30 July 2010

feeding the masses.

People have many things that matter to them.

Things they love.

Things at which they're gifted.

Things to which they look forward.

Mine all revolve around food. Which can be a problem, although I've come to understand it as perfectly normal, and perhaps even a good thing. I mentioned in the post on birthdays that I think we makers of homes are called to create these celebrations to point to the fact that life has meaning. I think we do the same thing with food (a fact highlighted dramatically in the Old Testament).

I love to host with food - to have small, intimate gatherings, big, boisterous gatherings, casual and fancy. I love it all.

But the primary thing we do with food each day and week is to figure out a way to keep all these people nourished.

Yes, I could keep them nourished on a grilled chicken/big green salad diet, and that would do the job. But this is when it comes back to my love for the planning, shopping, preparing of food. Sure, if I didn't love it, we wouldn't be up a creek.

And not everyone does, which is fine.

But I do.

So, I'm going to endeavor to more often than not post our weekly menu. I'd like the kids to remember what they ate as kids, and for me to know what I fed us, and for my couple of friends out there who request menu info to benefit from it now. I love to know what people are cooking.

What are you people out there cooking?

Friday: We're hosting 12 extra children tonight for supper. Some dear friends of ours are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary with a fancy dinner party. Their children, and so consequently their grand children are all in town to celebrate with them. Paul and I are hosting 12 of the 14 grandkids at our house, plus our kids. I've decided to have a truly decadent child menu. They're not my kids, so I can do this to them.

Boxed Mac & Cheese, Pizza Rolls or Bagel Bites, which ever is cheaper at the store, Broccoli with Cheese Sauce, Fruit, Ice Cream Sandwiches. I'm pumped. Ada and Eason will not know what hit them, which will be so fun. Yes!

Saturday: My daddy and his lady are coming for supper. She's a pescetarian. We're having Redfish with mashed potatoes, asparagus and shrimp cream sauce. It's a favorite of mine and I'm kind of excited. Also, I'm making peach pan dowdy (like a combination of a crisp and a cobbler), which is Daddy's favorite and we're kind of celebrating his birthday three weeks late.

Sunday: We have different friends here for lunch and supper (Sunday is for feasting, and who better to feast with than friends) - for lunch, a new recipe i've not made for chicken enchiladas (I roasted chickens this week and have tons of yummy shredded chicken to use). For supper, I'm cooking with two girlfriends, and I think spaghetti and meat balls. Yes sir ree bob.

Monday: We're having Baked Potato Soup and Veggie Paninis. We do soup and paninis about once a week. I vary the soup and the panini options. We really, really enjoy our panini maker. I highly recommend one.

Tuesday: Chicken Romano. My mother has been making this for years and years and years and years. And we love it. It is angel hair pasta with a red sauce and lightly breaded and pan sauteed chicken. Sometimes I do it without the chicken. It's not quite as good, not quite as filling, but better for us, cheaper and weeknight appropriate It is a staple, fairly easy, and yes we're having pasta twice in one week. It just worked out that way.

Wednesday: This is always my night off - we usually go to church, where there is supper served.

Thursday: I think yes, we're having enchiladas twice in one week as well. We have my daddy and baby brother coming to visit with Paul about their upcoming camping trip. Daddy's favorite food in the world is cheese and onion enchiladas. Which is secretly my favorite food as well. So, I use him as an excuse to make them.

So, that's what we're eating. I don't plan out vegetables and sides - I just keep green things and starchy things on hand. Big Sam's box of mixed greens, broccoli, green beans, rice, pasta, risotto, potatoes.
I try for one red meat, one chicken, and one seafood each week. Then i fill in with bean and veggie dishes. This week is a bit meat heavy (because of the leftover chicken, mainly).

This week is a bit atypical - it's kind of food-heavy. But I haven't cooked anything that has left overs (other than the chickens) in a couple of weeks and the fridge has seemed bare. So, if we have too many, I'll freeze some or deliver some to friends.

