May 10, 2013
A Mother’s Day Tea Party
(Practicing our proper curtsy technique before I left for work)
Last week, Everly came home from school with a construction paper card she made in class, inviting me to attend the Mother’s Day tea party at her preschool. Her smile was huge as she proudly presented it to me and after I read it and told her I would be honored to attend, she whispered, “Mama. We’re gonna have sweets! Cookies and everything!”
All week leading up to it, she would tell me at random times, “Happy Mudders day!” and sing parts of the songs that her class had been learning for the occasion.
Wednesday morning, we took the opportunity to dress up a bit and gave her a big hug before heading off to work for a few hours. I’ll see you soon, I promised.
I flew into the parking lot of her school at 11:14, rushing to get inside before the program started. I had been on back to back conference calls all morning and had scrambled to make it from my office to her school for the 11:15am start. My heels clicked loudly on the wooden floors of the quiet sanctuary, full of other mothers waiting for the program to begin. A few turned to look at me and I tried to hide my flushed face behind my hair. I felt a little embarrassed that I was the last one.
Everly searched for me as her class filed in, and waved proudly once she spotted me. I may have just barely made it, but as long as I was there in enough time for her to see me sitting in the pew, I was happy. She sang all of the songs, complete with hand motions, until they reached the second to last song. At which point, she just burst into tears and started crying ” Mommy! Mommy!” in the middle of the group.
I stepped to the side of the aisle and her music teacher picked her up and brought her over to me. “She’s usually one of my best singers!” her teacher said. Once she was in my arms, she immediately wiped her tears, smiled and said “That singing was taking too long.” I had to stifle my laughter when I realized her dramatics were because she was tired of singing and was ready to hang out with me. This little rascal of mine!
She laid down in the pew next to me, looking up at the cathedral ceilings and listening to the other children sing. “That was beautiful!” she announced at the end of the last song, and clapped along with me.
From there, we walked hand in hand to her classroom, where her teachers had prepared a delicious spread of chicken salad sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit, and crackers.
All week, Everly and her classmates had been working on all sorts of crafts for Mother’s Day. She gave me one card to open there, one to save until Mother’s Day on Sunday, and a little container she decorated full of hershey’s kisses. “We’re gonna share this, right mama?” she asked as she handed over the candy.
We ate our lunch together, cheersing her pink lemonade with my sweet tea and chatted with some of the other families in attendance. It’s always such a pleasure to sit down and talk with Everly’s teacher as I don’t get to interact with them much since Brent takes her to and from school most days. I am just so proud of my little girl and the kind comments I received from her teachers and friends.
Brent and Arlo met us at the end of the party so that he could carry her home and I could head back to work. I left with my arms full of beautiful, construction paper gifts from my sweet girl.
The rest of my day at the office was just as hectic as my morning, but that precious hour I spent with Everly, watching her sing and crouched next to her in a tiny classroom chair as we shared lunch, kept me smiling.
So much of my life is a balancing act, a constant attempt to keep everything moving forward and on track. It’s nice every now and then to take some time to be intentionally slow and purposeful. To nibble crackers with my daughter and wipe strawberry juice off her chin or allow myself to be a few minutes late to an afternoon call because I was pinning up her new artwork at my desk.
It’s those breaks in an otherwise full speed day that help me to take in the goodness I have in my life. I’m so thankful to be a mother and to have a job I love and a family who supports me while I find the balance in both.
May 9, 2013
(A silly family portrait, snapped this week after brushing the children’s teeth before bed.)
Brent is in the middle of reading Here and Now by the great, modern spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen. He met me in the kitchen as I was fixing a meal and told me he would like to read me a passage from the chapter on family. It was so perfectly stated that I felt compelled to share it here as it sums up so much of the journey and struggle of parenthood.
Children are a gift.
Being a parent is like being a good host to a stranger. While we may think that our children are like us, we are continually surprised at how different they are. We can be gladdened by their intelligence, their artistic gifts, or their athletic prowess, or saddened by their slowness in learning, their lack of coordination, or their “odd” interests. In many way we don’t know our children.
