Friday, April 25, 2014

7qt: Needy kids suck

... the life out of me, that is!

1

I don't know what's gotten into my kids the past few weeks.  It started with Marko refusing to ever be alone, even in the bathroom.  Then he started waking at night again, and screaming bloody murder at the notion of not having an adult sit with him for a good hour while he gets back to sleep.  Then he wanted to be in my lap for hours if he could get away with it.

Of course Michael's response to this was to get clingy too.  So it seems I always have one child in my lap and one climbing up the side of my chair crying and demanding "uppie." 

Needless to say, this kinda drains my batteries.  I end up standing up and saying I am done with lap time for everyone.  Then I wash dishes while they pull my pants down around my ankles in their attempt to climb up my legs, crying all the time.

2

My best guess as to the cause is that they are sensing that I don't have a lot to give, and so they're jockeying to make sure they drain out every drop available.  Kind of like with nursing -- as the milk dries up, Michael spends more time nursing to get what he can.  But with emotional energy, it's counterproductive.  I feel I would have plenty to give if only they gave me a few more breaks!

Why don't I have a lot to give?  I blame pregnancy.  It does make me depressed and irritable.  Michael's sleep hasn't been too terrible lately, but he's always up at least twice.  Occasionally he won't go back to sleep again so we have a truly dreadful night once a week or so.  When I have some good nights in a row, the mood lightens around here considerably.

Of course their neediness spurs a great deal of fear that they will still be like this when the baby gets here, so I will have THREE of them hanging on me crying.  I'm trying not to let my mind go there, but of course it does.  I do remember that Marko was this needy when I was pregnant with Michael, and it didn't last once Michael was born.  However, six months later or so he had a truly awful phase for months, so ..... not sure what that means for us.

Another contributing factor is that John has been super busy with work and politics.  But there really isn't any helping those.  We are really careful when accepting new obligations, but there are some really important ones we've already committed to.  And anyway the only thing that would make Marko happy would be for John to quit his job and snuggle him fulltime.  He has an epic meltdown, still, every morning when John leaves for work.

3

I also think that the two boys have reached a tough stage in their relationship.  Michael is no longer willing to accept the toys he's given and play Marko's way.  He grabs, a lot.  He takes toys that Marko didn't want to share.  (My rule is that, aside from a few really crucial things like sippy cups and new birthday toys, if you weren't playing with it, your brother can.  But Marko feels that everything is his and should not ever be shared.)  And if Marko tries to "get back" a toy he thinks is his, Michael bites him hard.  So I spend a lot of time, when I am not holding one or the other of them (and even when I am, because they fight on my lap too), trying to stop them from escalating their conflicts.

But it's hard, because I am not sure how much good it does to say "don't grab your brother, don't snatch his toy, don't push" while grabbing one who is about to hit, snatching a toy to restore it to the one who had it first, and pushing off someone who is climbing up the side of my chair.  Yet I don't know how I can avoid these actions and still prevent everyone from getting hurt!

I'm trying to just put lots in the "love bank" of each kid by snuggling them every moment I can.  But it's driving me nuts, first because it truly feels like they are sucking the life out of me just by touching me, second because they won't be still EVER, and third because it's a rare moment that I can have just one kid touching me.  It turns out that having two people touching me at once is my personal hell.  It is hard to explain what's so awful about it, but it is.

And then when I finally do get everyone happy, they go back to playing with each other and two seconds later they are both screaming, there's a bite mark on Marko, and Michael is flat on the ground.  I can't so much as pee without war breaking out.

4

Someone gave me the advice yesterday to just "lower my standards" on the housework.  First, my standards aren't really capable of much lowering --- I'm pretty relaxed.  And at this point, doing housework is a special treat.  I never thought I'd say that!  But doing something that isn't holding anybody, plus getting some of the overstimulating mess out of my environment, is something I do for myself.

I was in a conversation recently online about the needs of Catholic mothers.  We're all kind of overstretched and overwhelmed.  Some people said that single women and older women should be pitching in more.  Some said we need to work harder to build community to help each other out more.  Some said all they really wanted was someone to talk to.

And I thought ... I don't have it in me to do one more thing, not even if that one more thing was making a friend.  I usually talk to someone at least once a week, and that's overstimulating enough -- considering we are always, always interrupted every five minutes.  I had to cut short a phone call with my mom and one with a dear friend this week, because trying to pay attention to both the call and the kids was making me want to scream.

5

I guess the one thing that would really help would be a 30-hour work week for John.  Because I feel that all mothers do nowadays, the stress and the overwork, is all just trying to compensate for the absence of fathers ..... fathers who do every single thing they can, but who are dragged away from the home ten hours a day (if you count commutes and mandatory lunch breaks), five days a week, and given back to it with no energy left.

Decades ago, people predicted that we would be working thirty hours a week by now, because technology would have increased productivity to the point that we could fulfill everyone's needs with only that much work.  And the fact is, we could.  Productivity per workers has increased beyond even what was predicted.  The trouble is, the fruits of those labors belong to a few.  The rest of us have to deal with the other kind of 30-hour workweek ..... that is, underemployment.  Did no one predict that less need for work would result in less availability of work for the worker?  And does anyone have a solution yet?  At my more pessimistic moments, I can't help but wonder if the increasing wealth inequality in this country is just a result of increasing technology, not solvable even by the best political management.

