Not A Summer Bucket List

I’m a One on the Enneagram and an ESFJ always and forever according to Myers-Briggs. I’m your typical straight-A, type-A firstborn child with a penchant for meal plans and lists. In fact, I specifically researched and then purchased a very particular paper calendar because it had a built-in spot for daily to-do lists. I like a meticulously crafted schedule, boxes just waiting to be checked, recipes with instructions to be followed. I’m a born planner, through-and-through.

So you might think a summer bucket list - a specific collection of summertime “to-dos” - would be right up my alley.

In reality, it stresses me out.

I love the idea of a summer bucket list in theory. In theory, it sounds like fun to create a list of places to go, things to see, foods to eat. I can picture the list in my head, meticulously crafted with multi-colored sharpies on brown kraft paper, hung on our pantry door with rainbow-colored Washi tape, peeking out now and then in the photos I post to Instagram. (I’m such a planner, I’ve even planned out the thing I’m refusing to ever make. I seriously can’t make it stop.)

The truth is I know my rigid, planner-by-nature type would adhere to that thing like there was no more summer tomorrow. What’s that kids? You want to get ice cream today? Well, too bad because this list (which may as well be written in stone) says we’ve already eaten ice cream and today we need to fly kites!

I would feel compelled to carry out every activity to the Nth degree. I’d carefully research each destination and determine whether to pack or purchase a lunch. I’d prepare matching outfits and appropriate snacks. I'd run out to purchase multiple graham and chocolate options for s’mores night and refresh the weather forecast to find the perfect rainy day for a movie.

(Can I just add here that I’ve seen on Pinterest that some people actually write their summer bucket lists on popsicle sticks and put them all in a jar and they pull a random one out each day? And then they go do the thing it says? The idea of surprise summer bucket sticks freaks me the heck out. I need a solid four days just to wrap my head around taking three kids to the zoo. But I digress.)

What I’m trying to say is that it’s hard for me to let loose when there are lists involved. A list - even of the bucket sort - is a sort of challenge for me. Let’s jam-pack this schedule of ours. Just how fast can we complete this list? First to get all their boxes checked wins!

All this research and planning is just the opposite of the relaxation that is supposed to be summertime.

2018 06 15 All Pool 02.jpg

Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Life Lately

Like many of you, my heart has been with the detention centers at the border. As more and more reporting came out late last week and over the weekend, I couldn’t tear my mind away from it.

Which means that as I washed off a face mask and shaved my legs in the shower, I thought how immigrants to my own country weren’t even provided with soap. And when I started my period on Sunday I thought of all the teenage girls who would get their periods, maybe for the very first time, in an overcrowded detention center. I have little hope these girls are being provided with pads or tampons if they’re not even being given toothbrushes. I pray for a kind female border guard or older teenage girl to help them through. And as I threw away a head of lettuce, a pint of blueberries, and two containers of leftovers that went bad before we could eat them, I thought how these kids are saying they’re not being fed enough, they’re still hungry, that they can’t go out to play because it takes all their energy just to survive another day.

These are kids who are in America. In 2019. I’m tired of being told these people are a threat to us when clearly we are a threat to them.

Sit with that a moment. And then read this Instagram post, and this article, and this one, too. And let it crush you as you imagine your children in such a place and let it make you physically sick to your stomach. Then read them again.

Part of me wants to rush down there and scoop up as many of those children as I can and bring them back home. Obviously that’s not practical or feasible in any way shape or form. It seems like so little, yet if you can, please consider donating to Together Rising. They are working with people on the ground to reunite families, give these children proper medical care, and to get them out of there as fast as they can.

Also contact your representatives. Let them know we’re watching. Because there’s no such thing as other people’s children. And if we’re a country that truly values children, this is not the kind of country we want to be.

+++++

Horrific story adjacent: One thing I’ve been doing to combat mindlessly scrolling through social media is to stop whenever I see something awful, something that hits me to my core. Things like the reports of the treatment of children at the border, a post from a friend about infant loss, etc. When it makes me stop and think, when it makes my heart hurt, I stop what I’m doing and put my phone down. I may click into the article if it’s a news report, but then I put it away. I sit with those feelings and really force myself to think about what I’ve just read.

It can be hard sometimes. Who wants to sit with those shitty feelings? But it feels more honest than to continue to scroll. To continue through photos of happy families on vacation and ads for clothes I don’t need but am tempted to click on, anyway.

Honestly, it felt more shitty when I kept scrolling and tried to shove those feelings down. It’s helped. It’s something.

+++++

In an abrupt shift, because that seems to be how my brain works these days, these two spent the better part of the weekend riding around on two wheels.

