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!? 


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.


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.


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."


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. 


-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.


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

In a large soup pot, melt butter. Cut up onion and sauté 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!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Just In Case You Aren't Like Marie Kondo

I confess I've never watched the new TV show about Marie Kondo, but I have read her book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and I absolutely LOVED IT. It really made sense to me, and I felt like it was going to change my garbage-ridden life. The way she thought carefully about every item in her home and if it no longer served a purpose, she had a method for sending it on it's way--that really spoke to me. The way it wasn't about PURGE! PURGE! PURGE! But more about living only among things you love was right up my alley. And the fold-up style of placing clothes in a drawer legitimately changed my laundry life for the better. It sounds so RIGHT to only keep the things that really bring joy into your life, and to mindfully let go of the rest. I love it. Her method is not without sentimentality, but it's so practical at the same time--I just really, really liked what she had to say. 

And yet... My house: 

Also my house: 

One view of my kitchen: 
Aaaaaand another: 

(Two walls shelves to the right of the frame in that last picture are LOADED with mugs, bowls, kitchen towels, plants, knickknacks, and children's art!) 

So, I suppose while Marie Kondo's words resonated with me, they didn't quite leave such a lasting impression when it comes to my housekeeping. 

It's been a few years since her book came out, and I have to share a relevant story about it because it kind of encompasses who I am, as it relates to the KonMari method of keeping house. 

Not too long after the book was taking the nation by storm, a friend asked if she could borrow my copy. I enthusiastically told her I'd love to lend it to her, because it REALLY changed my life and I enjoyed it so much. I said there were some things that seemed a little over-the-top, but the general intentionality that defined her method was really something I aspired to. So, I went home and looked for the book. And I looked for the book. And I looked everywhere for that blasted book and could not for the life of me remember where I'd put it. I had to email my friend and tell her nevermind--I couldn't find it. Maybe I lent it to someone else without remembering? So sorry. 

It was a couple weeks later that my husband pulled a novel off one of our bookshelves for himself to read, and out tumbled "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo! It seems it had succumbed to the overloaded nature of our bookshelves and had fallen back BEHIND a row of books! Heh heh.. Oops! And thus, my life as it relates to the KonMari method was well illustrated. 

Also of note: I just now was looking for the book for reference, and doggone, it's lost AGAIN!! 

So, you might be wondering, "Gee, Annie, if you were sooooooo inspired by Marie Kondo's art of tidying up, why the heck do you continue to live in such squalor? Why not just implement her method and clean up your house?!" If you ask that, you'd be asking the same question I've asked myself many times over the years, but one that I've just recently come to accept. 

And the way I accepted it is this: I still DO try to live only with what "sparks joy." The tricky thing is, I find joy very easily and in a lot of places.  I can be a very sentimental person, so I tend to hold onto stories that come along with "stuff," but also I just really think a lot of things in my life are very beautiful and I love them. I'm not an official collector of anything, but I LOVE handmade pottery, so I have quite a collection and I don't want to get rid of any of them because they DO spark joy in my life, and I love serving warm drinks to my friends in them. My large amount of houseplants bring me SO MUCH JOY, while also cleaning my air! Our books? Every year we say it's time to get rid of some books, so we skim the shelves for ones that aren't necessary to keep. If we're lucky we find one to give away, but most of the time we just stand there with hearts in our eyes, feeling pleased and proud of our library that we've grown over the years. And the mess of other things like craft supplies was something I've struggled with... The yarn stash alone threatens to strangle me in the night. But if I look at it with a "does it spark joy" question upon my lips, I say, "YES IT DOES!" and I hug all my happy little skeins and make plans anew for all the gorgeous sweaters I will never actually get around to knitting.

