Saturday, April 28, 2012


Let me start out by saying that I was the little girl that you would probably have hated when you were a kid, and also that my husband and I talk about this all the time.  We agree that we would probably not have been friends as children, but may have had secret crushes on one another in High School.  My family did not live in a big house or drive expensive cars, but we were what most people would politely call “comfortable” in that we had disposable income.  I was the little girl from Southern California with a white pony named Pearl, who went on family vacations to Club Med and had a rabbit skin coat that I wore when we went out to dinner at fancy restaurants or when my father took me to the ballet.

Yes.  That was me.  And that was my family.  But that’s not the whole picture.  It never is.

We spent most of our weekends hiking and climbing in the mountains at Idylwild or in the dessert at Joshua Tree to get away from the real “Orange County.”  My father used to encourage my sister and brother and I to feed the coyotes scraps of food out the window so that they would become more aggressive and attack large buses of tourists that used to come through Joshua Tree National Park and whom we felt were far too noisy to actually appreciate the beauty of the spaces.  We had a lot of guns in our house, which made us an endangered species in Southern California.  But my Mom came from a goose hunting family in South Dakota, and my Dad grew up on a ranch in the San Bernadino Valley, so guns and hunting were just part and parcel with our background.  When I became a vegetarian in High School I wasn’t embraced with the “yay love our earth” mentality that most Californians find.  I was regarded with suspicion and lots of eye rolling by my family, immediate and extended.  Especially since we had grown up appreciating where food, especially meat, came from.

We were exposed to a lot of different foods at a very early age, something which I hope to be able to do with my daughter.  Our favorite places to go out to dinner and celebrate were the local sushi restaurant and two Italian restaurants that we had been going to for so long that we knew everyone there.  But my brother, sister and I didn’t resign ourselves to plates of noodles or meatballs.  My brothers favorite dish was either rabbit wrapped in bacon or these enormous prawns called gamberoni.  My favorite thing to order was Cornish game hen stuffed with radicchio.  My only thoughts as to why I would order such a thing when I was 10 years old was that it most closely resembled roast chicken, and was a foreshadowing of the many years I have now spent perfecting various roast chicken recipes.  Although I have never stuffed one with radicchio… brother was eight years old when this was his go to dinner.

But by far my greatest childhood food memory is of what is, in my opinion, the most perfect soup ever made.  Stracciatella.  If you are familiar with Italian cuisine you may be confused, as this is also a flavor of gelato.  But once you delve into the name all becomes clear.  Stracciatella means “rags” and comes from the Italian stracciato, meaning "torn apart."  In the gelato these rags come in the form of chocolate swirled throughout the creamy base.  In the soup, these rags come from a combination of egg and parmesan whisked into a hot chicken stock base to form ragged, cheesy eggy delicious swirls.  Our two favorite places always added sautéed spinach as well, which always adds a nice earthy feel and texture.  It is the soup that I have been dreaming of since leaving California twelve years ago.  Every time it rains, every time I am sick…stracciatella.  Every cold winter day I have ever endured under the permacloud of northern Indiana or the perma-raincloud of Tacoma, Washington or the frigid, nose stabbing winds of Minnesota…stracciatella. 

So…why the hell has it taken me twelve years to try and make this recipe my own?  Simple answer here folks.  Fear.  When a smell and taste memory has taken such complete hold of your life, the thought of trying to reproduce it and failing is scary.  Worse is the thought of trying to reproduce it, succeeding, and finding out that it really is not as good as you thought it was.  Yeah, that tastes exactly how I remember it…but now I don’t ever want to take another bite!  Those were happy times for the Prentice clan, crowded around a table slurping soup and scooping up mounds of olive tapenade butter with crunchy bread sticks.  (Note: we used to call this butter pate de gatto, because while it was delicious, and is still the only food in the world involving olives that I will willingly eat, it looks like hell.)

I didn’t want to get the soup wrong, and I didn’t want my memories to be wrong either.

Finally, one day last week, Minnesota embraced its true nature of spring and got cold and rainy.  Lucy was taking her nap, I was hungry, and there was nothing in the house that looked good.  Which is ridiculous because I always have a disgusting amount of food in the house in case I ever need to entertain at a moments notice, which has never actually happened, but the fear remains with me always.  In any case, as I trolled the fridge and cupboards for the umpteeth time, an idea started to form.  I had spinach.  I had fresh eggs brought to us from our friends chickens.  I had a wedge of parmesan.  I ran to the freezer hoping against hope that the universe had smiled on me and the planets had aligned and YES there is was!  A large Tupperware of homemade chicken stock.  The stock that Don always makes fun of me for, because I can’t make chicken without making stock afterward, which usually ends up in me staying up until 2am.  But the joke was on him, because I had homemade chicken stock to make the best soup ever.  I was having an Ina Garten moment.  How great is that?

Lucy woke up while I was getting everything prepared, and was delighted to come down, take up her usual seat on the kitchen counter, and help in the process.  The only problem we encountered was that she couldn’t see the soup well enough while I was pouring the egg and cheese mixture while stirring the stock, and ended up standing up to peer into the pot.  But I have been practicing my “Mommy is unhappy with that behavior” eyes, and it only took one glace and a “Lucy, do you feel safe standing on the counter like that?” before she sat back down lickety split.

Literally thirty minutes after the idea crossed my mind, I was pouring out the first ladle into a mug for testing, while Lucy looked on.  The egg rags and bits of spinach were very intriguing to her.  I took the first spoonful…and immediately started crying. 

It tasted exactly how I remembered it.  And it was just as good as I remembered it.  Better, even, because it was real and consumable, and reproducible even!  I could make it every day!  I could have it whenever I wanted!  Whenever I was sick or cold or homesick and cold, which is pretty much most of the time, lets be honest.  It.  Was.  Awesome.

