September Around Here

The month starts with a spontaneous trip to the Arboretum on a gray day. We’re members, but have barely visited this year because the baby couldn’t (wouldn’t) tolerate the car. Weather and naps mean that we can’t stay as long as we’d like, but it’s a lovely excursion while it lasts.

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At work, we shut down the intranet that I somehow came to manage nearly seven years ago. The shut-down was supposed to happen in mid-2016. We have a party to celebrate, and I bring a glazed vanilla cake from Simple Cake baked in my grandma’s Bundt pan.

My work isn’t typically tied to the cycles of the academic year, but this year I’ve volunteered for a number of things that keep me busy as the academic year arrives with a roar. I make exhaustive lists in my planner and on my whiteboard. Both are completely filled with text. No wonder I feel like I’m drowning. Deep breaths, and one foot in front of another until the end of October.

We implement Falafel Fridays. The falafel can be accompanied by an exciting veggie side, or by homemade hummus, or by anything we need to use up, or by whatever looks good at the grocery store. We can eat in or get take out or meet at one of several falafely restaurants near us (though regrettably not Beni Falafel – see you in November!). Anything to put at least one meal per week on autopilot.

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We work on making room in our budget, in part because we need to, and in part because we want to, and in part because we’re going to Belgium in two months and travel is always more expensive than anticipated. One week into this new focus on belt-tightening, we notice that our AC is making a strange noise. It stops working completely just in time for a brief but miserable heat wave. Fall is almost in sight, but not soon enough to postpone the repairs, particularly since we still can’t open most of our windows and the new windows, expected in August, still have no ETA. Sorry, landlord. Sorry, eating out budget, but we just can’t cook when it’s 95 degrees inside.

Another month with too much time spent on the road. At the beginning of the month, we drive out to Rockford to celebrate the a number of birthdays (my mom, two siblings, and the big kid) and take family photos with all of the siblings and their kids. A week later, I drive to Iowa to meet my mom and aunt at my grandparents’ house – one last visit to pick up furniture and odds and ends before the house goes on the market. It’s an exhausting out-and-back with an excessive amount of ice cream in the middle.

And then the following weekend, another trip to Rockford to celebrate the big kid’s birthday. His actual birthday is spent doing low-key fun things: pancakes and a special birthday balloon, a farmers’ market walk in the morning, then a run: five whole kilometers, one for every year. Pizza lunch at Jolly Pumpkin, his pick, then meeting his friend at the playground for cake (chocolate, with marshmallow frosting, both from Simple Cake – he requested chocolate with blueberries which I failed to deliver due to frosting miscalculations). A movie on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn. More pizza and cake the next day with his cousins, and many hours of solo time with his grandparents. We can’t deliver much on the present front, but hopefully the happy memories will make up for it.

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September Reads

Also somehow I forgot to tell you that I read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy this summer, which I LOVED. Also The Egypt Game, for my book club, and Big Little Lies, just because.

September Eats

From the NYTimes:

August Around Here

The month starts on a high note: the baby takes his first steps when I’m at work, and then many more steps not long after. By the end of the month, he is confidently toddling all over everywhere, shaky eggs in hand.

In July, I told my therapist that I was struggling to make time to connect with the big kid. He suggests that putting it on the calendar would be a good start. And so I do, and on Saturday, we bike to the farmers’ market, then to get his hair cut, then to a new-to-us cafe for a brownie, coffee, and chess. It’s a lovely morning in a lovely weekend. In the afternoon, we walk to the campus art museum to take in a remarkable exhibit from Tara Donovan. The big kid comes home and draws pictures of the art to include in one of the near-daily letters to his grandparents.

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Then on Monday, early in the morning, the phone rings. My grandma has declined overnight. I nod in sort of comprehension, finish my breakfast, and unload the dishwasher before leaving for Iowa instead of for work. Grandma is tired, suffering, in and out. When she is present, she is herself. When she isn’t, she calls for help. Everyone looks as exhausted as they must feel: my parents, my aunt, my uncle, the neighbor. We take turns holding her hand, talking to her, listening to the care team, and going through things in her room. I stay until mid-afternoon, when I leave to drive the 3 hours back home in a daze.

