Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summery Pasta Salad

It's not really summer until I make this salad. It's my mom's recipe, and you won't find it very scientific, but as long as you get what's important--a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables--you can't go wrong. Aren't most pasta salads sort of bland? This one, my friends, is not.

I've been working on using up my pantry supplies before we move, so I used the ziti I had on hand, but my favorite way to make this is with bowtie pasta, mostly because the little bowties please me. I've also made it with brown rice and other whole grains to good effect.

(Sidenote: Today I also made these cornbread muffins and these millet muffins, in an attempt to use up cornmeal and millet from my panty, and they were both awesome, but the second ones--from 101 Cookbooks--are probably my new favorite. Oh my word, were they good. I pretty much want to be Heidi Swanson when I grow up. And I pretty much think all baked goods should have millet in them. Can't beat that perky little crunch. Also, do you own Super Natural Every Day? I'm thinking of just cooking every recipe in there. It's never done me wrong, and I find looking through it soothing and inspiring when I'm culinarily stuck. End lengthy sidenote.)

Back to the salad. Here's what you need:

Mama's Summery Pasta Salad

1/2 pound pasta (I've also used rice and other whole grains.)

A few cups of protein (chicken is used here, since we had some cooked to use up, but I bet it would be    good with beans (chickpeas?) or tofu

A few fresh and gorgeous summer vegetables (Pictured here: 1 red pepper, 1 onion, 2 small zucchini, small container of mushrooms.)

Dressing: 2 parts olive oil, 1 part rice vinegar (I don't think I'd try another vinegar here), a big handful of fresh basil, a big handful of fresh cilantro, a good-sized clove of garlic, a bit of mustard (for emulsifier) salt, pepper, sweetener (I used stevia, because I can't taste it when I use the good stuff, but sugar would work fine.)

Here's what you do:

Prepare the protein however you need to; prepare the pasta. Sauté the veggies in a bit of olive oil. I added a bit of salt so they wouldn't turn brown, but you don't need to worry about seasoning them much. Soften the onion, but don't overcook the rest. You want them to still have some bite.

To make the dressing: I used about 4 ounces of olive oil, 2 ounces of vinegar, and some more water to thin things out a bit at the end. The key to homemade dressing is not to skimp on salt or sweetener, in my opinion. I thought I couldn't make them as well as my sisters and my mom, until I figured out I was being too shy. This is for a big bowl. Don't be shy. And maybe it's obvious, but be prepared for the dressing to come out bright green. It's the best part of this salad, I think. You feel like you're eating a long summer day.

I hope you love it. Let me know if you give it a try.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I'll Blink Again

Our bed is finally fixed. After a few failed attempts that made me cry and despair and blame Sam entirely (and unfairly), it's fixed. Even though Henrietta has been sick most of the week and Sam got sick this weekend, and I seem to be coming down with it too, last night we pulled the guts out of our four-poster, and dropped a metal bedframe inside (this one--which I can recommend), and it worked like gangbusters. The baby was crying in her crib most of time we worked, since it was clearly bedtime to everyone involved except for her, and there were screws and shards of wood scattered everywhere. Once we finally had it set up, I went and got her, and she clung to me gratefully, resting her head against my shoulder. She was in a little plain white onesie, since it's full-blown summer here now, and her nose was running. I set her down between us and we lay there on either side of the bed like lumps, while she crawled back and forth between us, ricocheting like a pinball. She was so exhausted that she had spilled over into hysterical, so she was laughing as she crawled, and all we had to do was poke her to get her to giggle. To her, to all of us, this was heaven: our little family, all of us spent but laughing, lying together on a bed. I think evenings like that were exactly what I envisioned when I longed for a family. Seems like I blinked in the middle of longing, and now here we are, piled together and in love. I'm sure I'll blink again and she'll be grown.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

They Seemed to Shine

On Saturday night, Henrietta slept through the night for the first time. No waking at 1:30 to cry it out. She just slept, and in the morning, when she woke up, I felt like she was my best friend and we had been reunited after a long and beautiful journey. If she were a little older, I would have begged to hear every detail of her dreams. I was so in love with her.

I set her in her highchair with a scattering of Cheerios so I could make my breakfast, and took pictures of her. Her sleep-through-the-night photo shoot.

And it was probably just my extra sleep, but at church that day, I somehow knew so much better how to deal with her. She sat on my lap through the first meeting, and I kept a steady stream of toys coming. One at a time: a block, a car, a little ball, another block, a zebra. A container of cereal puffs which I let her reach in to get for herself. She lounged on my lap, her bare feet rising now and then, and the flutter of the flower on her headband was movingly beautiful. It's when I noticed the headband flower's beauty that I thought, "This is what it must feel like to be rested. I'm rested. I must be rested."