I want my farm.

6

Speaking of farms, here's a happy garden update!  I put my tomato plants in on Saturday.  We've had some cool nights since then, but I put upside-down buckets over them and they did fine.  And the upcoming ten days are all warm, with warm nights, and quite a bit of rain.  GREAT!  I think I will go to the garden store this weekend and get some bell pepper plants, because this weather should be fine for them.  (I can't grow peppers in my house to save my life.)  I also need cucumber seeds, because I forgot that I ran out of them last year.  But all the other seeds are planted: beans, okra (never done this before, we'll see how it goes), watermelon. 

I am trying to sprout a sweet potato to get slips -- curious how that will turn out.  I am told sweet potatoes grow here with little effort and great yields.  All I know is, I have the space and I am not growing squash this year to flummox the bugs, so why not sweet potatoes?  I love sweet potato fries, especially with spicy homemade mayo.

Right now it is pouring down rain.  I love the way Virginia does rain.  It comes down so hard, and then the next day it's gorgeous again.  It makes me happy thinking of all the seeds I planted today (cilantro, oregano, basil, parsley, dill, more lettuce, more beans) getting nicely watered in.

7

We got a new car the other day.  Two years or so ago, we traded in our 2003 GMC Safari for a 2002 Ford Taurus, to save on gas.  It did use less gas, but in every other way it turned out to be a trade-down.  The Taurus had a lot wrong with it, and by the time we decided to get rid of it, it had a number of electrical problems.  Sometimes the transmission didn't shift right.  Once the electric went out entirely while John was barreling down the freeway -- power steering, power brakes, lights, everything.  We're not picky about cars, but our general rule is if we're scared to drive it, it might be time for a new one.

So we got a 2012 Dodge Caravan.  Seven seats, good condition, not a whole lot of miles.  Our goal was to get the newest car we could afford, so that it could last us awhile this time.  So it's nothing fancy, but it stands a chance of outliving the loan we have on it.  I hate getting into more debt, but a car that can pass its inspection every year is an investment, and I'm grateful we can at last afford to have it.

We thought of keeping the old car so I could drive around and get errands done while John is at work, but the dealership offered us $600 for it (a good deal more than it was worth, in my opinion) and so we traded it in.  That's for the best, because we no longer have to pay insurance or repairs on the old car.  Thank goodness I am a recluse anyway -- I rarely wish for a second car.  Getting out on the weekends suits me fine, and anyway there is a bus in town.

How has everyone's week been?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to garden in Virginia

Every climate is different.  I even have different results here, in my low-lying garden on a ridge, than a friend might have across town.  So when people from far away ask me "How do I garden?" I feel a little at a loss.  I'd rather have them ask their neighbors, or a local blog.  My next-door neighbor and I consult about when to plant stuff, and that helps.  I also like reading blogs of other gardeners in the area .... though unfortunately most of them are like me and don't blog every detail of their gardens.

Virginia is a great place to garden because of our long growing season and abundant rain.  I rarely have to water, but at the same time we also get plenty of sun.

It's an awful place to garden because of the soil, which is heavy and sticky -- especially gardening on a suburban lot, where the soil is just subsoil shoved into place when the house was built.  You can't work clay soil when it's wet, or you'll destroy the structure, compact it, and it will turn into brick the moment it dries.  But you also can't work it when it's dry because it's hard as a rock.  There might be one perfect day to work it -- and odds are, you're busy that day!

I deal with the soil issue by not digging in the garden at all.  In the fall I lay as much mulch as I can get -- leaves, usually, but hay or straw is fine, or grass clippings.  (If you are building a new bed, you might want to cut off the sod first.  Whether you do or not, that sod will try to come back for the next decade because that's what sod does.  Ugh.)  Manure is nice if you have it, under the mulch, to feed the microbes and worms.

In the spring, I pull back the mulch to let the soil dry out and warm up.  Clay is the slowest soil to warm up, and under mulch it stays cold and wet practically forever.  Pulling back the mulch gives me a huge thrill -- the soil is always soft and fluffy, due to worm action and frost heaving, and there are tons of worms and bugs eating up the decaying plant matter.  Who knew rot could be so exciting?

Every year is different, but in the years I've lived here, I've noticed a pattern to spring.  The dates aren't predictable, but the pattern is always the same.  First it's cold, cold, cold, with occasional warmer days that leave us all saying "maybe this is spring?"  But it isn't spring for a long time yet.  I start some broccoli inside as an act of faith.

There's usually a really warm week which gets you really excited.  That's when I get everything ready, pulling back mulch, yanking out weeds, and repairing the beds.  Then for awhile it's warmer and wet .... highs in the forties and fifties, lows in the thirties.  This isn't real spring either, because the plants know to hold back.  You do see some weeds starting to grow, though, and the grass starts to get green.  I start harvesting dandelions.

