Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Working Mama's Dinner

On Tuesdays I work evening shift at the hospital. I tend to love Tuesdays for several other reasons, one of which is we have claimed them as Pajama Days and no one gets dressed before lunch. I make coffee while the babes sit at the counter and eat bananas and granola bars and yogurt. Then we head to the couch for snuggling and movie watching and more coffee. About the time I need to take a shower and get ready for work, the babes go to their rooms for "rest time"/furniture rearranging time and I head out at 1:15 when our fabulous babysitter arrives.

I love my job. There are very few professions that allow a woman who has chosen to stay home and raise children to stay involved in her career, and nursing is one of them. I feel uniquely fortunate to be working in a field that I love and not have to choose between being a Mama and being a Nurse. I do both. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing either job well enough to keep juggling, but it is (almost) always worth it. I come home from the hospital energized after a break from parenting, and actually ready for more dirty diapers and a million preschooler questions. And I head out the door on Tuesdays ready to tap into a part of my brain that only gets turned on when I am taking care of cardiac patients who depend on my ability to explain mitral valve prolapse.

Our Family Mantra
Part of the juggling process when working two jobs, or working at all outside of the home, is food. I hate when I forget my dinner, or didn't have time to prepare one. Cafeteria food is not my favorite and all the fabulous bistros around the hospital close at 5p. I am motivated to think ahead.

And my favorite dinner to go comes courtesy of my friend Lydia who made this fantastic dish for me during one of our rainy day playdates. She whipped it up while chatting with me, setting up the chalkboard for our babes, wiping noses, helping put a puzzle together...typical octopus behavior that seasoned Mamas have admirably developed.

It is a Roasted Green Bean and Mushroom Farro Salad with Feta Cheese and Thyme. And it is delicious. It keeps well, is good hot or cold, the ingredients are finished cooking at the same time ready to toss together... in other words, is a perfect addition to my Meals to Make With Babes Underfoot collection.

First, a run to Trader Joe's. The key to an easy recipe is good ingredients and the 10 minute Quick Cooking Farro, the pre-sliced Baby Bella Mushrooms, and the bag of Hericot Verts are brilliant. The other flavors come from olive oil, dried or fresh thyme sprigs, and good feta.

First, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the mushrooms and beans (snapped in half) on a seasoned cookie sheet, cover with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt and thyme sprigs.

Second, bring the water and farro to a boil. Follow the instructions on the bag, but basically once the pot is boiling you can reduce the heat and cover for 10 minutes. With the 10 oz package of mushrooms and bag of hericot verts, one cup of dry farro is just about perfect. After 10 minutes of simmering, let sit for 5 minutes then drain.

Third, while farro is cooking put the veggies in the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes. Shake once or twice during the time, but mostly just leave them alone to get slightly caramelized and delicious.

Lastly, dump everything together in a bowl and toss. Once it's cooled slightly, throw in some feta cheese. As you can see, I like feta.

This recipe is hearty and delicious and keeps me full at work. And because starch, veggie and protein is in one jar, dinner is simple enough that even if I have the sort of shift where I shove it in my mouth while standing at the nurses station, I feel like I have nourished myself well.

Trying to ignore my coworkers watching me take a photo of my dinner.

So well that the handful of chocolate chips from the freezer that I have when I come home after work is no worries. Make this recipe next time you are juggling two jobs or one toddler or a dirty house or soccer practice or just yourself. And send some love into the universe for Lydia, like I do every time I make this salad.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Two days ago I opened my email to see a notification that my ex-fiancé wanted to join my Google circle. I don't know how Google circle works exactly, so it could have been purposeful or accidental, but either way, there he was staring at me from his profile picture. Funny what your mind does when your past trips over your right now.

I opened his tumblr page and saw that instead of going to medical school like his plan was when we were together, he has become an artist and photographer. A really fucking good one, actually. It looks like he specializes in pin-up style photographs, and his work is gorgeous. He also has a beautiful Asian style full sleeve on his right arm.

