Touches of Grey

I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit something terrible.

I actually like several Grateful Dead songs.

(emoji of hanging my head in shame)

Anyway, now that that’s all open and above-board, I’ll admit that I found their later-years song “Touch of Grey” to be excessively depressing when I was younger. I mean, “every silver lining has a touch of grey”? This is supposed to be comforting? I didn’t see the relevance.

Of course, I was young and silly and didn’t yet understand that even great things bring with them a whole new set of worries and troubles and trials. The trick, insofar as there is one, is to take the good with the bad and roll with it.

Of course, I say this as we roll into Halloween. Last year’s Halloween set an all-time low for the holiday for us. I was just 8 weeks into my unexpected pregnancy with the new baby (Let’s call him Hawkins for short) and I’d gotten over the shock and terror I felt at first. My heart had begun giving me troubling hours of arrhythmias and I was horribly nauseated. And on Halloween I started haemorrhaging.

So, instead of playing spooky music out of my window and enjoying the gummi-worm laced punch and the platters of treats we’d concocted, I was weeping and feeling very much like someone had snapped my heart in two and ripped my hope from my chest. It wasn’t like it was a small amount of blood we’re talking about– it was terrifying. It took me two weeks to finally go in to my ob/gyn and get a sonogram. Which showed . . . yep. Hawkins had hung in there somehow, through what doctors like to call a “threatened abortion.”

But on Halloween all I knew was pain and blood and terror and loss. It took a long time for Hawkins to finally make his way into the outside world and by that time we’d all fallen in love with the little heartbreaker. He has us all firmly wrapped around his chubby little fingers now. Even his jealous big brothers can’t resist coming in to smooch his fuzzy little head sometimes and they insist loyally that he deserves lots of new clothes and toys.

Having a new baby is a multi-faceted thing. It can seem a tragedy, turn into a glorious ecstasy, and yet still have some pretty crappy parts that you feel almost embarrassed to admit to. After all, you brought a brand-new human being into the world! That’s awesome! It seems churlish to say that you never get enough sleep, or to whine that you’re broke, or to kvetch about your c-section scar.

As someone who is extremely pro-life, I never want people to get the impression that babies are anything to be feared, much less discarded or destroyed. It leaves you in an awkward situation, though, as you feel like you can’t say anything about parenthood that isn’t cherry blossoms and rosebuds and balloons and cotton-candy without being accused of being a hypocrite. “See, you ADMIT that motherhood can be hellish! Why would you want to FORCE a woman to have a child?”

I don’t even force my kids to eat their green beans, people. I’m just living out my own life here on a complex and multi-faceted plane of existence. Nothing is ever as simple as it’s painted. You can be living the ultimate in fantastic lives and still have gloomy bits and moments of despair and temptation. I want MY kids to understand, at least, that an unexpected pregnancy is NOT the end of the world.

Yeah, you may go broke and you may never get any sleep and you may slog through postpartum depression, but at the end of the day there is still a shiny brand-new person in the world. It’s not EBOLA for goodness’s sake. It’s a baby. Ebola doesn’t give you slobbery kisses and think that everything you do is the most amusing joke ever devised by humanity. Peekaboo — shit, that stuff is better than anything Richard Pryor ever did.

And, yeah, there are touches of grey in my silver lining. I’ve got a big numb scar across my belly and an extra twelve pounds that won’t go away. No biggie. The only problem is if the touches of grey start to obscure the silver.

A mom on a forum I belong to recently posted about a new unexpected pregnancy. She was in shock, and I understand. I’ve been there. I took everything she said with a hefty grain of salt. I joined in a chorus of other moms offering sympathy, advice, support, and possibilities. What was clear to me, though, from her original post, was that she really wasn’t looking to fix the situation. Everything in her sky had turned to grey and she was living in a cloud of misery.

Those are the situations where you need to find help– practical, hands-on, dish-washing and diaper-changing help. And probably a little help from our friends Prozac and Zoloft and company. Because, by that point, someone is not seeing their kids as silver linings at all. They’re sunk in the negative emotions and huddling under their justifications. They’ll actually make up reasons to stay miserable. It’s not a happy place.

I’ve been there, too. It’s awful beyond words, and I will do anything I can to help people out of that slough of despond. Mostly, though, the burden falls on close friends and family. It’s our job, I think, to educate them about what to watch out for and what to do when they see it. Husbands and boyfriends are often overwhelmed by their own worries and cares. They need to know that they should encourage her to go get help, even if it means a battle.

Don’t be discouraged by the grey. Those silver linings are so worth it, even if it feels like you’ll be swallowed first by the stormclouds.

Gotta go. My especially drooly and chubby and fuzzy-headed master is calling. And it’s a joy to serve him, truly it is. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Yeah, you got it, turn and face the strange.

In other words, it’s time for me to shake up my background and images and such again. Sadly, the only header image that I have ready-to-hand is from the fall of ’12, so it’s not only missing the baby, it’s totally unreflective of how everyone looks nowadays. Me, for instance . . . I’m no longer rockin’ the red butch haircut. Actually my hair’s really long and dyed stark black. So, yeah, it’s outdated. I’ll fix it soon.

