Sunday, May 31, 2009

Smacksy Sunday Link: The Timer

We limit the TV watching time for our son Bob to no more than an hour a day. This was cause for some rough negotiations with the guy who “needed” to watch just a few more minutes of The Wiggles/Yo Gabba Gabba/Barney/Teletubbies/Thomas the Tank Engine/Toot and Puddle/Rev. Al Green Performing Live (Tivo’d) on the Grammy’s .

After months of tears and pleading (Bob), and threats and whining (me), I tried a new tactic that has been working beautifully. My new BFF: The Timer. When Bob sits down to watch a show, we set our kitchen timer for 20 minutes and when the bell rings, it’s time to turn the TV off. For some reason this seems reasonable to Bob and he will alert us that, “It ringed!” and move on to another activity. The 20 minute time frame allows for 2 more TV viewings at other times in the day but mostly, we never get to them.

After employing our new timer method for over a month now, it’s still holding up. Since then, we have only had cause to buy one new timer after the old one mysteriously ended up in the toilet.

I’m finding out that the timer idea is nothing new, just new to me. I found this post on It has some great ideas using the timer for maximizing productivity and staying focused and other things you shouldn’t be worrying about until after the weekend.

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Smacksy Saturday Photo: Beach Day

There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. - Mark Twain

Friday, May 29, 2009

Potty Training Day 10: A One Act

It's day 10 and counting. Bob’s got the pee pee in the potty thing down. He lets us know when he’s got to go. He occasionally checks in to let us know when he doesn’t have to go, just to keep us in the pee pee loop. He will tell people behind us in line at Von's, "I'm dry!" He has even conquered his fear of public restrooms. (We’re still working on mine.) Lots of progress in the pees department, yet poops in the potty, are proving to be more elusive.

DAY 10
(4:15 PM. BOB and our dog DAISY are playing in the backyard. I enter the backyard from the house.)

Hi guys. What are you doing?

(Running to greet ME)
Mama! I had a poo poo outside!

You did? Oh no. Where did you do that?

(points to a small smear on the concrete)

There's nothing there. Where's your poo poo?

It's in Daisy's tummy!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Weight of My World

Back in the fall, when we moved into the house we are currently renting, we were told that the garage was unavailable. Our landlord explained that she had inherited the house when her grandmother died some years before. At that time, in order to get the house cleaned out and ready to rent, she had haphazardly jammed all of grandma’s belongings into the garage and locked the door. She explained that until recently, the thought of opening it up and going through all of the stuff had been too emotional to deal with. After getting to know us, she felt comfortable enough to give us the key to the garage and told us we could move things around to make extra space and use whatever room we could find for our own storage.

My friends will tell you that part of my particular brand of crazy includes an organizing jones. My spices are alphabetized. Shirts hang in my closet according to color and sleeve length. My P-touch label maker is my co-pilot and Australian super-organizer Peter Walsh is my hero. I adore the shows with the clutter-y folks and their mountains of crap getting tidied into submission.

I had our storage bins labeled, categorized and lined up in the driveway ready for their new home. I was up to the task of granny’s garage. The challenge was that because this was not my stuff, I would not be making more room by throwing anything away, I would merely be rearranging the hills and heaps. The easier part was that because I had no emotional attachment to any of these things, I anticipated a faster job with no time wasted on the sentimental journeys that can slow down a clean up of one’s own.

The little one-car garage was packed. Nothing was put anywhere specific, just piles sitting on piles. Her purse sat on a brown recliner as if she had just set it down. Gas bills and perfume bottles and the dinner menu from a 1973 Caribbean cruise were stuffed together in a grocery bag. I marveled over a large collection of used McDonald’s coffee stirrers bound together by rubber bands. I realized that I had not been prepared for the emotional exhaustion that would come from getting to know someone through the lifetime of objects collected and left behind.

