Friday, January 30, 2015

Soup Friday: Spinach Soup

Since I first made this recipe in 2010, spinach soup has been a winter mainstay in my house.  It’s a Pioneer Woman recipe and you can find it here.

Spinach soup comes together easily and like so many recipes with just a few simple ingredients, the taste is amazing.  With just a touch of cayenne pepper, this soup is guaranteed to warm up your insides on a cold Winter day.  For my money, that’s a perfect remedy for the chill of the season.

Make some today.  You’ll be glad that you did!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Your Weekly Amaryllis: Week Four

 In the midst of this week’s snow and cold, the amaryllis is a lovely bright spot.

We had Monday off from school so teachers could finish grading midterm exams.   That day’s snow earned us another day off on Tuesday.  It was nice to be in the cozy warmth of home, cheering on the amaryllis.

Progress toward a bloom seems slow now, though the pace will pick up when the  stem shoots up.  A little bright cheer in the midst of this cold winter is most welcome.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reflections on Motherhood

The backstory:
I’ve been thinking about motherhood of late.  What follows is the next a series of entries on that topic.  I caution that these opinions are mine alone and reflect my experience as a mother.  My goal isn’t to offend but is to share my point of view and lay down on (digital) paper some things about motherhood that I have come to believe.

Life for the Solitary Mama
At its heart, my reflections on the life of solitary moms are my recognition that being a parent on your own is a challenge of a whole different order, one only truly knowable to the mothers who experience it.  Even the most independently-minded woman will find that when she is a solitary mama, she needs help.  It may be something as simple as opening the door for her laden stroller.  But that’s really just a symbol of the difficulties a working solitary mom faces.  In every element of her world, a mom-on-her-own is aware of the many ways in which the day’s outcome falls solely and squarely on her shoulders.  

From morning until night, no part of  her day is immune from that underlying sense of responsibility for her child’s life.  It can be small matters of no serious consequence —— good golly, that is an inadequate breakfast I just fed my child.  It can be huge matters of great consequence —— how will I ensure that this child can read? can learn to love with abandon? can master long division? Here the list of anxieties is virtually endless and a mama on her own can be crushed under the burden of them.

Survival dictates that the solitary mom pack up her free-flowing anxieties for unboxing later.  Instead, each day she marches forward Getting Things Done.  Feed the child, feed the pets, get a shower, get to work, stock the fridge, make the supper, love and laugh with my child, find some joy to cling to, and then fall into bed for much-needed rest before it all starts again the next morning.  For the solitary mom, the demands of daily life can be a useful tonic, keeping the mind focused on the here and now.  

But even in the comfort of the here and now, the mama on her own realizes the huge ways that it all rests of her shoulders.  When you are the only parent present, the here and now is mighty demanding enough.  Uncertainty and the future are downright terrifying.  The common cold is unpleasant for all of us but for the solitary mom it’s a forced march.  There is no help on the horizon and she can’t falter.  A bigger health crisis could quite literally mean disaster.  So that fear must be shut away as much as possible.

Support from friends and family is the only way to make it through.  Even that support may be a double-edged sword, as it sometimes carries with it the reminder of what is absent in solitary mom’s world.   The only way forward is to share her joys with those who will listen and to hope others still  believe in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child.  Solitary mom knows she needs that village.  I wish that the village always understood the value solitary mom’s strength brings the community in return.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snowy Day

Count me among those who woke up this morning mighty relieved to find that we weren’t buried under a mountain of snow.  As I lay in the quiet, I was immensely grateful to hear the quiet tick of my alarm clock, a sure sign that we still had electricity.  The pre-storm forecast and my experience with Hurricane Sandy had me prepared for the prospect of disaster.  And while so many others are mocking the National Weather Service and other forecasters who got this storm wrong, I’m just glad to be safe.  

It’s hard to tell because of the blowing and drifting, but it looks like we got just short of a foot of snow in my corner of New Jersey.  More snow is coming down as I write this post.  Later today, JT and I will go out and clear a path.  For now, we’re enjoying the blessings of a snow day morning.    The weather looks to be significantly colder in the week ahead, with lows in the single digits by the weekend, so this snow will stick around for a while.  

