So it’s been a while since I blogged.
In fact I’m not even sure how long it’s been.
Picture the graphic that’s been shared on Facebook. I posted it on my page about a month ago. Two pieces of graph paper side by side: the left one has a sharp, smooth, beautifully straight vector heading upward at 45 degrees. The right image is of a line which loops all over the graph paper, completely out of control.
Captions? Left side reads, “What I planned.” Right side reads, “What actually happened.”
Truer vectors were never drawn.
I usually make the mistake of thinking June will be less busy because school is out (it never is), but this year several additional variables got thrown in the works, primarily an ill-formed foray into the world of hormone replacement therapy. The theory was it would help me sleep better if I took estrogen.
It didn’t turn out that way. Instead I’ve spent over two months working my way back from relentless palpitations that lasted all night long (thankfully it wasn’t every night and is now much better), being completely off thyroid medication (which I actually do need) for four weeks, and starting a different thyroid medication (which I am still in the process of ramping up). Well, it was my idea, and worth trying. Still, it’s a classic example of the graph which I shared.
Expect the unexpected is a word to the wise. I try not to, and I guess I believe that if I assume it hard enough, things will be predictable and comfortable.
My now fourteen year old daughter took over the stories some years ago, during the time we spend together before I tell her good night, and we’ve either read lots of Rick Riordan books, or she narrated portions of the novels that she’s working on. It’s been fun. But last night she was talked out with a cold following on performing in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and she didn’t have anything to say.
I burst out with, “Would you like me to tell you a story?” not thinking she would say yes.
I got a nod though.
Cast about in my mind for what on earth to say. I’ve always been a story reader, not a story-teller. My idea of a good day is one in which I read out loud to my family a minimum of twice, so….I didn’t feel like doing a fairy tale. Or a variant of something I’d read that I thought she’d like–would take too much time to come up with. Nor did I feel particularly creative.
So I started where many parents do–with something that really happened.
“Once upon a time, in a little house high up on a hill lived a mommy and a daddy and a little boy, and their three cats and one dog.” That’s all true. 1998.
Went on from there to tell her all that was missing was a little girl to live in the house as well, the one the mommy had been wishing for for many years.
There were the elders visiting and praying for the mommy. There was the helpful doctor who kept trying different ideas for why the mommy was not having a baby. There was the surgery the mommy had (details omitted here) that took care of the problem.
And there was the story of the answer to the question the mommy asked herself a few weeks after surgery: “Am I pregnant?” which was answered immediately by an internal voice, with these words: “Yes, you are. And it’s a girl.”
My daughter really liked this story. And so did I.
I did it. I changed some things about a recipe I found in a magazine and improved it. Talk about satisfying.
I got this stir fry recipe from Kentucky Living magazine a few years ago. Here’s how I make it.
Broccoli and Beef Stir Fry, serves 5-6
1-1.5 pounds good quality beef steak cut into thin strips
garlic powder to taste
1/4 cup soy sauce (or more to taste)
3 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil or other oil
1 medium white onion cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1 sweet red pepper cut into 3/4 inch chunks
5 or more cups fresh broccoli florets cut small
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
cornstarch and water as needed
Combine steak strips, soy sauce and garlic powder; I used about 1/2 teaspoon maybe of the garlic powder? You could marinate with the fresh garlic but I like using both, so I start with the powder. Set aside for 15 minutes. Prepare all remaining ingredients.
Heat oil in a large skillet or wok. Add beef and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Move the beef to the side and add broccoli, garlic, and onion. Put the wok lid on to steam, checking frequently so you don’t over cook the broccoli.
When the broccoli is almost done, add the red pepper and continue to stir fry until vegetables are crisp tender. Reduce heat, and add a tablespoon of cornstarch with a couple of tablespoons of water if it’s too runny. Add more soy sauce if desired. Toss in the red pepper flakes, and serve with rice. Delicious. I like to serve it with yellow rice as the consistency is less sticky (turmeric is good for you anyway), so the kids eat more of the rice and it makes it all go further.
What made this improved?
The original recipe did not have enough garlic–only one clove. All the items I put in except the meat had a strong flavor. Some would say the soy sauce provides the flavor, but I think a stir fry is tastier if you keep fewer ingredients that all have distinct flavors.
Also, the original called for both yellow squash and cauliflower. I’m sorry, but yellow squash does not belong in a stir fry. It gets much too soggy too fast and spits seeds into the dish. Yuck. And cauliflower is too hard. Plus you’ve already got the broccoli. I just don’t see it. And the cornstarch wasn’t called for either so I added it. I like a sauce, instead of watery liquid seeping out from my rice on the plate.