And here it is, for you.  Stracciatella.  Thanks to Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table for the basic bones and proportions.

  • 1 pound fresh spinach
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cups chicken stock or low-sodium canned (if you have your own that is awesome.  If you can buy the expensive kind, that is great too.  Try to use good stock though, because there is not a lot that goes into this soup, so the quality of the stock does make a difference)
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In a large stock pot, bring 8 cups of vegetable broth to a boil.
Clean, de-stem, and chop two bunches of spinach. Peel and smash all the garlic.
Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet, place the whole garlic cloves in the pan, and heat for several minutes to infuse the oil. Add the spinach to the skillet, stir to combine it with the oil, and heat, covered, for 3 minutes.  Remove the garlic at this point, or right before serving the soup.
When the broth has come to a boil, add the wilted spinach and cook for two minutes at a steady simmer.
In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Grate 1/2 cup of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and add to the beaten eggs. Temper the eggs by drizzling a small amount of the hot broth into the eggs while beating the eggs, about half a cup will do it.
With a spoon, rapidly mix the soup broth to create a "whirlpool" and slowly pour the egg mixture into the soup (don’t stop stirring). The eggs should immediately form into "rags".  Make sure that that broth is at a steady simmer before you add the eggs; if the broth is not hot enough, the eggs may incorporate into the broth instead of forming rags, which would be….weird.  Or good.  I don’t know.  But it wouldn’t be stracciatella.
Season with salt (to taste) and lots of fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fun Play Time With Silly Putty, or How Silly Putty Almost Gave Me ANervous Breakdown!

This morning dawned pretty grey and rainy here in Rochester today.  Lucy, recovering from another nameless pediatric virus, had gone to bed super early around 6:45pm last night.  Fortunately for all she had a great night sleep, and didn’t so much as peep all night.  I know this because I was awake from 2-4:30amand didn’t hear any peeping. Unfortunately for me, this wonderful night’s sleep combined with the early bedtime meant that she woke up very vocally at 6:08am.  It’s hard to be grumbly at a child when they wake up singing, especially when singing is such an improvement from yesterday’s all day virus induced whine-fest. And it’s nearly impossible to be grumbly at a singing child when you open their door, they jump up and down with joy at your presence, and upon turning on the lights you see they are covered in a viral exanthema from a Coxsackie virus.

Note: to the layperson, aka the non-indentured to a medical spouse or parent or other family member or friend person, a viral exanthema is a non-specific viral rash.  Of course, in this case it was more specific because it mostly clustered on her hands, mouth,and feet, thus pretty much narrowing it down to Coxsackie virus.  If you have ever had kids, you have seen this lovely virus a time or two, and pitied your child as they suffered through the very painful looking bumps on their poor chubby hands in inside their little mouths.  Now Google viral exanthemas.  I dare you.

Lucy, lovingly sharing her Coxsackie virus with her friend Rosie.

This lovely viral addition to our household, combined with the fact that Lucy’s top canines are finally coming in, and that makes for a very unhappy mouth situation all yesterday. However, given Lucy’s joyful attitude upon waking, I could only assume that while the rash looked twice as bad as it had yesterday, she was feeling much better.  However, unhappy or super happy,toddlers are almost always loud, which is a sauce that does not go well with a very tired and cranky worked until 2am husband. So I whisked my little darling downstairs, covering her with kisses to keep her giggles at bay until we got out of sound range of the bear den…I mean bedroom.  (Note: don’t worry about touching or kissing your little plague victim when they are covered in these rashes.  You probably won’t get them as an adult.  Probably.)

So, now we are downstairs, and twenty minutes later we have eaten all we are going to eat of our green eggs and ham breakfast sandwiches and our green grapes and our green milk (Note: a lesson I learned from my beloved father when feeding sick or otherwise incapacitated children.  Dye everything with food color.  No homemade, mashed, riced, creamed, buttered and otherwise enhanced potatoes ever tasted as good to me as those nasty boxed soap flake mashed potatoes my Dad would make when we were sick.  Because he dyed them red, green or blue.  Which was AMAZING!), and it is still raining,and no way am I showing up to the gym daycare with this speckled child expecting them not to bar the door and shoo me away.  Which means…craft time?

The ladies at Play at Home Mom were experiencing a rainy Wednesday morning too, and were doing a very fun find things in home made silly putty project.  I looked at their blog post and in my heart of hearts crowed in triumph.  HAH!! YES!!  I have stuff to make silly putty that I bought at the store three months ago and have been hoarding for just such an occasion as this!!  I, too,can hide things in silly putty and turn this into a tactile learning experience while I am exiled from the outside world! Take that, err, I mean thank you mommy blogiverse!

“Lucy!” I shouted, startling her out of a very concentrated attempt to open the door to her barn silo and retrieve all the farm animals I had stuffed in there the night before, “we are going to make silly putty!!YAY!”

“Okay!” she responded, completely clueless as to the fantastic comedy of errors that was about to ensue. 

I grabbed the starch and some white glue that we never use out of one of our craft bins (Read: storage area for random stuff that sounds better when you say ‘craft bin.’) and grabbed Lucy and plopped everything on the kitchen counter to start our adventure. Our silly adventure.  And an adventure it was.

So, a word on silly putty. Every blog I read says it is stupid to buy it, because it is ridiculously easy to make it.  As in your toddler can make it herself and not screw it up.  Which is an awesome mentality to have going into a project…or not.  So, equal parts laundry starch and glue.  Stir really vigorously until you have a smooth, rubbery blob.  Add food coloring at the beginning if you wish.  No problem, right?

Um, problem.

