Keep it silly, stupid

The snark is strong with my firstborn.

As is a deep-seated hatred of homework. But let’s be real — nobody likes homework, do they? Aside from the occasional fun assignment, anyway. (I thoroughly enjoyed any and all creative writing assignments, and even some term papers when I got to choose the topic. But writing’s always been my thing.) Still, she’s in first grade now, and has had daily homework since pre-K. (Which is a blog rant for another day.) Plus speech practice, because she’s still in speech. Too much homework too often to endure head-to-head battles over it, in other words.

It’s not just homework, either. Whereas most kids her age love to be read to, she stopped loving story time early on — somewhere around 4 months, I’d say. Every once in a blue moon she’ll bring me a book, but usually she’d rather watch YouTube. I’ve gone through the stages of grief on that one and finally, quietly, resigned the battle. Perhaps my son will be a book lover, but my daughter isn’t — I’ll just have to live with that.

(I sometimes read Harold and the Purple Crayon and The Lorax and The Poky Little Puppy all by myself. I still like them, darn it.)

Every day, we do this: I pick her up at school and ask about her day. She tells me about recess. Sometimes PE. We arrive home from school, where I review her conduct grade plus any notes from her teacher while she eats the lunch she didn’t eat at lunch. (Um…okay.) I also review her notes from speech, and sign everything that needs signing. I put it all back in the backpack except her homework, which I put in a little pile.

“Okay,” I tell her. “Let’s get your homework out of the way.”

Commence yelling, screaming, pleading, bargaining, and general bitching.

“C’mon — it’s not much. Let’s knock it out so you can play the rest of the day,” I say gently.

More fussing.

We proceed to bicker back and forth for 20 minutes. Over 5 minutes of homework. These sessions usually end with me saying something stupid like “YOU WILL SIT HERE AND DO THIS HOMEWORK AND YOU ARE NOT BUDGING FROM THAT CHAIR UNTIL IT IS DONE.”

“But what if I have to pee? What if the house catches fire? What if I don’t finish before bedtime?” says my little lawyer-to-be.

Every. damned. day.

Five minutes of homework.

At this rate, I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to get her to do her homework in high school.

It doesn’t help that her speech practice is so…boring. We’ve been working on TS sounds since last year. Same exercises, same words — we’re both over it. They’ve introduced a daily calendar of practice suggestions this year, to try to shake things up a bit, but it’s still saying words with TS in them several times. Fruits fruits fruits fruits. Bats bats bats bats. Kites kites kites kites. Yawn yawn yawn yawn.

The other day, the practice suggestion was to pick three words and say each in a phrase 10 times apiece. We’d done this exercise for a few days running, actually; while the sheet differentiates the location of the target sound (at the beginning, middle, or end of the word), we just have the one list of about 12 words because, well, there aren’t many words that start with TS, are there? Anya, understandably, was giving me the full foot-dragging treatment: moans and groans and sloppy pronunciation, punctuated with plenty of outbursts along the lines of “This is stupid! I don’t want to do this!”

And, really, how excited can you get about saying “flying kites” ten times, for the third day in a row?

Then inspiration struck. Rather than “cooked carrots,” which was the phrase I was going to suggest next, I went with “I hate carrots.”

She does. With a passion. Her eyes lit up.

“I hate carroTS!” she shouted, with relish. “I hate carroTS! I hate carroTS! I HATE CARROTS!” Every TS — indeed, every syllable — perfectly, crisply enunciated. I had to stop her after 10 iterations; she was prepared to keep going.

“I have no pants,” I prompted.

“I have no panTS! I have no panTS! I have NO PANTS! I! Have! No! PAAAAANTS!” she giggled.

I felt the key to end our homework battles settling into my palm. That night, at bedtime, I selected some of our sillier books. Dragons Love Tacos is a favorite. The Pigeon Needs a Bath is another. (We battle over bath time now, too.) That night, she thoroughly enjoyed our story time. And read the books back to me — her idea, not mine.

I’d forgotten that kids thrive on goofiness. Keep it silly, stupid.

 

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Butternut squash soup (vegan, GF)

I am ready for fall, and fall foods. Unfortunately, “fall foods” to me means pies and baked goods and soups with crusty breads and all sorts of other things that I find myself suddenly unable to digest.

why

I have been so desperate for fall flavors that I tried a pumpkin spice “ice cream” recipe that was basically pureed pumpkin pie filling and bananas, frozen and scooped. I hate bananas with a purple passion and always have, but I held out hope that the pumpkin and added flavorings would mask the banana taste. They did not. Sigh.

This soup’s delish, though. Not sweet like other butternut squash soups I’ve had, and creamy thick even without a roux base. It’s like sweater weather in your mouth, and makes me feel autumnal despite the fact that the temps are going to crack 90 today. It’s also wonderfully filling, unlike many soups. And if you buy pre-cut squash, it’s extremely easy to make.