More changes coming around– I’m actually going to force myself to post regularly again. Consider it practice for actually getting some paying writing done soon. And trying to drag myself out of this slump. Maybe some good old-fashioned savage commentary will snap me out of it.

Cause this gloom isn’t helping anyone. And I’m going to totally quote Taylor Swift here, no matter what it does to my metal and goth credibility– I’m just gonna shake it off.

So what’s the plural of ‘vortex’?

Vortexes? Vortexi? Swirling abysses of imploding death?

What I mean, basically, is that I feel like I’m surrounded by sucking quicksands of doom, any one of which could grab me and drag me down if I just happen to stare too long into its depths.

Maybe just a wee touch of postpartum depression going on here.

I can’t seem to get my feet under me lately. I know there are things I need to be doing, but I’m barely keeping the basics covered. The baby gets taken scrupulous care of, of course, as he’s Priority Number One (in his own eyes, especially. If he detects flagging enthusiasm, he just yells louder.) The kids get fed, clothed, and educated.

It’s just the little details that are missing– when I’m feeling this low, I consider frozen pizza a quite adequate dinner option, even when my husband is home. That is not the level I usually cook at, I must insist. It’s just this week’s level.

So, really, not a lot to talk about in terms of excitement. I have been struggling through Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” but I gave up about a third of the way through. There was essentially one good passage in that entire third of the novel, which doesn’t exactly make one scream “It’s a CLASSIC, oh-emm-gee, everyone must read this!!” I will try to finish it another time, sometime where I can suffer through “I obscenity in the milk of your fathers” without wanting to beat Hemingway upside his obscenity head.

I’m 21 books behind on my reading challenge. This is the point where I start considering adding in all the children’s books we read for homeschool. Actually, starting a Goodreads account for our homeschooling might not be a bad idea, if only to keep us from ever ever checking out certain books again. The one this week about the little fox who thought autumn was the death of his best friend, the tree . . . shudder. That one needs to never cross our doorstep again. I can handle lots of cutesy stuff, but a fox tying leaves onto a tree with grass . . . no. Just no.

As an aside, the current “trend” of foxes, owls, deer, and other forest animals on decor and clothes THRILLS ME. I have been a fox addict for decades. It’s like fashion is finally paying attention to the things I love– forest creatures and men with furry faces. Hmm. Maybe I watched one too many episodes of “Grizzly Adams” as a kid. Forest creatures, man with furry face . ..  yeah. Suspicious.

Anyway. My daughter recently bought me fox-shaped salt and pepper shakers. I may let her live another year, as a result. We’re still in the bargaining phase.

I am trying to make it day by day. My last physical therapy appointment strained/pulled something in my c-section scar, so I took off for a few days. I’ve been doing better during the days, less pain. It just catches up with me around 8-9pm, suddenly swarming up out of one of those vortexes and placing a burning straightjacket around my back. Getting going in the mornings just doesn’t happen unless I have half an hour to let the Motrin start working and the muscle relaxer kick in. Not that those two suffice, but they start the process. The baby usually sleeps pretty well between 3am-7am so I have enough downtime for my muscles to stiffen up and hobble me.

The weather is beautiful. I’ve been stuck inside too much to really utilize it. Going to try to improve on that this week.

Because I DO know that exercise helps. And being in nature helps. And spending time with my kids and having fun helps. Those really do beat the darkness back somewhat. I can’t really use anti-depressants (a quirk in my chemistry makes them work in a very bad manner) so I rely on the simpler therapies– time, patience, slow progress, things that help. Music I love, upbeat stuff. Taking time to wear nice clothes. Trying to sleep on a regular cycle. The usual.

Wish I could just take a happy pill and watch those swirling pits of doom disappear. It’s just not that easy. But I am working on it, rest assured. And if I fall into one of them, I’ll be enlisting all the aid I can muster. But I’m still managing to stay out of them, tiptoeing around the edges. Some days that’s as good as one can manage.

Glub, glub

So, as you may be able to tell from my posting frequency, the sea of life has swallowed me alive. I’ve paddled my way to the surface briefly to let my adoring public (aka my Dad) know that I’m still alive.

So, where were we? Oh, yeah, life being sucky. Well, not entirely horrible, but overwhelming. It hasn’t exactly slowed down. I’ve been shuttling kids to doctor visits, struggling through our weekly routine, and (in an exciting twist) going to physical therapy sessions. Physical therapy is mostly frightening because I am SO weak that any little exercise just wipes me out. Also, I’m convinced that I picked up a stomach bug in the saltwater pool on Thursday. Friday’s stomach woes pretty much ruined the entire day. But, hey, our football team won and it was a game in town so my husband and son didn’t have to be gone half the night driving to and from some little hayseed town.

