22 February 2011

a blessing or a burden

I get to spend time with other people's children a lot. I teach them two days a week, go to church with them, live in the neighborhood with them, and on and on.

Today, a friend of mine had a sick child. And two of her other children had a scheduled field trip that Ada also had. So I grabbed the two well children to add to my brood and took them all on a field trip.

After our field trip (because, secretly, I'm hoping to win MostFunMomEver, 2011 - and no, I don't want to hear about my very, very bad chances...), I took them to Chick Fil A.

Ada Bee, Eason, Collins, and extra children 1 & 2, a 7 year old boy and 3 year old girl. We were excited to be joined by my dear friend Jessie and her sons (yes! two sons!), who are 3 weeks and 5 years. (We were missing Jessie's dear daughter).

The point of all that was to show you that we had a 7, 6, 5, almost 4, 3, 1.7 and .05 year old. And two Mamas.

Brave Mamas.

Mamas up for MostFunMomEver, 2011.

And we ordered a slew of chicken nuggets, six kid waters (we aren't sprite fun), some french fries to share and all gathered around a teenincy picnic table.

We divided nuggets, squeezed ketchup, distributed napkins, poked straws, and then collapsed at the mom table beside.

And I looked at guest child number 1, 7 year old boy. All the other children were greedily devouring fried poultry goodness, and he was staring out into space.

I said, "Hey - you - kid -Do you need something?" (obviously, I used the poor child's name, but I'm reluctant to put names of other people's children out there on the google, you know just in case - anyway....)

"No Ma'am"

"Okay, well, you looked like you were just staring out there into the world a bit"

"Oh - I'm just waiting for us to say the blessing."

Oh, well, damn.

(I didn't say that to the poor nameless kid either.)

What I did say was "heavens - I forgot" and I got up and said a humble and quick blessing, and the children, including the eldest, fearless leader of them, went to devouring.

When other people have my children - a school teacher, a grandparent, a friend, a godparent, a babysitter, a sunday school teacher - anyone - I am always fearing that my children will be a burden.

When I get my children back from anyone, I give them the third or seventh degree about what all sins were committed. I am terrified that Eason has climbed on yet another inappropriate apparatus, or more likely, something that doesn't even qualify as an apparatus. I am petrified that Collins has thrown food or himself in the floor or just been generally whiny. I dread the possibility that Ada has been a disrespectful smart alec (and let's be honest, hers sometimes qualifies as a smart other word that starts with a) or an emotionally difficult basketcase.

I quiz. I assume. I seriously sometimes cannot enjoy myself when I'm away because I'm worried - not that my children are unhappy or unhealthy - but that the person who has them has been burdened.

But what I never wonder is if the person who has them has been blessed?

I don't seem to worry so much about that. I worry that they haven't been a burden. I am constantly on them about not being bad, but, wonder of all wonders - what if they could be good? What if they could be blessings?

What if - while sitting at a picnic table at the outside play ground of a very busy fast food establishment - what if - my child could patiently and silently wait for a mother who is not his own to bless the food.

What if my child could cause two mothers, who both normally tend to be food-blessers, but today were just a bit too harried, hurried and hungry, to stop and bless the food of the seven children in their care. And the food they were themselves about to scarf down?

What if, when I send my children out into the world, instead of striving for non-burdens, I could actually start striving for blessings?

17 February 2011

Food 2/17/11 until 2/23/11

Lunch: I'm strongly considering Sam's Club Pizza. I'm just sayin'. Because, if not that, then I'm going to have to make a grocery store run just to enable peanut butter sandwiches, so why not eat while we're doing the grocery shopping.... =)
Supper: Eason has the St. Luke's Circus tonight (more on that later), so we're eating separately from the kids. I'm thinking of doing something fun for them like Pizza Sandwiches, and then for supper for us - pot roast. Trying a new recipe - it has brown sugar and horseradish and some other yummy stuff. I picked it because we'll be gone from 6-715 and it can be in the oven during that time, without me worrying it will get too done.

