Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Parenting by the Seat of My Pants - But, mom, I'm bored!

I had an amazing childhood. The teen years... well, we won't get into that now, but those years before the onset of puberty were a thing of beauty. 

I grew up in the 1980s and '90s, so I grew up with most of the modern conveniences. I am the first generation of kids who had the Internet. I had a television in my bedroom when I got older, and a VCR, too. Most of my friends had gaming consoles and cable TV. I say this because, although kids now may have better graphics and better technology, my childhood wasn't as fundamentally different from my kids' childhood as my parents was from mine, or even more so, my father-in-law's 1940s upbringing. It's a difference in degree, rather than a difference in kind, and I am actually a little stricter than my parents were about technology. Surprisingly, or maybe not, technology is not what my childhood memories are made of. 

When I was a kid we spent whole weeks playing beneath the bowers of a group of bushes that grew together on the "shores" of a dry rockbed we called (and I still call) the Rock River. It was our mansion, and the holes between the trunks were the various rooms. In front of it there was a flat-topped boulder that served as our kitchen, and nearby, a boulder with two indentations that functioned as seats for our rock car. I once tried to convince my mother to let me sleep out there for a week. If only she would give me a little money, I pressed her, I would buy myself a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and live like the Boxcar Children in humble, independent simplicity. She was not swayed. 

When we tired of life at the "mansion," we would pack up shop and move to the "cabin," a retaining wall under a pine tree, near the pond, with a manhole cover that functioned nicely as our kitchen table. The view was better, if the accommodations, a bit more rustic, and the elderly German lady who lived on the top of the hill, Mrs. Kovash, would sometimes give us cookies, or invite us in to watch her knit and play with her parakeets, Cocoa and Nico. She knit hats for orphans and sometimes for us, and talked a great deal about her family back home in East Germany. This was before the wall came down. We had a cookie lady at the mansion as well, but she moved to a nursing home when I was still quite young, and I can't remember her name. I only remember that she always had windmill shaped cookies. 

I could go on all day, telling stories of lemonade stands and bike parades, of the time we decided to try jumping off of Gala's second story deck onto some cushions and got our butts handed to us by our parents, or of the epic water balloon war the older boys waged one summer, and let us participate in. I could tell about the time, in high school, when we decided to build a luge track, or the time we stuffed a model boat with so many fire crackers we made glass on the beach. There were the times we spent at the treehouse at Geneva's, or in the canoe, or that birthday of hers when we camped in the basement. In my memory it is like one long, never-ending summer day. 

We had long stretches of time on our hands, and we were rarely ever bored. "Only boring people get bored," my mother used to tell me. My mom did not suffer whining gladly. If we whined at her that we were bored, the whining was the problem she dealt with, not the lack of stimulation. And, as it turns out, she was right. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of constant entertainment from either mother or electronics, we got busy making our own fun. We got creative and we got resourceful. As an adult, I have never liked television all that much because it simply isn't as interesting to me as what goes on in my own imagination. 
That is what I am aiming for with my own kids, to turn down the noise of entertainment and the demands of life and give them space to think and to be. Make no mistake, I have high expectations of my kids. We are not laying around in our pajamas doing nothing all day. Well, not everyday, anyway. We have work to do, and work should be attended to diligently and thoroughly, but equally as important as a strong work ethic is a strong commitment to genuine leisure. A little boredom is a good thing. Instead of letting restlessness take hold of you and demand ever bigger and flashier entertainment, take the time to tinker with your guitar, or write that story that is floating around in your head. Build an imaginary world and lead your imaginary army in battle against the forces of evil. Catch a fish, plant a seed, Or write a sonnet. Take a nap. (Seriously, kids. Please take a nap.) Design a machine to ship packages from one end of the room to the other. Set up an obstacle course for your brothers and see how high they can climb the walls. 

Oh, wait. No. Don't do that. Just don't tell me you are bored. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Parenting by the Seat of my Pants - Resolution and Evaluation

I am beginning a series of posts I am titling Parenting by the Seat of My Pants, suggested by my friend Sara, as I use this particular phrase often. :) 

A terrible picture of a sidecar. 

