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Pumpkin Fisting: Fun for the whole family!

The marketing geniuses at 16 Handles promote squash-flavored ooze as “Fist Pumpkin” and invite the public to Size It!, Pull It! and Top It!. No, I am not kidding.

Tell me the truth. Is it me?

Fist pumpkinSo, the other night, Mr. Slattern and I passed the local 16 Handles outpost on the way home from a delightful dinner and movie date that featured the magical combination of George Clooney, brick oven pizza and at least half a dozen Aperol Spritzes — each. As you might imagine, we were in a pretty festive mood.  And so it was with some little merriment, and a fair bit of snorting, that we noted, and photographed, the  promotional campaign for the newest flavor of the fro-yo chain’s petroleum byproduct dessert food, which is apparently chockablock with “pumpkin goodness.”

The next morning, with a somewhat clearer head, I wondered whether the whole incident had been a mere figment of my imagination — a sort of Lost Weekend moment. But then I scrolled through my messages and came upon the evidence in the form of a snap taken by my better half, who somehow managed to hold his camera-phone steady while laughing uproariously with a not insignificant load on. Just a guy, but what a guy.

Anyways, getting back to the pumpkin sludge we are being invited to fist…oh forget it. You take my point by now I’m sure, and if you don’t, you’re probably better off. File it under “What were they thinking?” and try to salvage what little regard for the intelligence of the human race you have left is my advice.

My Aching Ass: Découpage, bento boxes and Halloween in September

Ready to tie yourself to Martha’s whipping post?

Apparently fall is the time our pal Martha, fresh from a few restful weeks of torturing the locals for pleasure in Maine, really starts feeling ambitious and decides to crank up the domestic wheel of pain. Not content with flogging Louis Quatorze lawn parties and Gatsby-themed luncheons as the best way to throw a picnic, the evil one has recently shifted the MSL lifestyle dream-machine into overdrive. Her timing is, as ever, impeccable. Once fall is upon us, any reasonable adult can finally breathe free with the kids back at school, the house guests out of her hair and the in-laws safely stashed back in their golf community, at least until the Thanksgiving horror/torture begins. Unless, of course, you live in Martha world.

I don’t, but I like to peek through the keyhole from time to time, and in the past week or so I’ve had ample opportunity after receiving about a hundred emails from the Domestic Death Star nagging inviting me to do the following:

This is SO my life.

This is SO my life.

Start your Halloween preparations early, like now.
Madame Stewart suggests using September to get a jump on updating last year’s party-planning spreadsheet, start crafting spiders from pipe cleaners and hot glue and prepare the fifty-piece pumpkin carving and microsurgery tool set for this, the most festive holiday of the year.

And of course it’s never too early to begin planning your costume, because there is nothing pathetic about a sixty-year old woman in a French maid’s costume or a fright wig.

Now I don’t know about you, but I hate Halloween, and frankly I’d rather set myself on fire than spend a full month gearing up for it, unless by that you mean buying and consuming six dozen bags of “fun size” Snickers bars, Twizzlers and mini Dove Bars, but somehow I don’t think that’s what she has in mind.

Create savory lunch box meals your kids “will want to eat.” Now, of course these days the little slattern is away at college and in charge of her own meals, but I can say with certainty that never, in eighteen years of lunchbox slavery, did I encounter a situation in which a “bento box” featuring cold Asian noodle salad, or an avocado-cream cheese-cucumber-sprout sandwich on grainy bread, or cute little lettuce leaf cups filled with apple and chicken salad would have been greeted with anything but misery followed by pitiful efforts to trade.

0306_kids_applechickensalad_xlLet me tell you, nobody in the lunchroom is going to give up half a PB&J for anything that involves even the suggestion of a lettuce leaf. They might, however, tease your child unmercifully for the rest of her academic life on the basis of such a meal, so there’s that added incentive to provide it — as if you needed another reason to spend three hours every night preparing the next day’s lunch so that it could be thrown in the trash and your child could arrive home exhausted, bullied, and in the middle of a full-on low-blood-sugar meltdown. Parenting, the Martha way.