First, let me just tell you, you didn’t put enough starch in.  You measured out equal parts,though, you say?  So what.  Put more starch in.  Now stir more.  Nope, not good enough.  Just add more starch until no more starch will absorb into the mixture and pools in the bottom of the bowl.  Then sop that up with a paper towel and you have perfect silly putty.  If you do not do this and you decide to try and follow your precious 1:1 ratio recipe, then don’t come crying to me when your silly putty gets EVERYWHERE.  Because silly putty without enough starch is both runny and sticky.  An unholy combination that is really only acceptable in the form of sweets, like honey,syrup and warm molasses.  Unless you are going to glue something, in which case you use glue.  The whole point of adding starch to glue is to make it not runny and not sticky.  So shut up and just add more starch.

It was during these 45 minutes of starch experimentation(during which I gave up on having Lucy participate until it was finished and just asked her to make Don a picture with markers and stickers) that I learned something very important about myself.  I hate sticky.  Almost to the point where I could say I have a horror of sticky, but not quite.  I just really, really hate it.  Messy, I am dealing fine.  You dropped those stones, that’s ok we’ll pick them up.  Dirty, no problem.  Love it. Grab that mud with both hands, we’ll wash up later.  But sticky….please no.  Please don’t open your PB and honey sandwich and wipe the honey off with your fingers. Glue isn’t sticky, because glue dries and peels off.  Even edible sticky is somewhat ok because you can usually lick it off hands.  But blue,starchy glue sticky…that has a place in my own personal hell.

I am not too proud to tell you that at one point this silly putty almost went the way of a previously mentioned dough gone wrong that ended up spattered all over my kitchen window and cupboards in a fit of rage.  It was only the though of having to clean up that absolute nightmare of a mess that kept my rage in check.  Barely. My hand shook as I added more starch, that last and final time.  In fact, it was probably the shake that added in the extra slop of starch that gave it just enough to kick it over the line from sky blue hell sludge to smooth, rubbery blob.  I touched it again, tentatively, full of foreboding.  The silly putty indented slightly with the pressure of my finger, and then oozed back into place.  My finger was blessedly free of any smear of blue goo, only a slight sheen of starch remained.

I washed my hands for the 73rd time this morning,and, once again triumphant, set a Tupperware full of blue silly putty in front of Lucy.

“Silly putty! Yay.  You can hide your stones in it and then find them.  You can pick it up and let it ooze through your fingers. You can make hand prints in it! You can…do other stuff with it. Explore, learn, yay!”

Twenty minutes later, Lucy decided she wanted to try and cover her new farm in silly putty, and I had to intervene.  But aside from that, it seemed like a pretty good idea to Lucy.  It was stringy, and goopy and blobby.  It hid things.  It made hand prints.  It resisted cookie cutters in a humorous manner.  It was blue. 

Blue hell sludge...I mean silly putty.
I was pretty happy. OK, so it took me 45 minutes and a near nervous breakdown to make it, but I did it. And Lucy loves it.  And when she is done I can save it in a little baggie and we can use it again another day.  So it’s reusable and environmentally friendly.  Woohoo!

Twenty minutes after my “woohoo!” Lucy was sitting on the couch in time out, her pajamas covered in blue stripes, and I was gathering silly putty off the craft table and then slopping it, still full of stones,into a snack baggie.  So, the verdict on silly putty: still an overall success, I think. What we have to work on now is Lucy’s listening skills when I tell her to stop pouring the silly putty onto the table and into the drawers and onto the drawing pad.  And, probably more so,my patience.  But I think having a toddler in general will help with the patience.

Or, that’s what they tell me.

Covered in silly putty.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

We Hiking!

This past Friday Don had the entire day off, which was a miracle in and of itself.  Lucy and I had been going nuts staying indoors during the past few days of cold, rainy weather, and Don had been going nuts from working working working and having really awful and terrible and soul crunching cases.  Thank God the sun decided to show its face again, and so after a lazy morning at home we threw some backpacks and some snacks in the car and headed to Whitewater State Park.

OK, well, that's not entirely accurate.  We did have a lovely morning at home, sipping coffee and eating egg sandwiches for breakfast.  But I wouldn't exactly call it lazy.  I spent most of the time making snacks and sandwiches and cleaning old water bottles and musty smelling camelbacks and packing diaper bags into backpacks and doing my thing.  Which, you know, is to ensure that we have, in excess, everything that anyone could ever possibly need while hiking.  Knowing that we were only going to be hiking for a few hours.  Unless some disaster hit and we needed to stay at the park for several days, thus necessitating three Nalgene bottles and a camelback.  All with ice and a slice of lime.  Because that's how I roll.

So by the time I have everything anyone would possibly need prepared, Don is ready to go and we bundle the Boss and the Lucy into the car and get on the road.  Thirty minutes later, I am circling the county on tiny little farm roads trying to entertain Lucy by passing as many cows as possible while still staying in cell phone range so that Don can finish an important phone call with a colleague who just got back from a trip to Haiti.  As the clock inches and then starts to stride past 10am the acid production in my stomach  starts to ramp up, and I become incapable of logical thought.  "I'm almost done honey," he whispers, so I turn back onto the main road toward the park.  Two minutes later he shakes his head at me and hisses "pull over!" so I turn into a precariously situated turn off leading to a pasture just around a curve.  Lucy and I comment to one another on the passing cars and the many colors of cows and sing the alphabet while I try my very very best not to glare back and forth at Don and the clock.  This phone call is important.  Lucy usually naps at 12:30pm.  Its not 10:20am.  That means we get less than two hours of hiking before she becomes a noodly legged scream monster.  Breathe, Crystal.  Breathe.