Two days later, I am at Maggie Daley Park with the big kid, a visiting friend, her son, and her cousin. The big kid runs ahead into the cauldron-like play area. When we get there, he’s nowhere to be seen. If he hears us calling his name, he doesn’t respond. I run around, half frantic. The park is crowded and maze-like and not a familiar space for any of us. In the midst of this, my phone rings again. I know what the call will be, but I can’t take it because I can’t find my child. Moments later, my friend finds him – he had climbed up into a play structure, got scared, and couldn’t climb back down. I climb up, retrieve him, and hug him, crying and overwhelmed. We decide to get lunch. On our way down Randolph, the phone rings again, and in the middle of noon traffic in downtown Chicago, while the big kid is chattering away about lunch, I learn that my grandma has died. My friend stops in the middle of the street to hug me. We eat lunch – I couldn’t tell you what. I’m too frazzled to explain to the big kid what has happened.

The rest of the day – the week, even – is lost in a daze. A security guard at Whole Foods asks if I’m OK as I cry in the floral section. We take a bottle of wine to the Middle Eastern restaurant and drink a toast over our falafel and salads. I spend two days trying to organize my work life so that I can be out of the office unexpectedly.

Before we leave town, the kids and I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to buy the apples my grandparents grew – Lodi – so that we can turn them into applesauce, a gallon made at my parents’ and another half gallon made at home, the repetitive work of peeling, slicing, and stirring soothing aching hearts, albeit temporarily.

We spend two days at my parents’ house doing whatever we can to help or distract. I take the kids out to harvest beans from the garden, left neglected due to all of the back and forth from the previous week. The baby pulls up on the garden wall and takes a tumble, and I carry him inside covered head to toe in dirt, and happy as can be.

And then we drive to Iowa for the services, and spend a day feeling many things all at once, but mostly feeling exhausted to the bone and turned inside out.

At the end of that week, the baby turns 1. Our wonderful, silly, precious last baby. As with many second-borns, the milestones that were so enormous for the big kid feel slightly less so for the small one, or at least are more easily obscured, or maybe it’s just that everything is happening all at once this month. We celebrate with a beautiful birthday cake at my parents’, and then with a morning trip to the beach, cupcakes and favorite foods, and playtime in the park on his actual birthday. We adore you, little boy.

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And then the next day, we’re off to the northwest suburbs to spend the day celebrating the wedding of a dear friend who snuck off to the courthouse just like we did, opting for a relaxed celebration with a few friends and family months later. It is an idyllic day on the lake – good friends, good food, happy kids – and we feel honored to be included.

I go back to work after a week away, and I’m drowning. Just when I think I might be getting on top of my to do list, I come down with mastitis – I’m fine at noon, but starting to feel unwell at 3, and by 5pm I am in my bed sweating through a high fever. The rest of the week is lost in a fevered haze.

Finally, finally, things start to look up. I work the entire last week of the month, with no sick days or other calamities. We go to a housewarming party, where the big kid kicks off his shoes as if he’s at home. A new coffee chain opens in our neighborhood and we take full advantage of all of the free days and previews. The weather is perfect, and I’m able to go running.

Where did the month go? I don’t really know. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed.

August Reads

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August Eats

My heart wasn’t really in a cooking place this month, but fortunately, it’s high season at the farmers’ market, so we mostly worked with what was available:

  • Tomatoes:
  • Sweet corn, straight into the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. The kernels steam on the cob, and you can shuck it at the table, using the husk as a handle.
  • Melon upon melon, including a delightful tasting at the farmers’ market of 5 varieties of cantaloupe, 4 watermelon, and 3 honeydew, all delicious.
  • Apples, prepared the way my grandma would: in pies and applesauce.

Also, the first of likely many cakes from Simple Cake – this time the milk and honey cake for the baby’s birthday, with blueberries for the guest of honor, and honey whipped cream for the rest of us.

 

April Around Here

We book a babysitter and finally go out for that milestone birthday – fish and chips and a cocktail at a spot in our old neighborhood that, it turns out, is full of young families on a Friday night. We (I) ogle other people’s babies while missing ours, then take a walk past our old garden plot and our old apartment. I miss the life that we had there, and the golden light of early evening. We don’t often see that light these days.

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The big kid takes swimming lessons at the University pool. It’s well organized chaos, and I’m grateful that he’s hanging on someone else for a change.

I mark seven years on the job with a coconut donut. This is the longest I have worked anywhere.

We plan to visit my ancient grandmother for Easter, then change those plans at the last minute. Instead, we stay home, dye Easter eggs, and make a disastrous batch of matzo ball soup on a rainy weekend.

We find outrageously cheap flights to Belgium, a trip we were certain we couldn’t afford this year. Instead, we will spend 3 weeks there in the late fall, our flights entirely covered by travel points, with our housing nearly free as well. It’s all happening!

