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Sunday, July 20, 2014

One o'clock church, bane of my Sunday

It's Sunday night, seven-thirty, and Brandon is putting the children to bed.  Shrieks, giggles, and shouts drift through the wall as he supervises teeth-brushing, clothes-changing, hand-washing, and bathroom trips.  I can hear the irritation drive his voice higher and louder as hijinks increase in proportion to the time spent getting ready for bed.  Slowly, slowly the voices settle down and just one drifts out to me as Brandon reads to the children - tonight is The Horse and His Boy.

Toys, couch pillows, books, shoes, clothes, duplos, papers, and blankets litter every surface in our living room.  The kitchen table hosts a scattering of left-behind dishes and dirty frying pans keep each other company on the stove.  Half-washed pots crowd the sink, still waiting their turn to be finished and put away.  As I walk through the toy room to get to my own, I have to step carefully to avoid the train tracks, horses, more duplos, and markers strategically placed to stop any stealthy invader.  My covers are flung across the half-made bed, making a nest for the church clothes, baby blankets, and dirty diaper that haven't been put away yet.  Makeup and hair products clutter my bathroom counter, left where they were hastily dropped eight hours ago.

This is my house on Sunday night.

In Baku, we were spoiled.  Church started at ten and was done by noon.  We had enough time to sleep in and have a reasonable breakfast and still make it home for an afternoon nap.  Dinner was usually around four or so, leaving plenty of time to get everyone ready for bed, the house tidied up, and still have a nice quiet Sunday evening.  I would write and Brandon would read or talk to family and we had enough peace to feel at least part of our day really did have some rest.

Not so here.  When I was a teenager, nine o'clock church was the dreaded hour - always up late on Saturday night, Sunday morning was much, much too early when nine o'clock saw me dressed, waiting to start the opening hymn.  But now, I dream of nine o'clock church - finished early enough that I could call family, or take a walk, or read a book before even thinking about eating dinner.  Yes, I would have to get up early, but I would be done early too.

But instead, we spend all morning preparing for church.  We wake up late (because nobody ever has the heart to set an alarm for Sunday morning), shower, eat breakfast, bathe the children, get them ready for church, prepare as much dinner as possible, get ready ourselves, and then head to church.  After three hours of church (which turns into four hours gone from the house), we come home, fix dinner, wash the dishes, put the children in bed, smile at each other for fifteen minutes, and go to bed.  Then we wake up at five in the morning and it's Monday again.

Theoretically, three (or four) hours out of my day shouldn't make a difference - after all three hours is three hours is three hours.  But somehow church preparation always stretches to fill the time given to it.  If we have four hours, we take four hours.  If we have one, everyone may look a little less polished, but they still get there on time.

So by the time we get home, everyone has spent all morning getting ready for church and most of the afternoon at church.  Brandon has spent the last two hours of church futilely attempting to make three- and four-year olds sit through those same two hours while teaching them a lesson.  I've spent all three hours trying to keep Eleanor quiet and so we're both worn out from trying to keep everything together and dinner is an exercise in trying to see how quickly everyone can get the food eaten so we can send them to bed and just have five minutes of quiet.

A few weeks ago a teacher mentioned a book she had read.  You should all read it, she encouraged us, maybe pick it up for some quiet Sunday afternoon reading.  I snorted to myself as I tried to remember the last time I had some quiet Sunday afternoon reading.

But, soon enough I'll be in Dushanbe when church will be whenever we want it to be (eight o'clock says Brandon), will be as long as we want it to be, and any children who can't behave can be sent to their rooms for naps.  And we won't even have to spend an hour coming and going.  I might even have some time for quiet Sunday afternoon reading.  Maybe.

Only four more months.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Friday night hijinks

Friday night is date night at our house.  Friday used to be pizza night and Saturday was date night.  That was back when our children were less aware of the fact that pizza is good and movies are fun to watch.  When the children started asking when they were going to get to watch a movie and eat pizza too, Friday was declared date night - sometimes it was a leave the house date and sometimes it was a stay at home and eat pizza date - and Saturday family night.  So when the children ask when they can watch a movie, we remind them that Saturday is family movie night so go to bed a leave us alone while we eat pizza, okay?