Ideally, I plant my first seeds on the last warm day before the wet spell.  That wet spell is sprouting weather!  I plant peas, lettuce, radish, spinach, beets, and chard.  Potatoes should also go in about now.  This year this time came right around the last week of March.  I wait till the whole ten-day forecast has lows above 30; that's my general rule.  Also the daffodils will have come up.

Because the soil here is so heavy, I don't actually bury the seeds -- not if the weather is damp.  At least, the lettuce just gets patted into place.  The peas get poked in and covered, but not deeply.  Carrots are the toughest, because they take so long to sprout.  I failed three years running to sprout a one!  But finally I tried this, which worked: I laid the seed on top of the soil, in a little groove I made with my rake.  Then I covered it with sand.  The sand keeps the seed from washing away and keeps it damp, but it doesn't crust over like the clay soil does.  I imagine peat moss or potting soil would do the same thing.

I transplant the broccoli a little later, but since it always grows so badly indoors, it's never really ready.  I try for maybe the second warm, damp spell of spring.  Transplants like overcast weather with light rain when they first go in.

To plant warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers (from transplants), cucumbers, squash, beans, etc., you have to wait through several more damp spells.  You wait till the cool-weather crops come up.  You wait through one very hot week (we just finished it) where you just cannot beLIEVE it's not time.  (But it isn't, there's at least one more frost ahead.  Check the ten-day forecast; it's almost always on there.)  Then suddenly spring starts showing up in earnest -- redbud and dogwood appear; the trees all look covered with a green mist; cherry blossoms and magnolia flowers fly on the wind.  At that point we usually get another wet week.  It's amazing how it goes.  One day the trees have teeny little buds on them -- the next it's pouring rain so you don't go out -- and then as soon as you look outside again, everything has leaves!  It's an intense growing time; so easy to miss.  At Christendom it always happened over spring break, it seemed.  I'd leave on Friday with all the trees bare, and come back ten days later to find it now looked like summer.

And that's when you plant the warm stuff -- as soon as that rainy period ends and there aren't any frosts on the ten-day forecast.  (There may still be a frost yet; you just have to hope, and keep something handy to cover your transplants with like a row cover or mason jars or whatever you can find.)  Again, a day with rain predicted soon is a good choice.  You can plant seeds on a hot day and wait for the rain to activate them -- the transplants you want to do when it isn't too sunny, like when it's overcast.  Failing that, do them in the afternoon and water them well.  You don't want them to wilt in their first full day of sun.

Clay holds water so well, especially mulched, that you don't really have to water during the summer unless there's a drought.  BUT, during this first bit of spring when you've got fragile transplants and seeds, you do have to water.  Where you have seeds, you want the soil to be visibly damp.  If it isn't dark with dampness, water it (with a light spray so you don't wash away your seeds).  On some of these hot days, that might be twice a day or more!  The transplants can take a little more dryness, but not much -- there should be moisture right below the surface.

When the seeds have sprouted and the transplants have been in place about a week, you can stop worrying and let the plants grow deeper roots if they want water.  If you keep them waterlogged now, they'll never grow the kind of roots they should and they'll be fragile forever.  Especially considering the sort of wind and storm we get in the summertime, you want your plants to have deep roots so they don't get uprooted (as my tomatoes have!).  The crust that forms on the surface of the soil is now your friend -- it will stymie a lot of the weeds that try to grow.  You'll have to pull the rest, though.

Once the plants are big enough not to be lost in it, you can replace your mulch.  That will do several things: it will keep moisture in the soil in hot weather; it will keep the soil from washing away and compacting in dry weather; it will add organic matter to the soil (which, in a suburban lot, you desperately need); and it will block all but the toughest weeds from coming up.  Keep that mulch on there, and add more if you have it!  Every time I mow, I throw the clippings on the garden.

After that, there's not much to say.  If I don't get a good rainstorm every week, I call it a drought and start watering.  You want to really soak the garden when you do water, so that the water actually penetrates.  Five minutes of sprinkling ain't gonna cut it.  I move the hose from bed to bed as each starts looking really flooded and puddly.  And then if I've gone through them all and the first one's puddles have dried up, I do them again.  Even so I never seem to water as well as the rain does, so I might need to water every day or two until we get rain again.

Stake the tomatoes, because the storms will rip them right up if you don't.  You might want to hill the soil around their stems too, especially when a storm is predicted.  Your bean trellises had better be sturdy.  I've had lots of things break.

Expect the growing season to go clear through October.  Around Halloween we get the frost that kills my tomatoes.  When it's predicted, you go through and pick all the green tomatoes to ripen inside, because if you leave them out, they'll be ruined.  (Or drape the plants with old sheets -- that sometimes works!  I actually had plants survive under snow if they were mulched.)  The hardy plants will keep going right through November -- I had broccoli still alive (though not really producing) till Christmas.  One year, lettuce that was up against the house lived all winter long.  But lettuce does not survive well here in summer, even the supposedly heat-tolerant kinds.  If you have a way to shade yours, you might have better luck.

My big successes here in Virginia are tomatoes, squash, and beans.  My big failures are peas ... they like cool spring weather, which we rarely have much of before it gets hot.  I keep trying, though, because I love them.  Bugs can be a real menace some summers.  All you can do is study up on common pests and pick them off.  I've suffered from Mexican bean beetles, squash borers, squash bugs, and cabbage moths.  But it really depends on the year.  I'm hoping for a mild bug year because our winter was so cold.