I have people other than my immediate family at my dinner table two or three nights each week, and we like it that way. We love to feast with friends, especially casually.

If something comes up in the week (i have a bad day or we have an impromptu invitation somewhere), I try to have at least one to two meals that will keep for the next week. You don't want to plan out an entire menu that is a bunch of fresh ingredients or, obviously one that is a bunch of canned or processed stuff. I try to frontload the week with fresh stuff and backload it with less fresh requirements.

For breakfast, we have cereal and fruit. For lunches: leftovers; good cheese, bread and fruit; or peanut butter and honey sandwiches - diners choice. For snacks, I keep raw carrots, celery, pretzel sticks and plenty of fruit. The sheer amount of fruit we go through is ridiculous.

I highly recommend shopping the same day each week and doing it as close to the beginning of your prime cooking/eating times. We eat more and better stuff on the weekend, and so if I shop on Thursday or Friday, my best, freshest stuff (redfish) is for the weekend, while my more staple stuff (potato soup) is for a week night.

As for the economics of it all, I do not use coupons (don't have the patience and fortitude), but I shop sales - I review the McDades and Kroger circulars and I know what things usually cost at Sam's. I base all of our fruit decisions on what's in season and cheapest. I do believe in frozen vegetables - from what I know, they are just as nutrient rich as the produce you buy in the grocery store, if not more so, but if you can get farmers market stuff, obviously that's best.

I do try to have 'treats' during the week. We have Monday Muffins (usually banana - so good for everyone and the family favorite, but this time of year, clearly berries make appearances), and I make dessert once or twice a week - usually for Saturdays or Sundays.

Ada Brooks and increasingly Eason get in the kitchen with me. They make things take longer, but ada brooks can do amazing fractions in her head all because of measuring spoons, and Eason is learning to be more careful with his physical surroundings because I'm training him to pour ingredients into pots and mixing bowls. I love cooking with people - little and big.

Now, if I only I felt this way about laundry.

29 July 2010

Mama doesn't learn to swim.

I have a child. (You didn't know?)

He is three. He is a boy. He is as three and as boy as any three year old boy in the history of the world. It is such a southernism for a woman to say "whew - well, he's all boy" - as though the opposite option is some bizarre form of behavioral androgeny. But I say it all the time - and mean it. Eason is ALL boy.

Since he crawled up a ladder to the kids' fort at 14 months and crawled up Paul's ladder onto the roof when he was just two (the former of which we allowed with close supervision and hands to catch, the latter of which was a sneaky move by him that gave me a heart attack and about sent his daddy into an institution), I assumed that there was nothing of a physical nature of which he would experience fear.

I thought - this kid - he'll be scared of asking girls to dance (okay, not really, but...) or of standing up and spelling things in front of people - or of an impending nuclear holocaust... but not of anything physical.

(Actually, I kind of secretly thought he'd never show fear of anything.)

So this spring, when we re-introduced the pool, I got a shock.

I thought for sure that I'd have to make sure he didn't drown in his eagerness to swim.

I thought he'd be like our friend Mae who thinks she can the 200m butterfly, but can, in reality, go about 15 seconds and 29 inches before she needs assistance.

I thought by the end of the summer he'd be going off the diving board.

I thought I knew my child.

But God knows exactly when I need to be knocked off my parenting high horse. He knows when I'm thinking "I've got this" a little too confidently. He knows when I'm sleeping a little too well at night. And he knows when my identity is getting a little too wrapped up in them.

Ada is reading up a storm, Collins is responding to the word "No" about 77% of the time, and teaching Eason to swim is going to be a piece of cake.


Ha. Ha.

This spring, we took Eason to the pool, and well, he mentally broke down.

Let me remind everyone who doesn't know - Eason is the loudest child in the history of the world. Louder than I was as a child or am as an adult. Louder than my little brother who was even louder than I am. Louder than Ada Brooks.