Social media is a son of a bitch. I haven't thought about him in years, and suddenly he was right there again. It is so easy. To remember all the good bits and run over the ugly painful ones. We were really good friends before getting together and there are years of memories of music festivals and camping and fooling around and hours of conversation where the world disappeared and it was just us. We were together. And then all of a sudden we weren't. And there were all those memories of curling up in a ball while Elliot Smith blares on the radio. And screaming my heart out of the car window while I drive 80 mph through the Rocky mountains and running barefoot through grassy fields in the middle of the night. Dramatic break up stuff that reminds you that the universe helps with pain when you want to tumble down a rabbit hole of sadness and fear that you will always be alone.

His life looks nothing like mine. He doesn't have children. He is not with the girl that he cheated on me with either. I learned this from flipping through his profile pictures and tumblr site for 2 minutes.

And I looked over at Grant. At the man who I have been married to for over 10 years. And our life is so different. 6am wake up calls from a two year old with poop in his diaper and interrupted sex and spaghetti for dinner. I wear t-shirts and scrub pants to bed and he for some ridiculous reason likes to eat granola bars while reading before he falls asleep. We watch Amazon Prime on the couch instead of fooling around in the back of a movie theatre on Friday nights. We both have lists of tattoos we want and no time to actually go get them. He works in an office and I work at home and in a hospital. We are a family with two kids, two jobs, a mortgage, a calendar where we plan out our life and a french press that hopefully always has coffee in it.

But man, is it good. I am loved and I love. The four of us, Grant, me, Pursy and Knox, tumble over each other in a dance that some days is rehearsed and confident, and other days is chaotic and totally by the seat of our pants. The excitement and change I think I crave is more then satisfied in the mysterious beauty of family. How we know each other, how we make it work. How we give and take and wrestle and settle in. How we fail tremendously and how we triumph with both fists raised in the air. The blessings we breathe into our children's hair as they fall asleep and the way our bodies still fit together as we fall asleep curled up. We made this, Grant and me. And it isn't perfect but it is so good.

And as I closed my computer and stopped looking at the photo montage of his exciting and mysterious life, I thanked my lucky stars that he cheated on me and broke my heart. I would live a million more days that start with coffee and end with beer and have laundry and bike rides and dinner at 6 in the middle then one day with a man who didn't think I was worth being faithful for.

Because Grant chose me and steps over the pile of legos and Crayola markers to kiss me when he comes home. And he reminds me every day with his loyalty and love that he still wants to be with me. And our life is just what I want.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Favorite Things

I was doing a weekly update last year highlighting my favorites of the moment. It was a good thing. For a busy woman living a beautifully chaotic life, it reminded me to stop and notice. To appreciate. To revel. To drink another cup of coffee while the babes watch Frozen again and just... be grateful. For the busy days and the quiet days and all the movement inbetween.

1. Recipes. I have been trying to take advantage of introducing two small humans to food, my extra time at home near the kitchen, and all the food blogs I have loaded on Feedly. My main goal has been to reduce the amount of wrappers and processed things in our cabinets, as well as learning to make the foods we eat most often from scratch. One of my favorite food blogs/cookbooks is called Dinner: A Love Story, and she (Jenny Rosentrach) calls these her "back pocket" recipes. I adore her mushroom risotto, her bourbon glaze for any kind of pork, her black bean burritos, and my new favorite, sausage with apples and onions. It cooks for 45 minutes in a dutch oven and turns out best when you leave it alone. My kind of "cooking with babes underfoot" recipe.

2. Granola Bar "dough". Like cookie dough but with all the best bits. Oats, butter, chocolate chips and honey. Impossible to spend 5 minutes pressing it into a pan without licking it off your fingers. I made this recipe for granola bars yesterday and although it was a bit rich for my taste, they were very easy to make. I doubled the recipe and should have halved the sugar. But Pursy and Knox found them quite satisfactory for breakfast, and the beautiful thing about handmade food is I know exactly what they are shoving in their mouths. The sugar and butter were rounded out with loads of oats and pecans, and I like that they are eating real food that they helped make. I didn't mind chocolate chips for breakfast either...