Does anyone else here garden in Virginia?  For those who garden elsewhere, is it very different?

Friday, April 11, 2014

7 quick takes, for real this time

1

Second trimester is really not bad.  First is full of sick whining, and third is full of feeling-like-a-whale whining, but second is being noticeably but not ridiculously big in the gut, having energy, and occasional twitches from the baby that aren't roundhouse kicks yet.

My back is still holding up okay, though I've thrown it out a bit a few times.  My stomach, though .... it's being weird.  I have had hardly any appetite since I got pregnant, which is weird because I'm trying to grow a whole new person while also nursing the one I already had.  Of course, it's hard to listen to your appetite when the kids are demanding "make yourself a giant sandwich so we can have bites!" and then taking two bites and leaving the rest to you.  So I am eating about what I always have.  I worry what it's going to do to me to always be eating like the human garbage disposal I have always been when suddenly I don't feel like eating.

Then just this week I have felt kind of lousy the whole time, and thrown up twice.  I blame Marko's birthday cake.  Even when I ate only a tiny bit, I felt like I'd been swilling battery acid.  And it was a good homemade cake!  So, either I'm developing a chocolate allergy, or SOMEthing, but you know it's bad when I willingly pass up cake.  Not worth the risk of seeing it again.  I'm also trying to be more conscious about how my stomach feels and not throw anything else down if it already feels iffy.

2

That reminds me to tell you about Marko's birthday!  It was Monday and now he is FOUR, can you believe that?  Four is a Big Kid!  No way is Marko a Big Kid!

Oh, sure, he's got no shortage of long arms and legs and certainly doesn't look like a baby anymore.  But just try telling him to put his clothes on, or his shoes on, or go to the potty all by himself.  He melts into a puddle of infantile helplessness.  My goal for him at three was to dress himself ... and he has not made one single step in that direction.

This never happens: Michael was napping (already not the norm anymore), then Marko and I passed out together on the couch, along with the cat.  The cat liked the snuggles a lot less when I subtracted myself from the pile, but she actually did stay there till he woke up!

I asked around and found lots of people who said their kids were like that too at four.  Perfectly capable (as I know Marko is) but just want to be helped.  So, whatever.  It's infuriating to do things for a kid who can do them himself, but it's not terribly much work. 

I also sort of hoped he could be helping me cook or clean by this age.  And it seems he could.  But he is the world's worst direction-follower, so while I'm saying "now we stir until it's all mixed together," he is grabbing more eggs and throwing them in the bowl.  I ought to stick with it, but BOY is it more work than doing it by myself!  It's like trying to bake a cake while also herding six cats.  And that's if Michael is napping and not trying to climb up the stool and grab everything off the counter.

3

Oh, I should talk about Michael!  He has hit that delightful stage of mayhem-causing, which I mind less because it's following a stage of weepy clingyness.  I feel proud of his independence, even if its main expressions are throwing my keys into the bowels of the couch, emptying a container of baking powder on the floor (which Marko had given him, natch), eating candles, pulling off computer keys, filling up vessels of water at the bathroom sink and then dumping them dramatically in the middle of the living room ..... ad infinitum.  He doesn't slow down.

Take this dialogue from the other day, after he had filled a container in the dirt pile (yeah, we have a dirt pile) and emptied it carefully into the plastic bag full of llama fiber I was spinning:

"You -- you -- how could you --- you're so -- TWO!"

"I'm My-co."




He's trouble, that's what he is.  Thank goodness he's so cute.

4

John is working incredibly hard at his new job.  He comes home with a half-hour long run-down of all he did ... moved boxes of books from one building to another building, cleaned up messes that had been there since 2006 (that's how long they've been waiting to get a librarian!), taken over a job that "needed to get done" that no one's been doing for months.  I say, "Oh, poor you, having to work so hard."  And he's like, "No way, this is awesome!"

Hard workers are very weird to me.  It's not in my blood.

5

Spring is here at last -- took its sweet time getting here, didn't it?  I would love to compare this year's with last year's, but apparently last year I wasn't very good about updating my line-a-day journal.  I did work out that the last snowfall last year was March 18th, compared to this year's March 30th.  I was having migraines last year at this time "for no reason," but I am having them again now and I think it's because of the constantly changing weather.

My plum tree is blooming at last, but it has way fewer blossoms than previous years .... so perhaps for once we will not get a bumper crop.  It must have been harmed by some of the late freezes and snows.

Yesterday, though, was the first actual short-sleeve, windows-open day, and I loved it.  I just soaked it in.  I have been cold way too long.

6

I'm about a week ahead on gardening compared to last year, despite it being colder, because last year I was awfully behind.  I have planted peas, lettuce, spinach, beets, and chard, and at least some of each of these appears to be coming up.  I need to plant carrots, but first I have to get more seeds.  (That holds me up every year!  I need to check over my seed supply in January instead of waiting till it's planting day to find out what I haven't got.)