It’s kind of sweet, in an odd way, how seriously football is taken here. I had to take some fast food to my son before the band’s bus left, so I hurried over to Micky D’s and then drove over to the school. The road signs all had blue and white streamers tied to them for about a half mile, plus inspirational signs tacked here and there. Friday night in Texas in the fall . . ..  it could be sort of endearing, if people weren’t absolutely psychotic about it. My son’s band director is a woman possessed. If they don’t win State this year, she may very well lose her mind.

So, yes, life’s still got the upper hand on me. I am sleeping more at night, though. Struggling to make it through my reading backlog, since I only have a limited amount of time where I have enough peace and quiet to concentrate on a book. I’ve been reading fluff instead of my backlog, mostly. It’s just a lot easier to read fluffy books than, say, Hemingway. I keep working on it, though.

I’ve got lots of topics I’d like to blather on about, but mostly right now I just want to find a clean cup (if such a thing exists in this house) and get a drink before curling up with the suddenly-way-too-mobile baby. My 5 year old is completely regressed and awful since the baby was born, and it’s kicking my butt trying to deal with him. My 7 year old is highly motivated to do his reading, though, now that I got a packet from “Book It” that gives them free Pizza Hut personal pizzas every month if they meet their reading goals. Suddenly he’s VERY interested in finding the easy reader books on the shelves. The autistic wonder has been a nightmare lately at school and at home, refusing to do pretty much anything. Even game nights have been sort of mini-hells.

I keep treading water, literally in therapy and figuratively everywhere else. Anybody got a lifeboat for sale?

Waves crashing

So basically life has been one big beach for me over the past two weeks. I’m standing in the surf and there’s these monster waves just slamming the shore. I stumble, slip, fall, choke on some seawater, and struggle to my feet only to get slapped with the next wave. So, yeah, I haven’t been updating anything. But it’s not a long-term situation, one hopes. Maybe I’ll wise up and drag my sorry soggy self out of the water and onto some higher ground.

In retrospect, you know, it doesn’t seem too daunting. I had an MRI. My brain’s just as scarified as usual, which isn’t bad. Just a little here and there. So I don’t have MS. Which is great. But still having an MRI, when you have claustrophobia in any respect, really sucks. Especially the ones where you have to have your head locked into a plastic cage the whole time. Not fun. And the Valium I took to get me through it pretty much socked that day away. My upper spine looks better. So my doctor is like, hey, maybe you should take less pain medication. Sure, doc, as soon as my back feels as good as that MRI looked. Apparently he forgot those squishy lower vertebrae, the scan didn’t go that far.

Oh, yeah, and I had two teeth root-canaled. That was after a day and two nights of agony. The pain afterwards might have been worse than the original bad teeth were giving me, but Aleve eventually helped in a very sizable dose. My face is mostly okay now, as long as I don’t get ice anywhere near the temp crowns. Technically I don’t think that’s supposed to still hurt, but we’ll see what the dentist says when it comes time to get the permanent crowns cemented on. Horribly expensive, even after the dentist comped me for one tooth. But, hey, not in agony. I’ll take it.

The baby had his 4 month shots, which led to several days of him being a 24/7 attachment to Momma. No major reactions, just the usual sore thighs and grumpiness. You’d probably be grumpy, too, but he’d be a hell of a lot grumpier if he was, say, dying of diphtheria. So the trade off is worth it.

Grumpy kids, minor household disasters, our weekly Dungeons and Dragons game, the soul-sucking morass which is Friday nights in small-town Texas in the fall (especially if your kid is either in the band or the cheerleading squad or the team, in which case you have NO LIFE until November at the earliest.) Then add the new requirements for church, which since we have one kid getting ready for his Confirmation in the spring and another kid getting ready for his First Communion, means that we have two days a week that are entirely dedicated to religious pursuits. Don’t forget the fact that my teenager is social and has this inexplicable volunteerism streak which usually means his Saturdays are spent doing weird things for various reasons that are still opaque to me.

Oh and my daughter transferred to a new position at a new store, so there’s a new schedule to live through and new route to drive and somehow even more inconvenient hours to keep.

Slap! Slap! Slap!

That was the waves getting me again, in case you wondered.

Because, of course, tonight was game night and I was the Evil Dungeonmaster of Doom again. And tomorrow is Friday with the attendant “Friday Night Lights” playing out in our local community and not only that but I have to drag all three little ones to the doctor for the annual checkup of one of them. That’s sure to be Hell on a Biscuit but my childcare is out of town. And this weekend is some kind of weird volunteerism thing and a sleepover? and my daughter working all weekend. And Sunday, ohhh Sunday. It’s the Lord’s Day and that’s no joke. Love you, Jesus, but why must they schedule the whole evening on two nights a week? I’m drowning here.

Homeschooling is, actually, going well. The Charlotte Mason method is adaptable and easy to do especially in the early years. We get the basics done every day and most days we get the extras done, too. Spanish hasn’t been started yet but we’re solid on science and English and math, so we’ll let it slide. There’s apparently some confusion on geography so we need to increase our map study time. And some of the concepts need reinforcing, if the Holy Spirit isn’t being painted as either a dove or a flame but a dove in flames. But we’ll get there, eventually. Reading skills are progressing. Our little bean plants are climbing up the kitchen window. They soaked several towels while experimenting with water. It’s all good.

