weekday dining

Along with everything else that has need modification and tweaking with this life transition, I have had to re-examine dinner as well. I'm a busy Mom who could very well use all the new responsibilities on my plate to give in to chicken nuggets and tots, but I don't like to. Steve always tells me he would be happy with chicken, rice and veggies every single night. For the record, he would actually be okay with boiled chicken, BARF. We DO have chicken, veggies and rice at least once a week, but I really pride myself on the variety of good food I present to my family each night. So I've had to dig deeper into my bag of dinner tricks.

We fancy up chicken tacos with all the fixings, we do a slow cooker meal, I use pre-made veggie packs from Whole Foods to make chicken stir fry. My latest and greatest find is the Lemon Pepper Pappardelle from Trader Joe's. I cook it in a large stock pot with enough salt to make it "salty as the sea" a la Mario Batalli, mix it with a bit of olive oil and toss in a box of frozen Green Giant Frozen Green Beans with Almonds. I eat or toss the almonds while I'm cooking. I serve it with an amazing salad and everyone wants seconds. I had to start buying TWO bags of this $1.99 delight at Trader's just to ensure I get a second plate. My only word of warning, serve it immediately, otherwise the pasta might get sticky.

In order to make my life even more streamlined, I'll be posting some of my new stand bys over on mcchow for my own reference, but why shouldn't YOU benefit from my streamlining too? Consider making one of these next week, I promise you won't be disappointed, your family will be well fed, and you will feel like a superstar.

Sesame Garlic Green Beans

Lemon Parsley Fish Cakes

Citrus Butter Salad

baggage

Growing up, I was carted around in a pristine vehicle. If you have had the pleasure of meeting Granda/my father, this won't surprise you. The seats were always vacuumed, the floors had nary a wrapper, goldfish cracker, nor torn board book. If we were traveling far, we brought pillows and amusements, but they never stayed in the car long term. Looking back, I cannot recall if we were allowed to eat in the car? My instincts say no, at least not when we were children. I know we utilized the cup holders in later years, probably when we were capable of not spilling. This was how they avoided things like the "shamrock shake incident" of two weeks ago. A happy Connor guzzled away on his McCafe' beverage, tilting it ever back until, thanks to that new snazzy lid, the green goodness was spilled down his chin and onto his shirt, jacket, car seat, and yeah. It was a saint patty's day disaster, on the drive home from school. As two year olds, I'm sure my brother and I were never presented with a situation that might result in this mess. Granda would not have that. For years the only item in the car not directly related to driving or car care (the rogue ice scraper was likely a winter eye sore to him) was a lone baseball hat, kept in the back window or in the middle of the back seat. Hats rotated through; golf hats, northeastern hats, Boston college hats. He made his allegiances known. With the exception of that hat, you could step into that car and if you did not know him and his attention to detail, you might think he had just driven it off the showroom floor. The car of my youth in comparison to the car of my present, well, that difference amazes me on a daily basis. Even Steve scorns the trash, scraps of paper, rogue pens, and seemingly meaningless things left in the car. I drive for a living, my rolling office on the highway. It isn't dirty, I vacuum and wash it regularly, but the sheer magnitude of stuff residing in that small space is alarming. Dad, brace yourself, this next part might be hard to get through. I took inventory of my car the other day because the volume of stuff is starting to get to me. I keep justifying, well, I might need that, I can't possibly get rid if that booklet. Does that pen work? In the passenger seat pushed up against the center console are five books on "choosing hospice", two on making difficult decisions, and a binder of resource materials I got sick of carrying in my bag and relegated to the car binder. You never know when you might need applications for transportation, private pay resources, permission forms to share information for masshealth eligibility. On the floor rests a BC winter hat I had on during a snowstorm and two books on benefits for veterans that are too big to put in the binder that I haven't figured out where to put yet. In the passenger side door you'll find a bottle of hand soap, sanitizer, and a sesame street book for kids about grieving in both English and Spanish. The driver side door is full of whole foods napkins, plastic wrappers from forks, paper straws, green grocery rubber bands, and approximately 1,000 sandwich ziplocs bags from kid snacks because mommy is also known as "where I put my garbage." You will also find a nantucket nectar lemonade bottle and at least one travel mug. In the center is my command center; pens, pencils, my gps, cell charger, sirius radio remote control for when Dr. Laura says something so wrong I need to listen to it again to scream at her. Also stuffed inside the console are coupons for long overdue oil changes, scraps of paper with numbers to people I don't know, information about funeral services for patients, tragically sad lists of people to discharge from my care, and hastily written grocery lists for things like jelly beans and frozen corn. When you look over your shoulder at the back seat, please avert your eyes from the floor. It's a mess, but eating on the go is a way of life these days. The latest and greatest breakfast on the go is cinnamon life cereal, remember that? There is a blanket for each child (one soft and one silky), several books, a pair of sunglasses rests in each seat back. Most days there is a to go cup of milk beside each car seat that I forget about until I pick them up and have to exclaim, "don't drink the milk!!!" I'm often too late. I know. Lets not talk about the trunk, out of sight out of mind right? It's my office on wheels and I know where everything is, but what I wouldn't give to have a little less stuff and a little more of that could be brand new feel. It's the price I pay to have the luxury to make my own day, to drive to panera, to read the hunger games on my iPad between visits (can you even imagine this without my technology? A book, magazines, contact lists, ugh!), to stop at cvs, flyer in hand & coupons at the ready,and without a single short person with no attention span to distract me from my task. Yes, coupons. I am saving so much money with those lately.

