Henry loves breakfast. This makes me super happy, because I love breakfast, too. Craig, however, doesn't eat breakfast at all, and Luke eats it reluctantly. Neither like breakfast foods, and the thought of breakfast for dinner disgusts them. But Henry. Oh, Henry. I am revisiting my love affair with breakfast with Henry, making pancakes, dutch babies, omelettes, waffles, poached eggs. We had a six day long pumpkin pancake run. I needed to perfect my recipe, and Henry was game. One morning that we went all out and had pancakes, sausage, and scrambled eggs, he said, "It is like Bob Evans! Mom Evans! And you can eat in your underwear!" High praise, indeed.
The pumpkin pancake run was about as festive as I got this Halloween, though. We usually put up decorations, but instead I made about 30 different pumpkin dishes. I seem to only have figured out how to be the cooking version of Martha Stewart. We did carve jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins that Henry grew himself. It was very exciting. True to form, Luke wanted to buy his pumpkin at the store. "Store bought things are just better!" he proclaimed. So Luke's pumpkin (the roundest one in the picture above) was from the store. I couldn't spoil his Halloween, after all.
This Halloween was so much fun, and I realized that I finally hit that perfect phase where Silas is getting very excited about all the "big kid" activities--he loved trick-or-treating this year--and Luke is still young enough that he enjoys many "kid" activities. We don't have many of these years left, so I am trying to really take the time to enjoy them. Both Luke and Henry are at the same school and we walk nearly every morning, and they both still hang on me, one on either side, and chatter away--yes, it is often about video games or pro wrestling, but I'm taking what I can get.
Here at Mom Evans, we'll serve you in your underwear, so long as we get to eat breakfast together.
They have spent hours—days even—building their tree fort. They have worked together, usually nicely. They’ve recruited neighbor kids to help them. And even though I cringe every time I look at it, I think of how much they love it and how many hours of joy it has given them, and I can’t help but like it despite itself.
“Can you believe that we made that all by ourselves?” they ask. Yes. Yes I can. But I reply, “No! It is amazing!”
I have a problem, which is that my fantasy of raising children doesn’t align with the reality. My phantom children really aren’t much like the flesh and blood and bones, the real little people that stand before me every day. The family trip to the cabin in the woods doesn’t involve the cartoon network in my head. Video games never figured prominently in my imagined family life. We didn’t eat so damned much plain pasta.
But here it is. I have these three little boys right in front of me, and they are three people with thoughts in their own heads. One loves video games. One loves meat. One hates meat. All three wrestle with one another every time I turn my back. There is a little blood most days. There is a lot of blood some days. They say bad words. But, too, they tell me they love me soooooo much. I couldn’t feel the spine tingling joy of that in my fantasies.
So maybe it's not a problem after all.
We have plans to cut the tree down. That is why we told them they could do whatever they wanted to it in the first place. But once the tree is gone, that is one more part of these little boys that is gone as they lurch toward adulthood. I think we’ll keep it around for a while longer.
Luke and Henry started school last week. Luke now attends Henry's school, the school that we are zoned for. Luke had been open enrolling into the school where he started Kindergarten since we moved right before his second grade year. He loved his old school. Last year, Henry didn't get in to Luke's school through open enrollment, and so they attended different schools. That wasn't much fun for me, since I felt like I didn't know what was going on anywhere. In any case, Luke hasn't been happy about this change, but I was really proud of him last week. He had a good attitude, all things considered, and he seems to be giving it a fair chance. This morning--their first Monday morning since they started mid-week last week--was a different story. But I have to remind myself that Monday mornings are never easy, no matter which school Luke is at.
This is the first time that I can remember that I have had to make Luke do something major that he hasn't wanted to do. The first time that he has been grown up enough that I feel like his concerns and worries are 100 percent justified. And I have to say, it is hard. My heart hurt for him every time he told me that he wanted to go to his old school with his friends. Every time that he told me he didn't have anyone to talk to. It was hard to watch him line up at the beginning of the day and awkwardly try to make conversation with the boys in his class. Because the thing is, there isn't much I can do. It is up to Luke to make his way at this new school, up to him to find his place and make new friends. And I can only watch from a distance.
