Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Honest Meal

It is such a simple thing: a meal, prepared any number of ways, presented 3 times a day (or more!) to my girls. But the truth of where - and how - this food came to us is often muddled and murky and rarely simple.  These days shopping has become a minefield. The choices we have as a consumer are endless and fraught with meaning for both our families and the world: organic or conventionally grown, local foods vs those trucked in from distant countries, glass products or plastic products or no plastic at all, and the newest option: slavery free. Choosing our food has become a statement of our political opinions assuming we have the means to purchase the often more expensive organic/free range/grass fed/human trafficking free options. 
For a while the girls and I were driving 30 minutes to the next county over to buy farm fresh milk and cheese from a small family run dairy.  The best part was letting the girls walk into the barn each visit and see the cows, pet the new calf and thank the animals for their contribution to our table and health.  The connection they were making between the cow and their breakfast was not lost on them.  Abby often asked about the cows as I poured milk into her bowl or glass or served up a heaping spoonful of yogurt.  She knew that this milk had come from somewhere - and not just the cold case at the local grocery.  Farmers markets and local fruit stands offer similar opportunities of awareness for her, and Isabel, too.  This year we've put in a small garden and I am suddenly remembering why we drove 30 minutes for milk: the awe in their little faces as they dropped seeds into the warm earth and then saw small stalks and leaves leap out and slowly produce fruit.  We have a single tiny green tomato on one lone plant and it has been the talk of the weekend.

I am often asked if my desire to make it all from scratch, grow it ourselves, shop local when I can is environmentally or politically motivated, and I must answer truthfully: no.  I wish I was altruistic enough to be in it to reduce my carbon footprint, to better the community, to raise awareness for people who are forced to pick and process foods against their will, but I'm not.  There are many out there who are working against imported foods and human trafficking, plastic waste and the myth of recycling, as well as locavores who campaign for local grown, local bought to bolster an almost extinct way of life; I, however, am no such a crusader.  I do things this way for any number of complicated reasons: I like to, I think the bread and yogurt and cakes and meals all taste better; but most of all I do it to teach my daughters what honest food looks like.  A green bean you have planted and watered and coaxed back from near-death by rabbit to see bloom and produce a handful of beans for your dinner is breath taking.  It makes each bite meaningful; it suddenly, fiercely, stops you from taking your food - your meal - for granted. 

I was raised on homemade bread and jams as a girl and I'm sure that attention and time in the kitchen has deeply altered my relationship with food.  I understand that starting your dinner at 4 in the afternoon to have homemade taco meat, tortillas, refried beans and rice ready by 6 isn't practical for everyone - or even for me, some days.  But I like knowing I have the skill to prepare all those dishes from scratch even if I don't choose to use them each time.  I love knowing that I am teaching my daughters that there is more than one way to bring a meal to the table.

Here in Western NY a favorite pass time of summer and fall is fruit picking, we are blessed with endless berries and tasty crisp fall apples.  Each time we go out to a field and pick until our backs are aching and our fingers are blue or black or red depending on what we're gathering, I am thankful.  I am thankful that my daughters have stood in a field and seen where a strawberry comes from, how hard they are to find under the wide, soft green leaves, how long it takes to fill the deceptively small quart box.  I hope it teaches them to be grateful for the fruit that is toppled morning after morning onto their cereals and into their out stretched hand.  As they grow up if all they take away from their mother and her crazy kitchen ideas is that a can of diced tomatoes represents an afternoon of hard work or a sweet spoonful of jam was hard picked and painstakingly put up, then I will have done well.  I hope this knowledge will add a delicious layer of understanding to the foods they eat and the meals they so enjoy.

To me, knowing where our food comes from is the meaning of a simple, honest meal.  We can't always eat as 'honest' as I like, the farm milk was a little to pricey for our 3 gallon a week needs, the grass fed, local beef comes only in halves or quarters - of the cow! - and we don't have a deep freezer.  We all make concessions, or at least I do, but every time I turn out a homemade loaf of bread and smear a bit of this season's strawberry jam on it, I am thankful for the small things I have chosen to do.  One piece of toast at a time I am helping to create a relationship with food for my daughters that must withstand a lifetime. 

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Coming to a Place of Understanding

Having children has been a dream of mine since I was very young.  When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would tell them what I assumed they wanted to hear: writer, president, publisher, doctor.  I denied both to them and myself my true heart's desire: to be a wife and mother.  But how in our modern culture can an educated woman wish for such a prosaic thing?  How can motherhood be the goal in an of itself?  Today being a mother is more of an accessory to an already fulfilling life.  I know the route that I was to have taken: college, fledgling job, career and then after a good long wait, a baby to complete the picture of success.

