Wanderlust

I’ve loved to travel as far back as I can remember. Buried in the hazy fog of childhood is the memory of curling up in the backseat of my grandma’s car, my head resting on a 1970′s print pink-daisy pillowcase, driving to Disneyland. I was four. There were road trips all the time, and I spent countless days at northern California campgrounds and wilderness areas while my dad fished trout in frozen lakes and tracked deer in volcanic forests.

My first airplane trip I remember was in seventh grade, on a study tour of England, Scotland and Wales. I was so excited to fly away, not only did I not sleep the night before, but I didn’t sleep the entire plane trip over the pole and down into London. That trip awakened something is me that has never gone dormant- two and a half weeks touring around Britain with only students and a few chaperones awakened not only a desire to see the world, but the awareness that I was not afraid to do so. Not only was I not afraid to hop a plane and go somewhere relatively alone, but I loved it.

As I got older, I never hesitated to jump in the car and take a road trip- either with friends or alone. At sixteen, in my first car, I drove all over the west. While I spent almost all of my life in one house growing up, once I left home, I lived up and down the west coast, from Seattle to Santa Cruz. One summer, I got on the back of a Harley Davidson and rode all the way to South Dakota. In my twenties, I took a job that allowed me to live in California, and commute to Seattle each week. I’d jump a flight to Phoenix to catch a concert with my cousin, and then take off to Palm Springs for the week with friends.

My penultimate job came in my mid-twenties when the company I worked for in Palo Alto set me up to travel to trade shows in Germany. I took a German class at the local college, bought German for Dummies, and grabbed a Lufthansa flight in San Francisco. I would work for a week, then take another two weeks to hop around Germany and Austria. Those are some of the single happiest memories of my life- meeting people as I went, no itinerary, going wherever I felt like any given day.

Of course my life is constructed in a way that no longer allows such unmitigated freedom- and yet, the wanderlust remains. The seeds have been quiet for a long time while I nurtured the babies that came, but now, as they get older, I can feel the seeds stirring inside, and I can see exposing my children to the world in a fearless way might be a gift I can give them.

Even now, a single grad-student mama, I will drop everything for an adventure. I hope this is something I can parlay into a love of life for my children- because it’s simply in my blood. Wanderlust…

Random Crap: Winterish

I’m sick. Of course- I take off for a tiny bit of relaxation and I come home with a cold. Go figure. It matches the grim and cold weather outside- I’m very tired of shoveling snow this year. It’s almost February though, so we’re halfway done with winter, right? Right? Craving some sunshine.

School this quarter is harder than the last few- I’ll be surprised if I can pull another 4.0- so start laying odds now. We shall see.

Tonight I made a killer eggplant parmigiana with Rao’s recipe sauce, smoked mozzarella and prosciutto- the kids wouldn’t touch it, and ended up eating frozen pizza. Every tried Rao’s recipes? Oh yes, I do recommend them if you have the chance…

Yesterday at the gym, I had them to a body analysis, and I’ve come farther than I thought. I still have a long way to go, but I’m much closer than I was, and am almost ready to begin training for the race I’ve committed to run. It’s a long way off, but I’m going to need that time to get up to speed. Maybe I should find a shorter race first, but I’m kind of an all-in person, so here goes nothing: I’m running the Disneyland Half Marathon in September. Go big or go home, isn’t that what the kids are saying?

Also yesterday at the gym? Ran two miles and then did a full TRX class. Today, I cannot move. Serves me right.

My boys spent the day alternating between fighting with each other, and helping each other make ghost-busting packs to wear, complete with hoses, backpacks and shooters- and they’ve never seen Ghostbusters. Abby played in my make-up while I layed around feeling like crap. Stupid cold.

Last Saturday I scraped my chin on the bottom of a swimming pool, and now, finally, a week later, it’s almost healed. Nothing makes a girl feel prettier than a big scab on her face. Excellent timing too, what with flying the coop for the weekend. Do I have the luck or what?

Up in the Air

Every once in a while, to keep from becoming brittle as tempered glass, a mama needs to fly away, up into the sky and towards the sun. She needs to feel the blood flowing in her veins and the breeze on her skin and to remember why she has wings in the first place. Then after she’s stretched and twirled in the warm updrafts of sunlit air and the sheer joy and freedom of being embodied, she can return to earth, and do so with renewed faith in who she is, and her ability to meet the needs of life. That’s all I’m saying.

Thank you to those of you who tended my chicks, fed their hungry mouths and kept them safe and happy so that this mama could feel the sun and remember who she is.

