Saturday, December 28, 2013

All Joy and No Fun

I have become obsessed with a book I haven't read yet. It won't be released until the end of January, and yet I somehow believe I know what is contained in the pages. Or rather what I hope is contained in the pages. The book is called All Joy and No Fun by a journalist named Jennifer Senior. The tagline is "the paradox of modern parenthood". The amazon review begins: What are the effects of children on their parents?

NOW. If there is anything more terrifying to a parent...anything more likely to be mentioned in hushed tones or secret emails or (gasp) suggested as the reason that one would need a drink, it is that Life Just Might Have Been More Fun Before We Had Children.

Just the thought of admitting it makes my mouth fill and out tumble a thousand caveats.

Of course I love Purslane and Knox.

Of course I am grateful to be able to have children. After being diagnosed with idiopathic infertility and conceiving Pursy with the help of Clomid, I am very grateful.

Of course they bring joy to our lives and we are blessed with health and energy and resources to enjoy a million happy moments without care.

Of course I wouldn't do it any differently if I had the chance.

So with those truths out of the way, I will say that I do remember the days before having children and how beautiful and simple and carefree they were. If any season of life looks more magical in retrospect, it has to be the time where you had money and independence and a million options in front of you. Grant's season like this was immediately post college. He had two degrees from an Ivy League university on his resume, a car with his name on the title, and (thankfully for me) decided to move to Colorado and play for a few years. My season was in the middle of college when I was recently dumped and heartbroken, all my earthly possessions fit in my tan Toyota Corolla, and I was driving I-70 West to finish my undergrad at the University of Colorado.

As beautiful and carefree as that season was, with all its possibilities, it wasn't flawless. Grant spent too much of his time drinking Southern Comfort and watching Sports Center. He camped and hiked whenever he wasn't at work, but always alone- his pictures of places and things instead of people and smiles. I was working night shift at Denver Children's Hospital and going to class during the day. I had a couple bad relationships and a couple good ones, lived with different roommates and did a lot of yoga. We could make every single one of our life decisions based on exactly what we wanted to do and what experiences we wanted (or were willing) to have. There were dates and camping weekends and sleeping in and concerts until 2am and lazy Saturdays at a coffee shop and all the fabulous things about being in your 20's with money and autonomy. That freedom is exciting but a bit drifty on your own. So when we collided in May of 2003, we were two decently happy individuals but deciding to get married didn't feel like giving up any freedom, just the added bonus of having someone there to hold hands with. Life was fun.

Enter the second season of pre-kid years. We were married for six years before trying for a baby and spent those years building a marriage and a friendship that we plan on hanging on to until one of us dies or Jesus comes back. We had rough years and brilliant years but neither of us ever seriously thought of throwing in the towel. We collected fabulous friends and had money to travel and move across the country for graduate degrees and whims. We did what we wanted and over the years realized that we were lucky enough to have similar taste in a wide variety of things. Houses, music, clothing, colors, books, movies, dogs, bedspreads, food...we truly enjoyed living together. We had dinner parties twice a week and weekends at the cabin and hours of conversation with friends and morning sex. Life was so fun. And if it stopped being fun, we changed something up.

And then we had Purslane. She changed our lives a tremendous amount, but I continued working and Grant had a flexible graduate student schedule so we were together as a little threesome quite a bit. We spent hours talking about parenting and future plans and together we read her books and fed her handmade baby food and bathed her and when she was finally in bed for the evening there were HOURS to watch the Pirates on TV or create dinner from Food and Wine recipes or sit on opposite ends of the couch and read different books while our legs intertwined in the middle. We were having fun as parents. She came everywhere with us, mostly as an appendage hanging in a Moby or BabyHawk carrier while we went to shows and museums and libraries and restaurants. We rarely used a sitter because we were showing her the world. If one of us got tired, we passed her over to the parent with renewed energy and we went on our way. Then we got pregnant with Knox. I was pregnant on Purslane's first birthday, because we had decided not to go on birth control in case we had fertility issues again.



Pursy's first look at Knox.
Knox came along the day Pursy turned 18 months. Now we had two babes and I dropped down to working one day/week. We talked about my taking some time off, but I loved my job and with the flexible schedule of a nurse, we couldn't find any reason not to make it work. So I went back to working night shift, Grant finished his PhD and we moved to Pittsburgh. This is the first time I really felt like parenting was costing me a little bit of my fun. I could no longer just put Pursy on my back and go out for a long walk or let her take her nap in the stroller while I had a coffee at a café with a girlfriend. Grant couldn't take both babes to the park without 45 minutes of diaper changing, snack packing, extra clothes thinking...and at that point one of them was melting down anyway. There were two of them now, and we were making decisions based on practicality and survival.