Lunch: Pot Roast Sandwiches
Supper: Grilled Blue Cheese Pork Chops, Mashed Sweet Taters, Big Green Salad

Lunch: Leftover smorgasbord
Supper: Black Bean Soup, Veggie Taco Salad, Mojitos, Other assorted Snacks and Drinks brought by friends for Game Night!

Lunch: Haven't gotten that far yet
Supper: Filets on the grill, twiced baked taters, port reduction sauce, big green salad. I think I've spoken before about the beauty of 'bring your own meat' night - You obviously can only do this with folks you love and who love you - because it wouldn't be proper to invite people to your home and ask them to bring their own entree - if you aren't close. But, say you are close to the people, it makes it super easy to have a really yummy meal without breaking the bank, and you get to share it with people still. There is just something depressing about steak without friends.
You know, unless you're out on an awesome date at Shapleys. And then it is not depressing at all.

Lunch: We'll figure it out. Hopefully, there will be leftovers of some kind, and if there aren't, we can thank George Washington Carver for the solution.
Supper: Bean Burritos. I didn't make them this week when I was supposed to - monster migraine, which was resulted in my husband bringing me bean burritos - but the taco bell variety - so, i still have the stuff, and monday nights just seem to be good for bean burritos.

Lunch: Clearly, leftover BB
Supper: Sketti. Plain ol', jane ol' sketti. Paul will love me more than he already does.

14 February 2011

all the dishes are still dirty

Happy Valentine's Day!

I am so blessed by my darling valentine and our three little miniature valentines.

So blessed, that, this morning, when Ada Bee asked if she could make banana bread muffins (the oven is already preheated, Mama), I said 'Sure.'

One of my big goals for the next couple of years is to teach Ada to be a competent cook. She can now read well enough to follow a recipe, and she's responsible enough to not burn the house down. Not that I'm ready to truly abandon her in the kitchen, but I don't feel like I have to worry that while I'm putting in a load of clothes, she's going to put her finger in the immersion blender.

Wait, that was me.

At 25 years of age.

Well, over the last couple of weeks, she's made a couple of things alone. I'm usually also in the kitchen, but I'm not counting her teaspoons.

So, today, while I was getting the boys dressed and such, Ada began making banana muffins.

And I didn't monitor any of it. At all.

Come to find out, maybe that would have been a good idea.

After the timer went off, we opened the oven.

This is what we found.

So, we got back out my recipe for banana bread (a recipe that I've made at least 100 times, maybe closer to 500), and examined.

"Oh, one AND A HALF cups of flour...I forgot that half of a cup."

Yeah. That's what you did alright, bee.

Ada Bee was disappointed. "I worked so hard, and all the dishes are still dirty." I hate it for her. But what a wonderful lesson to learn now - when you're six - rather than when you're twentysix.

One of the biggest things a parent can do to to make a child really feel our love and God's grace is to empathize. So, this morning, before Ada set about Latin and Spelling and Grammar, I gave her a few stories of my cooking disasters.

The time I put the cheesecake in the waterbath without wrapping the springform pan in foil first.
The time I put the roast in the oven, invited folks for supper, and didn't turn the oven on.
The (at least one) time I turned the red beans on high to speed up their cooking and didn't check on them before every single bit of the water was gone and I had a burned mass of dried out red beans .
The time I pulled a pie out of the oven, placed it on the stove and later turned the wrong eye on, which I didn't notice until the pie was actually on fire. There was a burning pie on my stove. It was awesome.
The 523 times I've burned the bread. Including this past saturday night....

Ada and I had some good laughs, and after her disappointment, she did not feel failure - she felt camaraderie. She did fail, in an important sense of the word. She failed to follow directions, and that resulted in us having 24 miniature burned cups of banana soup. And it's important that I not think that failure is cute. (or at least not let on...) But, it ain't the end of the world. It's not even the end of the morning. And she gets that.
She knows that I'm perfectly capable of failure, but the key is that she knows that I'm also perfectly capable of success. And so shall she be.

Ada said, "Oh well - I tried to make a valentine treat."
I said, "let's have a reeses peanut butter cup."
She said, "I'll mess up more often."

