Spring is drawing itself out in that slow delicious way, giving, retreating, yielding, offering itself for the winter-chilled dog of you to roll around in. And just when you’re belly up in dandelions, imbibing sun like it’s a multivitamin in which you’ve been deficient, in blows the stinging wind, like a memo from the Don’t Get Too Comfortable Dep’t of Spring.
Inside, Col can be found at lego-headquarters, where all central operations take place. Snap snap snap. Rose is on the couch, strumming a guitar and exploring the art of believing in your own talent. I am in the kitchen (which, in an 800 sf house is 5 steps away – or in Rose’s case: one cartwheel), wrangling something out of the food processor and into a jar.
Rose: What should I sing now?
Col: Running horses.
Rose: That’s one of my worst.
Col: I know.
Rose: (singing, improvisationally) Horses running faster than the speed of sound. Horses runnnnnnnning.
Dan comes home from work and tells me, “I met the new guy downstairs, Doobie.” This makes me laugh inappropriately hard, because the new guy’s name is actually Dooley, and because Dan is unfazed to think our new downstairs tenant named himself after a joint.
He’s reading to her, not that I’m insanely excited and touched by it or anything.
Outside, everything is coming out, greening up, revealing itself. The house sparrows who’ve taken over the bluebird box are rearing yet another clutch of invasive young; the pine siskins have returned to our feeders, an exclusive, populous club of grey-suits flashed with yellow. We watch expectantly for the evening grosbeaks, who are somewhere in the Southwest, closer by the day.
I’m planting some things too late (carrots, radishes) and others too early (cauliflower, turnips). For the sixteenth year in a row, I stand in my spring-green yard with a shovel, pre-calloused hands, and a smidge of hope, knocked out by the realization that gardening is a metaphor for everything. Everything. Muddling through the soil, yanking weeds and adding compost is like tending my own overgrown, unruly mind. The way the grass spears up everywhere I don’t want it, yet comes in sparse where I do is like the agricultural manifestation of my own aging body. In gardening, we plan, plant, water, tend, trust, all the while getting schooled by the unknown, the uncontrollable, just like this beloved life.
Col’s homeschool co-op is learning about flight. Col’s knowledge of planes currently outstrips mine, which is a weird and exciting moment in parenting. But I still know more about birds, for now, so I taught the small people about the universe’s most efficient flying machines. I wonder how much longer I can get all bug-eyed and OMG-voiced without seeming cheesy to the kids when I explain about how birds’ reproductive organs shrink 1000x in size before they migrate, or how birds navigate by stars. I am truly humbled, pondering a bird’s birdness.
We did fly some paper airplanes on our “Flight” day.
Rose: Col, now do you want me to play, The Lion Streaks Tonight?
I hope you’re feeling the coming outness of spring.
p.s. The workshop, Creating an Emotionally Safe Space, is this weekend. Yippee! It’s filling up. Please e-mail me if you’d like to come. Also, there are two spaces left for childcare. And, sliding scale available.
p.p.s Are you finding that new updates from the 6512 and gowing Facebook Page aren’t showing up in your feed? Try this: Go to the 6512 Facebook page, click “Like,” (thank you!), or if you already did, “Liked” (also, thank you!) and then check “Get Notifications” from the dropdown menu.
p.p.p.s Have you read, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd? Beautiful historical fiction about a wealthy slave-owner turned abolitionist.
p.p.p.p.s Has anyone made the sunflower butter? I’ve now made, with the same general recipe, peanut butter and pumpkin seed butter. So good.
1. Sing out: dinner’s ready! Wonder how it is that Rose was needlingly hungry for past hour though now is overtaken by singular need to shove stiff, angular limbs of Barbies into tiny garments. Sigh loudly and passive-aggressively.
2. Notice that everyone has a slightly different plate of food. Recall recent conversation between houseful of 7 kids, each stating the precise way they did and didn’t like eggs cooked, as opinionated as small congresspeople. Wonder if this is American phenomenon.
3. Watch how kids maintain place at the table with one butt cheek in chair, knees up and down like knobby accordions, feet searching for land. Breathe deeply. Try to focus on taste sensation of elk sausage, roasted every vegetable.
4. Try for-real to listen to Col’s explanation of how jet engines are like…what is he talking about? Batteries? Solar powered commuter planes? Wonder if he’s actual genius or totally off his rocker.
