parenting


You know when you haven’t been to the market for a while, and you’re running low on vegetables? And low on everything else that could possibly be construed as edible? That happens about once a week here. Earlier this week, I perused the contents of the fridge with an empty head. I couldn’t come up with anything to make for dinner, and I had almost nothing that could be combined with anything else to make a passably edible meal.

Until I noticed the leftover macaroni from the night before. That had been a desperate attempt at getting the boys to eat something without complaining or making any retching noises. I had made plain mezzi rigatoni with butter, salt and pepper, and for the vegetable, cucumbers in vinegar. They ate, they forbore to complain. They even fought over the cucmbers. The next day, the leftover noodles became White Macaroni and Cheese, which was really sort of noodles alfredo, but a little different. I didn’t have any cream, but I did find a can of evaporated milk in the pantry. I melted the butter, tossed in some flour and made a roux, poured in some evap milk and regular milk, some salt, some grated parmesan cheese, and the noodles, and stirred it all until it was hot. The boys totally loved it, especially when I started calling it “White Macaroni and Cheese.” I would have liked it better with some steamed broccoli, green beans, or zucchini, but the boys would make noises. And sometimes I’d rather stab myself in the eyes with toothpicks than listen to the whining.

Fridge Fry #1: White Macaroni and Cheese

1 T butter
1 T flour
1/2-1 cup evaporated milk
1/4-1/2 cup milk
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan, pecorino, swiss, or any cheese or combination of cheeses
salt and pepper
4-6 cups leftover pre-cooked noodles
some sort of vegetables, steamed or sauteed

Later that night, I still had the same problem with the no vegetables. I scrounged around some more, and found the remnants of the frozen Costco spanakopita that Derek and I love, but the boys won’t eat. I decided on a Greek theme, but I somehow couldn’t find any chickpeas. I did have some kidney beans, so I pulled out the remnants of the quinoa that the boys also mysteriously didn’t like last week. A solitary onion, a waning carrot, some leftover tomato paste, and a can of chicken broth? We have the makings of a South American soup. But how to turn it Greek?

I know this is totally lame, since I’m in no way Greek or South American, and hence no expert, but I got out my favorite recipe for stuffed zucchini and made the sauce for that. It has only cinnamon and oregano for seasonings, and I love it so much, so that’s what I put in the soup. It was no standout in the parade of jumbled concoctions my family has been subjected to in the last 7 years, but it wasn’t yucky, and the childrens ate. Zeeb even decided he liked the spanakopita and ate three. I felt cheated.

Fridge Fry #2: Greek-Peruvian Bean and Quinoa soup

1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, very small dice
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t oregano
2-3 T tomato paste
1 can chicken broth
1 can kidney beans (or kiddy beans, in my house)
1 cup leftover pre-cooked quinoa (round rice)
water
salt and pepper
maybe some steamed zucchini, if you have it, or some diced and sauteed eggplant

On my mission in the Philippines, I cooked lunch for the people that lived in our house. One of my mission companions would give my dishes names that caused me to giggle. Vegetable Rumble with Tokwa was one. It’s pronounced “Betch-ta-boll Rrrrrahm-boll weeth Toe-kwah. Tokwa is Tofu. Another dish was Eggplant Macaroni with Color. I think the “color” was zucchini and tomatoes.

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After having read Sister Julie B. Beck’s talk given at the L.D.S. Church’s General Conference on Sunday (which you can listen to here, and in a few days you can read on the Church’s official website), I would like to share my feelings on my reconciliation to her words. Much of this post comes from an email conversation I had the other day with Azúcar, in which she helped me sort out the words and calm myself down.

Here is a brief quote from the talk (which I found not on the Church’s website, but on Feminist Mormon Housewives, a group blog dedicated to helping people in the church come to terms with their faith and become better Christians through examination and discussion):

“Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role in the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence. Therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world.

Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowlegeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make up homes that create a climate for spiritual growth.

Growth happens best in a house of order, and women should pattern their homes after the Lord’s house. Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women.”

At first, I felt like the talk was so directed at mothers being better maids. The specific things she brought up later, kids in pressed clothes, missionary haircuts, house as clean as the temple, seemed so far from any doctrine that could help me be a better person. And saying that mothers who “know” do all those things seemed like such a slap in the face. Especially since it’s so cultural, and really unnecessary to salvation. (The “mothers who know” references a story well-known to Mormons, in which there are 2,000 young men who fight in a war and are not seriously injured, but have great faith that God will help them. When asked how they gained such faith, they respond that their mothers knew it.)

I don’t take exception to advice to be a better mother, but I do take exception to the notion that if my house isn’t clean, I am failing and/or unfaithful. I don’t believe it is only the mother who should be cleaning, but rather, it should be a full-family endeavor. Husbands have just as much responsibility in keeping their surroundings clean. I will say that it is definitely the parents’ responsibility to teach the children how to clean, and to involve them in the process whenever they can, but that burden should not be laid squarely on the mother’s shoulders. I’m not sure Sister Beck intended her words to be taken that way, but it seems to be how they came out.