Recently date night has been much more of the stay at home and eat pizza variety.  I'm not going to leave Eleanor with a babysitter until she's reliably asleep when we leave, and that has only started happening in the past week or two.  So we've watched a lot of Redbox movies in the last two and a half months and even I'm getting a little tired of pizza.  I'm hoping to go out next week.  Fingers crossed.

Last Friday was another pizza date night, so I brought the boys in from swimming around five so I could feed and put them to bed them before Brandon and I enjoyed our own dinner in front of our movie.  Kathleen and Sophia had been sick with fevers that day, so they had been left home.  Which, I suppose, was fair as the boys had missed swimming the day before for their own sick day.

We didn't have a movie, however, so I left Brandon feeding everyone leftover borsch while I enjoyed a little evening drive to our local 7-eleven.  Every time I leave the house to get a movie or one item at the grocery store or take out, I savor the joy of being in America where I can run to Target not once, but twice a day for something I suddenly realized I needed.  And then I think ahead to Dushanbe where mail comes once a month - if you're lucky - and wonder how I'm going to survive.

Movie in hand, I walked through the door twenty minutes after I left, and told Brandon about a CIA analyst who writes spy novels - maybe some of our friends know him?  Eleanor was hungry and ready to go to bed, so I fed her and put her down before getting to work on the pizza.  I reached for the cheese grater to get to work on the mozzarella cheese.  I hate grating cheese.  Really, I hate grating anything, but especially cheese.  I always end up grating at least one knuckle, and at the end there's always that lump of smeary cheese that refuses to be grated and is too big to put on the pizza.

Brandon was busy with the children, however, so cheese grating was mine.  I looked in the refrigerator, rummaging around in the cheese drawer.  Goat cheese, parmesan, cheddar, feta (how I love America and its selection of cheeses), but no mozzarella.  Then I remembered telling myself last pizza night to not forget about buying more mozzarella.

This time I got to listen about corn prices on NPR.  Did you know that corn is down a dollar a bushel from last year?

It's a good thing Safeway is about a mile from our house.

By the time I got back home - this time with a block of mozzarella in hand - the children were almost done with dinner.  I got down - again - to dinner, sautéing mushrooms and slicing kalimata olives from their obnoxious pits.  And grating cheese.  Brandon chased the children around, issuing increasingly dire threats about getting their teeth brushed - now - while trying to slice up onions.

Sophia, still sick, was laying on the couch all ready for bed.  Suddenly she sat up.  "My stomach feels funny," she announced.  I looked up from the mushrooms; maybe she hadn't had enough to eat?  "I feel like I'm going to throw up," she continued.  Sophia and Kathleen are both paranoid about vomiting.  I think they get it from their mother.

I turned back to the mushrooms and shrugged, "Well, you'd better go to the bathroom." It's always better to be safe than sorry.

I glanced back to see Sophia rush to the bathroom, hand clutched over her mouth.  About ten seconds later her desperate wail floated back to me.  "Moooooom!  I threw up!!!"

I looked at Brandon.  He looked at me.  He sighed in disgust and headed to the bathroom.  I guiltily finished with the mushrooms.  Then I bravely checked out the damage.

Brandon likes to tell a story about one of his brothers who was sick.  After making a trip to the facilities, he came out and announced that he had thrown up in bathroom.  Brandon's mother told him to go to bed and she would get to the bathroom in a minute.  When she finally made it she realized that her son hadn't been kidding - he had thrown up in the entire bathroom, liberally coating everything within splashing distance.

I always wondered how that had happened.  Now I know.  Fluid dynamics are pretty amazing, especially in small bathrooms with lots of splashable surfaces.

Now, I'm not a publicly affectionate person.  It's my goal never to write any Facebook posts about how my husband is the best husband in the the entire world.  I know he is, so there's no need to try and prove it to anyone else.  But I have to set aside my own principles this one time.

Brandon really is the most amazing husband.  While I finished dinner and got the children ready for bed, Brandon cleaned up the entire bathroom, scooping up Sophia's lunch and dinner off the floor, scrubbing it off the wall, wiping it off the bottom of the toilet, rinsing it off the bathmat, washing it off the door and bathtub, and cleaning it off the diaper pail.  He spent over half an hour doing something a abhor simply because he knows I hate vomit.  When I offered to do it - he waved me off.  "I'm your husband," he told, "and it's my job to do the hard things so that you don't have to."  Flowers on Valentine's Day are nice, but I think cleaning up vomit may be even better.

