Monday, January 26, 2015

Winter Walk

I enjoyed the walks I took on the milder days during Winter Break and began the new year determined to make at least one weekly walk through town.   Even as the Polar Vortex blew in with much colder weather, I kept that promise.  Most of my walks have been in the cold of the early twilight when we get home from school and wrestling practice.  But even in the fading light, I enjoy a glimpse of my neighbor’s gardens.

We had overnight snow on Friday and after I cleaned up my sidewalk and driveway, I treated myself to a walk in the slushy snow.  There is something about familiar plants draped in a coat of white that is most lovely.

The town’s streets had been plowed and most of the sidewalks had been cleared.  We had about 5 inches of snow overnight and so there was plenty of beauty to be admired.  By the afternoon, temperatures were well-above freezing and plenty of melting was underway.  

I think the snow is so lovely because in the midst of Winter’s stark appearance the snow provides a contrast that is pretty to see.

We had more snow this morning and a huge blizzard of a storm is expected later this afternoon and into the overnight.  After the boy and I have attended to our snow removal duties, we’ll be planning a few more walks to admire Mother Nature’s work.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Midterm Exams

This past week, JT sat for his first set of high school midterm exams.  My school runs a special schedule for midterms and so he didn’t have regular classes and each day he instead reported to the Lower Gym, where an array of more than 300 desks were lined up for the test-takers.  

Last weekend, he pulled together a semester’s worth of notes and reviewed those ideas.  Midterms are worth 10% of a student’s final grade in the course and so they are important.  More important in my mind was allowing him to take command of the process and organize his preparation and studying.  Luckily, his work was broken up by wrestling practice and a rather important wrestling tournament.  These provided a much-needed break and a bit of release, both essential to staying on top of his schoolwork and managing his time.  He sought advice from me as he got prepared but mostly he studied on his own from study guides and flashcards that he and his friends made together.

In a way, with 10% of his grade on the line and in his first year of grades that “count” for eventual college applications, this was risky on my part.  But I am a parent who believes my job is raise a child who can be a happy, independent adult.  If he got to his exams and felt well-prepared, this past week will have served that purpose quite nicely.  If he didn’t feel prepared when it came time to figure math problems or write English essays, then he’ll also learn from that and come final exam season in June we’ll work out on a better plan.   Either way, I believe that this process will have given him important insight into himself.

In the meantime, he gets to this weekend with an empty homework agenda.  We have Monday off from school so that teachers can grade those exams and JT is excited about 3 days with nary a single obligation to schoolwork.   He’s a pile of Sports Illustrated magazines to read, two books at the ready, wrestling practice to attend and a well-earned sense of accomplishment.   That’s happy!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Soup Friday: Garlic Broth with Spinach and Tortellini

Garlic broth is a Moosewood Cookbook recipe that I have been making for years.  It’s easy to make and starts with vegetarian broth (homemade, boxed or in cubes….whatever I have on hand).  I bring 4 cups of that to a simmer and then add 6 cloves of minced garlic.  I let it simmer for 20 minutes and then use it as a foundation for whatever else I wish to make.  

The broth keeps in the fridge for several days .  When you are ready to eat it, warm it up and then get creative.  For mine, I added the hot broth to a bowl of fresh spinach leaves and cheese tortellini that I had cooked separately.   Warm, comforting, and delicious on a cold winter evening.

The broth is versatile and can be the foundation for other soups as well.  It can be mixed with a can of diced tomatoes, pasta, and cannellini beans.  I’ve made it with fresh spinach, tomatoes, and pasta.  I’ve also served it with carrots simmered in the broth with pasta and beans.  Basically, the broth is a base for many warm, winter soups.  Cook some up!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Your Weekly Amaryllis: Week 3

Week three of an amaryllis bulb is tricky, especially on a dark Winter morning.  Though a careful eye can see some progress, it’s rather minute in its effects and a bit of anxiety can set it.  Is there enough light in this window?  Is there enough warmth?  Have I watered the bulb enough?  Too much?

In that respect, week 3 of a flowering bulb is much like the approach to the mid-point of Winter.  I have to remind myself to stay the course for the promise of the blooms that lie ahead.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reflections on Motherhood

The backstory:
I’ve been thinking about motherhood of late.  What follows is the second entry on that topic.  The first can be found here.  I caution that these opinions are mine alone and reflect my experience as a mother.  My goal isn’t to offend but is to share my point of view and lay down on (digital) paper some things about motherhood that I have come to believe.  

Public Motherhood 
In my world, a world primarily made up of privileged upper middle class families, there is no greater distinction in our families than the way that people treat single working mothers who are on their own, women I call solitary mothers.  In this landscape, mothers on their own became a kind of public property because of their relative rarity in the world of the upper middle class.  

Well-meaning people will comment on her status, whether kindly or not, in a way that suggests that mom-on-her-own is public property; that her life is fair game for the commentary of others.  The whereabouts of her former partner; her choice to be a one-parent household; her daily life as a mom-on-her-own; her dating status….all are subjects for discussion.  In my own life, I diffused these comments by being forthcoming.  That’s not a path every solitary mom can or wants to take.  Quite frankly, it’s not a choice she should have to make.  

Even the most innocuous or seemingly well-meaning aside can be uncomfortable when you feel the full responsibility for the young life in your care.  This is complicated when your status as mom-on-your own wasn’t the life plan you had in mind.  It’s not always easy to hold the pieces of your world together if your heart is hurting or you fear you’ve somehow let your beloved child down.  You are experiencing motherhood in a way that isn’t reflected in the rest of your world, from your own family experience to your friends and co-workers.  And now people, even well-meaning people, comment: Where is dad? Aren’t holidays on their own lonely?  Do you miss the help of someone else?

