Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Un-processing my pantry

I'm going to try to push through this one before the girls wake up, and it's coming up on the end of rest time.  Here's hoping that it's legible.

Recently, I came across a DIY recipe for Pedialyte, sans chemicals, preservatives and other yuckies.  I'm all about that, and reading through the post, I was pretty much thinking wait...seriously...this stuff is cheap!  Upon that realization, I was really interested.  Pedialyte is nothing if not wallet gouging expensive.  But when your kid is puking miserable, you grumble under your breath and still grab a couple of containers/packages off of the shelf and swipe the credit card before you fishtail out of the parking lot in a mad dash home with THE STUFF.  When faced with a sick kid, I feel fairly desperate and willing to pay for just about anything that provides some relief or promises to keep my kid alive.  I'm all about that. 

Later, as I came back to this blog, I became more intrigued by the premise of what this family is documenting: removing processed foods from their lives.  Sounds easy, no? 

No, it doesn't.  Admittedly, I was more somewhat unimpressed at first because it's not that uncommon for families to do the lets-get-back-to-the-good-stuff kind of eating.  Whatever the terminology, the slow food movement isn't that unique anymore.  But, this isn't about that, not really.  It's about eliminating processed foods from the family's diet, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how utterly dependent on processed foods we are.  There is some amount of crazy in this idea, and I'd love to sit down and chat with them about it.

I did a mental check of our pantry, which generally doesn't stock what I immediately think of when faced with the term "processed."  There's no blue box of Kraft (though I do wish there was...sacrifices for a healthier family must be made).  We don't have any chips, Capri Suns, or Fruit Loops gracing the shelves.  I'm looking at it right now since the door is open and it looks pretty good, legitimately healthy...right?

I see pasta sauce, pasta, Honey Bunches of Oats (with pecans, my fav!), and pita chips.  Actually, everything I just listed (and that's just the one shelf that I can really see) is processed.  If I'm doing away with the processed stuff, even the "healthy" processed stuff, where does that leave us?

It means a little more love translated through a little more time spent taking care of us.  I'm not professing that "processed" is always evil, though a good amount of balance wouldn't hurt.  My philosophy is increasingly driven by intentionality, whereupon I decide what I'm eating or choosing to purchase, and not just with food, with a purpose.  We grumble about how apathetic our children are in the choices and actions that they make, but I see the insidious nature of this vice extending to us all. 

For whatever reason, I distinctly remember sitting with my friends at lunch during high school talking about meat.  My best bud would only eat meat "that doesn't look like meat...no bones!"  I declared that I could never be a vegetarian "because I don't like vegetables enough" (i.e. I generally don't care for a straight-up tomato and had never, ever tasted an eggplant or an avocado at that point in my life).  I've been thinking about this conversation a lot lately as I've been dwelling in the topic of food as I go through my Michael Pollan phase.  I get it now, the apathy to try anything different, the idea that you don't shake the boat that you're in.  

So rock on, Lisa Leake!  Would anyone take their 10-day pledge with me...push the apathy to the back of the pantry if only for a few days?   

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My yard/garden = my yarden

I'm ready to get that last sad, mopey blog post off of the top of my post lists, so here's a new one.  And just to add to the change of pace, a bit of 3-year-old silly-ness.  By the way, tall stack won't be 3 much longer = YIKES!

A few days ago, Abby & Audrey were playing together on the floor (oh my word, no one prepared me for the warm, fluttery fuzzies that just squeeze my heart space when these two love on each other!).  They both had coughy, snotty colds last week, and Audrey proceeded to sneeze right in Abby's face, whereupon the silly goose giggled "She bless you'd in my face!!"  Snicker...


Every year when I stock up on my plants in May, I get more plants than I did the previous year.  True to form, I walked away with 20 plants this year.  And we have .17 of an acre of property front & back yard included.  As I was wending my way through the aisles of plants, all so earthy smelling and delicious, I decided to get something new this year that I hadn't ever tried before.  My theory was all well and good until I came away with about 5 new somethings, 3 of which are long and viney.  This resulted in a serious consultation with my co-landscaper while the kids were resting and then it caused me to pull out the shovel and start hacking up some grass.