When they brought the sacrament around--pinches of bread and water in little clear cups--I realized she would probably enjoy participating. It's the first time I've ever given her the sacrament, and I admit that at first it was just to buy us a few extra minutes. When you have an active baby/kid, you'll do just about anything to buy a couple minutes. I took a piece of bread for me, and another for her, and gave it to her. And quickly enough, the importance of what I was doing, the meaning of it, blossomed in my chest. I remembered being a kid, taking the bread and water when it passed, keeping the cup and playing with it until my mother took it away. I flashed through my adulthood, sitting every Sunday in those benches, taking the sacrament. I thought of all of the Sundays I had rushed to church, hoping to just make it in time for that ritual, and of all the Sundays it meant something to me, even when my faith was parched, nearly dried up. I thought of taking the sacrament in a youth hostel common room in Scotland with my BYU study abroad group, Loch Lomand still and magnificent out the picture windows.  I thought of being on bed rest when I was pregnant with Henrietta, and the men from my ward who came and knelt at the end of my couch, blessing a slice of bread and a cup of water from my kitchen, Henrietta moving inside of me while I listened to them pray.

She took the bread from my hand, and fed it to herself, splitting the piece in two to make it last. When the water came, I tipped it up to her mouth, and it spilled a little. Beads of water landed on her chin and neck, and in the lights of the chapel, they seemed to shine.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Post On Sleep

My favorite picture. Possibly ever.

There are two things you should know before I tell you this story: the first is that I'm a lousy sleeper. I'm one of the lousiest, and I wear earplugs, these ones, or I would never sleep at all. This allows me to hear the baby when she's actually making significant noise from the other room, and not just fluttering her eyelashes, which I swear I'd hear. And the other thing you should know is that our bed is broken in a sort of complicated way, so I can only sleep with my head where my feet should be or I dream that I'm sleeping on a mountainside all night long--really, that happened.

But lately I haven't been sleeping much anyway. Not with earplugs, not with my head where my feet should be or anywhere else. Henrietta has been breaking records in the wake-up-at-night department. Gosh, it's been awful. She's teething, surely, but it's gotten worse and worse, and a few nights this last week she woke up 10-15 times (I lost count), at least once an hour but sometimes twice or thrice an hour, and then when she finally would sleep, I wouldn't be able to anymore, so I'd be up most of the night and then I'd walk around during the day pretty delirious, and fiending for a nap, and treating Sam terribly. My house is so dirty that I started to wonder if the baby wasn't sleeping because she contracted some rare non-sleeping disease from my carpet. My body was so exhausted that I was losing physical coordination; I was afraid to drive. And my brain was so tired that my mean voice was out with daggers.

One book I read on sleep said to ask yourself, before you begin sleep training, if your baby's night wakings were really ruining your life, or if they were manageable. Because two times a night? That's maybe not a big deal. But two times a night for months on end starts to make you insane. And remember? HP was going for 15. And she wasn't too hot or too cold, and I had gone down the list of every other thing that could be wrong. And we were giving her Tylenol and Ibuprofen to help with the teething pain. I spent half of my waking life (which was sup-par, admittedly) trying to figure out this sleep thing, and if it was something other than the fact that she was absolutely incapable of getting herself back to sleep without me, I would have figured it out. Trust me.

Ever since Henrietta was born, we've been talking about sleep-training. People ask you: is she sleeping through the night? And at some point it starts to feel like they're not groaning sympathetically with you anymore, they're wondering what's wrong with you that the answer is no. No and no. So I've been trying to read books (which is what I do when I don't know something), but those books are so formulaic and so guaranteed-to-work (!) and they basically said every single thing we were doing in relation to sleep was wrong, and the thought of changing everything and following a formula and keeping notes when I was already so sleep-deprived that the dishes made me cry? That really wasn't happening. So I talked to a lot of people and I prayed a lot, which are the other things I do when I don't know something. And I think I knew, I think I've known for awhile, that I just needed to let her cry and figure out how to get herself back to sleep. I've known this would be terrible experience.

