A Few Pictures from the Farm

We had a bit of a drive yesterday because we went out to Bethpage, about an hour outside of Nashville, to visit some dear friends on their farm. As we drove, I gave Noah a sheet with some words he’d printed on it and asked him to read the words out to me. In response, he crumpled up the paper and threw it on the floor where none of us could reach it, as the kids were trapped in their car seats and I was driving.

So often, people ask me how homeschool is going, and I usually just say “It’s going well,” or “It’s great!” It’s hard to answer honestly, because it is going well, and it is great, and I do truly love it most of the time. My favorite times, the times I feel so lucky and content, are when we spend an afternoon baking bread and listening to French tapes or when we curl up on the couch and learn about Native Americans and figure out where on the globe Christopher Columbus was trying to sail. I love Mondays at the Frist with friends, Wednesdays at the zoo with friends, Fridays at the community center with friends, math lessons at the coffee shop together, and mornings I spend in the kitchen, the smells of breakfast still lingering as the dishwasher runs, listening to my children playing together upstairs. I love the slowness and ease of our days, the fact that we can stay in pajamas until noon if we want to, there’s no rushing to get out the door, we can watch Planet Earth in bed with hot chocolate on a cold day or spend the whole day at the park if it’s warm. I love that Tuesdays and Thursdays after my kids get home from “school” we can do whatever we want to do, we don’t have to worry about homework or studying for tests or getting home and getting dinner ready quickly so they can get in bed on time and wake up to do it all over again… we can spend the rest of the afternoon riding bikes at the playground until the last light from the day fades below the horizon.

Yet sometimes, times like yesterday, I feel ready to throw in the towel. At that moment yesterday, when Noah refused to read even five tiny words just out of sheer stubbornness, it brought all the doubt, all the insecurities, all the frustrations I’ve felt this year into sharp focus. I was so angry and, even though I know I’m not supposed to let this happen, my feelings were hurt. It seems like Noah and I are always fighting about schoolwork these days; if it’s not reading it’s writing, math, or piano practice. And this is on top of all the other things we fight about (“Stop stealing your sister’s baby doll!” “Don’t punch your friend!” “No! You’re six for God’s sake! It’s time you start wiping your own butt!”). I’m not sure how to cope anymore because I’m all out of energy and I’m all out of creative ideas. Advice from friends is tricky because everyone feels so strongly about it one way or another. I really am so grateful to hear encouragement and kind opinions, but I always know exactly what someone is going to say before they say it. Parents whose kids are in school are like, of course you should just put him in school, school is great and that’s what kids do. Parents whose kids are homeschooling are like, of course you should keep homeschooling and it’s just a phase and it takes time to hit your stride. I obviously have reasons for wanting to do both, but I can honestly say it makes me sad when I think I might not be homeschooling anymore. I’m torn in two; I don’t know what to do.

Lance and I opened a bottle of wine last night and talked late into the night (for us, 11:30) about it all. We went back and forth, and came up with some strategies and experiments (for instance, Lance is going to start doing school with Noah on Saturdays and I’m going to take Wednesdays off so all the school stuff doesn’t always come from me), and we’ve given ourselves a deadline of the end of the month to see if things improve.

In the meantime, I’m trying to live in the moment. One of the things I love about homeschooling is the freedom it offers us and the time we’re able to spend together. Yesterday the kids and I spent the whole day at our friends’ farm. It snowed off and on while we were there, and out there in the wide open fields and the woods the snow looks so beautiful and clean and white. I wish I’d brought my real camera, which I never bring anywhere anymore. I did manage to snap some great pictures with my phone, though.

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Weekly Menu: Day Late Edition

I suddenly realized what day it was a few minutes ago. We were snowed in all weekend, which was lovely and fun; we went sledding, had snowball fights, drank hot chocolate a few dozen times a day, and watched a lot of movies with the fire going. We also ate a lot of food… a LOT of food. Most of it involved chocolate chips. Now that the snow is all melted and the kids are back in school, I’m trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy over here, food-wise. I went grocery shopping yesterday for the first time in a week and a half, and it seems the rest of Nashville needed to do the same as they were sold out of almost everything I needed. (And no, I didn’t go for milk and bread.)

