Friday, October 29, 2021

This Middle Parenting

 


 I understand people who look at the path I've chosen in life and think I have it easy. I do! I understand how they think I don't do anything all day, how I just essentially babysit the kids, because almost every day when I come down the stairs after getting everyone to bed, I look at my wreck of a house and I think, "Annie! HOW can you be tired!? You have gotten literally NOTHING accomplished today! NOTHING!" Yet, here I am, sitting at the kitchen table, staring down the day's mess and just not having any thread of energy left to deal with it.

Wondering about that--about being so exhausted after doing basically nothing day after day-- has prompted me to consider the differences between parenting little children and parenting bigger children. Gone are my days of being the only one around to read "Moo Baa LaLaLa" on repeat all afternoon--that's a job I can delegate to one of the four Big Sisters who are more than happy to snuggle up with their baby sister and read the day away! Neither am I yet to the part of parenting where I'm helping choose prom dresses, managing big life decisions, driving teens to their jobs, etc. College is not quite on our radar yet, and few are our activities. Really, I have it pretty good! I feel I'm in a quiet stretch.

No, the difference is that instead of the mind-numbing exhaustion of wiping up spills and round-the-clock nursing, these days parenting is just one huge mind game. Every moment is a mental exercise, and I feel like the stakes are oh so very high. You might think that simple questions require simple answers, but YOU ARE WRONG. Simple questions beg all sorts of other questions in my head about how to answer correctly. Example: "Does this shirt go well with these pants?" I might look at the shirt-pants combo and think they are just a regular shirt and plain khaki pants, and wonder how they woudln't look good, or why on earth my opinion matters on this. But I have to be ridiculously careful with my answer. I can't say something like, "Of course they look good, it's just a shirt and plain pants." That sounds condescending. I can't just say, "Yes, they look fine." That may come off as dismissive. I do, after all, WANT my daughter to feel she can come to me with personal questions. I don't want to say "No," or suggest an alternate garment, because even though that would show adequate attention, the outfit is really fine. It's just nothing. It's fine. And so, I have to work out in my brain (in about three seconds, because delay is the same as "you think I'm ugly!") how to manage this VERY SIMPLE QUESTION. Today I feel I did a good job with this one. I said, "Your outfit looks great. I know I tell you that all the time, but it's because you really do have good style and it's not often that you choose an outfit that is terrible... I have been honest with you before when I've thought your clothes didn't look great, so you know I wouldn't be lying--I think you look good." 

WHEW! That was a lot of mental work for a green shirt and khaki pants! 

There's another one that I remember from today, and this one is trickier because it involves Elka, the most sensitive human being on the planet. As you probably know, I really believe in letting children play instruments whenever the mood strikes them. Elka is an extremely self conscious child, and almost never plays instruments or sings with other people around. She also can't handle (I mean, CANNOT HANDLE) any sort of criticism (AT ALL. IT IS MADDENING!) so every teensy interaction is a delicate situation. Also, she gets offended very easily. She is difficult on many levels. So, this is a situation I think I did NOT handle correctly: We were all getting jackets and shoes on to go out, and Martin had just fixed a few of the broken piano keys, so the piano was all opened up. I guess instead of that fact being a clue for Elka that probably the keys had been glued (this isn't all that unusual of an occurrence,) it instead piqued her interest, and she went over and started playing on the piano. Now, what I should have done (hindsight!) is let her play and if the keys had to be re-glued again, who the heck cares. (I'm saying keys--maybe I mean hammers? I'm not sure, Martin is the piano surgeon around here, I just play the thing.) Instead of taking that road though, I said in an extremely calm and nonchalant tone, "Ooh, yeah, maybe don't play the piano right now because Daddy just fixed the broken keys." 

WROOOOOONG ANSWER! 

The ear-piercing scream actually made Sylvi cry and the children all left on a sadder note than was necessary for their outing. 

But do you see how quick I have to be? Every interaction feels like an emergency. All these emotions. So delicate. 

Here's another thing that happened today: I spent like six million dollars at Target when I only went there for some broccoli and to see if they had Harry Potter costume glasses. I ended up with a giant squid costume, a Stitch costume (from Lilo & Stitch,) a pretty cool light-up mirror mask, and a freaking huge teddy bear. 

?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? 

So, here's how it happened. The Harry Potter glasses were supposed to be for Ingrid for Halloween, but she actually had really wanted to be Stitch. So when they did not have anything Hogwarts related, but they DID have a one-piece Stitch costume that was super simple and I knew she would love, I said she could get it. (This was worth the ridiculous price because it meant I could stop looking for Harry Potter glasses. A huge relief!) Well, then Elka found this mask that is a mirror. Now, Elka really struggles with costumes because they are never perfect, and also she hates people. So when she found this mirror mask--one that allows her to see other people while not allowing them to see her--it seemed like a fantastic idea, not just for Halloween, but for every day of her life! So yes, of course Elka could get the mirror and this holiday would be much easier for her. 