The die have been cast, and we are going to rework some of the yard to better encompass viney things.  And, digging up grass costs no pennies.  Score one for the credit card balance. 

My blatant fail came about when I accidentally bought a jalapeno pepper plant rather than a sweet pepper plant.  I'd bet the contents of my closet on that little bugger than undoubtedly jumped into my cart on the sly that it will be my best pepper producer this year because kismet is nothing if not sneaky. 

A beautiful garden I do not have.  A gifted gardener I am not.  A work in progress we are, house and yard included.  (Shout out to passive voice for those who missed it the first 3 times.)

My aunt tells me that I might not be too far north to cultivate pecan trees.  This has slightly altered my dream house vision: find a place where I can plant pecan trees.  That would save some serious loot at the grocery store so that I wouldn't have to succumb to those buttery little nuggets of joy if I could just plant my own.

Now, I need to go do some serious recipe searching for how to use rhubarb, a plant that I have never in my life seen anyone actually use in person, though both of my grandmothers made/make rhubarb pies.  I just haven't seen them do it in person.  A week ago, I came away from a visit with my grams (I don't really call her that) with a good amount of the stuff, though she thought I didn't have nearly enough.  One batch of muffins later, I've only used 2 stalks.  Apparently at this rate, I still have about 6 batches of muffins to go.  Brunch at my place?? 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A safe bet

You may have to pardon my probable inclusion of multiple cliches and other worn phrases in this post.  That's my warning.

Some days, I get into a mental funk.  Reeeaalllly funky.  IT always seems to be lurking.  IT rears its ugly head at the drop of a hat, at the slightest provocation, without warning, (insert more trite phrases here) et cetera. I hate IT.  Whoever has any words of wisdom...please.  Share them with me. 

My best friend from high school graduated from Harvard Law School and has been working in Dallas and Chicago for the U. S. Department of Labor.  In a few months, she's getting married in Chicago in a gorgeous hotel on Michigan Ave. to an MIT grad/engineer.  (I helped ghost write her high school valedictorian speech.  It was forgetably standard, yet my claim to fame.)

One of my best college sisters was hired to be the musician at the Iona Community in Scotland, which she did for two years.  Now, she's finishing up her Master of Divinity in Boston and is going to continue on with her PhD work.

One of my best college sisters is a doctor, living in California.  She has this crazy magnetic personality and had about 10 best friends on any given day.  She's Berkeley-esque and brilliantly enigmatic.

One of my best college sisters has worked for several years as a social worker, mostly in Chicago.  She also took about a year to on-and-off hike the Appalachian Trail, largely by herself.  (She's probably reading this, so I'm going to stop there.  Let it be known...you're at the top of my "You're amazing!" list.  I could go on.)

A good college friend just graduated with her Masters from Duke.  She's married to another smarty Duke Masters grad. 

I have three more college friends that I can think of off of the top of my head while I'm writing this and watching tv at the same time who are also now medical doctors.  And another friend who picked up a doctorate, too. 

The list is long; I have good friends who carry impressive resumes.  My candle has a healthy light, but it pales in comparison with these accolades.  Herein lies my funk. 

I'm frustrated, bored, irritated--all with myself, mind you.  Where have I been?  What I have been doing?  Why have I chosen this particular path?  Because I chose to be Safe Amy, and this is the life that is expected her.

Safe Amy picked up a degree in education because it was practical and useful (Impractical/Crazy Amy didn't start out with a degree in education.)  Safe Amy didn't travel abroad during her junior year because she had a boyfriend and that would have been hard to have left for a few months.  Safe Amy got married right after college.  Safe Amy gave in and moved to mid-central Indiana.  Safe Amy started teaching because she could.  Safe Amy didn't try very hard to do something else.  Safe Amy waited a few years and started having kids.  Safe Amy is BORING.

Gah.  Some days I don't like myself so much (myself, myself, myself...do not read this as not liking my kids/husband/current position in life).  Some days, Safe Amy is just far too (wait for it...) safe.    

