Thursday, March 27, 2014

French Twist Dare: Sydney's Drunken Airplane Episode

As you well know, French Twist is based in truth.  The major elements of the story are all blissfully true, but I felt the need to add a little excitement (and a whole lot of comedic value) to the story.  And there couldn't be better comedic value than embarrassing myself, right?  
One of my absolute favorite scenes to write was this completely fictitious episode where Sydney and Louis fly to New York together to spend Thanksgiving with her family.  While it is absolutely true that my parents met my husband for the first time over one strenuous Thanksgiving weekend, we were not able to fly together and I am pleased to tell you that I did not consume any alcohol at all.  Thank God!
Now, back to our good friend, Sydney.  Unfortunately, she is left to her own devices during the six hour flight from San Francisco to New York because, of course, Louis fell asleep the instant that the plane took off.  Sydney attempts to drown the anxiety she feels about her parents meeting her brand new French fiancĂ© for the first time by having a nice glass of wine.  When one glass doesn't do the trick, she has another - you know where this is going.  The more wine she drinks, the better she feels, until...

I slowly opened my eyes and looked around.  We appeared to be in some kind of exam room.  How had we gotten off of the plane?  Oh my God.  I had a really, really bad feeling about this.  Slowly, some rather unsavory memories permeated my mind.  No.  That could not possibly have happened.  I could not have been that stupid.  Sydney!  What have you done?
I looked at Louis.  “Um...Louis, how did we get here?”
He bit his lip.  That was a really bad sign.  He only did that when he had something unpleasant to tell me.
He exhaled slowly.  “You were put on a stretcher.  The EMT’s couldn’t wake you, so you had to be taken off the plane as quickly as possible.”
I put my head in my lap.  I have done some pretty embarrassing things in my time, but this incident was now number one on my list.  God help me when Maya finds out.  She will hold this over me for the rest of my life.
 Louis cleared his throat.  “Syd, you have been cleared to go home.  We should go down to the baggage compartment now.  They are holding our luggage.”
I looked up at Louis in horror.  “How long have we been here?”
He looked at the floor.  “About two hours.”
Oh shit!  My parents were picking us up from the airport.  They must be freaking out right now.  I started looking for my purse so that I could call them quickly and tell them not to worry.  I am such a total freak!  I cannot believe that I did this.
            Louis took my hand.  “Calm down, Syd.  I have already called your parents to let them know that we are fine.”
            I buried my face in my hands.  “What did you tell them?”
            “What could I tell them?  I told them the truth.”  A small chuckle escaped him.
            I slowly removed my hands from my eyes to find that Louis was desperately trying not to laugh.  The amount of anger I felt towards him at that moment was astronomical.   I slowly stood up, felt completely nauseated and promptly sat back down.  With no other viable options, I settled for fixing my deadliest stare on him.  I was prepared to tear him a new one, when the floodgates opened and he dissolved into hysterical laughter.  I was so shocked that I didn’t know how to react.  I just stood there, watching him completely lose his composure and wondered what I was supposed to be feeling...

(Excerpt from French Twist by Glynis Astie, Copyright 2013.)

And there you have it.  I laughed so hard while writing this scene that I had tears streaming down my face.  I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  I am INCREDIBLY thankful that an event of this horrific magnitude has not happened to me.  Though I must admit that I have come pretty close.  Maybe some of those stories will make it into another book!

PS - I am very sorry to say that I have not been given permission to post the photo of my husband wearing his epic blue suit.  I will keep trying! 

Five Ways to Find Hidden Romantic Moments

One of the difficult things to do once you have kids is to find a moment with even a hint of romance in it.  Come on, picture it with me.  It is early evening and you and your husband have just gotten home from work.  One of you had the pleasure of dealing with the joyful experience of picking up the children from aftercare complete with screaming, lost possessions and unfinished homework.  The other one probably got stuck in endless traffic and has hours of work left to do once the kids are in bed.  You are both tired, cranky and feeling a little hopeless.  You have no idea what you are going to make for dinner, or how many iterations of dinner there will need to be based on current demeanor, pickiness and overall willingness to eat what has been put on the table.  It is a total crapshoot.

Once you make it through the monumental effort that is dinner time and you have managed to clean the kitchen, made sure all homework has been finished - and actually put in the school bag, ensured that everyone has been bathed and given all necessary nighttime rituals (medical or otherwise), read multiple stories and returned the unruly scamps to their beds MULTIPLE times, you are ready to pass out.  So, when exactly, is there time for romance in your life?
There are a few opportunities, but you will have to be shrewd about it.  Are you in?  All right!  Let’s get started.