So, it's New Years again and I have set myself a resolution. I'm going to drink a wider variety of cocktails. It's good to set realistic goals, right? I devoted the month of December to my old standby, the Sidecar, in preparation for branching out next year. 

The Sidecar is a drink of mysterious origin, claimed, among other tales, to be the invention of the Ritz Hotel in Paris in the early 1900s, around the time of WWI. It's classic and tasty, and easily made. There are two schools of sidecars. The French school is equal parts cognac, orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier) and lemon juice. The English school is two parts cognac and one part each orange liqueur and lemon juice. I am partial to the French school, myself. 

While I am on the subject of realism I want to say a thing or two that has been on my mind about resolutions and evaluation.  Maybe it's the Christmas season (it's still Christmas, people) but I hear a lot of my friends coming down pretty hard on themselves lately, as they take stock of the year that has passed and evaluate their goals. I've heard the word "failure" thrown around a bit. 

Self evaluation is a good thing. It should be done often. We are fallen people and we live in a fallen world. It's totally realistic, and very healthy to look back on what we have done and see where we might do better. That is how we grow and how we learn. That said, I think there are a few pitfalls we can fall into that can be very discouraging and destructive. 

My to-do list is not my God

My to-do list is a random assortment of things I thought I could get done today. It's an estimation. I will be the first to tell you that when I look back on my day and I have accomplished everything on the list, I feel like a rockstar, but a to-do list is a tool for organizing data, not a tool for evaluating people. I don't know, when I make my to-do list, that this is the day the baby will decide not to nap, or the day my oldest daughter will need to have an hour-long talk about her friends, or that my Kindergartener will decide to jump down the staircase in one go and learn why that was a bad idea. 

Life is an adventure, and adventures never go as planned. There is no sense beating yourself up that the day took an unexpected turn. Think of yourself more as the captain of a ship. You are navigating an unpredictable sea. It's good to be prepared, but the point is to deal with reality as it exists, not sit around lamenting how much farther you could have gotten if everything had been perfect. Battle your squalls and your sea monsters and revel in the great story this will make at next year's Christmas dinner.  It's a better story than "I got the floors mopped," by far. 

Separate Self Evaluation and Situational Evaluation. 

Some people are overly self-evaluative and see every imperfect situation as a case of "if I had just done better, I could have avoided this." Others are prone to overanalyze situations and never see their own contribution to them. Both of those are a form of pride. I, personally, tend towards both of those bad habits. I have sat around feeling like a failure because I had the stomach flu and my house was a wreck, and I have conveniently ignored the two hours I spent on Pinterest and blamed it all on the half hour I spent unclogging the toilet. Neither one is a helpful option. 

Sometimes, I need to have a come-to-Jesus moment with myself. As a Catholic, I find a daily examen to be helpful with this. It's good to look back over my day and be honest with myself about where I dropped the ball and where I did well, and find the places in my day where God was speaking to me. 

On the other side of the coin, it's also good to evaluate my work flow. Are there things that just aren't working for us right now? For example, now that Veronica can stand, I need to do another round of baby-proofing. If I've taken on a few extra activities, do I need to reevaluate my meal plan? Those sorts of things tend to sneak up on me, and I can "should" myself all day long about them, but it won't fix anything. Fix the holes in the ship, don't beat your men for not bailing water fast enough. 

Think about the long term

In general, are the things we are doing making us better people? Are we growing in wisdom and virtue? Often we judge how we are doing by how happy or peaceful things are in the moment, but that can be a misleading standard. I'm aiming to raise people who can be calm in the midst of the storm, and have a peace that mere circumstance cannot take away. Some days, that means sucking it up and dealing with unpleasant things. It's easy to lose sight, in the moment, and feel like a bad day defines us, but those are going to happen. It's the general trajectory of things that is the bigger concern. 