Learn the venerable art of découpage with Martha’s five part video tutorial after which you can run out and buy all fifty items in her new découpage product line. Yup, DECOUPAGE. Look!

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 8.56.38 PM

Those of you who have succeeded in repressing memories of sleep-away camp — where arts & crafts classes were the only alternative to swimming in a freezing lake, hiking fifty miles carrying a two-hundred pound pack or spending a sleepless night on the ground quivering in a stinky sleeping bag all the while freaking out about bugs, bats and snakes — will no doubt be pleased to revisit this wonderful crafting activity via Martha’s instructional videos.

In FIVE installments!

I mean really, what is there to say beyond, cut some pictures out, glue them on something then shellac the hell out of the whole mess? I’ll tell you what else, NOTHING, except maybe, “Here’s how to spend a hundred bucks and three days making a shitty old picture frame/lamp/piece of furniture look like a craft project you did at Camp Wankaweewee in 1979.”

Okay, that’s enough. I’m going out to get a pizza and a six-pack for lunch, then I’m going to toilet paper and egg that witch’s house but good. Happy freakin’ fall, Martha.

Virtuous vegetables the slattern’s way

Recipe: One-pan roasted veg (per “The Plan”)

Veg 2As I may have mentioned, I’m not one for complex, time-consuming, fiddly cooking. In fact, if I had my way, I’d never make another meal again. The bank balance being what it is, however, neither permanent-guest status nor live-in domestic help appear to be in my future, and as such the evening meal must be slapped on the table one way or another. Night after night after night.

Regular readers will recall that my dieting struggles are legendary, even in Hell, as they say. So what I try to do is leverage my aversion to all tasks culinary as a useful weight-loss strategy. Most days, Mr. Slattern arrives home to an exciting supper of grilled fish or chicken accompanied by a large salad, which, through the miracle of ready-washed greens, is as easy to prepare as it is to clean up. Fine. Of course when followed by half a cherry chocolate cheesecake and washed down with a bottle or two of white wine, even the most blameless of meals tends to lose its slimming properties. Still, labor has been saved and vegetables consumed, which counts for something.

veg manicure 2

Manicure intact. Family fed. Is anybody else thirsty?

Now, where was I? Oh yes, healthy meals, easy to fix. So the salad meal is great for summer; however, often, as the warm weather wanes, the body yearns for more substantial fare, and a cooked veg can be just the thing. Now I hate screwing around with vegetable prep, I won’t lie. The washing, peeling and chopping wreak havoc with my manicure, and you really do have to be careful when working with knives, which puts an unwelcome damper on the mid-afternoon cocktail hour. I have, however, partially solved this little dilemma by buying  butternut squash and broccoli already cut up. These I mix with a chopped onion, a red pepper and some garlic (all of which have to be prepped, but really it’s not that bad). Just drizzle the whole mess with olive oil, salt and pepper and a couple of pinches of dried oregano, fresh basil or herbes de Provence, pop the pan in a 400 degree oven for half an hour or so, et voila, Lyn Genet’s Italian vegetables as detailed in The Plan, the latest diet I have failed to follow, but which I am certain would have wondrously transformed both my life and my figure had I but been able to choke down flaxseed granola rather than Boston cream donuts at breakfast for more than a week.

Roasted and ready. All week long.

Roasted and ready. All week long.

So anywho, what I do is make enough of this stuff for about forty people and just reheat it in the ‘wave all week or throw it into rice or pasta. If you have higher culinary standards than me — and really, except for Sandra Lee, who doesn’t? — this may not work for you; however, for the sufficiently slatternly this system can really take the sting out of being a hausfrau and put the zing back into sundown…speaking of which, I believe the portable bar is calling my name.

Ready or not, here it comes. Again.

Merry Christmas everybody!

The holidays are once again, unavoidably upon us, and as you might expect, Christmas Eve finds me a tad behind schedule. As such (and because last year at this time I had approximately four regular readers) I’m going to go ahead and recycle 2011’s Christmas advice post. I hope you’ll all forgive me, but it’s nine am and already the stove is smoking, the tree is listing and I’m eyeing the Jameson’s bottle that’s dangerously close to my coffee cup. I’m afraid something fresh and new is completely out of the question at this point, and in truth, has been for some little time. So, for your skimming pleasure…..

