March 29, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 35th birthday and it's a particularly good birthday for me. I woke feeling joyful at the morning light streaming through my window onto the faces of my beautiful girls and husband. Then, I slipped from the bed and started the morning alone - hiking, reflecting on my life so far.

This year feels different for me. I think a lot of it has to do with a transformation that's been taking place inside me for a while. I've wasted a lot of my life - years really - wishing for something I am not. I'm not saying I have not enjoyed my life. It has been amazing so far, filled with love and accomplishment.

I've had jobs I've loved and jobs I've hated. In them, I discovered that I love aviation, travel and that I'm really good at learning new things. I attended a university on a scholarship which allowed me to sing my way through school and still study what I enjoy most (stories about people -- also known as History). In my latest job, I get to sing beautiful music - then stay home and play with my kids. In all these places, interesting and wonderful people from all over the world have contributed to my personal and professional growth.

I am LUCKY in love. Ten years ago this year, I married the one my soul loves. He is handsome, kind, SMART, talented, fun, loving, gentle - strong. My heart melts when I think about how he loves me. Our two precious girls fill my days with joy and laughter. My friends and family bless me with their love. I have a home in what I consider the most amazing country in the world. I am so fortunate. I frequently give thanks for these blessings.

But, for a long time, when I looked into the mirror, I didn't see a happy, accomplished, beautiful friend- mother-lover. In a Puritanical fashion true to my upbringing, I saw only my failings and spent most of my time worrying about how to be a perfect version of me - thinner, more organized, quicker on my feet, less self-conscious. Of course, I imagined life would be even more fulfilling if I could somehow just be 'perfect me'.

How did I get into the habit of wishing for a different version of myself? Maybe it was the way I was raised. Maybe it was mental laziness. Or maybe grief got the better of me for a while. Regardless, in worrying about the future, I lost the chance to bask in the light of the current moment.

Well, I'm done with wasting moments.

Today I'm giving myself a special birthday gift. From this moment on, I'm setting myself free to enjoy me as I am right now. I'm going to start each morning smiling with pleasure at the face I see in the mirror and loving every wrinkle, freckle and stretch mark I've earned. I don't want to stop growing as a person but I will be content with who I am now and inhabit this moment - with my husband, girls, family and friends. I want my girls to grow up LOVING who they are, as they are, and they will learn that best from me.

I have a feeling this is the best birthday gift I'll get this year.

March 10, 2010

Making playdough...and other ways I spend my days

***above - playdough sculpture starring Sleeping Beauty***

I have a friend who came to dinner every week for a while before he moved out of state. Every week, he'd ask me the same genuine question in his charming Southern drawl, "So, whatcha been up to?" I would laugh and answer, "The same thing every day." Sometimes I'd try to think of something new or different I'd done. But then I started to wonder, "What am I doing with my days?" I'd thought I'd take a minute to write down an example of a typical day in the life of a mostly stay-at-home mom. Here's what happened today.

We wake - late. After being up multiple times during the night with a teething toddler, we are exhausted. I wake when my toddler throws herself on me in a full body hug, looks straight into my eyes and smiles her sweetest smile, saying, "Good morning!" in her own special language. (YES, she DOES sleep with us!) We get ready as quickly as possible without stressing...(I'm really working on this!), feed and dress our girls, then drop them off with the babysitter. Then, I swing over to a local cafe where I tell stories to toddlers and preschoolers once a week. Amazingly, I arrive early. I finish the stories and then enjoy chatting with the moms about their kids, lives, experiences. I really enjoy this part of my week.

The real work begins. I return to the babysitter's house, load the girls in the car in a steady downpour, then drive home. There, I coax my youngest to take a nap, change a load of laundry and race downstairs to hang with my oldest. We play Mulan. She drapes me with beads of "jade" for beauty, a pendant for balance (I wish I really had one of those!) and a cricket for good luck. She names each item ceremoniously and lifts my chin tenderly. As she gazes into my eyes, I feel the effervescent joy of knowing I'm still her favorite playmate. After we play for a while, I move on to surreptitiously weeding out the toybox and cleaning up around the house.

My toddler wakes after only an hour. This changes what I can accomplish in the remaining hour before we leave. I change her diaper and another load of laundry then re-dress both girls and myself. In the midst of this  to-do list, I break up two disagreements that turn physical and have a brief heart to heart with my oldest. Then, I quickly gather a few toys, craft items and snacks and re-fill my youngest's bottle. Happy to be on time for our next appointment, I herd the girls toward the car.

We arrive at our next appointment on time. Yay! I trade babysitting duties one day each week with a friend. It's been a lifesaver for me. I truly love her kids and my daughters have a great time with them.  Normally, we go outside and play games that entail a lot of running, hopefully ensuring a good night's sleep for all. However, today it's raining so our plans are a little different. When the sky clears briefly, we race outdoors and I distribute instruments so the kids can create their own "band". They play happily, marching around, for a short time but the weather turns again so we make our way back indoors.

