Sunday, November 09, 2014


Have you ever had one of those weekends where you can't seem to get anything done? Yeah, me too.

Yesterday my good friend R called me and asked if I wanted to see the symphony with her. Violinist Sarah Chang was in town to play the Sibelius concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I thought about all the work I have to do, so I hemmed and hawed and said maybe and even up to lunchtime today I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. But after an entire morning trying to work and instead getting interrupted every five minutes with phone calls and needy kids, I decided I just needed to go out.

So I called R back and said I'd pick her up at 1:45. When I got to her house, her son bounced up to me at the end of the driveway, and said, grinning, "My mom said I have to play outside for a while," and indeed when she got in the car, I could tell her morning had been a lot like mine. "It's not that I don't love being around my children..." she began, and I knew exactly what she meant. Somebody always needs something, whether it's a snack or a hug or praise for a scribbled drawing or help finding the scotch tape or an answer to a math question, and it's not as though we aren't willing to give these things but sometimes you so badly want an uninterrupted hour so badly you could just curl up in a ball and cry.

We went to the concert and had a fabulous time. The opening orchestral number was nice, Sarah Chang was stunning, and the final piece, a symphony by Carl Nielsson, was incredible. I was actually on the edge of my seat, it was that good. R felt the same way.

Then I came home and spent two hours cooking dinner, feeling guilty for having left my family for most of the day (Stuart ran the kids for a good part of the morning so I could work, then the whole afternoon while I was at the concert, so he deserves a lot of credit here.) There was a huge mess to clean up afterwards and when I saw their dirty clothes on the floor, a pile of books in the middle of the living room and their rooms in no better state than the beginning of the weekend, I just about lost it again. This is why moms have the reputation of being nags, I said, because nobody else seems to care if we live in squalor.

I shouldn't have said it. I know I hurt feelings, and I feel bad about it. I guess if I'm going to do something with my time other than the housewife stuff, I should just learn to lower my standards, what?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

election day

It's a sad day.  I voted, and I'm disappointed by results all around. Four more years of Scott Walker running this state is bound to be disaster.

Think globally, act locally. I think that's the way to hold onto hope.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ode to a Beautiful Forest

By: Daniel

you walk a little, then you notice a beautiful point where you look through the trees and multi-colored leaves and see a beautiful portrait of clear blue sky, leaves and trees and the sound of a woodpecker just might blend into the whistle of a soft breeze and a bird tweeting a little song. the golden leaves are special. they come only once a year. only when the magical time comes that this special wipe of the forest can you see this real beauty of nature.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The other day I went to the mall. I hate the mall. Hate. It. Even on a Monday at high noon the parking lot was packed and there were people everywhere - shoppers, high school kids having lunch at the food court. It stresses me out.

The worst part of the mall, actually, is the endless hawking of useless expensive junk. As I passed one salon-type place, a particularly aggressive salesman practically accosted me and convinced me to come in his store "just for one minute" to show me a "great product." I walked in and he started curling my hair with a flat iron and fired off compliments of my looks so fast I figured he must have memorized a handbook, and in an accent so thick I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. Then he tried to sell me the iron for $150. When I said no thank you his voice dropped to a whisper and he offered it to me for $120, like it was our special secret. When I said NO THANK YOU he got in my face and asked "What's the problem?!" and I said I just didn't want it and got the hell out of there. 

I spent the rest of the day with and icky feeling and three perfectly curled ringlets on the right side of my face. God, I hate the mall.

It was such a contrast to earlier that morning. I went running and looped through the neighborhood, ending up in a park with a prairie restoration area that had recently been burned. As I ran by the blackened vegetation I saw movement. Four wild turkeys were pecking in the burnt grass, foraging for whatever it is turkeys eat on a burned prairie. Their feathers were so black they blended right in. They were utterly nonplussed by my presence, those turkeys. They just calmly picked through the grass as I ran by. 

Sometimes I like nature better than humans.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

lasagna garden

It's been a while since I've done a garden update. Summer is really hanging on this year, so even though the plants are looking a little worse for wear, at least they're still producing. My back yard bale garden is fairly ragged by this point. The bales are sinking, and most of my tomato plants were struck with blight, but they yielded fruit anyway, enough for several batches of Daniel's favorite late summer dish: gazpacho!

Sad, bedraggled tomatoes.
I often say that our back yard is a work in progress. We've had seven trees removed in the last two years, so a lot of space opened up, which is both good and bad. Parking the cars isn't such a squeeze (good) but we feel a lot more exposed to the neighbors (not so good, but not always terrible, depending on the neighbor). There is definitely more space and light for gardening (good), but the weeds are taking over all the empty space (bad).  The kids have more room to play (good), but all the extra sun makes it hotter back there on warm days (eh, they can deal).

Since my straw bale garden was at least partially successful, I've been thinking about how to expand that garden space out back. The soil has got to be terrible, full of weeds and tree roots and spruce cones. There is no point in digging down and trying to amend, so I want to build up. But how? I'm hesitant to install something permanent like raised beds because we're still holding out hope that the big renovation can happen next year, and I'm guessing our back yard will be used to park big trucks and store materials until they're used.

Then yesterday my next door neighbor (the nice one) suggested we try lasagna gardening, a method of building a garden where you put down thick cardboard and newspaper to smother weeds, then pile organic matter on top to break down and turn into soil. Easy enough, I thought. So this afternoon, instead of cleaning the house and working on some other projects in the basement like I'd been intending, I spent a few hours outside spreading cardboard and newspaper and covering it with compost and the straw bales with nothing left growing in them. Now this is what I've got:

It's not pretty, I know. And eventually I need 24" of stuff piled up on there to break down over the winter; right now it's only about 4".