3. Netflix. Last evening Grant was out to dinner with some colleagues and I had mountains of laundry to fold. I made myself a gin and tonic and settled in. I found a Belgian film called Broken Circle Breakdown. IMDb describes the film: "Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight, in spite of their differences. He talks, she listens. He's a romantic atheist, she's a religious realist. When their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial." Right?? Other elements included gorgeous tattoos (she is a tattoo artist), fantastic bluegrass scores (he is a banjo player), parenting, mad crazy love affairs, intense friendship, love and loss, and English subtitles. It was gorgeous and thoughtful and it made me think and reflect and well up with gratefulness at the life I am living. What more can you ask for? Grant came home in time for the last 30 minutes and it was nice to snuggle up with my lover and watch the story of Elise and Didier come to a close. Very worth watching, just not if you are more in the mood for something like Super Bad.

4. Nothing is given over in our house right now without strict orders to "close your eyes and open out your hands!" It is the babes favorite game and actually works quite well when they are being asked to hand over something they don't really want to. Or take something they don't want to. Mary Poppins was right again.

5. Our pergola. Grant has been obsessed for two years with the idea of building a wood pergola over our back deck so we can eat dinner outside in the heat of the early summer evening without sweating our way through. We eat outside almost every night from May-October and until the sun moves a bit more to the west, we are in full direct rays. It doesn't deter us, but the idea of some shade was enticing. The construction was finished last week and we spent Saturday planting flowers, hanging globe lights and creating a backyard oasis. It is absolutely dreamy. Come on over...we will sit you in a red adirondack chair, put a beer in your hand and just as you relax completely Knox will spray you with the hose.

6. "I have one nose, two hands, fingers, one belly, one bottom, one penis, two feets and these teeth." This was my morning wake up today. (no, it wasn't Grant) My eyes pried themselves open to my blue pajama clad Knox taking inventory of his body parts as he laid in bed next to me. When he looked over and noticed I was awake, he said "Mama, I in bed wiff you because I had a dream 'bout a pickle and needed to snuggle wiff you". I didn't need any more explanation.

Good Tuesday to you!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Just a Simple 'Lesson Learned', please Universe...

I am high maintenance in most areas of life.

 I remember being in school and making elaborate charts and folded paper self quiz sheets in order to memorize dates and facts and names and events. I require different colored pens and just the right lined paper (college ruled, not the other kind) and even in my second bachelor's degree when the entire class was lined up behind their laptops and tablets, I was still rummaging through my bag for a pen. There is a brain-hand connection for me that words flow easily from the tip of a medium point rollerball ink pen, and fritzes out when I tried to type class notes.

I worked at a high end stationery store on Magazine Street in New Orleans for a year and fell in love with beautiful paper and expensive writing utensils. I love the tactile feel of pen and paper and skin.

I refuse to purchase an e-reader because I believe with all my heart that the second I do, every Barnes and Noble on the east coast will fold. I and my purist ideals alone are keeping bookshops alive. There is nothing like a real book, turning real pages, glancing at real cover art, arranging real books on real shelves into an autobiographical literary memoir. Much like John Cusack's record collection in High Fidelity, I have only to look at my bookshelves and remember that I spent my mid 20's reading nothing but books about Middle Eastern women. It started with Reading Lolita in Tehran and ended somewhere in the middle of The Bookseller of Kabul.

My in-laws used to joke that the only things I read were about prostitution or oppression or gender inequality in Muslim culture... or People magazine. Which I refer to as my "ethnography of celebrity culture". Seriously, it is a separate people group who have their own ways of living that would not be sustainable outside their culture.

I have now written four paragraphs that have nothing to do with what I intended to sit down and write about. Shall I start over or keep going??...

Obvious answer. Keep going.

Yesterday I was sitting outside on the back porch while Knox and Purslane ran around in the long awaited sunshine. They were bathing suited, sprinkler set up, popsicle stains on their arms, HAPPY. So I settled in with a glass of white wine, my new giraffe print sunglasses and a book that Grant bought me a few weeks ago called Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full, by Gloria Furman. I didn't expect to like this book to be honest, having read my fair share of "how to survive" and "be the greatest and then some" books on parenting young children. But this book is different. She assumes from the onset that a Christian mother desires to be a Christian first and parent second. And thus her book is about common struggles that often have spiritual groundings.