So, I swapped my new recipe of the week for a frozen crock-pot meal yesterday (Thai green curry and it was major good), and I’ll make my new recipe (another from my new Sweet Paul cookbook) on Wednesday. I’m headed to the Turnip Truck to find my missing ingredients right after I finish this cup of coffee….

Tuesday: fish tacos with mango, corn, and avocado salsa
Wednesday: roasted vegetable shepherd’s pie (via Sweet Paul)
Thursday: chicken parmesan meatballs, kale salad
Friday: slow-cooker apple chicken stew, crusty bread

I know half the nation got an insane amount of snow this weekend, but it was truly unprecedented here in the south, and I would be remiss if I didn’t post pictures. We’re so lucky to live within walking distance to the golf course, where it’s tradition to sled down the steepest hill with about 300 of your neighbors. It’s dangerous as fuck, sure, but it’s so fun. Noah was freezing so we finally had to give it up, trek back across the golf course and through our neighborhood home, but I think I could have stayed out there all day. Even with the chaos of sledding and playing, there’s something so peaceful about a world of freshly fallen snow. Everything seems quiet and still. I hope it snows again this season. I’ve never seen anything as beautiful.

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Weekly menu: Did I mention it’s cold?

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My phone tells me that while it’s a balmy 14 degrees outside, IT FEELS LIKE IT’S FOUR. FOUR. As in four degrees away from feeling like ZERO DEGREES. (I’m sorry; as a lifelong southerner I’m just fascinated by that.) 

I love winter foods. Thick, rich sauces and warm baked dishes are perfect comfort foods. Also perfect for adding some nice insulating fat to your thighs (evolutionarily important when it’s cold, y’all). Here’s what I’m planning on cooking this week. (Message me for recipes not linked!)

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Monday: Trout with creamy dill sauce (from the Sweet Paul cookbook), herbed couscous with golden raisins, sauteed chard (wine pairing: Chardonnay)

Tuesday: Crunchy beef tacos with spinach and guacamole, fire roasted salsa (from the Thug Kitchen cookbook, which is so hilarious I’ve been reading it like a novel) (wine pairing: margaritas!)

Wednesday: Roasted vegetable, spinach, and mozzarella panini with balsamic reduction, roasted sweet potato fries (wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir)

Thursday: Baked BBQ chicken; sweet potato, broccoli, and cashew toasts; spinach salad (wine pairing: Malbec)

Friday: French bread pizzas, spinach salad (wine pairing: Syrah or Zinfandel)

Today I’m hanging out by my fireplace with some hot cups of coffee while my kids are at their grandparents’ house. It is a little weird how quiet things are… I miss those buggers when they’re not here. But I’ll survive. ;) Stay warm this week, friends. I’m planning on doing a lot of cuddling and reading on the couch for homeschool, a lot of curling up under a blanket to watch movies with the Hubs, a lot of cozy sweaters with leggings, and a lot of warm beverages involving bourbon.

Weekly Menu: Finally Winter Edition

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We’ve been having a really hard time re-adjusting after the break. We’re not waking up until 8:30, don’t eat breakfast until 9:30, and then we’ll be in pajamas ’till noon. We’re all going to sleep really late, too, which perpetuates the cycle. On top of that, Lance and I got into the bad habit, over the holiday, of drinking too much. I’m still trying to break myself of that one, because it makes me feel sluggish in the morning. But it’s finally cold outside, and all I want is hot chocolate with bourbon or hot toddies every night, and to stay in my flannel sheets late into the morning.