Luckily for Don, his phone call lasted another three minutes, which was exactly the time I needed to convince myself not to grab the phone, throw it at a cow, and run into a field screaming my irrational rage at the blue Minnesota sky.  So when he hung up and said "I'm sorry honey, that was really important.  Thank you." I smiled back and replied "I know, love.  It's ok.  I'm fine now."  And two minutes later we were parking.

The first climb is a steep one, up a series of wooden steps to the top of a ridge.  We always let Boss off the leash while climbing up or down, because his mode of climbing steps or trails is kind of a just get to the top as fast as possible one, and that can be slightly hazardous on slippery stairs.  The top of this first climb is always very rewarding, and I couldn't help but think back to last spring when we made the same hike, when Lucy was so much smaller.  And quieter.

May, 2011

April 20, 2012.  Same spot!

Last year, whenever we hiked, Lucy would sit quietly in the backpack for about ten minutes.  And then she would need a snack.  And then she would pelt Don on the head with the snack for ten minutes.  And then she would spend the remaining time wanting to get down.  At all costs.

This past Friday, we hiked for about an hour in complete familial bliss.  Boss ran up and down the trail, tried to chase rocks off of cliffs to his imminent doom, and generally exhibited an astounding level of Labrador-ness. Don carried Lucy in the backpack ahead of me, setting the pace and singing some very merry renditions of the alphabet song and the Hail Mary punctuated by some very complex, humorous and positive vocabulary lessons.

"Lucy, can you say empathetic?"
"I'm pathetic!"

This level of happy noise making doesn't contribute to good wildlife spotting conditions, but does have a lot to do with overall morale and super hiking fun time.  True to form, in about sixty minutes, right as we were descending to a little picnic spot by a little bend in the river, Lucy began to declare her independence from the backpack and her need to move around.  As soon as we reached the little bench we liberated her from her suspended prison, broke out some snacks, and Boss immediately jumped in the river and then shook himself off all over everyone.  We had a few sandwiches and some fruit.  Boss tried to eat a piece of cheese out of Lucy's hands.  We sat on the bench by the river and read an essay in Michael Pollan's Second Nature: A Gardener's Education about planting great trees while looking at the many oaks and maples in the surrounding forest.

This little picnic spot is perfectly situated by a little cliff overhanging the river, perfect for fishing or just general break-taking.  The sun was not quite at its zenith yet, so we were still getting a lot of shade, and once we stopped walking we started to cool down quite a bit and notice that it was, in fact, pretty chilly in the shade of the cliff.  This fact was further brought to our attention by Lucy, who stood in the one strong patch of sunlight with her little arms tucked into her chest, chattering her teeth.  Good thing I am a supermom who packs everything anybody would need in any situation....except a jacket for our daughter on a 50 degree spring day.  Well, I guess lets just call it a day, right folks?  I mean, freezing toddler, we are in no condition to hike on!  Right?

Wrong!!  What is the title of this blog, after all?  That's right -- Everyday Degage.  So that's what we did.

Mama's scarf and Mayo Emergency Medicine fleece, and a spare pair of socks for mittens.  Now we've got a happy, and toasty, camper, and we are ready to soldier on.

It was getting closer to noon by then, but for some reason, when we get out into the woods, my freakishly high level of irrational anxiety concerning nap times and meal times and my ability to calculate the probability of tantrums and fits and meltdowns starts to ebb.  Blissfully so.  Perhaps its being out in the woods, and knowing that even if Lucy does start to break down before we get back to the car, at least we will have had another hour of being here.  Being under these trees and this sun and next to this river and up and down this ridge.  Breathing easier with this much more space around us, even when we are hiking up a steep trail, because we are out.  Out of our house, out of Rochester, out of the shadow of the hospital and all of the responsibilities and needs that it imposes on our family.  And we are together.  Really together, in a give and take, good communicating, anticipating each others needs, let me hold your backpack while you pee kind of way.

So screw 12:30pm nap-time, lets go up the longer Dakota trail and just see what happens, because I don't want to go back to the car yet.  Even though this part of the Dakota trail goes over a lame three foot section of ridge trail that tends to get washed out every spring and is really more of a rock slidey 50 degree angle mud slide than a trail.  But its just for three feet.  Its these moments that really drives home the difference between the meanings of the words "brave" and "stupid" to me. 

Being stupid is not being afraid of something.  Being stupid is our dog running over these three feet at a tongue lolling gallop, knocking rocks off down the steep ridge in the process, and then running back to try and chase the rocks down the ridge/cliff because he thinks that they are balls that someone threw for him.  He maintains perfect balance in this process, partly because he is a dog running on four clawed paws, and partly because he is unafraid.  Because he is stupid.  Being brave is being terrified of walking three feet, standing for five minutes looking at the rocks in the ground in front of you and trying to figure out which of them is more secure than the rest, which then just completely paralyzes you until you cant move your foot an inch.  And then you look up and you see that your husband, who is carrying your 26lb daughter, has not only blithely navigated this seemingly unnavigable obstacle, but is now waiting for you 10 yards up the trail because he knew that you would have a problem with this part, but also knows that you will get mad if he asks you if you need help, so instead he waits within helping distance while pretending to quiz Lucy on types of trees.  And this crushingly endearing gesture is just the motivation you need to get your ass over those three feet of death slide, whereupon you congratulate yourself on how brave you are for facing down death once again, and conquering it.  And then you congratulate yourself again on choosing the best husband ever, who starts walking again as if nothing has happened, and waits a full two minutes before casually asking you how you are doing.

And then you congratulate yourself a third time because by being brave enough to cross the death slide you have now made it into the safe zone where you got to see the awesomeness of a birch tree which has fallen and rotten away underneath the bark, leaving a hollow tube of birch bark like a sloughed off tree skin.