Uh oh...

12 February 2011

food 2/10/11 until 2/16/11

We are eating. I promise. We usually do.

Lunch: I have no idea what I, or anybody for that matter, ate for lunch on Wednesday....
Supper: Pulled Pork - supposed to be at church, but you know, when it snows .125 inches in Mississippi, we cannot, so we ate our pulled pork at home.

Lunch: My darling mother took me and the kids to get mexican. She is pretty cool. Paul ate something...hmmm.... =)
Supper: I cooked. I swear I did. No, wait, I didn't. I went out for a girls night at one of my favorite Italian places - Fratesi's - it was delicious-o, and such good visiting time.

Lunch: Sandwiches- various kinds - all around.
Supper: Burgers on the grill, homemade onion rings and french fries, asparagus, ice cream.

Lunch: Leftover scrummaging in the fridge. There is actually plenty there for the taking.
Supper: The kids have a birthday party, but the grownups are having supper - a pasta recipe from my stepmother - Penne, Shrimp, Cream, a whole ton of roasted garlic - and then spinach salad, garlic bread, Pavlova for dessert. I heart heart heart pavlova.

Lunch: Church potluck. To which I'm bringing cheesy beef enchiladas, roasted broccoli, and a mulitcolored jello tower.... or rather Ada is bringing the multicolored jello tower.
Supper: Book Study, snack food.

Lunch: Hot Dog Sandwiches. A Brooks Eason Original Creation, as far as I know. I don't really like them, but the rest of the family thinks they've died and gone to heaven. I'll have a grilled cheese, thank you.
Supper: It's Valentine's Day! We're getting out of the house without kiddos, but we really don't like to be out with the masses, so we're going to my ma's house for Valentine Supper. I have no idea what we're having - I'm taking Twice Baked Potatoes and Pavlova. yes, two servings of Pavlova. But I really do heart it. A lot. And so does Mama. And I can double the recipe today for the meringue part of it - it'll keep in an air tight container for three or four days. And then do the rest on Monday.

Lunch: PB&H
Supper: Bean Burritos. What? It's been two weeks...

06 February 2011

when, in the course of human events.....

Children are our beloved creatures. They are the little, beautiful ones in whom we are well pleased.
As well we should be. They are the children of God, made in His image, and sometimes I feel victorious for not crying every time I catch one of them being perfect. Which does happen, despite what I'm usually standing on my soapbox shouting.
I shout about children's unsanctified imperfections because we live in an age of child-worship. It is unhealthy, ungodly, unbiblical, and, to use one of my favorite words my mother has always used, it is unbecoming.

One of the scariest/least attractive ways this child-worship manifests itself is in our response to declarations.

Think about a King. A Pharoah, perhaps. Who thinks he's the sungod or some such. Or perhaps Henry VIII, in all of his rotund splendor. Or Cleopatra. Or whomever. I don't care. Someone royal and most likely obnoxious.

That person is likely to make declarations. He says "Go and Do X" and everyone response. But, he also makes more subtle declarations. He says "I am hungry" "I want sexual satisfaction" "I want Persia conquered" "I feel tired" "There is a pea in my mattress and I cannot sleep" blah blah blah. And people bring food, concubines, armies, a bed, and a new bed.

If I said something of that sort - or even - "Gosh, it's hot" nothing would happen. Rightfully so.

If I say "I'm hungry" or "I cannot tie my shoes" little oompa loompas don't jump out to assist. Mainly because that's not possible, but, secondly, because I have not asked for anything.

Take my darling husband. If I say, "Paul, would you mind putting the kettle on for tea?" guess what he does? (Usually). He fills up the tea kettle and plops it on the stove. But if I said "Gosh, a cup of tea would be nice," guess what he would say? "So, would you like me to get you a cup?" And if you were a fly on the wall, you'd think "Why don't you just ask the man for tea.....?????!!!"

But we do not react this way to children. Oh no.

We worship them. They are gods and goddesses and their declarations have meaning. They must be always taken as requests, which, if ignored, will result in terror reigning down on our lives.

