Saturday, August 14, 2010

You May Not Remember Me, But...

I think it's safe to say I've failed at blogging. It's been nearly two months since my last post. Nearly two months of telling myself I'd write a post during E's nap, or after he's in bed, or tomorrow. But somehow I never found the energy, and now here I am. Bad blogger.

In many ways, blogging has been a wonderful blessing for me. It's gotten my writing muscles back in shape and given me the space to re-form my writing habit. It's allowed me to connect with some truly interesting and insightful women, and it's pushed me to think about my life in new ways. At the end of the day, however, my introverted tendencies seem to be winning out. As much as I've gained from blogging, it has had costs as well. The energy that I put into blogging was energy not available to be expended elsewhere.

For me, one of the best things about blogging has also been the worst. The immediacy of blogging gave me the gratification of being able to write and put it out there without any lag time, but that same immediacy also required the ability to sustain a certain pace. Keeping up that pace with my own blog, reading and commenting on other blogs, seemed to "use up" all my writing energy. What I started for fun, as a way to make some connections with other women in a situation similar to mine, seemed more and more to be pulling me away from my primary goals - developing a book length writing project and working on getting my essays published. More and more, I found myself blogging instead of doing the work I'd set out to do on any given day, and as much fun as blogging is, that didn't make me feel good.

I have such admiration for all the women who write amazing blogs while raising children, working, and attending to all the other details of life. I'm particularly grateful to Jana at An Attitude Adjustment for introducing me to this community by offering me the opportunity to guest post on her blog. I wish I could strike the balance that would allow me to include blogging in my life, but for right now, I know that the right choice for me is to give myself permission to let the blog go. I don't know if I'll be back or not, but I wish everyone the best, and I am truly thankful for everyone who took the time to read and comment on my blog. It's meant so much to me, and on more than one crappy, rainy, stuck in the house with a wild 3 year old kind of day, those comments have turned my mood and my day around.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Let Her Eat Cake (And Buy Shoes)

Tuesday, 2:19 PM Eastern Standard Time:

All right, I'm calling it: today is the Worst Day Ever. I'm currently sitting here blasting my Ipod in a futile attempt to drown out the sounds of E singing the alphabet in a Very Loud Voice as he refuses to nap. This, of course, is after spending an hour making every effort to get him to sleep by honest means.

It all started when E fell in the potty this morning. He decided the other day that he no longer wanted to use his potty ring, and instead perches precariously on the toilet while holding onto the sides of the seat. This morning, in his obstinance over going potty in the first place, and then getting wiped, he lost his grip, and in he went. I fished him out, cleaned him up, and we headed out to the gym. At this point, I naively thought this was a small, somewhat amusing bump in what would otherwise be a good day.

After we got home from the gym, I went into the kitchen to prepare a picnic lunch for a playdate in the park. While I was getting lunch together, E got hold of a red Magic Marker and colored all over a number of books AND his bed. After a time out and some Oxi-Clean, we were on our way to the park. Surely, things could only get better - I'd have a chance to talk to the other moms, he'd get a chance to play with other kids and get some energy out, and then we'd head home for naptime.

Not so. We met some friends for a playdate at a free lunchtime concert. It's a weekly event that attracts lots of moms and kids. While all the other children sat contentedly on the blankets eating their picnic lunches, my kid took a sip of milk and was off and running. He trampled over other people's blankets, climbed up the side of a trash can, and then poured his milk all over himself. He had a run in with a magnolia tree that left him with a huge scrape on the side of a his face and the attention of half the crowd as he dissolved into epic tears over the pain. Once recovered from that, he proceeded to knock over a row of chairs set up for the free concert. The last straw was when he spit on the ground. Fearing that the next step would be for him to procure a massive pick-up truck plastered with Confederate flags, I grabbed him and ran for the car. (A Hyundai plastered with Obama stickers.)