After having such a negative reaction to this talk, and reading many other people’s reactions, I decided to try to find something that really could help me be a better mother and person. I’m already trying to live in a clean house, though it almost never happens. I don’t think missionary haircuts or white shirts mean anything. I try to be a leader, but I don’t think of myself as the primary example of leadership, because my kids have a father too. I know Sister Beck meant well, which is why I wanted to know how other people perceived her words. I wanted to have an alternate explanation that isn’t my own “she’s just reaffirming old gender stereotypes and throwing us back into ‘The Art of Homemaking’ so people think Mormons are happy because they look like June Cleaver.” I felt like I might have over-reacted.

Carina helped me think about it in terms of why, rather that how the message was given. It really is the why that is important. I’d gotten way too offended at the how. I still think the manner was offensive, but I’ve cooled down.

I did go back and read it again, and tried to add in some things that would help me with the semantics. So where she says “homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home,” the word “includes” is key. It also includes reading, playing, painting, laughing, etc, but those are things we already know. We have done as Daring Young Mom said, we’ve made the housekeeping part of the equation a joke. “It’s sort of en vogue to be a slacker mom, to joke about how big your pile of laundry is, how long it’s been since you did dishes, how you’ve given up trying to feed your kids enough veggies or that you’re always late for everything.” So when Sister Beck says we should be the best homemakers, she’s not saying we should be the best housekeepers. We can be the best at creating a loving and spiritual environment that is hopefully as clean as we can get it. Likewise, if we know a lot about mitosis and meiosis, it won’t help our children if we don’t have the skills to teach it to them. I have to believe that she’s not just talking about housework.

We, as mothers and part of a parental team, can create a powerful world for our children, one in which they are free to learn what they want, and they also see the value in learning what we want to teach them, or what society requires them to know, that is, how to be clean, responsible, respectful of others, kind, doing good to all man, virtuous, lovely…

(That last gratuitous reference is from the 13th Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s like a part of the Credo for the Mormons. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say we follow the admonition of Paul- We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.)

and I will tell you it might have something to do with one of these two things:

1. For lunch, we had crackers with Boursin Garlic and Herb cheese, Fiber One granola bars (9 grams of fiber, due to freakish amounts of chicory root extract, which is, presumably, very high in fiber, but adds what Derek says is a very “burnt” flavor, which I cannot detect, and confectioner’s shellac, which apparently isn’t an oxymoron, since shellac is edible. I looked it up. It used to be thought that shellac was derived from grinding up the wings of certain beetles, but it’s really a secretion from the female beetle that makes the bark of the tree they live on a little more sticky, so it’s easier to walk on. But in the harvest process of scraping the trees, inevitably some beetles get tossed in too, so shellac isn’t vegetarian, and is definitely not vegan), and a Diet Pepsi. Are you still with me?

Or 2. I was up from 2:30 am to 3:30 am performing my absolute least favorite parenting duty: cleaning up spaghetti vomit from the boys’ bedroom rug while simultaneously encouraging (ordering) the perpetrator to remain in the bathroom with his face pointed at the toilet, to stop crying, whining and yelling, and to try (skip this part if you’re susceptible) to snort out the piece that got jammed into his nasal cavity, causing pain and excess nose running. Curiously, the stuff running out of his nose seemed to have a little more wheat bran than is usual. Also, the poor delinquent has a very developed gag reflex, which makes the whole snorting part precarious. In the end, there was a joyful exclamation, “It came out!” and he went to bed without further ado.

I was, for the first time, really, really grateful for the garbage disposal. I don’t use it often, because of the energy and large amount of water consumed and the fact that it mucks up the water systems (I can’t direct you to where I read this information, sorry, but this will tell you a little), but when you have a towel full of recycled spaghetti, and someone hovering over the toilet, and you just don’t want to stick your hands in there anyway, the kitchen sink with the pig works just fine.

In any case, the stomach pain has ceased, only to make way for a new and exciting headache. Which should have been preempted by the Diet Pepsi, but what can you do?

Here’s another informal poll,

If you could buy a new fridge today, and money was not an issue, which would you pick?

Keep in mind that top freezers are the most energy efficient, bottom freezers are convenient because the normal stuff is at eye level and you don’t have to bend over to get an apple or a carrot, and side-by side fridge-freezers require less opening space, since the doors are narrower, but you can’t put a frozen pizza in them.

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Dangit, this isn’t working. I’ll try to fix it.

Another person told us the other day that Calvin is going to grow up to be a CEO by the time he is 18. He certainly has a few qualities that I don’t think I had when I was 5. He started with brainwashing, and has developed more skills as time goes by.

