Friday, July 30, 2010

Think tink

If Audrey had a kindred spirit, it would be Tinkerbell. She's got the same feisty, spunky, creative, slightly vindictive vibe going that I came to know and love watching Tink in "Peter Pan" when I was a kid. Given their similarities, it makes perfect sense to me that during the past six months, Audrey's affinity for all things Tink has reached full-blown infanity.

I've got a basket of Tink trinkets on the bathroom counter, which we use as potty training rewards for Audrey. She's got three different shirts with Tinkerbell, two pairs of Tink pajamas, not to mention books, movies and, well, you get the idea.

A couple weeks back I was cruising clearance racks at the local box store and came across a set of Tinkerbell bedsheets marked half off the clearance price of $24.99. They were for a full bed, but I knew I could cut them down to twin-size, re-sew them, and have some extra fabric left. I combed through the racks, found another set, and got them both, along with a king-size fitted sheet in a coordinating shade of pale lime green (also half-off the clearance price). I figured I could use as the lime green sheet as the backing for a quilt and the extra fabric from the twin sheets to piece a patchwork top.

When I got the sheets home and washed them, I discovered that the fabric of the Tink sheets was pretty flimsy and I wanted to make Audrey a sturdy quilt that could handle all the abuse she would undoubtedly put it through, as well as the requisite laundering. So I made a trip to JoAnn in Yakima and got several yards of calico fabric in shades of purple, magenta and green to match the sheets. I also picked up some lime-green cotton yarn to tie the quilt and some rick-rack to trim curtains and a bed skirt, which I'll make with the left-over fabric from cutting down the sheets.

Over the past few days, I've finished cutting the sheets down and re-sewing them, and just yesterday I finished cutting all the squares for the quilt top. Today's portion of the project will be cutting down the lime-green sheet to the right size for the quilt back, which I'll try and fit in somewhere between the four loads of laundry I need to do today.

Audrey is vaguely aware that I've got the sheets and all the other fabric in my room, but has no idea that her own bedroom is getting a makeover for her third birthday... mwah-ha-ha-ha!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Field trip report

Just like last year's report, this is copied and pasted directly from Jimmy's email to his advisory teacher. As before, he typed it himself.

Dear Miss Stevens,

here is my report about my field trip. my mom is going to some of the pictures of my field trip in this email.

have a nice summer

from Jimmy


On Friday July 9th I went on a field trip to the Pacific Science Center.

I learned three new things there. The first thing is bubbles always want to be round. That is because the air on the inside is pushing out in all directions. You can sometimes make bubbles a different shape by using a wire frame like a cube to make a cube-shaped bubble. Another thing I learned is liquid nitrogen is super cold. I watched Jeff a worker at the Science Center use liquid nitrogen to blast off a soda bottle rocket. I also learned about the owl butterfly which has markings on its wings that look like owl eyes to scare away birds that might eat it.

I saw three really cool things there. My favorite thing was the smell tests. They had bottles with smells inside like peppermint, vanilla, watermelon, pineapple, cherry, coconut and lemon. we had to guess which smell was which and my dad and I both got some wrong. My favorite smell was cinnamon. I also really liked the big white funnel with marbles that went around and around and around until they went into the hole. The last thing that I thought was really cool was the butterfly house. I liked it because there were lots and lots of butterflies. The most prettiest butterfly was the Blue Morpho. I also saw some butterflies in the pupa stage.

On Saturday July 10th I went to the Point Defiance zoo and aquarium.

My three favorite animals were the Lemon shark, budgies, and peacock. I liked the lemon shark because it was huge. Lemon sharks can be up to 10 feet long and can weigh as much as 200 pounds! Budgie is a nickname for the budgerigar parakeet. I got to feed birdseed on a popsicle stick to a blue budgie with a white head. I saw a big and colorful Indian peacock walking on the path in front of me. I took lots of pictures of it. The male peacock uses his fancy tail to attract females. One last cool thing I did was ride a dromedary. a dromedary is a camel with one hump.

I had so much fun and learned a lot on my field trip.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Missing the point

Yesterday, as I was cruising by, I caught this segment of Meredith Viera interviewing Jennifer Senior, the author of last week's New York Magazine cover story, "I Love My Children; I Hate My Life".

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For five seconds, I got rather indignant--until I slowed down, put the breaks on being judgmental (always my default), and asked myself why I felt that way.