Tree skin.
We hiked for another hour or so before heading down to the meadow that leads to the parking lot.  There are a lot of group camping sites along this trail, but thankfully the park was empty and we could let Boss romp around the whole time.  We got back to the river and took another rest, giving Lucy another chance to run around the stretch her legs.  Thankfully the sun was higher now, and the air much warmer, and she was comfortable enough to shed her makeshift cold weather gear!

Chasing butterflies.
We are not dead!
Don even got a little upper body workout in as we finally headed back to the car.

By the time we got back to the car, everyone was surprisingly tired after only 2 1/2 hours of hiking.  Both Don's and my legs were quite noodley, Boss could barely jump into the back of the car, and Lucy asked that we just leave her in the backpack in the back with Boss on the ride home.

Don't worry...we didn't.  We threw everything into the car, strapped Lucy into the car seat, and she was completely passed out about 90 seconds after we started the car.

All in all, a very successful day off.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sometimes Shit Just Does Not Work Out

Like this recipe. Where I am now essentially boiling mushrooms in curdled milk/lemon/wine.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Rambling Letter to my Daughter on her Second Birthday

My Lucy Jane,

You are two years old today. The harsh weather vacillations of the past few weeks seem to have broken today, and we are blessed with a glimpse of a true, crisp spring.  I know the weather was much the same on the day you were born, but only because we were told so by friends who visited.  You were born in the crisp,cool morning, at 8:26am exactly, after a long sleepless night and another one before that.  But the weather must have been warmer than it has been this year, because I remember walking with your father around midnight the night before the night before you were born, trying to hurry you along.  We were in short sleeves even so late at night, and we stopped to pick some spring flowers from a bush to remember that last calm night together.  I thought I would be holding you by morning,but you were stubborn, as ever, and took another day to decide whether or not you would join us.

We were very tired by the time you decided to be born.  Your labor and delivery was an experience that I am sure will foreshadow our relationship for the rest of our lives.  I had a very specific plan in mind concerning how it would go and what I would and would not do.  Then after two days of labor that plan blew out the window along with my expectations. Your skull kept digging into my spine with every contraction, and you were already too low down to give the process any help, so we decided to help you along a little.  I knew that if I was going to push you out myself we needed to get some rest, so I cut off the pain around 2am and we tried to sleep.  Well,we tried to sleep as much as we could when someone comes in every two hours to“see how far along you are.”  For two days we had been disappointed by a continual lack of progress, and so we expected this new stage to go on much longer, to need more time for the medication to push you along.  Imagine our surprise when at 8am our midwife told us that we were ready to push.

“Oh,” I said, “so that’s what that feeling is.”

Once you make up your mind to do something, my Lu, you don’t back down until you have seen it through. If you want to climb to the three story slide at the big kid park, you will wrestle in line with the ten year olds and work for days at climbing ladders until you can get to where you want to go. I can’t tell you the number of times I have turned my back for an instant or gone into another room for a minute only to turn back and see you at some new level.  On top of the table or the counter.  On the third level of the bookshelf.  On the back of the couch.  You look at me and exclaim, with no small amount of pride “I climb up!” 

Your delivery into the world was no different.  The midwife and her team started to get ready for you at 8:00am.  You were out twenty six minutes later.  Looking back on those moments now, I can hear your little voice in my head shouting the way you do when you are grabbing your life in both little, grubby fists.  You go full speed, shouting “I’m running!” or “I’m spinning!” or “Mama I’m climbing!”  I laugh, and imagine you in my head calling out “Mama, I’m being born!”

I remember that when they gave you to me everything was silent, and all I could think was “Finally finally finally this is our little girl.  This is Lucy.”  I know you cried, but I can’t really remember you crying right then.  You looked at me, and from the first day you were born you knew how to look, to really look.  You stop, and focus, and see.  The midwife caught you out and put you directly on my chest and you looked up at me, and rarely in my life have I ever felt more seen than I did by you in that first moment, your eyes just squinting open to the new, brighter, colder world around you.

And rarely in my life have I ever seen, have I ever looked, as I did in that moment.  I looked at you for the first time and I saw more than I ever thought could be contained in such a small form.  You were a tiny baby, your perfect little body covered in the blood and fluid that marked your battle into this world.  You were a shriveled old crone, your steely blue eyes holding all the wisdom and sorrow of more than one lifetime though you had only just begun your own.  You looked up at me, uncomprehending of the vast transition that had just taken place, and full of every possibility that exists in our world.

I have loved getting to know you over the last two years of your light bringing life, and cherish every moment that I have been privileged to care for you.  Well, almost every moment.  Some moments I regret not being more patient with you in your transition into this world.  Some moments I lamented not being able to speak your language of infant cries and cues well enough to keep you from wanting anything.  And some moments I know you were just being a stinker and testing me to see how far you could go in your adventure to discover yourself as an independent person, so I don’t regret being firm with you in those moments. You have always had an impish grin that gives you away when you are feeling…spirited; your part-pixie smile.

Some parents might say that there is really not a lot to be proud of in a two year old, but I don’t feel that way.  Lucy Jane, you teach me new things every day, about you and about myself.  I am proud, not just to be your mother, although I do give myself pats on the back about that every now and then.  I am proud of you for who you are already, for the kind, loving, courageous and smart little girl you are becoming.  Except when you throw sand at people or scream yourself red when someone touches your favorite baby doll.  Then I am less proud and more horrified, but it soon passes.  You show the signs of developing compassion and empathy, which is rare in adults let alone toddlers, and every time you put your little hand on my cheek and ask me “you ok?” or tell me “don’t be sad mama,” my heart grows a little bit larger.