I just need to focus. Stand up. Drag myself onto the sand long enough to catch my breath. And decide what’s important to get done every day and just do THAT.

Being down-and-out with dental issues for three days put a real damper on things. And somehow I never caught up this week. Missed a doctor’s appointment. Forgot I didn’t have childcare tomorrow when I rescheduled. We’ve been eating lots and lots of takeout. I’ve pretty much forgotten all the couponing I wanted to get done this week and why. And the week’s nearly over and another one coming.

SLAM.

Or not.

It depends on if I haul myself out of the surf fast enough.

Maybe.

I’m trying.

Walking that edge

So, I was at the doctor’s office today, which was about as much fun as it ever is. Since I’ve been having double vision, my doc agreed that an MRI of my brain would probably be a good idea, and an MRI of my upper back as well if we can get the insurance company to buy off on the idea. I was carrying the baby and a heavy bag of library books last week and felt something go “sproing” between my shoulderblades. So, yeah, hopefully it’s just a muscle. But just in case ….

And I come home and things are pretty dreadful in general. No one cleans unless I force them to, so the house is dirty and grubby. I haven’t kept up with the laundry so it’s *everywhere* and no one can tell dirty from clean anymore. Indy has been trying to stealthily bring all the schoolbooks back upstairs, one by one, so they’re all sitting at the top of the stairs in a pile. My room smells faintly of dirty baby diapers. I feel this horrible sense of panic start to rise in me. 

I realize that I have reached the point at which my coping skills fail.

There’s no way I can keep up with everything that needs keeping up, at least not with the skillset that I currently possess. The teenager wants me to play Diablo 3 with him as our “special thing” but the only time we can play is after the little kids go to sleep. They’re night owls, just like me, so that’s problematic. The little boys have been playing too many video games over the weekend and their behavior is horrible. They need me to direct them through their schoolwork and teach them and love them, instead of just letting them vegetate playing Xbox games. The baby rarely allows me to put him down for more than five minutes, so I can do few of these things. Indy needs so much and there’s just nothing left in my tank to give her. And my oldest daughter is drifting farther and farther from me every day and it’s breaking my heart.

I feel overwhelmed and lost much of the time. And I know that I can’t fix everything. I know, all too well, that I am powerless to change other people and to even change myself very much. 

I need to let go of the desire to change them.

I need to find the grace and hope and love that I need to change myself.

And I know that there are moments of grace just waiting for me. The Ninja hopped onto my bed this morning while I was giving the baby his bottle and kissed his brother’s fuzzy little head and then kissed me. The Tank came to me the other day and insisted on kissing me  five times, just to make sure that I knew that he loved me. Moments of happiness and peace do appear, here and there. I was quietly reading “The Hobbit” to the Ninja tonight, after he told me that we “didn’t even come close” to finishing it last time. He decided that Gandalf needed to compensate Biblo for his expenses in buying cakes, as *he* was the one who invited the dwarfs over. Trust my Ninja to look at the financial angle.

I don’t deserve the gifts that I’ve been given.

I manage them poorly.

I am so grateful for them, though. I need to let them know this. Even Indy, who mostly seems to live her life in pursuit of the perfect means of making me crazy. Once upon a time, she was my newborn baby and my constant companion. For as long as I live, she’ll be with me, so maybe I should make the best of it.

I could make things so much better around here . . . if I could just find peace. Wholeness. Happiness. Contentment. Love.

They’re right there, just out of reach. 

One of the AA things that I struggled with, during the 150 or so meetings I attended over the years, was the Serenity Prayer. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve fought against this for years. I don’t go to God when I am weak, I try to do everything myself. Fix everything myself. Bash things into shape even when they’re stubbornly never going to change for me. Typical adult-child-of-alcoholic behavior, really. I lack that wisdom aspect, the part where you figure out what part you’re supposed to play in this crazy universe and JUST DO THAT PART.

So I am giving up. Not on life, no, but on trying to force it to be what I want it to be. 

It’s frightening, to be honest. To say “Take my hands and let them be your tools, O Lord.” To relinquish the delusion that I am controlling things with my desperate attempts to make people do what I want them to do. Terrifying to say “I love you for who you are, and I accept that you’re going to make your own mistakes.”

Because the stakes are so high. Because the consequences are enormous. Because I am afraid. So terribly terribly afraid that the people I love will suffer. Will lose. Will hurt. So I . . . hurt them by trying to control them? How does that make sense?

To everyone I know and love, all I can say is this: I love you. I will try to respect you as an individual with your own decisions and choices in life. 

To myself, all I can say is . . . “Let Go and Let God.”

That’s the hardest thing.