Then... the squid costume. The squid costume was also a one piece but it was a size 5T, Greta (the one who wanted it) is TWELVE, it was too expensive, and she already had her Halloween costume planned with stuff from the dressup closet. So, it was a big fat "no" at first. But that was before the Stitch costume and mirror mask both got a "yes." Now I just looked like a jerk. And here's the other thing--I try so, so, so hard to give every daughter what she really needs, way down deep in her heart. I feel that I fail Greta a lot because her love language is physical closeness and I despise being touched. I LOVE SOCIAL DISTANCING, YOU GUYS. LOVE IT. I don't like touching people, not even my children after about age eight. I know that conflict of love languages is going to be a major therapy topic for her a decade or so from now, so I try to make up for it. As it stood, it definitely looked like I was favoring the little girls and just telling Greta "no" for no good reason. (I mean, the reason is that I'm broke, but "being broke" is not a love language, so it doesn't count when I get to this point in the decision making process.) In other words, I was making Greta feel like I loved her less. So after all this mental negotiation and weighing of what would be the most emotionally damaging answer, I said yes to the squid costume. (And while all this is going on, Anja asks for nothing, which hurts me more than anything else because she wants so little, and I never know what she does want/need. Again, the torment in my mind, trying to do the right thing, never knowing if I'm succeeding.)

AND THEN SYLVI FOUND THE ENORMOUS TEDDY BEAR. 


She found it somewhere, picked it up and snuggled it and carried it around with her all throughout this costume/love conundrum and when it was time to leave it behind (because I was NOT going home with that thing, I am not that kind of parent!) she SOBBED. She loved it with all her little heart. We kept trying to drop it off places on the way to the checkout, but she would not let go of it. It was so cute and funny and sad, that finally I said, "Fine. We'll get the bear, but as soon as she falls asleep, it goes into a closet to get saved for Christmas." (Luckily, that plan actually worked out really well!) 

And that, my friends, is how I arrive at the end of the day completely exhausted, and deeply in debt. Because there are no simple questions. Because everything is a love test. Because I know I'm doing it wrong, I'm just trying to choose the least-wrong route in every situation. Because because because! Because I'm just trying to do my best, just exactly like the rest of you.


Friday, June 18, 2021

Did Someone Say “Hospitality?”


I have been asked to share some tips on hospitality! And I’m happy to do so! 


I need to start by saying that there was no real effort on my part in making this place hospitable. It just kind of happened because of where we are located. We’re a good place to kill time when people have downtown obligations—say, dropping kids off for an art class that’s only an hour long—not quite worth it to go home, but just enough time for a cup of coffee at Annie’s! So, that’s how it began. 


But over the years it has evolved into “who is coming for dinner tonight?” or, “is anyone coming over today?” Which sometimes is spontaneous drop-ins, sometimes casual invitations, sometimes sizable parties. Ok, so here are my tips:


☕️We always have coffee. It’s not fancy—it is Folgers Black Silk made in a 12 cup Mr. Coffee drip pot, but it’s always available. (We also have tea because my girls especially are tea drinkers.) 


๐Ÿฝ there are lots of meals you can make to feed a crowd. Pasta, soups, loaves of bread with garlic oil to dip it in, grapes... I am not a fussy cook so I can usually come up with something suitable for many with what I have on hand. (Pasta is always good, and you can make an easy red sauce with canned crushed tomatoes and spices! Or just throw on butter, garlic and basil!) 


๐Ÿพ We did not used to keep alcohol on hand, because we are not really “drinkers,” but in the past few years we’ve started keeping cheap white wine in the fridge. It just feels fancy. Sometimes we’ll have some beers, in the winter we like to give people Hot Buttered Rum  or warm red spiced wine in the evenings. It’s not necessary, but people like a glass of wine. 


๐ŸงนI only really clean for people the first time they come over. After that we do a family tidy about an hour before guests arrive; sweep the floors, clear off the table, pick up toys and books. But unannounced drop-ins just have to step around the clutter. ๐Ÿ˜‚


๐Ÿ’Œ Invite people! It’s fun to have a laid back gathering (especially outside) and if you’re uncomfortable with people one-on-one, invite two! Don’t think about yourself—if you invite someone over, they will feel valued. If they come over and are afraid of your circus, meh. At least you are authentically you! (This is what I tell myself.) 


๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘ง What about all these children? What about this baby? So, our kids always eat dinner with our guests. We’ve never had a gathering without them, and children are always welcome at our house. They usually eat with us and then wander off to play. Often in summer we just turn on the hose, or build a fire for s’mores, or serve ice cream. Sometimes I put the girls in charge of dessert and the grownups get to visit while the kids make something sweet! (Also, not a fuss. One of their favorite desserts is homemade whipped cream with chocolate chips or berries. But often they’ll whip up a batch of cookies or a one-bowl chocolate cake.) Witch babies and littles, it is admittedly more difficult. Ingrid and Elka think our bathroom is monster-infested, so I have to be in the bathroom with them constantly. Add a stinky diaper from the baby, and I am absent from the table quite a bit.Whatever! I’m not the most interesting person to talk to anyway. There are nights the kids are awesome and cheerful, there are nights when they are bouncing off the walls or having meltdown after meltdown. I’ve found that when people come back after a meltdown night, it means SO MUCH. And it’s a good reminder to be extra compassionate if ever you are in the position of being a guest on someone else’s Grumpy Night. 


Above all else, just make sure people know they are always welcome. There have been times when we’ve had a constant stream of visitors and it’s gotten a little draining, but I try to remind myself that if people are coming here, that means they value this space, that it fills a love bucket of some sort for them. Humans are social creatures, and most of us really like food. I guess you could say the key to hospitality is filling an empty stomach. Haha. Isn’t that what they say about a man’s heart? That’s not really a very nice saying, is it? Like, men are probably only into you if you feed them well? Yet, here I am, advising the same for friendship. Hahaha, now that I think of it, maybe just ignore this whole post and just love your friends for who they are and allow them to do the same to you. ❤️

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Recipe: Spinach-Mushroom Pasta Sauce! (Bonus! It doubles as soup!)


 

Aha! Here is a recipe for you! 

I like to call this recipe "Annie's Favorite Pasta Sauce" because I am the only person in my family who actually loves it anymore. I started making it a couple of years ago and apparently I overdid it (as I am wont to do) because what once was a favorite now receives groans and gagging noises when placed on the table. Whatever, I still think it's delicious. 

It's basically just a spinach-mushroom-tomato sauce, and this is how to make it (this is pasta sauce enough for 2 boxes of Barilla rotini pasta, which feeds my family dinner and usually lunch the next day for the kids): 

Melt a nice hefty pat of butter in a small-medium sauce pan. To it, add a few chopped up cloves of garlic. (As I say: garlic aplenty!) To the garlic and butter, add a sprinkling of- salt, pepper, dill, chives, and onion powder. 


 

Let all that turn to a nice liquidy paste while you cut up some mushrooms. I use one box of baby bella, but you can use white button or really any kind of mushrooms and as many as you want. 

Toss in the mushrooms, and add a little chicken broth for liquid. 

After the mushrooms have cooked down a little bit, you add the spinach and tomatoes. You can use fresh of both, but I use canned tomatoes, and if I don't have fresh spinach, I use a box of frozen. I use the 14oz can of diced tomatoes, and no need to drain; just dump them all in, as well as the spinach. Add enough chicken broth to make it saucy, and let it bubble for a nice long while, letting all the flavors blend. You can add more chicken broth if you think you need more liquid.  

Make your pasta separately according to the package directions, then blend it all together, top with parmesan and serve hot! 

Now, here's the best part of this pasta sauce: IT CAN DOUBLE AS A SOUP! So let's say you make it as pasta sauce, then you go to retrieve your box of Rotini pasta, and OH CALAMITY! NO PASTA!? 

NO PROBLEM! 

Just add more chicken broth to this sauce, and throw in something like white beans, and you've got yourself a soup! 

My favorite dishes are the ones that can be 2-in-1. I love, love, love multi-meal cooking. 

Okay, so if this sounds yummy, try it out! And I hope you enjoy it as much as Sylvi did! 



Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Daily Life, Daily Strife


Even though we love each other very, very much, there are times between Martin and me which are not exactly at top harmony level. Yesterday evening was one of them. He really annoyed me.



Before I go further, I'd like to just stop and point out that I am always, every day, grateful for being able to stay home and homeschool my girls. If I had the choice every day to stay home or go to an office, I would chose this route every single morning. But as we all know, loving something doesn't automatically mean it is EASY.

Yesterday Martin got home at about twenty after five, just like every day. I was in the back room where Ingrid was having her ballet class via Zoom. Baby Sylvi was with me, and I was also monitoring Elka and Greta who were playing in the backyard. Sylvi had barely napped all day, and she wasn't grumpy, but I was way behind on my work and hadn't even gotten the meat out to thaw for dinner yet. (So we didn't have meat, in the end.)

Now, Martin has a bad habit of not eating lunch. He will graze on little things all day long, but it's like one cookie, or a handful of raisins he found on the sidewalk. It's never real food. So I wasn't surprised when I came into the kitchen and found him making himself a snack of crackers left on the table from lunch (likely licked by the dog or children) and cutting up some Colby Jack cheese that he had liberated from the darkest recesses of the refrigerator. Not surprised, but thoroughly grossed out. That cheese was OLD. It wasn't moldy, but that doesn't matter. It was yucky.