 Now certainly having two children is not all sweat and tears. There were beautiful things about having two babies and there are fantastic things about having two toddlers/preschoolers. Our children seem to have an innate sense of adventure, brilliant imaginations and limitless energy. They are the loud ones in church, the top of the monkey bar ones at the playground, and the giggly noodle covered ones at the restaurant. We hit the jackpot with both of our babes.

But there are no more long leisurely walks that come without strollers and sippy cups and extra diapers. Neither of our children would tolerate being carried for five steps, let alone around an entire museum. Babysitters are our favorite people in the world and grandparents are even better. We crave moments of silence or books with a bookmark moving towards the last chapter. We plan and adapt and lower expectations in order to meet needs. And there is so much joy and laughter and spontaneous dance parties in our home. We are a family, complete with crazy parades and sighs of thankfulness sent to the heavens when a child running full tilt for the street stops when I yell STOP from the porch. We don't pretend to be anything other then full on parents of young children- especially when we remind new friends on their way to the bathroom that we have a recently potty trained toddler and they should check the seat before sitting down. We delight in our children. But that does not mean that we have fun all the time.

So back to this book, All Joy and No Fun. I am so excited to read the thoughts of a parent brave enough to loudly proclaim the simple reality that parenting is all-encompassing and asks for just a little more then you thought you could give without losing your mind. It is full of joy, indeed. And fun, quite a bit of the time. Just not all of the time. And THAT is just fine. There is no guilt in remembering the pre-kid years when joy and fun walked hand in hand. When the weight of decisions wasn't so heavy and didn't impact so many people. When responsibility meant taking care of just one person instead of the gorgeous child in your arms needing you to make the best choices for you and for them. It isn't always a slog and it isn't always two tons of fun. Parenting is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my 33 years of life. It was my choice and I don't look back (too often).

And usually among the four of us, someone in the room is having fun... pass the train caboose, Knox.


Friday, December 27, 2013

How Traditions are Made

Christmas Eve. The babes new painting easels are put together and Grant has written Merry Christmas on the chalkboard side in red and green chalk. The traditional sour cream coffee cake is in the oven on its hour long journey to becoming a delicious breakfast. Our cold and snowy drive home from visiting grandparents in Ohio is behind us, as is the Christmas Eve service that Purslane and Knox fidgeted their way through after being in the car for five hours. Santa's treat is on the coffee table: a glass of strawberry Kefir, two unwrapped dark chocolate Hershey kisses and some cheese and crackers, because "he might be hungry and tired of cookies, Mama". The Advent wreath has been lit with the final candle of waiting. Stockings are filled and the space under the tree is filled with presents. Coffee beans are ground and waiting to be deposited into the french press, in case the young people wake up before the old people have their wits about them, needing a direct route to caffeine.



















 
Grant and I plop on the couch with glasses of champagne and decide to rent Before Midnight on Amazon Prime. I absolutely love this trilogy of films, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, and have been trying to convince Grant that he needs to watch them. The opening credits begin and I am immediately acutely aware of my surroundings. Everything got done. Even a family who lives as open-handedly as we do (read, I am spontaneous and a poor planner, often relying on my wits and ability to multi task instead of just doing things ahead of time. The big problem is, I find the moments of running through Target on the way to church to grab things for Christmas breakfast charming and exciting, so have not refined my methods in 33 years. The other problem is, I usually manage to get everything done, so smugly refuse to see the need for change. I keep hoping one day Grant will find it endearing)

Christmas tree lights. Snow falling outside. Bubbly champagne. Sleeping babes. And the most familiar person in the world falling asleep on my lap. I am filled with satisfaction and contentment. This is Christmas Eve.
 
 
 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sometimes We Just Say Yes Please

This weekend was full and beautiful. We said yes to every party and every cookie and every glass of champagne. Starting on Thursday with cookie making (8 dozen) and ending last night with the New Girl Christmas episode, our little family celebrated in style.

In my attempt to balance being present with having photographic evidence, most of our outings I don't have pictures of but let me tell you that the train display at the Science Center was outrageous and Pursy looked fabulous in her purple boa and mustache glasses at the princess party on Sunday. The memory in my mind of our new friends Matt and Chrissie crooning and dominating the drum set at the coffee house style Christmas party last night will have to suffice. And unless you were there, the raw sexual manliness of my husband dressed up for an evening at The Carson's on Saturday is mine alone to remember and enjoy. I was pretty decent arm candy myself in a short red and black shift dress I found at a consignment shop last week...

