Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Let's talk (with kids!) about sex

where babies come from book

In a dreaded undertone, a mom friend admitted, "My 6 year old daughter asked me about 'humping' and now I think we have to have the talk." Another mom turned red at the thought.  Others looked at the ground, embarrassed and full of empathy.  The mom who brought it up looked like she would rather do just about anything else.  Oh dear.

Let me just stand right up and be the weird one (again):  My friends, at one point or another in your parenting, you are going to have to have the talk.  It doesn't have to be uncomfortable or even particularly embarrassing.  In fact, the sooner the better, I say (of course, saying that out loud guarantees the other moms will--and do--look at me like I'm crazy)!

Here's another fact that makes all the other moms stare at me in disbelief: we had the talk with our older daughter when she wasn't yet 5 years old*.  What were we thinking?!  Well, quite a few of my friends were pregnant at that time, and she kept asking how babies get in the tummies.  Rather than fluff around with words I might have to eat later, I went for it and just explained it...or rather, I let a book explain it.

Whether this topic is uncomfortable for you or maybe you just don't know how much to share with a young child, I highly recommend buying a copy of "Where Did I Come From?": The facts of life without any nonsense and with illustrations by Peter Mayle.

where babies come from book

True to its title, this book does not bother with nonsense.  The illustrations are a bit funny, which can help break the tension.  That being said, the illustrations do picture two naked adults to show how (and tell why) male and female bodies are different, and they even show two naked adults in bed having good times.  And yes, just to make you blush, the book acknowledges that love-making is indeed good times.  It even explains an orgasm (how else do those sperm get going?).

where babies come from book

This is a book about where babies come from, and it runs from conception to birth.  While it isn't only about sex (it starts with that because that is where babies start), I focused my description on that part of the book because this is a subject adults find difficult to discuss with children.  As you can see from the text in the photo above, this book lays it all out.  It might make grown adults blush, but kids, at least in my experience, not so much.  For a child, this is simply a book with funny pictures that gives interesting, factual information about a curious subject.

If you are really worried about the sex talk, this book might make you squirm, but it will give you a great place to start.  Read it with your child. Any questions might come up naturally as you read or perhaps later.  When they do, at least all the bases are covered.

For those of you who aren't so inclined to have the talk (now or ever), experts will tell you that kids are exposed to sexuality much earlier than you would hope...and you should keep in mind that a child's mind is like a sponge.  Any information (or misinformation) they hear will soak right up.  If they hear it from others, information you provide afterwards will only fill in the space that is left.  What makes the biggest impression is what they hear first, so don't you want that to be correct information from you?

Okay.  I'm done now.  Go have a glass of water, and allow your cheeks to return to their normal colour.    We don't have to talk about this again until puberty (luckily, there is a book about that too!).

*For those of you who are curious, I doubt anything substantial from our first sex talks with our daughter really sunk in.  She was interested at the time and wanted to read the book again and again (which we did).  There were a few awkward weeks when she was happy to factually point out that the pregnant lady's husband has a penis, etc., but then it passed, as have so many other topics of keen interest in her life thus far.  She is 7 now, and I know we need to have the talk again sometime soon, given that she is better prepared to understand it.  However, the topic has been broached and it was fully okay to discuss with us; that's the most important point I wanted her to take away.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fun with frosting

cupcakes with coloured stars

This weekend, I baked an excessively complex recipe for double chocolate cupcakes (from the Miette cookbook).  You know the kind of recipe that requires you to separately prepare ingredients into 5 bowls and gradually add bits of each into the running KitchenAid (and don't even dare attempt it without a KitchenAid, lest ye be deemed unworthy)?  I had to know what all the fuss was about.  Well, it turns out that recipe is pretty darned fantastic (alas!).  The batter was like chocolate pudding, and the!