Your father and I talk a lot about what kind of parents we want to be, about what we hope for, for you and for our family.  We try not to have too many expectations for you, so that you have the space and freedom to become your own person without the fear of disappointments.  We joke about wanting to do nothing but raise a drug free, adult virgin, joke about the convents we have picked out for you, and a number of things that hold a kernel of fear for us as parents looking at you growing older and wiser and more independent every day.  We joke too, but are really serious, when we tell you that we do not care if you turn out straight or gay, and just hope that you find love in this world.

Underneath our joking and our laissez-faire style, all we truly hope for is for you to be happy, to be kind, to love and above all to know that you are loved.  I think if we can accomplish that, then we will not have failed at parents, no matter where your choices lead you.

Thank you for sharing these last two years with us, my little bear.  I cannot wait to know you in the years to come.


Friday, April 13, 2012

When All Hell Breaks Loose, or It's OK To Ask For Help

Dogs that are trained for military or police work are often trained with hand and vocal signals.  The theory is that if you are working with your dog at a long distance, or are in a dangerous situation and cannot use a vocal command, then the dog can still follow commands given with a hand signal.  When the shit is hitting the fan, you can still maintain some control over your dog.  Theoretically.  In reality, it is best to have a back-up in place.

Sometimes I think of parenting the same way: you want your parenting to be multi-pronged and have multiple lines of communication to your children.  You want conversations to be logical and consistent so that they become deeply ingrained.  So that when all hell breaks loose you can ask your child to do something and they will remember the conversation and help you out by respecting you.  So that they will not hit you while you are throwing up or steal grapes from you when you are too weak to resist their freakish toddler strength.

And when that fails, you need to be strong enough to ask for help.

I was pondering the theory of this approach to training/ parenting on Tuesday morning, when I woke up with the stomach flu that has been circulating and re-circulating in Rochester for about two months now.  I thought we lucked out when we missed it the last couple of times our friends came down with it.  I thought my regime of retreating into our home like hermits for a few days until the danger passed had paid off, and that we were in the clear.  Instead, the bug just waited around until I was lulled into a false sense of security, and then it struck.

Well, either that, or it was just food poisoning (not pregnancy), since neither Don nor Lucy got sick.  In any case, I will not be eating eggplant parmesan or pesto sauce for a long time.  A really, really long time.

I knew things were going to be bad when I got out of bed to throw up around 6am.  Don had to leave early for a meeting before his conference, and I thought I would have until 7:30am or so to wallow in misery until Lucy got up.  Of course, as soon as Don walked out the door at 6:40am I heard the gentle, lilting strains of Lucy beckoning to me from her room.  “Mama.  MAMA!  MAMA!!  MOMMY!!  I WAKE UP!!  I CLIMBING OUT NOW!!!”  In order to prevent any immediate injuries I stumbled my way to her room, heaved her up, and enticed her into my bed with promises of a video and some snuggles.  Please, child, just sit quietly and rot your brain so I can lay down and pretend that my stomach isn’t tying itself into a Gordian knot.  And while you are about it, can you climb onto the bed yourself, because I suddenly find that I can’t really lift you again, per se.

I stopped feeling guilty about that about twenty minutes later when the fascinating story of Little Bear and his Birthday Soup kept Lucy abed while I pondered some more philosophical lines of thought in the bathroom.  I climbed back in bed, teeth brushed and face washed, again, hoping for another thirty minutes of TV coma bliss when suddenly Lucy did a complicated break dance maneuver on my stomach announcing “I’m all done!  I’m hungry!”

Oh God.  I have to feed you.  Food.  That is a hideous thought.

“OK my love.  Ok.  Cereal it is.”

I made the trek down the one flight of stairs and somehow hoist her into her high chair, pour her a bowl of cereal, throw her some grapes, slosh in some milk and pull her into the living room so she can eat while watching me lie on the couch.  Lucy, thank God, thinks this is a hilarious game.  Breakfast in the living room?  Now that’s fine dining!  The high chair, I have learned, also makes a fine child restraint device should you need to throw up during a meal.  However, you must learn to give answers to frequent inquiries of “Whatcha doin’ mama??!!  Whatcha doin’?!” while retching.  I have found that it’s best to respond quickly in between heaves.  If you wait too long, say until you are washed up, then your child will become hysterical and try to claw their way out of the high chair to check on you, and this is not good.

After breakfast was over, I gave her a cleaning with a wet nap, and enticed her into the guest room to watch Ratatouille with me so I could lay down again, laying down seeming to be the position that offered the least amount of offense to my stomach.  At this point I felt a lot like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, but with TV and videos instead of candy.  Come here little girl…watch my TV!  Or maybe it was because I was wearing the loosest pajamas I could find so nothing touched my stomach, my hair was doing a really respectable cat lady from the Simpson impersonation, and I generally was giving off an evil witch vibe.  The Ratatouille ploy worked for about…20 minutes.  Lucy is not the kind of kid who is able to sit still for very long.  I suppose this is a good thing, and means she will not fall into the evil abyss of network television worship as she grows older just out of sheer physical need to move, but at this point it was proving a challenge to me.  Especially as she demonstrated her need to move by performing more break-dance moves on my stomach and then sitting full on my stomach to look at my face in concern when I groaned in pain.

I thought briefly about just letting her go play by herself, but then remembering her new tendency toward jumping off of furniture, I followed her into the living room.  I set her loose at her play table to engage in a stamp/marker frenzy, keeping some grapes at hand in case she got peckish so I didn’t have to get up again.  I tucked myself into the couch with a blanket, and commenced watching Lucy play while pretending I wasn’t about to throw up again.