Yesterday I transplanted broccoli and cabbage .... mixed, because I forgot which were which and they look alike at this stage.  They are really too little to be transplanted, but I have so little sun in the house I'd be waiting another month if I waited till they were really ready -- especially since I lost a week by letting the seeds dry out and having to start over.  And so far almost all of them are still alive!

One of the biggest thrills of spring is pulling aside the mulch from winter (mostly just old leaves) and finding how soft and crumbly the soil is.  Soil left bare all winter turns into brick, or else gets covered by weeds, but mulched soil is worm heaven.  I don't dig or rake it at all -- just poke in holes for seeds, or even just sprinkle them right on top and press them in a little.  Seems to work.  Our heavy clay soil will brick the seeds right in if I put them too deep.

7

Seraphic coincidentally (unless she reads my blog, but I don't think she does regularly) talked about God not being masculine after all, and I loved her post.  Since she has a theology degree and everything, and is more traditional and less feminist than me, I think she's a trustworthy source!  In short, she says calling God "Father" is really only by analogy.  The only person of the Trinity with a gender is the Son, and only because he was made man.  This is oddly reassuring to me.

More of the same at Conversion Diary.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Being Mary

My conversation in the comments some posts back with Enbrethiliel and others has got me wanting to write a book.  I don't know what I would call it.  It would be something about how mothers can't just be Martha all the time, how we also have to be Mary -- in short, how love doesn't mean working yourself to death.

But in the interests of fulfilling all my Martha-duties (ugh, dishes) and all my Mary-duties (like snuggles for the kids), I don't have a whole lot of time for book-writing and I've got at least three on the queue to write already!  So instead of writing a book just now, I'm going to throw out a couple thoughts and maybe come back to elaborate later.

When I wrote about mother-guilt, I was talking about a truth that seems to absorb women everywhere, and not just mothers: when we love greatly, and when the needs are infinite, we run the risk of emptying our entire self into the infinite gulf .... and still feeling guilty because there isn't more of us to go into it.

I don't know the solution for nuns, women in careers, and so forth, but the solution for it for mothers is a complicated business.  I usually call it mother zen, but it's really a lot of different things.  I figure these rules could be the chapter headings of my hypothetical book.

First Part: the philosophy

#1  You are the emotional center of the family.  If you are the mother and you stay home, odds are everyone comes to you when they need something emotionally.  If you aren't careful, this is going to result in you feeling drained and resentful.  It's the worst when no one appreciates that giving emotional energy to them is actually work.  When a friend calls to tell you their woes, or your husband tries to hug you, sometimes you have the impulse to scream "Not another person with NEEDS!"  And they don't always see it as taking something from you .... they just want to be with you.  And yet that, too, feels like (and is) a service you do for them.

#2  A wellspring doesn't work unless it's fed.  If everyone is coming to the well with buckets, but there's never any rain, the whole thing will dry up.  If you're the emotional center of the family, you have to be refilled sometimes.  There are three things that can refill you: God, others, and yourself.  Don't think that any one or two of these are sufficient.

#3  There's a difference between selfishness and valid needs.  It is not selfish to advocate for your needs.  It's not a virtue to burn yourself out.  You are useless to anyone if you do that.

 #4  What your family needs is YOU, your talents, your interests, your vibrancy, your joy.  They do not need a faded, bitter simulacrum of you after you've sacrificed everything that made you come alive.

Part Two: the rules

#1  Find your bliss.  What recharges you?  What makes you feel happy, alive, most yourself, ready to give to others?  Don't let other people dictate what that is for you, or let yourself get talked into spa days or girls' days out if that's not it for you.  For some of us, it's getting out of the house; for others, it's getting some peace and quiet.  You might not be able, with all the demands on you, to have things exactly as you want, but what can you make a part of your life?  Is there a craft you can do with the kids around?  Can you take a peaceful moment to breathe and center yourself while the kids are playing outside?  Can you leave the dishes till morning so the evening can be your quiet time?  Do you have friends with kids who would like to form a weekly playgroup with you?  Prayer should be part of this, but it can't be all of it.  Even nuns have recreation!

#2  Be as gentle with yourself as you would with others.  You know you can't expect the best of your kids if they don't get enough sleep -- why do you imagine you will be able to handle it?  Do what you can to take care of your needs, readjusting the family's schedule if necessary, just as you would if you found one of your children had a true need.  And when that isn't possible, give yourself grace.  Don't expect to be able to have a spotless house when you just had a sleepless night.  Learn to apologize to your kids if you get grumpy.  You aren't perfect any more than they are, and it won't traumatize them to learn this.

#3  Learn to ask for and receive help.  Who was it that told us we would be failures if we ever needed help?  It's so easy to resent not receiving help, but never ask for it because that would imply we needed it, which would imply we are not handling everything on our own, which would imply we are failures.  Why not admit that we do need it, because households weren't meant to be run with zero help, and ask specifically for what we really need?  Some husbands aren't as good at service as others; but it is your duty to teach him, because you can't do it all on your own forever.  And seek out what support networks you can.  It is a crime that there is not more available for us; that it isn't just part of our culture to have lots of older ladies and young unmarried sisters and maiden aunts who can swoop in and help.  But sincerely ask yourself who could be helping, and then tell them specifically what you need.  It's hard to do, it's humbling, and you just have to do it.