5. Feel wave of gratitude towards Dan who says gently to Rose, “I really want to hear what you have to say, but right now I’m listening to your brother. One way to know you’ll get my full attention is to see how I’m giving that to Col when he speaks.” Also, feel wave of self-congratulations, certain Dan’s learned kind, patient style from me.
6. Wonder how dinners will be when kids have left home. Feel slight longing followed by terror.
7. Slice up avocados for all, except Col, who would rather eat liver and mushrooms, who actually likes liver and mushrooms. Wonder what will happen if the global marketplace breaks down and we can no longer purchase $1 avocados.
8. Check clock. One hour until bedtime. Feel relief, then guilt about relief. Relief wins, even as I know that a powerful wave of nostalgia/guilt/love/longing/satisfaction about raising kids will hit once they’re sleeping.
9. Feel just the tiniest bit still hungry.
10. Assemble ingredients for paleo cookie dough, wondering if it would still taste good if I remembered what a brownie tasted like.
10. Sit back at table. Spoon cookie dough into mouth. Feel Rose’s feet in lap. Col still monologuing about jet engines. Notice how bright his eyes are. Decide that passion trumps accuracy, at least when you’re nine. Feel benevolent and grateful for these people, this life.
Paleo Cookie Dough
(disclosure: I’ve never actually followed a recipe with this cookie dough and it’s always perfect).
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 TBSP sunflower seed butter (or any nut butter)
1 TBSP coconut oil (room temp – softened)
sprinkle of salt
small handful of raisins (or dried cranberries, or go crazy and add chocolate chips)
plenty of imagination
This is not to be baked. Mix and eat with a spoon.
I actually need someone to make this and report back on whether I am kitchen genius or off my rocker.
We’re in the car, returning from celebrating the Jewish holiday, Purim, at Temple Har Shalom. We’ve had a fun night, including participating in the rowdy re-enactment of the Purim story and being served a lovely catered dinner. The sky darkens and the kids clutch new toys won at the Purim carnival.
“The one part I didn’t like?” announces Rose without provocation, “is that I didn’t get more cookies.”
A small, cramped place in my brain lights up in silent accusation: After all that fun you’re dwelling on the cookies you didn’t eat?
From the moment we arrived, a table of traditional Purim cookies, called Hamentashen, were available. We told our kids they could choose one cookie after dinner. There are things, as parents, that we’re loose and easy with; cookies before dinner are not one of them.
Dan speaks up. “That must’ve been hard to see kids grabbing cookies all night. All those cookies just sitting there! And you had to wait. That feels unfair!”
“Yeah,” Rosie replies with the buoyancy of a newly inflated balloon. She returns to wriggling the rubber worms won at the beanbag toss. Hamentashen cookies become the proverbial hatchet, buried.
Somewhere down the bumpy road of parenthood, we’ve been duped into believing we can manage our children’s difficult emotions by telling them how to feel. “Shhh, you’re okay,” we whisper when they’re howling after a fall. “You’re lucky you got one cookie!” we insist. “It’s not a big deal, you have hundreds more,” we say when a beloved pink bead rolls down the sewer grate.
Telling your child not to fret while fat tears sail down their cheeks is like speaking to them from behind a glass wall. The excellent and logical soliloquy on why cookies are special treats is lost on a child who’s gripped in disappointment.
The good news is that if you apply empathy (which is simply non-judgmental listening without problem-solving or lecturing) like a bandage to a wound, the child feels heard, understood, and not bullied into defending their position. (Trouble will escalate if your child becomes invested in defending their feelings). You don’t have to believe or not believe that being denied unlimited cookies warrants disappointment. You simply acknowledge and allow your child’s feelings. And feelings don’t last forever. When your child eventually moves from the primitive brain of “emotional stuckness” back into executive function, she can consider a rational explanation regarding your position on sugar before dinner.
I’m just a little extremely excited that my friends and mentors, Natalie Christensen and Nathan McTague, are coming to Durango to offer their nationwide workshop, Building an Emotionally Safe Space. Here, you will learn the latest brain science to understand how emotional processing affects children. They say, “Everything we want for our children, students, and families hinges on healthy emotional processing and the development of optimal neuro-emotional habits.”