The Vegetarian is Dead: Churrascaria

Last night I was treated to a culinary adventure I have never experienced- and the foodie in me was rolling her eyes and noshing with delight. Brazilian barbecue , folks– also known as churrascaria. Now maybe this is old hat to some of you, but this a whole new world to me– and it was spectacular.

Churrascaria is simply a Brazilian steakhouse or barbecue, but its also a wonderland of new world of tastes and smells and spices and the adventure of having countless waiters drop by your table with enormous skewers of sizzling, spicy meat, that they slice right onto your waiting plate. You have this little tower at your table with a green side and a red side, and when you have the green up, the parade of skewers beings, and when you need a break, you tip it to red. When you’re hungry again? Back to green. I guarantee, you are not leaving a churrascaria hungry. Also- you will have a ball. On top the that, imagine the biggest, best antipasto bar you’ve ever seen, and then go help yourself– cheeses, cold sausages, eggplant, mushrooms, artichokes, a dozen other vegetables, sauces, pickled garlic and spices, beans, fragrant rices- and bacon! Lots of bacon! I couldn’t even begin to make room to taste everything.

The part that was most surprising and delicious what how unctuous the meats were- it must be due to the open mesquite roasting on skewers until its all falling apart and melting in your mouth. Is this normal, people? Is this was all you carnivores have been keeping from me all these years? Seriously, I don’t necessarily want to know what pernil de ovelha or alcataro no alho is, but the tender, thin slices that fell on my plate were some of the finest, best seasoned food I’ve ever enjoyed. Go find one!

Own It

On a recent trip to Mo’s, she taught me something really important. She was giving me a manicure while we sat on her couch, and what I learned I have parlayed into something meta for my life. I don’t chew my nails, but I keep them fairly short because of a) all the typing I do, and b) all the other crap I do with my hands, and c) long nails bug me. Consequently, while my toes are always painted pretty, my fingers seldom were.  But when she was done filing and smoothing my hands, she pulled out this insane ruby red Butter LONDON polish called “Knees Up” (hee!) and proceeded to paint my short, nicely filed nails this deeply scandalous, attention grabbing shade. I rebelled. I was self-conscious. Only women with long, manicured nails should wear a color like that- “I can’t wear that!” I protested. Holding my hand and brushing on the crimson anyway, she looked askance at me. “If you have something you don’t like, and you ignore it, it just looks neglected. If you polish it, it looks like you did it on purpose. Own it.”

Huh…

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of her saying that lately. Embrace the things that might be looked at as neglected, and suddenly they actually stop being flaws and become a beautiful, purposeful part of the whole. But what do I know- it was just about nail polish… But my nails have been polished ever since. (Today, they are a Sephora Opi called “Under My Trenchcoat”. This weekend, I’m planning on “Queen of Everything“.  Gotta love the names.)

Close to the Bone

Today was rough. Mostly I cruise along, so busy keeping us all afloat and functioning that I don’t feel the bumps and swells in the current- but today, I scraped myself ragged on the rocks- all damn day.

Last night I went with friends to see a band downtown, and it was great fun– I honestly had forgotten how much I enjoy going out and hearing music and socializing with grown ups. All three bands played bluegrass-y music and Johnny Cash covers. I got asked to dance once, and some guy spilled a beer on my boots. I had a good time- but it also got me in late, and left me very tired today with little reserve to deal with three kids by myself.

I had the super-fantastic idea to make doughnuts through my haze of tiredness- from scratch. Clearly, right off the bat I should have seen how low my brain was functioning. I actually thought this was a good idea. We got to church late, and for some reason, even the overflow was overflowing. We ended up having to sit in the foyer, and missed taking the Sacrament altogether.

Bean got a new primary teacher, and is not dealing well. At all. As in , throwing a chair across the room and shoving another pile of chairs over. I told the primary president this was going to be rough, and I suggested a specific teacher or two- neither of which are his teacher. It’s going about how I thought it would. Bean was also spotlight child, and Abby was assigned her first talk ever. By the way, who thinks asking a 4 year-old to talk on “Feasting upon the words of Christ” is a good idea? How about “I am thankful for my eyes” or “Jesus loves me!” Those I could see…

I couldn’t focus in Gospel Doc, and it was pointed out “helpfully” by someone that the slit in my skirt gave a flash of white when I walked. Excellent, now I’m immodest too. Super. The single mama has a kid who throws chairs and flashes her g’s- rocking up the points.

