Small changes

So, I didn’t make a huge series of New Year resolutions, mostly because I just didn’t have the energy to think about them and write them down. But I have, over the past few weeks and months, made some small changes that are starting to add up.

Our dryer has been circling the Appliance Death Abyss for a while– try doing laundry for 9 people for a while and you will know why most intimately. Recently, my husband had to disassemble it to put in new parts. And while putting in new parts, it became apparent that it needed MORE new parts and that these were backordered. So my dryer was sitting in pieces in the laundry room and I needed to wash some clothes.

“Wash all the clothes and I’ll take them to the laundromat and dry them,” my husband suggested. That was bravery on his part– I don’t even know where the closest laundromat is but it’s guaranteed to be in a crappy spot. So I had the big kids haul all the dirty laundry downstairs and I sat down and sorted it all into piles. Once I’d done so, I was staring at about nine loads of laundry, not counting all the sheets and blankets that really also needed to be washed. Even I know that drying nine loads of clothes is not only going to be a huge pain in the butt, but also hugely expensive.

It was a nice sunny day, so I had an inspiration– why not string up a makeshift clothesline from the porch to the cathouse? (Yes, cathouse, our cats live in a little outdoor shed since our asthmatic kid is allergic to cats.) My husband is nothing if not versatile, so he went and got supplies at some local store and put up a clothesline. And since he’s also a hard working sonofagun, he also washed all the laundry, hung it to dry, and then folded it and put it away. It took him a while. I think I ate bonbons while he did it.

So now we have a clothesline. I’m hoping it makes a difference in our electric bill. Once the dryer parts come in, we can also do laundry on rainy days, but for now it’s a do-able solution. I also bought a bottle of Snuggle fabric softener, because towels. It only took one bath with a cardboard towel for me to remember the virtues of that frighteningly earnest teddybear and his blue liquid.

Tonight, I decided to clean out our master bedroom closet as part of my ongoing drive to baby-proof the house. The Major-General (as I am calling him) decides at times that his OWN toys are boring and terrible and not attractive (except most of the time, when they’re totally the shiznit.) Then he goes off on a quest to find what I like to call “choke-ables.” My closet was filled with all kinds of contraband that he’d have dearly loved to chew on– things that could have landed him in the hospital, like sewing supplies and lots and lots of dice and yarn and candy wrappers left over from Christmas.

It took me a couple hours, but I managed to get everything up and out of baby’s reach. I even got our cd collection back on shelves– they’ve all been in boxes for the past few years. The closet is looking pretty nice, if I do say so myself. Nothing’s piled in the corners, all the too-small baby clothes have been packed away, and the kids even found the lid to the Dungeons and Dragons box.

They’re not big things, but they’ll help anyway. Now I don’t have to worry that the baby’s going to kill himself with something he found in my closet and maybe we can get some relief from our sky-high electric bills. With summer rapidly approaching (okay, maybe not for you northerly types, but down here we’re going to hit 72 this week. Summer is a’comin in soon enough) we’re going to need all the help we can get with the bills.

Anyway, enough good work for the day and week and whatnot. Time to go play some Diablo and kill legions of demons. 🙂 And rest on my very small laurels for the month.

Sleep is for the weak (and other lies your brain tells you at 3am)

So, I’m what you could probably call a terminal night owl. Because, much like smoking crack and drinking cough syrup, not sleeping enough is now apparently a lethal “life style choice.”

Except I’m not sure it’s much of a choice. I can remember many many nights of childhood, laying awake and listening to Johnny Carson on the television and wishing I could just be UP UP UP. And I can remember many many mornings where I had to be dragged bodily from my blankets and forced to make the long slow trudge to school. I even have a photo around here somewhere of my sullen morning look when woken early on a camping trip. I look like a hostile 7 year old zombie.

Nursing school was complete hell in this regard. I often had to be at clinicals at “oh-too-freaking-early” in the morning, and some insane professors would tell you to simply show up an hour EARLIER to do your paperwork if you couldn’t manage to get it done the day before. Really? Earlier? I am barely breathing at 5am, much less able to function around other people. If I work nights, I can fake it long enough to do shift change at 6:45 if I must, but then driving home is hazardous. The sun comes up and my natural instinct is to burrow under the covers.