Note: I let my soup boil down to the consistency of runny mashed potatoes, because I was working while cooking and lost track of time. It’s good this way, but you are welcome to leave more liquid in yours if you like.

Butternut squash soup (vegan, GF)

11 oz (approx. 3 cups) butternut squash, cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt, and pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth (I use Edward & Sons Garden Veggie bouillon plus 2 cups water)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the squash with the olive oil, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.* Spread on a baking sheet and roast until tender, stirring occasionally, 30-50 minutes. You want the squash to be browned, but not blackened. Heat the broth/bouillon to boiling in a medium saucepan; add the squash and return to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until slightly reduced. Using a regular or immersion blender, process until smooth.

Serves one as a main dish, two as a side.

*I grated directly over my squash and let my nose be my guide; I’m not sure exactly how much I used. If you’re not used to cooking with nutmeg, start with 1/4 teaspoon and go from there — a little goes a long way. Also go easy on the salt; the broth is salty.

10-minute tomato soup

Forgive the crappy photo; I’d just gotten a cortisone shot in my wrist, and the spoon was too heavy to hold comfortably.

Still on an elimination diet; now I’m at the adding-back-in stage. It appears that gluten and I are no longer friends. So this soup is GF, and also vegan because I’m not on the dairy bandwagon yet.

Most of the tomato soups I’ve had are sweet, or heavy on the basil. This is neither; it is bright and tangy. It would be awesome with a grilled cheese sandwich… ::sigh::

10-minute tomato soup

1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, undrained
1 can (5 oz) tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth (I used 1 GF vegan bouillon cube reconstituted in 2 cups water)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Heat the olive oil over medium heat; stir in the tomato paste. Puree the canned tomatoes with their liquid until smooth. Stir pureed tomatoes and broth into tomato paste mixture until well combined. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Heat through; strain, if desired, before serving.

Like a girl

Expensive makeup. Hair color. Pink cords. A faux leather motorcycle jacket. A range of skirts and flowy floral tops, the likes of which my closet hasn’t seen since I was in my 20s. These are just some of the things I’ve purchased in recent weeks.

I admit that my wardrobe needs an overhaul — I’m still rocking my baby weight/nursing-friendly duds, even though I’m dropping weight and nursing less these days. And now that Kai is maturing, I’m able to dress a little nicer; I’ve been in tees-and-yogawear mode for the better part of the past 7 years, so it’s a nice change of pace.

The upgrade doesn’t stop with the clothes, though. I keep experimenting with my hair, trying to find some style that suits me and isn’t too labor intensive. I wear more makeup now than I’ve worn since I was 13 and felt that full-face makeup was mandatory. I wear jewelry every day, and will wear more when Kai is older. (Dangly earrings, I miss you.) I shower daily, wash my face twice a day, and faithfully remove my makeup and apply moisturizer and sunscreen. I shave every day, even if I’m not wearing shorts.

I work from home. Some days the only time I leave the house is to take Anya to school and pick her up. Today, with both kids sick, my forays outdoors have been limited to taking the trash out. So why am I putting all this effort into my appearance?

Perhaps because I do work from home; I used to rail against being judged by my appearance, but now I feel unseen and that’s not sitting well either. Perhaps it’s a way to honor this new phase in my life; I am out of the survival mode that is parenting infants, and have the time and energy to care what I look like. It’s more than that, though: In my impending cronehood, I’ve reached a level of self-acceptance great enough to admit I kind of like girling up.

Twenty years ago, I was ashamed to admit I liked girly stuff. To be told you did something like a girl was one of life’s greater insults, and in my mind that extended to everything I am; I am a girl, so everything I do is done like a girl. Ergo, I suck. So I shunned pink and frills and elaborate grooming routines; I prided myself on taking less time to get ready than my boyfriends, for preferring action flicks to rom-coms, for playing video games and reading comics. As I aged, I began to veer back towards the girly side…until I realized that my very gender was hampering my career advancement. So I adopted a work “uniform” of sorts, stopped wearing makeup, and focused on my professional output. (None of which helped, btw. The only thing that worked was getting the hell out of that company.)

When I became a mother, girlification was not only difficult to fit in to my schedule, but also a waste of time. Why fix your hair when your kid’s just going to spit up in it? Why put on a nice outfit when you’re going to get peed on (or worse) and have to change in an hour or so? So I pared down to basic hygiene and traded dress clothes for knit pants. Where I’d once had three distinct groups of clothes — one for work, one for workouts, and one for sleep — after giving birth I had one wardrobe that I wore everywhere, all the time.