Safe Amy has done everything by the book per midwest standards.  And I just don't know if it's the right set of choices so far.  Is it a hey-I'm-30-now-and-what-have-I-done slump?  All I do know is that I have too much unadulterated think time throughout my day and not enough IQ challenge to negate that.  Safe Amy is going a titch crazy.  Slowly but surely...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Not sleeping for worrying

So help me if anyone claims that they're not a parent who worries about their child.  That person is lying.  There's an entire spectrum of worry that is ripe to be addressed at any given moment of any day.  Or night.  Around this here house of late, there's been a little bit of day and whole lot of night. 

We're in the trenches with the mostly-okay-except-for-snotty-noses-during-the-day-but-all-kinds-of-unexpected-twists-of-nasty-and-scary-at-night kind of a cold. 

Whoever failed to tell me prior to popping out the first one that waking up in the middle of the night to take care of a child even after they're no longer tiny and needing to eat or have a diaper changed should be tried for treason, to the maternal order of women.  No.  The night time duties never end.  What did end, however, is my ability to sleep beyond 4 hours at a stretch, it seems.  When one kid is sleeping, the other one feels the need to gag/puke/cough interminably/scream/wail/beg for parental solace.  And they trade off, spread that good cheer around.  AND, when the stars somehow align and they're both sleeping comfortably as of late, the cat finds a long lost toy and sets up some sort of caterwaul.  Apt word choice there if you've ever roomed with a cat and a milk ring.

All the sickness, snottiness, cough-iness, and struggling to breath-iness is a bajillion times worse at 2 a.m.  As a parent, you feel bereft of the ability to help, unable to do anything except offer a hug and a soft word.  A quick prayer to please not let this child die tonight.  I'm that parent now.

I'm the parent who can't sleep for straining to hear my baby cough over the monitor, trying to ascertain if the timbre of the cough has changed, if it's more phlemgy or still dry and barking.  I'm the parent who pulled out the sleeping bag and blankets so that I could lie on my daughter's floor, listening in person to her labored breathing, scared beyond scared of what I couldn't control--a nasty, gag-inducing cough.  I'm the parent who used to swear up and down that I would never be able to handle puking and that's what husbands are for, only to find myself being the one trying to furiously clean the sick out of her long, thick hair in the middle of the night.

I'm terrified of SIDS.  I'm fearful of sounds that I don't understand.  I worry about the slightest changes.

Every night since my children were born, I have checked on them each night before I go to sleep--listening for their breathing and feeling their forehead to see if they are feverish.  Every night.  And each time, I hold my breath until all is well.  And then I can breathe too.  Thank you, thank you, thank you...all is well for one more day.    

Monday, May 6, 2013

Wierdest. Interview. Ever.

Ben was offered his current position of teaching/coaching the week before we got married.  That is the last interview that he has been through. 

In the subsequent 8 years (I know, right?) since he's been off the market, I have applied for probably 10-15 various positions in a variety of fields of work, sometimes while employed and sometimes not.  I have been through 9 interviews out of those applications.  Luckily, I was offered positions 6 times, with one still outstanding.  Ben--0 interviews since June 2005.  Amy--far, far too many.  This is not a rant about my perpetual state of interviewing.  No, this is a post about the weirdest interview EVER. 

Though I haven't been pulling a regular salary as of late, I'm still technically employed.  Indeed, I'm still on the adjunct docket at the local community college.  I had already passed on teaching a class this semester when my "real" job fell apart.  And it's driving me a bit nutsy.  I miss people!  What to do, what to do??  Apply for something, of course!

Something that works around me being at home in the day.  Something that doesn't involve me doing anything immoral or embarrassing.  Something like...adjuncting at another local college.  It's not that I'm in a rut, it's that there are pitifully few positions in the area that call for someone with a literature/writing/teaching background.  Oh, except for teaching.  Been there.

But teaching as an adjunct, admittedly this is based off of little overall experience so far as I'm at the front end of this career choice, is refreshingly independent, casual, and enjoyable, at least for me.  And, what do you know, not a lot of people with the creds want to be adjuncts because the pay is lousy and there is little stability.  But someone in my bizarre position thinks of it as a Yes, please! 

Ergo, I applied to a local-ish university.  I went through the whole jumping-through-hoops process.  I secured an initial interview (there are about 4 more steps, no joke).  Ready for a giggle?  Here's a synopsis of that venture.