It was all I could do not to cry all the way through Relief Society. One of my best friends taught today, and she did a wonderful job teaching about sacrifice– and it was too close to the bone for me. Had I not been sitting in the front row, and had it not been such a close friend, I probably would have bailed. I really, really wanted to…

After church Bean threw an ever-loving fit at least three times and trashed the play room. All I wanted to do was curl up in bed and hide, and every time I turned around someone needed me for something and tears kept leaking down my face unbidden. Sometimes my fall-back emotion is to get mad- I’m more productive that way– today, I just wanted to cry. My mom called and let me vent to her for a bit, and I had a good conversation with a friend who also has a child with autism, and who understands the struggle. It helped.

Now, with the monkeys in bed and the house quiet, I feel reasonably calm and centered again. It’s a travesty that tomorrow is a school holiday (that makes me want to cry again) but I’ll make it. Today is done, and I can do hard things. I can. I can and I will.

Life Lessons

My son told me he hated me tonight. My oldest child– the child who split my soul wide open and cut a chasm into the wilderness of motherhood, the child who introduced me to God and allowed my bright tears to fall on his fiery copper hair while he was still wet and folded and trailing the scent of heaven– told me he hated me.

It doesn’t matter why– it was trivial and meaningless– and it was selfish the way only a child secure in the love of his mother can express. Even as part of me recoiled at his vehemence, I could recognize what was happening. I leaned on the doorjamb as he glowered over his scowled brow at me, using his stocking feet to shove the messy piles of Legos and dog-eared Calvin & Hobbes paperbacks littering the floor around his bed.

Motherhood teaches us lots of inimitable lessons and this one was about the removal of yourself– the you who is unique and hurts and hopes and wants– when your child needs something precious and specific from you. In that moment, watching him kick tiny plastic pieces and throw all his anger at me, it was my job to understand, to actually see him, and help him have what he needed- my own feelings were inconsequential comparatively.

He trusts me. The stresses of his life, though they seem simple and childlike from an adult perspective, are all new to him. In the last year, he has lost the only home he remembered, the freedom and security of having a stay-at-home mom, and most devastatingly, he has lost his father. The shadow of a man who occasionally shows up and looks vaguely like the guy who used to function as his father is fragile, untrustworthy, and must be handled with care. My children cling to what they can eek out from the three hours a week he might show up, watching themselves and exercising protective care over the repository of their ideas of what “father” means. They cannot, at this parting of paths in the road, tell their father they hate him- it would blow apart any fragile dream they have cobbled together.

It is for me they reserve their expressions of pain, anger and sorrow. It is for me they are safe enough to throw themselves on the bed and wail about the breaking of their hearts- and this is what I thought of as I sat down next to my angry son and laid my hand on his back in love. He folded his arms and harrumphed, scowling at me deeper. Taking his face in my hands, I told him how much I love him, and how proud I am of the vastness of his heart, the courage of his convictions and the soul contained within his growing strong body. I reassured him life would not always be this way, and that we can do hard things- we have, we will, and we will continue…

His face softened and he leaned over into me, now flushed and a little embarrassed, trying to hide a chagrinned smile. “I’m still mad at you..” he mumbled into his folded arms, brows still drawn down, but eyes brighter. “Yes, I know. It’s okay. You can be mad at me- I’ll still love you forever. I may not always like you- but will love you forever.” His head popped up- surprised and indignant that I would say some like that. “Well, you do have the power to hurt my feelings. I’m a person, doing the best I can, just like you.” Contemplation rolled across his stormy eyes, and I could see him processing the idea of mom as someone besides just “mom”, filler of bellies, laundry baskets, backpacks, bathtubs.

He’s nine years old. It’s young for the load placed upon his shoulders– oldest child, absent father, grad-school mother, courageous boy with a heart of gold– but I see those shoulders broadening already, and I suspect he will someday be quite the man.

Prioritizing

Dang, I’ve got a lot of plates spinning right now. I’m not complaining– I’ve chosen the trajectory I set myself upon, but holy cow some days… Yesterday (well, it still feels like today to me, but technically it was yesterday) was crazy. Got up and cooked a hot breakfast (more out of guilt than desire) for the monkeys, then got Abby and myself ready to head out to the University bookstore. My mom is helping me with my textbooks (because really $91 for a used book?? for one class??) but there was a snafu with PayPal, and the cash isn’t in my account.  My schedule was tight, because we also both had appointments for haircuts. Did I mention we never got over 20 degrees here today? So Abby and I are in the car on the way to the U-district, and Bean’s teacher calls– he’s got a field trip and the flurry of the morning I forgot to sign the permission slip. U-turn, and head back to his school.