When you have such fabulous cupcakes as these, the frosting is not overly important (not that kids believe this).  I just made up a basic American buttercream (butter and powdered sugar) and piped it on top.  Of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone.  I dripped 3 different colours of liquid food colouring down different sides of the piping bag before filling it with the frosting.

  multi-coloured buttercream

The result, when swirled, was fairly weird, but it looked awesome when just piped into stars.

cupcake fun

Wouldn't you know the kids sulk about having to eat the plain white ones I made first?  Don't make that mistake at home.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Glassblowing date

Planning gifts for Hubby is often a challenge, because he is simply not a stuff guy.  He likes experiences.  I wracked my brain trying to come up with the best idea for his birthday this year until I remembered a mom friend at school saying she had taken her kids to a glassblowing studio at Christmas to make ornaments.  I contacted Gallery G Glass in Pittsburgh, and Gary offers a "date night" for two, which includes a private session in the studio making paperweights, ornaments and drinking glasses in the colours of your choice.  So fun!

smoothing the outside

his drinking glass in progress

"the glory hole"

Gary and his wife Erica are awesome!  The studio is closed on Sunday, but they let us come in anyway since that was the only day we could do it.  We had such great fun!  Once our projects are cool enough, I'll go pick them up and we will have three objects each to keep and use.  I love the thought of sipping cool drinks from these glasses we made ourselves (yes, with a lot of help, but still), remembering this birthday and the fantastic date we enjoyed in Pittsburgh.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter weather

snow pattern on the back table

Another winter storm.
Another day of snow.
Another afternoon of scraping the driveway.
Thankfully, it was pure powder.  Clearing the driveway was pretty easy, and it gave me time in the fresh air to appreciate the upturn from the Arctic temperatures we were having the past few days to the more normal freezing temps.  No one warned me that winter in Pennsylvania would be preparation for Canada!


woodpecker reach

On the beautiful winter days (like today), I can appreciate this gift, this season that will make me appreciate the spring all the more when it arrives.
The gently falling flakes of snow.
The sun that comes out after a day of grey and lights up the world a dazzling bright.
I plopped down and made a snow angel in the front yard, just for the joy of it.
I took the time to fill the bird feeders.  The birds seem so grateful, having singing parties as they enjoy the feast.  Dressed in red, our resident cardinal pair invited three friends to join, and then we spotted an extra flash when the woodpecker arrived to take his share.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How I roll

Friends, please allow me to introduce to you my beloved bicycle.


I roll on a Dutch omafiets (that's Dutch for "grandma bicycle").  I used to roll a mama bike (moederfiets) which had extra-long wrap-around handlebars to accommodate a baby seat up front, but we outgrew that one.  Now, up front I have The Largest Bike Basket Known To Man, which I love.  I  can fit three big bags of groceries in there or, more typically, my daughter's backpack and all our assorted paraphernalia (rain pants, ponchos, water bottle, etc.).  We cycle to school nearly every day.

Yes, in the freezing cold.
Yes, even in the snow, as long as the roads are clear of ice and slush.
No, you aren't the first person to question my sanity.

We only live a mile or so from her school, so it seems obvious to us to cycle.  In fact, walkability and cycle-bility (my own word) was one of the big reasons we chose this town when we moved to Pittsburgh.  We prefer fresh air to the car.  And you know what?  My daughters love it!  There were a few times when the weather first turned cold when my big girl asked for the car, but now she prefers the bike as much as I do.  She cycles her own (without training wheels!) and my little one rides on the back seat of mine (it's a Dutch bobike seat that can hold a kid up to 75 pounds).

I love my bike.
It makes me happy.
It's how I roll.


Monday, January 21, 2013


After a long, lazy morning of light, gently drifting snowflakes, the snow suddenly intensified to this:

this afternoon's heavy snow

Then, after an hour or two, the intensity eased and gave way to this:

snow blowing in the wind

So we could observe this:

cardinal in flight

As I put the kids to work* like this:

clearing the drive

And speaking of kids:

elf friends

Remember my obsession with the elf hats?  How cute are these girls?!  Look at this and tell me you wouldn't have been obsessed too.

*Actually, the kidlets grabbed hold of the shovels themselves. They pushed great swaths of snow into the street, leaving the driveway with very interesting designs, before they moved on to playtime, guaranteeing that I would follow behind them with driveway/sidewalk shoveling and then salting, making me look very good and on-top-of-things when our friend's daddy came to collect her an hour later.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Glitter in progress

With the Muses parade less than a month away, I am woefully behind on glittering shoes (as in, I hadn't started yet!).  I was starting to have bad dreams in which I showed up late for the parade, without my costume, without any glittered shoes, on the wrong day...trauma!

What am I talking about?  The Krewe of Muses, a New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe (club) with the most popular parade for several years running!  The first part of this blog name is "a muse", because I am a member of the Krewe of Muses, made up of the most fabulous, diverse group of women in New Orleans and elsewhere.

