I’m still tweaking this) so I’m not leaving work panicking about what I’m going to feed my children for dinner.

Clean kitchen, go through evening routine with kids, M in bed by 7:30, girls in bed by 8-8:30.

Finish cleaning kitchen, and PACK LUNCHES FOR THE NEXT DAY. This one is big, and it’s the one thing in the evening that I most want to not do sometimes. I just have to keep in mind that i really does not take that long, and it makes mornings so much better.

My goal is to be able to watch a little TV or read each night, and go to bed by 10 p.m.

Now, each evening of the week, the kids and I will have a chore: Monday, put away clean laundry; Tuesday, clean upstairs bathroom; Wednesday, vacuum; Thursday, clean downstairs bathroom; Friday, get all dirty laundry to Bella’s. Weekends are for cleaning rooms and vacuuming upstairs, plus paperwork, especially organizing and paying bills. I have to get better at this too (the organizing part, not the paying part).

So far, Thursdays are the worst days because they are the longest. After I pick up the children, I have to also get my CSA veggies. This puts us home after 6 p.m. Not coincidentally, this is also leftovers night.

Does it seem like I’m missing anything? Before you ask, Dan has weekly chores, too, and he also needs to stick with them. We, as a family, are refocusing on team work right now.

Back To School: The Schedule, Kids' Edition

Last week was our first full week with the fall schedule (that means girls at school and Michael at daycare). It felt like a full-out sprint.

I am working hard to help myself and help my children with the transition back to fall. It’s been rocky so far. Lots of deep breaths on my part. My goal is to have a routine that the children can stick to. It needs to be simple and flexible.

One of my worries in general is that due to work and school and homework and activities and so on, that our kids are turning into little worker bees instead of little kids.

Flora has a test or quiz nearly every day of the week — math, English, spelling (a pretest and a test), science (every other week), and so on. It worries me, and I don’t want to pass my anxiety onto Flora. Not that she can’t do the work, she can — she’s very smart. But that The Work will just be the goal, instead of actual learning, and taking joy in learning.

Kate I am less worried about. She’s in full-day kindergarten, but she only has a page of homework once or twice a week. She usually comes home singing the songs they learn in her classroom. She is having a blast.

And Michael! Well, here’s a good thing: he transitioned very well back into his daycare. To date, he has not cried when I’ve dropped him off in the morning. He seems to be excited to see the toys and the care givers and other kids.

Here’s the crappy thing: He’s not getting enough rest. He’s sleeping between 10 and 11 hours at night (I try to get him in bed at 7:30 every night); during the day, he’s gone from 2 to 3 hour naps to 1 1/2 hour naps (if we’re lucky, 2). Evenings with him are very difficult — tantrums, meltdowns, clinginess. And he’s TIRED. He’s rubbing his eyes by 6 p.m. some nights.

Evenings in general are very difficult right now. I am the sole Parent On Duty, Monday through Thursday. What I need, especially from Flora and to a lesser extent from Kate, is some self-sufficiency and self-motivation. To help, I have a schedule to help them develop new habits.

We’re still learning it. I have told the girls that until they develop these good habits, there is no night time television. I have tried to be firm and consistent. I try not to yell.

I have held firm on television. I sometimes yell in frustration. But I’m trying.

Here’s the general outline:

When we get home, they have to get their stuff out of the car.
Once in the house, Flora should go to the dining room to start her homework. Kate needs to go to another room to play, or do her homework quietly with Flora. I give everyone a snack if they want.
While I make dinner, Kate has to occupy herself, Michael has to play or eat his snack, Flora should do her homework. Mileage varies so far.
Then we have dinner, clear the table. Sometimes the girls have a quick chore (putting their clean clothes away, running the vacuum). Then bath, books, bed. The end.

Here are the problems so far: Flora has a very difficult time focusing on her homework at home. She does fine in school because everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. But at home, her brother and sister are playing (or having a meltdown — I’m looking at you, Michael), and she is constantly distracted from her work. I am trying to make dinner. Kate has a very hard time leaving Flora alone.

What should be 15-20 minutes of homework a night gets stretched to an hour, sometimes more. Flora is constantly interrupting herself to get a drink, get a snack, complain about something, whinge about Kate. I am constantly chasing Kate away from the dining room or kitchen. Michael, feeling neglected (and probably hungry and tired) throws a fit.

I’m an awesome mom, by the way.

To date, since full-time school has started, the children have not had a night time show (not counting Fridays. They can do whatever the hell they want on Fridays, I honestly don’t care as long as no blood is shed). We do not get outside time at all. We really don’t get much downtime in the evenings in general, actually. I feel like it’s a full-out sprint (again) from picking up the children to bedtime.

And, frankly, I don’t know if there’s a damn thing I can do about it.

Are my expectations too high? Should I just give into the sprint until the weekends? Any ideas? Or should I just suck this up for the next nine months? (*sob*)

More later this week on MY schedule, and what I’m trying to do to help myself.