This means that although it feels like we want compliance now damnit! what we really want is children who choose to cooperate (at least the majority of the time) because a two-way street of respect has been forged that doesn’t rely on bribes, threats or rewards.
As I practice “peaceful parenting” I can feel my muscles of patience strengthen, and the space of my own pause before reacting, lengthen. (And sometimes Dan and I rescue each other in the nick of time). This prevents me from saying something I’ll regret, and helps me see my child as needing support and encouragement, rather than needing to be wrestled into submission. This truly is a practice, one which I appreciate the opportunity to deepen. See you at the workshop!
What: Building an Emotionally Safe Space
When: Saturday, April 19th, 2-4:30
Where: Rocky Mountain Retreat Center, 848 East 3rd Ave. Durango
Who: Natalie Christensen, certified Positive Discipline Teacher, and Nathan McTague, Certified Life Coach and Positive Discipline Teacher
To Sign Up: Call 970-903-0672 or e-mail: sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net
$30/person; $40/parenting team
Limited childcare available ($10/child)
This workshop looks at the latest brain science to understand how emotional processing affects children. We dive into the “ins and outs” of empathy and how to use it effectively to help children manage emotional upheaval and move into their “upper brain” where faculties like reason, logic, critical thinking, self-awareness, cooperation, and eventually empathy itself become accessible. We also share strategies for creating a home or class environment that fosters children’s complete comfort in sharing and moving through feelings. Everything we want for our children, students, and families hinges on healthy emotional processing and the development of optimal neuro-emotional habits. This course will get you there!
easy comprehensible steps
thorough, take-home outline and resources
3 comprehensive charts for quick and easy reference
research that supports the information
helpful, clear graphics
question and answer time
the after-school meltdown/reconnecting after school
Does this picture *help*? As in actually inspire you to make this? I’m terribly unclear on food photography. Being Managing Editor at Edible Southwest Colorado Magazine means I’m heavily involved in planning and editing magazine content. Several issues ago when someone submitted a photo to accompany a story, our photographer, who wasn’t impressed, asked if I liked it “Sure, it’s bright and clear,” I replied. Silence followed.”You mean you like it because it’s not *blurry*?” My input is no longer sought on photo matters.
Right now there’s a chickadee rummaging for insects in the pile of straw raked from the chicken coop. A crow drops down to snatch nest materials. A robin stalks, with one roving eye, a worm who’s relocated into the new domed neighborhood. Soon, this golden pile of fertility will become the mulch tucking in garden plants. It’s an ecosystem potluck; some (chickens, worms) give, some (birds, plants) take. Every last shred is used.
Inside, things are quite different. There’s a mother spinning raw ingredients into food, elbowing another formerly store-bought item onto the obsolete list. She pulls granola bars from the oven, bricks of oats and nuts mortared with honey and peanut butter. She slides ranch dressing jeweled with parsley emeralds from blender to jar. Each recipe discovery—gritty mustard, golden mayonnaise—is as useful and sustaining as a worm for a robin. This is what she has to offer, and unlike the pile of manured straw, which beckons creatures far and wide, there are few takers.
There must be some Universal Snark at work here, some cosmic jokery. Like, in the shaking and sifting and pairing of souls, someone put the woman wearing the neon shirt saying “Make it From Scratch!” with the kids who covet bullets of cheese, yogurt and meat stuffed into plastic casings.
Which is all to say that I made a perfect sunflower butter this weekend. Kitchen angels alighted on my shoulders singing hymns of frugality and food processors, while the kids snapped another lego wing on another lego plane, begging, Wake me when you serve something from the store.
But, I’m so happy about how this sunflower butter came out (rich, smooth, dense), that I don’t care what new homemade-phobias have sprung up in the last three minutes. It’s the kind of happiness that unscrews the clamped lid on my heart. (Similar to the happiness I feel returning to this gorgeously written book every night. Sorry Dan, check back in with me in 47 pages. FYI, not a book for happy ending-aholics)
Partly, this happiness is because on my current healing regimen all nuts and seeds are out except sunflower seeds; partly because store-bought organic sunbutter costs $7.59 and looks so professionally, impossibly and cohesively swirled; and partly because I use sunbutter to make this amazing paleo cookie dough, which
if you’re stoned enough tastes just like the real thing.