In college I studied exactly what I believed my passion to be.  I read classics and studied language, dabbled in anthropology and art history.  I was unfocused but, at the time, I thought I was focused on exactly what I was meant to be doing.  It was only after a year of marriage that my passion began to bloom.  I had an overwhelming desire to have a baby - but this is normal, too, I presume. Most women can resist the urge, postpone their child rearing until after the usual (aforementioned) progression of activities.  I could not.  And so now I have 2 children at 26.

For a long time, and truthfully a lot of the time now, I felt that I had to justify my choices to everyone and anyone.  I felt that people were judging me, this woman who couldn't restrain herself and be more sensible and modern and have a darn career first.  Who was I to run counter all the hard work done so that I could work and be a mother.  I know it is a privilege, this option to have both.  But I have always believed that those women fought so that I could make the choice to either work or stay home, have children or not.  However I still struggle to own my choice, to say "yes, I choose it this way."

I couldn't fathom why it was that I felt so called to have children and especially so early on.  All those years ago in college I assumed I would do something with an English degree, the studies came easily to me, and I enjoyed it in that way you enjoy things you don't have to work too hard at.  But it was after I had Abigail that I discovered something else I was deeply passionate about: birth.  I was obsessed with hearing other mother's stories of labor, I wanted to hear about every contraction and push, every breath that lead to bringing life into the world.  I thought that all mother's wanted to hear about another women's labor, the horrendous details the delightful moments, all of it.  While, yes, as a whole mother's are generally interested in birth stories it's more of a time, height, weight conversation and I was starting to feel a little weird pressing these poor women for more.

Slowly I am coming to the realization that God has spoken to me through my daughters.  Through their arrival I have found a passion far and above what I have known before.  Had I not had them when I did I might have blundered on for years.  I had always wondered why I could never get excited about the career options for my major, and now it makes sense: being good at something is not that same as being passionate about something.  I have to work at medicine, at understanding the body and how we are each wonderfully and fearfully made (and delivered!) but I love every second of it.

I had thought for years that I was wandering around purposeless but for my girls (who are work and purpose enough, I know!) but it has also been a path towards an end I could not have fathomed years ago in an English classroom.  It is a revelation I didn't know that I was even waiting on.  Maybe this is a small thing, accepting my own choices belatedly; but to me it is seeing my desires and decisions through God's eyes and with His purpose: a view that I cannot get enough of.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Trees and Trains

There are very few traditions that have been handed down to Josh or I.  Or, perhaps the truth is there are few that we remember or choose to include with our own fledgling family.  Either way, the two that have stuck? Are so much fun.  Seriously.

First there is the Christmas tree hunt.  This involved packing our family and the necessary sundry winter items into the SUV and driving and inordinately long way to a tree farm.  (We have the GPS to thank for the scenic route, it has apparently never heard of the main highway which practically bisects the Dixieland Tree Farm.)  Once at said tree farm I discover that Abigail's water proof mittens are not, in fact, in the car as I had assumed (where there are now is a Great Mystery as they are not in the house, either).  Noticing this discrepancy Josh contributes his Daddy wisdom for the day and suggests we find a way to clip her gloves to her jacket.  Brilliant, as usual.  Luckily she had her very warm coat and hat and snow boots and seemed no worse for wear sans-gloves.  Isabel was equally padded down in fleece lined jeans and sweatshirts and a coat.  We had two smallish, pastel colored marshmallows with us, it seemed.

So off we went to find The Perfect Tree.  I had asked to be shown the trees which held their needles the longest, and those trees only.  Josh rolled his eyes at my very serious request of the farmers, but seemed somewhat impressed but their promise that the firs they suggested would "last 'till Easter."  I too was impressed.  And skeptical.  I will let you know come January.

Once the tree was selected and hewn and shaken and wrapped it was brought to the car in which the girls and I were waiting, heater running full blast already.  We three were giddy with anticipation of taking our tree home, and also delighted to be thawing, finally.  We slid the tree in between the car seats so that each girl would have her very own up-close-and-smell-the-sap kind of tree experience for the car ride home.  Isabel seemed content with her view and laid back to ponder deep, tree scented thoughts.  Abigail on the other hand, proceeded to lose her mind.  There was sobbing of the "get me out of here!" sort, followed by panicked screams and flailing, and general toddler sized mayhem.  After 5 minutes (maybe more) we got her back into the car seat, buckled down, jacket thrown over the offending tree and were on our way.  The fact that I was twisted around in my seat to face her, holding her hand the whole way home?  Just added to the charm.

Once home our very sensible toddler disembarked and announced: "it's just a tree, that's not so scary!"  Naturally.