There are more photos on my Instagram account at: http://instagram.com/lenore27

This morning I think we just need to recover from our weekend of frivolity... I just can't party like I used to. So for one more day, I let myself eat a cookie and too much coffee for breakfast. The babes watched Mickey's Christmas Carol (remember that one??) while I started in on the pile of laundry spilling out of the hamper. We have presents to wrap and more sea salt caramel sauce to make and the Indie Holiday Channel has been playing on Pandora non-stop. Although for some reason, no matter how many thumbs down I give it, I can't seem to convince Pandora that I don't like Baby, It's Cold Outside. How many musicians have covered this creeper song??

Today is jammies and coffee and Christmas music and present wrapping. But our weekend went something like this...

Catching Snowflakes
Our Front Door



Caaaandy Canes

We gave Pursy the "big girl job" of hanging all the candy canes after Knoxer was in bed. They all ended up about 2 inches from each other in one big candy cane montage, but she had a great time.

Rare appearance by me in a photo. This was Sunday afternoon right before a romp in the snow.

Making a snowball

Throwing the snowball at Daddy

Date Night
Snowy Morning


 
Recent Favorite Breakfast. Plain yogurt, blackberries, slivered almonds and honey.
 
 
Drum Circle. You unfortunately can't tell from the picture, but it is crazy loud in the house right now.
Urban kids need walking sticks
Bravely exploring the wild frontier.




Sea Salt Caramel Sauce.

Cookie Day 2013

Cookie Cutters

Organizing. Fitting that she is wearing an apron made by a professional organizer, my darling friend Margo.

Singing Jingle Bells while rolling out cookie dough with snow falling outside. Oh, hello, Mr Rockwall.




Found these cookie cutters at an antique shop in Bellefonte, PA. I used these same ones when I was growing up. I believe my Mom still has them but it was nice to find my own stash. I still love the Santa the best.

As promised by Smitten Kitchen, these sugared pretzel cookies taste just like the pretzel Danish butter cookies that come in the big tin. I always ate these shapes first because they were the best.


Ho Ho Ho!!



Pursy in her costume for the Princess Party. She was originally wearing the mustachioed glasses that Knox is wearing above and told me "I am going to be the princess AND the guy". For a Mama who leans more toward kid-appropriate rather then gender-appropriate ideals, this made my heart warm.

Pre-breakfast candy time. They run downstairs to open the small doors on the countdown to Christmas calendar first thing every morning and pull out the treat inside. Pursy calls this set up a "candy feast".


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

10 Years of Champagne


This has been our couple's counseling lately.


I never really drank champagne until recently, but now I think about drinking champagne all the time. I read in one of my "cooking novelas" (books that are primarily about cooking but are about more then just the food) that drinking champagne is the perfect blend of luxurious, celebration and acceptable over-indulgence. Forget for a moment that it is alcohol and think of champagne as a symbol for anything you find great pleasure in having just a little more of.  That stolen forkful of cherry pie as you were transferring it from the table to the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner. The quick second kiss that comes after the long passionate kiss at a wedding. The half mile you ran after your normal run was over because the wind in your hair felt so good and your legs and lungs were begging you to go further. The reason the Repeat button exists on your Ipod or Spotify screen... because sometimes you just need a little more BeyoncĂ©.

Champagne is the symbol of celebration and special occasion, but in our home we have enjoyed it recently while we played cards on a Wednesday evening, while we decorated the Christmas tree, with Grant's parents over the heads of our children watching Merry Racist Christmas (the 1940's Christmas Classics Vol 1.. watch it, it is ah-mazing). Just the casual stuff of life. There is nothing so lovely as sitting curled up on the floor in front of a game of Rummy and realizing that the glass I was casually holding Audrey Hepburn-style in my left hand is now being refilled by my husband who got up to get the bottle and top us off.

And we shared a bottle this weekend while we watched the Good Wife and ordered the last of our Christmas presents online. And we talked, and we laughed and we drank champagne until 1am. This is wonderful news because things have been a little dodgy around here recently. Just the down swing of those marital seasons where everything feels hard and we have it the worst of every couple who has ever lived, ever. Sometimes something as simple as sharing a bottle of champagne can bring a bit of sparkle (forgive me) back to the routine.

Sunday we drank champagne and reconnected. On Monday, Pursy threw up all day and Grant got stuck at work until after the babes went to bed. Yesterday I ended up working a night shift instead of my usual evening shift, with no sleep beforehand and a 33 year old body that doesn't react to coffee as dramatically as I used to. Two hours into my shift, I got a text from Grant that Knox was now puking. I came home this morning and slept for 3 hours and am now barreling through a day, refusing to feel sorry for us.

