cooking with kids

Back in January I decided to cook with my kids more often, and since it’s May I guess I should finally get around to that. Both of my children love to cook, but I often put them off from helping me in the kitchen, because… well, it’s my domain. I have a process, cooking is meditative, I’m rushed, I like to listen to adult-oriented podcasts, and other self-centered excuses. Finally we came up with a plan for our kids to trade off Sundays, and though we are terrible about sticking to things for very long, so far it’s been completely wonderful.

Willow had the first week. She decided to make beefy mac, her favorite meal, which is “kid food” at its finest — macaroni, tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese, all mixed up together, with some obligatory vegetable on the side. We hadn’t cooked together in a LONG time, so we were able to start fresh in our kitchen interactions. She helped me shop for ingredients, then chopped the onion, browned the meat, stewed the sauce, cooked the pasta, and shredded the cheese. At the end she was so proud of herself, she impatiently waited another two weeks for her chance to cook again.

This time she took it even more seriously. She flipped through a cookbook considering different recipes before settling on shrimp creole. She made a list of ingredients, and this time completed every step herself. I gave her some pointers on knife skills and talked to her about the trinity, how to eyeball ingredients, how to time the cooking of multiple pots and pans, but she did absolutely every physical step herself — she cooked the rice, chopped the vegetables, did all of the sautéing, prepped the shrimp, set timers, and even cleaned as she went along so she didn’t have a big mess at the end (ahem).

It’s just amazing to watch her do this work. At eight years old she is already comfortable with boiling water, sharp knives, and tricky ingredients. When I was eight I could barely manage to make toast. She has a huge sense of pride and accomplishment that she can do this very adult thing of making a meal for a family from raw ingredients. Probably my favorite moment was when Isaiah came in to check on her and they stood at the stove tasting the sauce together. Isaiah was fidgety with the desire to get in there himself. He marinated and grilled chicken and vegetables with his dad last week, and next week he’ll make potato soup.

This whole process is important for me, too, by challenging me to step back and allow my children to prove their independence. So many times, I want to step in to fix something. I have to figure out how to teach them without just taking the knife or spoon myself. At one point I said to Willow, “See how the top of the sauce is bubbling really hard but it’s not moving much underneath? That might mean that it’s scorching on the bottom.” She grabbed a spatula right away, stirring the pot and saying how much she loved, loved, loved to cook, how she wished she could do ALL of the cooking (I didn’t tell her how much it does feel like a chore after a while!).

My parents tried to teach me basic cooking skills, but I remember it as a short, frustrated process, which is how I left home knowing how to make ramen in a microwave and not much else. I hope that cooking is not something my kids do to please me, or because they feel like they should — they seem to genuinely want to know how to do this, and to be good at it. Of course I love that we share an interest, but I’m also so proud of them for being focused and working hard, whatever it is they’re doing.

(If you’re interested in the recipe Willow made, you can find it here. She added celery, used fire-roasted diced tomatoes instead of stewed, topped the final dish with parsley, and served it with rice.)

 

what comes next

Last week I had a little meltdown, the same meltdown I have had biannually for over a decade. It’s always precipitated by some event that brings to light my incomplete education and lack of career opportunities, which starts me on the downward spiral of thoughts like this:

I’m never going to be successful. I will always be dependent on my partner’s income. I’m not setting a good example for my kids, especially my daughter. I’m a failure. My potential has been wasted. We’ll never get ahead of our bills, never buy a house, never attain financial stability. I’ve fucked up. Why did I have children before I could take care of them? I’ll never amount to anything. Bad feminist. Bad human being. 

This is how it happened. As I’ve mentioned, I decided to finish my biology degree since I will actually be able to find work in this field now. I chose an online program carefully based on regional requirements for accreditation so I would have the option of transferring to a brick & mortar school in Oregon. After lots of research I decided that entering a BS program in Clinical Laboratory Science would be a great option after I finish my general education requirements online. (Unfortunately most of my upper-division classes are too old to be accepted for transfer credit, so I’m basically starting over.) This program is through a medical school in Oregon and would give me an excellent foundation to continue on with graduate studies in research science, or even medical school eventually (EXCEEDINGLY UNLIKELY but I like to keep my options open), or I could just stop there and still have a decent career.

I felt really good about my choices, and then the admissions office informed me that they don’t accept transfer credits from the school I’m currently attending. They recommended that I finish my general education requirements at a community college or Oregon university instead, and not online.

This is a serious problem because I can really only continue my education if I can work at the same time. It’s one thing to stop working for 15 months of externship, at the end of which I’ll be able to find a job in my field, and another to stop working for YEARS while accruing student loan debt, living on one educator’s income, and having two kids who constantly need things that cost money.