Not only is the back yard a work in progress, it's going to look worse before it looks better. That's true of everything in my house, though, alas!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

love people. cook them good food.

There's been quite the hullabaloo over a study recently published by a group of sociologists called Joy of Cooking?. Here's the abstract (quoted from the website where the study was published): "Sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton offer a critique of the increasingly prevalent message that reforming the food system necessarily entails a return to the kitchen. They argue that time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials." 

I read reaction to the study (here's the link to Room for Debate in the New York Times, which is worth a read, but the other thing I read was so stupid and infuriating I won't even bother to link it here) before I read the study itself. In fact, I was all prepared to write an indignant post of my own defending the home-cooked family meal, and then I thought, well maybe I should read the piece that stirred up the controversy in the first place, and so I did just that this evening. 

The study is full of examples of women whose lives are stressful enough already that the added pressure of cooking every night for their families or their children isn't worth the effort, especially when the kids won't eat what's in front of them. (I can certainly identify with that last part). They rightly point out that many proponents of cooking at home often overlook the extra time and stress it takes to plan meals and clean up afterwards, as well as the potential cost of ingredients. 

It's true that planning and cooking takes time, and that ingredients can be expensive. It's true that it sucks when the meal you set forth before your family as a labor of love is rejected and picked at. And even though I don't know from experience, I am sure that the stress of these realities is magnified manyfold if you're a single parent with significant financial constraints. I won't argue against any of those points.

But I will still defend the family meal, and I will do so adamantly. Good food doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate or difficult to prepare. Yes, it takes planning to have homemade meals in the midst of our hectic lives, but everything in our hectic lives takes planning. We all have to eat every day, after all, and I think it's worth the effort to eat as well as we can. 

My own reaction to the Joy of Cooking? article was mostly indignation. After I read it, I felt like the sort of person the authors would label as an "elitist foodie", someone out of touch with modern life because I do actually take the time to cook meals for my family every night. 

Now, I'm an advocate of home cooking for many reasons, not the least of which is that our country is facing an enormous public health crisis that is directly related to how we eat. In general, our population eats too much junk and drinks too much sugar. Not only that, most people have no clue where their food comes from or how it's produced, nor do they care. These things are not unrelated. Perhaps if more of the food we eat was balanced nutritionally and made from whole ingredients we would not be in this crisis. I also think the crappy eating habits we've developed collectively are in part a result of a work culture that does not support family life or value time spent making and eating meals together. (Go get yourself a copy of French Kids Eat Everything and you'll see what I mean.) 

But before you roll your eyes and close this window, let me assure you, I'm no Donna Reed. To hell with all this pressure on women to make the family meal every night. Didn't I say we all have to eat every day? Well then, maybe we should all pitch in on the effort, too. Take turns being in charge of meals, put the kids to work cleaning up, plan the weekly menus together, spread all that extra stress around!

So I think the most glaring omission from the study was that it offered no real solutions or even reasonable suggestions to the "cooking is too stressful" problem. The authors had an opportunity to discuss the structural flaws in our work culture that create impositions on people's time with their families, but they didn't. I mean, healthy food trucks? Monthly town suppers? Seriously?? I agree that sticking women back in the kitchen isn't really going to fly, but that's no reason to give up on the family meal entirely. We still have to eat.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

this is why fast food was invented

Let me tell you about my afternoon. I had to work all day while the kids were at school, and once we got home, I had to quick shove snacks into them before hauling them with me to the UW campus so I could play for someone in her voice studio class before dropping them off at soccer practices in two completely different parts of the city. My afternoon was going to be a crazy series of driving back and forth between about 3 different places and hoping I wasn't late for anyone. My dinner plan was contingent upon me having a few minutes to stop at the store for bread and a few minutes at home to mix up egg salad and find an acceptable side vegetable. 

Alas, we all know what happens to best-laid plans.

Voice class went fine, but as soon as we arrived at Anya's soccer practice, I picked up my purse from the car and realized it felt lighter than it should have. Sure enough, my wallet was gone. It must have fallen out in the room where voice class was held, so I frantically texted and called the singer (who was still in class) to see if she could find it and hang onto it for me. Just as I was leaving with Daniel, I got a call from Stuart, who was stuck with a flat tire on his bike 15 miles away and needed a ride home. 

So much for dinner plans. I had a wallet to find, a husband to rescue, two kids to get to and from their practices, and absolutely no way to set one priority above the other. Well, ok. People are more important than wallets, I'll give you that, but no one was hurt or sick or alone and it would suck so hard to have to cancel my credit and bank cards, you know?

So I left Anya at soccer practice while Daniel and I drove back to the music building where I parked illegally before we both sprinted inside and happily located my missing wallet just as the voice class was letting out. (Whew.)Then I stopped at home long enough to grab the bike rack before dropping Daniel off at soccer practice and drove out to the country road where Stuart was waiting patiently for me to pick him up. As he put the rack and the bike on the car, I texted the dad of one of Anya's friends and asked if she could ride home with them because their house is near where Daniel was at soccer practice and also on our way home from The Rescue. The other dad very kindly agreed (Whew again).

As if I need to tell you, the egg salad never got made. Anya was disappointed because she loves egg salad so much, but the rest of us are relieved to have gotten home and eaten dinner before it was anyone's bedtime. Thank goodness for Chipotle.