#4  Monitor the energy that leaves your home.  Are you spending all your time on Facebook debates that leave you frustrated and drained?  (Guilty!)  Does your husband have a million voluntary activities evenings and weekends?  Do your kids have a zillion activities that leave no one any downtime?  Be ruthless in paring down these things.  You do have the right to tell child X that the family has no time for him to be in soccer this year.  You do have the right to tell your husband that you really need him on Saturdays and ask him to choose between his activities to make sure there is time for him to be home.  If the family is truly the most important thing, then other things have to be sacrificed so the family as a whole can prosper.  Don't make it always be your things.

#5  Cultivate peace in your home.  Plan moments when everyone is relaxed and quiet, when you can snuggle with the kids, listen to what's on their minds, watch how they interact.  Learn sometimes to set the tone for the family, and other times learn to be a passive listener and let them show you what they need and where they want to go.  Kids' problems can be big puzzles, especially when they're young and not very good at explaining.  It sometimes takes a lot of quiet watching, a lot of asking questions, and a lot of reflecting on your own before you understand what's going on with them.  Then once you know, the answer might be to spend time snuggling with or focusing on that child.  If your time is tightly scheduled from sunup to sundown, when will you be able to do that?  Leave things as loose as you can, with empty space for taking care of needs that arise, and be willing to shelve other projects you wanted to get done if your kids just need your quiet presence.  I'm a believer in schedules, but they have to be able to flex a little, or they aren't good schedules. 

#6  Prioritize.  Not everything urgent is important.  Some things are going to fall by the wayside, and there will always be someone ready to condemn you because you aren't making healthy food, or homeschooling, or volunteering the same priority as they do.  Some people seem to be doing it all -- guaranteed, they are skipping something, perhaps that very thing that you and your family couldn't get by without.  Those ultra-fit moms .... perhaps exercise fills their cup and drains yours!  You don't need an excuse not to accomplish everything they do.  It can help to write your priorities down somewhere: "Number one is that we all live in peace with one another and are kind and respectful.  Number two is that we are happy and emotionally fulfilled.  Number three is education.  Number four is keeping our bodies healthy.  Number five is social opportunities."  That can be useful to refer to when you need to decide that today is the day to have PBJ for dinner because your children desperately need attention and snuggles; or that you have to turn down that great co-op invitation because you already feel overwhelmed.

#7  Be tough.  Sometimes being a Mary actually takes some real backbone.  You have to stand up to critics, insist your husband pitch in, say no to things that don't work.  Sometimes your kids need a snuggly teddy bear .... other times they need a lioness who isn't afraid to say and do things that will cost her, if it's what the family needs.  Mothers don't have the luxury to be shrinking violets; our kids demand whole, strong women who can advocate for them.

I could go on, with each of these points, till I actually had a book!  But when I monitor the energy in our house, it does not have enough to spare for a book right now.  Someday, perhaps.  In the meantime, what else would you add?  How do you keep yourself from burning out?  What do your family's priorities look like?

Friday, April 4, 2014

7 quick meatless meals

Because I've decided to make non-take takes a Thing.

Fridays can be an issue for us.  I like to serve plain pan-cooked whiting because it is cheap and easy, but no one actually likes it except Michael.  The grownups eat it because it's not bad, and Marko gets bribed to eat a certain number of bites and then fills up on mashed potatoes.  So I'm really trying to move away from that.

However, without gluten to fall back on, we have to be creative.  Here are a few we like.  Warning: I don't do fancy.  None of these are Impressive.  All of them can be done in half an hour or less, though, so that's a perk.

1

Oyster Chowder

Aldi sells canned oysters quite cheap, but this would work fine with clams too.

Saute half an onion, or so, in butter.  Add flour and make roux out of the remaining butter.  (I've been using corn flour, which makes a roux just like wheat flour does -- but you can omit this step if you don't have a flour you can use.  You'll probably want less liquid.) 

Then chop up 3-4 potatoes and put those in.  I peel them for this soup, because I think the peels make it look dingy.  Also 1-2 carrots if you have them.  Add water, milk, and/or liquid from the can of oysters -- I usually do some of each, enough to barely cover the vegetables.  Simmer until everything is soft.  Add in the oysters and get them warm, and perhaps some frozen corn if you have and like it.  Throw in some chopped garlic or garlic powder.

Then you have a choice.  If you like it chunky and brothy, you can leave it the way it is.  Or you can mash with a potato masher to make it more chowdery, or take a wand blender to get it really smooth.  I go the potato masher route usually -- it breaks it up without making it homogeneous.

Then you season however you like.  I do salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary.  It's good garnished with sour cream.  This amount always gives us a little leftovers after feeding the four of us, but I don't care for the leftovers of it, so keep that in mind when scaling the recipe.

2

Mussels

Mussels are the cheapest kind of shellfish, almost every time.  Aldi sells them frozen for quite a decent price.  You can just put them, fresh or frozen, in a pan with a little water and steam them till their shells open.  They're good with tomato sauce or garlic butter, served over rice or pasta.  The kids like pulling them out of the shells.  I have been intimidated by shellfish my whole life, but I actually like mussels.  Lobster is still a big No, but this rarely comes up in my life.