One push from me, and a little bit of convincing, was all it took. Those balance bikes are miracle-workers for sure. Teaching them to ride on two wheels, something I thought we could do to kill time - maybe take up the better part of an afternoon - took all of ten minutes. And that included the time it took to take the training wheels off.

“That wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be!” Brooklyn said after her inaugural ride down the sidewalk.

+++++

+++++

The food websites have been bringing it lately with their collections of food writing. First was Bon Apetit with their “Welcome to Red Sauce America” essays. (I read it over a period of a week…and had a mad craving for some chicken piccata the whole time. Which has yet to be fulfilled.) Then, less lengthy but no less fun, Taste talked all things 90’s in “The 90’s Issue”. While all the pieces are worth a read, I’m calling out “The Bizarre History of Buca di Beppo” and “The 1990s Boom of California’s Mexican Supermarkets” as my personal favorites. (I also have to give a shout out to a favorite spot in Madison as well as a favorite here.)

+++++

Food adjacent: please read this op-ed from the New York Times: “Smash the Wellness Industry”.

I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. “The thing is,” she said with a grimace, “you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.”

The new dietitian had a different take. “What a gift,” she said, appreciatively, “to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?” It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.

It’s. So. Good.

2019 06 07 All Ice Cream 01.jpg

+++++

I made a big batch of homemade freezees a few weeks ago using these. They work great, though the zip-close doesn’t work very well. While they’re not reusable like I was hoping, at least the kids are eating pureed fruit instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

2019 06 06 Freezees 01.jpg

I promise it’s simple: pulse up some fruit along with just a little orange juice or lemonade in a food processor, add sugar if needed (I used less than a tablespoon with each batch, otherwise they were pretty tart), pour, and freeze. My next step is to just freeze lemonade for some Italian ice-style freezees. So far we’ve made:

  • strawberry (strawberries with orange juice)

  • mixed berry (strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries with lemonade)

  • cantaloupe (cantaloupe with a few strawberries and orange juice)

  • strawberry-banana smoothie (strawberries, a banana, and yogurt instead of juice) (my favorite!)

+++++

I’ve been living in these shorts and these shirts. I bought two pairs of the shorts (dark cinnabar and palm tree - recommend sizing down) and three of the shirts (fit is pretty true-to-size, or size up for a looser fit). They go perfectly together. I wear the shirt tucked in (and consequently feel like a throwback to the early ‘90’s), with a light cardigan thrown over the top for the cooler days (which we’ve had way too many of lately). It’s my summer uniform.

+++++

I’m scared to write this for fear of jinxing myself, but we seem to have entered an era where the kids enjoy playing with each other. Several times recently I’ve discovered them scattered: the twins playing LEGOs together in their room while Nolan flips through books or builds with Duplos in his, Brooklyn and Nolan playing “baby” while Caden plays with (you guessed it) LEGOs on his own. To be fair, Caden and Brooklyn have been able to play well together for years now, it’s the fact that Nolan has been that’s the true miracle.

It’s a nice break. Just this time last year I felt I couldn’t leave the room for fear Nolan would trash the house looking for the remote, sneak into the pantry to steal snacks, or climb on the counter to sneak actual spoonfuls of sugar.

Even outside I’ve been able to pull up a chair and sit - truly get lost in a book - while they play together in the driveway. They’re still riding their bikes and scooters and that old cozy coupe we got for free from a garage sale around the roads they create on the driveway with chalk. But it’s the very first time I don’t fear Nolan dashing into the street. The past couple years it was a game - I always felt there was about a 50/50 chance he would dash into the street for fun. And now he just…doesn’t.

2019 06 18 Book 01.jpg

I wrote this last summer, and it seems relevant again now:

This is what I've been waiting for.

…A moment prior to this realization, guilt had found me. It crept in during the break in the action and began to berate me for not doing more. To write more, volunteer more, accomplish more. Maybe I should even go back to work. Guilt admonished me for the streaks on the kitchen floor and the fruit snacks they ate in the car and for being "just" a stay-at-home mom. Surely, at the very least, I should have cleaner floors.

In the next breath I realized this is what I've been dreaming of. This little break where no one at all needs me. The past four years have been intense. Twin infants and that whole three under three business and the sleep deprivation and the making of all the food and everything else. Of course even a little wiggle room feels like a lot. A pause, a moment to take a breath; it's been seemingly impossible these past few years. Which means my type-A personality kicked in to cue the guilt. Because surely only lazy people sit around their backyards at 3:30 pm on a Thursday with their sparkling water and their sandals and their colorful lawn chairs.

