Learning to Love Housekeeping, Part 3

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It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)

Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:

  • I’ve been working on refining my to-do list and meal planning (above). I’ve had grocery and to do lists since about 30 seconds after I made fun of my mom’s in college, usually on scraps of paper or in my planner. I’ve tried a few templates for meal-planning, but for right now, this kind of embarrassing grid my mother-in-law got for a school fundraiser is working well. I can have everything together at a glance, and even if the categories aren’t perfect, the magnet so it sticks to the fridge definitely is. I carry it around the house part of the morning as I begin to get organized, and once it’s up on the fridge, just above the water dispenser, I can reference it throughout the day.
  • I cleaned out the car on one of our first warm afternoons — the first time I’ve done it since Advent. Awhile back I read an analogy about cars being, basically, just a means of getting from place to place when we couldn’t make the distance with our bodies, and it’s helped me to feel better about our philosophy of car ownership: one fairly reliable, very unkempt vehicle to haul our family around when nothing else will do. And cleaning it out — at Advent I even vacuumed! — helps me to feel a little less embarrassed by the car’s homeliness when we give someone a ride, and a little less panicky when we’re drowning in kid stuff and filth on a long car ride.

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    Will keep you company for the price of chewing on her brother’s claw cup. To the left: the giant bag of jackets, blankets and books salvaged from the car.
  • Speaking of panicking, how do you keep from panicking when packing for the whole family? J does his own bag, and loads the car, but I’m in charge of laundry, lists, preparatory shopping, and actually gathering up all the materials for three humans. Part of me loves picking out the tiny travel wardrobes and the mini libraries, but the weight of responsibility usually makes me really crabby and anxious and unpleasant, especially on the day we leave. Some of our most successful travel days have been when we’ve decided last minute to leave the night before. No time to panic then! Just listen to an audiobook and sleep and try not to dwell on how you forgot the travel toothpaste. What are your packing tips?unnamed-1

Feeling Weird About Weaning

For the most part, I’m not usually sentimental about my kids growing up. I’m excited about each new development, and optimistic about the future. I’m not hugely a newborn baby fan, and I like seeing the people they’re becoming. Sure, I feel nostalgic when I look back at pictures of Pippin as a white marshmallow baby and Scout as a tiny pink bean, but I don’t long for time to slow down or anything.

The exception, for me, is weaning. I mean this in the British sense of introducing real food, not in the American sense of completely leaving behind nursing.

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Eleanor Babyperson, nursing

The thing is, I really like breastfeeding. I’m good at it (though it’s nothing I can really claim as an accomplishment; a lot seems to be luck and disposition), and I don’t mind it — though I might tell you differently at 2 a.m., or when positioning a noodly newborn. What’s not to like? I could handle more hours in a quiet room by myself with a cuddly baby and a book, I’m pretty sure.

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Pippin the Never Wean

And introducing a baby to real foods — it’s messy, and it’s another thing I have to remember to pack, and it generates a ton of waste, and there are lots of conflicting opinions, and it all seems so fraught.

Our pediatrician (DR. LITTLE, BEST PEDIATRICIAN NAME EVER) told us to start solids with Pippin at 4 months, so we did, with pureed sweet potato, and he hated it and pretty much kept on hating everything. (See photo below.) I had planned to wean him (in the American sense) at 12 months, but if I had, he would have been forced to subsist on boogers and raisins (pretty much what he lives on now, along with peanut butter). He seems to have inherited my gag reflex, which sucks for all of us. Recently, we bribed him with ice cream to try Scout’s avocado. When he finally did, he promptly puked all over himself. J was appalled. “Can I have my ice cream now?” he immediately asked, unfazed.

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This is Pippin’s opinion of birthday cake. Cake, people. He fed the rest of it to the dog.

 

With Scout, we are doing things differently. We didn’t bother starting her until a bit after six months, and we’ve been loosely trying Baby Led Weaning principles. Things are going well, and it could be because we are so wise, but is probably just because she’s her own person (and maybe because she takes after her father, John “I Like All Food” Bowers). This weekend at book club, I wouldn’t give her any brownie or tea cake and she kicked her legs with energy and indignation. FEED ME!

Cool it, girl.

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Fried egg, a Bowers breakfast specialty

But it turns out having a baby who’s an enthusiastic eater carries its own challenges for me. And so, just as I felt weird and conflicted about my reluctant eater, now I feel weird and conflicted about my enthusiastic eater. I worry that she’ll choke on something I’ve prepared incorrectly (unlike Pippin, at the same age, she still has no teeth and enjoys nomming on such exotic fare as pesto meatballs and smushed blueberries). I worry about all the food stains I’ll have to get out of her clothes, and mine. I worry that she’ll stop nursing entirely before I’m ready.