So I basically sleep-walked through the first three hours of any clinical shift and began to approximate a human being somewhere around 9am. Oh I was competent– I’m never anything but, due to huge performance anxiety– but compassionate and friendly and all that social jazz? Forget it.

But 10pm to 3am? That’s the sweet spot. That’s when books get read and laundry gets done and quiet hours get whiled away with documentary films and long baths and plans for couponing. I started living like this basically as soon as I was on my own, which is to say at the tender age of 16. I set my own hours . . . yeah, and totally bombed my first two morning classes my senior year of high school. I think they may have been a math class and something about politics. I can’t really remember.

It didn’t particularly matter, as I dropped out a month or two before graduation anyway. But at the time, it was a harsh little reality check that the world at large does not seem to appreciate the internal clock of the night owl.

I’ve had to think about this again because my older daughter has been working a different shift at her job, so I’ve been getting up at 6 to get my younger daughter ready for school. I get her on the bus and wish desperately for more time to sleep, but by then the baby is awake and ready for morning playtime and breakfast. And by the time I get him ready for his morning nap, the older boys are up and want breakfast and attention. My older daughter has been doing these tasks for me for the past couple of years while I steal two or three hours of sleep, but when she’s at work, I’m on my own. So I end up getting no sleep at all, which makes me extremely unhappy and also fairly unwell.

Because, you see, I can’t seem to sleep at night. I can go to sleep at 9 or 10, perhaps, but I’ll wake at midnight, relentlessly awake. If I do manage to get to sleep, I’m awake and alert the next time the baby wakes up wanting a bottle. And, no matter how much sleep I get, I feel incredibly drowsy as soon as the sun comes up.

Maybe I’m a daywalker vampire.

Anyway, they tell us now that people who stay up all night tend to die earlier. So, according to their best guesses and Puritanical rubrics, I should start zonking out at 9pm and getting up with the birds at break of day. Except I *did* that for two years while in nursing school and it was absolute hell. I never did adjust to it. As soon as I could, I switched to night shift and went right on from there to my post-work life of midnight Netflix sprees and living on too few hours of sleep.

Telling me to quit staying up late is something akin to telling a lifelong smoker that they have to quit smoking. My life has been formed around this habit. My children have spent their childhood hours of sleep hearing the rumble of the dryer and Mom’s feet padding into their room to deposit a fresh stack of clothes on their dresser. The baby can hear me start the bathtub in his sleep. He wakes, of course, and howls, because he intends to have every moment of Momma’s attention focused on HIM. He has his priorities, and laundry is not one of them.

So I have played countless hours of online video games with people from the opposite side of the globe, read more books than is generally possible since I don’t have children interrupting my concentration every five minutes, and attuned myself to the pleasures of the darkness. It rains more often at night, and I love to listen to it. Birds don’t stop singing at night, it’s just a different shift of birds (mockingbirds, those buggers, never shut up day or night.) There’s less air pollution, there’s stars to gaze upon, and there’s a precious coolness in the air that’s way too fleeting in the Southern and Western states I’ve mostly lived in.

I’ve always struggled with mornings, including one terrible year where we ended up having to go to truancy court when my younger daughter missed the bus a dozen or two too many times. If you think I have a sleep problem, you should see her– she has, from toddlerhood, slept only about three hours a night. It made my life pretty hellish for a while, because 3 hours of sleep is not nearly enough for a tired pregnant mom, and we’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars searching for a medication to make her sleep. Right now, she’s taking a huge dose of melatonin and a couple Benadryl each night. That gets about five hours from her. Better than three, anyway.

The funny thing is that, since I am no morning person, mornings on vacations are exotic wonderlands. There is, hands-down, no more thrilling thing to me than early morning chilly air with the fresh scent of diesel exhaust on the wind. Because, for me, that’s always a trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Yeah, that’s about the only time I can get up in the morning and make it somewhere and not be a miserable wench about it.

But, let’s be honest . . .  we usually visit in the off-season and that early morning rope-drop at the Magic Kingdom?

It isn’t until 9am. 🙂

Foodways

So, like most people in America, I’m making a resolution or two for the new year. 2015. Sheesh. Let that one sink in for a moment. I still feel like that dizzy kid dancing wildly to Prince singing about 1999. . . and feeling like that year was SO far away it would never come.