The baby still hasn’t figured out crawling; instead, he hops on his butt like a frog. It’s surprisingly effective.

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A bike trailer shows up on a neighborhood listserv for cheap, so at the end of my intentional spending Lent, I make an impulse buy. The same day, a strap on my bike helmet breaks. This is how it goes – one spontaneous purchase results in others, necessary or no. That was weeks ago, but weekend weather and plans have yet to allow us to go for a ride.

The big kid wins a prize at an Easter egg hunt – a basket full of candy on top of the candy he collected in the hunt. I hate feeling like the food police, but this candy is just awful, and I’m grateful that we already had a wonderful box of treats at home from the Zurenborg Paashaas, as it means the big kid is absolutely fine with sharing.

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I present at a conference that is pretty far outside my wheelhouse. The opening plenaries are engaging and challenging, and I feel grateful to be there. There will be no conference travel for me this year – or perhaps next – and while that’s fine, it’s also a little sad.

Mom comes in for a quick visit, arriving after work on a beautiful Friday night and leaving in an incoming snowstorm Saturday morning. Will this winter ever end? We just do the normal things – dinner at our favorite Thai place in the neighborhood, breakfast errands at the grocery store – but decide to scramble the routine a bit in order to try to win free pie for a year. The first 50 in line win – we are #53-57 due to folks cutting in line. Ah well, we still had pie.

There’s that saying about not crying over spilled milk – I have the most epic spill of my pumping career, but thankfully, I realllllly needed to pump, so I am more concerned about the carpet underneath the spill than the spill itself.

A few weeks after we made a list of all of the things that we want in a new place – a place pops up on the University marketplace site that checks all the boxes. It is as good in person as it seemed in the ad, so we throw caution to the wind and put in an application despite having 6 months left on our lease.

And so the rest of April is consumed with housing worries – will we get the place? Can we afford the place if we get it? Our application is approved – now, can we find a subletter? Will one of the many people who comes through to see our apartment decide to take it? Again, can we afford it? One thing after another, which will likely continue until we are settled in with a subletter secured.

But! In a month or so, we will move to the northwest corner of our neighborhood into a condo rented from an owner. We will have a dishwasher and laundry in unit. We will have windows that look out into trees. We will have central AC. It will be stressful until we get there, but we will get there.

April Reading

April Eating

January Around Here

We weather the polar vortex with cinnamon rolls and Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon, congee and oatmeal, layers and blankets. Will this be the coldest winter of the baby’s life, or just one of many freak storms as climate change continues to shift the Overton Window of normal?

The baby cuts his first tooth at 5 months, 4 months earlier than big brother. I am more sad about missing out on months of toothless gummy grins than I am about the terrible bites – though there are many of those, particularly as tooth number 2 appears a week later.

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My device check-up is fine. and the device is recalibrated to lower the charge since I’m responding so well to it. In the following week, I’m aware of being paced several times, enough to feel concerned. I’m fitted with a monitor that I have to wear for 2 weeks of no swimming, no baths, no long showers, no sweat. The baby tries to rip it off on the second day. I couldn’t be happier to send it back. I’ll find out in a few weeks if they learned anything meaningful.

We try, again, to make room in our living space. Things are shuffled around; a small table is sold. It feels a little better – until the terrible cold snap, when we pull the couch (rather, the bed it contains) away from the windows, and everything feels overwhelming again.

The baby kicks and kicks and kicks and kicks and KICKS AND KICKS AND KICKS. His relentlessly busy feet are a source of joy.

I make a snack breakfast for myself one morning, prompting the big kid to request one for himself morning after morning. Some mornings it feels too fiddly for 6:30am; most mornings it feels soothing to adjust slices of apple, cucumber, and bread, a quartered egg, a few olives just so.

We bundle up and walk through the empty zoo on a perfectly sunny 9 degree day, peeling off and then reapplying layers as we duck into buildings to see the fennec fox, the giraffe, the tropical plants in the conservatory.

We struggle with big feelings, big needs, big frustrations. I reach the point that I reach in every winter where everything feels too hard, except that this year it feels like it came earlier than usual. I spend a weekish in a fog of discouragement.

For my birthday, brunch at The Gundis: olives and honeys and jams and cheeses and bread and borek and lentil soup and a tofu scramble and tiny cups of tea. Everything is perfect, including the sleeping baby on my chest. We walk around N’s old neighborhood, stopping for cappuccinos at Intelligentsia (free in return for filling out a satisfaction survey) and cupcakes at Molly’s. The management company treats us to a day without water for the second year in a row. Later that week, we leave the kids with a babysitter(!!) and have a wonderful dinner at Virtue and an adequate cocktail at Bibliophile. We need to do this more often than once in a blue moon.