We didn’t create our own children, nor do we own them. This is good news. We don’t need to blame ourselves for their problems, nor should we claim ourselves their successes.
Children are a gift from God. They are given to us so that we can offer them a safe, loving place to grow to inner and outer freedom. They are like strangers who ask for hospitality, become good friends, and then leave again to continue their journey. They bring immense joy and immense sorrow precisely because they are gifts. And a good gift, as a proverb says, is “twice given.”
The gift we receive, we have to give again. When our children leave us to study, to look for work, to marry, to join a community, or simply to become independent, sorrow and joy touch each other. Because it is then that we feel deeply that “our” child isn’t really “ours” but given to us to become a true gift to others.
It is so hard to give our children their freedom- especially in this violent and exploitative world. We so much want to protect them from all possible dangers. But we cannot. They do not belong to us. They belong to God, and one of the greatest acts of trust in God is letting our children make their own choices and find their own way.
And so, I will leave this here. As a reminder to myself and to all of us, that we are raising citizens of the world, each with a purpose and a path that will one day diverge from our own. It is a wondrous and heart wrenching predicament, to dedicate yourself to growing and loving another soul so successfully that they eventually establish their own independence. It is the great conflict of parenthood, wishing that they would never change, but celebrating each new step they take towards autonomy. A gift given and received, over and over again.
May 8, 2013
Sunday Morning Biscuits
The morning I learned that my grandmother had passed away, I emailed my cousin Katie and asked if she would send me grandma’s famous biscuit recipe. I had it, written in grandma’s shakey handwriting on a notecard, but with so many moves in the past few years I couldn’t seem to put my hands on it.
Katie’s reply was along the lines of a lot of recipes in my family with no precise measurements. So much of our cooking and baking is done from memory, sight, and feel. I have always cooked this way and it’s the main reason I don’t share a lot of recipes on my blog. I’m not precise about anything - I just do a pinch of this, a scoop of that and cook it until I know its done.
The morning of grandma’s funeral, I baked her biscuits and served them to my family on the delicate, rose printed china she had handed down to me when I got married. It was just a small thing I wanted to do in her honor.
Since that day two weeks ago, I have made her biscuits four more times, learning to do it by heart and feel just like my grandmother always did. I’ve been tweaking her recipe some to make it a little healthier and I wanted to share it here. I tried to measure things out so that I could share it here, but don’t be afraid to make your own adjustments. This recipe is very simple but evokes all the warm, loving, comfort-food related memories of my childhood.
4 cups of self rising flour
1/2 cup of coconut oil (grandma’s recipe called for crisco, but I wanted something a little lighter and the results were delicious!)
2 cups of buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425*F . Sift the flour into a large bowl. I don’t currently own a crank sifter, so I just used a colander and a wooden spoon to sift, like this:
(A tip from a reader: a remedy for no-sifter-ness that may be a little less messy than my verions is to use a whisk on the flour to “lift” it a little. Thanks Stickyheel5)
Before adding the coconut oil to the flour, use the back of a spoon to mash the coconut oil into a paste and remove any hard clumps.
Add the coconut oil to the flour and mix with a chopper like I have pictured here. This one was handed down to me, but if you didn’t have one, a plastic cup with an air hole punctured through it would probably do the trick.
Continue to combine the two ingredients together with the chopper until the texture becomes piecey. My cousin Katie described it as similar to “mealy grits” but unless you are from the south, you probably have no idea what that means. I can think of no better way to describe it than she did, so I included a photo for reference:
Make a hole in the middle of the flour mixture and slowly fill with buttermilk. With a large spoon, combine ingredients until they form a dough. Add a little more flour or milk as necessary to achieve a dough consistency.
Flour a flat surface and roll out your dough to about a half inch thickness. I use my chopper to cut out the biscuits, but again, a cup with a hole punctured in the bottom of it will suffice.