He began screaming his fool head off. The entire pool is of course horrified. Actually, the only people there were three women in water aerobics and our good friends who were swimming with us - none of whom are the horrified type. Well, the water aerobics women might be.

My sweet, brave three year old boy was terrified of the water.

In a most irrational way.

He would grasp at my bathing suit - wouldn't even let me hold him out from my body so he could kick his legs. He wanted to be in his towel on the sidelines.

I thought "This is ridiculous. Scared of the water? Not my child. Not happening. I will win this battle."

And make no mistake. I win battles. I don't set my mind to everything, but when I do, dammit, I win. The potty training battle - though it was hard fought with Eas - was definitely a win for me. What they'll eat... well, we all know who is winning that one. What they'll watch on television. Again, check in the Mom column.

I am a winner. They have strong wills, but guess where they got those strong wills?? huh?

So, I set out to fight. Let me clarify: I set out to win.

Three days a week, minimum, I was taking the kids to the pool. And Eason was breaking down. I thought, "I just have to push forward." I would let him have some time with his floaties and then I'd require that he work on swimming - with me holding him - but practicing kicking his legs, etc.

And he'd lose it. And I'd grit my teeth and become more resolved. He didn't win on diapers and he wasn't going to win about the pool.

And we went on like this - for, I don't know, six weeks.

He cried. He screamed. He busted ear drums.

And I dug my heels in - I roped Paul in - I roped Ada in - I even had help offered to me by my dear swimming buddy who was looking on in calm horror as this spectacle unfolded.

And then... I quit.

It was a combination of things. One, I was exhausted. Two, I genuinely feared for the hearing of those around us. Three, it wasn't working. And Four, I looked into his eyes and realized he wasn't faking. He was really, truly terrified.

Six hard fought battling weeks and nothing. Yes, perhaps I should take a lesson from the french at Verdun (a lesson from the french? in battle?) - I should hold out for more like 10 months.

But, like the french, I had a high casualty rate. But it wasn't a mere 100,000 men - it was my sanity. More specifically, the part of my sanity wrapped up in security that I am a good parent.

I did what many, many parents do. I quit fighting the battle so I didn't have to call it a loss. (Yes, the vietnam analogy is not lost on me here, but I think I'm done with my war history for the day).

I quit. I just decided to let it go.

But contrary to what is popular among parenting these days - I announced that I was quitting. I didn't skulk off into the darkness and hand him a package of MnMs - I said "Hey Eason - Fine - you don't want to learn to swim - that's fine - I get it - you're scared - fine - do whatever you want to in the water. Sit on the side of the pool, play in your inflatable ring - whatever makes you comfortable - let me know how I can help you."

I retreated. I put up my white flag.

And now, six weeks post surrender, he swims like a little fish. Or at least that's what he says. He jumps in the pool, kicks his little legs, almost an entire five feet over to me. He races his friend Mae. (They both lose...) He plays ring around the rosie with me and falls down and touches the bottom - even in the four foot water.

He's happy. This happy:

Yes, that happy. Even and especially with these goggles on. Which are funny enough to make the whole world laugh.

Yes, I am tempted to claim a victory. I am tempted to plant my flag upon the land of the not-afraid-of-water Eason.

And I guess, in the only ways that matter, it is a victory.

But it's not my victory. I didn't learn to swim. He did. (Kind of - i mean - he'd still drown if he dropped him in the middle of a lake... but he's on his way.)

Eason won. He overcame a very genuine and paralyzing fear. Sometimes kids are scared - actually scared - not play scared [as you can imagine, my patience for fake scaredness is about as long as my patience for whining].

And during that time, the only thing to do is hold them. Tell them you are going to help them, to a great extent on their terms, overcome their fear.

I am the grower up of my children. Well, Paul and I, but you know... =)

And it's not always a battle. In my reaction against the current popular cheerleader mentality of parenting, sometimes I forget that there are times when cheering is the appropriate thing to do.

