summer

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

The Worst March Mom

I’m convinced March and August are the absolute worst months out of the year.

The first is a month that sounds like it’s supposed to be spring. Can we all just agree that March, April, and May are spring months? (June, July, and August get summer, September, October, and November claim fall, while December, January, and February are clearly winter. This is basic science and logic.) Apparently Mother Nature is not on board, since she often sends blizzards of snow in late March just to remind us of where we all live. By that point, the snow isn’t magical anymore. It’s something to survive. We’re all sick of the sixth straight month of living in the same few square feet of space and the sibling fights become truly epic.

And August. I just can’t with August. It’s too hot. I don’t like stepping outside and immediately sweating. All the summer activities have ended but the fall ones have yet to begin. It makes for a very long month. I’m over the whole sunscreen thing. I don’t want to wear shorts and tanktops. I’m also sick of coming up with no-cook meal ideas because who wants to cook when it’s 97 degrees outside? Nobody, that’s who.

Now listen, lest you think I’m the grumpiest mom ever, let me tell you that I’m a great beginning-of-season parent.The first real days where it smells like summer or hints at the chill of winter? I am freaking fantastic. My mom game is on point in May and October.

We kick off the first snowfall by drinking hot chocolate. With marshmallows. We watch Frozen as our landscape transforms, even if it’s only a little white dusting across the grass. I drink hot tea again. I break our day into a routine complete with designated snack, art, and quiet times. The fireplace is turned on, our warmest blankets are pulled out, and we are a hunker-down-in-this-house, hygge machine.

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Read more over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

The Summer Neighborhood

It's a wet and muggy first day today. Not for us, preschool doesn't get going until next week, but for the rest of the neighborhood. Most years the day after Labor Day has dawned sunny and bright. I usually forget it's not just another Tuesday until we walk down to the park after 9:00 am to find everything quieter than usual. Windows and garage doors closed, empty yards, general stillness.

Our neighborhood comes alive in the summer. Most Midwestern ones do, I suppose. We have to enjoy it while we can. The big kids run around, free from school (or are shoved outside, away from their screens, reluctantly), little ones chalk in the driveway (or scream bloody murder because they “don’t want to get wet” even though they’re in the pool with their swimsuit on), everyone is out grilling burgers and kabobs and brats.

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One yard or another fills up with assorted neighborhood kids and parents. Some of the older kids’ parents stay inside their air-conditioned homes. I’m not sure what they do inside. I imagine they’re luxuriously soaking up stacks of books, enjoying Netflix marathons, and eating ice cream by the pint in their pristine and organized living rooms. (I’ll report back in about a decade or so to let you know if that is in fact true.) It’s a win all around. The older kids help referee the little ones while us parents chat and occasionally crack open an adult beverage.

I’ve been taking advantage of some of those bigger kids this summer, putting them to use. As babysitters for date nights or, more importantly, as “mommy’s helpers” because I desperately need a break in the afternoon. Others wander the neighborhood, offering their services. One neighbor girl came along to pull the ever-present weeds from our landscaping. (Her rate? “$2.30 for 30 minutes”. You can’t beat that, people.) Another mows our grass. For FREE. (Okay, I guess you can beat the $2.30 girl. Though we paid the grass-mower anyway.)

For the most part I’m doing a little dance inside at this time of year. With the days cooling and the leaves about to change and the pumpkins and the apples and the sweaters all headed our way, what’s not to love? I come alive again at this time of year, a fall girl who glories in the lack of humidity, the wearing of booties, and returning to the routine of a school-year schedule.

At the same time something is lost. Not quite yet but soon. The chill will go from a literal breath of fresh air to something more brutal. Everyone will turn to the warmth of their homes and blankets and fireplaces. Backyards, sidewalks, and driveways will be empty. I’ll admit there’s a beauty to this rhythm, too. I do love cozying up, decorating for the holidays, hunkering down during the first snow, and remembering how to play inside again. But a couple months of that and I’m ready for people. For the ease of social interaction without the coordination of text messages and calendars. For the easy-breezy days of stepping just outside our door to find friends. For afternoons that aren’t quite as long and tedious since we can spend them at the park. Or in the backyard. Or anywhere but the same four walls surrounding us all day every day.

We're planning to glory in our own last week of summer. Plans to spend our last few days at the park (when it's not wet), our own backyard, the farm, and topping it all off with an overnight at a local waterpark. A last hurrah. We'll enjoy our summer neighborhood while we can before embracing the indoors all over again.