"I cannot tie my shoes."
"I'm hungry."
"I'm cold."
"Eason is bothering me."
"I want to draw."
"I don't like ham."

And on and on and on.

When Ada was a little bitty tortured thing - daughter of an-as-yet-very-idealistic mother - she started making declarations. And I, in a probably-a-bit-too-sarcastic tone starting saying, "huh.... That's fascinating that you want that. Is there something you'd like me to do about it?"

Mothers and Fathers, in these current trends, respond the above declarations with the following:

"Oh, honey, come here, I'll tie them."
"How about a cracker? Or a banana? Here is a Cheeze-it"
"Darling - here is your jacket."
"Eason....come here."
"I have a pen and a piece of paper - come sit in my lap."
"What about turkey? cheese? peanut butter."

Declarations and requests are different. If you walk up to the woman in the Subway order line and say "I'm hungry," she might punch you. And I'd acquit the hell out of her.
If you go to a cocktail party and say "I'm cold," you will have embarrassed yourself and your hostess.

Grownups are expected to actually ask for things that they need. Or, heaven forbid, fend for themselves.

I have continued staring at my children, quite blankly, when they declare. I refrain from saying "Who cares?" - because, frankly, I do care that Eason wants to draw, Ada doesn't like turkey, and they both are cold. I care a lot. But if they have a need or desire, they must must must must learn to do one of two things:

1) Solve it themselves. Peel a carrot. Get your coat. Resolve your conflict.

2) Ask for help. I love love to help my babies. Absolutely love it. But if I help them at the drop of every whim, I'll be ultimately crushing them. Turning them into high-chair tyrants.

So, the rule at our house is that if they want something, they must ask. With polite words and an actual question in their voice.
'Will you please help me tie my shoes?' rather than 'I cannot tie my shoes.'

'Do you know where the carrot peeler is, Mama?' rather than 'I cannot find the peeler' or worse 'I'm hungry'

'May we watch some Netflix?' rather than 'I want to watch something.'

The desires of their hearts are precious to me. But they cannot be my guiding light.

All ya got to do is ask. Nicely.

03 February 2011

shhhhiiiccccken romano.

(excuse the phone photo.... I was too done to get the real camera out).

So, when my mother was a newlywed, my father saw this recipe somewhere. Maybe southern living magazine, but I think it was in the newspaper. Maybe in Durham, N.C., where Daddy went to law school. But, I don't know. They do. I don't. Oh well.

And Mama cooked it right up. Well, she fiddled a bit, but basically she cooked it right up.

And, like God on the sixth or seventh day, or whenever he said it, Mama and Daddy looked at the creation and saw that it was good.

And growing up, I agreed. And then I got married, and Paul agreed as well.

This recipe stays in our rotation, because:

  • It's fancy enough for company.

(though I largely object to that classification - one of the best company-foods is makeyourown paninis served with homemade soup...which would traditionally have not been considered company fare..., but the point is - Chicken Romano, an ironic name as you'll see, is a food fit for kings. Or at least anyone you'd have in your house)

  • It's fairly simple. The hardest part is to make sure the chicken is free of those little tendons that you are wont to bite into and gag....
  • It is made of all real food
  • It is fairly good for you. Not revolutionary or anything, but certainly should be guiltless, unless you're currently under special dietary restrictions.
  • I think that it's hard to make white meat, skinless chicken taste good, and this does it.
So, to the recipe, which I present unadulterated: (Well, my mother actually adulterated the fire out of it originally, but I haven't done anything further, though my measurements are not always precise).

You need:

1-2 lbs chicken - I use boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders.
Some flour - 2 cups ish
2 tsps salt
2 tsps pepper
4 T or so of butter

1 large onion, chopped (though, if you're onion squeamish, first of all, get a life, and second of all, cut the onion in half, or even into a fourth... i'd think you do want some, though for flavoring the sauce)
Perhaps a glug of olive oil
1 64 oz can tomato juice
3 T sugar
6 Generous Tablespoons parmesan cheese

(just get the stuff in the container.... You can get it that's 100% cheese now, and the texture just makes the sauce better than if you grate your own. I've tried. It's now the only thing I use containerparmesan for, but, well, I try to cook what tastes good, not just what's trendy... =) )

1 1/2 tsps garlic salt
1 1/2 tsps oregano
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 bay leaves
1 T parsley
1 T vinegar

1 lb pasta of your choice - see note below.