One thing my grandma always made for us were “funny biscuits” where she would take the last remaining pieces of dough after all the rounds were cut, and clump them into little piles on the baking sheet. These lumpy, odd shaped biscuits used to delight us as children -and we always ate them first. I learned at her funeral that she actually adopted this tradition from her mother in law, so making them for my children means there are at least three generations of my family who have grown up with funny biscuits.
Place biscuits about a half an inch a part on a non-greased baking sheet or baking stone and place in oven. And here’s the part that you’re going to have to “eye ball it” as we say in our family. They will need to bake for for 5 to 10 minutes. I have a hard time getting the tops to brown (A reader shared with me it’s because of the coconut oil), so I use a spatula to check the underside of a biscuit - when it’s golden brown, it’s almost done.
My favorite addition to grandma’s recipe is brushing the tops with a mixture of melted butter combined with either maple syrup or honey. It helps brown up the tops and the faint sweetness pairs so nicely with the hint of coconut in the biscuit.
(note the “funny biscuits” in the middle of the tray)
Let bake for another minute or so to caramelize the butter/honey mixture, then remove from oven and transfer to a basket where you can wrap them in a cloth to keep warm. The time in the oven keeps the top mixture from being sticky, so it’s fine to pile them on top of one another.
I love to serve mine with butter and jam, sharp cheddar cheese, or a thin slice of salt-cured country ham.
These biscuits are quick and easy to make and can keep for about a day on the counter (pop in the microwave for 10 seconds to warm them up!) I grew up on these biscuits and it makes me happy to know that my children will too. We’ve deemed them our new Sunday morning tradition!
May 6, 2013
Blooming and Growing.
When we bought our house, there was very little in the way of mature landscaping. The yard had a large camilla tree and a few azalea bushes, but other than that, there were only a few small bushes recently added by the seller against the house’s foundation in an attempt to improve curb appeal.
Brent and I spent a lot of years with out a real yard. When we were first married, we owned a townhome where all of the shared common lawns were managed by a landscaping company. In San Francisco, we called a tiny concrete walkway our “yard” and when we first moved back to Raleigh, we rented at house and didn’t want to invest much money in a yard that didn’t belong to us.
When we bought our house in December of 2011, the yard, much like the house itself, was a blank canvas. Since then, we have added dozens of new plants and bushes. We have dug up trees from one area of the yard and moved them to another. We’ve ripped out huge patches of unruly monkey grass and put in flowering plants and nearly a dozen rose bushes. Last year we put up a picket fence and recently we created new flower beds down the front.
We know very little about gardening. In the beginning, Brent and I just picked plants without paying much attention to how big things were supposed to grow. This meant that some of last year’s plants had to be dug up and replanted in a better spot this year as our beds became crowded. Last week, I bought a climbing plant that I later learned (only after it was already in the ground) was an annual and would not survive the winter outside. We are still very much novice landscapers… despite not even knowing half of the names of plants we’ve put in our yard, we are learning and having so much fun along the way.
I’ve discovered that I love pulling weeds and pruning and tinkering in my beds. I love watching our plants grow and bloom. I love seeing what was a tiny plant last year, double or triple in size this year.
Giving our yard a little personality has been one of my favorite parts of home ownership and we reap the rewards daily. So much of our time is spent sitting on the front porch, watching the children play in the yard and feeling pride that it belongs to us.
Almost every day when I pull up after work, Brent and the kids are playing outside. It never fails to hit me with a rush of gratitude. I still can’t believe sometimes that we own a house. That we have our own yard. That it is truly ours!
We have plenty of weeds yet to be pulled, the fence we put up is a bit crooked (we learned many lessons on that one!) and and there is so much left to do, but I love this little yard so much. Things are blooming and growing here. Our yard and our family. I’m so thankful we get to call it home.
April 29, 2013
My grandmother passed early last Tuesday. The Red Cross had flown my brother in from his deployment in the Middle East in the hopes that he would get to say goodbye to her. He made it just in time and was there next to her when she passed away. I know she was waiting for him. That evening, he came to my house and we stayed up late, talking. He told me that watching the quiet way with which her breathing shallowed and then was gone, gave him the greatest peace. She left this world in the same gentle way in which she had always lived.