At this point I felt triggered by memories of struggling through serious low-income situations, as we did before Willow started grade school and I got a job. I spiraled down into unreasonable possibilities, feeling the walls close in as the litany of regret continued. I’m never going to be successful. I’ll always be dependent on my partner’s income. And so on. I felt pent in by my lack of options, and the lies that are told to young women about parenthood and career opportunities, and the reality that my life just isn’t set up for the kind of ambitions I have. I’m tough in some ways, but I’m not work-full-time-and-attend-school-full-time-simultaneously-with-kids tough. I’m not willing to work or be at school all day and then leave for several hours as soon as my kids get home from school. So I felt like every option was drying up on the spot, leaving me with those same feelings of guilt and shame and the bone-deep regret of poor life choices.

Jeremy pointed out that I’d only known about this program for a week, to which I responded (hysterically-ish) that it hasn’t been a week, it’s been ten years. Ten years of not knowing if or when I would ever go back to school and do something with my life. Ten years of wrestling with my identity as a wife and mother, ten years of suppressing my other ambitions and interests, ten years of feeling ashamed and less-than, and trying and failing so many times, and listening to people who know exactly nothing about it assure me that after a couple decades of intensive parenthood I’ll be exactly the same person and capable of doing exactly the same things.

So while I may have just lit upon this program as an option, what I felt in that moment was the weight of ten years of snipping away at everything I thought was possible. Adulthood entails a paring-down of expectations, an endless compromise, a series of closing doors — but I always hoped this door wouldn’t be closed completely — and no, I do not find it particularly comforting to think that someday my kids will have homes and families and lives of their own and then and only then, when I’m full of bad joints and bitterness, can I consider pursuing this thing that has… is this too strong a word? haunted me, since I was little.

So what seems like a little thing actually became a very very big thing in my mind, and I had myself a little temper tantrum. The very next day the admissions office emailed to inform me that they’d made a mistake and the credits I’m currently accruing online ARE fully transferable to this program.

Well. That was embarrassing.

I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I know how privileged I am to be working it out. I just finished my first classes with 95% in both, which makes me feel more confident that I can really do this. Thanks for listening to my roller-coaster thought process.

Mendocino Headlands + Area 101

Our move to Portland is right around the corner, so every interaction with this beautiful place feels heavy with relevance. I’ve made a mental list of every place and experience I want to be sure to capture before we move away, and a visit to the Mendocino Headlands topped the list.

This is the first spot we visited on the NorCal coast, and it remains a favorite. When our friend Ray, one of the best people on Earth, came to visit a few weeks ago, we traveled to the coast to hike along the headlands and then camp in the redwoods.

 

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On our way home we finally made a stop at Area 101. We’ve driven past this place so many times without knowing what it was — just seeing beautifully painted walls and statues from the highway. As it turns out, it’s a dispensary! because this is Northern California, duh. Covering all their bases, the site has statues of the Buddha, Ganesha, and Jesus, plus paintings of aliens, spacecraft, and various psychedelic adventures.

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how I write a research paper

so productive lol

so productive lol

Decide on a topic exactly right on time, several weeks in advance. Do absolutely no research.

Paper is due tomorrow! Gather materials.

Sit the kids in front of Scooby Doo, pour a cup of coffee, turn off phone notifications, and settle in for an intensive focus on bettering myself through education.

Turn on computer. Check Facebook.

Why did I check Facebook? Close that shit.

Write title page.

Spend ten minutes trying to determine whether the course number and instructor name should be right- or left-justified. Or center? Important stuff.

Turn on phone to refer to class text. Check Instagram, Facebook, blog comments, Messenger, and email, just to clear the status bar.

Search for appropriate section in class text. Read for 10 minutes before realizing I’m in the wrong chapter.

Might as well check the tracking on that Etsy order.

Get up for another cup of coffee. Kids are done with Scooby-Doo now, I’m fucked.

Read one entire article on the subject matter. Open twelve tabs of source material.

Hey, isn’t Charlotte Russe carrying plus sizes now?

Image search “tall plus-size women wearing rompers.” Is this something I really want to do or have I just been watching too many episodes of Girls?

Deliberately close all windows without spending any money. Page through source material, close all windows that are non-academic.

Read one article.

Spend 45 minutes in a Wiki-hole.

Try to read the class text over the sound of the children squealing like piglets.

Write two paragraphs. Erase them.

Research MLA vs. APA format. Determine both are stupid.

Yell at the kids. Immediately apologize.

Write three paragraphs.

Raid the kitchen for fresh steamed vegetables. End up with a bowl of jalapeno kettle chips. Hate when that happens.

Erase two paragraphs. Question the topic of my paper.

Make a paloma. Surely this will help.

Caffeine finally hits. Rush through a marathon writing of three pages.

Reward myself by reading eight saved articles about head transplants.

Submit paper 3 minutes before the 11:59 pm deadline.

Get an A! Doubt that I deserve it.

The end.

I suck at holidays

Easter especially. I cannot conjure any interest in Easter, even as a parent. And we do have a history of celebrating holidays rather late. Until this year our kids didn’t notice, but now, oh boy do they.