After he'd eaten and we had chatted, I handed him the baby and asked him to monitor the ballet class a little bit so I could get dinner started. I got to work, and he sat down at the table with the baby. He did that thing where he sighs a lot. Just sits in a chair staring. Like he's "tired." I asked him if he'd like me to make him coffee. "If you want some, I'd drink some. But don't make it for me." (That sentence is best read in an Eeyore voice.) What the heck. If it was the cheese, that was his own poor choice. If it was something else, he wasn't saying, so I was feeling zero sympathy.

I know Martin's job is taxing. And like I said at the beginning, I would never want it. I mean, his co-workers are great, I really like all of them, and he works at a church where currently no one else is allowed to visit, so complete and utter peace is mere footsteps away at all times. But he works hard all day long, and has dozens of irons in the fire all at once, constantly.

THAT DOESN'T MEAN I FELT SYMPATHETIC.

Because here's the thing that bugged me: He was tired after his long day at work, so he got to sit at the table and sigh mournfully and tell me in his Eeyore voice that he was "just tired." This is while I'm scrambling to get dinner for the family, clean up the disaster of a kitchen, make sure the kids aren't getting nabbed from the backyard, making sure they also don't kill each other, etc. My day doesn't stop at 5:00. Actually, my job never stops because I've got the mammary glands. And the Zoom ballet class was going way over the scheduled end-time, and you can't just leave someone who puts her leotard on backwards and dances with a perpetual wedgie without noticing to manage a virtual dance class alone.

So I got annoyed. And then--AND THEN!--he started BURPING. It was the cheese. He was making these repulsive ancient-cheese burps and telling me he was tired. Then he shuffled off to our bedroom to lie down.

Oh, GIVE ME A BREAK.

Every day I'm dealing with about 900 tasks per hour. (This is less than when I had four tiny children at once--then it was more like 2,900 things at once, but 900 is still a lot.) These tasks are usually Things I Need to Do for The Good of the Family, and don't include things like "breathing," or "using the facilities." It's things like feeding the children, feeding the children, feeding the children, and feeding the children, sprinkled with running baths for the children, changing diapers, changing clothes when tags are itchy, Finding Lost Things, and staying in the bathroom with Ingrid while she washes her hands because she is afraid of the noise of running water.

And because I'm a Mom, I've learned to multitask at every possible moment. Bath-running is also a scary sound for Ingrid, so while I am held captive in the bathroom waiting for the tub to fill, I wipe down the counters or clean the mirror or toilet. I sweep floors while helping with fractions, I make food while discussing art or vocabulary. I am skilled at using as few limbs as possible for any given task, so that I can also hold the baby. If the girls are playing outside and there is a wasp, I can be outside protecting them from stings while also sweeping the sidewalk or doing some light yard cleanup. Then there's a whole area of my job that is purely "listening." I listen to ideas that don't make a lot of sense. Jokes that aren't at all funny. Stories that never end. Dreams. (SO MANY DREAMS.) Likewise, there's a lot of "watching" in my job. "MAMA! Watch me do this cool thing!... wait, that wasn't right, WATCH AGAIN!" And this doesn't even include another enormous part of my job: Combat Control. (I took that term from my friend who is a #boymom, she's got serious skill in that area.)

And five kids might sound like a lot to juggle, but we also have four beloved pets. So added to caring for the children is taking action when Elka is worried that her pet mouse is dead. (She worries about this at least once a day and so I have to wake up the mouse, who has never yet been dead.) There's the turtle in the bathtub who needs feeding and housecleaning, the cat who is everyone's favorite that we have to go searching the closets for when we haven't seen her in awhile, and the dog who is hands down the most stressful living thing in my charge.

And then we can talk about my anxieties that are streaming through the rivers of my brain every day. We can just start with the pet mouse: One of these times that thing IS going to be dead when I try to wake it up. And do you realize what a disaster that's going to be? Elka loves that mouse more than she loves ME. She tells me every night: "I love Sunflower the most, then you the next most." It's going to be awful. AWFUL! This fear sits more heavily on my mind with every passing day because that mouse is more than a year old. Elka rescued her for $2 from the feeder box at the local pet supply store on Feburary 28, 2019. We're now nearing the end of April, 2020, and that mouse is fit as a fiddle. BUT IT WON'T LIVE FOREVER, WILL IT. And then it's going to be bad.

You know what, I'm not going to list any more of my anxieties because just discussing that one has me worn out.