School has been slow, too. I was lax about everything over the break; I didn’t make Noah practice piano or read at all, and now I’m fighting with him to pick it back up again. I lost my temper with him over the weekend. When he complains so much about school and refuses to do his work, I start to fear he’s going to grow up and not have ever learned how to do simple addition or read road signs, at the very least. He complains about his homework from his tutorial program as well as our own schoolwork, so I know it wouldn’t improve if he went to public school. He’s just not one to be “demanded around,” as he says. I’m not trying to demand him around, but I’m still trying to figure out how to make some of the routine things we have to do (reading, writing, math, piano) more appealing. Part of me just thinks, SUCK IT UP, DUDE! He’s so spoiled! Everything isn’t fun. Everything doesn’t exist to entertain and please Noah. And the other part of me thinks, man, I’ve got to up my creativity game.

But even when I feel like I’m at my creative best, homeschooling can be so challenging sometimes. This morning, for example. I had planned a lesson on Monet, showed the kids a bunch of pictures, talked about Impressionism and capturing light and shadow, talked with THEM about how to make paintings look like they’re brighter or darker, then set them to work on their own paintings, giving them only one instruction: try to make light. They painted for a grand total of three minutes, and then they were done. I didn’t even have time to load the dishwasher. If I could title both of their paintings, Violet’s would be “Can I Be Done Yet?” and Noah’s would be “I Don’t Give a Fuck About This.” It’s discouraging.

So I’m heaving a deep sigh as they “play” outside (read: continuously open the door to tell on each other and ask if they can come in yet), heating up some cinnamon, clove, and orange potpourri on the stove, and thinking about the comforting food we’ll be eating this week. It’s finally cold outside (28 degrees today!), so I’ve planned some meals that will stick to our ribs. As always, message me if you want any of these recipes that don’t have links!

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Monday: Greek chicken and orzo soup, spinach and gorgonzola salad, crusty no-knead bread

Tuesday: black bean, chipotle, corn, and sweet potato tacos with spinach; guacamole and tortilla chips

Wednesday: baked lemon and dill salmon, balsamic roasted brussels sprouts, mashed garlic red potatoes

Thursday: Spaghetti and turkey meatballs, kale salad

Friday: Slow cooker corn and potato chowder (I just did a crock pot exchange with some fellow moms and got six glorious crock pot meals out of it!)

I’m doing my best to stay away from sugar during the week (another New Year goal), and I’m limiting my alcohol intake as well. I gotta get back into the swing of things. (But thank God for sweatshirts and leggings, because although I’m technically no longer in pajamas, I sorta feel like I still am. And while I am no longer in my bed, I’m about to go curl up under a blanket to read with the kids. Baby steps, is all I’m saying.) Stay warm and healthy this week, y’all.

Violet’s Room

Around autumn of last year, we started to realize that Violet and Noah needed their own spaces. They were fighting more when it was just the two of them up there, and when they had playmates over they were fighting over who got to play in their room. It was worst of all when just Noah had a friend over; he and his playmate would go in their shared bedroom and shut Violet out. This is all in addition to them waking each other up in the middle of the night and/or at the crack of dawn.

They’ve always shared a room, so Noah was really skeptical about the separation plan. Violet was WAY into it. The problem was, our spare bedroom is downstairs. Noah was flat out not about moving down there, and Lance and I agreed. We didn’t want to put Vi down there either. It seemed so weird to have one of them downstairs, but it also felt weird for us to be down there. There is usually at least one kid (and often both) in our bed on any given night, so it wasn’t practical, and we think they’re still too young for us to be so far away from them when we’re all sleeping.

We have three rooms upstairs, and one bathroom. Two of the rooms are bedrooms, and the other is a tiny space where we had our TV and a comfy couch, and most of the kids’ toys. I got the weirdest idea to transform it into Violet’s room. There isn’t a door, and the frame is so wide it would take major construction to fit a door there, so it didn’t seem like that great of a plan, to be honest. I discussed it all with Vi, and she grew more and more excited about having her own room (“Like Scarlett has HER own room!”), so we decided to make it work. We got creative and put some heavy drapes over the doorframe in lieu of a door.