So yes, I did "I'm so, so very proud of you" - even when all he did was put his face in for two seconds. I felt ridiculous. I did little dances when he made any progress. I made up, and sang, in public, songs about Eason the Fish. I clapped. I jumped up and down in the pool.

I looked exactly like those mothers that gross me out.

Because Eason learning to swim was just as much about humbling his mother as it was about him. Because God knows what he's doing.

I lost my battle, but Eason won his. And that's what the parenting is all about. We don't potty train them, teach them to read, fight against fruit snacks for us.... and our pride. We do it for them. Or at least we're supposed to be doing it for them.

Our identity is not in our children, right? =)

28 July 2010

I am a crazy face

Two weeks ago, I proclaimed that I was going to be better at blogging regularly.

I even gave a list of topics about which I wanted to update.

And then we moved.

Yes, we are crazy faces. We up and moved. On the fly. Spontaneously.

My sweet, darling daddy asked us if we wanted to trade homes with him - we would owe him the difference in the values of the two homes, but he would be patient about that debt, and we would be able to live the next five to ten years (or perhaps forever), in a much more spacious home.

We love our house. It's our first house, and we, especially Paul, have put a lot of sweat equity into it. But it is on the smallish side. It's not really small - many, many people live in much smaller with even more souls. We were grateful for the 356 square feet per person that we enjoyed.
But given the option to instead enjoy 596 square feet per person, especially while these people of ours have all this stuff, we went for it.

Collins needs those extra 240. Really. He does.

So, we started moving closets and beds and kitchenaid mixers.
And pets. Bluefred is coping, though, it seems.

I now have a pantry. And a spacious laundry room. And a kitchen in which I can have more than one person cooking without causing heat stroke or an attack of claustrophobia.

There is still much work to be done - We must ready our house to sell (Daddy is holding down the fort there for now), and we must get everything in its proper place at the new house.

And we have to move the trampoline, the best idea for which so far is for a few grownup men to pick it up, walk it down the street, and for me to video this event with a cold drink in my hand.

We can do this because the houses are approximately a four hundred yard walk from one another.

It took me way, way too long to create that map. I am not computer savvy.

So, yes, I am a crazy face. Crazy for moving in July with three small children. But, we are happy. We have spread out. There is a piano room. And a built-in spice rack (on which I have alphabetized my spices - something for which I mocked my mother during my entire adolescence - Sorry, Mama - you were right - finding paprika is easier when it's after onion powder but before rosemary).

And a hobbit-like front door. And a cat door. And french doors from our bedroom out onto the deck. There are many great things for which I am thankful.

All my paintings are still at the old house. It is driving me insane. I miss them. But they'll get here eventually.

So, I will get back to writing about my sweet family, but until then, wish me luck in unpacking boxes and moving trampolines and not letting Collins fall down the basement stairs.

13 July 2010

the eleventh plague [or a post showing masterful martyrdom]

[Am I the only person who can never remember how many plagues there were? I keep thinking it's some biblical, symbolic number - specifically, I always think it's seven - and really, can anyone name more than seven? Oh, your six year old can? yeah, yeah, I know - he or she and Ada can get together and be tedious....But it's not seven, as any self-respecting Judeo Christian six year old knows - there are ten... or perhaps eleven]

Birthdays are a gift, right? a time to celebrate that we were born into this world? a guarantee that for at least one day a year, the world (or your tiny part of it at least) revolves around you? right?

Well, not when you're Queen Of The House.

Queen? Is that what I am? Shouldn't I have workers? Oh, they're all six and under? Great...

When one is Queen, she is in charge of birthdays. And when I say in charge, let me make this clear: If the Queen doesn't do anything about a birthday, nothing shall be done.

Case in point - my own birthday.
I am blessed with dear friends who want to celebrate my birthday, but in my household, nada. It's not even an insensitive thing (something I need reminding of....) - it's just a lack of an appropriate person to do the duty.