Once you have what you need, get out a gallon size baggie. Throw your flour, salt and pepper in there. Then put your cut-up chicken in there. Seal it. Hand it to the nearest child, and ask them to shake shake shake. (This is the realfood version of shake and bake and i helped....).

In a large pot (The widest one you have that is still deep enough to hold sauce.... an extra deep skillet is perfect), melt about 4 T butter. Once it is good and hot, put the chicken in, one piece at a time, shaking off excess flour. If your pot is not wide enough, you'll have to do it in two batches, but regardless, brown chicken on each side for about 4 - 5 minutes on Medium Heat.

Remove chicken to plate. Swat away greedy hands. Not just because you're selfish, but because it's probably not entirely cooked. Salmonella is bad, still, apparently.

Add to pot a little more butter or a glug of olive oil to prevent onion from sticking. Add onion and scrape up the chicken goodness left behind.

Saute onion until it's, you know, good and sauteed.

Add next 9 ingredients. It sounds like a lot of sugar, but the sauce is not sweet at all. You need that sugar to counteract the straight, acidic tomato juice. It's why V8 is V8, not just Tomato juice...

Make sure you scrape the browned chicken, onion bits off of the bottom. It gives the sauce depth. (Something I swore I'd never say concerning food...depth.... oh well, never say never).

Add your chicken back to the pan and simmer for 30 or so minutes on Medium Low Heat.

Now, to the pasta. My mother thinks Angel Hair Pasta is pretty much the only pasta worth its space in her pantry. Well, maybe a macaroni noodle or two. I, however, have lost this prejudice (after much work....), and like a host of pastas. I usually do serve this over angel hair, but have tried other things - traditional spaghetti, and last night we did it with penne. We like it with everything so far....
Regardless, this is enough sauce for 16 ounces of cooked pasta. Why some pastas come in 12 ounce containers and others in 16 ounce containers befuddles me. I feel like George Banks ripping open hotdogbun bags...

So, boil up some pasta, spoon sauce and chicken on top, serve with green salad and bread and feast away.

Makes 6-8 adult servings.

Get good grandparents.

Dear Children:

This small note is really for you and your spouse. So, you can probably put off reading it until, you know, 2030 or 2040 or so... =)

Every family counselor I've ever talked to for more than 3 seconds or read anything by has stressed that your marriage must be the center of your household.

If it's not, then if not before, when your children leave you, your life will fall apart.

And you want them to leave you. I know it's hard to imagine about the little people learning their first words or still confusing funny things, but if you do your job well, they will want to leave. They will want to strike out, do things, serve the world, find a life partner, and start the whole bloody process over again. If they don't want to leave, or are unable so to do, you will have failed. One of the things I have wanted most for you, little people of mine, is to grow up and get out. Yes, I can burst into tears just thinking about it, but in my core, that's what I pray for, desire, hope.

So, you must be you without them.
And if you're going to continue to share a household, y'all must be y'all without them.

(This last sentence is a great example of why the reconstruction-driven prejudice against southern language particularities is tragic - you NEED a plural of the second person. A plural that is different than the singular. And is still one word. Albeit a contraction, but still, one word, and different. Rrraaahhh)

Anyway, back to y'all. Just the two of us. (Cue mid-nineties Will Smith). Y'all, as an entity, are central. If you are good, likely the whole family will benefit, and if you are bad, likely the whole family will suffer.

Making sure you're good entails a whole host of intentional decisions.

One of those intentional decisions requires leaving the little people.

What? Leaving them? Don't they need us? Aren't we the best things for them? What will they do?