We moved some furniture around so we could bring the couch down (Lance just LOVES it when we do that), brought the TV down (I can’t wait to get rid of that damn thing. Projector and screen are in our future for sure.), and took apart their bunk beds. I have to admit it, our home works so much better now. Not just their rooms, but everything. We had to move our dining room to make room for another couch, but I love it so much more now. Everything is cozy and welcoming, and most of their toys now live in their rooms, which is much nicer than them being all over the house.

Most importantly, Violet LOVES her new room. We put the finishing touches on it just before Christmas. Noah has had a harder time adjusting to sleep without Violet there, and insists one of us stay with him until he falls asleep, but Violet has had no problems adjusting at all. They both like to play in there, despite its tiny size, and I think the room is adorable. I took some pictures, if you want to see! (Of course, it totally looks like this all the time. There are just NEVER dress up clothes and clothes from her dresser all over the floor every single day from the 25 times she insists on changing her outfits. Similarly, she absolutely never carelessly strews her play dishes, dolls, and every single book on her shelf onto every surface, so that I have to help her pick up her room at night before she goes to bed JUST FOR FIRE SAFETY. Nope, that sure doesn’t happen, no not ever.) (Her college dorm is going to be a nightmare. Be forewarned, Violet’s future roommates.)

Here’s looking down the hall, Lance and my bedroom door at the end, and her room behind the drapes, then peeking into her sweet room.

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There’s so much her of her personality in this space. I’m so happy with it, and I’m so happy that SHE is so happy with it. It’ll be at least a few years before she wants a bigger space and/or wants a closet and/or realizes it’s unfair that she doesn’t have direct access to the bathroom, like her brother does, right?

Weekly Menu: New Year’s Resolution Version

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Well, hello! Happy New Year! The influx of 2015 memory pictures on Facebook can only mean one thing: time to set some New Year Goals. One of mine is to make time for my personal blog, which I’ve basically abandoned and let rot until it smells like a pile of compost (another New Year Goal: empty the compost bin more than once a month). I actually had a moment a minute ago, when I couldn’t remember my password and username to log in to this cobwebbed old blog, when I wondered if this site actually still exists. You’ll be happy to know you’re not seeing a mirage. Apparently Out of Kadesh, your source for way too much crude familial information and swear words that put hair on my mother-in-law’s chest is, in fact, still fucking here. IT’S THE FUCKING NEW YEAR, BITCHES!

I’ve spent some time thinking about what’s important to me, and guess where it led? You probably guessed it: directly to the kitchen. (Oh, you thought I was going to say bedroom? Well, that’s another post for another day. But don’t worry, I’m sure that day will be sooner than you hope.) I have a lot of food-related goals this year, and I’m really excited about them. Yesterday I wrote down about 75 dinnertime conversation questions on little slips of paper (Is violence ever justified? What character from a book best describes you? If you could have any superpower, what would it be?), folded them up, and put them in a bowl that now lives inside the old cabinet my grandmother gave me.

[Side story time!** My grandmother owns all this land out in Linden, Tennessee, around 100 acres. She and my grandfather, her then husband, bought it back when my dad and his brother were just kids. There’s a creek that runs through the property from a fresh spring in this little cave, and together my dad’s family built a one-room wooden cabin about 30 paces from the spring. The cabin had no electricity and no running water, so they built an outhouse in the woods, too. There was a wood-burning stove in the middle of the cabin, a big hand-made farm table in the kitchen, a bed covered with a patchwork quilt in the corner, and an open loft up above that looked down over the kitchen. There were bookshelves on one side of the house filled with board games and old books and treasures they found in the woods, and a barrel with walking sticks for long hikes and adventures following the creek and up the hills and through the trees.

