Monday, March 24, 2014

Not These Pants!

Because this blog will most likely serve as our family photo album for the past three years, our scrapbook of life events AND Knox's baby book, I want to document as much as I can of our daily and even mundane happenings. I learned early on that the adorable way Purslane and Knox interpret the world is here one day and gone the next. Some of our favorite things disappear from their vocabulary before we had a chance to hear it just one more time (see It's Just an Oogie).

Pursy Claire turns four next month. She is starting preschool in the fall, is a huge fan of old school french braids in her hair and picking out her own clothes in the morning. She has gotten into books that I loved as a child- namely Amelia Bedelia, Dr Seuss and the Frog and Toad series. She will curl up next to me and read for hours...if we had hours to curl up and read (will introduce our biggest distraction in the next paragraph). It is hard to pick her favorite things because really it would be easier to list the things she isn't into- maybe nuclear weapons and plants that grow in the desert. And she isn't interested because she doesn't know those things exist.  The girl is curious about everything. She is asking fantastic questions like "what does God smell like?" and "what do goats eat for dinner?". She wants to know why our chimney doesn't need a sweep and why the things on her wrists are blue when the blood in them is red. From the moment she wakes up, her eyes are open wide. She usually comes running into our room with her OK to Wake owl clock over her head to show us it turned green and she can legally be awake. Her favorite foods are brussels sprouts and grapes. She loves Dinosaur Train and has memorized all 26 species in the Dino A-Z song. Nothing bugs her more then wearing the wrong day of the week undies. Thursday evenings the four of us go to Sarah Heinz House for her gymnastics class and she heads to the gym in her black leotard, black tights...and rainbow leg warmers. She is all about things she can do when she gets bigger (drink beer, strap the bottom strap on her car seat, and say "stupid") and works effortlessly to enchant us every day.

Knox has become a little hambone. He has discovered that his antics make people laugh and whomever walks in the door for whatever reason is usually greeted by a "hey, watch dis!" followed by some crazy dance move, full sprint across the room or a pillow to the groin. He makes funny faces on command and when asked how he would feel if we took away his juice water responds with "I be so ANGWY" (when should you stop using your child for entertainment??). He loves to chase Pursy around with his T-Rex biting her arm, wake us up with a stinky diaper in our face, and twirl anything sticky in his hair with his fork. His favorite foods are anything within reach. Especially edemame ("eddie mommy"), grapes on the cob (stems attached) and tacos from the taco stand in the Strip. He has found his voice and is very much a part of this family with his determined stance and resolute fixation on a course of action. When cajoling and wrapping his body around my leg doesn't change my mind, the next thing I can count on is a 35 pound full body tackle punctuated by an ear piercing scream that I can still hear ringing in my ears as I walk back down the stairs after depositing a very angry little boy in his room for a well earned time out. I have to work very hard to keep a straight face while explaining to him why he got himself in trouble, as usually he starts stroking my cheek. His party line answer when asked why he got a time out is "because I didn't wisten", regardless of the offence. He loves his train table, watching the world go by outside the car window and "taking off" from the blue tape starting line I put down on the floor of the living room when I was desperate for him to get some energy out but was out of creativity to make up a game. By far our favorite Knoxism is the every day, every single time, every pair of pants in his drawer protest to getting dressed. "Not these pants! Not these pants!". We have no idea what his issue with getting pants on is and once we have wrangled him into them he is perfectly fine.