A few nights ago I had a dream where Craig and I decided to take a road trip while Luke was in school. He was our only child. We had to be home by 9 pm to pick him up, but we were still in Georgia at 8 pm and realized that we wouldn't make it. I tried to call a friend to pick him up, but my cell phone died. I didn't have any phone numbers that I needed because they were all in my cell phone. Craig was frantically googling phone numbers and I was trying to remember the numbers of my friends, all while desperately punching them into some antiquated phone that looked like a singing greeting card. It was crumbling in my hands with each wrong number that I tried.
It is this helpless vulnerability that is the hardest part of parenting, I think. The knowledge that you can't always make it all better, that you often can't dial a number and fix the problem. That you can't alway be there to pick your child up.
We had a really wonderful little vacation last week to a state park a couple of hours from our house. We did a lot of canoeing and hiking and it was the most perfect weather we could have wanted. We swam at the sandy beach every afternoon, and we cooked over a fire every night. We stayed in a cabin perched on the edge of a hill, and the bedrooms looked out into green foliage and felt like we were staying in a treehouse. It was lovely. Yes, there was the fact that Henry was a total spazz every night and screamed and cried and wouldn't go to sleep. Yes, we got a million bug bites because our bug spray wouldn't work. Yes, Luke and Henry went on a bike ride and decided it would be funny to hide and write "help" with sticks on the ground. But I'm choosing to remember everything else. The magic. And besides, all that other stuff seems kind of beautiful and silly now that it is in the past. Memory is funny like that.
I'm slowly catching the blog up to my life. Clearly this space is more of a site to document my life for posterity/grandparents these days than a place to express myself artistically. But I feel it returning, that itch to think a little beyond the everyday survival. I've read more books this summer than I had in a long while, and books that have required a bit of brain power. For the first year after I have a baby it is all about magazines, Maeve Binchy, and TV shows. But I'm making progress. I've watched some movies. That is nearly two hours of my life. I've read a few books that required some thinking. I had a great conversation about books with a house guest during which I think I might have sounded sort of smart. (Courtney, ask Ryan if I sounded smart at 5:30 am over babies and toys and coffee.)
Henry turned six in June. Luke turned nine last week. Again with the time speeding by theme. I love those boys. They are both pretty much crazy and intense and lovely and themselves in every way.
This summer has flown by faster than any other. I wake up in the middle of the night breathless because I see this trend: each month goes by faster than the last. I wonder if the next time I wake up my children will be grown and gone.
We went to visit Craig's aunt and uncle for the 4th of July. They live near a pond, which was one of the highlights of the trip. The kids went swimming and fishing. We went for walks and looked for bugs. And here's a little parenting tip for you (since I know that is why you read this blog): If you have picky/finicky eaters and you want them to eat better, don't feed them snacks. Who knew? It only took me nine years to figure this one out. The kids ate most of the food set before them, some of which they refuse at home, mainly because they were so very hungry. Oh, and also because we told them we would take them to McDonalds on the drive home if they were polite at meals. A little well-played bribery never hurts. Bonus parenting tip of the day.
Three months. Poof! Gone! I don't know where the time went. The boys had a busy spring soccer schedule, the end of the school year was as hectic as ever, we had a lovely two week visit from Grandma Jane. Now summer is half over, a summer where we don't have much planned and where some afternoons stretch on for hours and hours, but the days and weeks are speeding by.
Craig and Luke are heading to Alaska for two weeks on Saturday. Luke will stay with his two sets of grandparents for ten days while Craig is up on a glacier, and then they will have a few days together before they fly home. I've only ever been away from Luke for five days, and he's never stayed away from both parents for more than a night. I'm a little nervous but very excited for him. My baby really wants to spread his wings. Where exactly have the last nine years gone, anyway?