Once I finally finished pulling everything out, I did the basics; grouped like items together, sorted, boxed, and labeled. When the project was over, the transformation was pretty remarkable. I looked at the now empty half of the garage, ready to be filled with our family's things. I was feeling the weight of too many belongings. I thought of my own stuff and what it said about me and what I value. I considered the person who might be left to sort through the possessions I leave behind. I wondered if holding on to less might free up the energy to spend time building a legacy of something more. I opened one of my bins and started sifting through.



Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All the Beasts of the Field

I am absolutely not immune to the anxious, worried, first time parent thing. By “not immune” I mean I am an anxious, worried, first time parent. I frequently (constantly) check the developmental charts to determine how our son measures up. I understand that every child develops at his own rate and that average ages for developmental milestones vary from kid to kid but I like to know where he’s landing within the spectrum. I also know that I am a little insane in this area and resisted the urge to call the pediatrician when Bob still hadn’t mastered the use of a straw at 28 months. Like everything else, it happened. Eventually. When he was ready.

Bob is a sweet, smart, happy, guy so it took some real effort to find something to be concerned about. Last summer, I decided to start worrying about what I perceived as Bob’s lack of imagination. Bob enjoys facts. He likes to know the names of things. “What is that building called? What is that truck called? “What is that bird called?”

At a little over 2 years old, he went about systematically memorizing the names of the continents, the planets, the streets between the market and our house, the 7 wonders of the ancient world and, the countries on the globe. (Djibouti is his favorite. It’s fun to say Djibouti.)

As crazy advanced as Bob’s memory was, I worried that he did not seem capable of make-believe. I became somewhat (completely) fixated on the fact that he was not interested in naming his stuffed animals, but rather wanted to know their “real” names. When I told him that they did not have names yet and that he could name them anything he wanted, he stared at me exasperated, “No mama. What are they called?”

He was unwilling to create names for his toys and we weren't going to do it for him so, by default, they were known as black dog, small bunny, big bunny and the like. He was suspicious of me and annoyed that I wouldn’t just tell him the big sheep’s real name.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year. My mom received a small, plush, white pony from her bank as a gift for opening a new account. My mom gave the pony to Bob who loved it immediately and carried it through the house, showing the pony around. That evening while tucking Bob in for the night, he held up his new friend and said, “Say goodnight to Wallace.”

"Kenny" and "Kenny's Dad"





"Willy" (Jeff thinks Bob's saying "Lilly")


"Uncle Thomas"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Less Than Inbox Zero

A few weeks ago, I watched the Youtube of a Google Tech Talk given by Merlin Mann, the creator of the Inbox Zero concept. Merlin is a productivity guru and creator of the 43 folders website. First, I’ll note that Merlin looks so much like the Verizon Can-You-Hear-Me-Now-Guy that I found it distracting, yet oddly comforting.

After watching Merlin’s 53 minute power point presentation, I realized that I am in the market for a productivity guru about now. I would imagine that the first thing my guru might mention is that I have no business spending 53 minutes watching a Youtube video of anything. He then might reference something about the laundry that’s been sitting in our dryer for 3 days and if he was really a dick, might ask me to speculate on the last time I’d washed my hair.

My biggest productivity challenge at the moment is getting the necessary stuff checked off my to-do list so that I can have more time for the truly important things. Today’s truly important things alternate between assisting in the naming of all the roly-poly bugs in the driveway and reading aloud, the book of the week at our place, All About Scabs. That is the good stuff that I want more of. During this time that I am fortunate enough to get to spend all day, everyday with my kid and he wants (wants and prefers!) to spend time with me, I want to take advantage of it. I am always looking for tools to streamline the flow of the stuff-I-gotta to make more room for the stuff-I-wanna. This is where we get back to Merlin’s Inbox Zero idea.

The Inbox Zero concept directs that each time you check email, don’t merely check, but act on the email, whether that means, answering, archiving or deleting. Convert each email to action and process to zero each time.