*It was a Skype interview.
*It was at 9:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night.
*I sat at my kitchen table.
*The person that I was having a conversation with was also pulling double-duty taking over for an understaffed position and was interrupted a couple of times.
*I stared at a black iPad screen because there was no video feed from his end.
*I have no idea if he could see me, so I literally sat there and pretended that I was talking to a person.  but I wasn't.  I was staring at a black screen...for 45 minutes.

Furthermore, what does someone wear to a Skype interview when you're sitting at your own kitchen table?  The whole thing was just odd and chuckle worthy.  I think it went okay?  You'd think that I'd have these question-and-answer sessions down cold by now.  No.  They still make me all scatterbrained and rambly.  I can't imagine why I never went through one of these situational interviews with Career Services before I graduated.  How odd...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

stay-at-home = isolation

I know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this.  I had a Skype date with a college friend of mine (her first child is a little cutie named Keegan and she's staying at home with for the indeterminate future as well), and brought the "I" word up on her own in the course of our conversation.  Isolation, thou art a devilish mistress.

Lest anyone read this far and roll your eyes, hear me out.  Sure, I was video chatting with a good friend, and we each had a little tot crawling all over/around us, but surely it's understood that it's not the same, right? 

I don't make friends easily.  If not for my jobs & kids, I would not have friends here...and I've lived here now for coming up on 7 years.  Hey college friends...you all rock.  I love that we still keep in contact.  I love that we still visit each other.  I love that we chat on-line in various forums.  You all make it easy, much more so than it is for me in any other way. 

I fell into some blind luck by finding a group of women who all had new babies the first time I did.  And, for unknown reasons, they've adopted me.  I, in turn, have adopted the role of amoeba.

The day-to-day, however, involves a whole lot of isolation.  You know it's going to be like this at least to some extent when you enter into this kind of arrangement, so it's not complaining so much as trying to rationalize the barren feeling that just creeps up on you some days.  I've never felt so up and down as these past few months: motivations? end in sight? purpose?   Interminable winter hasn't helped.  Small house hasn't helped.  The boy's coaching gauntlet hasn't helped.

This past week, I have been singularly responsible for or with at least one child approximately 91 hours.  Ben has been singularly responsible for or with at least one child approximately 27 hours.  That's a lot of me by myself with just the two small fry with which to talk.

Surely, there's some happy medium between responsibility towards children and responsibility towards self.  I haven't found it yet.     

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I could be a Michael Pollan groupie

This is Michael Pollan. 

He is adorable.

He is the soup du jour right now of many a food movement: farm-to-table, organic farming, sustainable farming, non-GMO farming, and so on.

About two years ago, I read The Omnivore's Dilemma.  It is a fascinating take on the food industry that isn't written in response to lobbying and circumspect scientific studies.  It's honest and contemplative (much like the way food should be, perhaps?).

And, I dig his writing.  I'm a sucker for the journalist-academian-editorialist.  (Tangent...read The Soloist by Steve Lopez.)  Seriously, he's adorable.     

I recently wended my way through A Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and zipped through Food Rules: An Eater's Manuel, the latter one which really should be read along with the former.  Now, it's on to The Botany of Desire, and though only done with the introduction, I'm already getting coffeehouse-and-latte chills at his delicious writing.  Reading his writing is like having a conversation with a favorite professor, which is utterly fantastic.

My only complaint in all that I have read so far, one that is unilaterally ignored, is that he never takes geography into account.  Some of us just can't utilize a fabulous California farmer's market.  I'm still waiting for someone to solve the riddle of how to eat well, quasi-affordably, outside of a major city, when you don't have the ability to maintain your own garden.

Regardless, there's a whole lot of genuine in his writing.  It really helps to temper the feelings of guilt and/or disgust that you have when you think about some of the garbage that is in your own fridge/freezer/pantry as you're reading it.  He should really preface his writing with "I'm only telling you this because you're a friend, and I want to help..." 

Did you notice that I slipped in the California part?  He also teaches at UC Berkeley.  Be still my heart.  It is all a'flutter.