And of course, because I'm me, I've been trying to work out whether I was that sort of person. I mean, was I even the cry-it-out kind of mom? I've talked about this before, how I can never just make decisions about what's best for my baby. I'm always putting all mothers (figurative mothers, not the real ones) in this binary system, and there are the good mothers who wake up and nurse their babies very sweetly every time they cry until they magically stop waking up in the night, and there are the other mothers who let their babies cry it out, and they are not very good mothers. Wait! Remember I really only mean figurative mothers! If you let your baby cry it out, I actually think you are brilliant and I'm jealous of you, because you get to actually sleep, and you are still a good mom because I know you are. You defy reality, but only because this binary doesn't exist in reality. It's baloney. Welcome to my world, which is full of baloney.

Sam and I tried letting her cry it out last Sunday night. I had fed her and rocked her, and she still wasn't settling down in any kind of permanent way. It was clear, maybe for the first time, that there was nothing I could do for her. I couldn't help her sleep, not really, and it was nearly ten at night, and so we just set her down and told her we loved her and tiptoed out. We sat in our office, trying to be cool, but listening to make sure she didn't launch herself over the side of her crib somehow. She screamed. She screamed loud and long and heartbreakingly until she was coughing and seemed like she could hardly breathe, and the minutes felt absurdly long. We went back in to tell her it was okay after three minutes, even though we had agreed to wait until five. And then we waited five more minutes, at which point I was sobbing, and Sam was saying, "I didn't understand. I didn't know it was going to be like this." We went in and I held her and rocked her until she slept, and I left her bedroom feeling like a sleep-training dropout. Sam and I prayed together out loud, taking turns, asking for help, begging for help. When I went downstairs I looked at my cat, who was sleeping soundly, and thought that at least our cats sleep through the night (and day) without help. We've got that going for us. We're not total failures.

Yesterday I called my sister, which is another thing I do when I don't know something. And I was asking her what I was supposed to do about Henrietta not falling asleep in the car anymore and screaming the whole way everywhere we went. And she answered that question, and then sort of volunteered, "Let me make a case for letting her cry it out at night." And she did. And somehow this solved all of my identity issues, and helped me really believe that helping Henrietta sleep on her own was a big giant gift to her, and I could give it, and it would be okay.

I entered last night's bed time ready for it. We did our bedtime routine, and then I fed her, and she was still awake when I set her down. She fell asleep on her own without too much fuss, and then she woke up at one, which wasn't too bad, considering the other nights we've had this week. I went in and picked her up before I thought very clearly, and she thrashed and wiggled and wailed in my arms, wanting milk, which I wasn't going to give her. She pooped, which she never does at night, and I swear it was in protest: pay attention to me; give me what I want. I changed her diaper very calmly, and told her she was going to go back to sleep now, and it was going to be okay. I lay her down in her crib and told her I loved her, and left.

I lay down in bed, my feet by my bedside table, and watched the clock, and the minutes weren't as long. Sam snored next to me, but it was suddenly clear it was all my job anyway, that it had always been, and it needed to be. My heart was pounding and her cries were painful to listen to, but I felt like I was being sort of carried above them, floating just above my bed. I had prayed countless times that when it was time to let her cry it out I'd be able to do it, and He was answering, helping me through every second of it, making it clear I was doing the right thing, that I was helping her, even if it didn't sound that way.

I felt like I was being swept back to a memory of when Henrietta was about a month old and I was taking her to church for the first time. I was bustling around the house trying to get everything together and I had strapped her into her carseat so I could have my hands free, and she was screaming. I thought she was probably tired, and I knew she'd fall asleep in the car, but I didn't know what to do in the meantime. It was the first time since she'd been born that running to her and fixing whatever was wrong was not possible; it was not the best thing for her or for me. I don't know how to explain what a terrifying revelation that was for me: immediately doing everything to fix what was wrong would not always be possible; it would not always be the best way to do my job as mother. I love new-mom self, I really love her for being so astonished and sad about that. And last night, I felt like that again. I remembered how as soon as I stepped out the door into the sunlight she fell asleep and everything was fine, and it made me feel like this cry-it-out thing would resolve itself.

And it was. She cried for half an hour. I went in twice to tell her everything was as it should be, and I felt like a warrior mother, steeled against her tears, doing the best thing for all of us. She screamed and then she cried and then she whimpered and eventually she stopped altogether and she slept, and I wanted to run through my house laughing and hollering and kissing the cats on the lips. But instead I put my earplugs back in and went to sleep, and slept, with a few brief exceptions, until morning. When I could tell the sun was coming up, and I thought I was maybe hearing her, I pulled up the edge of my earplug to check, and realized I was hearing songbirds. Songbirds, not my screaming baby. I looked over at Sam's legs beside me. I'd gone to bed the night before sort of irritated with him. Not in any meaningful way, but just an I'm-so-exhausted way, but now he was so beautiful in the morning light. He was sleeping on his stomach, and his toes were tucked between the mattress and the bottom of the bed, and his calves were somehow the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. They were so long and so lovely that if I wasn't worried it would wake him, I would have run my hands very slowly from his ankles to his knees.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Announcing a Move