Let's get back to Tired Martin. Sometimes he'll call me during one of his little few minute breaks in his day. Admittedly, there aren't many, and he usually has to let me go abruptly when something comes up. But still, I can tell he gets kind of irritated when he's trying to tell me something and I am obviously distracted. He'll be talking and I'm listening hard with one ear, but I'm also doing any number of the things mentioned a few paragraphs back, and so sometimes he doesn't know if I'm answering him or talking to someone else. Heck, sometimes I don't know either. My life can be confusing.

But let's focus on Right Now for a minute as a perfect example. Right now, while I'm typing this (which I started yesterday and wasn't able to finish, so anywhere it says "yesterday," it was actually two days ago) I am still in my pajamas at 10:30 in the morning because I haven't been able to take a shower and get dressed yet. Ingrid is in the bathtub and I'm monitoring her while also listening for the baby to wake up. Ingrid has lots of questions and she gets easily freaked out by weird sounds, so every so often I have to go into the bathroom (it's just right next to me, so I can answer her questions from where I am, but if there's a sound I need to go investigate) and listen to some nonexistent noise, then make up some believable reason for it to set her mind at ease. Some questions that have come from the bathroom in the last few minutes have been: "What makes people faint?" "What is a cone?" (like for a dog.) "Is today a ballet day for Anja?" "When will Coronavirus be over?" "Are you still sitting in your chair?" "Are you still there?" "Are you still in the kitchen?" "Do you think these drips of water are really mouse pee-pee?" And just now, "Mama? ….(exceptionally long silence)…. I forget."

HE CAN'T POSSIBLY BE AS COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED AS I AM AT FIVE O'CLOCK. HE CAN'T. HE CAN'T!!!

For awhile I got pretty grouchy with him. Since his stomach was upset and he was burping so much, I didn't serve him any dinner. (Isn't that childish of me?!) And I insisted on doing all the cleanup, while holding the baby. I might have even started sighing loudly myself a little bit. I said things like, "No, no! I'll get it! It's fine!" (But then later he was holding the baby and washing a mug for tea with one hand, real struggly-like. Do you know how many mugs we own? Dozens! The one he was washing was the ONLY dirty mug! It was just for show!)

Well, in the end I apologized for not being nicer, and explained that I'd been feeling a little overwhelmed that day. He apologized for eating sketchy cheese and for not helping out more. It all ended well. We had a nice evening. We still love each other lots and lots.

And now I just got Ingrid out of the bathtub, and I hear Sylvi making snuffly awake noises in the next room, so I'll get to the point: It's okay to be Eeyore. It's okay to be grouchy. It's okay to be overwhelmed. The important thing is to get back to harmonious love as soon as you can!

P.S. He really is as tired as I am at 5 o'clock. And that's okay too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Things We Can Control



Pssst... I have to tell you something: THE TREES ARE GREENING.

Spring is here! Nevermind that it snowed here in Indiana this morning (sadly typical for April here,) last night I was driving on an *essential* grocery run and I looked up the hill at the edge of our neighborhood, which is lined with beautiful trees and historic homes, and it all was a lovely misty green, speckled with the pink and white of Magnolia and Crabapple blossoms. It was so beautiful, so cheerful, so hopeful.

Spring used to be nothing to me, but over the years it has become one of my favorite times. There is nothing quite like the early green of the trees leafing out, the flowering everything, the slant of light through my kitchen window to cheer my weary heart after a long Indiana winter. Now, I do love winter... in fact, I adore winter. It's a restful time of Slow & Cozy, plus I love snow, but come March I'm usually ready for spring... sadly, I'm usually ready for it before Mother Nature is. (Take today's snow, for example...) 

This winter ended on an especially draggy note, didn't it? What with this virus and all; Staying at home, day after day. Add to the simple monotony the stresses of job insecurity, food insecurity, financial insecurity, life insecurity, and that doesn't add up to a very cheery end to the season, nor beginning of the next. Isn't this baseball season? Aren't we missing out on a lot of springy stuff? Why is everything getting so hard and sad all of a sudden? 

There have been many times in my life (especially recently) when I've wondered about myself. I've wondered why I'm not more upset when things around me seem very unfortunate. I ask myself, "Have I achieved Enlightenment? Or am I just emotionally stunted?" (Likely the latter...) But in this specific case, I am looking around at society and seeing a lot of people who are really struggling right now due to all the reasons listed above and more, while I am ....oddly fine. I even try to make myself worry, and I can't. Maybe it has something to do with my choice of husband--I mean, knowing that my life partner can make a fire out of sticks and build animal traps with rocks and branches does provide some level of confidence that we won't starve or freeze in the event that things get really bonkers--but I think it has more to do with the fact that Martin and I have been through hard times before, and we made it through okay. Mostly our hard times have been/stemmed from financial trouble... we've had some exceptionally lean seasons. (A few times it wasn't just lean, it was famine.) And it WAS hard. But we kept our eyes on that teeniest pinprick of light at the end of a long, long tunnel of struggle until we made it through. 