3

Tuna Noodle

This is what we call it.  I serve it for Friday lunches or when John's not there, but it can be made gluten-free with gf pasta and an alternate flour.

This is just mac 'n' cheese with tuna in it, but I'll tell you how I make it.

Cook the pasta.  While it's cooking you make the sauce.  Start with 3 T of butter and about 2 T of flour.  (Again, corn flour works well.)  Once it's all melted and mixed together, you pour in about a cup of milk.  Add the spices: garlic, salt, pepper, and mustard powder.  Don't skip the mustard powder -- a couple of good shakes.  Sometimes I like curry powder or chili powder in there too.

Bring the white sauce to a simmer while you grate the cheese.  I do cheddar, the sharper the better, about a quarter of a pound.  More is better, but this is true of cheese in almost every instance.  Throw it in as the white sauce starts to bubble, and stir it really well to make sure there are no floury lumps in there.  I also throw in 1/4 cup or so of pumpkin puree if I have it.  It makes the sauce nice and orange, and the kids never notice it.  Once the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, I add two cans of tuna and a handful of frozen peas.  Then mix in the noodles and serve.  Some people like bread crumbs or more grated cheese on top.

For a totally different recipe, you can omit the cheese and tuna and increase the pumpkin to a cup or more.  Then season with sage and thyme instead of mustard powder.  I was surprised with how the kids wolfed it down.

4

Mock lasagna

Lasagna is a lot of work, right?  All those layers, and you end up chewing and swallowing it all.  So I like to make it all mixed together: tomato sauce, spinach, ricotta, and herbs for the sauce, then serve it over noodles, rice, eggplant, and/or mushrooms.  Each bowl gets a grating of mozzarella.  We love this.

5

Fried fish

Take a fish fillet of some kind you like -- cod, whiting, flounder, tilapia, whatever.  Make sure it's defrosted and heat maybe 1/8 inch of good oil in your pan.  You can saute okay in butter or olive oil, but for high heat it's better to use something with a higher smoke point, like peanut or coconut oil.  The USCCB says frying in meat fat is okay for Fridays, did you know that?  (They say stock is fine too.)  So I use what I have.

Dip each fillet in beaten egg and then roll it in cornmeal.  It's good to season the cornmeal with salt, pepper, paprika, even cayenne if that's how you roll.  Once the oil is good and hot, throw your fish in.  When the first side is brown, flip it over and do the other side.  It turns out tasty and crunchy.  Serve with oven fries and coleslaw, maybe?  You can easily make a decent tartar sauce, if you like it, by mixing mayo and sweet relish.  I can make both of those from scratch, but since I don't usually have both on hand, I just serve with ketchup.  Malt vinegar is traditional too.

6

Enchiladas

Make enchilada sauce.  That's pretty much tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, onions, garlic, all to taste.  A veggie puree would probably go totally unnoticed here.

Layer the sauce with corn tortillas and shredded cheddar cheese in a casserole dish, making sure no corn tortillas stick out over the sauce.  Cover the whole thing in cheddar cheese and bake for 20 minutes or so.

7

Salmon casserole

Brown some rice in butter in a pan, like you were going to make risotto.  When it starts to smell toasted, add the right amount of liquid (twice as much as the rice).  You can use water or milk, or vegetable stock if you happen to have it.  Let it simmer till the rice is cooked and the water is absorbed.  Then add a bit more liquid and stir while you start throwing more ingredients in: a can of salmon, with the bones removed or mashed up with a fork if it has them; sauteed onion; frozen vegetables of some kind (broccoli is good for this); garlic.  Stir until the rice is really soft and gooey and the liquid is absorbed again.  At this point you can mix in some sour cream if you have it to make it even creamier.  Then throw in some cheddar cheese and stir it in till it melts, and serve.

More quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Big news

Well, it's Facebook-official now, so I may as well make it blog-official too.

The next baby is on the way, due around the end of August.

I have had very mixed feelings this whole time, so that's part of why I haven't told you yet, even though I'll be 20 weeks on Sunday.

Was it planned?  That's the sort of question people expect an answer to, but there isn't one.  Certainly we knew it was a possibility.  Certainly we didn't do anything to stop that possibility from happening.  I usually answer "It seemed like a good idea at the time," which is true.  I thought, with Michael 18 months old, it was time to stop being so scared of having another baby.  I hadn't really processed that just because I should stop being scared, didn't mean I was going to stop feeling scared, just like that.

For a long time I just panicked.  Michael is not weaned.  He is not potty-trained.  He is not sleeping through the night.  I see no chance of getting any of these achieved in the next four months, except maybe potty training.  And yet I can't nurse TWO!  I can't wake up at night with TWO!  So what am I going to do?