~makes approx 3 1/2 cups~
1 pound sunflower seeds (roughly 3 1/4 cups)
4 TBSP coconut oil (melted)
1 -2 TBSP honey or maple syrup or coconut sugar (optional)
Salt to taste
Roast seeds by placing on cookie sheet at 350F for 20 minutes, stirring a couple times. Remove, let cool for a few minutes. In food processor, start by blending 1 cup sunflower seeds with 1 TBSP liquid (melted) coconut oil and 1 TBSP honey. Keep adding seeds and oil until you have a consistency you like. This should take approximately 3-5 minutes.
She *did* taste it.
Also, I hear you can follow this general recipe for any nut butter.
ps: Speaking of ecosystems, this 5 minute video about how wolves changed rivers in Yellowstone is beautiful and inspiring (ignore the narrator’s erroneous calling of elk, “deer.”)
pps: I’m just 20 “likes” away from 800 on my Facebook Page, hint hint.
Getting to the desert was like a backwards game of Twister, untangling ourselves from work, homestead responsibilities, the comfort of warm beds and stocked fridges. There’s always that feeling, zooming away from home, car crammed with stuff, that we’ve forgotten something vital. That our busy adult lives could fall apart without us there to prop them up, like yanking the mannequin from the clothes.
And that is when I know we’re doing the exact right thing.
When you ask Col and Rose what they did on our desert trip, they reply, we played in the sand. Precisely. The older kids cartwheeled and somersaulted in the sandy wash, while the three-year old simply flopped down on his belly and swam. They conducted sand-digging contests, transported sand from one place to another via shirts, buried each other. It was as if sand were a new medium, and they the scientists charged with understanding its every nuance.
And me? I read these two books, rambled around the slickrock, managed my 1900’s-era diet via cooler and campstove, brought and ignored work, enjoyed old friends and our new bonds through parenthood, prayed to the god of corneal eye protection (on account of all the flung sand), provided lap space for children around morning and evening campfires, and objectified my husband as he chopped wood with breathtaking form.
I’m programmed to search for life’s meaning the same way I search for my glasses in the morning: patting down my bedside table vigorously and with hope. This is both a strength and a weakness. I look back at Rose’s courage to ford the spiny tumbleweed river; Col’s astonished “wow,” when he crawled from our tent and saw the night tapestry of stars. Is that it? Is that why we came? Was it to give the kids three days where every sandy, rocky, sagebrush treasure belongs to all and yet to no one? Was it enough to hear the wingbeats of ravens paddling the emptiest sky? Or to simply be where the differentness of desert slows time like a long exhale bookended by regular life?
Really, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all that and also having said yes, lets go, the echo of that yes reverberating for a long time forward.
Because when you co-create your own homeschool co-op you get to choose the topics. Yes we did study play for four weeks!
Five years ago, before a hunting trip, Dan unloaded a pile of found junk (from the annual city-wide trash clean-up) into the backyard, promising me uninterrupted coffee and newspaper time while the kids feasted on their new stuff. The unravelling badminton rackets doubled as nets to dredge up treasures from deep within the compost pile. The five gallon buckets became personal swimming holes (with slow leaks); the broken fishing pole with its knotted-up line was golden: Col caught trout diapers and Rose fried ‘em up.
Isn’t this what the young entrepreneurs do? Take known objects and twist, stretch, dissect, rotate and stamp their own creativity on them until the combination is so promising dollar signs begin flashing in their eyes?
Isn’t this also what children do, daily, with no other agenda than the pursuit of fun?
Factoids abound on the benefits of play. Entire books have been written on the subject. Play develops children’s fine and gross motor skills, communication, collaboration, imagination, problem-solving and ability to focus. Playing allows ideas to synthesize and take root.
I’m more interested in what I can see.
The paper airplanes with tape tend to fly, Col’s words, “like a wounded duck.”
Col has folded up approximately 364 paper airplanes in the past six months. The sound of paper creasing is the very background music of our lives. Cooking dinner now holds the risk of careening airplanes landing in an open pot of soup. Who am I to say this isn’t worthwhile? With each trial and error his planes become faster, lighter, more enduring, (and necessitating an investment in protective eye equipment for whole family). While Col’s endless design and crafting binges scratches some unknowable internal itch, I see geometry, engineering, principles of flight, and a child in the flow of his own creativity.