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I take the kids out to my parents’ to celebrate my niece’s birthday – the same as mine. The big kid plays with his cousins while I try to convince the baby to nap in unfamiliar places. I’m so busy wrangling the baby while trying to be helpful that I miss moments of big feelings, and am heartbroken to recognize the ways that I let the big kid down when he needed me.

We watch videos with the baby of his cousin rolling over. A few hours later, the baby rolls over again. And again and again and again. Perhaps he needed inspiration? His cousin is also eating all kinds of food, and we talk about how neither of us feel ready for him to take that step, but the next day he is fascinated by us eating, so I offer him oatmeal, which he spits out like poison. He seems to like the idea of eating more than the actuality of it.

January Eating

 

September Around Here

We survived the first month with two kids. The baby continues to be easy. The big kid continues to be challenging. I imagine that at some point, these things will meet in the middle.

This month, the big kid turned 4. In past years, we’ve opted for a special outing rather than a party or gifts – this year he got the water bottle he wanted, and we celebrated by going to the Arboretum for “a nice troll hunt” and having pizza for dinner. This year, however, he seemed sad that we weren’t celebrating with others – when we finished making his birthday cupcakes (chocolate blueberry, his request), he asked who would be coming over to share them.

10 days ago, it was 90F when we went to a fall bonfire at the park that is effectively our back yard. We toasted marshmallows and swatted mosquitoes and bounced the baby and assured the big kid that his friend would be there soon – and then comforted him because he hadn’t understood that sharing birthday cupcakes with her meant that they were taking the remaining two cupcakes home.

In 10 days, I go back to work after 8 weeks at home. I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about this, as you might imagine. I’m devastated to be leaving my baby when he’s so small. I’m anxious about the adjustment period for everyone. I’m overwhelmed because if we’ve struggled to stay on top of all of the things with all of us home, how are we going to manage when I’m gone a third of the day? I’m not sure what to anticipate when I go back, workwise, since nearly 6 months have passed since my boss and I were both in the office. I’m worried about finding a balance between work, family, and home responsibilities while still making room for myself. For the last few weeks, I have intended to take some time to think about how I want to try to strike this balance, about my intentions as I return to work, about my expectations as I end my leave. Now, to make time for that.

I feel worn thin. I’ve had complications that have prevented me from exercising yet – and the new schedule means I don’t know when exercise will happen apart from a lot of walking – which is good, but not enough when exercise is the primary way I maintain my mental health. Like many women, I’m struggling with a Supreme Court hearing that is effectively gaslighting half of the population. I’m trying to find space to deal with trauma feelings from a difficult birth on top of existing trauma feelings from my heart crisis. I’m holding my babies close and hoping that we can do a good enough job of parenting them that they don’t grow up to reinforce the patriarchy.

September Reading:

September Eating:

2017 Resolutions In Review

1. Eliminate credit card debt.
Done. With a balance transfer about to start accruing interest, we decided the best thing we could do was use some of our savings to pay off the remaining debt.

2. Take action every week.
I kept this up for a couple of months, but like many, I lost steam.

3. Finish Brain Pickings book club list.
Good enough! We didn’t finish the list, but we kept the book club going all year, so I’m going to treat this one as a success.

4. Incorporate professional development into my schedule.
I managed the conferences, but didn’t manage much else. I have a couple of things that I want to work on this year, so maybe I’ll rededicate myself to this one in 2018.

5. Finish weaning.
Despite my sad post a couple of months ago, we’re still nursing pretty regularly. I broke out the pump last night, and that made me feel like I was ready to be DONE all over again.

6. PR at any distance.
DONE. I blew away my 5K time in Champaign in April. I had hoped to PR in the half, but considering how hard I’d run the night before, I was totally fine with just finishing.

7. More regular visits with family.
Done. The kid absolutely will not nap when we’re out in Rockford, so since he’s doing better with car naps (and in the car generally), we were able to make more day trips happen.

8. At least two blog posts/month.
Technically done. By the numbers, this was a success, though posting dropped off pretty significantly after the beginning of the year.

9. Try at least four new recipes/month.
Done, for sure.  The My New Roots cookbooks were my go-to source.

10. Make time for monthly dates.
Monthly dates didn’t happen, but we did manage some child-free time about every other month. In 2018, I would love for us to GET AWAY! OVERNIGHT! WITH NO CHILD! but that continues to be a tall order.