Craft & chaos. I suggest we make our own playdough and the kids agree excitedly. First, each one must use the toilet and wash his or her hands (one has to remind small people to do this). My friend's oldest is the first to finish so he starts helping me measure flour, salt, color etc. while my toddler eats a snack in the booster chair.

Suddenly, we hear a shriek from the bathroom. I run in to find my oldest and her little girlfriend facing each other with some animosity. My friend's daughter says, "A" (my daughter) threw water from the froggie potty on me!" My three year old daughter turns to me and counters, "I thought it would be funny!" Feeling grateful the potty contained only water, I stifle my laughter and gently correct one girl's understanding of funny while cleaning up the other.

It all works out in the end. Eventually, with lots of giggles - and a small flour fight - we get the playdough made (only one batch ruined), enjoy a snack. Then the kids watch Dora, wrestle with each other and play on the computer while I do dishes and sweep the floor. When my friend's husband arrives, we leave. We pick up our dad from work, get dinner and head home. Dad takes over and starts the bedtime routine because it's my night to be "free". Later, I'll come home and climb into bed where I'll snuggle with the people I love best.

This concludes a day in the life of a mostly stay-at-home mom. I realize that I have pretty much the same schedule every week - with the same people. When my friend asks me what I've been doing, I could respond with a laundry list (literally) of activities. But, when he asks me that question, what comes to mind isn't what I've done, accomplished or acquired recently. Instead, in my mind glimmers sparkling memories I gather throughout each day in the form of the smiles, the laughter, the touches and the songs of my two precious little girls. I am awed by the reality that I am privileged to share my journey with two beautiful, brilliant little people (and one beautiful, brilliant big person) - and encourage each one through her/his own journey.

How exactly do I fit that into a two sentence reply? For now, I'll keep laughing and giving the same answer but inside, I'll enjoy the shimmering images of what really fills my days.

March 9, 2010

Not Your Mother's Hamburger Helper

Last night, after a late afternoon trip to the library, I made dinner for my family while my husband played with the kids. I was pretty excited I got to cook because my husband and I fight over dinner rights. We both find cooking so relaxing. There's something about planning and timing and chopping and touching all that beautiful fresh food that is immensely nourishing to the soul.

Of course, we try to pick food that is nourishing to the body as well. But lately, my challenge has been picking nourishing food my three and a half year old will actually eat. She's been on a yogurt, bananas and bread kick. Not bad choices but not very balanced. I usually have to say, "Sure, you can have that - AFTER you eat what I've made." Last night, my goal was to make something colorful and delicious that she'd at least be willing to try. It also needed to be quick because the girls were pretty tired.

After a quick inventory of the contents of the fridge, I found myself reaching for the basics. We had a small package of grass finished beef, carrots, fresh tomatoes, red and green peppers, onions, scallions (we're kind of onion fanatics), fresh garlic and some rice we'd cooked a few nights previously. As I listened to my daughters and husband chortling over whatever crazy game they had created, I reached back through my memory banks to figure out what my mom would have created with food like this. Here's what I did with it.

Not Your Mother's Hamburger Helper

1.5 lbs grass finished ground beef
2 large peeled carrots
2 tomatoes
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 onion
1 green scallion
3.5 cups of cooked rice (Mine was seasoned like Mexican rice courtesy of my husband)*
3 T. olive oil
1 t. paprika (more to taste if needed)
2 t. dried oregano (less if fresh)
1/2 cup chicken, beef or veggie stock

1. Brown the beef in a large saute pan or wok (I used a wok). Just add a few tablespoons of olive oil and cook till you can't see pink in the meat anymore.

2. While the meat is browning, mince the onion and throw it in with the meat.

3. Generously add salt and pepper to the meat - as well as the oregano and paprika.

4. Chop the carrots, peppers and scallion and garlic. I cut everything pretty small - almost minced - like confetti. I never liked big chunks of carrots in my food as a kid & neither do my girls.

5. Throw the carrots and peppers in as soon as you finish chopping them.

6. When the carrots and peppers are cooked, add the scallion, garlic and rice. I like to add garlic at the end to keep it as close to fresh as possible, retaining more of the nutritional properties.

7. Add a little chicken, beef or veggie stock if needed. Cooked rice can be a little dry after a few days.

8. Heat all the ingredients thoroughly.

9. Very important... TASTE the food!!  Add salt, pepper or spices if necessary.

10. MOST important step - always cook with love on your mind.

*Potatoes would be an appropriate substitute for the rice. While they don't need to be staples at every meal, they are very nutritious and a great source of potassium.

Dinner came together pretty quickly and we all sat down and gave thanks for the food in front of us. Then, my daughter took one look and grimaced. I smiled and told her she had to taste it. She took a tentative bite, her face lit up and she said, "Mom, this is really good. I love meat!"

Yay for small successes!!!
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