On a Friday a month or so ago, Sam and I were driving to the art museum in Worcester. It was sunny and glorious outside, and we were talking, again, about Sam's dread for the coming school year. He's been on paternity leave, as I've mentioned, but he's dreaded the end of that leave every single day, and we've discussed his dread most days. The job is a bad fit for a number of reasons, few of which I'm interested in going into here. We thought that a move closer to the school would help (his commute was horrendous previously), but it hasn't, so as we talked, driving along, I said what I had started to say when this subject came up, "Don't go back then. We'll figure something out. Don't go back."

Prior to that Friday, this would lead to some circling around the possibilities, and end with one of us saying, "No, it'll never work. We can't do it. We'll stay one more year and see how it goes. It's bound to get better." But for some reason, this time, we said, okay, yeah, let's not go back; we'll figure it out. Sam took one hand off the wheel and said, "Shake on it? We're really leaving?" And I took his hand and said, sure, yeah, let's go.

And then I panicked. Very quietly, silently even. In the passenger seat. What about, um, employment, and health insurance, and how would we have enough money for a cross-country move? You know, the little things.

Sam didn't panic. He immediately started bidding farewell to the area. "This might be the last time we ever go to this museum. And I'm okay with that," he said. "Look, see that intersection? No more of that," he said. "We're getting out of here. We're getting out of here," he nearly chanted. I could see the dread lift from him. It was like he became a different person, a person I hadn't seen in awhile.

Which means I wasn't willing to say, "Well, maybe I shouldn't have shook on it?"

That night, after we'd talked it over more, I asked if we could pray about it together. I was still willing to say we'd move, but inside I wasn't so sure. I generally ask God what He thinks of our plans, at least our big ones, and I had yet to talk it over with Him. Sam said he was willing to listen while I prayed aloud, but he had already made his decision; he wasn't sure what we needed to consult God about.

We sat on our couch and I bowed my head and he crossed himself and I started praying. I'm not sure what I expected. Not much, honestly. Usually answers like these take me some time, and the most I get from a single prayer is some clarity of thought, which is needed, but generally it's just a piece of the puzzle.

This time, almost as soon as I started praying, I got the whole puzzle. Or enough of it to completely change my tune. I don't think I have ever gotten such a quick and powerful and clear answer to prayer. And now that I write this out, I'm realizing God answered me by showing me how much I love Sam, by opening up an understanding of how miserable he had been and how miserable he stood to be if we stayed, and urging me to throw everything I had into this change, into this move. To get started immediately; that we couldn't leave soon enough. It was time to go.

I've been on board ever since, and it's been incredible to see what has opened up in the wake of our decision. We decided we'd head for Tucson, since Sam has family there who can help us land on our feet, and we won't be far from my family either. We'll be cobbling an income together with freelance and something like adjunct teaching, which is a bit scary, but hopefully doable. Sam's brother happened to see an ad in the paper a few weeks ago, asking for creative writing teachers for a new community outreach program at the local university. We sent in course proposals, and it looks like we'll both have an opportunity to teach through that program, and we are so excited about it. We'll be teaching what we love, to people who really want to learn it, in a completely low-pressure situation. When I think about that, I am a bit giddy. I really miss teaching.

I could go on about why and how this is the right move, and why I'm sure of it, even if I'm worried about the details sometimes. I probably will go on and on, but for now, I think it's enough to announce the plan. We're heading West, to write, more than anything. We want a life with more flexibility, more ability to raise our daughter together, more people around to love her and squeeze her and witness her magnificence. I have loved this area, and I will miss the people here that I love, but I am ready for big big skies and mild winters (!). I'm a California girl at heart. This move will get me closer.

I keep thinking about something a friend wrote in a card she gave us when we married. She said that when you find someone you love, you jump off a cliff together, and this seems true to me. Every couple jumps into their new life together, hoping it will work and making their plans. And sometimes, when you thought you were settled, you find you have to start over again, to jump again. Last Friday I sat in the car with the baby, waiting for Sam to quit his job, and I went back and forth between thinking we must be crazy and remembering a multitude of conversations with Sam over a multitude of meals, and thinking, "Of course he's quitting; of course we're leaving; of course of course. We were always meant to leave now. Everything has pointed to this all along. It's time."