Because we are lucky. When it comes down to it, there are few problems in our relationship that a $15 bottle of bubbly champagne can't fix. The hurt feelings and the grudges and the sour mood and the score sheet are just consequences of not spending enough time together talking and hanging out. Because when babes are puking and I am working at 3am and Grant's late bus means dinner is cold and rubbery, we are in this together. Just two best friends clinking glasses and celebrating this beautifully crazy life that neither of us could have imagined we would love so much.

On the days I think about my past life and wish I could just have one day of it- doing what I want, no responsibility of home and children, money to burn, making my own plans and schedules- I don't think about life before Grant. Because I was smart enough to believe him when he told me "There is nothing more I want to do that I don't want to do with you". And in three weeks we will be celebrating 10 years of doing things together. And we will drink champagne with some of our dearest, closest friends in our favorite city in the world while we celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary. Tell me I am not the luckiest girl alive. Look at this arm candy:

Cheers to us, Grant. We are fantastic.
"Come with me, and together, we can take the long way home." -TW




Thursday, December 5, 2013

I reluctantly put on my apron and... baked.



Baking

Firstly, let me be perfectly clear. If there exists a test for what sort of person gravitates towards cooking rather then baking, I would be solidly on the cooking team. I measure with my hands. I riff and elaborate and always always double the amount of fresh herbs, cheese and onion called for in the recipe. The one exception to my creativity allowance is any recipe from the America's Test Kitchen family cookbook I bought myself two months ago.

This cookbook is brilliant. I have not made a dud recipe yet, and I cook from it probably 2-3 nights/week now. I figure after all the tweaking they do on every recipe, the one that made the book is the best it can get. When it says to defrost the corn first- that's what I do.

I haven't been taking any photos of our meals, quite frankly because my family got weary of posing with forks held halfway to their mouths while I snapped a picture. Or maybe it would be more correct to say that Grant got weary of being a backdrop for my whole roasted chicken or tex-mex goulash. Which, before you judge, foodie haters, satisfied both sides of the aisle in a delicious, earthy way. It had green peppers, onions, cheese, red pepper flakes, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, alongside the ground beef and macaroni. And the babes loved saying the word "goulash". In fact, goulash might be my new comfort food. It filled me up better then macaroni and cheese and felt more warm and comforting then a bowl of soup. Mmmm...goulash.

But I have been baking more then usual. I read a book called Made from Scratch and was convinced of the importance of creating whatever food you can possibly make from the ingredients rather then packaged already made at the store. The author is a young woman who doesn't really read like she has an agenda other then sharing her joy of homesteading with others. She started in an apartment with box window herb gardens and now lives on a small farm in Vermont with a bee hive, chicken coop, roaming goats, large garden and active kitchen. She introduces the idea of always buying second hand rather then new. She talks about sustainability, the high quality of tools (big gardening tools and small kitchen utensils) made in the first half of the century and the value of surrounding yourself with unique items that have a story written on them by their previous owner. She spent most of a chapter talking about her coffee percolator found at an antique store that made me glance suspiciously at my glass french press.



A Perfect Bread Making Day
She offered the challenge of starting with baking your own bread. She gave a very simple basic bread recipe that takes about three hours and a little manual labor, which the babes were happy to provide. We made two loaves on Sunday afternoon, which was a beautifully cozy and homey way to get ready for another week. I felt like in a small but important way I was holistically nourishing my family- creating something using simple ingredients and teaching my children new skills.

Success

Braided Challah

So I have been baking bread on a weekly basis for three weeks now, and the week of Thanksgiving felt brave enough to tackle two other yeast recipes- my Gramma's pecan cinnamon rolls and butter cream frosted brioche. These two breads were a staple of my childhood, as my Gramma could whip them up at the drop of a hat, and loved having them warm and ready for us when we got off the bus after school. The pecan rolls are a whole wheat, nuts, and molasses semi-healthy recipe while the brioche are the best decadent parts of white flour, butter, white sugar, and frosting. I was in charge of Friday brunch after Thanksgiving and made them both to compliment the savory egg dishes my cousin Kirstin created.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 The memories of being in the kitchen with my Gramma who kneaded and mixed by hand and sang hymns while she created these amazing breads made me feel cozy. Being in the kitchen while we "pounded" and made full use of the KitchenAid and shook our hips to Fall Out Boy and Thao With the Get Down Stay Down were new memories that hopefully one day will make Pursy feel warm and cozy to remember.


Brioche


Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!