But I gave birth to a girly girl. At 4 months, she was able to communicate to me that she disliked my new haircut. (I donated to Locks of Love twice in the first year of her life, taking my hair from waist length to chin length. She hated the second haircut more than the first.) From the time she was a baby — I’m talking 4 months here — she let me know she preferred it when I dressed up and wore makeup and jewelry. So I slowly began incorporating makeup and hair styling into my mornings. I started wearing earrings again, once she was past the grabby stage. Then rings and necklaces. I dressed up a bit more for holidays, and sometimes on a random Tuesday. I felt that these things were a waste of time, but they made her smile, so what harm?

Now I do it for me. Because it makes me feel better to look nice, even if no one sees me but my family. Because as the mother of a fierce, funny, intelligent, compassionate daughter, I’ve re-evaluated my view on being a girl; I’ve come to realize that the people who use “like a girl” as an insult are threatened by girls. Because as a mother, I’ve experienced one of the most amazing things human beings are capable of doing — I’ve carried children inside my body, gave birth to them, and nourished them with my own milk. Now I spend my days with these little people who used to be as much a part of me as my heart and lungs. It is a humbling, awe-inspiring experience.

It’s an honor to do something like a girl.

And while I’ll never really get the fascination with rom-coms, I do rather like pink.

Vegan potato soup

A quick and easy recipe for cleaning out your fridge. Also awesome for sore throats, due to the pepper in the Sunny Paris.

 

Vegan potato soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup celery
2 tablespoons Sunny Paris seasoning (Penzey’s), divided
2 teaspoons dill
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 vegan veggie bouillon cubes
6 cups water
1/2 pound roughly chopped carrots (approx 2 cups)
4-6 medium potatoes, roughly chopped (approx. 3 cups)
bay leaf

Dissolve the bouillon cubes in 1 cup of hot water. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add the celery and saute until slightly softened. Sprinkle with half the Penzey’s, the dill, and the celery salt and stir until fragrant. (If you’d like your soup less spicy, wait and add all the spices in the next step.) Stir in the bouillon water. Add the remaining cups of water, the rest of the Sunny Paris, the carrots, potatoes, and the bay leaf; stir well. Bring to boiling, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are tender. Using an immersion blender, blend some or all of the veggies until your soup is as creamy and smooth as you desire.

Time, time, time

Post soundtrack: Hazy Shade of Winter

For a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the most use from my time. Because I have so much I want to do, and so many demands on my time. I create schedules and to-do lists. I automate online purchases of necessities. I multitask most of my waking moments. And I still don’t get it all done.

I was amused to reread the post I linked above, which I wrote in 2014. I wrote this post before I read that one, only to find that the two posts match pretty much point by point. So I’ve made some headway in the past four years, whether it feels like I have or not.

It also means that I’ve spent the past several years dancing around the same theme. What I keep coming back to is that there is simply a limit to how much I can push myself. I can work 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. for one day, maybe two, but then I’m burned out. I work slower. Think slower. Get cranky faster. I can do 12-hour days for 3-4 days, and then I crash. I find myself shoving food and caffeine in my face in an effort to stay awake; naps are a thing of the past, and I find myself awake in the middle of the night most nights, so sleep deprivation takes its toll fairly quickly.

I obviously do better when I pace myself — 6- to 8-hour work days, plenty of exercise, healthy food, some down time. But that’s not always possible. An alternative to pacing myself: Pushing myself for a few days, then slacking off. Again, not always possible.

Pre-kids, I used to compensate for the lack of down time with bad habits: cigarettes, beer, junk food, Netflix binges. But I’m pretty well viceless now. (Unless you count green tea.) And desperately in need of an indulgence.

Here are some ways I am maximizing my available hours without losing my sanity.

