Nicholas: Sous-Chef

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n-sous-chefLast Monday, I had a great plan for dinner. It was quite relaxing. It involved leftovers and a microwave. And bar cookies made from a box cake mix. (Totally not my normal modus operandi for cooking, but y’know.)

At 4:20, Nicholas arrived home from Chess Club and came into the kitchen. “Did you make the mousse?” he asked.

And suddenly I remembered: he had a book of French cooking, which included three recipes he wanted to make with me: ham and cheese crepes, macaroni and cheese with Béchamel, and chocolate mousse.

And the book was due back at the library the next morning.

So at 4:20 p.m., I launched into an entirely new, not-so-relaxing dinner plan, involving cleaning the beaters twice (because we had to beat egg yolks, then egg whites, then whipping cream); allowing crepe batter to rest in the refrigerator; and babysitting the stove while we cooked said crepes. All with the help of my sous-chef, Nicholas.

It was pretty intense, but worth it. It was a yummy meal, of course, but more than that, Nicholas is really invested in the process. He really likes to cook, and I’m trying to encourage that interest.

n-basketballA couple of weeks ago, he wanted to make pancakes. I was doing something else intensive in the kitchen—I can’t even remember what, now—so I told him to do it on his own. I answered questions and gave instructions and explanations as necessary. It was the easy pancake recipe, not the fiddly “cloud cakes” that require beating egg whites and so on—but they turned out quite tasty, and he got a healthy shot of pride at cooking for the family all by himself.

He seems to be maturing nicely these days. We still have some strong-willed moments, but they’re getting fewer and farther between. We’ve reached a point where he can stop to think and process things instead of going into rational-mind-shut-down mode. Where we can give him instructions and it’s not a full-on war to get him to comply. He gets distracted easily, but that’s a different issue.

He still asks more questions than any child I have ever met—and they’re not easy questions. It takes brain work to go on a car ride with him, I’m telling you. It wears you out. He frequently asks the next question before you’ve finished answering the first, and it’s often the same question worded a different way, indicating either a break in communication or that he’s not really listening (more likely). I think he’s a Child-Without-filter. He says everything that comes into his head.

Occasionally I will invoke the “only three questions in this fifteen-minute block” rule. (When he gets on a question binge, it’s more like three questions in two minutes, and not ones that can be answered “yes” or “no”.)

He’s not the dreamer in the family—he’s the one who seems to want to hang around the adults and ask what they’re doing and learn about it. This applies across the spectrum—from church questions to home repair. It’s fun to see how wide-ranging his curiosity is, and I look forward to seeing where his interests lead him.

The Negative Loop From Hell

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coyote-bluffLife has been feeling pretty overwhelming lately. If I haven’t given out that vibe, just look back at the fluffy blog posts I’ve been publishing, trying to avoid talking about it.

I’m not sure why it seems so much harder right now. Really, not all that much has changed. Maybe this is what people mean when they say they’re under spiritual attack: you resolve to adopt a demeanor of joy and immediately the powers of the universe start aligning to beat you down. This belief, I should be clear, is not my default approach to the spiritual life. In fact, it’s not even on my list of approaches to the spiritual life.

I’m more inclined to think maybe everything is as it has been for a long time–it’s just eventually I get worn down.

One way or another, my outlook hasn’t been too pretty lately. I’m trying really hard to see the positive, because it’s always there—I know that. But my work load is currently higher than usual, and the time to accomplish it has been significantly compressed. I’m not imagining that.

Nor am I imagining the repeated calls/visits to the orthotist, the new PT visits, ENT visits, the ongoing foot pain, the escalating need for homework supervision, or the ridiculous number of early-outs and scheduled no-school days this semester. In other words, the persistent, consistent interruptions that prevent a person who works from home from establishing any momentum. The kind that make you feel like every day you’re trying to launch a rocket from a dead standstill using half a cup of lighter fluid and a single match.

And the global worry. Oh my word, the global worry. And trying to separate hysteria from what really warrants worry. It’s exhausting.

Still, I’m experiencing at a visceral level a truism I’ve bandied about glibly for years: it’s really, really easy to get into a negative loop. And once you’re there it’s really, really hard to knock yourself out of one.

My choir helped me today. So did a walk with my family and a few minutes sitting on the bluff, watching the wind skip from one part of the valley to the next before arriving at our rocky outcrop. Listening to the kids (and my husband) trying to make echoes off the far hills. But of course, multiple extended periods of air conditioner weather in February brings me right back to “global worries.”

I know all this, too, will pass away, and I have to choose joy in the meantime. Take a day off. Say no to things I want to say yes to, and yes to things I want to say no to. Maybe I need to chew on a 5-year-old belly. Maybe I need to list two positives for every negative.