Pick one night a week to have takeout

Everyone loves the idea of takeout, right?  No one has to worry about planning a meal, making sure that the necessary ingredients are in your pantry and best of all – there is no cleaning up!  This is a massive stress reducer and time saver.  As long as you pick a place that has food that your kids will eat, it’s a win-win situation.  The last thing that you want to do is order take out for you and your spouse and then have to contend with a separate meal for the children.  Especially when you have more than one child and they are just not in the mood for the same thing. (My children don’t even share the same food groups.)

So, if you and your husband have to eat a little fried food to please the kids, what’s the big deal?  As long as you make sure that your remaining meals for the week are fairly healthy, you’re fine.  Go ahead and enjoy your indulgence!  (My money is on the fries…)  Less time spent in the kitchen preparing and cleaning up, means more time for you and your spouse to see each other once the kids are in bed.  You just have to make sure that the two of you actually spend time together instead of sitting next to each other in your king sized bed with your matching laptops.  But that is another discussion altogether…

Let the kids have a picnic on the living room floor

Admittedly, this one scared the daylights out of me at first, but I got over it quickly.  I discovered that if I spread a tablecloth on the living room floor, made my children monochromatic finger food (say that twenty times fast) and settled them down with sports bottles and a movie, my husband and I could have about forty-five minutes of peace.  Once they were happily ensconced in their favorite make believe world, I sat down with my husband to a candle lit dinner with good food, a glass of wine and his undivided attention.  In ten minute intervals.  (The forty-five minutes of peace were not continuous, but you have to start somewhere.)  It may not be the most romantic dinner you have ever had with your spouse, but sometimes having ten uninterrupted moments (or a group of them in succession) can make a huge difference in the connection that you feel to each other. 

Arrange a dinner play date

There is nothing that my older son likes better than a good old fashioned dinner playdate.  He is positively thrilled at the prospect of dining in the home of one of his friends.  He will trot out his best table manners (which I have yet to see) and will eat a variety of foods that only garner the comment, “Ew” in my home.  But let’s not focus on the disparity of behavior and choose to think about the fact that a dinner playdate means that your children are out of your house for a couple of hours.  If you have a little one too like I do, then you will have to find someone who likes you a WHOLE lot to take them both.  Three-year olds can be pretty damn cute, but they don’t’ generally make the most compliant dinner guests.  The other option is to do a child exchange, in which you have the peace from sending your kids to someone else’s house for dinner one night and then have to go through the hell of hosting dinner another night for not only your own children, but also someone else’s.  Hmm.  It can still be a good choice.  Having a couple hours of uninterrupted time with your spouse is a precious commodity, so robbing Peter to pay Paul is still worth it in the end in my book.  Or you might be one of those lucky people who has local parents or in-laws who are just dying to have more time with your little munchkins.  If so, my hat goes off to you!  Make sure you call them over as often as you can - without them issuing a restraining order against you.

Put the little rascals to bed early

Let’s face it, is there really such a thing as too much sleep?  Not possible.  I am absolutely sure that my sons could benefit from a little more shut eye.  Try as I might, they always seem to get to bed at nine pm.  Remember the old adage that nothing worth having will come easy?  It will take some careful planning and coaxing on your part, but you CAN get those kids to bed early.  It may take a couple of nights to get it to happen, as children are extremely unpredictable, but do not lose faith!  It is possible to get them into bed early if you want a little time alone with your spouse badly enough.  I do not recommend implementing this plan on a day where either you or one of your little ones has had a particularly stressful experience. If your child had a rough day, going to bed is going to be a rough experience for both of you and will probably take much longer than you would like.  And if you had a particularly bad day, you will most likely snap at your spouse during your long sought after “alone time.”  At that point, you probably need to be completely alone; you know, so that no harm comes to your spouse.

But if, by some miracle, the planets align and you get your children into bed early (and they actually stay there), the payoff is pure bliss.  Grab a bottle of wine and some chocolate and settle in with your spouse.  Oh, and try not to make this the time that the two of you decide to binge watch your backlogged DVR playlist.  My husband and I try to cut ourselves off after one show.  Otherwise, before we know it, three hours have passed and we haven’t said more than ten words to each other.  Kind of defeats the purpose, right?

And when none of the other options will work…

Call a babysitter!