After the spring break/kidney stone chaos, I was happy to have the boys going back to school last week. Except that after one happy day, everyone came down with the barfing flu. Everyone. It was not a nice, quick 24 hour thing, either. We were basically all languishing around, moaning and dashing for the bathroom for the the whole week. I'm still catching up on laundry.
The barfing flu also converged with the beginning of soccer. I've not had my kids play soccer before, and I don't know what I was thinking. Henry has one practice and one game per week. Luke has one practice and two games per week. They are all at different times and at different places. And you know that I now drive a mini van. So guess what that makes me?
It is also Holy Week, the week before Easter, or what we call Pascha in the eastern orthodox church. Usually this does not coincide with western Easter, but this year it does. We go to a blessedly small mission that only celebrates a few services, so that makes me feel less guilty about not attending church much, but even if we go to one or two extra church services, that is a huge deal for us. Last Sunday I attended the Palm Sunday service by myself with all three kids. Craig was still sick with the yucky stomach, and for some reason neither Luke nor Henry wanted to stay home and "take care of Daddy." I was really sad about that, but I pretended I was glad that they all wanted to come to church, since I'm a good mom like that. All I can say about taking my kids to church all by myself is that it is really good that we pray "for those we find it difficult to love" during the great entrance. Because you know who I'm praying for.
Speaking of church, I don't know if I've talked at all about how Luke now says that he doesn't believe in God. It makes me sad, but I try not to make big deal out of it. While he was sick, he said, "Mom, I don't believe in God, but if I did, why does he make sickness?" Clearly he thinks about these "big issues," which I guess is good. One thing Luke does that I don't like at all is say "Oh my God!" Again, I try not to make too big a deal of it, because honestly, anything that I make into "an issue" with him just takes even longer to resolve. Well, I guess some kid at school didn't like that Luke said this, because he followed Luke around for a few days saying, "You took the Lord's name in vain!" Luke just kept saying, "Be quiet! Leave me alone!" Luke reports--and take this with a grain of salt, because he is prone to exaggeration--that the kid finally came up and said, "You said God's name in vain!" and punched Luke. But Luke told me, "I knew you would get mad at me if I punched him back, so I just taunted him and dodged his punches." Not exactly turning the other cheek, but at least it's something.
P.S. This picture shows their latest fashion obsession. They are not allowed to wear these out of the house. I refer to these as undershirts but think of them as something that rhymes with life eater. Or strife heater.
Spring break happened--is happening. Kids are home all day. This is actually not quite as challenging as I had imagined. Yes, there is a little more chaos and a few more messes, a lot of bedhead and not many clothes, but I must say, Luke's attitude has been much better. He needed a little peer detox, methinks. I have promised the boys that since we couldn't go on a trip for spring break--somehow Luke got it in his head that one is supposed to take a vacation during this time--we could instead do something fun each day. So we have gone to the zoo, to the movies, to McDonald's playland. We are planning a trip to the swimming pool and to Chuck E. Cheese. We are going to rent The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and buy a pizza on the day that it is released to DVD. We are having a lot of fun around here.
Except for a brief but intense kidney stone interlude. That was when the boys got to watch all three Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, they are rated PG-13 and probably too violent, but when mama is writhing on the floor, sweating and vomiting, even while all hopped up on morphine, it's desperate times. And that's nine hours of free babysitting right there, folks.
The Lord of the Rings and morphine. It's the new beach and pina colada.