So there you have it, my not so humble opinion.
The really fun thing was that the changes I made tasted the way I thought they would. As Mrs. Elton comments in Jane Austen’s Emma, “My friends do say I have a way with chicken salad.” However, I don’t know why I’m good at this. I’ve never known why I just picked it up from the beginning, right after we got married. I think there must be a spiritual gift of cooking because I certainly haven’t done anything to earn the good results I’ve gotten. Sure, experience helps, but–not that much.
There’s nothing like the joy you get from experiencing something after you haven’t had it for a time.
And it seems for me it’s true that it takes missing something to truly relish it.
You just don’t comprehend what it means to miss something if you have it all the time. I’m sure if the weather was only sun all the time, I would be unable to delight as deeply as I am in this wonderful 65 degree sunny weather we’re having this week. It might be OK, but I would take it for granted.
Or take for example a night of sleep. I don’t sleep well generally speaking. Sometimes it’s insomnia; most often it’s just waking up and rolling over about forty times per night, so when I get up I am not rested.
But that’s nothing compared to those nights when you don’t sleep at all.
There is nothing I know of that’s miserable in quite the same way as a night you spend awake, longing for your eyes to feel heavy and your thoughts to get fuzzy, but instead you just keep thinking, droves of ideas and images whizzing through your head, anxiety stirring you around.
After a night like that, experiencing a night in which the peaceful buzzing of a fan is actually soporific is so nice. Waking up after sleeping a stretch of 8 hours is positively blissful. There is nothing else like waking up and realizing your nightmare of wakefulness is over, and you’ve slept most of the night.
Extrapolating to other situations–there are many blessings I’ve never had to miss. I know I can’t appreciate them the way someone who is missing them could.
But I’ll surely do my best.
In a previous blog post I mentioned that the primary maternal role I did not expect was that of Fail Mom, and that it deserved an entire entry. So here goes.
I sincerely hope I am not the only person in the world to have assumed success at parenting with no logical reason to do so. I can think of some reasons why we think motherhood can’t be too difficult.
1. We have forgotten any agony our mother expressed while she was raising us.
2. People have been having children and raising them to adulthood for how long now?
3. Anyone can have a baby.
4. I’m an intelligent person.
5. Everyone is doing it.
These are all understandable assumptions based on basic observations.
But, the key assumption we make is that we are logical, moral people. We can observe other people saying and doing things to their children that are clearly not the right thing to do. It’s just so obvious that one should ignore the tantrum, not buy the candy, correct misbehavior, teach necessary skills.
Ah…but we don’t realize how the complexity of life creates challenges we can’t imagine. We don’t understand that the love we have for our children will twist our reason. We can’t imagine the responsibility for another life in our hands. We think we have, but we haven’t.
So we end up being unfair, impatient, even mean sometimes. We are inconsistent. We let them have pineapple Fanta even though it has food coloring in it. We pick up the mess they made because we’d rather not have to ask one more time. We scream at our child for throwing up on his bunk bed stairs.
We push them into activities they don’t benefit from, just because we think it would be a good idea. We don’t actually listen when they are trying to tell us something important. We spend much more time staring at electronic screens than we do at their faces.
There’s a Baby Blues comic I love which has a place of honor on my fridge. Each frame shows the mom doing something for the kids that before parenthood, she knew she would never do. She tells her daughter she’ll help her figure out how to do the math later; for now here’s the answers. She tells the kids they should finish brushing their teeth in the car. She sends them into the den with cookies to watch TV, so she can finish making dinner. She burns the dinner. Her husband says, “Shake it off. You’re human.”
Her response: “I was a great mother–until I had kids!”
Exactly–I’m human–and having kids has taught me that.
I’m young at heart. Now I know why “older people” want to be seen that way.
Of course, I never thought about what women older than me wanted when I was 25. Now I wish I had. I’ve probably missed some pretty great opportunities to have a lot of laughs and to gain a lot of wisdom.
I’m not saying that I personally have that much wisdom, but I do have something to offer. Friendship. Loyalty. A sense of humor. The time to hang out. Hands that know how to fold a mean pile of laundry. Ideas for how to teach your children. Ways to prepare some pretty delicious food.
I can offer my friendship to any other woman I meet.
I just doubt that many of the women I see on a regular basis realize I have something to offer. I’m not perceived as a potential friend because I’m older than they are.
It goes without saying that those people who haven’t let age even come into the equation are deeply appreciated. Jennifer, Mangala, Erica, Toby, Esther: these women never saw the grey.