Soon enough a fight will break out or they'll see a bug or rush over all at once to demand freeze pops. Soon enough my backyard will be empty as they grow older and more independent. So I take this afternoon as a blessing. Just me and my sandals, a book in my lap, three small bodies in swimsuits, a blow-up pool, sunshine, and my sparkling water. With a lime.

This is exactly what I've been waiting for.

He’s still exhausting with all that energy, his penchant for anything as long as it’s a little bit life-threatening. But we might be getting there. Instead of holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop during any momentary lull, I’ve been taking deeper breaths, able to recharge and relax just a little bit more into just exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

Blackberry Ice Cream

I come from a family of ice cream eaters. My grandpa, so the story goes, would pick up ice cream from the store every Sunday - Neapolitan - so my mom, her five brothers and sisters, and, most importantly, my grandpa, could each eat a bowl while watching “The Wonderful World of Disney”.

I always wondered about the choice of Neapolitan. It probably had to do with the whole six kids thing - chances are each kid liked at least one of the flavors. (Traditionally chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and yes I went down a whole Neapolitan ice cream rabbit hole while writing this) Plus it was the ‘60’s. There weren’t exactly pints of Chubby Hubby or Phish Food in the freezer aisle. Neapolitan probably seemed pretty exotic. (I mean, just how do they get all three flavors in the carton, anyway? DON’T WORRY I ALSO RESEARCHED THAT FOR YOU. The cartons are apparently not square or round but “sqround” and this is my new most favorite thing ever.)

My uncles served up gallons of Neapolitan at my grandpa’s funeral, perfect little scoops in plastic bowls, an homage to the tradition from their childhood.

Growing up my dad would often bring me along to look at his job sites during the summer. He estimated public works-type construction projects. We would either be scoping out a job to bid, checking up on what his guys had done that day, or try to solve whatever problems had arisen. This usually meant long, boring car rides, followed by a stop next to a river, ditch, or sewer, often after driving along a bumpy dirt road that, despite my seatbelt, tossed me around the cab of his truck.

After he unrolled a plan, took some pictures, and poked around for awhile, we’d head home, hitting up a Dairy Queen on the way. Dip cones. Later I discovered the glory of cookie dough Blizzards. Sometimes he’d surprise us when he got home from work in the summer with a half-dozen Dilly Bars, hidden away in the freezer for us to enjoy the next day. (I always sought out the butterscotch ones.)

My middle school and half of my high school (9th and 10th grades) were within walking distance from Cup and Cone. It’s the definition of a local institution. When it opens for the season there’s always a line, no matter how cold it is. We used to find out when it was opening through word-of-mouth from someone whose brother’s friend’s cousin worked there. Now, come March, everyone just stalks Twitter.

After school in the spring or early fall you’ll still find whole gangs of kids trekking over after school for their ice cream fix and to hang out in the giant outdoor courtyard. I took my kids not long ago, on what happened to be the last day of school. The middle schoolers took over the line and the courtyard, shouting to each other and calling each other nicknames that had to be inside jokes, spaghetti-limbed and trying 4-letter words on their tongues to impress their friends.

2019 06 14 Ice Cream 02.jpg

We bought an ice cream maker a couple years ago. It’s one of my favorite purchases. I pull it out at least once a week during the summer months. Despite the yum factor of those grocery store pints, (Talenti, I’m looking at you) (and yes I know it’s technically gelato) , nothing beats the simplicity of homemade ice cream.

We never had homemade ice cream at my house growing up, though my dad would create his own ice cream cone concoctions: fudge and caramel filling up the bottom, vanilla ice cream heaped inside, with more fudge and caramel drizzled over the top. (I figured out early on that if I wanted more fudge and caramel I should try eating the cone from the bottom. After that I was banished to the driveway anytime he brought home a box of cones and jars of caramel and fudge.) I’m betting most of us who grew up in America have a connection to ice cream in the summertime, whether it was from an ice cream truck, your own version of Cup and Cone, or scooped from those gallon-sized buckets in the freezer.

Nostalgia makes everything taste better, including homemade ice cream.

Blackberry Ice Cream
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This is also amazing with strawberries, though I recommend dialing the sugar back since strawberries are naturally sweeter (see note below). I’ve tried this with raspberries before and failed miserably, though I think blending up some mangos or peaches also has the potential to work here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pint blackberries, rinsed

  • 3/4 cup whole milk

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Put blackberries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with chopping blade. Pulse until a puree forms. Set aside.