So pour yourself a drink, tell your tales of the year that was and set your course for the new one, with whatever it may bring. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

I'm joining in the link party from Like Mother, Like Daughter


We have had an unusual warm spell this week. The temperature climbed to nearly 50 degrees. I imagine that this is what winter is like in a lot of the country. I forget that winter isn't the frigid, six months of constant snow and ice we have here in Minnesota or the sunny, non-winter we had in Southern California in most places. I wasn't cut out for that. To a Northerner, sunshine is an obligation.  When it's warm enough to do stuff, you do stuff. That's exhausting when the sun is always shining. 

I decided to go for a walk by the pond. It was glorious. It wasn't even jacket weather. I listened to the audio of a class I had missed when we were sick and I got lost in the quiet. Heaven.


Our Knights of Columbus group had its first annual St Lucy Day party. Our friends, who hosted, had moved into the house the week before. A week after I move, I'm usually hiding from my unpacked boxes and overstimulated kids in the bathroom with a glass of wine. Hosting a lovely party with homemade cinnamon and saffron rolls wouldn't even be on my radar screen. My friend Arika is a superhero. Speaking of superheroes....


Yes, that is a batman costume, and yes, it is hanging from my bedroom chandelier. 


I always feel like a kid explaining myself to a parent when I take the kids to the ER for an injury. "Well, you see, doctor, there was this handbell and this toddler..." Poor Cheyenne got beaned in the face by her two year old sister and had to get stitches. Zach couldn't come for about an hour and a half, so I took all six kids to the emergency room. Travis tried bravely to save his sister from the evil doctor's needles by shooting him with fake hand lasers, but the doctor won out. Apparently, Travis has inherited his dad's sensitive stomach. The sight of the stitches caused him to get sick, all over Charlotte, and partially on James.

Turns out the only spare clothes I had with me were some clothes I was dropping off at the Goodwill for my 90 year old grandma. Whatever. It's warm. We made a quick stop at Costco for dinner before I got the entire evening off for my class. We all lived. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Real Math

Fifth grade math has gone well, but we have been hitting a bit of a dry spell lately.   Staring at fractions and decimals, factors and least common multiples was starting to seem, to the eldest child, like a sea of useless drudgery that brought up the timeless question, "what do you use this for?"

It's a fair question. It does seem to me that we like to divorce arithmetic from its context in real life applications. It's easy for kids to see the purpose of learning language, because they use it everyday for their own purposes. Math seems, from their perspective, less relevent. 

Cheyenne and Bella have expressed an interest lately in learning more about cooking and budgeting, so I decided to suspend my planned curriculum for the month and refocus on some practical life skills. 

We started with price comparisons. The night we began this study we were making tacos, so we decided to start by having the girls compare the cost of the individual packets of taco mix with the cost of the Costco bottle and, once we get the prices on the bulk spices, the cost of the mix recipe from The Tightwad Gazette. It's some good, solid mathematical thinking. How do we find the price per unit using the information printed on the package? What is the basic unit, for our purposes? If we use 3 T per pound of hamburger with one mix, and 4 with another, do we compare by teaspoon, or by one pound batch? What makes the most sense? If the amount on the package is given in in teaspoons, how can I convert that to Tablespoons? How about cups? If I'm making the homemade mix, how do I scale the recipe up or down? Does any of this look familiar? Fractions? Decimals? Factoring? 

Next up, I'm having them make a price book comparing prices of our most used items at different grocery stores, again taking into account units in a package. When it's all done we will have a taste test of some recipes using different products in which quality might make a difference because, after all, price is not the only factor to be considered in evaluating a decision. There are other, non-quantitative factors that make a difference too. 

This "break" from their math homework seems to be putting a little more steam in their learning engines. Suddenly the math problems have purpose and context. They are a language that expresses something meaningful. If nothing else, they'll leave home someday knowing how to make good use of their money and evaluate data for decision making. You could do worse. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A 50th anniversary

I live in a really lovely place. This is the view from my kitchen right now. It's winter, so it's not as nice at the moment, but wait a second. Let me show you. 