For the past month I have been slowly working to clear out my gmail inbox of the 4,842 emails that have been multiplying there since the great email address change of 2005. As I processed all of the old stuff, I also processed the new stuff to zero as it came in. A few days ago, I reached my Inbox Zero goal. It's taking some time to get used to the look of a naked inbox but I'm liking it. It is making the sometimes overwhelming e-mail situation feel manageable.

I first learned about Inbox Zero on, an organizing/decluttering blog that I am fond of. Matt at Unclutterer points out that having an email inbox filled with useless emails that you are saving out of laziness, or just-in-caseness is as much of a hindrance to productivity as clutter anywhere else in your life.

These same principles can apply to many other things. My next goal is Paper Zero, which uses similar actions applied to mail and paperwork. That sounds really hard. I will have to work up to that.

Merlin has some other heretical suggestions to maximize efficiency when working:
Do not keep your email window open.
Close your email window while working and only check mail once an hour.
These ideas are too advanced for me right now. I am attached to my distracting little moments of checking email every few minutes. (I like to call these “breaks”.) This pays off big in the areas of procrastination, time-sucking, and failure to complete tasks. (All listed on my business card.)

Yes, of course I would be more productive if I closed down my windows/tabs for email and for Facebook, Twitter, TMZ, CNN, Mint, Pandora, and my home page with 12 RSS feeds, but I can not yet imagine that world. (Did I mention that there’s this really cute Japanese anime kitty screensaver on my home page and she changes tasks throughout the day? Look! She’s eating watermelon!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

3 New-ish Things That Make My Life Easier

There are 3 little things at the top of the list of stuff that has recently changed my life for the oh-so-much better. Little things. Really small, really good things.

*Spoiler Alert: I will be waxing euphoric about kitty litter. For real.

There’s a commercial where a guest walks into a woman’s home, sniffs and says, “Oh, I didn’t know you had cats.” I have a fear of that little scene being played out at our house.

The “Oh, I didn’t know you have a cat” smell at our place would aromatically conflict with the “Oh, I didn’t know you have a dog” smell or the “Oh, I didn’t know you have a kid who occasionally pees on the rug” smell, of which we are all so proud. Of the many nasty smells that can waft through a house, cat box smells are among the gaggiest to me. I bow before one of my favorite inventions of this century: Cat Litter Crystals. Any brand of crystal style cat litter will do, but the cheapest ones I’ve found are at Trader Joe’s. One need only change the littler once (Once!) a month (A month!) and there is no smell. Bless you crystals. If you think this isn't a big deal, then you are simply wrong.

Next up, the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. They really are magic. Leave a 3-year-old-boy alone for two minutes with a box of crayons/cup of coffee/used diaper and your walls will resemble a crime scene. The Eraser makes all the bad stuff go away. I don’t know how they work and I don’t care. I just love them with a white, hot, blinding devotion. The plain wrap store brand types are not as good. The new Febreze scented ones do not seem to work as well either and they leave your place smelling like a strip club. (Yeah, pretend you don’t know what I mean.) For best results, go Eraser classic.

Number 3 on the list is my current favorite edible exception to the “good, fast, cheap – pick any two” rule. My friend Lisa first told me about this recipe from Giada De Laurentis’s cookbook, Every Day Italian. This dish is simple and inexpensive. A dish that includes a can of tuna among its ingredients has no business being this good.

I use whatever type of whole wheat pasta we have in the house and canned Tongol in water instead of the albacore tuna in oil (less mercury, so they say). The lemon peel is key. (Sans lemon peel there can be a whiff of Fancy Feast about it all.) Giada’s original take on this also includes an optional recipe for making your own marinara sauce, but that would eliminate the easiness part and who needs that?