*Please excuse the lack of paragraphing. I have tried to edit this six times, and every time I hit publish it reverts to this. Not sure what is going on.* It is the end of the month, and I'm really trying to keep myself to the cash budget. So pickin's are looking slim around here. Bean tostadas! Bean soup! Beans and rice! I did have about $6.50 left yesterday, so I went to the store and bought some coffee, four ears of corn, and one package of shredded cheese. The total wast $6.24. It is ridiculous how pleased I was with myself. Speaking of food, we are trying something new around here with dinnertime. We have generally approached dinner like this: I make something that all of us like eating, such as make your own burritos, or I serve enough healthy side dishes like brown rice and fruit and veggies that I don't feel bad if the kids won't eat the main dish (such as curry, which they won't touch.) A few times a week I will make them something different than what we are eating, like quick microwaved bean burritos or macaroni and cheese, if we are eating something they really can't stand. We don't force them to eat things, but we have forced them to try one bite of something, and we also make them eat all their veggies and whatever they are eating (brown rice) if they are to get dessert. And then we have some sort of dessert every night, which we have used for leverage to get them to eat the healthy stuff. It isn't a bad system, but I don't like a lot of things about it. I don't like that we set up the veggies vs. the dessert. I don't like that we force them to eat things to gain a reward, and I don't like that the reward is a sweet. I don't like that we have to serve dessert every night. So we have decided to have a treat in the afternoons instead (such as cookies and milk after school) and then follow this system for dinner. Basically, I will make whatever I want for the main dish. I will try to make something that the kids might like, but I might also make seafood stew or some other "disgusting" dish if that is what Craig and I want to eat. I will also make sure that there are enough healthy side dishes so that people can fill their bellies with whole grain bread, veggies, milk to drink, etc. I will serve it family style, and everyone will serve themselves as much or as little as they like. There will be no dessert, except for the rare surprise. They may not eat after dinner except for apple slices or carrot sticks at bedtime, which is the usual rule. We will try to model healthy eating and well balanced food choices, and that is it. We will talk a lot about "listening to our bellies." We have done this for one night so far. Luke ate a bunch of whole grain bread with butter and fruit. He is the pickiest and the one that is most likely to resist what he perceives as what his parents want. Henry ate bread, corn, fruit, and at the very end of dinner he decided to try a bite of bean soup. He liked it and then ate a small bowl. It was a very pleasant meal, and we just talked about the day, our plans for the evening and such. I'll report back on Luke again. I know he likes corn and bean soup, but he was obviously using his power of choice to the fullest.
I just made these chickpeas and they are really yummy. It is my first time using smoked paprika, and it is delicious. I thought I might have to go to Whole Foods, but I found the Kroger brand in a jar for around three dollars. I love Catherine Newman's recipes, and her writing about her kids and food, although I alternate between wanting to be her best friend and being insanely jealous of how wonderful her kids--and her life in general--seem to be. I make her bread recipe now, too, because I love how easy it is to keep the dough in the fridge and slice off a hunk whenever we want bread. It makes great pizza crust, too.
It is Lent now, and the orthodox rule is basically that we eat vegan. My husband and children are less than enthusiastic about this endeavor, so I just try to keep it vegetarian with some vegan meals. We eat a lot of beans, which is normal for us anyway.
I was craving soup for lunch today, so I whipped this up for myself and Silas. These measurements are approximate, since I didn't measure as I made it:
sautee one small onion and two cloves of garlic in coconut oil (any other oil would work, but coconut oil is slightly sweet and really delicious)
once these are soft, add one large, peeled and cubed sweet potato, and two sliced carrots
cover with water, add about a half teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, half teaspoon of cumin, and a pinch of coriander. simmer until veggies are very soft
let cool a bit and puree in blender. Add some coconut milk (half a cup of the Silk refrigerated kind or 1/4 cup of the canned kind). Adjust seasoning. Thin with more water or coconut milk if necessary.
Um, I don't really know how a week has gone by. I have no great explanation for how I blinked and the last time I posted was a week ago. Craig was home from work, as it was spring break at the university where he teaches. I went to a lot of zumba classes in celebration of the fact that I could leave Silas at home sleeping. Speaking of Silas, he has a cold and is getting molars. He is perhaps the screamiest baby I have had yet, especially with the added discomfort of illness and teething. He basically wants me to sit on the floor with him all day, or to hold him while letting him climb onto the counter, play with the phone, and sit on the microwave all at once. Or he wants to watch elmo videos on youtube. If he doesn't get these things, he holds onto my legs and screams. While pushing his head through my legs. And sometims biting the backs of my thighs. Oh, it's good times around here.