I watch Rose morph through ten characters a day. She’s benevolent school teacher, bucking pony, playful puppy, salsa dancer with moves I envy, and strict mom doling out harsh punishments to her misbehaving son (played by Col). It’s said that reading fiction and memoir (okay, I added the memoir part, but it’s true, right?) engages the reader’s sense of empathy, allowing one to walk another’s path for a few hundred pages. I see Rose’s need to try on different characters, feeling what it might be like to be a orphaned unicorn. Yesterday on a hike, Rose wore a dog’s harness, alternating between the comfort of her friends walking her on leash through the sagebrush, and the freedom of throwing off the leash entirely, running free.
I try not to get bent out of shape when the children’s play includes glueing Legos to paper (as it did this very morning), or carting every dress-up item out of the bedroom until our livingroom has become a bouncy house of leotards and tulle. There’s a persnickety schoolmarm in me that wants the dollhouse furniture to stay in the dollhouse (as opposed to divvied up among ten purses). But I also want my children to be good at playing.
1…2…3…aim for the spinning fan!
I know I’m writing well when there’s nothing I’d rather be doing, when my mind is so engaged it’s pinging from one word to the next without even hearing the chocolate singing to me from the pantry. Col and Rose (and your peeps, too) are in this state ten different times a day: making magic from the very depths of their own wild mind. It’s sacred. It’s the daily special on the menu of childhood. It’s training for the gift of finding your passion as an adult. And as Leonie Dawson says, Figure out your passion, for your passion will lead you directly to your purpose.
I take comfort in the fact that right now my kids need little more than to be turned loose. Turned loose in the yard, at the park, in the woods, at the river, in their own house with their bedraggled collection of toys. Neurons are firing! Profound mental connections span new territory! But the kids don’t care, they’re just doing their work.
(Sorry to leave you so long with creepy chicken feet).
I call tell spring is close because my brain is swelling with ideas and projects. (Does this happen to you?) This just from yesterday:
*develop creative writing class for girls (and boys?), 9-12.
*organize meditation/Buddhist study group for parents.
*take kids on first backpacking trip!
*help Col explore his athletic grace by finding martial arts or hip hop class.
*invite Col’s homeschooling girl friends who claim to hate math over for day of Math Games are Fun!
*write more guest posts about homeschooling for homeschool website. (1st guest post coming soon!)
*teach summer-long class on local plant families.
There are small slivers of day when anything seems possible, when my mind inflates with airy potential, when I call ideas to my consciousness like birds to seeds. This occurs roughly from 5:30am – 5:45 am. Before the deluge of children and chicken chores. Before I remember to worry about our resident skunk and his bad manners. Before it’s clear there’s been an overnight uprising in our “shoe area,” snow boots flinging themselves into the arms of sandals, each making a muddy break for freedom.
Next, the mental Critic and Time Keeper are roused from their night off and begin rolling the documentary about how I’m already overcommited and Col doesn’t even have his times tables memorized yet. The balloon of my mind contracts, whooshing down into something small and airless.
I snuggle the children, feed the chickens, kick the shoes back into submission, and flex my muscles of trust. I wait for the next morning, the next quiet, unencumbered moment, listening and receptive, knowing anything worth my time will return, like a migrating spring bird.
Apparently Col’s bypassed the need for actual sleeve cuffs.
What’s happening right now is that Col has been spotted READING. Not just skimming pictures, but glancing up from his book, remarking, “That’s cool that submarines and bats both use sonar.”
“Yup, pretty cool.” I agree, while my heart cartwheels into a new plane called Reading for Pleasure is the Portal into Infinite Worlds.
Rose is in a frenzy of drawing and writing, her skin perpetually marked up with pen. Not to say you could recognize many actual words. It’s more like she’s in the historical human pre-literate phase, heavy on consonants and on the verge of great breakthroughs. I think of our human ancestors just before becoming masters of fire, perhaps obsessed with lightning strikes the way Rose is compelled to scratch a pen across any paper, furniture, her own legs. She tells me proudly, “I know all of the letters, just none of the unknown letters.”
She brought me this note while I was in the bath: Mom, can I take a bath I would love to but if that doesn’t work we can have a bath tomorrow.
Last night at dinner he tells us about finding a little blood in a deer bed recently, tasting it, and…
“Oh yeah, I often find blood in deer beds,” he replies as if discussing the laundry, then launches into various hypotheses on the causes of said blood. Meanwhile, the kids are like, ho hum, typical Daddy.