It started with Christmas, I think. We celebrated the holiday with Jeremy’s family in Utah, then drove home and had downtime for a couple of days before having our own family celebration. And I think for the first time the kids were like, “What is this shit?”

I just refuse to be stressed out by holidays! The exact calendar date is basically meaningless unless you’re celebrating with other people, right? …right?

Maybe we’ve traumatized our children. But I beg of you, WHAT is the point of Easter unless you are Christian or have at least a modicum of neo-pagan belief? That’s why a couple of days had gone by and I still hadn’t colored eggs with the kids or purchased the requisite sugary-slash-plastic crap or had the discussion where I try to create little humans who are respectful and knowledgeable about even the most nonsensical of world traditions. And the kids got impatient. Politely, but still. So we dyed the damn eggs. And then the kids instructed us: “Okay, PARENTS. WE’RE going to stay in our room while YOU go outside and hide the eggs. Got it? Nod if you understand me.”

 

Okay, I guess the eggs are pretty or whatever.

And it was kind of adorable watching the kids look for the egg their scammin’ parents hid in the car door.

And I know I’m going to look back on this when I’m like 158 years old and they’ve abandoned me in a nursing home with only a robot to attach my catheter and regret that I was so cavalier with the candy-based holidays.

 

my favorite day of the year (+ PDX update)

The strawberry stand is open and everything in the world feels okay.

In the next few weeks I’ll head to Portland for a few days to find a place to live. We’ve decided that we’ll move into an apartment rather than look for a house because a) it’s cheaper, b) it’s easier, and c) we want to live as close to the school as possible. From the look of things we could move into a 3-bedroom apartment without paying much more than we currently do for our 2-bedroom house. The neighborhood around the school is right on the MAX line and has lots of little shops and restaurants where I might be able to find a job (more on that below). But we can’t quite afford a house to rent in that area, so it seems like an apartment where we could use public transportation and bike or walk to school & work would be a nice soft landing for our family.

When we first made this decision I did assume that I’d launch my business again in Portland. I do think I could be successful there. But it didn’t feel quite right, so I sat with it for a while. I’ve already written about how much of one’s life is chewed up by being self-employed. This year I’ve been trying to make room for things that make me feel like a present + well-rounded human being. I’m using my camera again (such a pleasure and seriously if I ever try to convince myself again that a phone is just as good please slap me), playing the ukelele, spending more time with friends, reading actual books, cooking for fun, working out, and taking regular road trips. The only reason I’ve had time for these things is because, knowing that we were moving away, I’ve allowed my business to taper off since the beginning of the year — I haven’t developed new clients or made a special effort to retain any, I haven’t done any advertising or promoted my work, I just let it quiet down until I closed altogether last week, a great closing that seemed to leave my clients feeling satisfied.

Thinking about going through this whole process again after making such a big, stressful life change is… tiring. Building my business was a huge undertaking that required months of intense, prolonged focus, as well as a financial investment, and even knowing what I do now, even knowing that I CAN be successful… I just don’t want to do it again.

I do intend to work, of course; I’ll be looking for something right away. Just not self-employment.

What I’ll be doing instead is going back to school. This was a really difficult decision because I’ve tried to go back to school a few times since my kids were born and it’s never worked. But this time is a little different because I can actually finish my biology degree entirely online. I’m taking a couple of classes right now, and everything’s a little tight and creaky, but it feels good as well.

I’m coming full-circle on this one. I didn’t think I’d ever go back to my first love and try to make it work. I’ve talked myself into so many different directions over the years, trying to adapt to various limitations — parenthood, income, location, my partner’s career. In my heart of hearts I’ve always had a little tingle of “What if…?” What if I didn’t have kids so young, what if we didn’t live in a rural area, what if we were making more money, what if Jeremy’s job wasn’t so inflexible…? What would I do?

I’ve known the answer to that, but it just wasn’t an option. Was. Not. So I made up some other answers.

Now, my kids are both in school, Jeremy’s career isn’t so intensive, and we’re moving to the city. And we’ve both accepted the repercussions of student loans to advance our career opportunities, something we could not feel good about when we were younger and stupider more idealistic. So I’m finishing this bastard of a biology degree, and then I’ll look for work as a lab tech, and then I’ll go from there.

Options. They are really quite nice to have.

spring breaks hearts

When I tell people that we’re moving to Portland, they usually want to talk about two things: Portlandia, and the rain. No comment on Portlandia. But I do usually rush to say that I love the rain. I spent my entire desert-locked childhood dreaming of living in the PNW. There isn’t enough rain in NorCal to satisfy me. And so on.

All of which is true. Drizzly gray days are my favorites. But if I’m completely honest, I have found in the past couple of years that those endless weeks of gray don’t necessarily love me back. After a while, I do feel a little depressed. I do find it hard to leave the house, I do struggle to sleep well and I do tend to feel smothered and sleepy.

I just don’t realize this is what’s happening until the clouds lift and this happens.

(Yes, I did get a new lens and start using my regular camera again!)