Fusilli with Tuna and Tomato Sauce
* 1 pound fusilli
* 1 (26-ounce) jar marinara sauce
* 2 (6-ounces each) cans albacore tuna packed in oil, drained
* 1 tablespoon drained capers
* 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the tomato sauce, tuna, capers, and lemon peel in a heavy large skillet. Using a fork, break the tuna into chunks. Simmer to blend the flavors, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Toss the pasta with enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Stir in the parsley and serve.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Smacksy Sunday Link: Ballon Hats

Bob turned 3 earlier this month. For his birthday, we had a house full of pre-schoolers over for pizza, cupcakes, and brilliant balloon hats.
(We're bold like that.)

Addi Somekh is a balloon genius and a really nice guy. His site has some beautiful photos and describes some of the fascinating balloon hat projects he's working on.

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Smacksy Saturday Photo: First Summer Weekend

A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawnmower’s broken. – James Dent

Friday, May 22, 2009

Potty Training Day 3: A One-Act

The potty training continues.

8 successes. 12 messes.

5 pots of coffee. 16 Advils.

(BOB runs from his bedroom into the living room.)

Mama! Mama!

Yes Bob?

There is a poo poo on my floor.
…And it smells like a faht.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Potty Training Day 2: A One-Act

Day 2 of potty training.

The training is working – on me. I am being trained to ask, “Are your pants dry? Are you dry? Are you still dry? Good for you for being dry. Yay! You’re dry! How about now? Are you dry?”

I hate the sound of my own voice.

(11:45am. BOB is standing in the living room, playing quietly.)

Are your underpants dry, buddy?


Do you need to go pee pee?

(Beat. Sound of urine hitting the floor.)


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Potty Training Day 1: A One Act

Bob must be potty-trained in order to start pre-school in September. He has no interest in the potty and as the pages rip from the calendar, I worry. Online, I find an e-book titled, How to Potty Train Your Child in 3 Days. $17.00. Money back guarantee. Yeah, I know. But I'm desperate.

Here we go.

Together, Bob and I throw all of the remaining diapers in the garbage. He puts on his new big boy underpants. We are to role play using the potty over and over until the magic actually happens in the potty. We must then celebrate, throw a parade, call to report the event to Bob's inner circle (daddy, grandmas, aunties), and then role play some more. We are to do this all day. For three days. In a row. Without leaving the house.

So very desperate.

(10:30am. BOB is sitting on his potty.)

Are you going pee pee?

I want to touch your eye.

Are you going?

(Poking ME in the eye repeatedly)
It’s squishy squashy.

Did you pee pee?

Let’s have candy!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Turning Green-ish: 15 Green Habits and How We Sort of Do Them

I enjoy the mother earth. I know she’s on hard times. The warming, the extincting, the carbon footprints, the whole deal. I super get it. I am willing to help a gal out. I’ve been reading lots of green lists lately and there is an overwhelming amount of information on the subject out there. The intimidating number of tips for greening it up at is enough to make me give up the whole thing and buy a Hummer. Finding a green starting place for two grown-ups, a toddler, and 2 animals is taking some time. The following habits are the ones I see around most frequently. There are definitely some adjustments to be made here at the Rosen-b pad and we’re trying to turn it around with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm.

Turn down the hot water heater to 120°F. Easy one. Showers at our house are always rushed and tepid. The days of the long, hot, relaxing shower went away when we turned down the hot water heater for baby safety reasons and cut showers short for not-enough-hours-in-the-day-too-exhausted-for-the–luxury-of-cleanliness-please-God-just-one-hour-of-uninterrupted-sleep reasons. Plus, when you are extremely sleep deprived, water hitting your skin sort of hurts.

Grow a vegetable garden. We tried planting radishes because I heard they were easy, quick growers. Turns out, this is true. Oversight: none of us really like radishes. We have a cherry tomato plant and some herbs. We’ve got some zucchini in the side yard that should be enveloping the entire house by August. This may not qualify as gardening. Right now, it just seems like watering.