Then my stylist texted me and had to reschedule, which was kind of good, because now I had time to actually hit the bookstore before Abby had to be at preschool. We park in the icy lot and run into the big brick building, only to find they don’t open the textbook section until 11:00 a.m. It was 9:45. Crap. Okay, grocery store it is then. Back into the icy parking lot and up the hill to my favorite market- (until Trader Joe’s opens in two months!!) and got Abby a cup of potato-leek soup while I wandered around the cheese section (scored a Port Townsend Seastack!)

We made it back to the bookstore just as they were opening, but were already behind half a dozen other students. They had two of the three books I needed, and we headed back out into the frigid crazy cold. Dropped Abby off at preschool and came home, with two solid hours before the next shift of driving and dropping kids off various places kicked in. What did I do with myself? Homework? No… I made a lame effort to find a movie I need to watch for one class, but ended up talking to friends, opening the Seastack, tossing in a load of laundry, and busting into some Good Mail that showed up in my mailbox.

Some days you just have to roll with it. Today was one of those days. And sometimes, just staring out the window in a quiet, empty house at the snowy yard is, in fact, a very important thing to do.

Random Crap: Sunday Morning

It’s our Stake Conference this morning, and rather than wrangle the monkeys to sit for two hours on hard metal folding chairs with no promise of primary, friends, and fun, we are taking a holiday. It’s kind of a bummer, actually, to have SC this early in January, since we only had one Sunday of our new schedules, new teaches, and new hours, and now we’re at home.

Speaking of Stake Conference, I did manage to get to the adult session last night. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever gone to the Saturday night session before. I remember when the first few years I was a member not understanding what people were talking about when they mentioned it, and then once I knew, there were babysitting issues and then life blowing-up-entirely issues. This year, I actually had dinner with friends, pooled our kids with some girls from the ward, and actually went.  My SP gave a great talk on becoming compassion. Not compassionate- but actually embodying compassion in obedience to Christ. It was worth the price of admission and sitting on hard chairs for almost 2 hours.

This week I hostessed a missionary discussion at my home for a woman checking into our church. In my previous life, the missionaries were a regular part of the landscape of my life, and I miss having them over. So do my kids. But… as a single woman, I cannot have them for dinner or to hang out- so we don’t see them much. Don’t get me started on how this makes me feel- but it was kind of nice to visit, and get back to the basics.

With our new church schedule, it’s impossible to have X over on Sunday to see the kids, so I’m juggling times and dates and trying to create a new stable for them. I swear, it’s like trying to balance on a ball some days. Coupled with the fact that I have opted to host the visit (for their stability- not his convenience) and I have two grad classes (yay!) at night this quarter (and no regular sitter) it makes things kind of crazy.  Oh, and scouts is on the same night as one of my classes. I can do this. I can…

Speaking of school, I think this quarter might kick my trash (whatever that means). I know my confidence wavers at the beginning of each term, but two of my three classes are big time hard stuff. On the upside, I’m further along than I thought, and things are overall looking good academically.

My awesome friend Donna is flying over from Seattle to hang out with us today, and I’m excited to see her. One of the perks of having loved ones work for airlines is impromptu visits. Happy. Speaking of, it’s been too long since Uncle Freddy appeared at our table, and I think I need to rattle his cage.

It’s January 9, and I’m tired of winter. It’s really hard to get my run in when the streets are covered in sheets of ice. My treadmill is broken, and I have to find a simple solution. Our high today is 28* and tomorrow it’s supposed to be 18*. Spring would be a great solution, but I seem to have lost my Time Turner necklace Hermione left me. And I have to train~ because I’m committed to my first race later this year- and I’m too chicken to say much about it yet, but it’s happening.

Speaking of– I need some suggestions for running music on my iPod. I’ve got some I love, but more would always be good. Dish, mamas.

Hey- here’s a fun thing! I got rejected for a date by a guy who’s never met me and I’ve never met, but he told his sister-in-law– my good friend– after years of reading my blog, that he was “just not interested”. Aw yeah. That’s how awesome the LDS dating scene is. Abysmal, and ego-crushing and its enough to make a woman want to look elsewhere. If only I didn’t believe the things I believe…

And this is why running is suddenly so appealing. Juggling full-time school, solo-parenting, three kids, domestic life, and church is crazy. Life is hard, and I can throw on my shoes, shove my iPod in my ears, and take off. If tears find there way down my cheeks while I’m running, no one can tell, and the wind dries them quickly. It’s cheaper than therapy, and it’s making my jeans fall off my butt. It’s gonna get easier someday. Right? Right?