Keep in mind, I'm an expert on exactly NOTHING, and I'm certainly not a life coach or anything like it, but I have a few thoughts to offer than have gotten me through tough times, and maybe one or two of them can help you, if you find yourself feeling "not okay." 

In talking to others about this current situation, one of the most difficult parts is feeling like we aren't in control. Everything seems so unpredictable and uncertain. When will things get rolling again? When will people go back to work? When can we rejoin our friends on the playgrounds? We seem to have no definite answers. Frustrating! But there is hope in the small things we CAN control. At times when we have been flatter than flat broke, holding tight to things I can actually control has made a world of difference in my daily outlook. Here are some things you can *do* that are in your control and brought to you by either nature, or this unique experience. 

YOU CAN:

-Open your window before dawn and listen to the birds sing in the morning. The birds are still singing their twilight songs and their morning songs. Birds are everywhere; I live in the heart of a city and still, in the predawn, the cacophony of birdsong is glorious. It's worth waking up early for. 

-Instead of reading the news, read poetry. You can find a vast collection at poetryfoundation.org . It's full of treasures! Read one a day and let it sit with you. Find friends for a virtual poetry study. Delve into the works of one specific poet and let yourself become moderately obsessed. Even better: read a poem while listening to the predawn song of the birds.  

-It's easy to fall into thinking you have no helpful role in this crisis. "But I'm not a healthcare worker!" "I can't make masks to donate, I don't know how to sew!" "I don't have enough food for myself, let alone for my neighbors or the food pantry!" But you know what? There are a huge, huge number of people stuck at home, alone, struggling. You could start a Facebook group or a regularly scheduled video meeting. Call it "The Break Room," a place where work-from-home folks can check in on other work-from-home folks. "The Teacher's Lounge," where teachers who are overloaded and missing their students can commiserate with each other. "The Local Bar," where you join friends for a socially distant glass of wine. You could start an online book club! You could start an online POETRY club! You could start an online poetry club that meets at sunrise so you can all hear each other's neighborhood birds welcoming the day! (Okay, that's the last time I'm going to build ideas off the birdsong, I promise.) 

-Only you can control your Focus of Gratitude. I always find it comforting to focus on this one thought: "We are all together." Now, that's not the case for everyone, and for some, the togetherness of late is just a wee bit TOO togethery. It's something that works for me, though. Maybe your focus of gratitude could be the fact that technology allows connections to be maintained despite physical distance. Maybe you're able to practice hobbies that you haven't had time for before now. Maybe you're picking up new hobbies. Maybe you've adopted a pet. There's always something to be grateful for. (Even if it's just the birdsong --I'M SORRY I'M SORRY I HAD TO.) 

-Look at the flowers. I mean, really look at them. Flowers are incredible. Right now in our yard we have an assortment of dandelion, wild violet, tulips, grape hyacinth, and some pretty little white flowers I can't identify. They are all just so marvelous to look at, and they won't last very long at all. Now is the moment! 

-Listen to the music being made around you/Look at the art being made around you: there are geniuses making music and art for all of us to enjoy in this unique time. When the world gets moving again, it's unlikely that YoYo Ma will have the time to sit and perform specially for us from his home and post it on YouTube. Carson Ellis won't be hosting "Quarantine Art Club" when the quarantine is in the past. There won't be free streamings of broadway shows forever. These are the parts of this time that we'll remember fondly. The way the arts were in the spotlight. The way human connection was so valued. The way superstars were able to reach all of us on a level of equality: we're ALL experiencing this. That is so bizarre! 

-Write a letter to someone. Okay, I stink at this one, but it's a good idea. Pick up your pen and some paper and take advantage of that first grade education and the fact that the U.S. Mail is still in service. Revive your cursive! Or your bubble letters! You once again have all the time in the world to write every sentence in a different color of gel pen. C'mon, you know you want to. 

-Reconnect. How often is the whole world experiencing some form of the exact same catastrophe? Understanding comes in great quantities these days. Chances are that pal you lost touch with a few years back has at least one thing in common with you now: It starts with a C and ends with "oronavirus." Some people are seeing some really crappy outcomes from this, and think of how meaningful it might be to know that someone from long ago is thinking of them enough to look them up and say hey. I actually gag a little bit every time I hear the phrase "reach out," but I'm going to say it now: Reach Out to someone. Reconnect. Share. Make memories happen. 

But most of all, hang in there!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Back to Blogging... Where to Begin?


Someday we'll remember odd details about this Global Pandemic, when we are sitting in our quiet living rooms with our loved ones. We'll say things like, "Remember how the jewelry store on Main Street put up boards over their windows to deter thieves?" and "Remember watching the magnolia trees blossom on our evening walks?" and most of all we'll say, "OMG, remember that hilarious meme...." because this actually is 2020 and not 1934. 