Some of our gardens in summer

The walk by the lake

The dock in summer

One of our pools

I could go on all day. My neighbourhood was designed as an experiment in landscape design to enhance the building of community, and it has worked pretty well. We have our conflicts, to be sure, but it's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, and people take pride in their neighbourhood. We have cooking groups, book clubs, groups that get together at ethnic restaurants and potlucks. We have a group that keeps an eye on older neighbours who might need help, and a group that brings meals, flowers, cards, etc. to the sick, post-partum and grieving. This year we are reviving the community 4H group for the kids, and will be working on creating a monarch sanctuary in among our many shared gardens. This is a place where things are happening. 

I was very excited to be asked to be part of the group putting together our 50th anniversary celebration. It's going to be amazing. We are going to have an entire year of events; food events, art shows, wine tastings with poetry readings, music from our own musicians, family events, a photo gallery of our neighbourhood's history, a tennis tournament, a book... again, I could go on all day. In a world where people are often very disconnected from their neighbours, we have somehow managed to    preserve, or perhaps create, a fun and supportive environment. I am so, so grateful to have grown up here, and to have the chance to raise my kids here. I have been blessed, since I moved here on my first birthday, to get to know people of all ages, races, nationalities and backgrounds, that are more like family than friends. I've been blessed by their wide range of knowledge, talents and experiences. I've been blessed by their love and their support. Where else do your neighbours read about your bad day on Facebook and bring you over a bottle of wine? That is what it means to love your neighbour. I am really hopeful that this 50th anniversary year can be a year where we pull together even more, and invest in the future of our community. 

As this is my Year of Poverty and Simplicity, I'm reflecting on all of this abundance. I think this is the key, this abundance of blessing, beauty and love instead of an abundance of things. These are the real riches. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Toddlers and Trees

The last couple of years, I have not put up my Christmas tree. When I was a kid, Christmas was a huge thing. My mom is the self proclaimed Queen of Christmas. The house was decorated to the nines, the food was plentiful and lovely, there was Christmas music and the gifts! They were also plentiful and perfectly wrapped. It was glorious. Then I became the mom and oh. my. word. That is a lot of work. For her, it was a labour of love, and she greatly enjoyed it. She is an amazingly creative person, and it was one of her outlets. 

We all have different talents and gift wrapping just isn't one of mine. Mailing Christmas cards, it turns out, isn't either. I have three times as many kids as she did, so gifts have been a simpler affair. No, that's not true. 

Last year's Christmas gift. 
Simpler is the wrong word to use, here. Some of the gifts have been pretty stinking complex. But the gift giving is, at least, different, than it was when I was a kid. 

Anyway, in my quest to make Christmas my own I have totally slacked on the decorating. The battle between toddler and Christmas tree seemed like too much to take on, and my awesome ornaments, made by my grandmother and sent to me by my world-traveling great-aunt from the far corners of the globe, seemed too precious to be put in the hands of tiny people who would mistake them for food. 

But, you know what? I think I've gone too far. I miss my tree. I miss my wreaths and my garland. I want things to be pretty. So this year, we are doing the tree, but making our own ornaments, at least for the toddler accessible areas. I've looked on Pinterest and decided, after some consideration, to mainly stick to origami ornaments. Stuff with glitter, stuff with sequins or stuff with any kind of paint seems like a bad idea with a 9 month old around. Two-year old Charlotte managed, the other day, to cover herself in glitter while she was napping in her glitter-free brothers' room. They have a gift for mess making, these monkeys.

Veronica's head, covered in marker as I wrote this. 

I've started with the globes because I have known how to make them since the 3rd grade (thanks Robin Sorenson!) and they are cute and festive. I needed a brief refresher, but I was able to make a dozen of them while eating cookies in the McDonald's play land. If they last through the season, so much the better, but if they don't, they cost me a few cents each and my priceless memories will be safe for a day when inedible objects are no longer anyone's favourite food group. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday. Who am I?

I don't know what came over me. In 36 years of life, I have never gone Black Friday shopping, and I have never wanted to. In fact, I used to rail against the commercialism of it all. I was better than that, right? 