We are back to being sleep deprived, zombie parents as both the babes have returned to infant stage multiple night wakings. We have tried everything and are just contenting ourselves with the reminder that every stage is a cycle. Grant is working long hours but still comes home for dinner every night. I am doing my best to be my children's first teacher, put food on the table and keep properly fitting clothes on everyone, including myself. I dance out the door on Tuesdays afternoons to work a shift at the hospital, where I keep up with my professional skills and my adult interaction skills. Opening Day is next week and our Pirates season tickets are smoldering on the kitchen island. Last weekend we spent with our dearests in State College while we baptized children, celebrated birthdays and remembered, even for 48 hours, what it feels like to be KNOWN. By people who know you are super interesting to converse with but have to interrupt conversations 27 times by children wanting to play. I started a book club with 10 fabulous women and we meet once a month to drink, eat and discuss books. Next weekend we are traveling to St Louis to spend some time with MORE of our dearests while Grant attends a conference and the babes and I check out all the free stuff to do. I started taking a seminary class this semester on Reformed Orthodoxy, so every Monday afternoon head out with my travel coffee mug and college rule Composition notebook to learn about the basic tenants of my theology.

Our life at present. There is so much goodness. And so much coffee needed in order to handle it all.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sunshine by Modcloth

I have yet to speak with one parent of small children who is enjoying the slow languish of winter. The holidays are long over, the excitement of new hats and gloves has worn off, and the cruel joke of freezing temperatures without snow is getting harder to chuckle at.

It is March. Halfway through, at that. Where are all the benefits of global warming?? Let's have some early spring before the majority of my social circle does a run on the bank for prescriptions of Prozac.

The worst for me are the cold days after the teaser days of mild temperatures. On Monday the babes and I spent hours at the park. Tuesday while I was at work our sweet babysitter had the babes on blankets in the backyard reading books. Wednesday was 15 degrees. Yesterday was cold but sunny and I was determined to turn the course of our ship to better waters.

We were out all morning running errands, going to Bible study, lunch out at Qdoba (decent food with paper napkins) then at 5 we pick up Grant from work and head to the natural history museum for their extended evening hours. I made cornbread and handmade refried beans, and we ate in the cafĂ© before wandering upstairs to check out the dinosaurs.

Things are looking up.

2a and Pursy is standing at the side of our bed saying that her "bed is spinning". One hand on her head tells me that she has a fever. She crawls into bed with us and fitfully sleeps until 630. Breakfast this morning is juice and leftover cornbread, which Knox throws up all over himself.

Back to pajamas and multiple screenings of Dumbo on Amazon Prime. Sick babes are snuggly babes and I selfishly enjoy it. I call Grant to ask if he will swing by the store at lunchtime and pick up us more juice. I am still in my UC sweatshirt and Smartwools. No sense in getting dressed for a day of naps and couch cuddles.

To keep myself from getting completely depressed, I decide it is the day to use the store credit I have on Modcloth. My sweet friend Kirsten gave me a gift certificate a few weeks ago and I used it on a pair of shoes that I wasn't crazy about and returned. The balance was sitting in my account, so online shopping for something that wouldn't remind me that I have been hibernating for months and my Irish skin is almost translucent.

Shoes it is.

These sweet honeys are on their way to my house. Sunshine colored and a reminder that the day is coming that I will slip these on with a pair of ankle skinnies and the grey tank top I grabbed at the clothing exchange at Caryn's last month...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Life as a Gumbo

I make gumbo once a year. Mardi Gras. Grant and I have thrown a Mardi Gras party every year since we evacuated from New Orleans in 2005, with the exception of I believe 2010 when I was enormously pregnant with what we would soon learn was a daughter. Mardi Gras used to be for us a celebration of our darling New Orleans, memories of friends we shared the holiday with in years past and just a general love for all things gastronomic, musical and alcoholic.

I also love a chance to wear a costume.

Grant does not share this affection.

But I started making a huge pot of gumbo a few years ago when our guest list swelled to 50 and I needed something that I could make ahead of time, would stretch if necessary and was undeniably New Orleans. I started with Emeril's recipe and six hours later decided that no matter how delicious it was, it wasn't worth it. Paul Prudhomme's was much easier and didn't require as many steps. Equally delicious. This year I went old school and made the first recipe that popped up when I googled simply "gumbo".

If you have ever made gumbo, you know that there are multiple steps, beginning with the creation of a handmade stock and ending with the decision to add the Tabasco INTO the pot or leave it graciously on the counter to allow friends to choose their level of heat. In the middle are all the elements which make gumbo as a dish so unique, and makes the person who creates the gumbo convinced that only theirs is pure and right. It's all about the tradition.