 

The Post Where I Ramble about Food

I like to save money on things. That’s nothing unusual– people love a bargain. When it comes to coupons and deals and saving money on the usual household expenses, I am fairly frugal. CVS just sent us an email telling us that we’re in their top 1% of “money savers” on their products, which amounts to probably a thousand dollars in money saved over the course of a year. I’m able to get more for our money, and it’s a good feeling.

So I get why people would want to save money on groceries– food is the most flexible of our expenditures. No one can clip a coupon to save on the mortgage, and the electric bill and heating oil bills are hard to get down past a certain level without either freezing to death in the winter or roasting in the summer. Saving money on water is not that big a savings, percentage-wise, and who really wants to give up Netflix? 

But seriously, some of the weekly menus and grocery lists that the deal and coupon and savings websites print are simply pitiful. 

They’re not unfamiliar– my mom pretty much cooked in a similar way when I was a kid. We’d have a protein, a vegetable, and a starch. It’s the standard American plate. Hunk of meat, smaller portion of a sad lonely vegetable, and something to fill in around the edges. My dad didn’t like meat very well, so mostly we had hamburgers on nights that he was home, but we’d have fried chicken or pork chops when he was away. Broccoli, boiled or steamed, or corn, or frozen mixed vegetables. Mashed potatoes, maybe some rice. Mac and cheese. Nothing fancy.

My mom could cook quite well when she tried, but it wasn’t something she worked at on a daily basis. She’d go big for Thanksgiving  and would go nuts once in a while and make up a feast, but it was the simple American standard most days. 

That’s how I learned to cook. And, obviously, that’s how these coupon-cutters and savings-gurus and penny-pinching mommas are still cooking. They post photos of their shopping trips and they’re sad little things– a paltry bunch of veggies, mostly shrink-wrapped in plastic, a meager amount of fruit, and some chicken. Plenty of boxed items that were gotten for cheap due to coupons and sales. Maybe a splurge of ice cream bars or something for dessert. But that’s about it.

To dress this fare up, they rely upon “creative” ways to make chicken breast taste like something. Mostly in crock pots. But face it, there’s only so many times one can eat a chicken breast before one begins to feel like they’re growing feathers. The same applies to ground beef. It’s fairly tasteless and has a bland texture. You can douse it in sauce, cover it with spices, and try to hide it behind starches, but in the end it’s still just hamburger. 

I started out cooking similar stuff. My big “go-to” meal for Sundays was a pot roast with mashed potatoes and the aforementioned mixed vegetables. And gravy, homemade if I was feeling very adventurous. Mostly that tasted like thickened grease, which was not a good flavour, but I was just learning, what can I say?

These days, I admit, I am somewhat tired of cooking the same old things. And I have more days than I care to admit where I am just too exhausted by the demands of life to cook ANYTHING and we end up eating sandwiches and frozen pizzas. I don’t cook as well as I’d like to as often as I’d like to. I do, however, have bigger and better meals in mind when I do cook.

I have been spoiled, in a way, by having a big grocery chain in town that prides itself on selling locally-sourced fresh fruits and vegetables (when they can find a supplier. Lots of stuff is still imported from out of Texas.) HEB is a major player in the Texas economy, so they can motivate farmers to grow stuff exclusively for them. And their produce departments are largely really good. There’s five of them in town, and only one has a poor produce section. (Can you guess which side of town that one is on? Two points if you guessed the poor side.) 

My grocery pile looks nothing like the stacks of food that those ladies are photographing. For one thing, we buy WAY more vegetables and fruits. My husband would say this is a bad thing, as things do tend to go bad in the vegetable drawer when I have a bad week and don’t get around to cooking, but it does mean that we always have something fresh and green around to eat. We always have celery, onions, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, and cucumbers on hand. Most of the time, we also have mushrooms, avocados, bell peppers, jalapenos, zucchini, and italian parsley on hand. I buy other things as needed for that week’s recipes– daikon radish, maybe, or watercress. We love bean sprouts but they’re not carried often anymore after all those sickness outbreaks. I am a huge fan of Swiss chard and the many kinds of greens, mustard to collards to turnip. I even still buy broccoli, but it never makes it to the table cooked. Usually it’s been eaten by a kid before then.

Fruit almost never gets thrown out, and we buy a LOT of it. A typical week has us going through a 3-5 lb bag of apples, two bunches of bananas, 2-4 lbs of strawberries, half a dozen lemons, a pineapple, several pounds of grapes, and probably 5 lbs of whatever else is in season and on sale. We go through a watermelon a week in summer, if it’s cheap enough, and in winter the kids go crazy for those big boxes of mandarins. I honestly cannot keep those in the house, they go so fast.

We buy rice in 25 lb sacks from Thailand– jasmine rice, it’s the best. We buy prodigious amounts of potatoes, both fresh and the dried mashed potatoes in a box. Pasta . . . you don’t want to know how much pasta we go through. When I see these people buying a little 12 oz bag of fettucini for a meal and then telling me they have LEFTOVERS . . . HOW??? HOW??? My goodness, if I mess up and buy the 24 oz bag of pasta, I get sad looks as the children accuse me of starving them intentionally. Anything less than a 32 oz bag is child abuse, in their estimation. We do not have leftovers of anything unless I intentionally cook twice the amount we’ll need in order to freeze a portion. 