And then, I decided, out of the blue, to hit up Target on Black Friday and buy myself a TV. That's right. I didn't even buy something altruistic like presents for the poor, or even presents for my kids. I bought a TV for my laundry room. Who am I? It's like I don't even know myself anymore. (I also bought some yarn, but I feel much less guilty about that.) 

In my defense, I've been cooped up in the house for two weeks with sick kids and I was feeling pretty restless. Also, ever since the old laundry room tv broke, the laundry has been a ridiculous mess. My husband used to go down there for his introvert alone time and watch Chuck Norris movies and fold laundry. Come to think of it, he has been crabbier since that TV broke too. 

Mostly, though, I think I am rebelling. I still like reading better than TV. I still like quiet, simple holidays. I still like long, laborious, home cooked meals. I still think that, overall, we have some cultural bad habits that we would do well to change.  But you know what? Sometimes I also like to watch Netflix and fold some laundry. 

I think it is possible to take things that are  good ideas and try to turn them into virtues. For me, at least, shopping at Target on Black Friday is generally not a good idea, but I have friends who carefully plan their purchases and have a fantastic time with their sisters getting ready for Christmas. Their holiday doesn't center around gifts, but gifts are a part of it, and, for them, it is a bonding experience and an exercise in prudent spending. We do this about many things. Eating. Exercise. Spending. 

I think the complimentary temptation to the temptation to be imprudent and excessive is the temptation to pride. If I am sitting home on Black Friday, pleased with myself that I am not "that sort of person" I have successfully turned virtue into vice. So this year, I am grateful, not just for the TV that will probably bring my laundry back into some semblance of order, but for the opportunity to be humbled. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Things I shouldn't have to say

-Glue is not a cracker dip. 
-Do you seriously expect me to believe that you just fell asleep on the floor right now before I could discipline you? I'm not as dumb as I look, kid. 
-Can you get me a popcorn-free glass of water? 
-When I said you could collect money from around the house, I meant change from the laundry. Not my purse. 
-That sounds like a great dinner suggestion, honey, but just an FYI, it's "chicken pot pie," not "chicken butt pie."
-And that is why we don't use dinosaurs as spoons. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Midlife Crisis

About a month ago I decided to have myself a midlife crisis. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is something like 78, so I suppose, at 36 I am a hair on the young side, but a few years early won't hurt anything. I've never been the sort of person who was bothered by aging. That is really almost a silly thing to say in your mid thirties, but I didn't panic when I hit 30 and five years I was thrilled to finally be old enough to be president (not that I would actually want the job). When I feel stuck in the 30-something doldrums I don't usually daydream about my lost youth, I daydream about getting older. Your 20s are confusing and filled with all this pressure to become somebody. No thank you. 

I look at my parents, my aunts and my friend's moms and I think, "that's where it's at." I want to take up beading and photography, volunteer large amounts of my time for good causes, spoil my grand kids, have extended happy hours with my friends (or kids!) and travel to Italy. I look forward to the day that I can be my kids friends and not The Meanest Mom Ever. Oh sure, you can do some of those things when you are young, but then they come with pressure. "This is the best time of your life. Enjoy it now before the real world gets to you." "Find out who you are." That is for the birds. Those things sound like so much more fun when you already know who you are. 

Because of that, I kind of thought that the fabled midlife crisis would pass me by. Lately, though, I think some shaking up might be helpful. I'm finding myself feeling a little get-off-my-lawn, a little cynical even. My patience is a little stretched, and I can see, that if I don't take steps to change, I may not like who I grow into. 

I already have a younger man (my husband) and a tattoo, so this is the plan I have come up with. 

1. Stop dressing like I just got out of bed. Even though, many days, I still feel like I just got out of bed at 3:00 in the afternoon, there is no reason I need to look like it. 10 years of baby making has meant a lot of shift in sizes, and I have completely fallen into the yoga-pants and t-shirts, or on a good day, jeans and t-shirts trap. 