When it's yellow, let it mellow. The big people here have this one down but when you’re a 3 year-old guy and you are potty training, flushing is the pay-off. The whole family will “let it mellow” once our son Bob is burning through less than 4 pairs of Elmo big boy underpants per day. Until then, flushing is the fun part.

Use cloth napkins instead of paper. We do this many nights of the week but could step it up. One recent evening, we were eating outside on the patio with cloth napkins, yet using paper plates. I will file that little gem in the category of needing to think it through more.

Keep the cell charger unplugged when not cell charging. My new cell phone inexplicably came with Usher’s “Love In This Club” as a ring tone. I change it, it changes back. It also holds a full charge for a total of 8 minutes. I can vow to keep it unplugged from the charger only during the time that I am beating it against the kitchen counter for cutting off another call. Love not in this club ya’ll.

Buy local and/or organic. The organic thing can be spendy but the stuff that’s in season is usually a little easier on the wallet. We go to a sweet little farmer’s market by our house on Thursday evenings. I buy a couple of vegetables and some berries out of peer pressure but I am really there for the kettle korn. I’ve heard that our kettle korn guy has questionable politics, and I still can’t quit him. Damn him and his cauldron.

Use reusable shopping bags. We have a bunch of these that we bought at Trader Joe’s. It feels awkward to use the Trader Joe’s bags at other markets but to get another set of bags just to use at Von’s is ridiculous. That the issue of reusable bag branding loyalty is taking up any real estate in my brain is even more ridiculous. Pray for me.

Before buying anything new first check Craig’s List and Freecycle. We do this because we are cheap, not because we are green, but let’s pretend.

Turn off your computer completely at night. I am doing this now, although it makes me the teensiest bit queasy. Part of me knows I don’t back up my files enough. (Unless “never” is suddenly enough.) Another part of me knows that sometime in the near future, I will go to turn on this little Powerbook relic, and it’s just going to flip me the bird.

Line dry your laundry. Call me a baby, but I don’t like the sandpaper feel of air-dried towels. My showers suck enough (short, tepid, see above) without the loofah as towel treatment. I have been trying another thing I read about which is a nice laundry hack. Use a dryer sheet once. Use another dryer sheet once for another load. Then use those two old sheets together instead of a new one for the third load. These two aging sheets work as well as one new one. Delightful. Is my clever dryer sheet math saving the planet? Probably not. Again, this is something I do because I am cheap, not because I am green. However, because I am now keeping score, I will call it green. So very, very green am I.

Eat less meat. We aren’t that meat-y anyway so designating Meatless Monday into the calendar was pretty easy. We don’t get into the details with our son since he still doesn’t quite understand where meat comes from and believes that beef comes from a “beef tree”. (His idea.) We do not yet have the heart to tell him otherwise. Little Bob is an extreme animal lover and we are pretty sure that once he puts the meat = creatures thing together he will hate us and we will all be forced into vegetarianism. Yes, omitting the truth is lying, but we are desperately clinging to our bacon while we still can.

Switch to Shade Grown coffee with a Fair Trade label. We have been getting the Shade Grown coffee from Trader’s for awhile now because if you grind it on the espresso setting it tastes almost as good as the expensive French Roast stuff that we really like. Again – did it to save a few bucks and unknowingly added to the greenness.

Use the Diva Cup for your monthly cycles. Que es la Diva Cup? Googled it. Read about it. Gagged a little. If you are not familiar with this device, accept the brief explanation that it is a little re-usable deal that takes the place of other products during your lady time. Yeah… no. If you are a Diva Cup lover, God love you. You are a better woman than I.

Buy reusable water bottles. We did this. Didn’t take long before all of ours tasted like coffee, even after repeated washing. Need to get some bottles designated for water only. Difficult since every vessel in our home is used as a vehicle for getting more coffee into the grown-ups.