I have done a really bad job of posting more often this week. Although I suppose that posting twice a week is still a lot more than I had been. In any case, one of my oldest friends in the world, Anna, gave me the stylish blogger award, which is very kind of her. I'm basically lazy and technologically inept, so the thought of trying to post the correct image and link to ten other blogs is daunting to me. So I'm not doing it. Sorry, Anna. I hope this isn't like breaking a chain letter.
A lot of readers might find Anna's blog a bit of a culture shock. She lives in Alaska, close to where we grew up, and she lives what I consider to be a fairly typical Alaskan life. Not that everyone raises chickens and goats and homeschools their six children, but she and her family kind of march to the beat of their own drummers, and they want the freedom to do that. I get that. While my viewpoints and politics have changed since I've left Alaska--and frankly, I was always more of the Alaskan hippie than the Alaskan libertarian (not that Anna is a libertarian)--I still understand that Alaskan mindset. It is where I come from.
One of my fondest memories of Anna is of watching Anne of Green Gables with her. We both loved the movie and watched it together many times. We had it all worked out--she was Diana and I was Anne. I tried my hardest to live up to my role as Anne, finding adventures for us wherever I could. One day we were running around on the 50 acres of forest that backed up to our church community. We called this area "cranberry cliffs," so named for the abundant cranberries that grow along the boggy lows and high cliffs in those woods. I suggested that we climb the face of one of those cliffs. Somehow, Anna got stuck, but with no adults anywhere nearby, I had to coach her down. I think of that day often when I'm trying to figure out ways to get my boys outdoors. I know they would be so much more willing to play outside if it involved a little more freedom and adventure. I think that day was, in some ways, the epitome of the Alaskan experience. And every time I read about Anna and her family figuring out how to milk goats or butcher chickens, I feel a little like I'm back in Alaska.
Aah, I survived another month on the cash budget. Yes, I did cash some checks for a bit of extra money last week--thanks for the day of swimming and the book fair treats, Grandma Jane!--but I tell you, we are really saving money. I have become very aware of the fact that I was recreationally and impulsively spending. I realize this now because there are days when I'm bored and I want to go to Target. I crave it. And since I don't have the cash, I don't go. Or I go but I will only take a small bit of cash with me.
Remember how I said that I wasn't buying vanilla? Something about that must have hit the sympathy chord right on the head--holy mixed metaphor, former English major!--because within one week I received two lovely bottles of vanilla in the mail and a check with "vanilla and spoiling the boys" written in the memo line. Thank you for the vanilla, Yellow Fever. Luke and Silas's godmother asked specifically to be referred to by her roller derby name in any mention of this gift. And thank you, Grandma Jane. I don't need the vanilla now, but spoiling the boys has been fun. The swimming was great. The books are fabulous. And they will really enjoy the milk that I can buy them now.
Over the weekend I made homemade egg noodles with Henry. They were really good. I would say that it is worth it for a special meal, since they tasted so good, although I didn't save any money and they are a good bit of work. I used this recipe. We served them with vodka sauce that we adapted quite a lot from a recipe that we found online. Here's our recipe:
4 slices bacon
1 T butter
1 clove garlic
1 t. dried basil or 1 T. fresh, minced
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato puree
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the bacon. Crumble and set aside. Reserve 1 T. bacon grease. In olive oil and bacon grease, cook the onion and the garlic clove until soft. Crush the garlic. Add the basil, tomatoes, tomato puree, and vodka. Simmer for 20 minutes or so. Add the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pasta, and garnish with fresh parmesan and/or chopped fresh italian parsley.
We made half of the pasta recipe and it was enough for Craig, Henry and I for one meal. (Luke didn't want to eat homemade pasta since it "looked funny.") The sauce was enough for this meal and two more smallish servings as leftovers.