"Mom, is black your favourite colour?" "No." "Then why is it all you wear?" "Because not having to change my shirt by noon is my favourite colour." I have had that conversation with my colour-conscious eldest daughter many times. She is right, though, it's a cheap excuse. I have solved the dirt on the clothes problem by wearing an apron. Yes, it makes me look like a '50s housewife, but better a '50's housewife than a depressed, overgrown college student. Body image issues used to contribute to my lack of dress sense, but, happily, my newfound cynicism is manifesting itself in a lack of concern about what anyone might think of my body and how I dress it. I've made six people. My body is just fine. Besides, when I was a kid and imagined what I wanted to look like as an adult, the image in my head was always more funky-librarian than Disney Princess. 

2. Devote more time to my own hobbies, learning and other pursuits. This one has been a little harder, and not for the reasons you might think, namely, six reasons that are, as I type this, sleeping in their beds. It's more that I am suspicious of the sort of Oprah-ish idea that what I want is the most important thing in the world. Wants are a fickle master. While I do think that mindset is hogwash, the opposite idea, that using and developing my gifts and talents and cultivating my own joy is somehow injurious to the world, is, at best, silly and unhelpful. Studying at the Catechetical Institute and blogging are the first steps in this effort, but I mean them to be only the beginning. There is nothing wrong with being well-rounded. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Things I Shouldn't Have to Say

I've been writing these on Facebook for years, but I think it's time to add to the blog as a Friday theme. Daily, as a mom, I find myself saying things that I could never in a million years anticipated having to say. These people are cute, but they're also crazy. 

 This week's edition. 

-Cheese is not a writing utensil. That's why your pen is not working.
-When I said to put the baby down, I didn't mean on your sister's head. 
-You can come out of your room when you are ready to stop mooning people. 
-What do you mean, you "lost Wisconsin?"
-Why was there a car in your pants? 
-Snowpants are meant to be outerwear. They are not a replacement for actual pants. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Griffith Family Christmas List 2014

The first Christmas gift of the season has been purchased. This beauty will soon be the property of our own intrepid girl reporter, Isabella. It's even her favourite colour. This is the same girl who, for her last birthday, wanted a skateboard and a walkman. Not an iPod. A walkman. We breed hipsters in Nordeast without even trying. 

I was pleased that this years selections have been, thus far, much more attainable than last years, which consisted of a live orphan (Cheyenne), a dead dinosaur (James) and drink coasters (Bella). The drink coasters, at least, were both actually possible to purchase and reasonably priced. 

Without further ado. This year's list. 

A typewriter (See above)
A wheel of Gouda
A hammock
A hammock chair
A nightlight
Star Wars Cookies
A lightsaber
A coat with a built-in heater
Hair and nail stuff
Crochet hooks
A fencing mask
A hedgehog
And a shark 

The last two may or may not have been me. 

Some of that is going to happen, people. It really is. 

Thanksgiving simplified. Sort of.

 I love to cook. Love it. As my Father-in-law astutely pointed out to me this past summer, the kitchen is where I retreat when life is overwhelming me. No one questions your alone time if you emerge from it with cupcakes or a pot roast for them to eat. 

I do not, however, like holiday cooking. I find it boring and laden with expectation, and Thanksgiving is the worst of it for me. The only real room for creativity is in the pies. 

For a variety of reasons we spend most holidays with just our immediate family (which includes my dad, who lives here). Zach doesn't cook and my dad, though once a fantastic chef, has hung up his apron for good. That leaves me to do everything. Thanksgiving dinner is a full week's work for me. Last year I went a little crazy. OK, maybe a lot crazy. I lost sight of the point and by the time the turkey hit the table I was feeling cranky, resentful and anything but grateful. Before dinner was over, it was suggested that next year we might be better off eating out. 

This year dad decided that we needed to simplify. "I don't care if all we have is tuna casserole and pie. I don't even care if all we have is pie."

 I considered that. An all pie Thanksgiving has potential, but I'm not quite ready to give up all pretense of a real holiday just yet. I can find a way to make it special without stressing myself out to the point that my turkey is served with a side of crab. 