What I came to is this: not surprisingly, indignation usually is my mask for feeling defensive. Upon closer examination, I found the "I hate my life" part a little too painfully close to how I felt until fairly recently. As was pointed out in the interview, many parents--myself included--are reluctant to admit the experience of child-rearing doesn't live up to their expectations. I would never have gotten pregnant if I had a sneak peek at what was waiting for me in the first three miserable months of sleep deprivation and breastfeeding agony after Jimmy was born--and that's before I even had to deal with him as a toddler. So to say it didn't live up to my expectations is a mild understatement.

Still, it's completely worth it. My experience has been that when I make my best effort to be a loving, compassionate parent, I always learn more from my children than I know I'm teaching them.

In many ways, waiting until I was in my 30s to have kids has made motherhood much easier for me: I was more emotionally mature and patient than I was in my 20s, and I had a chance to accomplish some educational and personal goals before raising a family. On the other hand, I also got more stubborn, more controlling, more entrenched in a self-centered way of life that was difficult for me to give up when the kids came along.

I reached a point where I knew the next logical step for my personal and spiritual growth was to have children--and that intellectual justification was coupled with a strong emotional and physiological desire for children, as well. I was committed to working through the challenges I knew would come, knowing I would be better for doing so, and also that I (hopefully) would be raising happy, healthy, kind, and productive children.

Even so, nothing prepared me for the reality of what motherhood is really like, how draining it is. As much as I thought I was mature and patient, having to devote so much energy, physically and emotionally, pushed all my buttons. Every last one of them. Only within the last two years have I acknowledged to myself and my husband the rather startling fear of having my kids suck the life out of me, and the tremendous guilt that comes with resenting them for it. Identifying this was a big breakthrough for me, and allowed me to finally move past both the fear and the resentment.

What I've learned as I've attempted to reconcile my fears of "losing myself" to my children's demands is this: control is an illusion. I can teach my children good manners, discipline them, and in so doing modify their behavior to a certain extent. What it all comes down to, though, is how I respond when my children exert their own wills in conflict with mine. Do I explode? Do I lecture? Do I yell? Do I lose my patience? Do I beat myself up for not doing a better job? Do I regret ever giving birth to them? Yes, at some point, any and all of those things.

Eventually, after I made all the mistakes I could think of, I started to learn what does and doesn't work for my kids and for me. I learned the only thing I can control is my own reaction, and I'm more happy when I choose to let go of being angry and resentful. I'm learning (still learning!) to choose my battles, to be patient, and to be calm. I'm also learning how to communicate with my partner, get support, and carve out time for myself to do those things that feed my soul and nurture my creativity.

More than anything, I'm learning the difference between "happy" and "rewarding". Life with kids can be happy, even euphoric, but much more often it is painful, tedious, smelly, embarrassing, frustrating, challenging, expensive and even sometimes tragic. Those experiences, though, are a necessary part of life, of being human, of the cosmic balance of opposition in all things. Life with both bitter and sweet is sometimes happy, but always, always, rewarding.

Looking back at the interview, I don't feel indignant anymore. I just think Ms. Senior and Ms. Viera missed the point. Yes, parenting is a challenge, but it's possible to transcend resentment and frustration by focusing on the intrinsic value of sacrifice and growth possible during the parenting experience.

What makes the struggle worthwhile for me is the opportunity to rise above myself and my hangups by being open to change and open to all the things parenting can teach me if I'm willing to learn.

That, and sloppy tucking-in-at-bedtime kisses.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What do you do...

...when you're at the grocery store and your kids start yelling and hitting each other because someone stole someone else's imaginary ice cream? C'mon kids, figure it out--I mean, what is the point of imaginary ice cream if you can't imagine that yours is magically impervious to poaching (and of course, freezer burn)?

It was tempting to leave them there, in the dairy aisle, to duke it out.

So tempting.

Monday, July 12, 2010

One month

Last Wednesday marked a month since the day I found out our baby died. Jim's parents were kind enough to give us a spot on the north edge of their property to bury him and we did it that evening, right before sunset. The grave is unmarked, except by a small Mayflower viburnum (Viburnum carlesii).

My grandmother had a Mayflower viburnum in her yard, and now my mom has a couple, too. They're a sentimental favorite in our family because (I believe) my great-grandmother had them at her home on Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

Last night was one month since I delivered the baby. After the sense of closure I felt once we buried him, I was a little surprised at how raw my emotions were when I took time to reflect. I've been keeping busy, so I don't think about it as much as I did even a week ago, but it's all still there, so much intensity just below the surface.

It will take time, lots of time. That's okay; I'm going the distance.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Back in May, my mom approached me and asked me to write a poem for her. Not just any poem, but something for a specific event, with a specific audience. She's a nursing instructor at Highline Community College, just south of Seattle, and she wanted me to write a poem for her department's pinning ceremony.