I think the biggest difference in the way I cook now, with a large family that includes 5 adult-sized people on a daily basis, is the number of side dishes I prepare. In addition to the main course, there are almost always two vegetable selections, quite often two starches, a “child favorite” on the side like baked beans or macaroni and cheese, some kind of bread or rolls, and most often a salad. That’s just an ordinary meal. So when I make harira, a Moroccan stew, for example, in addition to the very thick and filling beef stew, we’d also have couscous on the side, fresh flatbread of some type, vegetable crudites with ranch dressing, and a salad. Probably fruit for dessert. We don’t often make “real” desserts except on Sundays, and even then it’s going to be just a strawberry shortcake. 

If we have a lasagna or spaghetti, we don’t have to make the secondary starches, since everyone loves pasta, but we’ll have two different veggies and a salad, probably with garlic bread or French bread on the side. We go through gallons of ranch dressing for dipping in chunks of cucumber or carrot sticks and celery. I try to get the seasonal veggies when I can– corn on the cob is huge around here, but I usually only have to share the asparagus with one or two other people. This is an advantage and one that I exploit.

My biggest complaint about my daughter’s cooking (besides her uncanny ability to ruin chicken) is her scanty side dishes. I’ll come down for dinner, spot the serving dishes on the table, and end up having to run into the kitchen to open a can of fruit cocktail and hurriedly slap together a salad. And even then, there’s not much food getting thrown away at the end of the meal. The mixed veggies are the food most likely to be thrown away . . . but that’s only on days where Indy decides that she doesn’t want any. When she’s in the mood for them, she’s picking them out of the bowl with her fingers (thereby making everyone else go EEEWWWW and guaranteeing that she has the bowl to herself.)

I’m not judging these cost-conscious moms . . . I’m wondering how they do it. How do you get leftovers when you’re already making such a small portion of food? These people are claiming that they each have an entire night a week dedicated to just eating leftovers. If I did that, we’d all be sharing a moldy Tupperware of some soup that no one had liked earlier in the week. 

My kids aren’t all fat, either, so it’s not overeating that’s killing my grocery budget. 

Of course, the biggest thing that I have noticed is that these people think that the extras . . . are extra.

I can’t live like that. I swear I must have Italian or Spanish roots, that my Scottish and Irish forebears were really just some lost mariners that got swept ashore by accident on some rocky Celtic coast and had to adapt their Mediterranean ways to the cold north.  Meals are important. They’re family time. They’re part of the way I show my love to my family. 

One of the cost-savings sites had a menu posted this week with pork carnitas tacos as one of the meals. And behind “taco toppings” she put the word “optional.” And that’s the biggest difference– for me, toppings for the tacos are not optional. If I’m making pork carnitas, there’s going to be shredded lettuce and chopped tomato and salsa and guacamole and sour cream and cheese of various types and probably limes and pickled and fresh jalapenos and sliced avocado and sliced black olives. Most of the time, I’ll make pico de gallo, too. And, no, not all of the cilantro will get eaten, but it will be there, fresh and green and pretty on the plate. And the haters can choose to ignore it if they like, but it will be there for those that like it. Along with all the other richnesses.

So I spend too much on food, I guess. But really, how much is too much? A bundle of cilantro is 28 cents. A jalapeno is less than a dime. Even a tub of sour cream is just 77 cents. I’m spending maybe two or three bucks on those toppings and it’s a vastly different eating experience than it would be to simply put some shredded pork on a tortilla by itself. That’s a price I’m willing to pay to give my family the best that I can. 

If we were counting every penny, yes, I’d cut back a lot. If the choice was between cilantro and electricity, you know I’d be picking the electricity to keep my kids warm and safe. But most of the time, the choice to eat well isn’t a choice between abundance and starvation, but a choice between abundance and something else. Saving time, maybe, or simple inexperience in cooking. Maybe choosing to spend money on other things that they consider more important. Maybe they’re just not “foodie” people and they honestly don’t pay much attention to what they’re eating. 

I just know that, when I look down the table, it gives me pleasure to see the serving dishes piled high with all the things I’ve prepared for my family. I may take a few shortcuts– I admit, on fajita night, I serve pre-prepared rice that I buy frozen instead of making fresh Spanish rice– but there’s an abundance, plenty of variety, and good flavors to savor and enjoy. And it’s not worth saving money if I’m going to be sitting at the table just watching my kids push that same steamed broccoli around on their plates and chew dispiritedly through yet another way to prepare cheap chicken breasts. 

Yeah, I’ve been there and done that. And I prefer it this way. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dusty shelves and forgotten names

Long ago, when I was a perilously bored 12 year old living in Indiana, a gentleman of my acquaintance gave me a gift that was, at the time, more precious than rubies: a cardboard box of books. Later, my father would give me another box with books more tailored to my tastes, but at this point I was so desperate for books to read that anything would do.