There is the creation of the roux with all it's variations (butter vs. oil vs. lard as the fat), okra or no okra, tomatoes or no tomatoes, using the French mirepoix (onion, celery, carrots) or the Cajun holy trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper) as the aromatics, which herbs make up the "Cajun seasoning"... it gets pretty intense. Thus making gumbo is a cooks dream. There are a million ways to riff on the recipe and no one can say you did it wrong. Well, anyone else who makes a different gumbo can say you did it wrong, but when you are serving a room full of western Pennsylvanians, hopefully everyone just thinks it is damn good.

Because gumbo is quite possibly the world's most perfect food.

As I was making my gumbo yesterday in preparation for our 9th Mardi Gras away from home, I found my mind wandering. Pursy and Knox were very happily in the living room watching an old Mickey Mouse cartoon (I love Netflix!) and I had prepped everything that morning, making the actual cooking of the gumbo quite easy. Easy in the sense that I only had to do three things at once instead of five. So I was poaching the chicken, stirring the okra and coaxing my roux into the deep golden brown I was praying it would turn before the smell of scorching flour reminded me that "stirring constantly" is a command not a suggestion.

I had never added okra to my gumbo and was intrigued by the phrase in the recipe "stir until no longer sticky". It didn't look sticky when I added it to the skillet, so thought maybe it meant that the edges would sauté nicely and become caramelized like brussels sporuts. Then they became sticky. It was incredible- the thick translucent liquid that was now threatening to turn the entire skillet full of okra into one gelatinous mass. I began stirring faster and quickly took a photo and texted it to my friend Sarah Joy who is legit Louisiana homegrown. She immediately texted back and said "you have a long way to go". Relieved that she wasn't impressed by the disgusting display on my stove, I took her advice and continued stirring. With my left hand, while my right hand was stirring my roux.

Now completely at the mercy of my gumbo elements, I stood at my stove stirring constantly and thinking about how my life feels a lot like this a good bit of the time. Things working in different pots that need my full attention or they will spoil. I can't stop stirring or something will burn and I don't have enough time to start over.

It has to work.

And that means I am fully present. It doesn't matter if the phone rings or someone has to go potty or the house next door explodes. My priority is this funky looking okra and the heart of my entire pot, the roux. And so my mind wandered to some insignificant life decisions, like the fact that I decided to stop using plastic tupperware and use glass mason jars for all my food storage. I started thinking about what lunch box I would get Pursy for her first day of preschool and wondering if my Mom had held on to my Strawberry Shortcake one. I thought about how grateful I was that the front tooth Knox had loosened during a head first dive was turning from grey back to white. I thought about the seminary class I am starting in a few weeks. I thought about the new espresso I bought last week and how disappointed I was in it. I thought about how Grant and I are giving up alcohol for Lent this year and...

Grant and I are giving up alcohol for Lent this year. Now, we have been celebrating Mardi Gras for 10 years and Ash Wednesday (the day after Fat Tuesday) never really happened for us. We enjoyed the revelry of the last day before the 40 days of Lent but never observed Lent ourselves. But we are now learning about the church calendar and the feast days and the holy days and have decided to pull those ancient practices into our family's life.

So today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent. Tonight we will go to an Ash Wednesday service and remind ourselves about the purpose of these 40 days. We are starting off on the road of remembering Christ's suffering that ended with the cross. On Good Friday we will solemnly remember the death and burial. And then on Easter Sunday we will lift up our heads and rejoice in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is a beautiful time.

What is that smell?...

My thoughts returned to my gumbo as the roux turns a beautiful dark brown and the okra magically separated and all traces of stickiness cooked away. I assemble the rest of the ingredients and the gumbo simmers happily while I go upstairs to put on my pearls and red lipstick. Time to show these Pittsburghers how Fat Tuesday goes in our house...

Happy Mardi Gras yinz!!