After putting everyone down to bed - Sophia with a bowl - Brandon showered while I finally finished the pizza.  Then we watched our movie.  And ate our pizza.  And there was no more vomit.

Next week, we're going out to eat.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boy, that is a LOT of people

While we were at the family reunion, we had the Zieglers, husband and wife photography team come to take pictures.  In the last family photo that included all of Brandon's family, I was pregnant with Kathleen.  It's been awhile.

To keep you from going cross-eyed while counting, that's thirty-eight people.  All because of two people and, as someone there put it, some irresponsible family planning.  I'm glad to be part of the fight against declining birth rates.

There are twenty-one of those munchkins.  All under fifteen.  We went through a lot of ice cream that week.

I look happy.  Brandon looks... something.  I promise that he really is happy to be married to me.

The girls had a great time with their cousins.  Six little girls shared one room.  Every night around eight, we would tell the girls to go get into bed and they'd vanish.  One night I actually checked see if everyone was okay and everyone was dead asleep, surrounded by the detritus of Barbie-doll playing.

It's starting to look like we're not a starter family anymore.  One day Edwin's going to regret that face.

This is my turtle-baby, Eleanor.  She doesn't understand the concept of 'smile for the camera' yet.

I can imagine putting this picture in a wedding-reception slideshow in about fifteen years.  I'm so happy for the miracle of digital photography that will let this picture live in perpetuity.

My very favorite part of the week was after the picture session.  We had spent the Fourth of July at a local amusement park (shockingly, it was mostly enjoyable even with the children) so we saved the fireworks for Saturday night.  Brandon's mother had made homemade ice cream, so everyone stayed outside talking waiting for the twilight to deepen into the moon-tinged darkness perfect for fireworks.  The children, happy to be freed from endless smiling for the camera, cavorted across the lawn in the mindless games they spontaneously generate.  The sun sank below the horizon, leaving its perfect light to fade softly into night.  As the fireflies winked into being, Kathleen brought one over to me, amazed at their phosphorescent glow.  I don't know if she's ever caught them before.

As darkness settled in, everyone lined up on the lawn with bowls of creamy-fresh blackberry ice cream.  One of my nephews settled into my lap as the first of the roman candles went off.  The cicadas buzzed in appreciation, filling the summer night with their droning background music.  Green fire shot into the night, followed by red and then blue and gold.  While we waited for the next, I snuggled my friend closer, listening to the endless prattle of a four year-old on an endless summer night.  Then the sky lit up again and I could have stayed there forever.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A sigh of relief

Wednesday morning I exercised.  I did it again on Thursday, and despite the protests from my sore muscles, I finished off the week with a three-mile run on Friday.  I'd been physically able to exercise for two weeks, but Eleanor hadn't been very co-operative.  Five o'clock is early enough without throwing in a two a.m. feeding just for fun.  But on all three days she didn't wake up until just before five, giving me enough time to feed her before exercising.  Of course Saturday morning she woke up at three and six (which is the worst time possible to be woken up on the weekend; too early to actually get up and too late to get some good sleep afterwards).

Saturday afternoon we went to the park with my aunt and uncle and their dogs.  The children had a wonderful time feeding the two lovely huskies all of their strawberry hulls, dropped fruit, and dirty cheese while I tried to convince Eleanor that sleeping really was a good idea.  But after we came home and I fed her, she slept (in her swing of course) from four-thirty until I woke her up at nine-thirty to feed her.  And then she went right back to sleep until four Sunday morning.

I've made twelve loaves of bread in the last week and a half, made dinner every night, eaten it hot, and had hour-long naps almost every day.  Wednesday I had two naps.

Life is finally returning to normal.

Now, of course, at the end of the tunnel, two months doesn't feel like it was that long.  In the middle of two months it felt endless and I was grateful for the perspective granted by having four other children that allowed me to remember that the craziness would end and all children eventually grow up and that it would be a distant, fuzzy memory that was only confirmed by Brandon and my journal.  One of the best things about difficult experiences is that you never have to live the exact same one ever again.  Once it's over you never have to go back there.