Dan keeps referring to the upcoming summer as “The Summer of Love,” and then winkingly adding, “or Love-Making.”
On the homestead:
:: The cold frame plants are also expanding under the spring sun.
We’re harvesting actual food from the cold frames, which means the whole family is subjected to my emotional Oscar-veggie acceptance speeches about how I never ever ever imagined we’d be eating bok choi in March. Gratitude and all the little people and such.
:: Dan is following in the tradition of his own father, pushing the kids just a little farther than their comfort zone on hikes. He’s the Vanna White of the woods, all enthusiasm for what’s up ahead. “Have you seen the cartwheel mat, Rosie? No? Oh, you’ll love it. Just a little farther.”
:: Rose has been manifesting again. On a recent hike, a sweet, human-less, border collie joined us. Rose threw sticks for her, hugged her and bounded through the oakbrush alongside her. When we got to the parking lot and found no owner, I announced “We’d better take her home.” “HOME!?!?” Rose shrieked. “Her home,” I clarified. Rose, who had dog treats in the car (What? Why does Rose travel with dog treats?), rode in the back with Molly and kept her well-fed until we returned her home. (Note to locals: Rose is a very competent and professional dog-walker/dog-sitter).
We also found an Abert’s squirrel tail and the squirrel’s bark-stripped ponderosa pine twigs, which Col carried like a talisman.
:: Have I told you that our family has our own personal hair cutter who comes to our house? Well, Joanie now comes with a bonus assistant. P.S. If anyone knows where to buy one of those haircutting practice heads, I know what Rose is getting for her 7th birthday.
Though I’m always up for more snow, spring seems to be settling in. Truthfully, we didn’t have much of a winter. As Col’s friend Mathew explains, “It was spring, then summer, then fall, and now it’s spring again.” Fair enough. Someone in New York recently told me about ten foot high snow drifts. “I’m jealous,” I replied. He laughed in disbelief. So I launched a cumbersome explanation of how in the Southwest, any moisture is welcome. And then we both shook our heads on our cross-country phones, thinking, “whatever.”
:: Spring sports.
Who knows which of today’s Spring Ideas and Projects will come to fruition. Or tomorrow’s. But, if you want to co-organize a meditation group for parents, sign your kid up for a spring writing class, or have some chicken feet to offload, you know who to call.
This morning, while packing lunches, wrangling breakfast dishes, and keeping an ear cocked for sibling trouble, I decided to make mayonnaise. (Because apparently it’s not multi-tasking until you’re actually doing four things at once).
I enlisted Col to read the directions from this indispensable book while I stood poised with ingredients and whisk. (My prior mayo recipe was unreliable; sometimes perfect, sometimes an oily flop. And washing a greasy food processor ranks just above extracting my own splinters with my teeth.)
Col read. I whisked. “Continue this until you have a thick yellow sauce,” Col recited, while a golden emulsion sprung from my hands. The mayo turned out so voluminously whipped, fluffy and yellow, Rose was finger-testingly certain I had actually made lemon frosting.
“This makes me so happy!” I announced, whisking in juicy squeezes of lemon.
“How happy did that make you, Mama?” Col asked with all the wryness of a 9-year old who’s got my number.
Well, shit. Extremely happy.
Which is to say, as happy as I was to add creepy chicken feet to the latest batch of bone broth. (Chicken feet clipped off the carcass of our own hen who, no fooling, fatally impaled herself on an elk antler, leading to chicken anatomy lessons, chicken enchiladas, chicken soup and the best broth ever.) Or as happy as I was to get this text last week from Dan at 7:15 am, on his way to Mancos to do an energy audit, “fresh deer backie tonight!” I read it aloud: we all cheered. Translation: found roadkill deer and am bringing home the backstraps (prized for tenderness). Put the champagne on ice, baby. (metaphorically speaking; still off the booze).
Sometimes it feels like the Standard American Diet is a slippery slope off of which I’ve been belaying myself for years, each year certain that I’ve finally reached the bottom. Back when I was scooping homely clouds of spelt flour from the bulk bins into plastic bags, I was pretty sure there was nowhere left to fall. And now spelt, according to my current diet, is somewhere between toxic and satanic. I feel confessional admitting that we haven’t bought a loaf of bread in weeks.