In the last few years, it’s been my experience that weather extremes are on the increase.  Those extremes are driven by global climate change.  Our 21st century sensibilities seem to have convinced us that we have can know everything.  Alas, we cannot, especially in a period where the earth is adjusting to some significant alternations in the global climate.  To snidely comment on the errors of weather forecasters while a significant portion of the nation cheerfully ignores the obvious signs of man-made climate change seems like a dangerous combination of ignorance and hubris.  How about we instead count our blessings, share gratitude that this snowstorm wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and contemplate how we can ease the burden of our human actions on the only planet we have? 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Winter Walk

I enjoyed the walks I took on the milder days during Winter Break and began the new year determined to make at least one weekly walk through town.   Even as the Polar Vortex blew in with much colder weather, I kept that promise.  Most of my walks have been in the cold of the early twilight when we get home from school and wrestling practice.  But even in the fading light, I enjoy a glimpse of my neighbor’s gardens.

We had overnight snow on Friday and after I cleaned up my sidewalk and driveway, I treated myself to a walk in the slushy snow.  There is something about familiar plants draped in a coat of white that is most lovely.

The town’s streets had been plowed and most of the sidewalks had been cleared.  We had about 5 inches of snow overnight and so there was plenty of beauty to be admired.  By the afternoon, temperatures were well-above freezing and plenty of melting was underway.  

I think the snow is so lovely because in the midst of Winter’s stark appearance the snow provides a contrast that is pretty to see.

We had more snow this morning and a huge blizzard of a storm is expected later this afternoon and into the overnight.  After the boy and I have attended to our snow removal duties, we’ll be planning a few more walks to admire Mother Nature’s work.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Midterm Exams

This past week, JT sat for his first set of high school midterm exams.  My school runs a special schedule for midterms and so he didn’t have regular classes and each day he instead reported to the Lower Gym, where an array of more than 300 desks were lined up for the test-takers.  

Last weekend, he pulled together a semester’s worth of notes and reviewed those ideas.  Midterms are worth 10% of a student’s final grade in the course and so they are important.  More important in my mind was allowing him to take command of the process and organize his preparation and studying.  Luckily, his work was broken up by wrestling practice and a rather important wrestling tournament.  These provided a much-needed break and a bit of release, both essential to staying on top of his schoolwork and managing his time.  He sought advice from me as he got prepared but mostly he studied on his own from study guides and flashcards that he and his friends made together.

In a way, with 10% of his grade on the line and in his first year of grades that “count” for eventual college applications, this was risky on my part.  But I am a parent who believes my job is raise a child who can be a happy, independent adult.  If he got to his exams and felt well-prepared, this past week will have served that purpose quite nicely.  If he didn’t feel prepared when it came time to figure math problems or write English essays, then he’ll also learn from that and come final exam season in June we’ll work out on a better plan.   Either way, I believe that this process will have given him important insight into himself.

In the meantime, he gets to this weekend with an empty homework agenda.  We have Monday off from school so that teachers can grade those exams and JT is excited about 3 days with nary a single obligation to schoolwork.   He’s a pile of Sports Illustrated magazines to read, two books at the ready, wrestling practice to attend and a well-earned sense of accomplishment.   That’s happy!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Soup Friday: Garlic Broth with Spinach and Tortellini

Garlic broth is a Moosewood Cookbook recipe that I have been making for years.  It’s easy to make and starts with vegetarian broth (homemade, boxed or in cubes….whatever I have on hand).  I bring 4 cups of that to a simmer and then add 6 cloves of minced garlic.  I let it simmer for 20 minutes and then use it as a foundation for whatever else I wish to make.  

The broth keeps in the fridge for several days .  When you are ready to eat it, warm it up and then get creative.  For mine, I added the hot broth to a bowl of fresh spinach leaves and cheese tortellini that I had cooked separately.   Warm, comforting, and delicious on a cold winter evening.

The broth is versatile and can be the foundation for other soups as well.  It can be mixed with a can of diced tomatoes, pasta, and cannellini beans.  I’ve made it with fresh spinach, tomatoes, and pasta.  I’ve also served it with carrots simmered in the broth with pasta and beans.  Basically, the broth is a base for many warm, winter soups.  Cook some up!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Your Weekly Amaryllis: Week Three

Week three of an amaryllis bulb is tricky, especially on a dark Winter morning.  Though a careful eye can see some progress, it’s rather minute in its effects and a bit of anxiety can set it.  Is there enough light in this window?  Is there enough warmth?  Have I watered the bulb enough?  Too much?