memorable

Our new motto seem to be "when faced with adversity, brace yourself and then just embrace it."

When Steve took his new job "in town," we hypothetically discussed bringing the kids into the city once a month. It sounded like a good idea in theory and wouldn't it be wonderful to share the culture and buzz of Boston with these short people?

On Friday, we did the unthinkable. We actually followed through on our plans. I raced through my day, packed a backpack (forgot to bring diapers and had to "borrow" from school), grabbed the kids at school where they practically jumped on me with cheers for "choo choo!", and we somehow made the train to the city at 4:20pm. Two kids with huge grins when the train started moving, sharing an apple, giggling at or hiding from well meaning strangers. The conductor was kind and gave them each a special ticket. The price of this experience was a measly $5.75. They shared a coloring book, reaching behind them into a ziploc of crayons hastily tossed together by a smart mom who brought TWO of each color. The things we learn over time. Caroline's excitement waned as we approached the city dramatically tardy due to a "track issue." Thanks MBTA.

We jumped from the train, passing people headed down the platform for trains home and amid that crowd was their father. When I felt we were at a close enough distance that one of them wouldn't end up in the gap between platform and train, I released them and there on the platform at South Station two kids raced to their father like they hadn't seen him in weeks. You know what, those downtrodden commuters smiled ear to ear. It was a sweet sight.

We stopped at Daddy's new office where Connor ironically played with the "easy button" on Steve's desk. We waved to Auntie K's office across the street. We walked along the Harborwalk by way of the Boston Harbor Hotel Rotunda, enormous flag flapping in the warm breeze. The kids screamed at the boats, waved to ducks, and took it all in. Connor rode on my shoulders and I had to hold his hands because he was leaning backwards to look straight up. Hooray, they were old enough! It was going to be worth it! PHEW!

We paused often and though this city was home to us both for so long so long ago, we DID feel like tourists and that was okay. We were seeing the city for the first time through them and it was so beautiful. We had planned to walk to the North End from South Station, a lengthy walk, but doable. After a long pause outside the Aquarium to peek on the seals, we doubted the kids' abilities to make it to the North End and to potentially wait for a table as time had ticked away rapidly on our pleasant walk. While we debated what to do, Connor chased pigeons, screaming fearlessly after them with a gusto we rarely see outside of home and familiarity. We did what any sensible family would do and treated the kids to Legal Seafood across from the Aquarium. Luckily, it was family friendly and they could seat us immediately. It might have been the best lobster roll ever because I shared it there with them, literally.