The last few months in food

While I’ve stuck to my resolution to try at least four new recipes each month, I’ve done a terrible job of sharing them here. Since I have neither the inclination nor the data to figure out everything new that we’ve cooked since, oh, April, here are some highlights:

The Best Lentil Salad Ever – My New Roots
YOU GUYS, we ate this one to death over a couple of weeks of Sunday night picnics followed by several weekdays of lunches. The ingredient list is long, but that’s because the dressing is complex and wonderful and only improves the next day. If you are open to the possibility of a lentil-based salad, get you to the kitchen (and maybe the spice aisle to stock up) and make this right now.

Secret Ingredient Frozen Hot Chocolate – My New Roots
Let’s get this out of the way: the secret ingredient is frozen cauliflower. But I assure you that you won’t taste it at all. Really. This was delicious, especially with a dollop of coconut cream. If you’re less strict about refined sugars or dairy products, I bet you could doctor this up to be sincerely wonderful while still containing sneaky vegetables/fiber.

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Chipotle Romesco – Minimalist Baker
This romesco will blow the socks off your Taco Tuesday. This recipe requires relatively little effort unless you are like me and think that making tortillas from scratch is a reasonable thing to do on a weeknight with a broken finger.

Quinoa Cauliflower Tabbouleh – In Pursuit of More
Oh hello, another grain salad obsession. The combination of herbs, fruit, nuts, and a citrusy dressing is perfect for summer.

Vegan Banana Cake – Imagelicious
$1 bags of bananas from Open Produce sometime mean that we make a spontaneous cake. This was simple and delicious and will likely be revisited for the toddler’s birthday in a few weeks. I omitted the walnuts because: why.

Spring Cabbage Wraps with Couscous, Za’atar, and Spicy Tahini Dressing – My New Roots
The toddler likes saying “couscous”. I like that this took about 20 minutes to put together WITH the toddler from start to finish, including making the couscous, the spice mix, and the dressing. The red cabbage we used was a little too tough, but otherwise, this was a winner.

Red Earth Beet Burger – Harvest & Honey
I’ve been fumbling around trying to find a recipe for homemade veggie burgers that I really like. We had leftover beets and lentils from the Beet Party (see below), so I used this recipe as a guide. Good stuff.  This burger recipe from Blue Apron was somewhat less successful.

Fairy Tale Eggplant and Mozzarella Pizza with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes and Summer Squash – Blue Apron
We had two really solid pizzas in our Blue Apron boxes this summer. The flavor of this eggplant was really superb. This pizza was also nice.

Sundown Carrot and Grilled Corn Salad – My New Roots
One of many solid picnic dishes from this summer, especially with in season Midwest corn.

Watermelon Fattoush – Blue Apron
Another great picnic dish, though unfortunately this yielded a ton but didn’t keep all that well.

Beet Party – My New Roots
Another solid picnic dish, though I made all kinds of substitutions with what we had on hand. The recipe is vegan, but crumbed feta is an excellent addition for non vegans.

Poke-Inspired Beet Bowl – My New Roots
We eat fish, so I can tell you that this is not a substitute for actual poke, but it was a nice weeknight dinner. I like composed bowls of things, even if they require a bit more prep up front, in part because everyone can take as much of the things they actually want.

Summer Tian with Chermoula – Harvest & Honey
While I didn’t make exactly this, I made something extremely similar to this, and while it was gorgeous, it was also hard to serve.

Sweet & Savory Korean Rice Cakes – Blue Apron
This was interesting! I didn’t know what to expect from the Korean rice cakes, so it was a nice opportunity to try an ingredient we never would have worked with on our own.

Cod & Tomatillo Salsa with Summer Squash & Sweet Potato Hash – Blue Apron
While we eat fish, we rarely buy it, so this was a nice treat – an easy fish dish complemented by a really nice vegetable hash. N doesn’t tend to like sweet potatoes, but he liked these!

Sesame Soba Noodles with Gai Lan, Mushrooms, & Ginger Lime Peanuts – Blue Apron
A nice stir fry, but nothing to write home about. This dish sort of exemplifies my dissatisfaction with Blue Apron – the meals are generally good, but definitely not worth the $10 per-portion cost.

Blueberry Cardamom Chia Pudding – My New Roots
This was nice, but the volume did not work with our Vitamix. Alas.

Chilled Hiyashi Chuka Ramen – Blue Apron
This Blue Apron meal was a solid dud. The noodles were stuck together. The eggs popped while boiling. My attempt to make sesame mushrooms with $1 bag produce only sort of worked.