  Muses 2007

I joined Muses when we lived in New Orleans and experienced my first parade as a rider the following year after Katrina (2007).  That's me in the photo, looking ecstatic (because I was!).    When I signed up, I thought it would be a bucket list experience, riding in a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade.  Who gets to do that?!  I had no idea how amazing it would be, how much positive energy and thrilling excitement radiates from the crowds, or how wonderfully funny and supportive would be the women on my float.  They have stuck with me through four international moves, sending me a very heavy and expensive care package with all the goodies to make red beans and rice and other treats while I was in Holland, holding my spot without reservation despite the fact that our float itself has a waiting list because so many women want to ride with them.  I flew from Australia to ride with them again last year, and it was even more incredible that I had remembered. Now that I'm back in the States, I could not miss the opportunity to be an official rider again.  The parade rolls on February 7.  I'll be up top on float #18 on the driver's side, so make a big sign and hold it up for me so I can throw you something good!

Muses 2012

So, what's this about glitter?  Aside from all the plastic beads and toys and assorted whatnots we throw to the crowds, the most highly prized score from the Muses parade is a glittered high heeled shoe.  We can't throw them for obvious reasons, so parade goers who score a shoe are usually handed one directly and feel very chosen.  It's funny (and wonderful!) how much sheer joy is associated with getting a shoe from the parade.  But of course, before they can be given, they have to be made.  That's where this post comes in.

shoes 2012

Last night, I had two girlfriends over for wine, cheese, chocolate and glitter!  I had purchased and collected (thanks, Grandmary!) simple pairs of high heels in good condition from thrift stores (I've never paid more than $5 for a pair).  We spray-painted them gold or silver, and then the glueing and glittering could begin.

glitter shoe

Now I have glitter all over myself and my house, even in my refrigerator.  I've given it a good clean, but I think it's a lost cause, at least until Mardi Gras is over.  Keep calm and glitter on!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Big step

This morning, I sat down and fluffed out one of my dreams on paper.  It felt so "right" that I took it a step further and committed to it: I told someone about it.  That might not seem like such a big thing to you, but for me, it was a very big step towards my dream.  I almost never do this.  I don't even like to tell my husband about my dreams most of the time (though he knows this one very well).  It's like I'm afraid acknowledging it will jinx it somehow, but today, I wanted the accountability...and have to admit that it still feels very right, like I'm finally on the right track.  Let us hope so.  Either way, it is a brilliant start to the weekend, if not the whole year.

elf up a tree

Wishing you a weekend of good fun, perhaps taking bold new steps of your own!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Oliver Jeffers books and video

Our family loves Oliver Jeffers' books, especially the books about the boy and his penguin (Lost and Found, Up and Down, The Way Back Home and How to Catch a Star).  After watching this video, I think I may enjoy work by this author even more (though I may have been influenced by his humour and his Irish accent, but who is keeping track of such things?).

Oliver Jeffers Author Film 2013 from Oliver Jeffers on Vimeo.

If Oliver Jeffers is unknown to you, I recommend starting with Lost and Found. It is where we started, and we love it to this day.

Blogging identity crisis epidemic

No sooner do I post my uncertainty about blogging than do I read not one but three blogs where other women are doing the same.  New year, new thinking.

Decision: Go for it...but keep it simple.

keep the story simple

I like the idea of getting back to "slow blogging" for no purpose other than my own.  Perhaps what has given me the most pause recently is the change in the pace of blogging.  When I started years ago, it was new and everyone was testing it out.  Most people were just playing around or (like me) using it to keep family and friends updated.  Then, some people began to experience wild success stories, landing book deals and raking in enough income to keep both parents at home...and suddenly blogging was a question of brand building and social media engagement and and and...  Anything less felt like failure somehow.  Blah.

I mean, seriously: do I really want a book deal?
Well, actually...yes please.  I would love a book deal, thank you very much.
But approaching every visit to the computer to blog while thinking about building a brand that would entice a publishing house to give me an offer is just enough to allow my perfectionist self to overanalyze and paralyze any attempt at writing, to feel exhausted and overwhelmed (just like how you feel after reading this sentence)...and remove all fun.  Who wants that?