It turns out, turkey isn't really anyone in this house's favourite food. It's good, but so are grilled cheese sandwiches, and that's not on the holiday menu. I polled the troops and it was decided that prime rib would be greatly preferred. Once we threw out the traditional turkey, no one cared if we have our 5 traditional side dishes plus mashed potatoes and gravy. "Whatever you want to make will be fine mom, as long as there is pie."  So I've decided that we will have roasted potatoes (easy), Yorkshire pudding (easy) and a salad made from a kit from Costco.

The downside of this menu change-up is that it makes the turkey crafts I had planned for the week seem a little ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as prime rib crafts would be, however, so I think we'll stick with the original plan for activities. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Love and Lutefisk

In an exciting turn of events, this fall my maternal grandmother, known to one and all as GGB (Great-Grandma Barb), after years of snowbirding in Arizona, Las Vegas and Mexico, moved back to the Twin Cities to be closer to her family. 

Great-Grandma Barb is awesome. She has never really been your stereotypical, cookie-baking Grandma (although she actually does bake a mean batch of cookies). Growing up, she was my Vegas Grandma, with her sequined tennis shoes. The kind who goes hula dancing, gambling and deep sea fishing in Mexico. She has taken me RVing through the Canadian Rockies, helicoptering over Mount Rushmore and flying over glaciers in Alaska in a bush plane. She has played practical jokes on me in an outhouse in the Alaskan wilderness. She has had her domestic moments, to be sure. She once refused to go on safari with her world-traveler sister because she wanted to spend the money on drapes (which, if you call them curtains and buy them at Target, don't cost the same as a plane ticket to Africa), but overall, it's not been a quiet, elderly sort of life for my grandma. 

But, the reality is, at 89 years old, that it was getting hard to keep up her house. It was getting harder to drive at night. A lot of their friends, who were young retirees when they moved into their Las Vegas house, have now passed on. The only family member in Vegas is my cousin, who is awesome, but 20 years old, and has her own life. In, what I think was an epic, heroic move, Grandma decided to put her house up for sale and move into a much smaller senior condo here in the Twin Cities. In an even more stunning move, this woman who once encouraged my mother to try and outrun the cops when we were being pulled over, decided to give up her drivers license. 

And you know what? It's been a little hard. She is handling it, but it's a big change. After 24 years, the silverware is in a different spot. The oven has buttons she doesn't quite understand, and her neighbours are "old ladies." She is not sure she will fit in. She is at the mercy of other people's schedules whe she wants to go out. No more getting in the car and running to the store. To say nothing of moving to Minneapolis in winter, which is, in and of itself, an act of courage. Even with the help of her family, who have been awesome and supportive, it's going to take a little getting used to. 

The one thing, in addition to her family, that she was really looking forward to about being home was finally being able to eat lutefisk again. I do understand the desire for familiar foods when you live out of state. I used to live in L.A. I know the joys of asking a grocer where you might find the sauerkraut and not having them look at you like you invented a word. But Lutefisk? That, I am not so sure of. I have always felt that our ancestors moved here from Sweden precicely to give their descendents the sort of life where we didn't have to eat that sort of thing. 

For those of you who are not familiar, lutefisk is codfish that is soaked in lye until it is the consistency of snot, soaked again in salt water to draw out the caustic poison, and served boiled with butter or white sauce. The only reason I can come up with for its popularity is that Minnesotans like a challenge. We are hearty enough to hack -60F windchills and dangit, we are hearty enough to eat poison soaked snot-fish and like it. 

But what is a girl to do? This woman once waited with me in the Small World line at Disneyland, not once, but five times, and all she is asking for is lutefisk. It's my duty to provide. Luckily, I have connections. My neighbourhood has it's very own Lutefisk Support Group. Several times a year lutefisk lovers, and the people who love them, gather at Lutheran Church lutefisk suppers all over the city sampling the finest poison snot-fish in town. Thankfully, for those of us who aren't fans, there are also meatballs. I think it's time to join. My grandmother needs me. 