It was the sort of day that left me exhausted and filled with doubt. No matter how hard I tried, or what I tried, I couldn't be the parent I wanted to be. At the end of the day, the only logical response was to let E get up from his non-nap, stick him in front of Clifford The Big Red Dog, and hide in the kitchen to consume jalapeno lime tortilla chips and coconut cake while reading The Atlantic. Just as I'd cleaned up the evidence of my disgusting display (two pieces of cake, it was seriously disgusting), reinforcements arrived, in the form of J, home an hour early from work. At which point, I promptly left the house and went shoe shopping.

It was the worst day we've had in a very long time. Now, from the perspective of the Morning After, I can say that even though I messed up and lost my temper and didn't do the best I could, there were still things I did right. Knowing when to step back. Knowing when to call in reinforcements. And knowing that there are some situations where the only thing you can do to keep it together is eat cake and buy shoes, and in those situations, a couple thousand extra calories and 68 bucks is a small price to pay.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Salty and the Sweet

When I go grocery shopping, I am one of those annoying people who stands in front of the display carefully reading the list of ingredients on the label. This started last year when I realized how ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup is. The end result is that you end up consuming far more sweetener than you would choose to in any ordinary circumstances because it's in pretty much everything, including things you wouldn't think of, like bread and pickles. So I started reading labels to find items without it, and have pretty much eliminated it from our day to day diet. I've been feeling pretty good lately about how I feed my family, until I read this article on salt.

I went grocery shopping yesterday morning, and I made it a point to read the labels and check sodium content on all the packaged foods I purchase frequently. It was shocking, disappointing, and quite frankly, infuriating. Two slices of whole wheat bread - 13% of daily recommended amount of sodium. A tiny 6 ounce can of plain tomato sauce - 17% of the sodium RDA in just one quarter of the can. Pancake mix - 18% sodium RDA. I could go on, but the basic point is that I thought I was pretty educated about food and making conscious, well-informed choices about diet, and here I was, unknowingly consuming a huge amount of sodium just through the (very) few packaged and processed foods I buy.

I left the grocery store feeling defeated (and without any tomato sauce or pancake mix). My ongoing efforts to eat a healthy diet and feed E a healthy diet seemed futile, especially considering all the concerns about BPA in food packaging and plastics. I want to feed my kid FOOD, not salt and chemicals. And as much as I love to cook and enjoy fresh foods, I don't want to feel like I need to start making my own bread to avoid excess sodium or canning my own tomatoes to avoid BPA. Because there are so many toxins in our environment we can't avoid, I feel I need to do everything I can to keep our food as healthy as possible, but it's a big job. It takes time and commitment, and it's expensive, but I'll keep plugging away. If that means I have to figure out how to make my own bread, then so be it - I've never been good at compromising, and this is one area where I'm not about to start.

What is an area of life that you refuse to compromise on? What changes have you had to make to avoid compromising in that area, and what areas of life have you been willing to compromise? How do you feel about the quality of our food supply? Do you think I'm crazy and just need to start my own farm?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three Things No One Told Me

In honor of E turning three today, I am writing about three things no one ever told me about having a three year old. I've only "officially" had a three year old for about two hours, so I'm taking some liberties here, but I couldn't resist the symmetry of this exercise. I'm envisioning a post someday entitled "21 Things No One Told Me..."

1. Chocolate milk is the only acceptable milk to serve at a three year old's birthday party, if one must be so uncouth as to serve milk at all. (Juice, of course, being the most highly valued beverage among the pre-school set.) I learned this lesson during E's party on Saturday when I set out a cooler full of milk boxes - white, chocolate, and vanilla - and juice boxes. After the party, I discovered the chocolate milk boxes completely gone and only two of the juice boxes remaining, but the white and vanilla boxes completely untouched. I have made a note of this, and will offer only chocolate milk at any future gatherings where more than five children are present, as past experiences have shown me that children will drink white milk in groups smaller than five.