This option is the one I end up using the least because a) it requires advanced planning and b) I am on a budget.  In theory, my husband and I are supposed to have a date night once every couple of months.  Sadly, even this feels out of our grasp sometimes.  Between birthday parties, music lessons, martial arts training, play dates and family obligations, our weekends fill up quickly.  Especially since I feel the need to say yes to every activity my children are included in.  I don’t want them to miss out on a thing!  Unfortunately, that means that my husband and I are spending our weekends shuttling the little tykes from here to there, hither and yon and back again.  By the time we get back home, we barely have enough energy to acknowledge each other.  After a few weeks of this you start to forget why you married each other in the first place and you realize that it is time to call that babysitter.  Right now!

Once you finally make the arrangements for the sitter, choose the restaurant, get dressed up and find yourself enjoying a decadent meal with your spouse, be sure not to bring up your children.  It may sound harsh, but once you do, your romantic dining experience becomes a business meeting.  That’s right!  It may be more casual than your average business meeting, but you are spending your dinner discussing the business of your kids.  Totally thwarts the effort that you put into this whole arrangement – which isn’t going to be cheap! 

So, what have we learned?  Romantic moments are out there for you and your spouse!  You just have to take the time to find (or possibly orchestrate) them.  Plan ahead when possible, come up with creative solutions to distract your children and savor the few spontaneous moments of romance that you do get.  They are priceless.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

French Twist Truth: Bluey's Style

One of the fun things about writing a true story (with just a little judicious editing) is delving into the details and sharing what is real and what is not real.  And for those real items, perhaps sharing a little photographic evidence…

The description of my husband’s attire the night that I met him is absolutely true, right down to the blue sunglasses:

It was not just that he was handsome; he had style!  Style like none I had ever seen before.  He was at least six feet tall and was wearing, I kid you not, a pale blue suit, complete with matching pale blue sweater underneath.  He had accented this ensemble with a large silver chain, massively spiked dark hair, a perfectly sculpted goatee and, wait for it, pale blue sunglasses.  Clearly this guy took coordination to a whole new level. It was immediately obvious that he was either gay, not from this country or both.  If he turned out to be gay, all the better.   A new friend with great hair and makeup tips was always a good thing.  

(Excerpt from French Twist by Glynis Astie, Copyright 2013.)

Unfortunately, I was not able to snap a photo that night (cell phones with cameras were not as common back in 2001.)  I do; however, have a photo of him wearing his amazing pale blue suit on a later occasion.  As an added bonus, he had had a shaving “accident” that night and is completely devoid of his beautifully sculpted goatee.  I have not yet been granted permission to post this precious pic, but I am working on it!  Tune in next week to see if I am successful.  :)

Six Reasons Why Moms Can Cancel Their Gym Memberships

I discovered something fascinating after I gave birth to my second child and decided to stay at home with my boys.  Since my salary would just offset the cost of daycare and my commuting costs, the decision to leave the rat race was easy.  Little did I know that life as a stay-at-home mom was a lot more than I had bargained for.  I remember thinking how nice it would be to live a life with considerably less stress, plenty of free time during the day and much more sleep.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had been completely delusional!  I can laugh about it now, but that first year at home almost killed my spirit.  Granted much of that had to do with the fact that my second child didn’t appear to have much of a need for sleep, but I still had to reframe my thinking about what it meant to be at home with my children.  There was, in fact, very little time to do anything, including taking showers, eating and using the bathroom, since babies are demanding little individuals.  On the rare occasion that I found myself with a spare half hour, I was too frazzled to use it productively.

In an attempt to remove myself from said frazzled state, I decided to join a gym.  I reasoned that not only would I lose the baby weight, but would also get a small break from the baby while my older son was in school.  And I will admit, this was a good plan.  The weight eventually came off (well, all but the last five pounds, but they seem to be very happy with their new home) and the baby became a toddler.  This changed EVERYTHING.

I have since found that you can get a damn near total body workout simply by taking care of your kids.  Don’t believe me?  If you really think about it, you will see that your day is just one long-ass circuit training session...

The Stair Master

My house has two very steep sets of stairs.  When we first moved into our house, I had been romanced by the idea of stairs since there weren’t any in the house that I grew up in.  When I was younger, I felt like I was missing out on something by not having stairs to climb.  I now see that I was missing out on a great workout.