Of course, the evening ended with ice cream and another visit to the seals. We debated the train or a taxi back to Steve's car, but the kids made it. One made it all the way back to the train station down the street from our house where my car sat patiently waiting. Thank goodness, Connor had been asking me since we got on the train "where car go?", and there it was. Seeing as how HE was still wide awake, he accompanied me home. It was easier to rebuckle him into a new car than try driving seperately and have his screams of "Where Mommy go???" wake his snoring sister.

Was it worth it? Yes. Will we do it again? Absolutely. The Children's Museum has $1 Friday Nights. Sounds like a good idea for a April.

sassy talk back and the baby worm

We are all getting a handle on our new normal. I have been trying hard to organize things the night before; lunches laid out, bags prepped at the door, clothes laid out for the week on Sunday night. The longer days and this amazing weather have sent the kids for a bit of a loop because they don't quite grasp that yes, we can spend more time outside and sure, we can go to the park to chase a soccer ball or watch the train go by, but no, we cannot come inside at bath time and play downstairs. I seem to only have two scramble days; Mondays and Thursdays. Today we even had time for a Connor time out.

He's been mouthy and vocal and well, assertive. I asked him to put his monkey down because we bring
"G'raffie" (yes, I know, how cute is that!?) to school and he screamed "NO!" clutching his lovey closer to his body. I explained. I negotiated. I pulled that monkey out of his grip and he clocked me and that was enough. We were a bit late for school today because someone needed a time out. It's harder with this second one discipline wise. He sasses at the most inopportune moments. He asserts himself while we are walking out the door, while I am corraling him into the car, while I try to settle the kids down to eat dinner. I keep moving, but today, I had the time. I said no. I put him into his crib for a timeout. I got all the stuff into the car, including his sister. I opened the garage door before walking back inside to retrieve him and he lost his ever living mind over the monitor. I had not even considered that he would react to the door opening. I ran up to him, he thought I was leaving him behind!

We had a little heart to heart. I asked him, "Who is in charge?" "Cah-nah." "No, mommy is in charge. You have to listen to Mommy. Who is in charge?" "Cah-nah." No, Con, Mommy is in charge." He looked genuinely defeated. He had truly believed he was in charge.

Later in the car, Caroline serenaded us all with a rousing "A Tisket, A Tasket" with her own made up words about a mommy worm and a baby worm. I chuckled to myself mostly because I used to make songs up to like this (you know, like last week). I turned around to check on Connor and found him staring at her intensely, looking seemingly for some sort of meaning in her meandering nonsensical tune. I died laughing. Died. Caroline, she didn't miss a beat, completing the story of the mommy and baby worm and the basket.

It's working. I have sticky wings ready to be browned at home and a night full of driveway chalk and chasing wiffle balls ahead of me. It's ok.

Soapbox on the state of healthcare

Just as Steve's new opportunity was revving up, we were dealing with a huge presciption coverage crisis. Steve's previous company, always trying to be a pioneer, switched their health insurance to a Health Savings Account (HSA) model during their last open enrollment. We weren't sold, in fact, we knew it would be a disaster. At that time, I was unsure how much longer I would still be with my current employer and the coverage they offered was very heavy on in-network provider coverage. So we tried the HSA. I was hoping another opportunity was going to work out for me that ended up fizzling and if we had leaped on mine, we worried we would then need to get the HSA anyway if I left my company and then have to start loading up our account from zero right as cold and flu season hit. Epic fail. So we endured bills for $120.00 each and everytime our kids went for a sick child visit at the pedi. We both breathed sighs of relief when our "complimentary" annual exams did not result in any follow up because $$$$$. Steve hurt his knee and refused to get an MRI or see a specialist because $$$$. After several months of trying to avoid it and hoping we would hit our family deductible, he tried to renew his prescription for a very expensive injectible medication. His insurance company and the farmed out prescription provider (when did that happen by the way, seemingly overnight?!) argued and went in circles and ultimately, he could have had his medication, for $2100.00 for a three month supply of 6 shots. Unacceptable. There was a glimmer of hope at one point that he might be able to get it for $800.00. It would have cleaned out our HSA, but we would have been thrilled to get it for $800.00 and you know what, there is something really ridiculously wrong with this.