Well, they'll do a whole lot better being left for a bit than being the children of a miserable or broken marriage.

And honestly, you cramp their style as much as they cramp yours. Children need the occasional freedom from their parents that couples-only-vacations, summer camps, and date nights afford them. Someone recently described Ada as 'always under your thumb, ann lowrey' - and she is, for good reason. Paul and I are in charge of making sure she turns out to be thoughtful, responsible, educated, fun, God-fearing, people-loving and world-serving. And doesn't take herself too seriously. That's a lot of work. But she needs to be out from under that thumb every now and then. And she cannot do that with me around. Really, she cannot.

But as beneficial as time away can be for children, that is not its goal.

Its goal is for the parents.
For the parents. Did you hear me?
For these two people who are one flesh to be alone. You took a honeymoon to cement yourselves as one before coming back to real life. You have to do that again and again and again and again.

Recently, your daddy and I left you. For five days. Five whole days.

And it was glorious. We came back holding hands more, kissing more, and I'll leave it at that. We reconnected. We weren't disconnected by anything more than normal life, but normal life does that.

(A side note: It is quite difficult to build a meaningful relationship with someone with whom you cannot spend five days in a city and not be sick of them at all...and still want to visit on the plane ride home..)

But the thing I came back most thankful for was this: Grandparents.

Get good grandparents. And probably, don't move that far away from them. And if you aren't blessed with good ones, literally, get some. That's why the church made godparents. No, really. Name someone godparent to your child. Wait and see if they don't want to spend time with him or her. It takes a village, remember.

We dropped you people off with Grandma & Grandpa (Paul's parents), who then dropped you with Papa & Carrie (my daddy and stepmother), who then dropped you with Ba (my mother), who then dropped you with us. We didn't worry for one minute. No really. Not one minute. And no one called to worry us with you.

We missed you from time to time. But we didn't worry. Which meant we could go to dinner, visit art galleries, and museum after museum and only miss you because we wished you could see what we were seeing.

You are wonderful, you people are, but my time with your father is as precious as silver and gold and sapphires.

Thank you for letting us leave you, and when it's your turn, leave your little people with us. We'll like them, and get to give them back, making us like them all the more.


Food 2/3/11 until 2/09/11

Thursday: I didn't make chicken romano like I was supposed to on Tuesday, because Mama and I were both tired, and Paul was out of pocket, so she took us to get Mexican food. So I'm making it tonight. And taking half of it to the new, sweet baby across the street. Though I assume that the new sweet baby won't eat much of the actual pasta.

Friday: Our Friday evening involves quite a complicated supper plan. Mish mash for the kids - which means whatever I can come up with either from leftovers or from random ingredients in the fridge - this results in what you would imagine: noodles with butter and parmesan/grilled sandwiches/random veggies to dip in ranch/you get the picture. Paul and I are having giant green salads for supper. Why? Because after supper, he's going for guy night at which the plan is to consume enough calories in nice, craftsman-type beer to fill him up for the next three days. And I have some delightful ladies coming here for ice-cream sundaes. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Saturday: Beef Pot Roast/Mashed Taters/Salad.

Sunday: Lunch - Lasagna/Caesar/Garlic Bread
Supper - Super Bowl Snacks at my father's and stepmother's house. My contributions: Guacamole, Cream-Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos, Kahlua Brownies. Paul and I have never been so relieved as the night we discovered that Carrie, the woman my dad was only then planning to marry is a beyond decent cook. We had already determined that she loves my father, is fairly sane, is very bright, and has a good sense of humor. She had 4 of the 5 requirements to be okay in our heads. And then she served us some of the best pasta I've ever had.

Also, she prefers step-monster to stepmother, which makes her all the greater.

Monday: Shrimp and Potato Porridge, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Tuesday: Mish Mash for us all - Paul working until 930 pm. It's really hard for me to get excited about preparing a big meal when he's gone. If he were gone all the time, I'd have to get over it. But when he's gone about once-a-week, that becomes my leftover night. And if I'm desperate, my 'bring me some taco bell on your way home, please' night.

That's what we're eating. So there.