Questions I Can’t Answer

Kids always ask the hardest questions when you are least prepared and unable to give them your full attention. Lately, this has been happening in the 10-minute car ride to school.

It started this morning with a reminder that President’s Day is coming up and there is no school that Monday, and this segued into a conversation about American Presidents. This reminded me to scold Asher for watching Top 10 Most Awkward Moments of Donald Trump videos on YouTube every time I come down to the basement to check on him or else he’s going to lose his computer privileges. He groans. Then I prompted both children to think about the many US Presidents that have been great leaders, gave inspirational speeches, that helped people in need, and were kind. And even though I’ve been to the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery I cannot recite the first 10 Presidents for the life of me, so instead we talked about Presidential faces they may recognize on dollar bills. At this time Everett interjected that George Washington was bad because he owned slaves but it’s ok because he paid them, and then Abraham Lincoln came along and was the best President because the country used to be called Slavery and now we’re two countries.

Asher now loudly states “Well you and dad have $10,000 why won’t you just give it to us? I’ve seen your credit card statement”. SIGH. “Just because you have a credit card LIMIT doesn’t mean you HAVE the money.” I explain. “It’s borrowed money from a bank and if you can’t pay it back you get in trouble.” Everett screams “You and dad are going to jail??!!” I realize I quickly need to reel things back. I try explaining bankruptcy, but at this exact moment we pulled up to Asher’s school and as he happily hops out in car line, already forgetting everything we just talked about, I say “Asher, I’m not just going to give you $10,000. Ever.”

As we proceed to Everett’s school, he quietly says “But mom, what happens when you file for bankruptcy?” SIGH. I explain that if you borrow more money than you can pay back, in SOME cases you file for bankruptcy and this means you lose everything and have to start over, like a board game. But I clarify that in MOST cases people just owe money for a very very long time and not to worry about it because mom and dad are fine. We have talked about mortgages, school loans, savings accounts, and retirement accounts endlessly at before, usually in other inconvenient moments, but no matter how many times we try to teach the kids about money, every week Everett gets his $5 allowance and he IMMEDIATELY spends it at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx.

But something nagging and incorrect inside me tells me not to give up on the credit card discussion. We have like 4 minutes left of the drive. I explain that using credit cards as a form of money that you don’t have makes it hard to keep up on paying back the bank, and also to save for their future. I DON’T UNDERSTAAAAAAND!!!!!!!! Everett screams. “And what happens to the kids?????!!!”

This leads into a dreaded moment asking myself: Do I take this moment in time to talk to my 7 year-old child about homelessness, foster homes and adoption? I have 3 minutes left. I decide to talk about it. WHAAAAAAAT???? he screams. He can’t express himself he’s so confused. I recently vowed to be very transparent with my kids when they ask tough questions, which I regret instantly. So I just quickly say “Don’t worry honey.  There are always people who will look after children in a nice home” (not always true) “‘and kids will never be in a jail” (definitely not true). And if Asher were in the car he would remind Everett about The Wall and detention centers. We pull up at his school.

OK Everett, well we’re at school now bye-I-love-you-have-a-nice day!

Here’s another moment. The other day we took the kids to an immersive contemporary art museum called the WNDR MUSEUM in Chicago which featured an infinity room of mirrors titled “Let’s Just Live Forever” by the famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Asher was absolutely riveted by this concept of endlessness. In the car ride home he couldn’t stop talking about infinity and the size of things like how big the Willis Tower is in miles and feet, and he had just so many questions that at some point I just gave him my phone to Google whatever he wanted. Every now and then he’d pipe up and say things like “Infinity plus one is omega!” and “The approximate size of the observable universe is 14 billion parsecs!” Then Everett’s brow furrowed. “But then Asher, what’s on the OTHER SIIIIIDE of the universe???????????????”

These are all such very good questions. I recently listened to a podcast on Radiolab about a man who as a young child in Russia noticed these strange birds in the fields sitting on the backs of cows. They didn’t belong there and weren’t in any local library books. So he started photographing them and took those photos to the local science museum, who then directed him to a bird specialist, and not a single person could explain to him why these cattle egrets from Africa were now in Russia. He said that this was a pivotal moment in his life that taught him that adults just don’t know all the answers. And he then spent the next 30 years tracking egrets and teaching the world about the concept of migration and what happens to birds in the winter. Up until the 1800’s people just assumed they flew to the moon!

But I digress. Adults are NOT supposed to know all the answers. And I am OK with that. But if I can encourage some curiosity and ignite new questions in their ever-evolving brains about the way the world currently works, maybe my children will teach me something one day and the rest of the world something big tomorrow. This really would be good parenting.

Vietnamese Spring Roll Salad

After years of unsuccessfully trying to roll a simple rice wrapper, today I finally tossed the remnants of my pitiful efforts into the garbage and made a quick deconstructed version instead. The end result might be one of my new favorite vegan and gluten-free lunches – the Vietnamese Spring Roll Salad!

By no means novel, this salad certainly fit the bill for me and highlights some mind-blowing Asian condiments I discovered in recent months – Tsang Bangkok Peanut Sauce and Japanese Rice Seasoning. Over the years, my kids have also grown to really love mung bean (or “glass” or “cellophane”) noodles tossed with a sesame oil and soy sauce dressing, so I tend to keep these ingredients pretty stocked up in the pantry, which came in handy today.