I'm grateful that we don't have to move in the next few weeks (or last week) and I still have five more months of normality before we pick up and move again.  Because it feels really, really great to not be pregnant and not have a tiny newborn.  I've felt some degree of cruddy since September; it's nice to be done with that.  I've been dreading the Dark Ages since before Eleanor was conceived and I'm happy to be done with that too.

Friday Eleanor smiled at me for the first time.  She's been quite taciturn, exhibiting the normal newborn range of expressions - puzzled, worried, angry, hungry, cross-eyed - all of which are humorous but not exactly enchanting.  Joseph took some time to smile, so when Eleanor's six-week mark came and went without any hint of a smile, I wasn't too worried.  But still.  It would be nice.

Friday she was enjoying a moment of quiet attentiveness and I caught her eye.  "Eleanor, baby," I cooed at her, stroking her cheeks and smiling so hard my cheeks ached.  "Hi," I enthused, "beautiful baby!"  Her eyes stayed locked on mine.  I kept stroking her downy soft, chubby baby cheeks, while staring into those dark blue endless eyes.  She peered back, fixated on my smiling face hanging over hers.

And then first one corner and then the other corner of her mouth quirked upwards.  Briefly a look of confusion flashed across her face before her eyes caught up with her mouth as her whole face lit up in a beautiful, ecstatic smile.  Her fists waved wildly as her back arched and her legs kicked up and down, her whole body smiling along with her face.

I smiled back even harder, my cheeks aching even more, as tears crept into the edge of my eyes.  There you are, my beautiful baby.  It's good to see your smiling face.  Finally.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Party Time

When I mention (casually, if that's actually possible) to new acquaintances that I homeschool my children they usually ask whether I give everyone a summer break.  I remember in elementary when year-round schooling was first introduced as the newest greatest thing in education and being positively horrified.  Who in their right mind would want to school non-stop?!?  After all, summer break is the best part of the year, time to have a long, lazy, hot stretch of empty days seeming to last forever.  How could you enjoy summer if you were stuck in a classroom while everyone else in the world was at the pool?  For a time it looked like year-round was going to change the world for the worse, but thankfully the trend passed and only children whose parents hated them got sent to the few schools that changed their calendar.

But, as we all know, a parent's agenda is not always the same as a child's agenda.  And so we school all year round.  This year we have enough breaks that we really can't afford to take the whole summer off and so I have a ready excuse.  But really, I school through the summer because there's not much else to do.  Maybe if I hadn't just had a baby in May we could spend all morning and all afternoon at the pool, but Eleanor is not happy outside her swing for more than forty-five minutes and so we're home-bound until Brandon comes to spell me in the afternoon.  And as long as we're stuck in the apartment, we might as well school because it takes some of the combatants out of the fights and keeps everything calmer.

So I suppose I am one of those parents that hate my children (sadly, that's probably true on occasion).

However, as much as I like routine (and I love routine), it gets a little old after a few months.  Eleanor's been around for eight weeks and we've been back in school for seven and it's about time for a break.  Interestingly, I don't think the children care that about a break, but I certainly wouldn't mind one.

Lucky for me, it's time for Brandon's family reunion!  Brandon is the second of nine children which makes getting together a little difficult, especially when various brothers leave for two-year missions, move overseas, and people keep having more and more children.  The last time we got together, I was pregnant with Kathleen.  There were only five grandchildren and four married children so we were able to squeeze (very tightly) into his parents' house.

This time, however, there will be twenty grandchildren, one more in-law and another almost-in-law so we're all staying at a big (big) rental near Branson, MO.  Emails have been flying back and forth about meals, planned outings, room assignments, rules (leave your strong opinions at home), and timetables.  Brandon's mom declared that 2014 was going to be The Year back in 2011 or 2012 and so everyone will be there - thirty-six people in all.  It's going to be fun.

The children can't decide if they're more excited about the onsite pool, all of the cookies Grammy is making, having a sleepover with their cousins, going to the amusement park, or the plane ride.  I'm looking forward to spending a week away from my three-bedroom apartment, away from school, and with some of my very favorite people.  I'm sure Brandon's looking forward to something, but he hasn't told me what it is yet.

