Burn The Needle

I sit here, sewing a broken string from my blue linen blouse with the same needle I used to dig out a nasty splinter that had gorged into my right hand the other day. The thought of this doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m reusing this tool for another necessary purpose. I burned the needle. I sanitized it. And I started again on a new task. It actually feels good.

The multi-tasking of objects and time is nothing new in our household. If it’s not utilitarian or joyful for more than one occasion, then I’m done with it. If it hasn’t seen the light of day in 6 months, or it’s a one trick pony, it goes in the garbage or donation bag. If it doesn’t have a place on the shelf or space in the day as an activity, then I’m not buying it. This is all in an effort to simplify and multi-task. In retrospect, I think this has had both a positive and negative impact on my family. That may not surprise you. I find myself cleaning up too often after the children’s messes, and I am certainly not teaching my son who lacks executive functioning the tools to organize. While my husband’s habits for collecting and accumulating piles has greatly diminished over the last 10 years, sometimes I still find his secret stash. A little shelf hidden in the laundry room or a drawer filled with useless receipts, lollipop wrappers and printed coupons for Malax which you inevitably get when you pick up a prescription at Walgreens. I always toss them. I don’t think he’s noticed yet. Does he just fear my need for organization or does he appreciate a clean desk space like I do??

Let’s cut to the chase. Life with kids is messy. You lose yourself in it. You disconnect from your spouse. You run yourself ragged. You set yourself on a path and when you come back together as a family you really just throw all expectations out the window. You learn flexibility.

I didn’t so much raise the white flag in 2018 as much as I hit the pedal hard when the racing flag was raised. My husband and I focused on our careers which included an often hectic travel schedule for me and “on call” nighttime work hours for him – meaning we’re both always exhausted. Sometimes I miss things, like my birthday. Or his birthday. And I work extra hard to attend kids activities like lunch with mommy in the cafeteria so they don’t feel the burden of that. They still think I sit at home all day dreaming up that night’s dinner. But I’m also learning to balance all of this, and to say NO when I can.

2018 also saw the end of preschool days in our family, and the start of Kindergarten and 2nd Grade. Baby toys got tossed or donated to make room for action figures and a computer for playing Fortnite. Our youngest son broke his arm and was rushed into surgery followed by three days in the hospital. Our eldest went through months of neuropsych evaluations for his IEP at school. The last two months alone have included countless visits to doctors, schools support team meetings, family therapy on the weekends, and even a brief stint with marriage counseling before our therapist moved to Arizona and we realized we didn’t have time for it anyway. My only goal through all of this was quality family time.

Yesterday I burst into tears because I didn’t plan a special New Year’s Eve for the kids. I just wanted to go to bed. I was exhausted. December included two busy work trips for me, hosting a kids party for 60 people at our house, endless therapy appointments, and literally 24-hour nonstop parenting with a kid in an itchy cast that wouldn’t sleep in his own bed, let alone for more than 2 hours at a time. We chose not to travel for the holidays this year. The kids won’t be sharing that they went to Florida or California when they went back to school like most of their friends. It was my one day off and I couldn’t even enjoy watching a dumb TV show because I was feeling the guilt. Would they forget the small joys that we DID gain when we gave family activity-themed gifts under the tree?

I often see Facebook posts of families with kids on the town looking at Christmas decorations or shopping on a bustling street surrounded by strangers, late night dinners at restaurants, children happily sampling new dishes and flavors. I talk to friends who’s kids actually entertained themselves for an entire summer with no plans other than a sports activity twice per week. I’m not sure how to feel about this. I know it’s not my reality. And I guess it kinda hits me hard.

What I’ve come to realize this past year is that my normal is not anybody else’s normal. To compare is totally unfair. We must accept and cherish what we can because we have also gained so much this past year. And even on the worst of days, when you think you have nothing left, there is always a little more to give after having a 2 minute break. Certainly, Robby and I are transparent about our struggles and really open communication is our only salvation. We are dedicated parents. But we accept what is damaged and then use our tools to mend and reframe. We burn the needle.

So while I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, I can share that Asher’s resolution is “to work harder and believe in myself”, Everett’s is “I dunno!”, Robby wants to be more patient, and I’m going to simplify. Worry less about other people’s expectations, and more about my own. I’m really going to use my tools in considering whether something is a ‘big problem’ or a ‘small problem’ to quote our OT, and I’m going to burn that needle between uses.

Hazelnut and Chard Ravioli

Some pasta dishes are best served room temperature on a cold day when you just wanna stress eat like a pro with little prep, AKA Thanksgiving.