Slow blogging.
Inspired blogging.
Enjoyment and engagement at a reasonable pace.
Those all seem like very good things to me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

To blog or not to blog

While I was sickest with the worst of the fever days, I experienced what felt like very clear thinking.  Actually, Hubby did too, though Hubby said it was more akin to the kind of clarity people describe when associated with psychotropic drugs (in his, he was pondering vastly complex problems and seriously considering which Playmobil figures could best solve them. ahem.).  Mine may or may not have been quite that crazy, but one of my most clear thoughts was to stop blogging here.  Just stop, never to post again.
Of course, I've already violated that, so I'm going to work through it instead.

It seemed obvious to stop because this space isn't particularly special, not even to me.  I record and share some things, but not all things and not important or personal things.  When I look at this blog through open eyes, I don't see anything to make it particularly me or to make it stand out from the thousands of other blogs out there, which is a real shame.  It's a shame because I love writing and I have a lot to say...and because I'm just not saying it.  Maybe I'm too afraid of the exposure and the current trend toward instant snarkiness afforded by blog comment sections and email, though I don't believe that's the whole reason.

In truth, I'm a bit unmoored.  I bought a domain name ages ago and wrote out a detailed plan for posts there that honestly I still love.  But I'm not using it.

When I was living overseas, I felt more like myself than I do when I'm back in the States.  I have never lived anywhere a complete four years in my life.  When I was an American abroad, I have found that  most people just wanted to know whether or not I could behave myself properly in their country, and then they just let me be who I am.  I'm American, I can blend...end of story.  No one expects me to know, follow and accept every little social norm and nicety, because they know I'm from somewhere else.  Not so in the States.  I'm American, I'm in just what the heck is wrong with me anyway?  I have yet to find my niche place, because everywhere I go, I'm not from there.

To add to the challenge, I have been outside the US nearly the whole time I've had children.  Lots of times, I just don't know how things are done.  I don't know how many times after this move I had to try to explain to people that yes, I'm American but I've never had kids in the States before...not that this explanation helps, because most people seemed to recoil at that.  Why on Earth not?  What's wrong with you?  Or worse: what do you think is wrong with us?  Having an open world view seems threatening somehow.  I have been asked directly just why I hate America so much, which is so not connected to my reality at all.

So bringing this back to the original topic...
This blog is "a muse abroad"...but I'm not abroad.
My domain name is from that perspective too...but I'm here, not there.
I am still me, but I'm somehow not me or not supposed to be me or something like that.
Which is why it seemed obvious to just stop blogging.

I'm not the only person experiencing these things.
And one of my favorite reasons for reading blogs is that connection with people and their experiences as they speak to me as would a friend.  I want to do that.
I used to do that.
I miss doing that.
So, to blog or not to blog?
Not sure what the answer is to that question.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Feeling better!

got her!

Oh, so much better!  I like to let my body work through the yuck on its own, but when I do need antibiotics, I so appreciate the efficacy of antibiotics.  Whew.
(and no, this isn't Pennsylvania in January; it is New Orleans in January.  wistful sigh...)

I feel I'm coming back to myself after weeks of not.  Since the entire holiday season was lost to the yuck, I feel the clutter slowly clearing from my foggy brain and the New Year energy starting to kick in, albeit a couple of weeks late.  I think traditional new year goal setting and reflection may be in the works, and that could mean some exciting new projects ahead.  First up, though, will be de-germing the house...

What's on your list?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Under the weather

I'm sick.
Our family spent the entire school holiday sick, and now I'm still sick (or sick again, which is probably more accurate).
This morning, I may or may not have called the doctor and cried on her voicemail when she still was out of office close to noon...because I wanted to come in that badly.
She did greet me with a hug when I went in at 12:30, because I was such a sad case.  She also gave me meds, instruction to rest and a side order of "call Hubby and tell him you need him to come home sooner than later".  Bless her.
Hubby did come home sooner than later, ordered pizza for dinner and completely took over.  Bless him.
Which is great, because this morning while I was calling the doctor crying, sewage was backing up into the basement (again) and I spent the only hours both girls were at school this afternoon working with the plumber.  Glub-glub-burbling-noises are not good noises when made by sewage bubbling up into your house.
But those noises do buy serious pity points with a friend who then offers to look after your littles for an hour after school so you can take that much needed and recently prescribed nap in the interim before Hubby comes home.  Bless her.

What a day.  Full of so very many good things that followed some bad things.  Better to end with the good, I say.
Wishing you a healthy start to your week!