By coincidence, you see, the junior high students were shoved into the high school that year while the junior high was remodeled and thus I had no access to a school library. I didn’t have a library card at the town library yet, either, so the books were the only new reading material that I’d gotten my hands on in months. I spent many hours sifting through the volumes, reading things I’d never have read otherwise from Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and various paperbacks that had apparently been in someone’s yard sale. It was a treasure and I’ve given that fellow a lot of mental goodwill over the years just thanks to that gift.

The ironic thing is that I barely remember any of them now. 

If you want a humbling sort of experience for anyone who has ever sought fame and glory in the writing world, just look up the names of those books from just twenty-eight years ago. You may find a review or two of them on Goodreads, someone might have a battered copy at Abe Books or Amazon, but by and large they’re forgotten, overlooked, and pretty much doomed to remain that way forever. There’s a flood of new books released every year, so it’s not like anyone’s going to go look through thrillers and romances and historical fiction novels from the 80’s for their next big thing. Somewhere on a shelf, those books are decomposing, if they all haven’t been shunted to trash heaps and Goodwills and dusty attics already.

It’s probably less of an issue for writers of science fiction and fantasy, since the fandom has always been relatively small and the big “hits” tend to stick around for longer since they have less competition from newer stuff, but the same still holds true. Go into any used book store– you’ll see a few books still hanging on from the 80’s and 90’s, a rare handful of decrepit paperbacks from earlier years, but the main stock-in-trade is more recent stuff.

And the older stuff is pretty shabby in light of modern works, anyway. I’m reading through “Lord Valentine’s Castle” by Robert Silverberg, the first of his Majipoor books. In 1981, it was a Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel and a Locus Award Nominee for Best Fantasy Novel. Because it’s on those lists, in part, it still gets some attention, as well as because it’s the first book of that famous series. But still, on Goodreads, it has only 15 reviews from this entire year. 

In comparison, Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind” (which isn’t from this year, but is pretty recent and pretty comparable, having gotten even less notice in its publishing year in the science fiction and fantasy community, and it’s also the first book in a series)– it’s gotten 15 reviews in just six days. Obviously, newer fresher stuff is going to draw the reader. Old dusty paperbacks with rather dated hairstyles on the cover? Not so much. (I won’t mention the pants. They’re too awful.) I’m having a hard time staying engaged with Lord Valentine, simply because I’ve read so many fantasy novels that this one seems to telegraph all its moves in advance. No real surprises and the entire thing seems dated and a bit clunky. It’s hard to stay on top these days– the current trend is multi-layered novels that are more mysterious and complicated than any Cold War spy novel ever dreamed of being. A simple fantasy book from the 80’s just can’t hold a candle to their complexity.

Most of those older books have this problem. Leaving aside the true classics of literature, which are classics BECAUSE they’re timeless, there just isn’t much to recommend in older popular novels. I may have adored Mrs. Pollifax and John Le Carre, but kids these days don’t even know there WAS a Cold War. My sixteen year old expressed surprise that anybody would think Russia could ever be an important enemy for us. I wanted to weep.

History makes no impression upon the current days unless it’s taught and insisted upon and re-iterated. Books are the same way. Those books from the Reader’s Digest series barely have left a smidgen of themselves in my mind. I remember a book about John Adams and the wooing of his wife. Barely. I know there was one about a woman vet and her husband struggling to make it in the country. Some vague memories of thrillers and romances, but it’s almost impossible to remember any details at all, or if I read some of those later on. I glutted myself on so much Dick Francis and Ken Follett and Phyllis Whitney that it’s hard to recall where I read them first. 

I recently took my entire Shannara paperback set to the used book store to trade in for something else. My kids thought it was boring, and I couldn’t be bothered re-reading them so much later. They were amusing enough, at the time, but they just don’t hold up to close inspection these days. 

Sadly, that seems to be true of almost every author. Even the “big names” should be humble. There are a few things that stand the test of time, but very few. Of all the science fiction and fantasy authors out there, only JRR Tolkien seems to have transcended genre and history to really make a place for himself in the annals of literature. Even the greats of sci-fi’s early days will someday fade to obscurity– be honest, besides Ray Bradbury and George Orwell and freaking Jules Verne, who REALLY wrote something that will last through the ages?

If you say Douglas Adams, you’ll be slapped with a salmon.

Enjoy what little tastes you get of glory and fame, then. How long until this current generation is tilled under in a landfill and young minds are filling themselves with the latest fizzy goodness?

If you look at the list of “fantasy and science fiction” on Goodreads and look at the top 10, you’ll think it’s already happened. Long live . . . YA fiction? Sigh. I guess.

 

 

Beyond just surviving

So, I turned 40 this year.

You have to understand something before that will make any sense– my mother died at 36, her mother at 33. For my entire life, I never believed that I’d make it to 40.