Most of all, now that I’ve said my piece, I’ve got to quit complaining about it. Because, you know…negative loop.

Making “Hats” and other photos I’m proud of

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The other day, Michael and I looked through a couple of scrapbooks, and I was so impressed with some of the photos I’ve taken in the last couple of years, I just wanted show off share.

First, photos of Christian and his mother making “hats.” Orecchiette, technically, but Christian and his siblings grew up calling them “hats,” and “hats” they remain. You’ll see why.

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Then there’s this solo shot of Christian walking Julianna and Michael across the field to meet my dad and the combine during harvest in 2015:

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And sometimes it’s the group. I really love this scrapbook layout. These are not the angles and images I think of first when I think of the farm where I grew up, but I absolutely love how the three on this page turned out:

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And finally, I might have preferred to play with focus a little more on this one, but it’s such a memory of recent years for my kids and me in visiting my grandmother, I had to share. Do the non-musicians know what this is?

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Have a great weekend!

The Minor Frustrations Involved In Raising My Chromosomally-Gifted Girl

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julianna-120When the phone rang during my oh-so-precious work time the other day, I almost decided to ignore it without even checking the caller ID. But there’s always the chance it’s somebody’s school. Which in this case, it was–Julianna’s.

It turned out there had been a minor altercation on the bus. Julianna kept touching a boy’s backpack, even after he told her to stop, and eventually some ugly things were said…involving the word “ugly,” for one…and Julianna’s feelings were hurt.

Listening to this story, I found myself torn between rolling my eyes–because this sounded exactly like a conversation that would go down in my own house–being irritated with Julianna for persisting in annoying behavior despite being told appropriately to cease and desist…and wanting to laugh.

I told the school counselor, “See, here’s the thing. It doesn’t sound like it was entirely unprovoked. I mean, I’m Julianna’s mom and I can’t tell when she really doesn’t get it, as opposed to when she’s pretending not to get it.”

She truly is a darling child, but it’s far too easy to let things slide, because with four of them, it’s hard to do it all. It seems more efficient to focus on the ones you know “get it.” We have a weekly rotation of chores, and whenever it’s Julianna’s turn to do…well, anything, but particularly sweep or mop the kitchen, I just groan, because it’s such a chore for me to make sure she does it even remotely right. And usually I’m trying to make dinner or clean or fold laundry or, rarely, write (I have to be pretty desperate, like riding a deadline, to try to write while supervising chores), and I think, Oh, we’ll get it done later, after… and it doesn’t happen at all.

bubblesIt’s the same thing when I say, “Julianna, put away these two books.” Or “Julianna, put THAT bag on the bathroom counter and THAT strap on my bed.” Or just “Julianna, go get your pajamas on.” I’m running around trying to get household things done, and she simply ignores me.

She’s learned this about me: I’m frequently juggling multiple jobs, and she can slide by without complying because I’m distracted.

Whether she knows she’s being dishonest or not is an entirely different question, and one that gives me fits. Is it a discipline issue, or not?

Then there are the orthotics. Those who follow me on Facebook know she has recently broken yet another uber-expensive brace. Fortunately, they’re covered, but I’m starting to feel very bad for the orthotist and her staff. The orthotist’s best theory is that Julianna’s heel cord is super-tight and, because the braces prevent that tightness from expressing itself, she’s putting exceptional pressure on them. So now we have two to three more orthotist appointments and regular PT to work into the schedule again.

And finally, there are the academics. Her reading assessment score went down for the first time recently. Given that reading has always been her academic strength, this was a tough thing to see. Her teachers said it was because of difficulty in comprehension–the ability to answer questions about what she had read. And the solution is for us to just practice with her more. But this means her homework, which has been independent all year, is no longer. Now I have to read with her and stop her to ask questions every page.

I’ll spare you talking about math.

Life cycles through times when things seem very smooth and times when it seems harder. And of course, usually some things are clicking along nicely while others seem very high-maintenance. I find myself second-guessing our family planning choices lately, now that the kids are all older and I really see how much more I “should” be giving to Julianna. Perhaps we should have left more space before the third child. Or cut it at three. Of course, I can’t imagine my family any way other than it is–raucous, superhero-filled, overwhelmed by togetherness and richness–but I can’t help wondering if Julianna, at least, would be better served if we were a smaller family in which her parents spent more time with intervention.

And then I shake my head and remember that having three brothers will only be good for her in adulthood, and that no matter how much intervention we did she’d still never make valedictorian and start designing rocket ships or doing brain surgery, so why am I stressing the levels of delay? Let her be who she is and let us be who we are and let us together be who we were called to be.