In that respect, week 3 of a flowering bulb is much like the approach to the mid-point of Winter.  I have to remind myself to stay the course for the promise of the blooms that lie ahead.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reflections on Motherhood

The backstory:
I’ve been thinking about motherhood of late.  What follows is the second entry on that topic.  The first can be found here.  I caution that these opinions are mine alone and reflect my experience as a mother.  My goal isn’t to offend but is to share my point of view and lay down on (digital) paper some things about motherhood that I have come to believe.  

Public Motherhood 
In my world, a world primarily made up of privileged upper middle class families, there is no greater distinction in our families than the way that people treat single working mothers who are on their own, women I call solitary mothers.  In this landscape, mothers on their own became a kind of public property because of their relative rarity in the world of the upper middle class.  

Well-meaning people will comment on her status, whether kindly or not, in a way that suggests that mom-on-her-own is public property; that her life is fair game for the commentary of others.  The whereabouts of her former partner; her choice to be a one-parent household; her daily life as a mom-on-her-own; her dating status….all are subjects for discussion.  In my own life, I diffused these comments by being forthcoming.  That’s not a path every solitary mom can or wants to take.  Quite frankly, it’s not a choice she should have to make.  

Even the most innocuous or seemingly well-meaning aside can be uncomfortable when you feel the full responsibility for the young life in your care.  This is complicated when your status as mom-on-your own wasn’t the life plan you had in mind.  It’s not always easy to hold the pieces of your world together if your heart is hurting or you fear you’ve somehow let your beloved child down.  You are experiencing motherhood in a way that isn’t reflected in the rest of your world, from your own family experience to your friends and co-workers.  And now people, even well-meaning people, comment: Where is dad? Aren’t holidays on their own lonely?  Do you miss the help of someone else?

I have heard these comments and many more; solitary mamas reading here are nodding their heads because they have experienced the same.  When my middle schoolers are unkind to one another, I gently remind them that everyone has a hard journey and that we should hold our tongues unless our observations will help.   I wish I’d had the guts to repeat that to busy-bodies when someone else’s solitary mom status was the topic of unwanted discussion.  Women raising children on their own need our support and confidence, not our commentary.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Struggle in the Journey

I’ve been reading the works of Andrew Solomon lately and I followed up by listening to interviews with him on NPR as well as his TED talks.  I find his work thoughtful and his ideas are the sort that I keep coming back to because they are so useful in my work with children and their families.

I’ve a well-rehearsed talk that I have with a child most every week of the school year.  The talk can be neatly summarized: “Everyone has a hard journey.”  This is neither a mind-glowingly erudite command of human behavior nor something that no one else understands.  In fact, as soon as the idea comes up the children in my care nod knowingly because their life feels hard at times as well and to acknowledge the struggle is to at once make it easier to bear.  The trick of course, is to remind ourselves that everyone experiences struggle, even when we can’t see it.

The idea was driven home to me some years ago when B, a popular, athletic, good-looking student needed my help on an essay he intended to submit with a college application.  School was sometimes hard for B and while his outward appearance would suggest that he had not a care in the world, he was anxious and struggling.  In our discussion about his essay he blurted out, “This would be so much easier if I were like H.”

As it turned out, I was also in the business that year of helping H, whose life  contained its own struggles.  H was whip smart; school came easy to him and he knew it.  But his group of friends was smaller and he wasn’t athletic; he didn’t feel particularly good-looking.  In some of our far-ranging talks about life he had allowed that life would be better if he were just like B.

The fact that these two were actually struggling within sight of one another was, of course, lost to them.  Our world sometimes has that sort of tunnel vision.  I provided reassurance to both young men and without revealing their identity to one another assured them that we all struggle; that no one’s journey is as simple and easy as it might seem to an outside observer.

In my own life, I’ve come to believe that it’s the struggles that reveal who we are and what we can be.  I’m aware that some of us can’t overcome our struggles and that seems like the greatest of tragedies.  I believe that it is in the act of overcoming that we find the measure not just of who we are but also who we can be.