This all was happening during Steve's two week notice window at "big corporation" and I unfiltered myself and reached out to the Benefits Director who was working with Steve to try to get the medication for him. I gave her an earful. I wasn't rude, but I couldn't help myself. Someone had to listen to my tirade even if they were just going to delete the voicemail and do nothing with my criticism. As a young family, this HSA is such a pile of cow poop. Sure, we pay in each month to our own account and spend it how we see fit. Sure, that is what that money is for afterall, but $120 a pop to take your kid to the doctor? We spent nearly $600 in one month alone this past fall, well beyond what we would have paid for our old HMO coverage. In one month we had spent what equated to nearly three months of premiums with our previous coverage. I noted to her that this same medication had once cost Steve $50.00 with their previous insurance and over the years that cost had continued to go up and up and it didn't really feel to us that benefits were a priority anymore for "big corporation."

I filled out my paperwork to get our family on my plan at work; that restrictive in-network coverage plan we weren't sure about. Somehow paying for cobra coverage of this craptacular plan seemed worse than having no coverage at all. How bad could my coverage be compared to what we had? We crossed our fingers that this medication might cost less, we made sure our physicians are within the network, and we are hoping it will work out.

Steve called the other night to see what "crazy expensive injectable medication" would cost. He held his breath, I took the kids for a walk around the block anticipating a big long conversation demanding quiet and multiple transfers to supervisors. Within moments, $30.00. For a three month supply. $30.00.

What is WRONG with healthcare in this country that the same medication could cost a person $2100 and another $30? Same patient, same illness, same everything, different insurance plan. Ridiculous.

We don't have it in our hands yet and I am pretty sure we won't believe it until we have it here in our very own fridge. There are still some hurdles and paperwork to complete, but he is already closer to getting it than he was after nearly a month of trying with "big corporation's" insurance. In three days. I wanted to call the Benefits Manager to tell her, "Wow! Look at this, actual coverage!"  but what could that possibly accomplish?

the new normal

Last Friday night we went out to dinner as a family to celebrate Steve being (temporarily) unemployed. When we got married, I said my vows to a guy who was "technically" not gainfully employed. He had given his notice two weeks earlier at a health research company where he sold an alcohol awareness program to colleges and universities.

I'll pause while we all have a laugh about Steve spreading a message about responsible drinking to college students everywhere.

We honeymooned, we drank boat drinks, we tanned, and when we came home, Steve started a job with "big corporation." He had different roles in different cities and different states, but always the same company, since the fourth Monday in October, 2004. We rode the waves, they ebbed and flowed, and lately they have been ebbing a bit more. He wasn't itchy, but he was getting there, and when a company came along, tapped him on the shoulder and whispered into his ear about a brand new opportunity, he was listening.

After much discussion, we decided the leap was worth taking and he turned in his laptop last Friday afternoon. He compared it to Jerry Maguire, but without the big out of control speech. He walked out of the building, there was a pause, and everyone and everything kept on going. Without him. Steve had been there for seven and a half years. There was something bittersweet about the whole thing, but he didn't have much time to perseverate on it.

Yesterday we began our new normal. Gone are the shared day care drop off and pick ups, the laid back mornings, and dinner done and cleaned up by 6pm. We took  a collective deep breath and he went off to the city at 6:30. I managed to get the kids and myself where we needed to be relatively on time. We overlooked the time change and having to practically bomb the boy out of his crib created a temporary road block, but we did it. I even made it back to daycare on time, paperwork completed, computer put away. We started dinner on the porch and when Steve walked in around 6pm, we were all able to finish scooping up chili all together and even had time to play outside on the swings.

Day one, behind us. Opportunity, straight ahead.