I was reading a chapter about the cries of our children symbolizing life and the reminder that Christ came in physical body to bring us life. My heart was rising and I was sinking into the peace that comes from connecting to your inner beliefs and solid core. This is what I know to be true. Being a parent is a constant reminder that you can do more then you thought possible, sacrifice more then you believed you could, and somehow be more whole then the days when you were free to discover every corner of yourself. And maybe most importantly experience the overwhelming relief of every sunrise where my babes forget the grumpy Mama I was the day before, and jump into our bed so happy the night is over and they can be with me again. Children are amazing with their short memories and full hearts.


I wish there was a font or a type color that would reflect what it looks/feels/sounds like to be sitting blissfully connecting holistically with the universe, and have a soccer ball thrown from the hands of a toddler directly at my face and (my friend Kirstin is cringing knowing what is coming next) hitting my wine glass on the way to the ground. Pain in my face. Chilly wine down the front of my dress and splashing on my book. The sharp intake of my breath as my perfect moment takes a 180 degree turn.

I wipe wine out of my eyes and see Knox standing in front of me with a shocked look on his face- like he was just as surprised as I was at the outcome of his spontaneous action. And he very nervously said "I sorry Mama!" in his sweet two year old lisp.

And as I scoop him up and run him into the sprinkler for his "punishment", we squeal in the cold water together and I realize that some lessons go deep into our souls. And I am grateful. Soaking wet and minus one relaxing glass of wine, but grateful.


Pursy P

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Best, Better, Good.. in that order

Happy Mother's Day.

All I requested this year for mother's day was coffee in bed. Coffee in bed is the ultimate luxury, I feel...doing something that usually marks the beginning of activity and whirlwind days, grinding fresh beans while the babes clamor for breakfast, sipping caffeine laden liquid that helps my eyes open, letting the perfect synergy of cream and sugar and coffee blossom in my mug...

Its poetry to me.

And drinking coffee in bed is like the satisfaction of duty and the beauty of luxury holding hands. I am slowly waking up while the sheets are still tangled around my legs. Grant and the babes delivered my coffee and a gorgeous bonus present from my favorite shop, The Shop, then left me to enjoy the birds outside my window.

I wish I had a photo of Knox proudly walking into the room in his diaper and pajama shirt, belly first and travel coffee mug held so carefully between his dimply toddler paws. Pursy as a blurry flash of pink and curls leaping onto the bed with a brown bag and shouts of Can I Help Open It? I Picked It Out!

And I am enjoying my coffee in bed, but the best part was the crazy parade that brought it in. My children. My husband. My hearts.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

How to Embrace being Wife and Mama

“It’s huge to finally embrace the life you never planned on.”

This saavy little tidbit came from the movie Greenberg, starring I do believe, Ben Stiller. I don't remember much else from the film, but I do remember hearing that sentence and wanting to think more about it later. So I tucked it away in that great wasteland of profound thoughts- my Facebook Quotes section. Along with a quote from Barack when he was still Senator Obama, my all time favorite line from a song ("she was into S&M and Bible studies, not everyone's cup of tea"- Belle and Sebastian) and something long and drawn out by Anonymous about sticking yourself in the eye with your creative vision.

Here is why I think this particular quote (the actor who spoke it was Rhys Ifans, the skinny British guy best known as the oft naked roommate of Hugh Grant in that movie where Julia Roberts is the actress who falls in love with the bookshop owner) stuck with me.

Because I have spent the past 13 years of my life trying to embrace the life I never planned on. The life I planned on involved an exciting psychopath named Aaron, a stint in the Peace Corp, and vegan eating from the dumpster of Whole Foods. The last plan I really remember making was as a second wave hippie packing up my Toyota Corolla and driving West with the wind in my leg hair. And the last thing on my mind was getting married and having children. I was newly dumped, three universities and five majors into my higher education career, and had no idea what I wanted from life except I didn't want what I had.

"The story you choose when you had no story..." is a quote from the theologian Stanley Hauerwas that gets tossed around our house quite a bit presently. Grant uses this idea to remind me that it isn't really the elements of my life that I should be railing against, because life isn't just a sequence of right and left turns where you end up where you are because of all the decision you made. It's because life happens TO YOU sometimes, and when we allow others into our lives, sometimes we wake up in a bed with three other people because there was once this day when we got married and two other days where we had children.