This is the point in the day; the point in your illness, when those conversations you have with your child really come into play.  This is the point where your past performance as a parent is tested…and unfortunately it was the point where mine was found wanting.  It came for me when Lucy asked me for some grapes.  “Sure, here they are!  Let me break off a few for you and you can carry them back to your table…no Lu, not the whole bag, just take this bunch here.  No, Lucy not the whole bag.  If you get hungry for more you can come back and I will give you more, but just take this bunch for now…no, sweetheart I said not the whole bag please, you can leave it right here.  Here is a bunch for you.  Lucy.  Lucy, please listen to me…Lucy you can have this bunch now, and…Lucy.  Lucy you can…Lucy.  Lucy, please…oh God.  Lucy stop pulling…Lucy!  Lucy Jane!!  Oh God.  Fine.  Take the bag.  Just take it.  God, help me.”

I will spare you Lucy’s part in that conversation, but suffice it to say that the words “need,” “NO,” “mine,” and “Ahhhhhh Ahhhh whaaaaa!” occurred with nauseating repetition.  I can say nauseating with a certain amount of authority, because I was in fact getting more and more nauseous throughout the exchange.

This was also the point in the day when I realized I could not do this by myself for another three hours until Don got home from conference.  This was not an easy realization to come to, as you will see in the text conversation depicted below.  As a stay at home wife and mother, and especially one to a doctor, I feel a lot of expectation to deal with things by myself.  Not by my husband, or by my friends, who are mostly also stay at home wives or mothers.  By the nefarious, proverbial, ethereal they.  I stay at home all day, with just one child.  What else do I have to do with my time but keep the house clean, cook gourmet meals, keep fit, teach our child how to be a model human being, and deal with any accidents or other circumstances that arise?  Not a damn thing, apparently.  And what is an illness other than an extenuating circumstance?  The house is full of toys and games and videos.  There is a park right outside.  I can surely take care of one child for a few hours even when I am not feeling well.  I do NOT need any help.

That is the mentality I was battling against while my daughter was pulling at me with one hand to come help her color, stuffing grapes into her mouth with the other hand, and I was contemplating whether I could make it to the bathroom again or would need to throw up into the kitchen sink.  OK.  Maybe I could ask for a little help.  Not too much.  And certainly not if it would, you know, put anyone out or inconvenience anyone.

My friends were either sick, out of town, or already at a play date that we had had to miss.  I did not have the strength to drive Lucy to the backup childcare center, even if they did have such a last minute opening.  I needed to see if the heavy artillery was available.  I needed Don.  

So I asked my beloved for help in the straight forward, confident manner any resident’s wife would ask.  I texted him:
            How late does your conference go today?
                        Noon thirty.
            Oh.  Ok.
                        U any better?  Need me home?
No.  Just really nauseated with stomach cramps all the time.  Is conference important?
I can leave, get Lu and come back if you need me to.  There is a break soon.  Just let me know what you need.
I feel terrible asking you to leave.  I just think I need help.  She doesn’t want to watch any more videos, she stole grapes, and she keeps stepping on my stomach.  And we’re out of milk.
            But if it’s important I can deal.  I am tough.
                        Just say the word and I’ll come home.
            Please help me.  Come home at the break.
                        On my way.

Note: it took me 20 minutes from the first text to actually ask him to come home and help.  And I didn’t even come out and say it directly, I pretended like I was just checking to see if he was available.  Lame.  When you are too weak to prevent your toddler from physically taking a bag of grapes from you, ask someone for help, because you need to lie down.

Thank God.  Reinforcements.  And it was only 9:30am.  Suddenly, the joy I felt at the possibility of a reprieve was stunted by a wave of hideous, gut churning nausea.  Oh God.  “OK, stay here and color something for me Lu, I will be right back.  I need some personal space in the bathroom.”  I was sure this would work.  We have been working a lot on the whole “personal space” concept, because Lucy keeps trying to follow people into the bathroom, or climb into my lap in the bathroom, or generally be unaware that the bathroom is a place where people need personal space and not a place to cuddle or play.

This is where we met the second failure of the day, as Lucy came skipping along after me into the bathroom asking in sing song if I was going to pee pee and would I get a jelly bean.  I had a stroke of genius then.  “Lucy, I am going to give you a jelly bean, and I would like you to go get Green Eggs and Ham, and read it on your chair in the living room.  Alright?” I clung to this idea desperately as I fished several jelly beans out of our potty training jelly bean stash.  This idea was met with absolutely ecstasy by Lucy, who took the jelly beans and ran from the bathroom.  I then closed the door, and proceeded to attend to more pressing matters.

One minute later, mid heave, I feel a small book sized missile strike my back with the force only a toddler on a sugar high can muster.  “Back away!” I gasp, “personal…….space!”  Lucy retreats exactly six inches away from me to sit on her training potty, and watch me throw up, which is the most insanely hilarious thing she has ever witnessed.  So hilarious, in fact, that her maniacal laughter is not an adequate expression of how funny she finds me at this moment, so to punctuate her laughter she returns to my side to strike me with her Dr. Seuss every few moments.  She only pauses to scream at Boss to back away and stop licking her, which he is not doing intentionally.  He is just accidentally licking her because her arm occasionally gets in the way of him licking me when she hits me.  I am completely helpless to resist either attack.

This is the state in which my husband finds me, two minutes later.  Collapsed into the toilet, struggling to breathe, besieged by a toddler and a Labrador.  I have to say, had I designed the tableau myself, I could not have arranged a more pathetic picture more worthy of saving.

“Whoa, whoa.  Come here Lucy.  OK.  Love, do you need me to stay and take care of you, or just get Lucy out of here so you can rest?”

“Just.  Need to rest.”

“OK.  I am going to take Lucy to conference, and I will be back.  With some medicine.  Apparently this is going around and everyone either had had it, or has it now, but it passes pretty quickly ok?  Just get some rest love.”  Don made sure I was washed up and tucked into bed before he took Lucy back to his morning conference with him.