This morning we decorated the tree and then dug the electric train out of the basement and set it up, too.  I will spare you the part where I may have attempted a small electrical fire with the transformer and also the part where it didn't work for half an hour thanks to a misaligned track I completely failed to notice.  But I digress.

Isabel has taken to this train much the way Godzilla does to large cities.  She delights in descending on the slow moving train and knocking it over, sending the small plastic men and parts flying.  Abigail prefers it to run at a moderate pace, while sitting back and watching it.  We have shown her - repeatedly - how to work the ridiculously simple knob but it somehow continues to terrify her.  She will touch it quickly if we force her to, but retreats to a safe distance at first opportunity.  Isabel, ever the adventurous one, has already mastered the knob and when not destroying the train enjoys sending is careening at top speed around the track and then stopping it with a sudden jerk.  Abigail is very annoyed by this, but as she will not touch the transformer herself is unable to stop her sister's antics.

(Also a fun side note to the train: as it's a German company that made it I can now -thanks to 3 years in Germany- read the little stickers stuck all over the pretend boxes that confused me all through childhood.  And as I write this Abigail has come up to me with a small box filled with candy wrappers dating back to the years when my sister and I last played with it.)

Christmas has come to our house it all it's tree scented, train crashing glory.  I love the memories that we have taken from our families and started them with our own little girls.  I love that Abby is playing with toys that I have loved since I was her age.  The fact that Abigail will have memories of trekking through snow and cold to find a perfect tree is something worth being very grateful for. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kindergarten Will Have to Wait, or Administrators are Idiots

Abigail just finished her first semester of part time pre-preschool/day care, with as many flying colors as such an organization can give.  She is bright.  She is emotionally prepared.  She is - at last! - potty trained.  She is going to "real" preschool next year, by golly. 

All this in preparation so that she can attend kindergarten in 2012 - or she would, except she won't be 5 by Sept 1.  What the hell?  I understand that having a cut off date is vital in keeping schooling ages similar and appropriate for the information taught.  But what, exactly, is the thought process in having such an early cut off?  She'll be 5 about 40 odd days after school starts - how is that NOT old enough? What type of maturation do administrators think is lacking?

I cannot believe that I will have to keep my intelligent, prepared, energetic child home another year because she isn't mature enough at 4 years 11 months for kindergarten?  Seriously

Apparently I'm spoiled by California (a state I am suddenly pleased to claim) which has the more logical date of 31 Dec.  Which makes sense: if your child isn't 5 by the end of the year that school starts, they should most likely wait another year.  But somehow keeping a whole group of nearly-5-year-olds from education is just.... stupid.

Not sure what I'll do now.  Home school?  Sneak her into 1st grade later?  I just can't imagine not having her in school that year, she's to bright, to ready, and in need of so much more structured teaching than I feel I am capable of providing.  I suppose we will just have to wait and see what is available when the time comes.  But until then, I'll just be over here silently smouldering at the injustice of it all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's been a while....

Isabel has turned one.  A whole year, gone.  A baby who is now...  less of a baby.  And I am beside myself, just amazed that this year has come and then gone again.

The whole day before Isabel's birthday I was thinking about her delivery - how she managed to take longer than her sister to come into the world.  How she held out almost 24 hours just to be born on her father's birthday.  How at the time I wasn't sure she was a blessing, but how now I couldn't imagine a moment with out her.

All day on the 13th I was watching the clock, and ever hour that came and went had a memory attached to it: 6am - when my water broke - a week early - hurrah!  12pm - when we packed up Abby to go a friends as we were heading to the hospital.  2pm - arrival at said hospital and still no contractions, no sign other than a leak that this little girl wanted out.  5 pm - walking and endless loop of the labor and recovery ward trying to entice Isabel out.  8pm - the doctor started the medicine to get my labor going.  1am - contracts starting with a suddenness that surprised both Josh and I.  3am - finally giving into an epidural and then getting some much needed rest.  6 am - the midwife is about to go off shift and wants to see this baby (she'd been with me all night) and encourages me to start pushing.  6:29am - Isabel arrives, howling and wiggling into the world.  6:30am - I suddenly remember it's Josh's birthday, too, and maybe he should get a 'happy birthday!'

One year later she's cruising around the furniture, crawling all over the place (and therefore getting into everything) and driving her sister crazy by stealing all her favorite toys.  It has been an amazing journey from there to here.  I forgot how much they can change in a year, or a month or a week.  Now the fun begins: walking and talking - watching her grow into a sweet girl from the sweet baby I know.  Bliss!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A chain of memory

Abigail and Isabel, too, I suppose, love my closet.  I'm not sure what it is about the hanging clothes, the heaps of shoes, boxes stacked against a wall full of last seasons items that attracts them so, but it does.  There is a draw to the room that pulls my girls in time after time, so that when Abigail is hiding from me I am sure to find her tucked away under my formal gowns, holding a single brown sequined shoe in her grasp.