January 4th, 2004. Grant and me.
April 19th, 2010. Purslane and Grant and me.
October 19th, 2011. Knox and Purslane and Grant and me.

This is my story. I don't remember planning it out, and I certainly don't remember thinking it through. One day I wasn't thinking about getting married and then I met Grant, and suddenly that's all I wanted. One day I wasn't thinking about having children and then one day I woke up and didn't take my birth control pill. It seems like decisions. Like choosing a story. Like walking a path. Nothing particularly random or surprising. So what am I railing against, requiring Grant to Stanley Hauerwas me?? (this is actually a term in our house)

Because being a wife is hard. The million moments a day when something I want to do would either inconvenience or confuse or hurt or embarrass my husband, I have to choose not to do it or accept the fallout. Going out on a date with another man, for example. If I meet an interesting surgeon at work and he makes a reference to Kurt Vonnnegut, I can't ask him to have a drink. (incidentally, that is pretty close to what got me married in the first place- Grant mentioned an affinity for Tom Waits during one of our first phone conversations and my eyes glazed over) But I can't form attachments to interesting men any more.That would be a painful decision for me to make and Grant trusts me to keep my eyes and hands to myself. Because the story I wrote when I had no story revolves around a promise I made that for the rest of my life, Grant would be the only interesting man I threw into bed.

But we are human and fallible and impulsive and I don't spill the contents of my heart and head in an empty room with vanilla walls. Grant hears them. Cares about them, which is still surprising to me after 10 years of marriage. In our home there is no tossing things into the void. Everything has meaning, because I married a man who cares about everything, most of all his wife and children. And for me to disrespect that incredible trait of his would be terrible. And so I (try to)make decisions that would make him happy instead of sad. Support him instead of kick his feet out from under him. Listen instead of ignore. But I am selfish and do this imperfectly. Scandalously badly sometimes.

And my children. The babes I never knew I wanted. Until one day I had them. And would run into a burning building for them, lift a car off of them, snatch them from the grasp of a fire breathing dragon- all that. I would be a human shield for Purslane and Knox without a thought.

And yet I heard myself yesterday telling Pursy to "hold it for just a second" after she interrupted a conversation I was having to tell me she had to go potty. What?? What in my head has not transitioned to the reality that I am a Mama? What in my bones still rails against the reality that nights of 8 sleeping hours are out of reach during these years? My heart broke as the words were leaving my lips (yelled quite loudly) at my daughter who was looking for one of her dolls before bedtime, yelled that I would help her, just get out for one minute while I put your brother to sleep. I saw her face, confused at my reaction because she had come into Knox's room with complete certainty that I would care about her lost doll and help her find it. I betrayed that confidence with my annoyance and desperation that Knox fall asleep quickly to close a long day.

How do I embrace this? How do I keep in the front lobe of my brain the reality that this story, the one that I chose when I had no story, the one in which I am both the heroine and beastly monster to the three other characters who share the storyline, that this story is the one I must live out? The way we pass our hours and days, the movement towards the final chapter, the STORY of my life, is being lived out against all odds, all decisions, all left and right turns.

"How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives" said Annie Dillard. There is no moment I live that isn't included in the narrative of my life. And the central theme, much to my shame and pain sometimes, is the fact that I am a Christian. That the decisions I make aren't decisions at all, but the natural turning of my ship to get to a certain destination. I believe in Jesus Christ and trust completely in his life, death and resurrection for my hope. I value humankind in the light of His respect for His creation. I do my work as a nurse following the example of His ministry of healing the sick. I have a story that I chose before I had a story. I have three people who share my life (and my double bed) who depend on me to live out my days making decisions that reflect my true affections.

So tonight as I sat on the floor beside Pursy's bed watching her sleep and letting my regretful tears fall, I promised her that I would try again tomorrow. To be her Mama with strength and gentleness and love. To not just get through another day, longing for bedtime when my "shift" was over, but to embrace it fully. Most definitely imperfectly, but I will try again. And then I got down on my knees and reminded God that I believe in Him and His ability to help me embrace this life I never knew I wanted.