After more than a year away from this dusty space (as if a space needs to be vacant in order to be dusty--HA! Come to my house and you will see us living vivaciously alongside our piles of dust!) I've decided it's a good time to get back to it. A lot of people seem to have extra time on their hands, and I thought I'd throw something into the void that is pretty much Corona-Unrelated. So, here we go. 

Where do I begin? Where I left off last winter our life was very different and very comfortable. Ingrid was about to turn five, homeschooling was fine, the kids were happy, and I was getting back into making music and sharing it on my Patreon platform and YouTube. I was getting back into folk music in an educational way also, learning old songs, origins, songwriters, performers, and bits of history along the way. It was nice! It was a good place to be in life. We'd started singing together as a family and planned a Summer Songtrip through the Eastern U.S., making the music of the areas all along the way. We did take that trip and got to visit with numerous friends and family members along the way as well. (We also got to hide out from a possibly tornadic thunderstorm in a Dollar General in rural Kentucky. That was one of those least-favorite-parts than a long time later actually becomes one of the favorites.) 

A few days after returning from our SongTrip we got a happy and welcome surprise--WHEE! Another baby! And that's where we are today: 


We welcomed our fifth daughter, Sylvi Joy in late February, via C-section Number Five. The cesarean was great, the recovery was great, and Sylvi herself is SO GREAT. She is a delight. She is my Sweet Sugar Dumpling. She was a long, long wait, our big exclamation point after drought and loss, and OH MY GOSH WE ARE SO HAPPY TO HAVE HER. 

However, there's not much else to say about life since the birth of Sylvi. I find I don't do much of anything but cuddle her. Stare at her. Make oogie-googie noises at her. Of course, there's a little bit of, "Don't smother the baby!!" and I do still have to school and feed my other four, so I guess I'm not really doing NOTHING.... but my daily To-Do List begins and ends with snuggles, and I'm not mad about it. 

I've been meaning to make a post about her name, so this seems like a good enough opportunity. SYLVI JOY! 

There's a traditional song I've been singing for a number of years called "Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie" or just "Sylvie," and ever since learning that song I have ADORED the name Sylvie. And I also love Sylvia, and I love all spelling variations. Sylvia comes from the Latin "Sylvan" meaning "of the woods," which is beautiful. In addition, Rhea Silvia is the traditional mother of Rome, being the mother of Romulus and Remus. So the roots of the name really moved me, but Martin wasn't sold on Sylvia, and neither of us felt like it really fit with the names of the other girls, whose names (Anja, Greta, Elka, Ingrid) are of German/Nordic root. 

So, we did a little research and we found a few interesting things. While it seems to be relatively modern, "Sylvi" is a sort of Norwegian nickname for Sylvia--BUT-- it's also a variation of a totally different Old Norse name: Solveig. 

I love the name Solveig (widely pronounced as "Soul-Vay") and I call Sylvi that sometimes. But Solveig means "Daughter of the Sun" rather than "Of the Woods." Both so beautiful! 

So we did a mashup, I guess. Sylvi fulfills the need for a patron saint as well: Saint Sylvia was the mother of Gregory the Great. A coincidental tidbit about that (which we could not have foreseen, I mean really, nobody expects the birth of their baby to kick off a plague and eternal quarantine) is that Gregory the Great is famous for having processed through the streets of Rome with the Holy Eucharist during the Roman Plague of 590. So we gave her a fitting name without even knowing it! 
And she is such a ray of sunshine. And she looks like a little woodland gnome. 

And Joy! We named her Joy for a lot of reasons... mostly because we were just so, so, SO happy to have her. 

Remember way back at the beginning of this post when I said I didn't really do anything? Turns out that's a lie. I've been conversing with children the entire time I've been writing this, and they all are wanting me to help them with different things from gluing knitting needles to trimming their hair, and we haven't even finished schooling for the day! 

Hoping to get back into the groove of being in this space frequently! 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Time I Definitely Did Not Get Picked Up in the Checkout Line



Last night I had a strange sort of experience that first made me feel embarrassed, then kind of sad, then grateful. This is how it went.

I zipped out to the store by myself after dinner, before bedtime, just for a few things I hadn't gotten earlier in the week--a few bags of frozen fruit, some canned goods, pickles, cabbage, flour... Basically I mostly got the preserved food that I'm too lazy to have put up for myself last summer. (Is it laziness? Or is it gluttony? Because I don't recall ever having any abundance of food that needed preserving.) It wasn't supposed to be a lot of food, but for a family of six, pretty much any grocery trip ends with a lot of food. Anyway, there was only one checkout open, and I was in a hurry to get home and put the girls to bed, so I just zipped right into line. There was a man who fell into line behind me and we were standing there (it was a long line) for probably a full minute or more, when I heard him say, "You just barely beat me." I turned around and saw he was a man probably about my age, blonde hair, blue eyes, smiling at me, ...pretty smarmy seeming (and absolutely not a man who could harvest and cook me a delicious dinner with nothing but sticks and skill, unlike the hunk I married.) I responded with a delicate, "Huh??" He repeated himself, and I could plainly see his expression change from cool to regretful. It only got worse as I started apologizing and gesticulating and speaking in a volume that would never be considered an "inside voice." He only had a couple of pillows in his cart, and I begged him to please go ahead of me since he had so little and I had OMG SO MUCH FOOD, and his expression just slid further and further into outright disgust and he said, "It's ok, I'm good." I turned around and prayed for the line to move along so I could get the heck out of there.