*Edited to add: This is NOT a very healthy recipe. I'm sure my readers know that. It is definitely going into our "special meals" file.
I won't bore you with a photograph of my grocery haul this week--although, I must admit, I'm totally fascinated with such photos on other blogs--but suffice it to say that I tried really hard to keep my groceries to the bare minimum and the total was $130 and some change. Really, I must admit to myself that it is impossible to spend less than an average of $125 per week. I only have about $80 left for my last week in February (although I suppose if I continue to shop on Wednesdays that will leave me only 5 days) so I will report how that goes. I know that I could spend less, but my goal is to eat well and somewhat ethically on $125 per week.
Speaking of that phrase, somewhat ethically, I'll tell you what that means and how that has changed for me. Grocery shopping used to torment me, because I would question myself and my choices over and over again. Where should I shop? Is is better to buy the local but not organic produce at Kroger, or the organic produce from California? Is it better to use more gas to drive to four stores, or to spend a little more on the fair trade sugar from the regular store, or to just buy conventional sugar? My head would spin in circles, and I would feel guilty, and I would always spend too much money. So here is where I'm at now. The most important thing right now is for us to live within our means. So I only shop once per week at my regular old grocery store, and I buy the local milk and some organic produce. I try to go to Whole Foods or the winter farmers market for eggs and a few other local things as often as I can. And that is that.
Without further ado, here is the meal plan for the week: Monday: roast chicken, potato gnocchi, broccoli Tuesday: lentil soup, crusty bread with brie Wednesday: pasta with homemade marinara, leftover chicken Thursday: chili, salad Friday: pizza Saturday: homemade pasta with vodka sauce Sunday: leftovers and/or burritos (we often use up leftovers in burritos, too)
Stay tuned, because later today I'll try to post something exciting: Henry performing a magic trick!
I made roasted chicken, potato gnocchi with marinara, and broccolli for dinner. I bought a bottle of wine. I made a homemade card. And then, in a fit of anger, I crumpled the card and threw it away. I wonder why Luke has problems with his temper? I'm glad Craig is so patient. He might not remember to bring me a valentine every year, but he is always gracious and forgiving. I would say that is a pretty good gift any time of the year.
The budget/recipe posts seem to be popular--just be quiet Peter and Craig--so I'm going to keep these up a few times a week. I'm a bit late here, but I figured I would post my groceries and menus for the week. I won't bore you with listing all of what I bought, but here are a few things to note: I found a box of 56 diapers marked down to $4.99. I had to buy the kids their beloved gummi vitamins. I bought conventional chicken breasts, but I continue to stick with my local, wonderful milk from Snowville Creamery. I still buy breakfast cereal because it is quick and easy and Luke doesn't like any other breakfast foods except toast and blueberry muffins. I make most of our bread but buy tortillas and Arnold bagel thins, again because my picky Luke loves me to make pizza bagels for his lunchbox out of these. We eat a lot of produce. The total was $125.34, which is right what I aim for most weeks.
This week's meals:
Monday: make your own burritos again (we eat this a lot)
Tuesday: seared chicken breasts, homemade mac and cheese, and roasted brussel sprouts
Wednesday: baked potatoes with toppings (leftover mexican stuff plus curried greens and chickpeas)
Thursday: chicken pot pie (with leftover chicken)
Friday: homemade cheese pizza
Saturday: dal, rice, leftover curried greens or whatever else Craig wants to make
It probably isn't a good idea to try to make homemade valentines with your two oldest children while your baby is awake. If you do, it probably isn't a good idea to give the baby one of the valentine lollipops so that he will quit crying and tugging on your leg. If you do, it probably isn't a good idea to let him run off to entertain himself doing who knows what (which, it turns out, will probably be drooling lollipop goo on your keyboard).
Because if you do all that, you will probably spend much, much more time cleaning the keyboard and bathing the baby than you did working on valentines.