I’m not even sure how these things happen exactly. How one decade you’re eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and the next there’s not a crumb of wheat flour in the house and you wake to your husband sauteing a symphony of vegetables and you’ve never seen anything sexier. I heard someone say recently, “I’d stop eating donuts if I had a good reason to.” I totally get this. I can’t tell if I’m blessed or cursed by my motherfreaking good reasons.
I want to heal as completely as possible, and yet there’s a very large part of me that goes cartoonishly blank when I try to imagine a June afternoon, or evening campfire without a beer. Every day I gather gorgeous eggs from our chickens, eggs which are still off my diet. I could share some recent recipes but I wonder, does anyone really want a recipe for grain-free pizza crust or applesauce-sweetened chocolate truffles? (This is not a rhetorical question.)
It feels like the domino theory of kitchen history. Fat free gummy bears leads to low fat cream cheese leads to whole wheat flour leads to spelt flour leads to gluten-free flour leads to rubbery chicken feet throwing their health-giving gelatin into broth. (Or soy sauce to tamari to coconut aminos). As my friend (who’s also healing an auto-immune condition through diet) said, “we’re really not so weird, for 1903 anyway.”
So, I keep getting weirder, sending the kids off with bread-free lunches, with root cellar apples, which now, in March, boast other adjectives besides “crisp.” Bless their little palates, they love these pocked and softening apples; they eat bowls of homemade yogurt which is the very definition of plain; they still have fervered dreams of sweet things swaddled in bright wrappers, but they squeal with happiness over a dessert of dried fruit. I don’t know if I’m at the beginning of something or the end, or where exactly this is going, but if a chicken has to die, I’ll take the feet.
Rose and her buddy Lucy.
We’re driving to the trailhead on our new weekend program: We’re going hiking and everyone’s going to love it even if we have to commandeer our friend’s dog and stop for snacks every .01843 miles.
We pass a parked car with a For Sale sign in the window.
Rose: What happens if you’re not in your car and someone wants to buy it?
Me: What do you think?
Rose: Probably you would just leave a note that says: please leave your money in the glove box.
Dan and I erupt into the laughter of the front seat sophisticates, of the adults who Know Things About The World. Like, for instance, that money is exchanged under the context of subtle negotiation and binding contracts; or, that despite Col assuring me I’m mistaken, he will want to eventually fly the coop; or, that someday climbing into bed to sleep will hold more allure than any late-night lego rager. (Or that David Bowie DID NOT invent the bowie knife, a fact Col refuses to accept).
Also, hard to believe, but someday Rose, you won’t beg to do dishes.
Sometimes our roles seem so prescribed. I mean, the jet stream of movement swirling through the playground is undoubtably the children. Those slow-moving and sensibly dressed people lumbering behind? Right. When Col and Rose ransack our house of sleep at 6am, begging for tickles, for books, for breakfast, I feel like a representative from The Coalition of Grown-Ups, uttering, ”just…a…few…more…minutes.”
Fun discussion on FB re: best caption for this photo
I never meant to become so predictable, so soft and cautious, so overly fond of the bedtime hour. I could tell my kids stories about when everything I owned fit in my Honda Civic, which I piloted to Southwest Colorado, having never been here and knowing no one; or about backpacking alone from one wild mountain basin into the next; or about the time a million years ago when their Daddy asked me on the mattress of my Southside Durango rental, “Do you like to kiss?”
Undoubtedly, they’d be more interested in what’s on tonight’s dinner menu.
Wondering who you might be without children is like not being in the forest when the tree falls. Does it make a sound? Who knows, my ears are plugged up with one kid’s incriminations against the other. Recalling Dan and my first, eight (eight!) childless years together is like watching some grainy movie with subtitles in Farsi. We’re not those people anymore. But we’re also not not them. I don’t understand it either.
Eating pancakes on the back porch of that very same Southside rental. 1995
At a talk I recently gave on growing food year round, someone asked if I’d do things differently if I had more space (like maybe plant in tidy rows rather than cram food in every soil cranny). I couldn’t really answer because my little 1/8 acre backyard plot has shaped me as a gardener as much as I’ve shaped it.