In the early months, nursing feels like a project my baby and I tackle together, and it takes both of us to make ecological breastfeeding work. Moving on to the next chapter is a tricky, messy transition to navigate.

 

Learning to Love Housekeeping, Pt. 2

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It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)

Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:

  • Stepping up my bread game with ciabatta — I’ve been using this recipe, which is a nice baby step away from the bread machine. The first time we had it for dinner, J was completely incredulous when I told him I made it, and I love that it makes two loaves, so I can share one. (When we show restraint, that is.)
  • Compound butter — I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I should. I’ve been making compound butter occasionally for the last couple of years, and this year I made it for Christmas. I bought two two-pound logs of Amish butter and softened it, then added sea salt and chopped parsley and a ton of garlic I’d roasted in the slow cooker. I tried to shape it into attractive pucks with a silicone mold (which I do not recommend — stick with little logs or balls), and gave most of it away for Christmas gifts. I froze the rest, and we are on our last couple bits, I think, although I keep fishing more from the depths of the freezer. Anyway, it’s been really nice to have it to break out when we have guests over, or to use in mashed potatoes, or to sauté something special. I loosely based mine on this recipe.
  • Compiling my own cookbook In the past couple of years, I’ve gotten into the bad habit of either a.) printing a recipe and then stuffing it on my cookbook rack or b.) just risking my phone (or laptop) to read the recipe online as I go. The stack has gotten so out of control that I now just print a new copy instead of trying to find the old one. So I’m putting together my own cookbook using Createmycookbook.com, which I don’t love, aesthetically, but it’s very straightforward and affordable.
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This is my first cobbled-together cookbook, which I love, but which is pretty well unnavigable, except by memory.

Also, because I was embarrassed after posting about it last week, I finally straightened up my (side of the) bedroom.

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I should really hang the bat print from my sister (which is framed, at least!) and tuck away cords better and so forth, but since it looks like we’re moving soon (!!!), I don’t really see the point. Still, my bits of the bedroom are no longer a festering wasteland of not-clean-not-unclean-laundry-and-baby-hazards, so that’s something.

The Perks of Being an Adult

For me, one of the best parts of being an adult is getting to finally respond in kind, to turn around with all the generosity and love that’s been showered on me, and pour it back out.

Last night was one of those nights. We had over J’s research students in the evening, and the morning before was spent vacuuming and baking bread and quiche and brownies, waffling about whether to say grace at dinner (yes) and whether to get fancy sodas for the kids, since we wouldn’t be serving alcohol (also yes). Should I introduce myself as Katherine? Mrs. Bowers? Mrs. Grimm Bowers? It was all new territory for us.

As a college student at a lovely, tiny college, I enjoyed the same occasional hospitality from my professors. Though I loved my college years, I was terribly, incurably homesick, and being a part of a family for an evening meal, or stopping by for tea, or attending a backyard cookout, helped me feel more a part of the wider world, not some untethered dorm-dweller, wild and free.

The best parts of parenting are the same. I remember my dad’s voice hoarse from bedtime renditions of Frog and Toad Are Friends, and recently we snagged our own copy at Goodwill. I remember the feeling of surest safety as my mom or dad carried me not-quite-sleeping into the house, and now I heave my own children, limp with sleep, onto my shoulder. People, older people, pour out their loving kindness to you, and you, in turn, pour that same kindness out to others when you grow up.

Hosting students was one of the things we talked about in fall 2014, as we started to position our family for the endless hurdles of academic applications, unaware the situation would instantly get stickier with the sweet surprise of Eleanor Ruth. I had these visions that followed me as I lay morning sick on the couch and J left for interview after interview in places I could only imagine. (Iowa!) Someday, we’d have a house of warmth and hospitality, humble and homey, people coming and going, always room at the table for one more.

Last night, as we sat in our living room 500 miles from those dreams, surrounded by young voices, eating brownies and discussing Narnia and Hogwarts, I felt the satisfaction of a dream achieved.

It was a good feeling, and one that sustains me this morning, in the wreckage of dirty dishes and alluring leftover brownies. Maybe it’s different for you. Maybe you’ll love the world with your medical expertise, or your lawn mower. But be sure that you do. You’ve been loved, and you owe it to the world.