Crazy.

Anyway, one of my big resolutions this year is to be creative and open-minded about food. Sure, I plan to diet and exercise and all that crap, but my biggest resolution about food is to try new ones at least twice a month. I make this plan at least once or twice a year, but I never seem able to keep it going as a regular part of our routine. I’d like to change that.

Trying new foods and incorporating them into our diet has been a big part of our life, though. The “foodway” that I inherited from my family was a not-very-complicated one, with poverty and scarcity making the decisions more than taste or nutrition. “White trash” was a regular part of our meals– if you don’t know what that is, it’s ground beef, browned, and then add in a can of cream of mushroom soup, water, and some noodles or rice. Cook until the starch is done. Or serve it over biscuits, like a sort of gravy. It’s easy, fast, fills you up, and . . . well, sometimes it tastes good. Mostly it’s just bland and filling.

I realized that I hadn’t cooked it in quite a while when my teenaged son ran into problems while trying to cook our dinner on Saturday. He had browned some ground beef but was hating the idea of making it into chili-mac (one of our winter staples.) I was tired and not willing to eat spaghetti again (the Viking son would eat spaghetti or fettuccine every day if he could) so I just made a quick pot of “white trash” with rice. Ehhh. I tried to fancy it up a little with fresh celery, onion, and mushrooms, but it still mostly resembled school paste in texture and flavor. (Speaking of, my goodness, how I miss school paste. I used to eat that, like every other child in my era. Weirdly appealing. A little smear of paste on a scrap of paper was how our teachers doled it out. Supposedly for gluing things but we knew better.)

My mom was a pretty good cook, given her limitations. She tried to cook new things, she loved watching cooking shows, especially the Cajun Chef, Justin Wilson, and she was willing to learn from her friends and relations. But still, we only had a limited repertoire that we ate. My Great Aunt Casey taught her how to cook a few things, things I still cook for my family now. But a typical night was hamburgers fried till they resembled charcoal and Kraft mac’n’cheese, with either frozen mixed veggies or corn on the side. It wasn’t very daring or very flavorful, but it was easy and cheap.

I’ve branched out a bit, trying things that I was afraid my family would hate. We’ve incorporated lots of Mexican dishes, some curries and Asian dishes, and lots of Mediterranean influenced foods. My family is one of those mongrel American families– you know the type, I’m sure. We’re Irish on St. Patrick’s Day but that’s just picking one ancestor out of a list of 16 and running with their ethnicity alone. We don’t have any ethnic foods that have survived all the stresses and travails of our families histories. There’s no traditional cookie we always make, no way of making cabbage edible that we learned from Grandma, no odd ethnic flavors sneaking into the spice rack. My mom didn’t even really own any spices beyond salt, pepper, and some pumpkin pie and apple pie mixes. Okay, maybe garlic salt and chili powder. But that’s about it.

So we’re basically inventing our own foodways in our new family. Since we live in Texas (and have for about 90% of our married life), we have added in lots of typical Texan foods. Fajitas and barbecue brisket are the two biggies, but we make a Tex-Mex version of other things, too, like Mexican rice and quesadillas. I grew up eating a totally different style of Mexican food (I still miss the huge huge tortillas that they use out west) but I don’t really cook that way these days. I miss it, though. The Arizonan style of Mexican cooking is a lot juicier, for one thing. They’re not afraid to leave a puddle of drippings beneath their tacos.

There are several things I want to learn how to cook this year: a real Cubano sandwich, a better Thai soup, Greek meatballs, Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons, more types of soups, maybe even seafood. I want to keep trying to perfect my cooking– I’m a little sloppy at times and very lazy, so I don’t bake nearly as often as I would like and my kitchen is never clean enough to really motivate someone to cook something complicated. If I can keep things cleaner (and buy a mixer, maybe), I might find it easier to cook in general.

Whatever your foodway is, whatever style you inherited, that should be honored, sure. But if your foodway is letting you down, don’t be scared to create your own. Your great grandchildren will one day be cooking up a complicated curry and someone will ask “How do you know how to do this?” And they won’t know that it was from you, they’ll just know that “my family always makes it.”