Pay bills online with paperless billing. I’m usually low on stamps. I like activities that can be accomplished in my pajamas. Paying bills online was made for a go getter like me. For even more help, I love Mint is an easy online accounts and budgeting manager. After the initial 20 minute time investment to enter accounts information (my husband’s initial 20 minute time investment), this thing will chart expenses and remind you when to pay your bills. A gentle Mint reminder is so much nicer than the angry pink past due notice and the interrupted-phone-service-due-to-unpaid-bill type of reminder lacks subtlety and is best left behind in our twenties.

My husband Jeff drives a hybrid. I drive an aging station wagon. We have a front loading high efficiency washing machine. We have a low efficiency refrigerator from the Nixon era. We are switching over to those spiral-y light bulbs. We are switching over to those spiral-y light bulbs except when they don’t really fit in certain lamps and look weird. With greening, as like most things, there is oh so much room for improvement over here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Curious George: SVU

Old-school fairy tales are terrifying. A cannibal crone has an appetite for children. A mean lady is trying to kill the nice princess. All of the moms die and are replaced by evil stepmothers. Since our son Bob is just 3 years-old, we are still trying to avoid these types of plotlines. Enter, Curious George. Bob has a deep affection for this little monkey. George is sweet and curious and likes to get into mischief, all of which I believe Bob identifies with on a personal level. George takes over a pancake breakfast. So cute! George accidentally let the baby bunny out of her cage. Adorable!

On a recent trip to the library, we checked out some vintage George books (circa late 1960s) and we were surprised with the darker, tragedy laden, C.G. experience.

Curious George Goes to the Dentist introduces the concept of going to the dentist as a frightening journey filled with toothaches, shots, and crying. Lots of crying. We also discover that nurses are young and pretty. (Dear Penthouse Forum…)

Reading Curious George Learns the Alphabet, we discover:

“Alligators will eat you if you don’t watch out.” (Don't worry honey, we don’t live in Florida.)

“Bees might sting, and that would be bad.” (Ouch!)

“Crabs can be funny, but they can also pinch you.” (Really, ouch.)

“Dinosaurs have all died out.” (Ready to explain death to a pre-schooler?)

“Never fool the fire department, or you go to jail, and that’s not fun.” (Time to explain the prison system.)

“A goldfish lives in a glass bowl and looks gay.” (And now, a lesson about homonyms.)

“The lucky lion is having a leg of lamb for lunch.” (Not so lucky for the sweet baby lamb.)

“Two roosters will start a rumpus. They really can get rough”. (Yay! Cock fighting!)

In Curious George Goes to the Hospital, George swallows a puzzle piece and is admitted into the children's ward at the hospital. He is made to drink sweet, thick barium before his x-ray, meets a boy named Dave who is having a painful blood transfusion and a girl named Betsy who doesn’t smile. When George’s friend the man in the big yellow hat goes home, “George lays in bed and cries himself to sleep.”

Sweet dreams everyone.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shiny Objects

Much of my life is an overwhelming in-box of messages informing me on how it should be done and then, done better. The Oprah and The Orman, Dr. Sears, Dr. Gupta, Dr. Phil, The NYT, The WSJ, The NPR, The E! Network and The Dalai Lama all jockey for position. I am inundated with advice and next best things for parenting, living through the recession, going green, eating organic, creating, recreating, relationships, career, spirituality, must-read books, must-see movies, I-pod playlists, and how to get Michelle Obama’s well toned arms. This information overload sends me tip-toeing back to my bed to curl into a ball for the tiniest of 2 week naps. Not much is gonna get done that way. I need to think about it all, but just a little.

Smacksy is my attempt to take on the distractions, one at a time. I have long held the belief, that balance in life isn’t something that can fit into a 24-hour period. (This is how I continue to rationalize my apparent inability to meditate and floss on the same day.) At best, I am shooting for a well-balanced week, or more likely, a trying really, really hard couple of months. I am weighing my options.

Plus, the baby Jesus himself will tell you that what the world needs now is another blog. I’m just doing God’s work everybody.