 

Learning to Love Housekeeping

It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)

Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:

  • Roasting vegetables: For the first five years of our marriage, there were only two varieties of vegetables J and I prepared at home: green salad and jarred pasta sauce. We aren’t a lot better now, but I’m trying, honest. Lately, I’ve been moseying over to our local Sharp Shopper (which really deserves its own post on its manifold attractions), where I snag a bunch of vegetables that look attractive (HA, says 15-year-old Katherine), and then one day when the babes are sleeping or playing independently, I prep and roast them all on one pan, then divide them up and use them in stuff. I get to feel smug about serving crispity roast brussel sprouts, and roast broccoli in my pasta sauce and mushrooms and asparagus in my quiche. It reminds me of the line in Sisterland — “I heard myself say to Ben, ‘I’m going to compost the rest of the bok choy,’ and pretty much everything I was smug about then was encapsulated in that single sentence.
  • Hampers for the kids: I asked my parents to get Pippin a truck hamper for Christmas, and they did, even though now they think I’m even lamer than the year I asked for a vacuum for my birthday. (It’s a really great vacuum.) So now we have a hamper for Pippin’s room and I appropriated a toy bin for Scout’s room to use as a hamper there, and WHO KNEW, Pippin actually loves to put dirty clothes in the hamper. So each weekday morning the three of us straighten up the kids’ rooms. It takes about ten minutes and then their rooms don’t look like crap. Please note: our room still looks like crap, because ten minutes won’t begin to put a dent in it.
  • Evening audiobooks: I’ve mentioned them before, but seriously, one of my favorite parts of the day is now cleaning up after dinner. J takes the kids downstairs to “bond” with them (wrestle and watch David Attenborough documentaries, as far as I can tell), and until Scout starts up her dinosaur chorus of shrieks summoning her personal milk truck, I wash dishes and straighten up and fold and put away laundry. And all the while I listen to Librivox recordings of classics, or, more recently, digital audiobooks from the library. Free hands, clear head, can’t lose, or something like that.
  • Slow cooker batch prep: On the days when I’m not using the slow cooker to make the meal itself, I try to put it to work for something else. Great things I’ve found to make in there: caramelized onions; roasted garlic; and even my arch nemesis, dried beans. Having these pre-prepared ingredients makes it easier to make meals special, and if I never have to sauté another onion at dinnertime as the baby bounces frantically in her exersaucer and the toddler hurtles trucks under my feet, it will be too soon.

Mater’s Tall Tales

Some of my most-regretted purchases as a parent come from thrift shops.

At the time, it seems like such a small price to pay. $.50 for a toy or book and Pippin will give me leave to wander and browse, to find myself a pair of jeans, or score some pajamas for Eleanor’s second winter.

But then we end up with bizarre stuff, because inevitably he chooses the worst item on offer. We’ve lugged home decrepit fire trucks immediately (and eternally) relegated to the “repair shop” of Papa’s desk. It’s how we ended up buying back (!!!) a terrible Bob the Builder board book I’d donated to the family center tag sale. And fairly recently, we came home with our very own copy of Mater’s Tall Tales.

Pippin loves Tow Mater, and this book has become the bane of our existence. He wants it read to him day in and day out, and when we aren’t reading it to him, he’s “reading” it to his poor unsuspecting little sister. He’s memorized it to a hitherto unprecedented degree, and when a sweet guest tried to skim it in her reading, he firmly pointed out the passages she’d skipped.

At first it was kind of fun to channel my South Georgia college roommates and lay the accent on nice and thick, and to be fair, the book is gently funny for the first 37 readings. (It beats the hell out of that Bob the Builder book, anyway.) Eventually, my hatred of Mater began to fester.

All the while, though, these last few weeks, we’ve been making grownup plans for Pippin. We joined waitlists for a preschool and a homeschool co-op, and started him on swim lessons, which he bravely attends in order to earn a yogurt raisin reward afterwards.

And I realized I’ve been overlooking what a big deal Mater’s Tall Tales is in Pippin’s life: not just another truck book, the fruit of a lifelong obsession, but a step toward literacy. As he flips the pages himself, quoting the adored book verbatim, I find, for the moment, I can remain patient.

After all, ladies and gentlecars, soon he’ll be reading on his own, and maybe I’ll miss this endless stream of inane truck books.

 

What kind of monster invented jumbo jars of peanut butter?

I’m guessing some childless jerk who has never known the stress of the lunchtime rush compounded with knuckles smeared with peanut butter as he frantically scrapes the bottom of the cavernous jar.

I hate you, Giant Peanut Butter Jar Man.