On Making Pizza

The other night we had our Blessed Buddy (worst name, best program) over for a chaotic, casual dinner in the midst of packing for a trip the next morning. (Seriously, the dining room table was so buried in luggage we had to eat around the coffee table.)

We go meatless for Fridays year round, and now that we have air conditioning, homemade pizza was the obvious choice. J is our pizza maker, so it’s always a mad scramble after he gets home to get the pizza in the oven so the kids can eat it before they go to bed. 

And I hadn’t managed to get the goat cheese for his classic (goat cheese, nuts, caramelized onions, greens, honey, balsamic vinegar) so after co op I made the dough in the bread machine and I foraged for alternate ingredients. 

And what I found: pesto I made the other night from aging mixed greens; roasted garlic I made weeks ago and froze; a bag of shredded mozzarella leftover from Sunday’s small group meeting. 

J caught up with our Buddy as he worked and I corralled the children and it was one of the best pizzas we’d ever made. 

And it just felt like a reflection of the best parts of our marriage and how far we’ve come as a household: we didn’t start making homemade pizza until a friend brought over a damn good one when Pippin was born and shared his tricks. And then there were various bad experiments with pizza dough. And countless seasons in our shared life where things like homemade pesto and roasted garlic weren’t sitting around waiting to be used because I was slammed with pregnancy exhaustion or toting around a new baby, my eyes glittering with Crazy. 

Our marriage always works best in situations where I do the prep and then step side as perfectionist angst emerges at the last minute, while J doesn’t take anything seriously until go time, and we’ve learned to use that to best advantage. So I make the toppings and the sough, and he assembled. I plan and shop for Thankdgiving and make desserts days in advance, and he’s the day of man. I plan and pack for a trip, and then the morning we leave I take the kids for a walk while J loads the car and I try not to hyperventilate. 

We’ve built up these habits and formulas and skills and while there are absolutely still dinner time disasters and meals of store bought frozen meatballs I guess the pizza made me realize we’ve surfaced from Baby Crisis Mode and made the best of our newfound and no doubt temporary calm. 

It was a good pizza, I guess is what I’m saying, but sometimes a pizza isn’t just a pizza. 

J adds an egg to his share because he is gross.


Katherine’s Arbitrary Rules of Reading

+1 point:

  • Lists of what a character packed for a journey (e.g., His Dark Materials, Homecoming)
  • Breaking a narrative rule (killing the narrator, never letting the reader know what happened to a character, etc. — Tomorrow When the War Began is good at that). I applaud daring.
  • Australia (just, in general)
  • Blitz-era Britain settings (especially The Secret Keeper)
  • Post-apocalyptic homesteading (Alas, Babylon being the greatest example)
  • A sense of the hauntedness of a place. It’s hard to explain. The Secret Garden has it, and the seriously flawed The China Garden, this indefinable sense that generations have passed through a place.
  • Pausing in the action of the novel for nursing and naps, where babies are involved (Sisterland is just terrific at this; almost all television is awful at keeping track of babies)

-1 point:

  • Descriptions of eye color (exception: L.M. Montgomery)
  • Descriptions of outfit worn by heroine
  • Ending chapters with ellipses for suspense (e.g., Dan Brown)
  • Present-tense narration
  • Lack of quotation marks and other useful punctuation (Cormac McCarthy but also this The Dog Stars I’m currently losing faith in.)
  • Use of the word “erotic” in the blurb. Eww.

In addition, I abandon books without guilt (if no one has assigned them); read multiple books at once; re-read shamelessly, and, at least when I’m feeling crummy, return to my childhood reading posture: fetal position, glasses off.

What are your inexplicable reading hangups and soft spots?