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The bed of fluffy cool lettuce and crunchy vegetables tossed with sweet, pungent herbs of basil and mint are woven with strings of salty cold noodles and topped with extra cold, extra firm tofu right out of the fridge to make a really light lunch that is packed with protein. Glass noodles contain no sugar or cholesterol, and even though they are high in carbohydrates they have actually been proven to rate as a low-glycemic carbohydrate. If you’re note a fan of uncooked tofu, baked or fried would work or even edamame as an alternative – there’s no wrong way to do this. The best part is that the ingredients can be doubled or tripled and will last in the fridge all week.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups chopped lettuce (any kind will work)
  • 1 Persian cucumber or 1/2 seedless English cucumber, diced with skin on
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 TB basil, chopped
  • 1 TB mint, chopped
  • 1/3 block of extra firm tofu, cut into 1” cubes
  • 1/2 – 1 cup cooked Vermicelli “glass” mung bean noodles
  • 1 TB soy sauce or tamari sauce
  • 1 ts sesame oil
  • 1 TB Bankgkok Peanut Sauce, diluted with 1 TB water to make a creamy salad dressing
  • 1 TB Nori Komi Furikake Rice Seasoning

Boil noodles for 6 minutes on medium heat, then drain and immediately rinse under cold water to cool temperature. Keep in mind the noodles comes in dry blocks with 8 to a packet so you’ll likely need to cook one to two blocks at a time and keep the leftovers. Toss with the sesame oil and soy sauce and let sit while you prep the components of the salad. Slowly mix in the noodles, top with cubed tofu, rice seasoning and peanut dressing.

Yo-Yo Parenting

 It’s happened again. Another weekend gone by of overly-ambitious family planning, followed by self-doubt, and soon disappointment in the promises I can’t keep for myself. The weekend started with an inspirational vegan cooking class, and ended with me eating a skillet cookie with ice cream. 

My goals may seem simple: make my kids laugh, have a selfish moment, learn something new, remind my husband why we fell in love, have a boost of confidence, strive to do better, acknowledge I’m far from perfect. 

Some days start off being positive, but end up just feeling insurmountable. There really isn’t a word to encapsulate the bitterness you feel after a particularly rough day of parenting. It’s like the YoYo diet self-loathing effect, when one special moment of joy comes crashing down into pitiful pain the next, over and over into an endless vortex.

How does one value the little time you have to yourself when the weekends are no longer your own? How do you find inspiration when you live in a world of diaper checks? How do you find passion when your day is measured by Toddler-Time-Outs, or mental clarity when a sneaker has been thrown at your head, or laughter and joy when heads are turning because your family is “causing a scene” at a restaurant? How can you feel attractive when you only have five minutes to get dressed?

Case in point: this morning we were eager to get the kids out of the house at 9:00am, when my husband casually asked me if I needed to get dressed before we left. Then he started to put the kids shoes on. Not HOW MUCH time I needed, or if I needed a shower. We’ve simply progressed to IF I needed to put on clothes. I was in a sleep shirt, no bra, no makeup. Not sure if he noticed. New goal for next weekend – make eye contact with spouse in the morning.

I know our kids are young and energetic and this too shall pass. I’m getting sick of hearing that advice. My low point of the weekend was really when I got puked on and we learned that Everett is allergic to walnuts. BUT my highlight was when the kids dragged me outside today to do “water play” in 80 degree humidity when all I really wanted was to sit alone in private misery and read a book. And in the end, the joy on their faces from the simple act of being soaked in the mud with a hose pipe was nothing short of spectacular. This is the reminder of “living” I strive for each day. And even though I feel miserable and lost and so so tired right now … I know that’s okay, we are bound together by the brazen and the beautiful, and tomorrow is another day!

Daddy’s “selfish” moment trying to do yoga in the morning but getting discovered… 

Greek Lentil Taverna Salad

asher and everett This week we reached a major feeding milestone when Everett nonchalantly picked up a Cheerio from my hand, popped it into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. No choking. No gagging. Then he reached for another, and angrily slapped my hand away when I tried to put one into his mouth without giving him the chance to practice his fine motor skills. He has only just recently started snacking on the Gerber puff snacks which all but melt in your mouth so this came as a bit of a shock to me. I can’t believe our 9 month old is already self-feeding!

I have been racking my brain thinking of all the crazy baby recipes I used to make for Asher. Which reminded me of how he absolutely LOVED pureed lentils as an infant. Even to this day, I can pop open a can of Progresso lentil soup on a no-cooking day of desperation and he will gobble the contents of the can without even cooking it. Can I admit that to the world? I guess I just did.

lentils So today’s recipe is for an oustanding Greek Lentil Taverna Salad which did amazingly well in the fridge for a few days. It really could not be easier, and cost around $12 for 6 huge portions. Needless to say, Asher loved the lentils.

GREEK LENTIL TAVERNA SALAD
1 English cucumber, chopped into half moons
4 large beefsteak tomatoes, chopped into large pieces
1 red onion, sliced into slivers
1 package of crumbled feta (traditional flavor)
1 bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2 cups of lentils
2 packages of cremini mushrooms, sliced into quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, diced

DRESSING
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a sauce pot, boil 5 cups of water. Add lentils then let simmer for 20 minutes. When lentils are done, immedialty drain in collander and set aside to cool. In a frying pan, add olive oil and diced garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Then add mushrooms and sautee for 7-9 minutes until the mushrooms have a nice brown color. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled lentils with the mushroom mixture then add the salad dressing ingredients and let marinate for 10 minutes in refrigerator. Meanwhile, add fresh salad ingredients in a large salad bowl. When you are ready to serve, scoop a heaping portion of taverna salad with 1/2 cup lentils as a topping. The flavors from the lentils will act as a dressing for the salad, but you can add additional red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper if needed. This can be made vegan without the feta, you will just need a tad more salt to bring out the flavors.