The King doesn't mark birthdays. He dutifully does whatever tasks he's assigned to mark them - but he doesn't do the task-assigning. [I hear tails of lore of Kings who do organize and celebrate birthdays - I believe them. But they are rare....]

I love my darling Paul - he's a great husband - but he is not a birthday-celebrator. My (non)birthday celebration this year is proof positive of this.

Please, dear friends, do not let the irony be lost on you. There are four birthdays in my household which I am responsible for celebrating. Three of those people- so seventy five percent - I was also responsible for birthing.

Yes, on June 17, 2004, March 21, 2007, and June 18, 2009, I did the hardest thing a woman can physically do - (if you'd like to argue this point, go ahead, but you won't find a woman who has given birth who will be on your side - and many of those women have also passed kidney stones, run marathons, and climbed mountains, so shut yo mouth)

I birthed babies. I spent quite a few, very painful hours bringing these children into the world -
all for what?

[Oh - to ensure the propagation of the species? to glorify our Creator? to participate in the miracle of life? to ensure permanent joy and amusement in my life? - blah blah]

For what?

To then be saddled with celebrating for the person I birthed... the day that I birthed them.

Do said children remember that day? nope
Do I? yes sir ree bob
Did said children accomplish something on that day? I mean... if you count responding to the instinct to breathe an accomplishment...
Did I? you betcha

Yes... you carry them for nine months, birth them, and spend the next how ever many years you buy into this stuff celebrating them

And now I shall fall onto the grenade to save an entire people - all for amazing principles and beliefs.
Because I am not just the Queen of the Forster family, but am the queen of martyrdom everywhere.

You might ask why we keep doing this - we monarchs of family units -

We do it because we're supposed to. Because we know how important celebrations are - some of us know it consciously, and some of us can just feel it in our bones. The Queens take charge of birthdays, weddings, funerals, religious and secular holidays- we are in charge of giving life meaning through the ritualistic celebration of the occasions.

If women quit doing this, we wouldn't be women. And probably the world would fall apart. That sounds dramatic, but I believe it with all that I am. We need these celebrations to remind us that each and every day has meaning. We aren't creating a falsehood. We are pointing to a truth that we cannot quite articulate except by cake and carefully wrapped presents, candles and calla lillies, and casseroles and corsages, Christmas trees and hot chocolate.
We can stamp our feet and say that we matter. Or we can do what the new atheists do and stamp our feet and say we don't matter. But the truth is betrayed in the simple fact that we sing and blow out candles.


We have all these birthdays.
It begins in March - with sweet, yellow Eason.
Then, in May, I come through, and if we shall celebrate as a family, I shall organize....
Then in June, the flies start swarming in the sky, the Nile turns to blood, and the bookend children are on the 17th and 18th.
Then, as though I've had time to recover, Paul (not to mention America) is July 4th.

(Add my mother-in-law on May 11th, mother's day, father's day, and my daddy's birthday on July 3rd and you can see why this is equivalent to locusts)

I'm exhausted. Very, very exhausted.

Reasons sometimes I'd rather have frogs:

1) The guest list. We are blessed with a big family, an even bigger God-family and that's before we even get to the friends who are dear to us (who are really all unofficial godparents), which is still before we get to children's friends who are dear to them. I'd love to include everyone in everything, but I'd quickly get to 30 grown ups and 30 kids and we'd still be leaving people out. So, each birthday comes along and I fret about who to include. It's not that we love some people and don't love others, but there are some people who get automatic tickets to events (grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles) and usually, by the time I've handed out automatic tickets, I'm at capacity. In fact, the past two years, we've had to have two parties for Ada - one for her friends and one family/godfamily celebration - because combining them was going to be no fun for anyone. I'm looking for a solution to this problem. I'm thinking of limiting the friend celebration to once every three years or something. Who knows.