This year we avoided airports and opted for an overnight stay at the nearby Great Wolf Lodge waterpark with friends followed by a lovely dinner with family. I love the simplicity and versatility of this fresh lemony, chard recipe combined with the sweet caramelized onions from 101 Cookbooks. I skipped the fresh pasta prep and used fresh, ready to eat ravioli from Trader Joe’s which means lunch was ready in about 20 minutes total — not bad!

Ingredients

  • 1 container Trader Joe’s butternut squash ravioli
  • 2-3 TB olive oil
  • 2 small onions, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 cups chopped Swiss chard, deveined and chopped
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (I purchased whole toasted at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Prepare ravioli as directed, about 3 minutes in boiling water and cooled in colander then tossed gently with about a teaspoon of olive oil to prevent sticking. In pan, caramelize the onions over medium high heat with 1 TB olive in a pan, turning constantly for about 10 minutes and then cooled. Meanwhile, squeeze the lemon juice over the Swiss chard and top with salt, then massage the leaves gently for 2 minutes in a mixing bowl and set aside. When you are ready to serve, combine Swiss chard salad with ravioli on serving dish then top with crunchy hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese. My version was heavy on the Swiss chard and looked more like salad but next time I would serve on a long, flat dish to really make the ravioli shine.

My amazing friend Shaun once again had dessert covered and prepared the most amazing Coconut Cream Pie – and I don’t even like coconut! Recipe found here.

Lemony Bulgur Tabouleh

Ok. I admit it. I googled what Jennifer Aniston eats. Turns out she’s a fan of salads, no surprise there!

Apparently her favorite go-to salad is a crisp cucumber, bulgur, chickpea salad with fresh mint and parsley. Bulgur is actually a great grain to add to your diet as it’s in rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, iron and other vital minerals as well as making it a solid plant-based protein. Bulgur is also a low glycemic food with fewer calories yet twice the fiber of rice – about 25% of your daily needs in one cup. And seriously it is THE quickest and easiest grain to prepare; just add 1.5 cups hot water to 1 cup of bulgur and let it sit in a bowl for 10 minutes then fluff it with a fork!

For this lemony tabouleh I omitted the feta and pistachios that are featured in The Jennifer Salad but I will try that next time for some crunch. I opted for medium grain bulgur but you can also try coarse grain or fine grain depending on your palette. Just combine all ingredients once the bulgur is cooled. I paired this with kalamata olives, tomatoes and whole wheat pita pocket which was great after a summer’s July 4th bike ride and day outside. Remember – don’t skimp on the fresh herbs!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked bulgur
  • 1 cucumber, skinned and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 – 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mediterranean Fennel Barley Soup

One of my all-time favorite ingredients are lemons. It’s such a versatile citrus packed with vitamin C and adds a distinct tartness to any roasted vegetable. It’s also become my go-to for soup broths that are laden with heavy grains or beans. The lemon juice complements the soft creamy fennel, earthy fire roasted tomatoes and hearty barley in this stew so nicely along with a sprinkle of salty Parmesan on top!

This original recipe came from Eating Well but I switched the white beans to chickpeas and added the lemon juice which really brightened it up. This ones in my fridge for the entire week and only cost about $20 (I doubled the recipe).

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup quick-cooking barley
  • 1 5-ounce package baby spinach (6 cups)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic, and basil; cook, stirring frequently, until tender and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, broth and barley into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice then add spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese.

A little summer stroll…

Enjoying a rare date night dance at friend Tom and Haeley’s wedding… whiskey in hand

Totally Awesome Asian Swiss Chard Salad

I love any salad that can be tossed with a cold cup of pasta for a hearty, fresh and easy meal either on-the-go or at home with kids. This Asian Swiss Chard salad recipe relies only on your basic knife skills and a quick assembly time, making it a versatile and vitamin-packed addition to your typical work lunch repertoire. The Brianna’s Home Style Ginger Mandarin dressing was on sale for $2.99 this week and is going to a fridge staple in our house as it packs a punch with its zingy creamy gingery flavor. This dish has potential for a great vegan Buddha bowl and can be combined with other key ingredients like avocado, sesame seeds, or nuts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup broccoli cole slaw
  • 1 cucumber, peeled seeded and sliced into half moons
  • 1 red pepper, julienned
  • 1 yellow pepper, julienned
  • 1 bunch rainbow Chard, stemmed and roughly diced
  • 2 cups edamame
  • Chilled cooked pasta

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… 

Parents are Liars

When a parent is asked how their weekend was and they say “GREAT!” they are lying half the time. I know this because I did it this morning. Unless you are the patron saint of patience and kids screaming “NOOOOOO you DON’T say that to ME” and swiping punches in the air and throwing sharp objects at you then slamming doors for three days doesn’t bother you, and sleeping in is no longer a wish and dream, and meals aren’t avoided simply because you don’t want to clean up afterwards, then congratulations you are a parent.  Even the best of us with the best intentions get lost in a big way sometimes.