2. Three year olds are indiscriminate when it comes to eating food that does not belong to them, and one must go to parks, playgrounds, etc. prepared not just to feed one's own child, but all of the other children as well. I learned this lesson when E and I showed up for a picnic lunch playdate with a single peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few mini carrots. Enough for E's lunch, but not enough to share. I watched in growing dismay as the well-prepared mothers set out an admirable spread including, but not limited to, hummus, pita, cheese, apple slices, as well as the obligatory peanut butter and jelly. The other mothers carried their meals in soft sided coolers, whereas E and I had packed his lunch in a miniature lunch box that once held a puzzle. Everyone very graciously shared their food with E, while I could only offer one mini carrot per child. I have since acquired my own soft-sided cooler, and fill it with at least quadruple the quantity of food I think E will consume.

3. In my sleeping three year old, I can see at once the baby he was and the man he will become. This was not case a year ago, when I could see the last of the baby begin to melt away as the little boy emerged. The man, however, remained an enigma. Now, the shape of E's face has changed, even in sleep, and I can see more clearly who he will become. But the baby is not so far in the distance that he doesn't emerge in sleep, and while I expect I will always be able to see him, the chubby cheeks and flawless skin will soon disappear, further obscuring his view from anyone except the woman who gave him birth.

Happy Birthday E...thanks for the adventures.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Search for Sidewalks Continues

It's been a while, hasn't it?

The past two weeks have been full of practical, everyday busyness. E is turning 3 tomorrow, and we had his birthday party on Saturday. We had ceiling fans installed and I'm currently fighting it out with Sears, which for some reason is having quite a difficult time figuring out how to get my new dishwasher to my house. In other words, normal life is happening here.

But other things have been happening too, and while they are not mine to write about, they have filled my head and heart in ways that have made it difficult to think of anything else. For the past two weeks, I have been afraid to write, afraid to read and comment on blogs, because writing and reading and commenting would make me think, and the last thing I wanted was to open the floodgates of my thoughts. I've turned my attention to other writing projects that I could approach without emotion, that don't require the reflectiveness of blogging.

I named my blog Searching for Sidewalks because when we moved to our current town, I was quite literally searching for sidewalks. I wanted to live in a neighborhood where there were sidewalks, and I expected those sidewalks would lead somewhere - parks, coffee shops, restaurants. Instead, I found isolated, self-contained "developments", located off of busy main roads that were unsafe to walk along due to the lack of sidewalks. The stray stretches of sidewalk that you find here and there tend to lead nowhere. To me, sidewalks have become emblematic of a life I left behind when we moved here, and a life that I hope to live again. But right now, more than anything, the sidewalklessness of this town seems emblematic as well. A stray stretch of sidewalk here and there, giving you a glimmer of hope, but ultimately leading nowhere.

As much as I feel I can't breathe in my sidewalkless subdivision, while driving my car yet again to the grocery store, the breaths I take are real, and I am grateful for them. There is progress happening here, in fits and starts perhaps, but progress. I finally finished Oscar Wilde's biography. I submitted another article for publication (most likely fruitless, but I'm trying to embrace the failure). I have another writing project underway, and while the idea of making a real attempt at developing a writing career fills me with fear, it is the fear of standing on the edge of a cliff, knowing that when I fling myself off the edge, I will not sink into empty air, but instead fly into the forceful winds of possibility.

And so after yet another reminder that life can change in an instant, and there are no guarantees beyond today, I now resume my search for sidewalks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A New Spin on Saying No

Today a friend complimented me on the fact that I set limits when it comes to outside obligations. The event in question was a backyard camping party hosted by friends who live in the country. Sounded like fun, E was game, and I think all who have been invited will attend. Except us.

Tonight, we will be camped out on our couch, for family movie night, complete with wine (for J and me), apple juice (for E), and popcorn for all. Over the past two weeks, both J and I have gone out of town, separately. It's been hectic and exhausting, and what our family really needs at this moment is to cuddle up on the couch together and just be.