I was originally going to fly there and back by myself, as Brandon couldn't take any leave, with all five children and booked our tickets accordingly back in September (thank you United rewards and State).  Last week, Brandon sent me an email from FSI announcing that he could take the Fourth of July week off and so I checked to see if I could change his ticket.  While checking I realized that I had booked his departing ticket for the wrong day anyway, so I changed his to the same six am flight I'm taking with the kids.  I'm still doing a solo return, but at least it's only one day with Screaming Baby and four other children and not two.

So, the ducks are all lined up, the suitcases are almost packed, and we're all ready for some fun!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Just in Case I'm Missing Baku

This just came in my email, unbidden.  I guess I've been writing too many blog posts about my bathroom experiences.  I'm devastated that it's six months until Christmas.  Do you think it would fit in the pouch?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Desperate Measures

A few days after Eleanor was born, my kind neighbor (who has five children herself) brought over dinner.  Her baby had grown out of their swing and did we need a swing?  I thought for a moment - I've never actually owned a swing although I was loaned one for Kathleen and Sophia but hadn't used them that much - and then accepted her offer.  After all, it would be nice to have one if I needed it.  Then I could pass it on when we leave in November.

Eleanor is in that swing right now, and has been in it for the past hour.  This morning she took a four hour nap in it.  Yesterday morning she slept for six hours in the swing.  In fact, she hasn't slept anywhere but the swing for the last two weeks.  At night she is generous enough to sleep in her crib, but during the day, her swing is what keeps her happy and me sane.

I never thought that I would get so desperate to get my baby to sleep that I would use a swing for every single nap.  Babies ought to sleep in their crib, after all.  I don't want to get anyone into bad habits and D batteries are really expensive.  Maybe if I really needed some help I might use a swing every now and then, but every single nap seems a bit excessive.

But after five weeks of trying everything imaginable to get her to nap - rocking, holding, nursing, using  a pacifier, using my finger, nursing her on the bed, letting her cry it out, carrying her in the sling, carrying her in the Baby Bjorn, and begging her - I was so relieved to find something that worked.  I didn't care if it was a swing.  I didn't care about good sleep hygiene, I didn't even care about how much batteries cost.  I was just happy that I could get her to sleep every single time she was tired.  Did you know that babies won't naturally go to sleep when they're tired?  Instead they'll scream and cry.  It really makes no sense at all.

I've tried to wean her off the swing several times, but after I spent four hours Friday night trying to get her to go down after an unsuccessful attempt to let her cry herself to sleep (you'd think that they'd finally get so exhausted that they would give up, but they don't.  Or at least Eleanor doesn't), I made a decision.  "Don't ever let me attempt to have Eleanor to cry herself to sleep.  Ever again.  Well, at least until she's three months old."  Brandon looked at me, eyebrows raised.  "Ever," I repeated.

And so, the swing it is.

But there's only one problem.  In a week and a half, Brandon's family is gathering for the first family reunion since I was pregnant with Kathleen.  I've been worrying about taking a two month-old baby to a week of partying, swimming, and staying up late since I found out that I was pregnant with Eleanor.  I figured that two months would be enough time for the baby to settle down - after all, the other four had by that point (at least I think they did).  But Eleanor has had ample time to prove that she isn't her four older siblings.

I resigned myself to a week of sitting on a couch holding baby.  At least she would sleep in my arms.  Then we went to dinner at a friend's house Saturday afternoon.  And church the next day.  In that twenty-four hour period I spent eight hours trying to keep Eleanor asleep for more than twenty minutes.  Brandon and I like to joke that I'm getting baby elbow from having her crooked in my left arm constantly.  A week long family reunion was starting to look like not just inconvenient (there's not much you can do when you're stuck with a baby that is incapable of being awake for more than thirty minutes before she starts coming unglued) but downright miserable.  What was I going to do for a week without the essential baby swing?