Ending on the upside? I have unbelievably fantastic friends and loved ones. Again, my ward is spectacular, and my extended network of friends– both personal, academic, spiritual and bloggy– are intellectually and emotionally fulfilling in so many wonderful ways. I have to receive treasure where I can find it, and my friends are consistently that vein of gold. So thanks.

Onward and upwards… its the only way.

Cheese: What’s in Your Basket?

People, we already know I’m a bonafide caseophile (thanks for the word, Mo!). But it dawned on me this morning, as I ran into the market before dropping Abby at school, that even living life as a poor student, I opt to spend my meager budget on things others might find superfluous. I bought Abby some butternut squash soup, fine cheese for me, and a small bunch of tulips for our souls.

When I got home I was distracted, but when I finally got around to unpacking the groceries, I realized my bouquet of cheese made me easily as happy as my bouquet of tulips. And I love tulips. Today in my cheese basket (and I really do have a linen-lined wicker basket in my fridge in which I keep all my treasured cheese-that little flippy door -thing or the drawer are just not good enough for a raw French washed rind lavender, or a true Cottswald Stilton.) what was I saying? Oh yeah- today in my basket:

  • Boursin. A staple, and I have to hide it from Abby or she will eat the whole thing. Herb and garlic soft French cheese.
  • Cottswald Cheddar- not to be confused with the divine Stilton. Cottswald cheddar is made in the same region, but not a blue, and very mild and soft. A young-ish cheese, excellent with a cured sausage or apple slices.
  • Jasper Hill Raw Oma- a stinky little cheese, and a new player in the basket. We’ll see how this goes.
  • Raclette- excellent melting cheese from France again. Slightly pungent- a good gateway cheese if you’re timid.
  • Aged Gouda- a completely different cheese than a young Gouda- it’s sharp and crystallized and very similar to Regianno, the undisputed king of cheese. I will eat this forever. Also similar to Vela Dry Jack.
  • Myzithra- a hard, white greek cheese. Salty and somewhat akin to feta. Some people have only experienced this tossed with brown butter at The Spaghetti Factory. It’s good that way- buy some and give it a try.
  • Chevre- basic young soft goat cheese. Slightly pungent- mild. Use it on everything from roasted veggies to fried eggs to arugula salad greens. A perennial favorite.
  • Cotija- very similar to feta, only drier- Mexican cheese, fantastic on all latin foods calling for cheese- once you try it, you’ll never go back to pre-shredded jack and cheddar.
  • Ricotta Salata- a firmer ricotta that can be grated. Very mild and kids like it.
  • Bleu d’Avergne- a fine stinky blue veined French masterpiece. Don’t start here, but if you dig blues, have it with some almonds and maybe a very tart apple, and die happy.
  • Fontina- a great Italian melting cheese. Good to just eat, or melt divinely into whatever italian thing you’re making.
  • Cream cheese- it’s Philly today, but if I could find Gina Marie, that’s my CC of choice.
  • Tillamook Slices- for the kids. I know. But at least its not pre-wrapped american cheese…
  • Grated Regianno/Romanno blend- yes, its better to buy it in whole hunks, but it’s also a budget killer, so when I find it cheap at Trader Joes, I buy the already-grated. Kids love it.
  • Beechers Curds- snack food extraordinaire. Jeffrey jumps for joy when the market has these.
  • Colston Bassett Stilton- the finest blue on the planet.

Also in the basket, but not cheese:

  • Kerrygold Irish butter- yes, it really is that much better. Thick, unctuous, sweet, spectacular- I don’t use this for baking or cooking, but for spreading on things when you really want to taste fine butter.
  • Calabrese Salame- yum!
  • Pancetta- for getting many a dish started with gusto and pig fat- without the smokiness of bacon.
  • Apple cured thick-cut peppered bacon- well, because you can never be without bacon.

I just want to encourage you to get out there and try something new. There is a whole world of tastes and divine things to experience outside the big-box markets… it doesn’t have to be cheese- but my challenge for this year (not a resolution, mind you!) is to just push your own experiences a little further. Think outside the safe and familiar and give yourself a chance to find the extraordinary. Maybe it’s a fine cheese, or a new flower in your garden, or being more daring with your eyeliner… I don’t know. But do something new and fun, and see where it takes you.

For me? I started school again this week, which is why I’ve been so absent. I’ve already dropped and added two new classes and think it’s finally settled. Taking my first grad-level courses, despite not being done with my bachelors yet- and I’ve made the Dean’s List for the second straight quarter with a 4.0 gpa. Life is good. Go buy some cheese.