Would it be fun to sleep under the stars with a bunch of our friends and their kids? Yes. Would it make for some great memories? Most likely. But what won't make for great memories is the inevitable moment when the stress and the exhaustion and the worry and the lack of time together catch up with us. Maybe family movie night isn't as exciting as backyard camping, but if the price of those memories is a tense, angry day because we've all pushed too hard, for too long, then not only are those memories not worth it, but they won't even be the happy memories I'd like them to be, because we'll all remember what came after.

I say yes to these kinds of events far more often than I say no, but just as I need time alone to recharge and reconnect with who I am apart from E's mom and J's wife, just as J and I need time alone together to just be a couple, instead of E's parents, our family needs time together to recharge and reconnect, as a family. I've realized that turning down an invitation doesn't have to be about saying no. I'm not saying no to backyard camping, I'm not saying no the hosts, I'm not saying no to our other friends who will be there. Instead, I'm saying yes to my family.

Over the past few months in particular, we've been making much more of an effort to get out and do things that we enjoy, such as museum visits. I feel compelled to make the most of our time, to really live life, but I've also realized that part of living life, and making memories, are those quiet moments when you are all together, cuddled under a blanket, sharing a bowl of popcorn. Those moments when you say yes to your family, leaving the rest of the world to its own devices, while you retreat, safe and secure, into yours.

Do you struggle with the ability to set limits on outside obligations? What are your criteria for turning down an invitation to a social event that your family would otherwise enjoy? Any good recommendations for movie night with a 3 year old boy?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Less Meat Meal Plan

I've written before about my efforts to eat only sustainably raised, pastured meat. I've acknowledged that it is, in fact, very expensive to purchase such meat, and that in order to offset the cost, my family now eats less meat. It occurred to me that while this solution sounds easy, it's not actually easy in practice, so I thought I would start sharing a weekly menu, both to keep myself motivated and to give anyone who's interested ideas on reducing meat consumption. The idea is not to go "meatless", but to go "less-meat". I don't try to have X number of vegetarian meals per week; instead I try to have a good balance of protein from both meat and non-meat sources spread out over the course of the week.

Some practical points - I make no claims that I am saving any money here. I probably spend the same amount on meat as I did before I started buying sustainable/organic meat, and I've always spent absurd amounts on things like fancy cheese and artisan breads. Also, I am feeding two adults and one 3 year old, who will either eat nothing or eat an adult sized portion. I plan on cooking 5 nights a week, and we generally eat leftovers one night and do take-out another. Most meals also make enough to provide at least one lunch the following day. I will post recipes that I've developed myself, and cite or provide links to recipes that I've found elsewhere. Friday is my grocery shopping day, so I'll post the meal plan on Thursdays. Anyone who has ideas or recipes, please share!!

This week's meat was 1 pound grass fed ground beef, and 1 pound organic chicken breast.

Monday - blue cheese burgers made with grass fed beef and (frozen) sweet potato fries

Tuesday - pasta salad with cilantro pesto, tomatoes, avocado, corn, and 1/2 pound of grilled chicken, cubed (cilantro pesto recipe below)

- strawberry spinach salad with blue cheese crumbles, sliced almonds, and 1/2 pound grilled chicken, cubed, with balsamic vinaigrette and rosemary olive oil bread

Thursday - black bean tacos

Friday - homemade pizza

Cilantro Pesto

about 2 cups (loosely packed) cilantro, stems removed
2 cloves garlic
zest of 1 lime
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped (use more if you want, or eliminate it altogether)
about 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the cilantro, garlic, lime zest, jalapeno, salt, and pepper in the food processor. Add about 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and pulse briefly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the cheese. Pulse while drizzling in remaining olive oil until you've achieved the desired consistency. Stop to check your progress frequently - the more olive oil, the thinner the pesto.