So, when all hell breaks loose, and your multiple lines of communication and training and preparation all break down, don’t dilly dally or let your children assault you while you are too weak to resist them.  Call in your back-up.  Just ask for help!  My lady back-ups were all out of commission that day, but thank God my super back-up was available.  And double thank God he is a super awesome doctor, because he came back two hours later with Gatorade, crackers, milk, and anti-nausea medication.

Note: since Tuesday Lucy and I have had many, many conversations about personal space, feeling sick, sharing, and hitting with books.  I only hope that I won’t have to test this training out again for a very long time.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Get Thee Behind Me Satan Eggs

I don’t know why I am calling it this.  Perhaps because yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and I am ready to put the fasting and preparation of the Lenten season behind me and celebrate the resurrection and sing the Gloria again. 

Perhaps it was because I made these deviled eggs because we were all dying eggs for Easter, and before I knew what was happening Lucy crack-smashed five of them and I had to take a few seconds to purge the satany anger from my soul, which was inappropriate considering we were just dyeing eggs, and who cares if she cracks them because they are hard boiled, and she is just experimenting with sounds and textures so that is a good learning experience, and I should not have shouted “no no NO NO Lucy NOOOO!  GENTLE!”

Two seconds later she smashed this egg into oblivion.
Perhaps because I made these eggs with a touch too much wasabi which is just enough to clear out your sinuses and make you want to shout “Whoooo!” but then you realize you are in polite company, and so you just close your mouth and let your eyes water politely instead.  Except I was in my own kitchen with my husband and my two year old daughter, so I did shout “Whooo!” and so did they.  And then we did a little dance.

Let these wasabi eggs burn out your anger, lead you through the valley of Lenten sacrifice, and into the joyful toddler dance of the resurrection.

·        10 hard boiled eggs
·        4 tablespoons wasabi mayonnaise (I just used the awesome wasabi mayo they sell at Trader Joe’s.  If you do not have that, just add 4 tablespoons of regular Mayo to the recipe, and add in your desired amount of dried wasabi powder or prepared wasabi.  Or some horseradish should do the trick too.)
·        ¼ cup of Mayonnaise
·        3 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds (If you bought them un-toasted, just toast them up in a pan on the stove for a few minutes until golden brown.  Seriously, the toasting makes a huge difference.  If you are super fancy you can use black sesame seeds, but I prefer the flavor of toasted white sesame seeds.)

A note on hard boiling eggs: this is one of those ridiculously easy things to do in the kitchen that I almost always screw up.  I am not kidding at all when I say that yesterday, I poured out three pots of hot water because I could not get it through my savage, little mind that you start the eggs in cold water, not boiling water.  Cold.  Water.  So if you want a tip on how to do this, I have no tips to give, but this is what I did and the eggs came out perfect except for the two that were broken when I unceremoniously dumped them all into the pot:
·        Put eggs into pot, very gently.  Cover with cold water so there is at least 2 inches above the eggs.  Add splash of vinegar and some salt.  This is supposed to keep them from breaking, cracking, leaking, and will also make you smarter when you eat them.
·        Put pan on stove, put heat on high, boil water.
·        When water is at a full boil, let boil for one minute, or just turn off immediately because it has taken you a minute to notice they were boiling.
·        Let eggs sit for 15 minutes if you have a whole batch of 12-18, or 12 minutes if you have fewer.
·        Prepare a large bowl of ice in the sink.
·        Do not panic if you did not turn off the stove at all, but instead put it on low for 15 minutes, because its really hard to overcook an egg so that it is inedible.  Just don’t panic.
·        Drain the water from the pan and put the eggs into the ice.  Cover with cold water.  Stir around and let them cool.
·        Test one of the eggs while it is still warm with some salt and pepper.  Just because warm hard boiled eggs are an overlooked pleasure in our society.  Everyone is always waiting for them to cool to devil them or salad them or dye them.  Take a second to enjoy one warm!
·        Let them cool for a few hours at least in the fridge, overnight if you can.  This will help them to peel better, and will keep you from throwing completely destroyed hard boiled eggs at the kitchen window as you peel half an inch of egg white off them.

Take your cooled eggs, and peel them.  Try not to get angry and kill them.  Breathe deeply.  Run cold water over them.  Pierce the membrane.  Place them on a paper towel to dry.

Cut each egg in half, and pop the yolk out into a bowl.  Place the whites whole side up on a plate of your choosing.  Aren’t you fancy if you have one of those fancy deviled egg platters with the little egg indents in it!?

Add wasabi mayo, mayo and half of the sesame seeds to the bowl with the yolks.  Mash, whip and stir away until it forms a smooth consistency.  Then try it.  If it’s too bland add more wasabi, or salt and pepper.  If it’s too dry add a touch more mayo.  If its too wet or too spicy…then pray you have more eggs and add more egg white or perhaps some bread crumbs to smooth it out.

If you want to get fancy about this next part, then take a spatula and scrape the yolk mixture into a ziplock baggie, zip the top and cut a small snip off of the bottom.  You can then pipe the filling back into the whites and make pleasing little swirls and whorls and such.  Or you can do what I did, and use two spoons to very messily slop the filling back into the whites and then give the bowl to your husband to lick out and laugh when he hits the smear of pure wasabi that you left on the side of the bowl and starts to cry.

Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds over the eggs.

Eat them all in five minutes while sipping the bloody mary your husband made you to get you through the Easter egg dyeing process and to celebrate the fact that he has a day off and that you are spending it together.

Note: I really don’t drink that often and I don’t need to drink in order to survive craft time with Lucy.  Just in case you were worried.  Also I have no pictures of these because we ate them all immediately.  But here is a picture of the bloody mary in case you wondered.  We bought those garlic dill pickles from an old lady at the Farmer's Market this morning.  Aren't we neat?