There are also a series of shelves on which I have stacked and organized any number of things: belts and ties in a bin, work shirts for Josh and Army gym clothes, socks, and at just about chest high, my jewelry.  It is by no means a large or stunning collection, it fits neatly into a small wooden box divided into two parts: the upper that holds my necklaces tucked to one side, rings on the other, sundry keepsakes and larger items stored under the tray.  It is a plain box, ordinary in all ways and, I had thought, high as it was, simple as it was, above the notice of my eldest daughter.

She had asked to wear a 'mommy necklace' for Halloween so that she might look like Cinderella and I presented her with a string of pearls to wear over her yellow flouncy dress.  After getting out of her costume she asked to continue wearing the pearls with her jeans and t-shirt; unable to explain the fragility of pearls to a toddler I, kindly as I could, said 'no.'  She asked if she might wear another necklace of mine and I agreed, thinking that later I would run up to my closet and pick something of little value that she could play around in.

She ran off apparently appeased and I returned to whatever task I was at when she first came demanding finery.  I was quite surprised to have her come back to my side mere moments later holding a small gold chain in her hands.  "How about this Mommy?  Can I wear this one?"  She asked, full of hope.  I was startled by her discovery, it was a chain I forgotten I had, one that had been a gift to me when I was about her age, perhaps younger even.

She was holding up a necklace that had been given to me by my father's mother, seeing the gold winking in my daughter's hand brought forward a rush of emotion I couldn't have anticipated.  This chain was given to me in memory of my grandfather, a man who died before I could ever know him. This necklace that makes me think of the small woman who picked it out for me, who choose something thick and heavy remembering the rambunctiousness of childhood.  I see her suddenly, her hands covered in paper-thin skin, a crochet hook working heaps of yarn and string into fancy things for my dolls to wear.  A woman whose house smelled of talcum powder and tea and who always had crayons and the largest coloring books I had ever seen stashed in the most unlikely places, who made paste and salt dough in her kitchen to amuse her granddaughters.  She who died when I was young, before I even knew this necklace existed tucked away as it was in my mother's sock drawer, who would never know the daughters I have borne. 

Abigail is wearing the necklace now, running around the house oblivious to the metal flapping against her skin.  But I look at her and think of my Grandmother and I hope that if she ever happens to peer in on me, to see what became of the gangly girl she left behind, that she would see her great granddaughter wearing her gift, proof that it can indeed withstand the rigors of childhood.

My daughter is too young to understand the significance of this chain, why I smile a slightly sad smile as I put it on her.  It is a first, this passing down of keepsakes, the giving over of memories from my youth to hers.  It is a start, this story of who I was when I was small and who that child became: a story to be told in pieces to my daughters over a lifetime.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Death Candy

I have never been a fan of Halloween.  Never.  When I was a kid, sure, the thrill of dressing up and asking for candy was delightful.  Full of charm and freedom and excitement.  Then as a teenager and young adult the downward spiral began.  The other girls I knew took advantage of this one unique day to tart it up - wearing what amounted to lingerie and some cat ears and calling it a costume.  I was, and still am, to modest, to puritan, to Christian, to dare wear anything like that.  So it came to represent a club I wasn't - and could never be - a part of: Halloween-Sluts-For-A-Day-But-I'm-Not-Really-Or-Am-I?

Now as a mother I take a whole new offence to the day.  Being the parent of a peanut allergic child has raised my awareness.  I read labels on boxes, scrutinize menus, hawk-eye all suspicious foods served at friend's and family's homes.  I am overly cautious and very leery.  I?  Am on the front line in the war against peanuts.  I will be that Mom come school time petitioning for PB&J's to be "outlawed" from school lunches - and yes I mean the ones you pack at home, too.  So you can imagine the anxiety I have at letting my 3 year old go trick-or-treating.  Allowing her to possibly receive a peanut crusted candy into her little jack-o-lantern tub.  I hate this.  Because I can't fathom why anyone would buy candy that has peanuts in it to give to children they don't know.  I know that because of Abigail I am painfully aware of food allergies and their seriousness.  I also know that other people are not required to worry or even care about my daughter's misguided immune system.  I am meant to look out for her, to be the watch dog to her candy seeking ways. 

But still: why risk it?  The last 2 years we've stayed home rather than risk a peanut candy slipping into her hands unnoticed.  So, candy givers this year:  Just say no to Snickers, Reeses and the like.  Kid's love Jolly Ranchers and jaw breakers and mini Twizzlers.  You don't need to pass out (potential) death candy. 

Seriously.  You don't.  Please, go buy something fruity and save this mom from an early heart attack.