And then this year, Ada was planning a small, all girl birthday party with friends from school and church. And then her chin quivered at the idea that her very best friend in the world, Ren, who happens to be a neighbor and the son of good friends of ours (with whom she's in a not-so-covert romantic relationship - see here), wasn't going to be allowed to come to the all girl birthday party (excluded by gender) or the family dinner (excluded by the fact that he's not related to us by blood or by baptism - you know - except in the way that we're all related by baptism, but that would make it a REALLY BIG PARTY - which we'll have one day. I'll let God do the hosting then.)

So, exceptions have to be made, which keep me up at night.

2) The simple logistics are just daunting when you get these celebrations back to back like this. Feeding friends and family, presents, calendaring - dear heavens - the calendar. In fact, because of the calendar, we usually end up celebrating in Jackson and again in Hattiesburg with Paul's folks.


This year was sweet Collins's first birthday and Ada Brooks's sixth.

Six is so old.

Ada Brooks wanted a baking birthday party for her girlfriends. I said okay. She asked so nicely and calmly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wouldn't have been able to say no.

I couldn't handle the idea of three celebrations, so we made the decision to combine Ada Brooks's and Collins's Jackson family and godfamily celebration. Which does, for the record, include 10 adults and a smattering of children, plus the five of us. So, if that's not a full enough house, I don't know what is...
And you cannot kick people out onto the deck in late june.

Ada wanted coconut cake. Weirdo-head.

Collins wanted cake... or was willing to have one.

His godmother, Calen, got to make his cake. (birthday cake making is a traditional forster family godmother duty co-founded by Ada Brooks's godmother, Mel, and myself five years ago...) Calen made a yummy, yummy white cake with even yummier, yummier white chocolate icing.
Here she is, explaining to her child how to make white chocolate icing.

Sadie Macon will be a baker by the time she's three. She's determined.

So, we had a small pink and blue family birthday dinner for our pink child and our blue child. They relished in an italian feast (cheese ravioli, caesar salad, foccacia bread, and a few italian type appetizers, i think, but I cannot remember).

We blew out candles.

We opened presents.
(Or loved on children while they tried to open presents)

Ada got almost all cooking-themed presents, which is a reflection of our family's love for me, perhaps? =)

We enjoyed the company of the incomparable Will Brantley.

We had a good time pointing to the meaning of life, even if I now need to be put in an institution to recover. Tomorrow, I'll write about Ada Brooks's baking birthday bash. Today, I'm too tired.

Same Old Song

I have the best intentions about this blog. I really do. I genuinely enjoy making a record of the insanity around here. And it's not as though it really takes all that much time. But I don't find that I have a lot of thirty minute spots in my day in which I can write uninterrupted.

Plus... be honest... no one wants to read a blog post that doesn't include pictures. Which take even more time.

(When I get to heaven, I'm going to be as photogenic as my kids....right?)

We've been busy this summer. Busy in great ways.

Things I need to devote an entire blog post to:

1) Celebrating Birthdays

2) Some recent parenting insights I've had as we stumble along on the way

3) Days at the pool

4) Having seven little girls cooking supper in my house

5) The Fourth of July

6) Homeschooling.... (This could be seven posts)

7) Our recent trip North to our favorite (and really only) city, Chicago, with a side jaunt to Waukesha, Wisconsin to celebrate some dear friends' marriage.

8) Food and Hospitality

9) Books

And rather than just saying these are the things I'd like to post about.... I'm actually going to do it. Yep. This week - at least one post a day - I'm going to catch up.

Come and get me if I don't. Seriously. Or at least post a nasty message on my facebook wall. It will be embarrassing, which always does the trick.

To sum up life right now:

We are consistently blessed by the life God has given us.

We have dear, dear friends, most of whom we don't see enough, but a few of whom we live within a stone's throw (granted a Trunchbull type stone's throw) of and get to see quite often,

a delightful, worshipful, centering church,

families that amuse and support us,

and most of the fun a family of five could dream up to have.