Then another cashier came up and offered me to come to her freshly opened lane. Of course, I turned around and begged Mr. Pillows to go over there, but with the same flat expression he said, "ladies first," and I hauled my cart over to the next checkout. Which, of course, was the wrong checkout. The cashier waved from one over and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm over heeeere!" So I bumped and heaved my cart out of the wrong checkout and into the right checkout, and the cashier started asking me polite questions that she really didn't want actual answers to, but of course, I answered her cheerfully in my non-inside voice, apologized some more, waved my arms, was embarrassingly over-friendly... sigh. All the usual.

Then I left. And I walked out wondering why I can't control my volume, why I can't be one of those quiet people, one of those slick, beautiful women with a soft, sultry voice and lovely smile? I don't have any desire to be picked up by creepy men in the grocery store checkout line, but neither do I desire to turn around and witness firsthand how they feel they've made a mistake, when they see that I'm not the lovely lady they were expecting, that I'm just a weird, loud, frumpy old hag with wrinkles and acne and way too many apologies. Nobody likes rejection, even if it's rejection from something in which they are totally and utterly uninterested. Rejection always stings a little.

Back at my Mom Van with the flowers painted on the sides, I loaded my groceries in the trunk, reviewing what I'd bought--canned tomatoes, pickles and cabbage for sour cabbage soup; frozen peaches for peaches and cream for the girls and their friend Helen after ballet on Wednesday; a bottle of Mrs. Meyers spray because the bottle I'd been reusing with vinegar for awhile broke and Fresh Thyme was out of their glass spray bottles; flour because I've got a whole lot of bread to bake this week. As I drove home I thought about all those things I'd bought and about the way I choose to live. It's a simple, homemade way of life that I really love. My idiosyncrasies that are over the top and embarrassing are just who I am and I shouldn't want to be quieter only because other people are quieter. If I have a desire to change who I am, it should be because I'm always feeling on the edge of getting kicked out of libraries and churches for being too loud and animated, not just because I want to be more like other people. And so what if nobody likes me, right? I've got Martin and my daughters for now, and if they someday decide to move on and away from me and never look back, I love cats and I could happily fill my whole house with cats, who cannot comment on my habits and traits. They might look at me with disgust, but they are cats!

Today I've been baking my bread and making my cabbage soup and thinking about beautiful women. Perfect, barbie doll women, with ideal traits, habits, and features that are found so attractive by so many. Mousy, sweet women who are so nice that people envy them for their kindness and compassion. Bold, successful women who know what they want out of life and go for it, and even if they don't succeed right away, they keep at it. Gentle, motherly women, who are raising up a future generation to make the world a better place. Loud, alpha-females who take every situation by storm. Women who are stepping out of their comfort zones and treading a new path in life, moving forward with as much confidence as they can muster. Empty nesters who are past the chaos and endless work of children and are watching their children go off without them. Old World grandmothers in their kitchens making bread and cabbage soup--women who would definitely not be picked up by men in the grocery store checkout line, but who are so, so very beautiful.

So I guess I should really thank Mr. Pillows if I ever see him again, for embarrassing me into seeing things more clearly, and recognizing that every "mother's apron" covered in a floral dress, every forehead wrinkle, every dark circle, every silver thread of hair, every coffee stain on the blouse of someone who uses her arms too much when she talks--- these little bits of life are really what make the women of this world so exceptionally attractive.


AND A BONUS RECIPE!

Wintertime Sour Cabbage Soup

One large sweet onion
1 Tbsp (or more) garlic 
As much butter as you love 
1 head cabbage 
1 can diced tomatoes
1 box or handful mushrooms 
half water, half chicken broth 
1/2 of the pickle juice from a jar of pickles
dill 
oregano
salt 
pepper 

In a large soup pot, melt butter. Cut up onion and sautรฉ with garlic until transparent. Core and cut up cabbage, add to pot. Drain can of tomatoes and add.

Cover ingredients with water, then add that same amount of chicken broth.

Slice or dice mushrooms, add to pot. Give many good shakes of dried oregano, dill, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the pickle juice.

Let boil/simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. Serve hot and enjoy!