We were at a gas station, buying treats that I had promised. Calvin had a 6-pack of AirHeads, and I had a bag of Circus Peanuts. He began while we were still waiting at the register for the cashier to notice us. “Mom, I’ll give you one of my AirHeads for one of your peanuts.” Then, a few seconds later, “Mom, actually, I’ll give you one of my AirHeads for 6 of your peanuts.”

The cashier looked at him, and said, “Good bargaining!”

Today, he asked me for a chocolate. I said he could have one, and like we practiced, said “OK, thanks.” Then, “Can I have two?”

He really wanted a shower this morning, and Derek said he could have one later tonight, after mud box. That’s what happens when you get a sand box, a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and a hose. Calvin said he didn’t want mud box. Five minutes later, he came in the house, naked and muddy, and said, “I’m ready for my shower now!”

What do I do?

The Salt Lake City Public Library is a glass house. A tall glass house. I took my kids there yesterday, along with my parents in law and Derek’s 3 youngest siblings. We first went to the frog exhibit at the University of Utah’s natural history museum, which was great fun. Then we headed down to the library, which was moved to a new building a couple years ago.

The new building is a beautiful structure, with a grand staircase on the outside that leads right up to the roof, ending at the pinnacle, where you can look out over City Hall and downtown Salt Lake. There are native Utah plants on the roof. It’s really lovely. The inside has a court with small stores, tables, and a glass wall that looks into the library portion, about 4 floors worth. The elevators are not in a shaft, and they are also glass. The glass elevator doors, when closed, look out into the court.

There is a purpose to my description. I was anticipating a fun outing with my family. I hadn’t been to the new library, even though the old one was my favorite haunt as a child, and I cannot resist libraries. I love reading. Love it. So I thought it would be a fun and exciting trip. Little did I know that vertigo would take hold of me and threaten my sanity.

We climbed to the very top of the roof, and there, my little sister in law tried to lift 3 year old Zeeb up to look out on Salt Lake. Terror. Then, when I reached them, I noticed the stairwell that went into the building, and down 6 or 7 flights in a corkscrew. I leaned my head over to look down, and was immediately seized by the vision of my baby girl leaping from my arms, and her little body being battered by the armrails as she fell to the cement below. I had to get down and out. I tried to make Calvin hurry, but he wanted to slide his feet on the metal rail that ran on the outside of the stairs. He wanted to climb.

We had to walk across a bridge to get back to the elevator, and I had to cling to my Kiki and stay exactly in the middle of the path. I begged Calvin to keep up, and finally Grandpa, who hadn’t noticed my unease, steered him in the right direction. Inside, we took the elevator, looking through the glass walls down on the stone floor of the court4 stories below, and came out on the second floor. Both little boys took off to climb the railings and go under the indoor waterfall. I had to stay in one place for a few minutes. Soon, Calvin returned to me and decided to try to pry the elevator doors open. The ones that open to nowhere. I knew, intellectually, that this could not be done, especially by a scrawny 5 year old. Nevertheless, I started to hyperventilate and cry.

More stairs, more glass elevators, and more begging and crying. I managed not to drop Kiki. Calvin and Zeeb did not fall to the depths. We didn’t even lose anyone. The ringing in my ears subsided, and my brain stopped the kaleidoscope of inventing ways my children might die.

The guilt of having imagined it is still there.

My baby girl is 5 months old. She is a beauty. She is calm, happy, sweet, and giggly. She sleeps when I want her to, which is a lot. She loves me. I sure love her. The other day as I was nursing her, I had this intense, almost overwhelming desire to just give it up. I wanted to be free of the pain and the bondage of nursing. And the damage to my physique.

This is the third child I’ve nursed. Both my boys were still nursing a couple of times a day on their 1st birthday. I had gotten comfortable, the pain had ended, I’d been able to exercise and look more normal. I even got to stop wearing those crappy nursing bras that are so incredibly not flattering, since they would nurse first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. They were both around 8 months old when they made the transition to 2 feedings a day.

So I can hold out for 3 more months. I want to give my little girl everything she needs. I know if I stop now, she will probably not suffer any psychological or physiological damage. I probably won’t either. But I can’t imagine spending huge amounts of money on something I can make for free. And I do love holding her, letting her scratch the fats around my waist with her razor-sharp fingernails, seeing her try to grin and suck at the same time, and watching her fall asleep every single time she eats.

And it’s not like I can reverse the damage done to my poor body. I’ve given my pound of flesh. Or I’ve been given my pound(s) of flesh. Manufacturing a person is exhausting. I’ve come to believe that the process has many built-in fail-safes. To protect the developing organism, the mother is made to feel tired, sick, and in pain. The mother is then less likely to engage in dangerous activity. Or any activity. The child is not self-sufficient when it emerges, so the nearly broken parent has time to heal, while the infant continues to grow. Nursing a baby human who eats every couple of hours keeps that mom from going out into the world too soon or too fast, when she would do almost anything to be able to get back on her feet.