And then I did.

And then I got pre-eclampsia in a complicated and difficult pregnancy that had already thrown a threatened miscarriage at me as well as hyperemesis gravidarum. I felt mortality swoop terribly near before just passing me by.

The effect, so far, has been to unlock everything I’d been holding back from myself.

I’ve lived my life in “reaction” to things. I resisted and fought and put my back up against anything that was expected of me or anything that reminded me of my mother. I shut off whole areas of human experience just because they felt threatening to my fragile sense of self. I never really let myself feel positive about anything. I sabotaged everything that may have freed me from my cage. In the end, I nearly lost my family and I unfortunately did lose my career. 

So I’m standing here now, 40, and admittedly fat and middle-aged and possibly devastatingly boring to the vast majority of humanity. And I said to myself . . . so what? I want to live. I want to be ME. Not some half-assed version of me. Me entire, me with all my moles and scars and habits and irritating realities. 

So what if I have secretly longed to wear gobs of eyeliner and dress in black clothes since I was 13? What’s to stop me? So what if I want a tattoo of a dragon? I’ve been coveting it for twenty years now, isn’t it about time I just allowed myself the indulgence? If I want to walk barefoot through life or hike the Appalachian Trail or just dance whenever I want to, really, why not? I have no regard for propriety in a culture as essentially broken and debased as ours is. People are shocked by shoelessness but completely indifferent to debauchery. Now that’s a world turned on its head.

The best part about freeing myself from my limitations . . . is that, contrary to what you’d expect, I feel more inclined to selflessness. 

Now, I’m not claiming sainthood here. Just saying that, once I stopped feeling like I was unable to be myself, I suddenly felt that sometimes the best part of one’s self is sacrificing it.

Baby steps here, and I’m not going to brag on any of them. Just interesting to me that I feel more secure in just doing things for people that are kind or loving or things that are usually annoying and frustrating to me. Maybe this is the best part of being free– that I’m free to think beyond myself, because I feel like I can be myself.

Maybe just in NOT imposing on other people when I can do something perfectly well myself. Maybe choosing to be silent instead of critical. Maybe saying the nice thing that didn’t necessarily need to be said. Complimenting someone. Taking on those hard tasks.

It’s interesting. And it’s more than just enduring.

Maybe it’s living.

 

Enduring is rough

So, I have been having something of a rough few days. 

My husband did fix my truck this weekend, that was great, and he managed to do it for a reasonable amount. My stepson let me use his car for the three days I needed to shuttle my teenager to and from band camp. I was able to get some errands run and some good purchases made. My stockpile of soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, diapers, and other personal care stuff is growing. 

I’ve just been absolutely sick as a dog since Friday.

The funny thing is that I have no idea what’s going on with me. I don’t have a fever. I don’t have any cold symptoms or gastrointestinal ills. I’m just utterly wiped out by a fatigue unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I’ve been sleeping and sleeping and resting and sleeping, but I still feel like someone rolled over me with a steam roller. Uck.

I’ve got some lymph nodes swollen, a mildly sore throat, and some weird pains– including a patch on my leg that hurts whenever it’s touched by anything. So, barring a miraculous recovery before 9am, I’ll be calling my doctor for an office visit. The big worry for me, of course, would be some kind of thyroid problem. I was supposed to have my thyroid removed in October of 2013, except I got pregnant in September. That sort of put the kabosh on surgery for a while. 

The doctors told me that, once you have cysts in your thyroid, they NEVER EVER go away. Which is maybe reasonable, but I have a sneaking suspicion that mine shrunk during pregnancy. I can swallow again– and swallowing was a fraught and dangerous exercise there for a while because I had three huge cysts pushing on my esophagus. But now I can eat and drink just fine. Either way, I’m going to ask for another sonogram to see what my thyroid is doing. And I’m sure the doc will want to run some blood tests to figure out this latest quirk in my ongoing attempt to figure out What is Wrong With Marti.

(I know, the answer to that is practically infinite.)

It’s been hard. And the baby has been doing poorly, with bad congestion and two episodes of poor breathing. And my adult children are driving me insane. I swear, they get exponentially more exasperating after 16. Maybe because I was essentially an adult on my own at that age– it’s frustrating when they expect me to do things for them instead of them doing things for themselves. I know that being alive to be ABLE to help them is what I’ve been praying for all these years. But that doesn’t mean I like being their chauffeur or their housemaid or their lackey, either.

But I’ve wisened up SOME over the course of the years, and I know that my frustration is MY problem. I need to conform myself to Christ, to be loving and calm and understanding. But also stern when I have to be. The only issue is when it’s my pride and impatience and ego speaking and when it’s my love and morals and ethics and values speaking. If I could shut up those first three voices, we’d all be a lot better off.

I must endure, even though I am weary and sore and dreadfully afraid. And I am afraid– failure is always right there waiting for me. I just pray that I can get things right . . . and that it isn’t catastrophic when I’m wrong.

 

Because whoever said parenting was easy was a liar.

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