Since the airing of the television show and the revival of Marie Kondo's fame, I've again been faced with the idea that my house is a little cluttery and maybe it's time I do something about it. When I read her book those years ago, I definitely felt the push. And I think I did clear out a good deal, and I maintain that her words impacted me and the way I live among my hoards of things. I do not believe, however, that we have to be minimalists in order to live in a joyfully stocked home. I don't agree with putting a number on possessions. It took me a long time to love my house and my way of decorating because it's quite cluttery... and in the age of minimalism I often feel guilty about the amount of clay mugs and plants I have. But over the last few years, as we've moved a number of times, and been forced to embrace pretty extreme minimalism for different periods, I've just come to realize more and more how much the things I have DO spark joy in my life. I'm not a shopper by nature, which means that most of my possessions have come to me through other people. Many were gifts, some were inherited, and a few we buy with intention. If I love something disposable, I make it not disposable--for example, a plastic dish soap dispenser that I bought years ago from TJ Maxx... I really don't think it's meant to be used for years--it's just thin plastic! But I can't let it go! So I keep refilling it, and it keeps making the mundane task of dishwashing prettier. We also don't have a lot of storage in this house so almost everything we have has to be stored in plain sight. This means I hang kitchen tools (colander, dustpan--I absolutely ADORE my dustpan-- hot pads, etc.) on the walls to double as art and bring me even more joy. Instead of living in a tidy, empty-ish house, I live in a crowded, overstocked house, but everything has a place and everything is a treasured item. 

It might be true that my style of decorating is not very in-style right now. It is most definitely true that I'll never be a minimalist and that it's taken me a long time to realize that, but it's also true that I'm a happier person for having realized it and for embracing who I am and the fact that I don't live with a bunch of junk, but a large amount of treasured belongings. I think that's the key difference. 

In case you are like me, and feeling a little bit like the KonMari craze is not for you, I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. But also that the main thing that matters in her message is the joy. Isn't that what matters most in a lot of avenues of life? Joy! Purge your household items as it brings you joy, and embrace your clutter in the same manner if that's right for you. It's not about the stuff, it's about surrounding yourself with LOVE, BEAUTY, and JOY. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

I'm Just Sitting Here

A few Sundays ago, we went to church, just like we do every Sunday and have done every Sunday since foreverago. The morning was the usual flurry of six people sharing a bathroom, four heads of long hair to fix, four pairs of tights to be found, breakfasts, dressing, shoes, coats, all done on a short deadline.

But it happened; we all got ready: boots, coats, in the car, and on our way. We arrived on time. We found a pew near the back (habit) and sat down quietly. Anja and Greta have their own little missals that they follow along with for prayers, and Elka looks off of them and reads along. Ingrid occupies herself, or sits quietly, participating in the stand-sit-kneel parts, but not yet knowing the prayers. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was respectful. Everyone was attentive. Everyone was so.... old.

All around us were families, some with big kids, some with teens, and many with babies and toddlers.  There were all the variety of parents too, the nervous shhh-ers, the hopeful bouncers, the patient huggers. There were the up-and-down-the-aisles-to-the-bathrooms, there were the exiting-in-the-midst-of-a-tantrums, there was the inevitable runaway, and the one who seemed set on pulling the baptismal font over on herself. There were the mothers with multiple small children who were pulled in all directions. There were the fathers pacing in the back. There were the tiny little voices echoing loudly off the walls.

And then there was me.

Just sitting there. In a pew. With my four silent children. My four big, not-babyish, fully potty-trained, no-longer-napping, communicative, DID I MENTION BIG, children.

And on the inside (not the outside--I'm pretty good at stifling my feelings, which is actually probably considered an "issue," but it's a good issue to have in public when your heart is being torn out of your body and thrown into the baptismal font to look up at the tiny face peering over the edge, who is so much younger than any of your children are, reminding you of what you don't have.) I was breaking.