As we are heading towards Thanksgiving and advent, and I am reflecting often on love, I feel like there is some kind of lesson in all this. Something about love being about the other, about setting aside your own desires (or aversions) to bring joy to someone else. You know, that kind of thing. Or maybe I'm just overthinking this. Either way, I am grateful to God for the gift of my grandma, and grateful to God for the gift of Swedish meatballs. 

This and That

As we approach the holidays (yes, I am Catholic and I call it the holidays. Thanksgiving, St Nicholas Day, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St Lucia Day, 12 Days of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, New Years. Holidays. Also I am ethnically Jewish and my in-laws celebrate Jewish holidays.) I have been thinking of tackling my kitchen. I love my kitchen, but it really was not designed with the needs of a large family in mind. Over the years I have done a few things to mitigate the profound lack of storage. We jettisoned the coat closet in favour of an auxiliary pantry, which is now largely filled with homeschool supplies and, other than storing some less frequently used small appliances, is no longer much help to the kitchen. For my Christmas present this year, I decided that I wanted Zach to help me address my many storage issues. Thanks to last year's Christmas present, an indoor play area for the kids...

I do occasionally get a chance to work on projects of my own. 

Step one was to reclaim my desk from the 12 slice toaster that invaded it two years ago. The toaster, while useful, is big and ugly and will be better off in the pantry when the pantry counters are put in. I am temporarily storing my restuarant size pans and bowls on the window shelf, but eventually I am hoping to replace that with more attractive jars of food, or something prettier. For the moment, though, it works. 

The shelves are simple, but that is what I was looking for. Simple. Easy. Inexpensive. I like a kitchen to get it's beauty from its function. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Home for People Who do Stuff

As part of my upcoming Year of Simplicity and Poverty, I am thinking a lot about how that relates to my home and posessions. Everywhere I look on the internet, on Pinterest and on Facebook there are articles telling me how to declutter, complete with pictures of magazine homes with everything perfectly in order. I read these and spend the next week driving everyone in my family nuts. We are going to simplify. Minimalism! Thats what we need, or a new system. Something that will finally tame the chaos. If I can just get rid of enough stuff, everything will be OK.
Jerusalem Workshop Nell Howard

The problem is that this never, ever works, and after a decade of parenthood, I'm starting to think it just never will. A lot of those houses you see in magazines aren't made for people who do things. They are made for people who visit their houses on evenings and weekends, not people who live and work there full time. There are nine people living in this house and all of us are doers. We cook, we build, we create, we draw, we write, we read, we play music, we explore, we pray, we serve, we tinker, we learn; in short, we really live in this house. This is not just a house, it's a workshop, a gathering place, a school and a studio.

Ultimately, that is a good thing. It's what I've always wanted my home to be, a place where love and creativity reign. I want to raise saints and scholars and craftsmen, people who put their heart and soul into their life and work. People who see their life and their vocation as one and the same, and who use the gifts they have been given for the benefit of the world, as a sweet smelling offering to the God who gave them those gifts.

Atelier d'un luthier Anthony V

Climb a mountain. Look into the bottom of a pond, or a forest. there is order there, but it isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, tame. It's alive. I want my home to be a reflection of that. I want my home to be a place that is teeming with beauty, truth and goodness. In a lot of ways, it already is. I need to look at it like a gardener looks at their garden. Where do I need to prune to make space for the things that nourish us? What do I need to let grow? How can I make a fertile soil? What needs to be watered? What needs to be brought out into the sun, and how can I create shelter from the cold? How can all of these things, growing independently and doing what they were made to do, work together to create a place of beauty?

.Office de tourisme
Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to recieve from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. 
Pears and grapes still life cbransto
It seems to me that those words apply to so much more than food. How can I look on all of the gifts I have been given, physical, spiritual and personal, and use them for the purposes for which they were intended, or give them away with an attitude of gratitude and abundance? That, is the question. That is definitely going to involve some decluttering. It is definitely going to involve some bins, and some traditional organization. It's also going to invovle some letting go of expectations created from years of reading Better Homes and Gardens and embracing some of the mess of real life.