Brandon and I were cooking dinner Sunday evening (after Eleanor was safely tucked away into her rocking paradise) when I had a revelation.  I turned to him, "what if we just bought a swing and had it shipped to your parents' house?"  He stopped chopping onions.  "Swing?  What?  Weren't we just talking about making children sit still in Primary"

"A baby swing.  You know, so we could actually get Eleanor to sleep.  Then we could just leave it at your parents' house or give it to your sister or throw it out the car window on the way the the airport.  After this weekend, I don't care how much a baby swing costs.  It's worth every penny just to get her to sleep."

He thought while carefully chopping, making sure to avoid his fingers.  I waited for his answer, peeling garlic.  I'm not a careless spender; I hate buying anything that I can't justify hauling across the world and back.  The last time I sold something Brandon and I owned was when we joined State and got rid of the craigslist furniture that we had picked up after graduating from college.  It almost broke my heart to sell our consumables when we left Baku.  I even waited two months to watch season four of Downton Abbey because I could check it out at the local library instead of just buying it on iTunes.

And if I'm bad, Brandon is about a hundred times worse.  All he brought her our marriage was some well-used clothes, a few books, and the movie Babe - on VHS.  We've never owned a TV, much less a VCR, so that had to go.

But at this point I didn't care.  Eight hours of rocking, bouncing, holding, and jiggling ten pounds of baby will really start to put money into perspective.

Finally, he looked at me.  I held my breath, marshaling my arguments.  After all, I was the one who would be glued to the couch, giving myself permanent elbow damage.  He sighed, and put the knife down, shrugging his shoulders.  "Buy it.  Today.  I don't care how much it costs."

So, if you're living in southwestern Missouri, send me an email.  I have a barely-used swing you can have.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Random Pictures

Edwin is very fond of Eleanor.  He gives her 'letters' that he has written, sneaks into our room to cover her with his green blanket, and makes sure that she has plenty of toys to play with.  I picked Eleanor up several days ago and felt something hard tucked into her blanket, wedged under her arm.  I fished out a toy car, keeping her company.

During school the boys amuse themselves doing whatever they can come up while I teach the girls and take care of Eleanor.  Edwin has a set of watercolors that he received for Christmas this year and he enjoys painting with them, so much that he's almost used them up.  I've never actually seen that happen; usually they just get thrown away a decade after someone painted their last landscape.  

A few weeks ago Edwin discovered that watercolor makes fantastic mustaches.  He assures me, however, that when he is grown up like Daddy, he will never have a beard.

Eleanor likes to pretend that she is an adorable baby and is even getting cute.  Then she wakes up.

Joseph likes to hold Eleanor, begging to have his turn to "hol' El'nor" whenever she is awake.  He also sneaks into our room to plant unauthorized kisses on her sleeping head.  Then he pokes his fingers into her eyes.  Eleanor is still undecided about her feelings about Joseph.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Collard Greens and Cheese Grits

So I'm not much of a vegetable eater.  Just like Tommy, I'd much rather have a cookie than fruit for a snack.  My favorite snack after school when I was thirteen was a fried egg with bacon.  But when I do eat vegetables, I like them to be tasty vegetables - if smothered with enough butter or olive oil they maybe could be reasonably acceptable.

One of my favorite aspects of overseas life is the tasty, cheap produce.  In Cairo we could buy fresh tomatoes all year round for less than twenty cents a pound.  After living in Cairo for two years, I had a lot more sympathy for the children of Israel as they lamented the cucumbers and leeks and melons they traded in for manna.  In Baku the tomatoes weren't delicious all year round, but in the summer they were almost as good as the ones pulled from my mothers' garden.  During green bean season we would eat over a pound of beans a night, sauteéd with garlic and onions on olive oil and butter.  The children cheered every time I pulled the beans out for dinner.

So when we came back to the US for training, I cajoled Brandon into joining a CSA.  Even if the vegetables weren't cheap, at least I knew that they wouldn't be shipped from California.  When I signed up, the form wanted to know why I had decided to pay a ridiculous amount of money for their vegetables, and I couldn't find the box that was next to 'because I like tasty food,' so I had to pretend it was because I cared about supporting local farmers.

When I signed up, I had a vague idea of what sort of vegetables I would pull from my full share box every week, but I didn't look to far into it.  I knew I would get vegetables, and I knew that at some point those vegetables would include tomatoes.  Because, after all, really I just wanted real tomatoes.