Random Thoughts: The So This Happened Editon

She just said she really likes the peace sign. Which, that’s a good thing, right?

Conversation after the first day of school:

Kate: I made a new friend!
Me: What’s her name?
Kate: She forgot to tell me!

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I was trying to figure out why they looked the same height, and realized that Flora’s backpack was so heavy that she’s leaning forward. (It’s stuffed with supplies for the school year, including a ream of paper.)

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So it’s been a busy week, with meet ‘n’ greets, and first days, and (for me) an eye infection/sty/ingrown eyelash.

The kids and I are ending it by going up to Erie for the weekend. Whew.

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Kate has triplets in her class, two boys and a girl. I met the parents Tuesday evening. “God bless you,” I told the mother. She laughed. “If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I wouldn’t have to work.”

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What happened with you this week?

The Great Nanny Experiment of 2012

Last May, when school was ending and summer time was rolling around, I realized I didn’t want to spend my mornings rousting my children out of bed to take them to daycare.

As far as I saw it, I had two choices:

1. Quit my job.
2. Hire a nanny.

We went with the second option. (The first is always very, very tempting.)

It was the right decision.

I’m not sure I will be able to adequately express the difference having a nanny made in my life. But I’m going to try.

Before I start to gush, I will state upfront that she wasn’t perfect. Kerry (not her real name) likes country music, which is probably about the only genre of music I don’t like. My kids learned some country songs over the summer, and also learned that “po-po” is slang in some circles for “police”. We’ll call it “broadening their horizons”.

Kerry also… how do I say this delicately? She could have chosen more modest clothing. Kerry is a big-boned, curvy girl, and likes short jean shorts and tank tops. I’m not sure if I had the right to say anything about this. (What say you, readers?)

Okay, the cons out of the way: OH MY GOSH, I WISH KERRY COULD BE OUR NANNY YEAR ROUND. SHE MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN MY LIFE AND THE KIDS’ LIVES THIS SUMMER.

I’m not sure how much my children appreciate the fact that they didn’t have to go to daycare this summer. They slept in every morning (except that one time Flora got up at 2 a.m.). They played with their cousins several times a week (my niece and nephew were over Bella and Tadone’s quite often). They were able to take swim lessons.

Kerry had no problem driving the kids around. We installed carseats in her back seat, and she took them to the zoo, the Aviary, the mall, the park, the pool, and so on. She bought them little gifts. One night, she even took the girls to the Butler County Fair — they had a blast, of course.

This is what hiring a nanny did for me, though:

First, mornings were a breeze. I got up, got ready, got out the door. I didn’t have to herd the children out of bed, to the kitchen table, back upstairs to get dressed; I didn’t have to hassle my husband about getting out of bed. I came downstairs, poured myself some coffee, and drove to work.

It was a lovely, quiet time.

Second, after work I got home an entire hour earlier than I do during the school year. I didn’t have to run around picking up the children from their school and daycares. We had an extra hour to play games, go for walks, read books or do crafts. Evenings were *relaxing*, not the usual mad dash to bedtime.

Third, my house was clean. So clean. Kerry guided the girls through picking up the house, putting clean dishes and clean laundry away, making their beds. She got them to vacuum, she showed them how to load the dishwasher. And so when I came home at 4:30 p.m., things were neat and organized. It was so… light to come home to a picked up house. I breathed more easily, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed.

Lastly were little odds and ends I could depend on Kerry for: tiny errands to pick up dry cleaning or groceries, having the kids bake or make pizza dough, running them to meet me at the mall when I had an eye appointment. It’s probably all these little things that assumed the most weight. The fact that I neither had to bug Dan nor do it myself — stop for milk, grab a birthday card, handle two children while the other one had an appointment.

Sometimes, moms joke about “having a wife”. Whether we work full-time or part-time outside of the home, or are home full-time with our children, sometimes we wish for another body to send on errands, another body to occupy one or two children while we do laundry or cook dinner — or conversely, a body to do the chores while we watch the kids. In most households, we moms still take on the majority of housework and childcare. Even though dads are more involved, it’s still not a 50-50 split in most households. So sometimes we wish for that third body. (Or telekinesis — just me?)

Having a nanny — a childcare worker who came to the house — was like having a wife for me. It was rather glorious.

Overall, of course, and most importantly, Kerry was great with the kids. She interacted with them, guided them through their day, keeping them busy with fun and with chores. Michael adored her. Kate and Flora listened to her (there was an end-of-summer dust-up) and enjoyed being with her. She really loved them (and has already offered to babysit when we need her).

So, I can easily forgive her for teaching my kids a couple of country songs. I’m not sure, if she weren’t a teacher and could work for us year-round, how we would have kept her on. It sure would be nice if she could pick up the girls from school and get their homework underway. But as it is, we’ll have to muddle along without her… (I have some ideas about that).

Do you sometimes wish for a wife?