To read on, just click the picture.

To read on, just click the picture.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Parents

winkJust kidding.
The Slattern’s guide to surviving the childrearing years.

Once upon a time, I had a real career. I got up early, put on outfits that came out of dry cleaning bags, showed up somewhere and did reasonably important stuff for which I was fairly well compensated. When I spoke at meetings, colleagues actually listened to what I had to say, and occasionally I even bossed other people around. You may not believe it, but I was corporate, folks.

At that time, the Stephen Covey cult of mind control consulting juggernaut was really taking off. His Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was already a perpetual bestseller, big firms showered him in krugerrands just to come and sip a cup of decaf at their corporate retreats, and we were all so busy realigning our paradigms and trying to find our true north it was a wonder anything at all got done in the workplace.

Behold the onset of the maternal urge.Via electsister777.

Behold the onset of the maternal urge.
Via electsister777.

Then quite suddenly, at age 32, the urge to have a baby hit me like a freight train that had skipped its tracks and was careening along an icy road in the middle of nowhere. Just like that, I was done with the nine to five grind.

After 42 weeks of pregnancy I was looking forward not only to tying my own shoes, but also to finally having the time to throw stylish dinner parties, get involved with charitable and good works, and write that murder mystery I’d been planning in my head during countless hours of boring operations meetings, ridiculous team-building exercises and hellish corporate travel. I was staying home, suckers!

There was, of course, one small detail I had overlooked, an unexpected fly in the ointment if you will, namely that taking care of an infant is a 24/7 life commitment that supersedes all other obligations, priorities and desires. Like many first timers, I thought it was all over after labor and delivery, that life would return to normal as soon as our gorgeous agglomeration of DNA found her way into the light of day so that I could dress her in all manner of cute baby things, immediately start making mother-daughter trips to Lord and Taylor and marvel at the self sufficiency and composure that would be our shining light of a daughter. I also expected my stomach to snap back to pre-natal flatness. I think we all know how that turned out.

During the 17 hours of induced labor followed by a C-section, an unidentifiable infection and a stay in the neonatal unit, I got very real very quickly. Lacking as I did close relatives in the area to help in the months and years that followed, I turned to a network of friends in the same situation, and somehow we all made it through. Now, as I look back at the past 18 years, I realize how nice it would have been if someone had offered me some practical advice about raising a child generally, and specifically how to do it without losing your mind. I tried Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach and all the other baby busybodies, but they just made it harder rather than easier, as none seemed ever to have actually raised a child while trying to maintain a marriage, keep the house from becoming a cholera vector point and get rid of that most tenacious of fat, the baby roll.

Against all odds, however, the Little Slattern has turned out magnificently. So it’s possible that I might have some pearls of wisdom to help others just starting down the road of parenthood. Of course it could also be that the I’ve finally found the perfect balance of pharmaceuticals and wine spritzers and this makes me think I’ve got all the answers. Hard to know.

For what it’s worth, then, here are the Slattern’s seven habits of highly effective parents:

1. Be proactive, or better yet be hyperactive. There is absolutely no need to be exhausted. After six cups of coffee and a lunchtime dose of Ritalin you’ll find it’s a breeze to clean the house, make dinner, fold ten loads of laundry and paint the garage all in the time it takes your child to have an afternoon nap! Of course, until the baby is weaned, this is out of the question, so mothers are advised to abandon all hope of accomplishing anything whatsoever until such time as mammaries return to their ornamental rather than utilitarian function. All you dads and nonlactating partners, however, can get with the stimulant program any old time.

2. Accept that this is the beginning of the end of your mind. Outside of the office, you may not have an adult conversation concerning anything other than bowel movements, potty training, preschool admissions, coxsackie virus or whether it’s okay to dose your child with Benadryl before a flight (it is) for a very long time. If you’re a stay at home parent, abandon all hope of interesting adult conversation and be forewarned, you may never finish a sentence again.