If you have children, how many times do you think that you go up and down your stairs in a day?  Ten?  Twenty?  One day I decided to humor myself and I actually counted.  Forty-eight!  Think the number is too high?  My mornings go something like this:  bring my younger son downstairs because he has to eat immediately upon waking.  Go back upstairs to get the phone and tablet that I left next to my bed because I am not really awake yet.  Realize when I get downstairs that I left my water bottle upstairs.  Then realize when I get downstairs again that I forgot to brush my teeth.  That will just have to wait until later. Once everyone has eaten, I go back upstairs to get brush my teeth and get dressed.  Get back downstairs and realize that I have forgotten to put on my earrings.  Go back upstairs and grab the socks that my older son forgot to put on, get halfway down stairs and go back for the earrings.  And the pattern continues for another twenty minutes. Once my coffee kicks in, things get somewhat better, but the difference is marginal.

I know what you’re thinking.  Why don’t you just make yourself a list?  The truth is that it wouldn’t do me much good.  While some elements of my routine would stay the same, many of them change on a daily basis in terms of items needed.  Rather than bemoan my fate of incredibly forgetful stair climber, I choose to focus on the fact that I am getting a great workout.  Did you know that climbing stairs is an excellent aerobic workout?  You burn calories and work a number of muscle groups.  While you resentfully run back up the stairs for one last item, just remember that your quads, hamstrings, glutes AND calves are going to look great if you keep this up!  And as an added bonus, your abs will get a bit perkier as well.

Low Impact Cardio

Along with climbing stairs often, I find myself walking from room to room in my house as though I am doing laps.  This will often happen in coordination with the stair master mentioned above, but sometimes becomes an activity unto itself.  Once I have finished a bracing round of stair master in the morning, I find the low impact activity taking over.  Once everyone is dressed and ready for school, the lunch preparations begin.  After asking my older son what he would like to eat for lunch and ensuring that we have the necessary items, I walk to the kitchen to prepare it.  My younger son then bellows that he needs juice.  I walk to the living room, give the necessary lesson in politeness, ascertain what kind of juice he wants, walk back to the kitchen, get the juice and bring it to him.  He then screams that it is in the wrong color cup and throws it across the room.  I pat myself on the back for giving him a Sippy cup instead of a regular cup, take a deep breath and return to the kitchen.  If he is thirsty, he will pick up the damn cup and drink from it!  Upon returning to the kitchen, I forget what I was going to make for my older son’s lunch, go back to the living room and have him repeat his order.  On the way back to the kitchen, the little one begins to scream again as I rush to finish making lunch before I once again forget what I was making.

Several more rounds of walking occur between the kitchen, dining room, living room and laundry room to ensure that all school bags are packed and everyone is now wearing clean clothes (because stains happen!).  Unfortunately, many of these trips resulted in my having no idea why I was in a particular room.  I tried Bill Cosby’s tried and true tip of sitting down once you have arrived in the room that you were heading towards, but the memory sensor in my rear end did not always activate.  Hmm.  I have resigned myself to the fact that I will wander my house in a confused stupor most of the time.  This is simply a side effect of having kids - they suck away a little bit of your brain cells each day.  But at least you will be in good shape from all of the walking!

Upper Body Toning

One of the fun things about having toddlers is trying to figure out just how far their reach is.  We all try to be responsible parents and put dangerous things out of their reach for their own safety, not to ruin all of their good fun.  As toddlers age, their reach becomes longer and longer and consequently, you have to keep putting things on higher shelves.  This becomes difficult for a variety of reasons, but will ultimate result in more toned biceps and triceps for you.

Beware of your toddlers!  They are crafty little creatures.  Just when you think that you have correctly assessed your toddlers reach radius, they will surprise you by adding a stool or chair to the mix – most likely one that you have expressly forbid them to stand on.  This piece of furniture will thwart your carefully orchestrated shelf placement and will force you to put your necessary items even higher up. Sure, everything is a pain in the ass to reach now!  But think about how great your arms are going to look!  The higher you have to reach, the more muscles you use!  A variation on this exercise is if you happen to have any balls in the house, you will find yourself needing to raise your arms to block these balls from making contact with various electronic devices and breakable items.  On the upside, in addition to toning your arms, you may be able to get a side job as a goalie.