  • In medium bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, and pinch of salt until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in cream and vanilla. Stir in blackberry puree. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, and preferably several. (I like to mix this up in the morning so it’s ready to go at dinnertime.)

  • When ready to mix, add to ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how long it’s been in the refrigerator. Scoop out to a freezer-safe container with a tight-fitting lid to store.

  • Serve in a cone, topped with chocolate bits, or just a few scoops in a bowl because it’s perfect all by itself.

NOTES

  • This is our ice cream maker. I have exactly zero complaints. (And yes, if you click through and buy something, I will make a small amount of money.)

  • When using strawberries I tone the sugar down to about half a cup or less. Even with blackberries I usually use a very scant 2/3 cup. Personal preference; you do you.

  • If you prefer, you can use a fine-mesh seive to strain the ice cream mix as you pour it into the ice cream maker. If not, you’ll end up with all the seeds, though they get kind of frozen and crunchy. I’ve done it both ways: sometimes I truly don’t mind the seeds (or I’m just too lazy) and other times I want a smoother texture.

  • This works best for fruit that’s on its way out. It’s the best way I’ve found to use up a container of half-mushy strawberries, or a pint of blackberries that are past their prime. I’d recommend against using frozen (unless you heavily strain them first) - frozen fruit just gets too mushy, liquid-y, and gooey (technical terms) to work well here.

Eight Years and Three Tables

“Mommy I only like the oranges,” Caden tells me. I look across the kitchen table to see his plate untouched but for the oranges.

“You need to eat something else,” I say, “Then you can have more oranges.”

He scowls behind his plate. “I already tried everything and I don’t like it,” he says, though I know he’s lying. (That he’s tried it. This is an end-of-the-week scraps-for-dinner kind of meal so it’s probably true he doesn’t like it.)

I ignore him; I don’t want the fight. I’ve already gotten up to get Nolan some milk and then my own water where I’d forgotten it on the counter. Nolan suddenly jumps up and runs over to play with his new LEGO set in the living room. Caden follows.

“Boys!” I say, “Put your butts in your chairs! It’s time to eat.” This happens again, once, twice, three times before the LEGO set gets taken away for good for a full 24 hours. This is all punctuated by Tyson joining us at the table (delayed because he was fixing the sprinkler system outside), another request for oranges (only oranges), Brooklyn telling me she doesn’t like dinner, either (sigh). I’m out of my chair more than not. Five minutes into dinner and I’ve eaten three bites.

“Hey Google, set a timer for five minutes,” I call across the room, “Okay, everyone needs to sit here until the timer beeps. I don’t care if you eat. You just have to sit here and talk to us.”

Cue more general anarchy, moans, groans, spaghetti-limbed bodies draped across the bench. I get in another few bites.

Once Google relieves them, the boys dash off to play. Nolan, frustrated by the whole experience of needing to actually sit in his chair to eat dinner, grabs the long, thick, wooden pole we use as a security measure to keep the patio door closed and locked. He starts swinging it around, though this is something he knows he’s not supposed to touch, much less flail around the room. Tyson and I corner him around the kitchen table - me on one side, Tyson on the other - and I almost take a pole to the face before grabbing it away. (“Goddamnit” is something that may have come out of my mouth.) Tyson walks him over to the bottom step for a three-minute time out.

“Well this was enjoyable,” I say to Tyson, the first words I’ve said to him since dinner began, “I’m leaving.” And I abandon my mostly-untouched dinner and step over Nolan to walk out the door.

+++++

We’re eight years into marriage and this is our third dining room table. Our first table wasn’t really a dining table. Which was fitting, since we didn’t really have a dining room.

It was a card table, black, the kind with legs that fold in. We had black folding chairs to match, just to keep it classy. It sat on the carpet and wobbled a little when we cut chicken or pizza slices.

We only had four chairs: more people than that and someone had to sit on the futon, an arm’s-length away in the living room. Though we rarely had company. We were newlyweds and a state away from anything familiar; it was usually just us at the table.

I remember how silent our whole apartment complex was, how we sometimes turned on the TV while we ate just to hear someone talk besides ourselves. Eight years ago and our table was the antithesis in every way of what it is now.

+++++

Our second table was gifted to us by my parents for our first anniversary. I’d been eyeing the set at Target, a small, square table and chairs. We’d moved across town and despite having a larger apartment, it didn’t really have a dining room, either. We shoved the table against the wall, pulled it and the fourth chair out anytime we had guests.

And we had guests, now. After our move we joined a small group, made friends. We hosted our small group and baby showers and Thanksgiving and Downton Abbey watch parties. Our early memories around this table involve lots of friends and bottles of Spotted Cow.