And I like how parenthood too, is a mutual shaping. Rose taught me long ago that employing punishment as a behavior-modification tool is adding fuel to a fire that will blow up in my face. Col has led me through the testosterone-ripe fields of trains, backhoes, ships, and airplanes, while teaching me to trust that every precious flower of a child has their own timetable for blossoming. (And certainly, 4 decades ago, my parents and I began shaping each other)
And really, these roles will never be a fixed target at which I can aim my arrow of perfect, lasting understanding. It’s more like being a soft stone in the river, forever altering the water’s path, while constantly being shaped by the water flowing over and around.
I like these ever-evolving roles, this changing partnership. Right now, we keep the kids in green vegetables, encourage them to hike a bit further, and to refrain from leaving money in people’s glove boxes. And they remind us to crawl through the snarly oak brush to investigate the hole under the boulder that they’re absolutely certain is a bear den.
Experiments #15 and #16.
What’s happening right now is Rose is wondering if, “cats have a good rememory.” Col is adding data to the scientific record. Dan is painting a lot of gorgeous watercolor landscapes, which I’ve been put on notice NOT to grandstand in front of unsuspecting guests. I am playing Free To Be You and Me for the kids, wondering why we traded the notion of living in a land where the children are free for living in a land where children are over-scheduled and over-evaluated. (Beam me back to the 70′s, Marlo.)
Col’s new home away from home, or the tree fort he built behind our house.
Rose’s tree house, with all the necessities of living.
Also, I’m trying to populate our meals with vegetables. (I’m not the only one; Mark Bittman must be reading my blog again.) And it’s not that Col and Rose are veggie adverse; it’s just that I keep infiltrating our dinners with the same toothy chard bursting forth in our greenhouse, which is like insisting that if you live in Vegas you must see every Bee Gees reunion show.
I’ve tried to breed gustatory preference out of the children, parading my own austere and frugal banner at the dinner table, titled: if you’re hungry enough you’ll eat it. Meanwhile, the kids have become experts at mining their plates for goodies, leaving the tailings of kale and bok choi behind. So, I’m tuning in. Rose likes veggies crisp, raw and prettily sliced. Col likes homely cooked veggies mingling in a mosh-pit of elk-based stew. This can lead to slight variations on a dinner theme (Rose has a salad with her elk burger, Col has steamed broccoli), which really, is the least of my parenting problems.
Reference materials for parents.
There is still some downright vegetable prejudice in the house, which, like any other, is born of misconception, fear, and just a bit of inexplicable crazy-making. (Like when my friend Joy reports Rose didn’t eat the lunch I sent her with because she devoured three bowls of Joy’s chard soup. “But she never wants my chard soup,” I lament like some 50′s housewife).
Some of this is simply a branding issue; I remember my friend Caraway’s 3-year old son Noah referring earnestly to the kale on his plate as “wishing leaves,” before gobbling them down. Last night I served a five layer casserole (spaghetti squash, mashed cauliflower, elk sausage, cheese, tomato sauce) while deflecting my mom’s repeated question, “What’s in this?” The kids needed to successfully ford the cauliflower river before all was revealed. They loved it. (Hint: mash steamed cauliflower with ample butter).
Don’t fear the cauliflower. When this blog goes viral I’m hiring an in-house food stylist.
Chard will still make appearances, but I’m totally cool with artichoke leaves becoming the springboard for a dive into a butter pool; or serving frozen peas because the kids will forklift them into their mouths. I’m buying Cali-grown cucumbers and red peppers in February because Rose greets them like BFFs. I’m giving up a little of my inborn frugality, austerity and staunch locavorism, because indoctrinating the kids’ gut biomes with a diverse nation of microorganisms seems the least I can do to prepare them for adulthood.
Also, peanut sauce even makes chard taste good. It’s creamy and rich with deep flavors of cilantro, ginger and garlic.
Makes 2 cups
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 inches ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves
3/4 cup peanut butter (almond butter OK)
1/2 cup whole coconut milk
3 TBSP rice vinegar
1/4 cup (or more, taste for saltiness) tamari, soy sauce, or coconut aminos
juice of 1 lime
1 TBSP hot chile oil/powder (optional)
Blend everything in food processor or blender. You’re done! Now that was easy.
This peanut sauce can be used as a dip for raw or steamed veggies, a drizzle over a stir-fry, mixed into rice noodles and veggies, or as a salad dressing. Or…what else?