When my brother and sister and I were kids, my parents used to take us out there once or twice a year to go camping. My parents had to spend the first hour or so of every trip ridding the cabin of resident mice and wasps, by which time we kids had been to the spring and back to collect a big cooler full of fresh water. I remember one time when my dad dipped that big blue ladle that hung by the front screen door into the spring and drank the cool clean water, he closed his eyes and told us how good it tasted. I thought that was so weird at the time; water doesn’t have a taste! Only Dr. Pepper has a taste. Looking back, I realize it must have been the sweetest water in the world.

We ate most of our meals by cooking on the campfire outside, but to this day one of the most delicious dinners I ever ate was this beef and vegetable soup my Granny made over the camp stove in that little kitchen. I don’t even know how that stove operated… propane? Sterno candles? And I don’t remember for sure, but I guess it must have been fall, because we stayed inside where it was warm for most of the day and it seems the wood stove was burning full time, fueled every so often by someone throwing a log inside it. She’d been cooking that stew slowly all afternoon and the smell of the beef and onions and broth permeated the little house. When we ate, the kerosene lamps were burning low and everything was romantic and cozy and warm in the cabin, the sound of the crackling fire in the background. We dipped big hunks of bread into the broth and the soup warmed up our insides, too.

Some of my most favorite childhood memories are from that cabin and the woods that surrounded it, so when Granny announced, my senior year of college, that they were going to tear it down and build a permanent house there (complete with plumbing and electricity), I was devastated. To soften the blow, she gave me an old wooden cabinet that had been there for as long as I could remember, a piece of Linden to go with me. Its shelves were sagging from years of holding heavy dishes, the drawer didn’t work, and its knobs were missing, but I loved it. Lance and I had just gotten married when they cleaned out that old cabin and tore it down, and we brought the cabinet home, stripped it, repainted it, and gave it some new hardware. When you open the glass door, you can still see the original paint on the inside, a bright sunshine yellow, and I love that. I’ll never part with that old thing, even if it falls apart into splinters. It’s a fixture in our kitchen now, too, housing plates, linens, a tea set, and now a bowl full of questions. **End side story time!]

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The goal, as ever, is to foster conversation at dinner that gets my kids wanting to linger at the table. Noah drew a question last night (If you could change places with your parents for one day, what would you do differently?), and it was so much fun to hang out together and talk. The kids stayed at the table with us for over 30 minutes, and those of you with young children know what a big deal that is.

Another New Year Goal is to write down my menu to provide endless inspiration for both you, dear Reader, and myself. I’m also trying to make sure we have at least one leafy green with every dinner, Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays and Mondays in 2016 are Gourmet Mondays, meaning I’ll be trying one new recipe per week. If you have any favorite or interesting recipes, send them my way! I’ll post them here and we can all share with each other.

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Le Menu:

Sunday: Butter chicken and collard greens over rice, roasted curry cauliflower, naan

Monday: Spaghetti carbonara (recipe via Sweet Paul’s cookbook, which I got for Christmas!), spinach and kale salad

Tuesday: roasted chickpea and winter squash tacos with kale slaw and avocado-mango salsa

Wednesday: Baked ziti, spinach and kale salad

Thursday: Granny’s beef and vegetable soup (similar to this one), crusty no-knead bread for tearing off and dipping (Make sure to start this bread the night before, if you’re making it. SO easy, but takes time.)

Friday: Kale and ricotta pizza (and a movie!), salad

(Pro tip: sub sausage and beef for veggie crumbles to make the ziti and soup vegetarian, or just leave the meat out altogether. They’ll both still be delicious!)

discombobulated thoughts on serenity from a total non-expert

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“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Most of us recognize the serenity prayer even if we’ve never been to an AA meeting. It’s a beautiful sentiment, one on which to truly meditate and chew. The thoughts are quite similar to what I’ve learned about the practice of mindfulness, and it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about lately.

In all our lives, there are things we desperately wish we could change, but which we cannot. When do we stop pushing against them, stop resisting, and begin the (sometimes excruciating) process of acceptance? Psychologists say there are five steps to grief: first is denial, then anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. In other words, a person sometimes has to go through this whole emotional process before finally reaching that end goal of acceptance.