Readers’ Advisory: Non-Terrible Truck Books

I’ve been around the block when it comes to truck books. Here is my helpful parent guide to the least obnoxious truck books we’ve come across:

  • For simple, labelled catalogs of trucks, you can’t go wrong with Richard Scarry. Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go is a good starting place and our first copy was responsible for getting us to and from Acadia fuss-free when Pippin was about 18 months old.
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and, to a lesser extent, Katy and the Big SnowClassics.
  • Backhoe JoeA breakthrough for us; one of our first narrative truck books. What a relief!
  • Trashy Town and its companion Digabout the quietly sweet men who work dirty jobs.
  • Here Comes DarrellSo sweet, but with enough trucks to pass muster. The book centers around a year in the life of Darrell, an old New Englander who helps out his neighbors with plowing, hauling, and excavating, until the time comes he needs their help. (For my money, it’s a much better message than the more popular Little Blue Truck, where you must help others or you’re left stranded.)
  • Demolition and its companions: a good read-aloud for little kids. Lots of action!
  • Dinosaur Rescue combines vehicles AND reptiles for a preschool homerun. There are others in the series, but this is our favorite. (The rescue worker dinos sleep with blankies and loveys after their big adventure — so sweet!)
  • Machines Go to Work boasts the prettiest truck illustrations I’ve come across, that’s for sure.
  • Good Night, Good Night, Construction SiteThe best metered rhyme of all the many, many truck books we’ve read. Sweet and sleepy.

Note, these are not necessarily Pippin’s favorite truck books, but mine. (Sometimes, we agree to disagree.)

Dishonorable mentions: The Working Wheels series — actually, nearly anything from the junior nonfiction section of the library; I Stink which boasts illustrations of dirty diapers and dog poop; all things related to the Pixar Cars or Bob the Builder franchises…



On Becoming a Regular Mom


Did anyone else watch Mean Girls, like, a lot? We introduced it to my sixteen-year-old sister-in-law at Christmas, so maybe it’s just fresh in my mind, but I’ve been thinking of the creepy Amy Poehler mom character in it a lot lately.

See, because, for a long time, I kind of thought of myself as a cool mom. Or, if not cool, then bohemian or…something. Not a regular mom. In western Massachusetts, I was a very young mother at 26, where many first-time mothers were a decade older, and it felt kind of edgy to have a baby when we were young and pretty broke. Also, at the time, I did other stuff, cool stuff. I didn’t just have a baby — I traveled abroad while pregnant! I worked! I finished a graduate degree and hung out at bars with my classmates! I’M A COOL MOM.

Let me be clear: I did not think that not being a regular mom made me a better mom. If anything, it gave me justification for so often feeling like a fish out of water, more than a little lost. I was younger, and poorer, and only slowly building up a tribe of kindred mothers who could share their secrets. I was on the fringes of Motherdom.

But increasingly, that doesn’t ring true. I don’t just have a baby — I have two kids, and one of them is starting preschool. (There is no cool way to say “the children.”) I also have a mortgage, and a husband with a real job. Now I attend mom events, like orientations and playgroups and La Leche League. In this season, my energy and time are more consumed than before with the tasks of motherhood. And I’m 30 now, in an area where women have babies much younger than where Pippin was born. I am not always overwhelmed now, though I often am. (That’s just the way I roll, I’m afraid.) In short, I am the target market for diaper cream applicator brushes.

This shift is good, and right, and humbling. I want to be a regular mom. I’ve met so many moms I admire, and I’m honored to join their ranks. I want to progress in motherhood gracefully, cheering on my growing children, slipping into comfortable mom clothes and mom interests (though never, I hope, becoming fully subsumed). I’m grateful to be in this difficult, beautiful part of life, especially when so many women I love long for children of their own. I don’t want to waste time grasping for youth and hipness, posturing and winking in a push-up bra like Amy Poehler’s character.

I’m ready to be a regular mom.


Commonplace Book, 15

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Orzo with tomatoes and feta. Pretty much doesn’t need a recipe, but I used one anyway, because that’s how I roll.
  • Super Fantastic Cinnamon Rolls in the Bread Machine. It’s in the title, right? Pippin requested cinnamon rolls and ACTUALLY ATE THEM. The first 2.5 were astonishingly delicious but now thinking about them makes me queasy. Beware the overdose, I guess.
  • In continuing my vaguely-ethnic-chicken-in-the-slow-cooker bonanza, Thai Peanut Chicken. (See vaguely Chinese, vaguely Indian, and vaguely Southern in previous commonplace entries.) It ended up rich and lovely, like a very lazy chicken satay — and I have such fond memories of eating that dish, once when a college friend made chicken peanut satay for me after she returned from a mission trip to Indonesia, again eating tofu peanut satay at the top of the Space Needle on our honeymoon.