My mother, aunt, and grandmother are all nurses. So, while I'm not one myself (ix-nay on the bodily fluids), I've always had a respect for them and the sense of calling my mom feels about what she does. I remember the end of my junior year in high school when she graduated with her RN, and all of us kids loaded into our station wagon to attend her pinning ceremony at SPU. There was something almost sacred about the lighting of the candles at the end, and I've never forgotten it.

For a few weeks before my miscarriage, I tried submitting the poem to several different nursing publications, and so I held off posting it here (I've gotten in trouble recently from one place in particular for trying submit work that I had published previously on my blog). I pretty much ran out of steam on trying to get it published, so here it is.

By the way, the reference to the "house of misery" in the first line of the fifth stanza is a nod to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem about Florence Nightingale, "Santa Filomena".

The Keepers of the Lamp

We, the keepers of the lamp,
pass this gleaming flame of knowledge
from our practiced hands to yours.

May you see farther by it than we have,
lighting the way for those in your care
and one day kindling its glow in those you will teach.

May you always keep your lamp filled
with the pure oil of compassion,
which burns hot, clear and long.

May you care faithfully for your own vessel,
that in darkness you may bear light
without growing dim or going out.

May you tread softly in the house of misery,
for its beds are full and a careless footstep
can crush a mending spirit.

With hope and pride, we pass to you
this calling to listen, to care, to heal
for you are now, with us, the keepers of the lamp.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Cherry jam

One of Jimmy's favorite books
introduces the preposterous idea that it's possible to get tired of jam. Obviously, Frances' mother must have stocked her pantry with the store-bought variety, because as anyone who puts up their own preserves knows: there's no such thing as too much homemade jam.

Through Jim's folks, we got a great deal on Bing cherries; we bought 40 pounds at 50¢ a pound. We pitted and canned the first 25 pounds, which yielded 18 quarts. With the last 15 pounds, I made a quadruple batch of sugar-free cherry jam, and we still had a few pounds left over for eating fresh.

I used the same recipe from the pectin package as I did for the strawberry jam, but with a few additional modifications.

A single batch of cherry jam calls for three pounds of prepared fruit and the
equivalent of that is about one cup to one pound. Since cherries compress quite a bit when they are pitted and ground, I started with four heaping quarts of cherries--I measured them out in a big glass two-quart measuring cup, which I heaped as high as possible. Then I pitted the cherries before grinding them.

I fired up our KitchenAid stand mixer, used the food grinder attachment, and made a total of 12 cups of ground cherries. I simmered them down for about a half hour to thicken the consistency before adding the other ingredients.

Then I used half the amount of pectin called for, because when I cracked into a jar of my new strawberry jam on Sunday, I found that the texture was more like paste than jam--tasty paste to be sure, but a bit too thick for my liking. I also used less Splenda because I wanted to bring out the tart flavor of the cherries; I used 1 cup per batch.

The quadruple batch yielded 7 pints of jam, and I was very pleased with the results of my alterations to the recipe. The flavor was sweet but tangy, and the consistency was thick but not gelatinous. Ah, success!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Strawberry jam

Canning season has officially begun here at the Big Red House. On Thursday I picked up our order of Klicker strawberries from Winegar's, which sells them locally. The berries are a bit spendy (20 pounds set us back $50, but we did split the order with a friend, which helped)--though in hindsight, they were completely worth the cost because they arrived in a food-grade plastic bucket already hulled and sliced.

With all that prep work done, it only took me an hour to cook, can, and process my jam. This is the first year we've made strawberry jam, and I experimented with a sugar-free batch, while Jim made a batch of the fully-leaded variety.

I used the recipe from the "no sugar needed" pectin box, with a couple modifications. I doubled the recipe and added butter, which the pectin instructions recommended to reduce foaming. I also eliminated the cup of apple juice that was called for, and added lemon juice.

Sugar-free Strawberry Jam

4 cups prepared strawberries (hulled and sliced)
1 1.75-oz. package no sugar needed fruit pectin
1-1/2 cups artificial sweetener (I used Splenda)
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Prepare boiling water canner, jars, and lids.

2. Combine prepared berries in a 6- or 8-quart saucepan and mash gently to release juice. (The recipe didn't call for it, but I actually simmered my berries for 15 or 20 minutes while I was washing jars and getting the canning kettle boiling.) Gradually stir in pectin and lemon juice. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

3. Add artificial sweetener. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim if necessary.

4. Fill and seal jars. Process in water bath for ten minutes.

Yield: 4-6 half pints (doubling the recipe, I filled four pint jars)