Acceptance is hard. Sometimes it feels less like acceptance and more like failure, like giving up. If we keep fighting, we reason, if we keep resisting, we won’t have to accept that the thing we wish would change will never change. We’re not sure we’ll survive if we aren’t resisting. But if we do keep fighting-keep getting angry, keep denying, keep bargaining-we won’t ever be able to move into a place of acceptance.

My question then becomes, what does acceptance look like? In my case, it feels like emotional disconnection is what is holding me together, and keeping me from melting into a puddle all over the floor. But that can’t be the answer. Surely the path to serenity doesn’t include apathy. Apathy disconnects us from one another, and that’s not good for our souls. So how does one maintain acceptance without emotionally disengaging? Are the two mutually exclusive?

The practice of mindfulness tells us that our “ego” lies to us, making us believe that letting go of that resistance would cause us to slip into apathy or chaos. I’ve been talking to a dear friend who has practiced mindfulness for many years, and she has become my unofficial guru. As I struggled through all this a few days ago, she reminded me that “in a true, deeper state of being we are actually open to our suffering.” It makes sense, because vulnerability is what connects us to each other, and also to ourselves. Some of the world’s greatest art has been borne out of suffering, which tells us that only through vulnerability can we know ourselves and others. So our ego lies to us by making us afraid… afraid of letting go, afraid of truly feeling, afraid of opening ourselves up and being vulnerable.

In a world where emotions are feared, we’re taught to control and suppress. A good actor knows not to TRY to cry during a moving emotional performance, because real people don’t try to cry. Real people try NOT to cry. We use “over-emotional” and “over-dramatic” as insults. We say we respect a man who isn’t afraid to cry, but if he cries too much we slip into making a joke of it, or complaining about it to our girlfriends. Society teaches us to toughen up. It’s inappropriate to cry or show negative emotions in the workplace, so when we’re feeling overwhelmed we lock ourselves in the bathroom to cry in secret. We apologize for “losing it” when we do show any kind of negative emotion, even amongst our friends. Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election in part because she lost “her cool” and dared to shed a stressed tear on live television, in a clip that was played over and over again and analyzed ad nauseum. Crying is vulnerable, and vulnerability is weakness. Our ego convinces us that suppressing that vulnerability is the only way to hold ourselves together.

Ego convinces us we must resist at all costs. Resist the pain and feel better fast. Resist acceptance. Deny what is. Of course, that denial doesn’t allow us to control anything, but does give us the illusion of control, which we feel is the most important thing. And ego tells us that if we let go of that control, we’ll either become robotic and soulless or be completely insane. But what if neither are true? Could we potentially let go of control, allow what is to be, get to that place of emotional acceptance, and instead of going crazy, actually achieve a more still, more peaceful, kinder and more loving state of being?

I’m worried about it all, because I’ve built walls up to protect myself. The walls have made my heart feel pretty apathetic, but I’m realizing how painful that is, how disconnecting from myself and others. There’s scar tissue underneath the hardness, like I’ve never actually healed. I’m worried to begin the painful process of tearing down those walls, truly allowing myself to be cleansed. I don’t know what it looks like to accept but not do so without emotion. I don’t know what it looks like to be calm in my heart and still open myself up to vulnerability.

I think maybe the first step is just allowing myself to grieve for what I wanted. Allowing myself to feel those negative feelings that come before acceptance: anger, sadness, loss. Reminding myself that these emotions are okay; I have the right to feel. Acknowledging those feelings and allowing them to exist. When fear comes, reminding myself to take it one day at a time, each instance as its own, not rushing myself to feel a certain way, but allowing my feelings to be there. Then, and here’s the most important part, letting go. Not staying in that place of resistance. In doing so, I have to believe I won’t slip into chaos, but that peace and loving kindness will envelop me. And after I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable and open, acceptance will come. I mean a full acceptance, not one in which I am disengaged and cold, but one in which I am open, loving, at one with my true self and others, engaging and operating from a place of stillness and serenity.