Our first week was May 12.  After finding the drop-off sight, I eagerly opened my box to see what the vegetable fairies had left for my first week of tasty vegetables.  Green, green, and more green.  After having grown various more and less successful gardens, I knew that (sadly) tomatoes don't come in May.  And what does come in May?  Lettuce, lettuce, more lettuce, and some asparagus.  Also kale, chard, green onions, collard greens, spinach, and oh, more lettuce.

I know what to do with lettuce, asparagus, and spinach, but kale?  Chard?  Collard greens?  And so this month has begun my education in What to Do With Greens.  It also has begun the children's education in Salad is Good.  Really.  Eat It.  Salad isn't a big thing overseas (and honestly I've never liked it much either) so they haven't gotten used to eating leaves.  And since the vegetable fairies charge a lot of money for salad, everyone's getting a crash course in acting like cows every single night.  Good thing someone invented salad dressing.

I'm actually enjoying my exploration into cooking greens because it makes me cook something other than the fifteen meals that are on endless rotation because they 1. are acceptable to most everyone, 2. have ingredients that are available around the world, 3. are reasonably nutritionally balanced, and 4. are cheap.  Some things have been more successful and some have been less.  Joseph has started protesting any time a cooked green shows up on his plate, 'No spinach!!  NO SPINACH!!!"

Our last box included collard greens, something I've never eaten, despite my Southern upbringing.  I think my mother felt the same way about cooked greens I do.  But when you have a big bunch of collards delivered by the veg fairies that you paid to give you weekly surprises, you better find something to do with them.

And when you have collard greens, cheese grits naturally come to mind.  Oh, and salad.  Don't forget the salad.  I confess when I started cooking them this morning (yes, this morning.  Did you know that it takes four hours to cook collard greens?) I was highly dubious.  But I couldn't just let them go moldy in the back of the refrigerator because Brandon would shame me when he found them in August.  So I had to cook them, but I could probably make Brandon eat almost all of them.  Because, really, leaves?  Cooked in ham water?  I think I'll take the cornmeal cooked with a lot of butter and cheese.  Because, butter, and cheese.  Neither of those are green.

After everything was cooked and the children had started in on whining, I let Brandon try the first bite.  Even though I like to pretend that I'm an Adventurous Adult, really deep down I'm still the same nine year-old that avoided shrimp for years because it was pink.  Brandon, on the other hand, joined the Foreign Service so that he could be paid to travel around the world and try new types of food.  So I stuck with salad and let him try the slimy-looking green things.

But even Brandon looked dubious as he stared at the dark green leaves clumped on his plate.  Sure, he was happy to try head cheese and ancient cheese and chocolate covered pig fat, but boiled leaves?  Maybe not.   Finally, however, he shrugged and took a forkful.  He popped it into his mouth.  I waited.  I knew secretly that finally he had found something not to like.  After all, collard greens?  Nobody eats those if they don't absolutely have to.

  "Good?" I asked him through a mouthful of cheese and butter.  Now, cheese grits, those are a good Southern cooking idea.

He chewed for a minute and then broke into a smile as he scooped up another bite.  "Yes!  Really good!"

"Really?" I asked him.  I wasn't about to try some of those nasty looking green things if they were only a little good.  The grits were treating me just fine.  "Now tell me the truth.  Just because we paid for them and cooked them for hours doesn't mean we have to eat them if they're nasty."

He stuffed another forkful in his mouth as he nodded enthusiastically.  "Yesh!  Try shome!"

I looked at my plate.  I took another bite of cheese grits.  Yumm, cheese.  I swallowed and looked back at Brandon reaching for a second helping of the collards.  Finally, I timidly took a bite.  Then I took another.  I looked up at Brandon.  "These really are good!"

"Of course, what did you think, that I was lying to you?"

"Well," I admitted, "maybe you were just being... optimistic.  But you're right.  They're amazing!"  And then I got back to eating the rest of my greens.  I suppose I should have known, after all.  Because something that is boiled with a ham hock and garlic and then fried with onions in bacon grease couldn't be delicious.  I think maybe my old running shoes wouldn't be too bad with that treatment.