Now, I know I'm exaggerating a little bit--after all, Ingrid is only 4 (and eight months) and it's not a guarantee that there will NEVER be another baby in my family, even though as time creeps forward it is looking more and more likely that there won't. And my kids really are still little, and I recognize that. But even still, the stark realization is there: that there will come a Last Baby. Eventually one of these times you really do birth your youngest, who will remain your youngest for the rest of your life, and there will be no more "I'm a Big Sister!" shirts. There will be no more diapers, no more sleep regressions, no more potty training sticker charts, no more frustrations over toys all over the house, or running out of wipes at an inopportune time. There will be no more 4:00pm naps that make you want to gouge your eyeballs out, no more tantrums over bunny ears vs. loop and swoop, no more tears over cutting a sandwich the wrong direction, no more uncontrollable, joyous laughter just because you hid your face behind a blanket and then pulled it off and said "peekaboo!" There will be no more monitors, diaper genies, tinkly-song playing toys, disappearing pacifiers. No more wooden alphabet blocks. No more teeny tiny loads of laundry full of teeny tiny clothes and unbelievably tiny socks. No more bargaining for "one last bedtime story."

Okay, I'm done.

As I sat in the pew, without a baby to fuss over, without a toddler to placate, watching the other parents wrangle their own bundles of joy/energy, I thought back to how HARD it was when I was in those days. When all I wanted was for my girls to sit quietly for just ONE HOUR, and why the heck couldn't they do that? When someone always had to go to the bathroom, or was fighting, or was just being plain naughty and had to be taken to the back. Or when the baby was tired and couldn't nap with all that stimulation, or when the baby was hungry but I was too shy to nurse in church. There were so many things that made going to church--or anyplace quiet--difficult. With Ingrid I often had to take her out because she would break into song, and I didn't really want to shush her, so we would just go to the back, or outside and walk around and sing till she was done. Now she saves her songs for outside church, because she isn't 2. With Elka she would throw massive screaming rage fits and I'd have to sit in the van with her for most of the Mass. She still has those rage fits, but not nearly as often. Greta was just a wiggle worm with a super loud voice, and Anja just always sat quietly in church, because she is actually a church mouse, not a human, and Sitting Quietly is what Anja does best, no matter where she is.

Having tiny kids is a STRUGGLE. But it's a struggle that one day will be gone, almost without warning. Even though you KNOW they will grow up, it still sneaks up on you, because the hours just pass by, and you move seamlessly from diapers to little potties, to practicing your letters, to "don't forget to flush and wash your hands," to helping bake bread, to walking to the library alone, to "can you help me with my multiplication?"

And then we all know it gets worse after that, but multiplication is as far as I am right now, and I am VERY HAPPY HERE THANK YOU, I DO NOT NEED TO THINK ABOUT DATING AND DRIVING AND COLLEGE AND MARRIAGE AND LET'S JUST STOP RIGHT HERE.

If I have a point, it's this: Parents with tiny children--I love seeing your wiggle worms. I envy you, wrestling down your two year old in the pew, removing pages of the songbook from your baby's mouth, pacing your sleepy little one in the back, while you're trying to concentrate, but are legitimately distracted by important work. The bulky bucket seats, the burp cloths, the diaper bags, the toys on the floor... it's all such a fleeting gift.

Someday I'll look back on this picture of my own family and think, "Look how TINY they were! They were BABIES!!" They aren't really babies, but there will come a time when I look back at sister fights and scattered craft projects, and baking days that trash the kitchen, lost dolls, and still wanting me to snuggle them to sleep even though I have Christmas presents to sneakily work on, ALL those braids to make every Sunday, and even--EVEN--the multiplication tables, and I will wish so desperately for this time back, because this phase of young kids is a fleeting gift too. So different from the baby stage, but so special. And there are, undoubtedly, mothers older than myself in the pews around me, thinking back on all the french braids they made, and the little dresses in the closet, and the keeping track of ballet rehearsal times, and the baking they did together, and they envy me for what I have right now.

It's all just such a fleeting gift.

Postscript: One week later at church, Elka had to be removed because she was screaming that I wasn't holding her, and that I liked Ingrid better than I liked her, then Ingrid was whining "WHEN WILL CHURCH BE DOOOOOONNNNEEE" at the top of her "whisper voice," (not a whisper) and then tonight when I came out from putting them to bed I found somebody else's booger on my ear, so I guess I'm not really in the clear as much as I thought I was, but my sentiments about this topic are still very real.