Last Friday my husband and I took a vacation day from work to take the kids to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. We wanted to expose them to something new and exciting; tigers getting their belly scratched, clowns falling off ladders, eating salty popcorn, sitting in a big amphitheater watching motorcycles weave around each other in the metal sphere of doom. We had every intention of enjoying our big day off! We bought three tickets for the circus assuming Everett would happily sit on our lap. Five elephants came out on stage and then just as quickly disappeared before a ring leader in sequins sang a terrible song that didn’t stop for 10 minutes. Everett got antsy, and was happier running down the ramp in the abandoned concessions area away from the crowd while mommy pretended to be a tiger. Never mind that there were real tigers not 100 feet away that we had paid $50 to see. Asher was over-stimulated and thrown off by the lack of focus of the show. He wanted to sit in my lap and talk gibberish. He acted like he hadn’t slept in days, and it was only 10:00am. The popcorn made him insatiably thirty. A bottle of water cost $5 and the straw wasn’t long enough to stick out the bottle mouth. In the end we got use out of one ticket. For half the show. They both screamed at intermission that they were starving but they didn’t want to eat anything. As my husband left the theater carrying a screaming Asher in a fireman’s hold, I distracted Everett with airplanes in the sky as though that were part of the big show. And that was only Friday.

We recently signed up for Sitter City in search of a babysitter for sanity breaks and had scheduled the whole day on Saturday to be home for interviews. Two were a no-call no-show, and one cancelled at the last minute. By 2:00pm the house was a mess and I felt a vague sense of panic. We went out for an early dinner thinking getting out of the house would be key. A walk in the dark to a restaurant would be fun! Asher does not understand Daylight Savings. He’s 4. He was scared. “I CAN’T SEE ANYTHIIIIING!!” At dinner, everything was thrown on the ground; toys, food, crayons, my phone. We smiled embarrassedly at restaurant customers, but not too much so because we spend enough money at this restaurant for family date night. I chugged a martini, Robby choked down dinner, and we rushed home for another two painful hours of alternating moments of sheer joy followed by welting tears of unhappiness with two zombie children. At bedtime, we were speechless.

On Sunday, we actually spent a lovely morning with my husband’s family. The kids were flirty, joyful, conversational and sweet. They ate lunch nicely at the table, they engaged with the adults. We thought this was a good sign. We thought we would let them nap in the car while I did grocery shopping. That was a mistake. By the time 4:00pm rolled around and I started my cooking for the week, these two no-nap children and a husband who has been complaining of stomach pain for 2 weeks now were just gearing up for 4 hours of hell. Asher wanted every baby toy, Everett wanted to cling on my leg while I poured a steaming hot pot of water down the sink, no television show would satiate both children, the chocolate ice cream had melted in the box because it got left out of the freezer for too long since grocery shopping, so mommy had made an empty promise. I pulled a lasagna out of the oven while Everett ran for the open oven door with extended arms. The joint screaming of the kids got louder to a pitch range that I did not know existed to human ears.

In moments like this, you are lost. You wish you could just walk away. That you could hand a bad situation over to someone and scream HELP ME. But you can’t. There is no one. You have to push through. And then at 9:00pm when the house is finally quiet, you get your husband who fell asleep in your child’s room out of sheer desperation and exhaustion and you just go to bed. You are defeated. There is nothing left to say. In the morning, the kids will wake up refreshed and happy and clueless to reality. And you tell the teachers you had a great time at the circus and Asher proudly says he saw dinosaurs. Because that’s what you do.

You know how sometimes small tasks make you feel better because you can cross them off a list? This morning after I dropped off the kids at school I threw away a few boxes of garbage, I cut off  tags from new clothes, and I cleaned out the coat closet. And you know what? I am feeling better. I have my lunches ready for the week. And I actually can’t wait to see those damn kids again when I pick them up from school at 5:30pm. I love them so much, I lie. But only half the time.

the hug