We buried her at the church that she grew up in. The one my mother grew up in. The one that holds so many of my own childhood memories. I have not been back since my grandmother moved into an assisted living residents more than fifteen years ago. The cemetery behind the church holds the names of many people I am distantly related to, and I remember innocently playing hide and seek between the gravestones as a small girl.
Every member of my family filed out of her funeral in a mix of tears and smiles. Heavy with our goodbyes but so comforted in the knowledge that the hour we spent in her honor was so very… her. From the spring flowers that adorned the pulpit to the music - her favorite hymns that we had found written inside her bible. Brent sang “In the garden” - her very favorite hymn. The day before she passed, the family had played it often for her in her room while she lay still in bed and she mouthed the lyrics in an attempt to sing along.
I spent all of Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday morning pecking away at a tribute to read. It’s a big task to write something fitting enough for a woman of her character, but I edited and deleted and added words until I felt it was right. I read it out loud all the way to the funeral in the car with Brent, in the hopes that some of my emotion and nerves would settle enough that I could do it justice at her service.
When it was my turn to stand at the lectern, my voice waivered a few times, but I got through it. And in finishing the last line, I felt I had found my peace too.
After a lunch hosted by the ladies of the church, we took the children across the street to the old country store that was first opened by my great grandfather. His name, C.W. Flowers, is still painted in large letters on the front. Nothing about it has changed since my childhood, since my mother’s childhood.
As a little girl, I used to pull back the wooden screen door and use the quarters in my pocket to buy a yoo-hoo chocolate drink and a bag of M&Ms. Stepping inside last week was like stepping back in time. A relic of simpler days. The new owner has kept the same dirt and wood plank floors. The same old smell. The piles of livestock feed to the left, fishing lures, tires, and bottles of engine oil along the back wall. I slid open the old metal drink cooler and bought two glass bottle Coca-Colas.
We sat outside and drank. Everly scolded me, “Mama, but we don’t drink soda!” I smiled back at her. “Today, we do baby. We’re celebrating memories.” She chugged nearly the entire thing.
Friday I went into work, seeking a little normalcy but still feeling like my thoughts and heart were elsewhere. I struggled to focus and by three pm, I was out the door again. We spent Friday evening running around at our favorite city park and taking in the golden hour.
It’s weird, how life goes on. How people leave this world and enter it thousands of times each day. How our human hearts are constantly learning to adjust to the changes that come with all of our hellos and goodbyes. I am reminded that goodbyes in life are rarely easy, but sometimes they can be beautiful too.
I miss her.
April 26, 2013
“A man just ran by that window NAY TED (naked)!!!”
Said our daughter, who gave us quite a fright, until we realized she had confused the meaning of being naked with someone not wearing a shirt.
April 24, 2013
They warm my heart through and through.
Song: Households by Sleeping At Last
April 23, 2013
When we bought our little white house on a quiet street, I was immediately drawn to the skinny park that ran the length of the neighborhood loop. It reminded me of a tiny version of Panhandle park where Brent and I spent countless days when we lived in San Francisco.
It’s a little narrow strip of land, maintained by the city, where Crepe Myrtle trees and Long Leaf Pines dot the green grass and a few neighbors have claimed small portions of it for vegetable gardens.
I am guilty of sometimes sneaking over when the the snowball hydrangeas hang heavy with blooms to snip off big clusters of white flowers to put around our house.
Our little park just barely qualifies as one, but it is where we escape when we need to get out of the confines of our own house and yard but don’t have the time or energy to go far.
We have come to love it as our own. A place where the kids run free and Brent and I lay happy in the shade of the trees. Right now, the buttercups are blooming and of all the gifts this little island of green gives to us, it is this event that tops the list.
The buttercups are here
and we are counting them
dancing in them
swimming through them
until they go.
April 22, 2013
The kids and I were on a playground on Saturday when I heard another couple discussing Arlo’s sunglasses. I couldn’t find his regular ones and so I had put him in a pair of too-big green ones that we keep in the car as back-ups.