I want to break away, but I feel a responsibility to this little person not to. I also need her dependence on me. I know she won’t need me for long. So really, I’m not ready to quit.

This soup is a great way to get your greens. I made it the other day from things I had around the kitchen, and my kids loved it. It was one of those rare times they asked for seconds, then Calvin asked if we could save some for the next day for breakfast. Yes, breakfast. He has an enlightened view of breakfast, for an American. I had pre-cooked red chard on hand, but any greens would do, especially tender ones. I would use fresh or frozen spinach, any chard, mustard greens, even collards if I could steam them for a while first. Anyway, I was trying to approximate the Saag Shorba at our local Indian restaurant, which is divine. If you use this recipe, could you come back and tell me if you like it?

So here it is:

Saag Shorba

6 stalks chard, leaves and stalks, chopped or 6 oz spinach, chopped
1 med onion, finely chopped
1 T canola oil or ghee
2 large cloves garlic
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger
1 1/2 t coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t turmeric
pinch cayenne
pinch cardamom
2-4 C vegetable broth, depending on how soupy you want it (or chicken broth)
1/2 C tomato sauce (I used some that I made in the summer and froze-so no salt or herbs) or 1/4 C tomato paste
1/4-1/2 C coconut milk or heavy cream
1 C leftover basmati or other long-grain rice
salt to taste

Steam the chopped chard stems for about 5 minutes, then add the leaves and steam about 10 minutes more. They need to be soft. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the oil or ghee on medium and add chopped onions. Saute for about 8 minutes, add garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and cardamom, and saute for 2-3 minutes more. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add chard, tomato sauce and rice, and boil briefly. Turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk or cream slowly, to avoid curdling. Add salt to taste, and more cayenne, if you need it to make you happy.

If you use frozen spinach, you can obviously skip the steaming and just add it straight from the bag. Make sure it comes to a boil before you add the cream. You could also use baby spinach fresh from the bag and just add it at the end, but boil for a few minutes to wilt the spinach.

For the tomato sauce, you could also used crushed or chopped canned tomatoes, or even fresh chopped tomatoes. If they’re fresh, just add them with the broth and boil for 10 minutes or so. You will need less broth with canned or fresh tomatoes. I grow my own tomatoes, because they’re sooooo much better than the ones you can buy, and I make a couple of batches of tomato sauce in the summer. This is the most versatile stuff. I don’t add salt or herbs, so I can use them in recipes that are Mexican, Indian, Italian, or whatever. I just add the appropriate spices or herbs later, with the recipe. This sauce has no seeds or icky skin, and is not runny like pureed tomatoes. It’s sauce, not juice. It’s pure, sweet tomato joy.

Tomato Sauce

Here’s how to do it: get about two gallons of fresh, very ripe tomatoes. I don’t use Romas, because they don’t ever get totally soft. I just use regular red slicing tomatoes. Blanch them about 4 at a time in boiling water for 1 minute. You can cut a little ‘x’ in the non-stem end, to facilitate peeling. After they have blanched, plunge them into cold water. Peel them, cut out the core, slice them in half, and scoop out the seeds and seedy pulp with your fingers. Do this over a sieve, to catch the juice that falls. Add them straight to a warming pot large enough to hold 1/2 – 3/4 or your tomatoes. You do not have to chop them or anything. Turn the heat up so they begin to simmer slowly, so that as you work, they will boil down and make more room. If you run out of space, take a break and eat some ice-cream, then go back and there should be more room. Pour the collected juice into the pot, discard the stems and seeds, and simmer the tomatoes for 2-4 hours very slowly, stirring often. You need to pay attention, especially after the first hour or so. They will stick to the pan and burn if you don’t stir. Let the sauce reduce to about 1/2 the volume you started with. The tomatoes will disintegrate as they cook.

When your sauce is nice and thick, and there is very little water floating on top, you can turn off the heat and let them cool to room temperature, stirring every so often to help it cool. At this point, you can either can it, or freeze it. The frozen tomato sauce is wonderful, and much less work than canning. Just get a bunch of 1 quart freezer bags and put about 2 cups of sauce in each one, squeezing out the air and laying them flat. Or, you can even use zippered sandwich bags, and put them all into a gallon size freezer bag together. Then put them in the freezer laying flat until they’re frozen, then stack them or put them upright where they fit. Use them all winter.

This makes the best spaghetti sauce in the world, with freshly sauteed onions, and whatever else you like in spaghetti. It’s also great to have for tomatoey Indian dishes like aloo gobi or baygan bharta. It’s so much quicker when you’ve already got the tomato sauce. It will make you happy in the winter, when there are no good tomatoes anywhere. I promise.

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