What I’m reading:

  • You know the little bunny icon on the Librivox app where you can speed up the reading? The other day I did that for Brothers Karamazov after realizing I’d been on three runs (/shuffle-wheezes) still listening to the dang initial interrogation. FINISH, FYODOR.
  • In other finishing news, I finished Book 2 in the Throne of Glass series and am no longer bound by the laws of sisterhood (or sister-in-lawhood) to continue, but I probably will. It’s pure escapism and I’ve enjoyed texting my teenager sister-in-law to discuss them. Long live the SMS Bowers Book Club, I guess.
  • Did I say last week that I’d wanted to read The Dog Stars one summer but it was high school assigned summer reading? Um, pretty sure I’m misremembering, because it’s a fair bit past PG-13 and reminds me more of The Road than anything else that comes to mind. Not sure yet if I’ll finish it, because whoa. I’m pretty sure someone’s going to get eaten.
  • Did y’all see the post this week over at Mama Needs Coffee? I’m always gobsmacked by Jenny Uebbing’s ability to start off apparently just giving a general, casual family update and sneak amazing insights there into the middle:

But that morning I just stayed where I was, physically and mentally content to remain at home.

I am sorry for the months and years I wasn’t able to be in this place with my kids, but I have no guilt.

I don’t think I was ready for full contact motherhood until recently. I think it was essential to my mental and physical health that I have some degree of separation from my kids, and I think it helped me to survive a demanding season of life.

But my parenting muscles are growing. I’m getting stronger and more able to withstand long stretches of time without the relief of going off duty, even if only mentally. And I’m so glad. Because I love my children, but also because for a while there was a sneaking suspicion, never voiced but ever present, that maybe I didn’t pick the right life, so to speak. That I should be doing motherhood better, stronger, more joyfully.

Now I can see a little more clearly that as they have grown and changed and matured, so have I.

I kind of need that reminder sometimes. That it’s a process to learn how to manage it all, to grow into being a mama, and that it’s ok to need space and breaks. Evidence below:

Bad parenting day = sitting in the grocery parking lot after a solo grocery run, eating a {tragically stale} doughnut and reading teen fantasy because sometimes you just need a break

Books That Shaped Me

Recently my blog-crush Dominika shared her list of life-changing books and inspired me to do the same. It was hard to differentiate favorites from the ones that really rearranged my mental furniture, but here’s my attempt:

  1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: I remember trying to read this a couple of times before I could get through it, totally in love with the movie (was Dickon my first crush?), but totally stymied by the Yorkshire accents. I think it was the first book to touch (or inspire?) my love of deep history, of stories in which layer upon layer of human generation has touched a place, leaving it shadowy with memory and mystery. It is also probably most directly responsible for the Anglophile tendencies that led me to Oxford for study abroad in 2007.
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Later this book was other things to me — the foundation for a dream-come-true trip to Prince Edward Island when I was 9 or 10, the subject of my undergrad honors thesis — but first Anne Shirley was an inspiration to me for how one should live. She balances a dreamy romantic spirit with a sense of duty to the people around her. (Also, every bouquet I’ve ever picked has been inspired at least a little by Anne.)
  3. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank: I’m not really sure why I’ve always loved post apocalyptic stories, but I am sure that this was the first I read, plucked from a shelf of my parents’ books sometime in grade school. I think stories of worldwide calamity satisfy some conviction in my anxious heart of the brokenness of our world, and the best ones, like this one, show us a way to rebuild it.
  4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: I was born in 1985, at just the perfect time for Harry P. — right at the generational hinge of people young enough to read the books just as they were coming out, so that the first debuted when I was about Harry’s age, and I awaited the last one as an old engaged lady. The books in themselves are a world to inhabit, but what was probably most important to me about them was how they made reading a communal thing. Harry Potter was and remains a secret language for discovering kindred spirits.
  5. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis: I want to list Orthodoxy or Lost In the Cosmos: A Last Self-Help Book — something to give me hipster Catholic cred — but Mere Christianity was the first book to really suggest to me that smart people could be Christians, and that Christianity could be understood (to an extent) rationally.
  6. What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen: Ok, I’m going to tell you a librarian secret now: we scam from the holds shelf. I saw this one come through when Pippin was a baby and I was working circ, and I immediately added it to my holds, because I was a mother who felt like she was doing nothing. It was unbelievably affirming and fascinating and you should really read it, too, if you’ve ever felt like motherhood was killing you.