Let us remember as well that our charming little toddlers not only love to be carried from place to place, but also still require a whole lot of paraphernalia when taken on an outing.  How many times have you found yourself in a parking lot (on the way to the library, a shopping expedition, a play date, etc.) with your toddler on your hip and your purse and ENORMOUS diaper bag on the other shoulder?  Inevitably, you have to park in the furthest spot possible to your destination and find that as you walk as quickly as possible to the entrance, your bags keep slipping and therefore need constant readjustment.  All the while, your eager toddler recognizes your intended destination and is now attempting to break free of your grasp and run across traffic.  As you try to hold on for dear life, you imagine your toddler wriggling out of your grasp 
and engaging in the scariest game of Frogger ever.  By the time you actually reach your final resting point and can put your child and all of his/her crap down, you will be sweating profusely and your arms will be aching.  Just take comfort in knowing that you gave them one hell of a workout!

Sculpting Chest, Arm & Shoulder Muscles

This exercise is my personal favorite.  My kids are constantly knocking toys under the couch, the bookcase, you name it.  Since your kids have shorter arms than you do, it is often your job as the resident adult to retrieve these lost toys from their furniture prisons.  So, first you get down on all fours and then you bring your chest to the floor to locate the toy.  Depending on how far back the toy is, you may just reach under and grab it or go down onto your stomach to get a better reach.  Once you retrieve the toy, you then push yourself back up and if you’re in my house, you start all over again down the length of every piece of furniture in the room.  (My boys are pretty active.)  If you think about the form of your body and execute your actions carefully, you are doing a modified push up.  Woohoo!  Here you are rescuing these poor toys from under the couch obscurity and getting a bonus chest workout in the process.  And if you stop and think about how many times a day you do this, you will realize that with a little modification in your motion, your chest, arms and shoulder muscles are going to look damn good.

The Ultimate Ab Workout

This is for those of you who have a toddler who likes to tackle.  My younger son likes to play on the floor a lot, so between block towers, puzzles and board games, we can spend hours lolling about in complete contentment.  Sometimes, I will look over at him and notice a devilish gleam in his eye.  Uh oh.   Suddenly he runs right at me with all of the strength he can muster.  And this kid will not be satisfied until he has knocked me flat.  After enough episodes like this, your abdominal muscles will develop to the point where you will be able to lower yourself slowly, thereby preventing your head from slamming into the floor.  Unfortunately, in the beginning, the majority of us will deal with a little pain.  Just know that it won’t last forever.

Recently my son has added a surprise to his episodes of tackling.  Now when he takes me down, he insists on bouncing.  Perhaps this is his victory dance?  As long as I immediately contract my abs, I am able to stabilize my spine and keep him from repeatedly pushing it into the floor.  With my newly strengthened abs, I am able to bounce HIM up and down by using my hips and glutes.  And who doesn’t want a tighter tush?

The Giant Squat Extravaganza

We have finally arrived at the granddaddy of them all:  the giant squat extravaganza.  Also known as dinner.   You know what I’m talking about.  Dinner encompasses the longest series of squats EVER.  If you were to show up at my house for dinner, this is what you would see.  When my husband and sons come into the kitchen, I am usually still plating their food.  I make several trips to the table to deposit beverages, condiments, side dishes, utensils, etc.  I sit down, am about to place my napkin in my lap when my older son realizes that he needs more milk.  Since I don’t trust him to carry and pour from a gallon milk container, I get up and take care of it.  I start to sit down, with my rear literally hovering over the chair, when my little one tells me that he needs more ketchup for his hot dog.  I get up, squirt out his ketchup and leave the container on the table, just in case.  I am just about to pick up my fork when my older son tells me that he doesn’t like his dinner.  I am blindingly hungry so I negotiate a more palatable dinner for him as my husband rolls his eyes at me and keeps eating.  I get up, quickly prepare the food, give it to my son and sit back down.  At which point, my younger son wants another hot dog. 

It is sheer torture!  Every time I sit down and am about to take a bite, someone else needs something.  And I know what you are thinking – why not have your husband do it?  He has at least had a few bites of food by now.  The truth is that he has probably finished his dinner by now (and possibly left the table.)  Even if he were still present, explaining to him where the item in question is or worse, explaining to him how to prepare a particular food item would take far longer and be far more aggravating for all parties involved than just doing it myself.  But you know what?  All of that standing and sitting equates to a buttload (pun intended) of squats and my glutes, quads and hamstrings are going to look AWESOME!

So there you have it.  As long as you live your day-to-day life with kids, you are getting all of the exercise that you need to be in great shape.  Having said all of that, I would still join a gym if you have the means.  I do find that the gym membership has added benefits that you will not find in your home – a babysitting service during your workout, a new circle of friends and the ability to work off just enough stress to that you can handle all of the above without wanting to throttle someone.  But it is nice to know that you are getting something beneficial out of the craziness that you call your life.