I tried denial for awhile.  That worked until I started feeling sick.  Then I tried whining, which didn't help.  I felt guilty for robbing Michael of the spot of youngest child when he doesn't seem ready to leave it.  I felt guilty for not wanting a baby that already existed.  I felt guilty because so many of my friends have suffered losses and I never have, and it seems ungracious of me not to be over the moon that I have what they want to have.  There was an existential phase.  It doesn't help that pregnancy, three times out of three so far, makes me depressed for no reason.  I told a few people, they would congratulate me, and I would cry because I didn't think it was good news, and I felt like I was supposed to.

I worried myself sick about John's job and travel and our lack of money, until he got a new job and then I started worrying about whether or not I should wean Michael.  I woke up at night to nurse Michael, which hurts now, couldn't go back to sleep because I needed to go to the bathroom, and after I'd gone I would just lie awake staring at the ceiling, wondering how many minutes of sleep I could get before Michael woke up again, wondering what the heck I was going to do.

I've pretty much made up my mind not to wean Michael, because I think the guilt of doing it would be worse than nursing two.  I still feel guilty sometimes about Marko, even though he had 19 good months of nursing and didn't fuss about weaning.  He just had so many awful tantrums after that, lasting for HOURS, and I couldn't soothe him.  I wonder how those months would have been better if I'd had the option to nurse him.  And then after that he had a long anxious phase, and I wonder if that's the fault of not being nursed long enough, or if it's just his personality.

Michael is so much more attached to nursing.  He rarely goes more than a couple hours without it.  Even though there can't possibly be much there -- and he's finally eating and drinking to make up for that -- he insists on it when he's hurt, when he's tired, or just when he sees me.  I don't like how needy he is about it.  On the other hand, he's not really needy about anything else.  He's pretty happy and independent so long as he never gets put off of nursing for five minutes.  And I know from experience that you can't cure a child of clinginess by taking away what they're clinging to -- they will just demand other things, or just be miserable.

So I am trying to read up on tandem nursing, trying to make my peace with it.  It's hard to imagine I won't be constantly nursing one or another child, or both.  It sounds kind of awful to me.  But then again, some people have told me it reduces jealousy and the difficulty of adjusting to a new sibling, so maybe it will be for the best.  I am working also on helping Michael be okay with a brief delay, with knowing he will get to nurse eventually, even if it's not the moment he asks.

Night is another animal.  I am not okay with night waking for two.  I did it with Marko and Michael, and it was terrible.  Each child needed one adult's total attention to get back to sleep, and the times there were only one of us there, no one got much sleep at all.  The one thing that made it possible most of the time was that Marko didn't need me at night, John could take care of him.  That .... is not the case with Michael.  He wants to nurse at night too.  And that is something we are working on.  Sometimes John will try to handle a waking, and after a few tears he sometimes does get Michael back to sleep, but then Michael wakes up again half an hour later and wants the nursing he didn't get before.  I'm working on switching him to a sippy cup if he's thirsty at night, which I think he must be, and working on not nursing him all the way to sleep, but just nursing a few minutes and then rubbing his back. 

It's going okay.  He still wakes up 2-4 times a night, every night.  If he had his own room, we'd let him fuss a little before getting him, but he's either in with Marko or in with us.  If he's in with Marko, he wakes Marko up.  If he's in with us, he climbs right in bed and starts pulling my shirt up.

What else is there to do to prepare?  After quite a lot of delaying and denial, I found a midwife who seems to be excellent.  Michael loves her.  Marko ignores her and then cries when she leaves.  He also threw a massive fit over the doppler machine because it makes noise.  I'm afraid he is going to find this whole thing more traumatic than Michael does!  In any event, Michael says we should have another baby, and Marko says we never ever should.  All I could say was, "Well, we won't just yet!"  But the time is sneaking up on us!

I'm not planning on buying anything; we have all the stuff we need.  Most days I don't think about it a whole lot at all.  I've been pregnant enough before that it isn't that exciting, it's just something going on in the background of everything else.  I struggle not to be crabby with the kids, not to yell at them for behavior that is age-appropriate but just worries me because I don't know how I would handle three of them.

I remind myself that I didn't think I could ever handle two, and now it's a great deal easier than one was because they play with each other all day.  I remind myself that the two I have are getting older all the time.  I reassure myself that John isn't traveling anymore and will be here to help.  And I remember that even if the transition is every bit as hellish as it was when Michael was born, it won't last forever.

Meanwhile the pregnancy is going fine.  I was about as sick the first trimester as last time, certainly no worse.  I have been the most depressed of any pregnancy, despite trying all the cures people will tell me about, but I am beginning to feel better.  I guess the winter was making it worse, and it is so nice to be able to get out in the sun again.  And the really good news is that my back hasn't been bothering me at all.   I can still lift Michael, take walks, push the stroller.  The one thing that makes it flare up is kneeling down to garden; I don't know why.  But I can work around that.  Ditto for kneeling down to pick up toys or clean -- I can always squat instead.

So, there you have it, a heads-up to my loyal blog readers of what's coming up.  I won't be offended if you congratulate me, but I'll be happier if you send a story about how going from one child to two was sooooo hard but going from two to three was sooooo easy.  Everyone tells me the opposite and it makes me want to hide under a rock.  Or send prayers, hugs, good wishes, boxes of chocolate.  Whatever.  It's all good.
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