Growing Up And Aging Out

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Image by fczuardi, via Flickr

When I was ten years old, I dreamed of being an Olympic figure skater. I didn’t get to go ice skating very often because we either had to wait for the pond to freeze or we had to drive an hour and a half to the nearest rink. We went once or twice a year, and of course, I realized pretty quickly that my dream wasn’t going to happen. Still, that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep trying to teach myself new skills. I never just skated in circles, I was always trying to figure things out: how to skate without holding onto the boards, how not to push off the toe picks, how to skate backward, how to stay balanced on one foot only, how to switch directions.

I like climbing rocks, too. And I didn’t start running at all until I was twenty-five, and I only got real about it until after I’d been doing Jazzercise for a while. Even at Jazzercise, I’m constantly setting goals, because I wear a Polar watch and I know what kind of heart rate targets I need to hit in order to burn 300 calories in an hour.

In other words, I’ve always looked at physical activity as something I can get better and better at the longer I do it.

But this weekend, when we went ice skating to celebrate Julianna’s birthday, I felt less safe doing things like turning around while in motion. I thought at first it was because I hadn’t been skating in almost a year, but I didn’t feel that way last year, and it had been just as long then, too.

It was the first time I’ve confronted the reality that sooner or later, my body is no longer going to be able to get better at physical things. That at some point, I’m going to have to pull back and do less rather than strive for more. And that point may (may? It’s a guarantee!) arrive before my soul is ready to let go.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in this news. I’ve watched many in my family confront the reality of getting older…the ease of injury and the difficulty of recovery expanding in opposite directions, the growing awareness of what your body can and can’t be expected to do. It’s just that I wasn’t prepared to see it in myself—even on the distant horizon (because certainly, I’m not there yet. Thank God!).

And, let’s be honest: I depend on the ability to be active, because I love food. It’s driving me crazy to be reaching a point in my life where I finally feel like I have the financial stability to enjoy certain culinary treats more regularly, only to confront the scales, which point out with unforgiving clarity that there’s a whole different reason why I still can’t, and in fact I can’t have as much as I used to.

I routinely praise my parents for the grace with which they’ve grown older; in part, I do so in order to call myself to the same standard. But I must say, it’s far easier to recognize that trait and praise it than it is to live it!

Mr. Strong-y Smash Man and Other Adorable Michael Moments

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The youngest child is always the funniest one. It’s a rule. While I was gone for Liturgical Composers Forum, the two women who had morning duty both sent me messages to tell me things about my youngest child.

Exhibit A: 

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Uh-huh. Star Wars. Avengers. Hark the Herald Angels. Oddwalk’s Gorilla song. Frosty. Rudolph. Songs of his own making. And every one of them sung

AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS.

(Why yes, in fact, I am shouting. Actually, that’s not true, because currently I have no voice at all and my head feels woozy like I have a fever. I’m shouting internally.)

Exhibit B:

(An email received mid-week):

I know you keep track of funny things the kids say so I thought I’d share one I got from Michael this morning. 🙂  He was a little impatient about how long it took us to get back to my house (10 minutes) and asked a few times how many miles we had left.  A mile out from the house we came up behind a school bus that was driving pretty slowly.  He asked again how much farther.  I told him we were less than a mile from the house but we were going to have to go as slow as the school bus in front of us.  He suggested passing it but I pointed out that it wasn’t really a safe place to pass and we were only a mile out so we would just be patient.  He told me that sometimes school buses were driven by girls and he was pretty sure this one was being driven by a girl.  Presumably because they were going slowly. 🙂

Oh, Michael, Michael. Where, oh where did I go wrong?

Michael’s life philosophy seems to be threefold:

  1. Why walk when you can run?
  2. Why run when you can jump?
  3. Why hug when you can tackle?

Hence, I generally open my arms and not only brace, but wince in advance. I’m telling you, this child is going to grow up to be a stunt man in Hollywood.

To round out this week’s portrait of a preschooler who reeeeeeeaaaaallly needs to be in kindergarten, I give you: Michael’s brand new collection of superhero characters:

First there is Mr. Strong-y Smash Man (hard G. Very important.):

strongy-smash-man

This is the best picture I can give you, because by the time he finished drawing all of Mr. Strong-y Smash Man’s elevators (he seems to be mostly comprised of elevators, as best I could tell), you could no longer see anything but scribbles.

Then there was Mr. Magic, who he never drew.

Mr. Magic’s friends, however, I can share with you. The explanatory writing is faithfully transcribed from Michael’s own words:

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There are times when I simply can’t help grabbing up this child and trying to chew him to pieces.

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