So next time you have the opportunity to get your hands on some collard greens, do try them.  Something from the people who brought you Krispy Kreme couldn't be that bad, after all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blog Hopping, the Adult Digital Version of Chain Letters

So I like to pretend that I am writing to an audience of one: me.  When I started this blog, I made it as private as possible without actually needing a password because I just wanted it to be for family.  I would tell funny stories about my baby (yes! I just had one child back then and she was a baby) and then of course in time I would become world famous for my funny stories interspersed with wisdom.  You know, because secretly all bloggers want to be world famous because we wouldn't write if we didn't think our writing was awesome.

So although I know that people other than my family read this blog, I still like to pretend that I'm not a Blogger, just someone who writes a blog.  And of course it's all pretend because I belong to a community of bloggers (can't tell you who, though, because we're a secret private group) that get together for dinner every month.  At the last dinner one of the fellow Bloggers asked me to participate in a blog hop she was part of.  And being a gracious Blogger, I said yes.

So now, you get to have an insight into How I Write.  Sorry, no funny stories this time.

First off, I would like to acknowledge Theresa, who asked me to participate.  Theresa, I'm flattered you asked me.  Also, where would you like to go to dinner next month?

Question #1:  What am I working on?

I'm working on getting Eleanor to go to sleep without a pacifier restraint device (PRD) and the baby swing.  I'm afraid to stop, however, because I'm really enjoying two-hour naps.  I'm also working on being a nicer mother?  That's really a constant project, however.  Really, I'm not working on anything other than making sure my children are educated, making sure they get outside to play daily, making sure my husband is fed a reasonable dinner daily, and making sure my children get to bed to I can watch Downton Abbey before it's due at the library.

Usually, I actually have personal projects that I work on each Friday when school is off, but even though I did bring my sewing machine, this apartment is just too small to ignore all of the children and go off into project-land for a whole day.  I have to be a little more hands-on when we live in a small space.  So, nothing to report here.  Sorry.

Question #2:  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Does my blog have genre?  Is there a genre for homeschooling-mother-of-five-foreign-service-Mormon-stay-at-home-moms who like to sew, cook, and paint?  I've got all sorts of aspects.  I'm crunchy!  I'm crazy!  I'm exotic!  I'm stereotypical! I'm creative!  My blog differs because it's my blog.  Everyone's is a little different because we all have different lives.  That's why we can read everyone else's blogs - because there about a life that's not ours.

Question #3: Why do I write what I do?

I write for several reasons.  I tell myself and everyone else that I write to preserve the memories.  I keep a personal journal, but the stories I tell in my blog don't usually make it into the journal - that's more linear, keeping track of the whole of my life.  My blog just contains snapshots and funny vignettes.  My blog gives me a place to develop the funny or strange aspects of my life into something more than just a paragraph in my journal.

But, really, the reason I write is because I secretly want to be famous.  Who doesn't want to be famous?  It hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean it won't some time, right?

Question #4:  How does my writing process work?

I used to write throughout the week.  That was back before my day got filled up with structure and school and I would waste lots more time in front of the computer.  But now that I have five people vying for my attention whenever I'm awake, I only write on Sunday evenings.  If it doesn't get written on Sunday, it never happens despite the twenty promises I make to myself that I will sit down and write or edit that really funny story.  So usually I realize Sunday that I have to come up with three things to write about for the week.  These days, I remember that while I'm doing the dishes as Brandon puts the children to bed.  So I tell myself very witty and interesting stories while I'm wiping down the table and rinsing out the sink.  Then I sit down at the computer and read Facebook.  Then I sigh and open up Blogger and write a catchy title.  No good first sentence comes to mind, so I read blogs for inspiration.  Sometimes I get inspired and something good comes out.  When the inspiration refuses to come, I write something anyway because by this point it's thirty minutes to my bedtime and this week I really will get to bed on time because I'm exhausted and want to get some sleep.  Then I pound out three entries, save them, read through and attempt a shoddy edit before scheduling them.  I imagine I could probably use a lot more time both writing and editing, but I don't have it.  Apologies to all.

Next victim:

Bridget, a good friend that I knew for a summer in Cairo.  Despite only being friends in the same place for a few months, I keep up with her life in Sharjah, UAE via her very well-written blog.  Thanks, Bridget!