I am not sure about this list. It’s like nothing notable happened to me in college, despite being an English major and Great Books student. Hmm. But it’s hard to select just one formative thing (King LearPascal’s Pensees! Digging deep into Austen! You know, finally reading the Bible!), so I will offer a jumble of other stuff, college and not, below.

Honorable mentions: anything Jane Austen, because her prose is just the absolute best; Paradise Lost because it is so big and hard and beautiful; The Four Quartets which I wrestled over in a book club one summer in college; Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year because Anne Lamott can make me tear up and cackle in the same paragraph, and believe everything will be ok…

The Perfect Pair of Jeans Update

So, my dress-wearing friend asked for an update on how things are going, a few months into my ThredUp /more skirts experiment.

And the answer is: good! Good enough to not know for sure which jeans fit me at the moment, and good enough to make another order from ThredUp, although I’m not yet ready to make the leap one blogger I admire did with No Pants July. (After all, even getting my white legs out in shorts is a bit of an accomplishment.)

Bear with me, I have some photographic evidence, self-timer and/or random relevant snapshot style:

top, Abercrombie, yard sale find by my mom; eShakti skirt from ThredUp; Scout’s romper from Goodwill

Above is a normal weekday for me at the moment. I love that this skirt is high-waisted and that it’s pretty long without being aggressively modest.

Here is a terrible shot of my favorite dress, as I’m stripping Scout from her onesie on her birthday for the cake eating bonanza.

Through ThredUp, I received my current favorite dress, the shirtdress above, originally from Theory, which arrived new with tags. I save it all week for whichever day I’m most excited about — it’s lightweight, green (my favorite), comfortable and pretty. I should probably iron it (at least the belt) but I don’t. So there.

When you realize the shirt you ordered is almost identical to your three-year-old’s

Above is one of the two dress shirts I ordered, the other being a workhouse of a white shirt. I don’t wear either much right now, except to church, as it’s been plenty warm without AC.

Recently I made my second ThredUp order, trying to fill out my wardrobe for the transition to autumn. I belatedly bought a maxi skirt, which is exciting (no shaving!) and also worrying (I’ll trip!). It’s my first maxi skirt since I overdosed on them in Uganda in 2008-9, where they were effectively mandatory. I also bought two new dresses, a turtleneck, two long sleeve t-shirts, a tank top, a short-sleeve button down, two medium length skirts, and, most excitingly, a brown-and-black J. Crew cardigan that is an exact replacement for one I found years ago at a Boston Goodwill and loved right into the grave last winter. All this — 11 pieces — came to $80.45 with free shipping. The most expensive piece was $20.70; one skirt was $.90.

ThredUp definitely isn’t for everyone; back when I had more freedom to try things on at stores, I probably could have gotten lower prices through Old Navy clearance and thrift stores. The really low priced items at TU can’t be returned, and free shipping has a high requirement, which is why I can only imagine using the site once a season or so, when I can swoop in and make a big purchase. As I mentioned in my previous post, the search features lack the granularity I want, so I find myself hesitating to shop for sweaters when I don’t know if they’re washable, for instance, and growing frustrated that I can’t search for shirtdress, etc.

Still, it’s excellent as a one stop shop, and seeing all my items together helps me think about combinations and reigns in my flights of fancy. It rules out my tendency in thrift stores IRL to grab the thing I love the best, or that fits the best, without considering what I’ll wear it with — this summer I’ve impulsively bought two dresses at Goodwill and they’re both a little shorter than is comfortable. I also feel like I’m getting better quality (J. Crew, Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor in this order) than at Target or Old Navy, which are my normal sources for new clothes. Plus, it’s intoxicating to watch the site keep track of how much you’re “saving” (with this most recent order, $434.61).

If you decide it’s something you want to try, maybe think about using my referral link? (You’ll get $10 to spend and so will I.) If not, tell me what your strategy for clothes buying looks like at the moment!