We do not go outside without a hat and sunglasses for our son. Arlo’s albinism causes a condition called Photophobia that makes his eyes extremely sensitive to sunlight (and even some bright indoor lighting). If you have ever experienced the discomfort of walking into a bright room after being in a dark one, you can get a small sense of what it is like for him. He can’t tell us what exactly he is experiencing yet but others with the condition describe it as often blinding and very painful to be outside on a bright day without sunglasses.
When he was a tiny infant, we noticed how he would try to shield his eyes and close them tightly whenever we took him out. It wasn’t until he was diagnosed with albinism that we realized just how uncomfortable he had been. Even now, should we find ourselves in a situation where it is bright out and he doesn’t have his glasses, he has learned to tuck his head into my shoulder to hide his eyes.
So we are diligent about hats (which provide some shade for his eyes) and sunglasses. We have several pairs, including some high-end ray-bans which under most circumstances seem frivilous to put on a toddler - but they have high quality, dark lenses and fit his face the best. He has always hated the strap-on type that most folks in the albinism community recommend, so we go with what works.
At the park on Saturday, his back-up sunnies didn’t fit his face well and would slip down his nose every few minutes. As a typical toddler, there are some days when he is just not in a mood to wear a hat or glasses, no matter how uncomfortable he is, but on this day, he was trying his best to keep them on.
I kept going over to help him adjust them and tried to tuck them into his hat to help him keep them on.
I heard the woman next to us say loudly enough for me to hear, “How sad that lady is forcing that little boy to wear all those stupid accessories. Just let him play.”
It made all of the blood rush to my face and tears fill my eyes. My first instinct was to go over there and give her a piece of my mind, but I didn’t. I took a deep breath, and then another, and collected myself. I watched Arlo and Everly chase each other around the playground while he kept pushing those poorly fitting glasses up his nose over and over again.
I wished he could play without all of those “stupid accessories” too but I was really proud that he was patient enough to try and keep them on, despite the fact that they were clearly an annoyance. We are teaching our son to advocate for himself and want to normalize any of the measures we have to take that might make his experience different from most children.
Arlo’s albinism means we have to be obsessive about sunscreen (we always carry a bottle with us) and very thoughtful about when and where we take him to play. We know all of the playgrounds in our area that are covered by big shade trees. We carry a pop up tent and an umbrella in the car at all times to provide extra shade if we are somewhere that doesn’t have any protection. While we want him to learn to think about how to protect his skin and eyes as he grows, we never want to make a big deal out of it. We want him to know that it is just a thing and that every single one of us has a “thing” whether others know it or not.
As for the lady on the playground… I suppose I should have confronted her and explained why he had to wear sunglasses in the first place. It would have made me feel validated and possibly made her feel ashamed for judging us - but instead I just felt compelled to ignore her. If there is anything parenthood has taught me, it’s to stand tall in what I know is right for my kids regardless of judgement from others.
The children were oblivious to the whole thing, but it made me think a lot about the confidence we hope to instill in them. Speak up when you want to, but don’t feel like you always need to explain yourself. We do what we have to do and we make the very most of what we’ve got.
And for me, the thing I got was two beautiful, happy kids, running around a playground and a little boy who makes his mama so proud every time he puts on his hat and glasses.
April 19, 2013
It has been a hard and heavy week and I am ready to hear the corporate America door close behind me and soak in the goodness of my family for a few days. Our plans include barefeet, returning overdue library books, tackling laundry, pulling weeds and balancing little bodies on the balls of my feet while they pretend to be airplanes. We plan to spoil our appetites with frozen yogurt before lunch and to take a trip to our favorite field in all of Raleigh for some wide open and wild galloping. A healthy mix of the have-to-do with the want-to-do should have me in top fighting shape before another work week begins.
Can I tell you two more things that I am ready for? Running my fingers through the wiley, strawberry blonde curls on my son’s head and listening to Dovie’s funny “what I did today” recap. Every work day, when I am away from them, I crave those simple, precious exchanges.
Friday afternoons are most definitely the worse - as the anticipation of getting home to them is enough to drive me crazy sometimes. Hurry up, weekend.