  1. As much as possible, keep the house clean. Mop up spills as they happen. Tidy the common areas once a day: put things away, wipe counters, do dishes, empty trash cans, sort laundry. Do the maintenance cleaning frequently and regularly so little messes don’t become big ones. Insist that the whole family manages clutter so I don’t spend most of my cleaning time picking up piles. Put laundry away the day it’s washed. (Take this one with a grain of salt; I am writing this from a kitchen table piled high with kid toys,  homework, and dirty dishes, and the floor around me is awash in crumbs, markers, and sticker fragments. I’m getting better at staying on top of things, but we occasionally slide into squalor.)
  2. Have better hobbies. Social media is a huge time suck. I’ll scroll through FB or Insta while I’m taking a break (rocking Kai, for instance) or right before I turn my phone off for the night, but I don’t make a point to stay on top of it. If I start to feel overwhelmed by social media, I unfollow people; that usually helps. Likewise, I love video games, but they leave you with nothing to show for your time. Now I only play games I can learn something from (Duolingo, for instance) or games that net me some real-world benefit (Pokemon Go has gotten my family to be more active). Mostly I choose to spend my leisure time playing with my kids, exercising, or engaging in an activity with some sort of usefulness (cooking, writing, crocheting).
  3. Disengage from drama. I do not read the comments sections. Stay out of contentious Twitter threads. Avoid gossip. Remove people from my life who cause more pain than joy, and those who are not as invested in me as I am in them. Walk away from discussions in which my words are falling on deaf ears. (Sometimes even when it’s my kids who are ignoring me.)
  4. Have clear-cut goals, and know the reasons behind those goals. (My deja vu is justified. I have been here before.) I’ve been trying to get into a regular exercise habit for years now. Literally my entire adult life. Why do I bother? To be healthy. Why is that so important? For both short- and long-term reasons: So I feel well enough to do the things I want and need to do, and so I live a longer, healthier life and thus have more time to enjoy my family. I used to exercise so I’d have a more attractive body. Only apparently I didn’t care that much about it, because I’d always quit before I got results. I’m far more motivated these days because my reasons are better. Though I still struggle to fit exercise in.
  5. Prioritize self care. For years, self care was the first thing to go in times of crisis. I felt noble, dedicated, hard-working if I set aside my needs in favor of the workload, the deadline, the test. And after a while, I crumbled under the pressure and my world came crashing down. Now I take the time. I’ve come to realize that if I don’t take care of myself, nothing else gets done. It’s the same argument behind the advice to pay yourself first; who cares if your credit card is paid off if you don’t have money to eat? If I don’t attend to my own needs, I am not effective in anything I do.
  6. Don’t forget the bait. I’m doing exactly what I dreamed I would do, all the way back in the career counselor’s office at the age of 20: Working from my home, making enough money to support my family, while also taking care of my children. I love my job(s). I love the companies I work for. And obviously I love my children. But I still have to bribe myself to do what needs doing some days. So I make sure I have a never-ending list of fun outings and treats to look forward to, for those days when my son dumps his cereal bowl in the dirty clothes hamper, my daughter argues that up is down and the sky is green today, and my clients nitpick every little thing I do. Having something fun coming up helps get me through rough patches.
  7. Do nothing. This has been a hard habit for me to cultivate. As a child, I had ample nothing time; as an adult, nothing rarely visits, and that goes double for my parental years. But you occasionally have to do nothing if you want to grow. You need time to sit, to read, to daydream, to meditate, to study the pollen on a bee’s legs. I’ve been guilty of not taking nothing time until I get sick, which means my nothing time is wasted feeling like crap. So I’m scheduling it. Once a month, I do nothing for a day. It’s been difficult, getting back into the habit, but I’m improving each month. Even reading a few books these days. While we’re on the topic, here’s a fantastic poem on doing nothing.

Looking back in this blog, I found another post from 2014 on this topic. So I’ve been working on this issue at length for a while. I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress.

I have loftier goals than these, sure. Consider these the foundation of those goals. If I take care of the roots, the tree will thrive.

Vegan mashed sweet potatoes and carrots

I’ve been on an elimination diet since the beginning of August. I’ve been following, roughly, the low FODMAP diet, and have also eliminated a few foods that I suspect are troublesome, in an effort to get my body back to some sort of baseline. So I’ve been eating the same 6-10 foods over and over for a month.

It’s also hot as Hades in my house. Our air is broken, and a series of repair guys have been unable to fix it. So even if I could eat food, it is way too hot too cook. Tonight, having eaten all the soup in the house, and having also removed salads from my diet for the time being, I decided to revisit my beloved mashed sweet potatoes and carrots. I’m ready for fall. And at least this fall dish doesn’t heat up the house.

This version of the recipe uses more sugar than my original, and no applesauce. I haven’t figured out if apples are a safe food in terms of my digestive system, so I’m eating them sparingly. The extra sugar is because my body’s been in near-starvation mode for a month; if I don’t insert a little fat and sugar into my diet on occasion, I get light-headed and cranky. Feel free to dial back the sweet for your own potatoes.

I still miss food, but this takes a little of the sting out of my restrictive diet. And yes, peas are still the best accompaniment to the sweet potatoes. Aren’t they pretty together?

 

Vegan mashed sweet potatoes and carrots

Serves 4-8

2 medium/large sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups baby carrots
2 tablespoons vegan butter
1 1/2 teaspoon Penzey’s Pie Spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup brown sugar
salt to taste

Boil the sweet potatoes and carrots in salted water until tender, 20-30 minutes. (Stopping before the carrots are mush gives you a little texture to the finished dish.) Using a slotted spoon, remove the boiled vegetables to a mixing bowl; reserve the cooking liquid. Mash with butter, pie spice, and brown sugar — I prefer to use a hand mixer, but a potato masher would work just as well. Drizzle with a little of the reserved cooking liquid and mix again; repeat as needed until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Serve with a sprinkle of brown sugar and salt, if desired.

And peas, of course.