3. Put first things first. Babysitters are paid before the mortgage. The child’s orthodontia trumps your crumbling crowns. And in-laws may visit only if they agree to feed your child, put him to bed and wash the dinner dishes while you go out to a movie and a well deserved night of heavy drinking at the local bar. (They should also be told where the cash for bail is kept, or better still, bring their own stash.)

Photo courtesy Bernd Vogel/Bernd Vogel/Corbis via the Guardian UK.

Photo courtesy Bernd Vogel/Bernd Vogel/Corbis via the Guardian UK.

4. Think win-win, and if you can’t do that, learn to accept defeat as a daily occurrence and sleeplessness as your new reality. And since I’m on the subject, folks, I cannot urge you strongly enough to teach your kids to put themselves to sleep, in their own beds, from the earliest possible moment. When I was a child, parents were told to let their babies cry it out, which was hard on everyone and frequently resulted in having to go to plan B, namely rubbing babies’ gums with the whiskey from the highball that was keeping the parent from killing him or herself for being the kind of vile human being who lets a child cry until he either vomits or falls asleep. By the time the Little Slattern was tormenting us with ten wakings a night, there was the miracle of “Ferberizing” and it worked a charm. One night of brief crying followed by briefer comforting, and we were home free. The book has saved more marriages and lives than you can possibly imagine.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Unless you have twins, in which case seek first to survive the day and secondly to hold off cocktail hour until they’re asleep.

6. Synergize, and if that doesn’t work anesthetize. There comes a moment in every parent’s life when it’s all just too much — the middle of a 48 hour bout of diarrhea, or along about the third week of a teething episode for example. In the first year of my daughter’s life, Mr. Slattern frequently returned home from work to find me standing three feet from the front door, holding our child at arm’s length and saying, “Here, take her. Just do it. Take her RIGHT NOW.” Being an obliging sort and possessed of a strong instinct for survival, he would drop his briefcase and coat and take over on the spot, at which point I retreated to the bathroom for a two-hour shower and sob-a-thon followed by a large drink. Not that my child was particularly difficult; she was quite easy as they go, but some days were more challenging than others. As such, it is vitally important to know when to hand over the con to whichever half of the domestic tag team happens to be more capable at the moment.

7. Sharpen the saw, to avoid using it on your spouse or partner. The great Covey is a big believer in taking time to renew your energy and personal resources to maximize workplace productivity. This applies equally to parents. When I was in the trenches, Mr. Slattern frequently paired up with other similarly outdoorsy dads and took the kids camping for several days. This allowed the other grateful moms and me to pursue our own paths to spiritual renewal, by which I mean we convened at one or another of our homes, drank ourselves blind, ate cake for dinner and danced to all our college favorites into the wee hours or until one of the neighbors called the cops. Whether you renew with a crafting binge, a poker night or a vodka-fueled solo dance party, just get the down time and make it count.

tiger mom

“I am in no way crazy and my children ADORE me.”
Erin Patrice O’Brien for The Wall Street Journal

And finally, a word on childrearing styles: Tiger mother or attachment parent?
Hard to say which is worse of course, since each approach is deeply disturbing in its own way. How does anyone have the energy to constantly ride herd over, nag and terrorize her kids as the Tiger Mom recommends? By the same token, I marvel at these women who “breastfeed” their five year olds and “co-sleep” until junior goes off to college. Who’s the needy one here, ladies?

And despite their differing approaches, I’ll bet neither type allows her kids to have have sleepovers.  Which is crazy. That’s over twelve hours of free babysitting! Sure you’re expected to reciprocate, but you’re already staying in every night, so what’s the difference? Problem is you’re usually too tired to get up to much, but at least you know you could if you wanted to because your child is occupied and uninterested in you — until her overnight guest tries to take her “special” toy or refuses to share the coveted blue crayon anyway.

In the end, I suppose you’ll chart your own course. I myself chose the Third Way, as modeled by that rock of maternal warmth and stability, Shirley MacLaine. Who says the movies can’t teach us anything?

* * * * * * * *

Interested in more expert parenting tips? I’ll take your word for it.

Mother of the Year
Mother Knows Best
In Praise of the Bar: Bar cookies for bake sale emergencies

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