Two years later we brought our twin babies home, setting their carseats on top of that table. The same table where we ate foil-pan casseroles dropped off by friends, our dinners now punctuated by cries. Many nights I walked back and forth during the dinnertime witching hours as I tried to eat and nurse two babies simultaneously. Later I would set my laptop on that table (and often a beer) as I began to write again, stretching out my rusty fingers and brain to put words on a page.

2014 11 07 Both Table 03.jpg

This table moved with us to the Twin Cities, along with my 20-weeks pregnant belly, just a year and a half later. We brought that table and the memories of friends and new babies seated around it with us.

+++++

We’re on our third kitchen table now. The second one was absurdly small for our new space: our first house that, yes, has an actual dining room. This table has a stainless steel top: smooth, flat, easy to clean. Any hesitation I felt about the coordinating cream-colored, upholstered chairs with three kids under three vanished when I saw how easy it would be to wipe that top down.

I see the progression of a couple, of a life and a marriage in these three tables in eight short (long) years. I can trace our path from baby newlyweds to very young family to house in the suburbs. Sometimes this life is everything I’ve hoped it would be and other times I’m dodging my three-year old brandishing legit weapons at the dinner table. Sometimes we have to make use of Google as a timer, remind them to put their dishes away, clear away piles of markers and paper and masterpieces before we can sit down to a meal.

Still, we make a point of sitting down here most nights as a family.

2019 06 13 All Dinner 03.jpg

+++++

“Mommy I like this dinner!” Nolan says as he runs down the steps the very next night, seeing the plates of food on the table.

“Me, too!” Caden and Brooklyn chorus, joining us. Tyson follows them down the stairs and gives me a quick kiss before sitting down next to me.

Tonight we pray and pull out the set of dinner table questions at the kids’ request. Everyone eats their panko-crusted chicken and broccoli and asks for seconds, thirds.

Caden pulls a card from the stack in the middle of the table and I read it to him. “What is your favorite place to eat?”

“Hmmm,” he thinks, and I wait for it, the answer of McDonald’s or Chick-fil-a or the restaurant we go to with the trolly inside that serves their favorite spaghetti and meatballs.

Then: “Here! At home. I like the food you make, mommy.”

I don’t know if they’ll remember the nights we yelled, the nights they “didn’t like” any of the food, the nights I let four-letter words pass my lips, when they bargain and whine and shout and cry over each other. I don’t know if they’ll remember eating naan with rice and curry, homemade pizza, or Happy Meals around this table.

But I’ll remember what happened here just like I remember the meals and the life we built around its two predecessors. The good, the bad, and the in-between. I sure hope they remember nights like this. I hope this table makes up a piece of their story, too.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Remember This."

Sometimes, Everything Goes Just Fine

The articles blur together as I scroll through social media. (Reminder to self: just stop it already.) You know the ones I’m talking about:

“Preschool Changed My Kid...For the Worse”

“10 Reasons You Should Never Put Sunscreen on Your Child” and it’s companion, “10 Reasons You Should Bathe Your Child in Sunscreen”

“I Totally Regret _____ About My Parenting”

“Why Sleep Training (or not Sleep Training) Your Baby Makes You a Monster”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing here. But you get the picture. These articles are everywhere. They’re scary and overwhelmingly negative. When I see them, I cringe, roll my eyes, and (usually) avoid the clickbait.

But I wonder how this content gets out as I think of all the new moms out there, seeing this garbage as they scroll sleepily through their phones at 1:15 am. (And again at 3...and at 5:45…) Where’s all the positivity?

+++++

One of my first solo outings with the twins was a moms’ event at my church. I rolled in with the double-stroller loaded down with two infant carseats holding my three-month-olds and hardly had time to wonder if I knew anyone else before another mom greeted me.

“Twins?” She asked, with a sweet smile. “Are they boys or girls?”

“One of each,” I told her.

“I have boy-girl twins, too!” she told me. “They’re three now.” We were quickly joined by another mom who had twin girls a month older than mine. We chatted all things twins: newborns, pregnancies, labor and delivery.  Despite the fact that a multiples pregnancy automatically puts you in the high-risk category, I was surprised to discover that each of our pregnancies and birth experiences had been fairly routine.

“This is crazy,” I remember saying, “I feel like all I was told throughout my pregnancy was how risky multiples are and here we all had pretty good experiences.”

“That’s because that’s all you hear!” the mom with three-year-old twins exclaimed, “Nobody talks about the normal stories. They only tell you the scary ones!”

021.jpg

Read the rest of this piece over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.