I have heard these comments and many more; solitary mamas reading here are nodding their heads because they have experienced the same.  When my middle schoolers are unkind to one another, I gently remind them that everyone has a hard journey and that we should hold our tongues unless our observations will help.   I wish I’d had the guts to repeat that to busy-bodies when someone else’s solitary mom status was the topic of unwanted discussion.  Women raising children on their own need our support and confidence, not our commentary.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Struggle in the Journey

I’ve been reading the works of Andrew Solomon lately and I followed up by listening to interviews with him on NPR as well as his TED talks.  I find his work thoughtful and his ideas are the sort that I keep coming back to because they are so useful in my work with children and their families.

I’ve a well-rehearsed talk that I have with a child most every week of the school year.  The talk can be neatly summarized: “Everyone has a hard journey.”  This is neither a mind-glowingly erudite command of human behavior nor something that no one else understands.  In fact, as soon as the idea comes up the children in my care nod knowingly because their life feels hard at times as well and to acknowledge the struggle is to at once make it easier to bear.  The trick of course, is to remind ourselves that everyone experiences struggle, even when we can’t see it.

The idea was driven home to me some years ago when B, a popular, athletic, good-looking student needed my help on an essay he intended to submit with a college application.  School was sometimes hard for B and while his outward appearance would suggest that he had not a care in the world, he was anxious and struggling.  In our discussion about his essay he blurted out, “This would be so much easier if I were like H.”

As it turned out, I was also in the business that year of helping H, whose life  contained its own struggles.  H was whip smart; school came easy to him and he knew it.  But his group of friends was smaller and he wasn’t athletic; he didn’t feel particularly good-looking.  In some of our far-ranging talks about life he had allowed that life would be better if he were just like B.

The fact that these two were actually struggling within sight of one another was, of course, lost to them.  Our world sometimes has that sort of tunnel vision.  I provided reassurance to both young men and without revealing their identity to one another assured them that we all struggle; that no one’s journey is as simple and easy as it might seem to an outside observer.

In my own life, I’ve come to believe that it’s the struggles that reveal who we are and what we can be.  I’m aware that some of us can’t overcome our struggles and that seems like the greatest of tragedies.  I believe that it is in the act of overcoming that we find the measure not just of who we are but also who we can be.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

In Continued Pursuit of the Dream

This past year has brought much-needed public attention to the ways in which our society remains enormously unequal.  It’s not as if this was my first realization of the ways in which our nation is stratified by race.  I grew up in California, raised by parents who were comfortable with diversity.  They were the kind of people who encouraged hard conversations about inequality.  I’ve long been aware of the privileges accorded to me because of my skin color.  One of the reasons I came to New Jersey thirteen years ago was so that JT would grow up in a world that was as diverse as my own childhood had been.   I wanted him to look around at the faces in his life that were slightly different from his own and know in his heart that we are all made of the same humanity.  

In that respect, JT’s world is a successful example of the ways in which diversity enriches our lives.  His educational environment ensures his confidence in the equality at the heart of our superficial differences.  To me, this is a reminder of the way in which history and time has its own way of re-shaping our nation’s perceptions.  It’s a rich irony in this world that a child named after a founding father has a default image of the president as Barack Obama.

I don’t wish to be overly-optimistic about our nation’s further ability to manage its racial divides, but my son and the children with whom I work every day ensure that Reverend King’s dream is as alive as ever.  This generation has a very different set of expectations.  The racism and ignorance of their elders is not just rejected; it isn’t tolerated.  That reality gives my dreams of the future a powerful sense of hope. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Soup Friday: Chicken Noodle Soup

 My in-house picky eater is not a huge fan of soup, which he has long-considered a food group that he doesn’t eat.  As in....some people do not enjoy tomatoes or onions, but JT does not eat soup.  In the past few years, he’s been more willing to experiment with food in general and soup has been on the table, as it were.  The soup that got him over the hurdle was pre-packaged noodle soup.  It wasn’t exactly gourmet, but it served its purpose.  Even better, he had a look at my homemade chicken noodle soup and allowed that he might enjoy a bowl of that.  It was a chicken soup miracle!

My recipe is simple but not written down.  That way, I can adjust amounts for the number of people who need to be fed.  Whenever possible, I boil the chicken in broth first and refrigerate it over night (I use boneless chicken breasts because I prefer white meat).  Cooking it a day in advance makes the chicken more tender and easier to shred.  The next day, I make a mirepoix of carrots, onions, celery, and garlic and sauté it in a bit of olive oil.  Then I add salt, pepper, and parsley (dried or fresh…..whatever I have on hand); the shredded chicken; and broth.  I bring it to a boil and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Then I bring it to a second boil and add the noodles, cooking them in the soup broth according to the package directions.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge; the noodles will absorb the broth.  When we want to eat the leftovers, I add a cup or two of fresh broth and serve it up.  Easy and delicious!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Your Weekly Amaryllis: Week Two

No sooner had I rambled on about the mildness of our current Winter than the Polar Vortex blew in and froze us all into chunks of ice wondering around buried under coats, hats, scarves, and mittens.  Last week, temps were below freezing all day and some nights were in the low single digits.  Things are warmer this week, though still hovering just below freezing.  I don’t suppose that this was actually due to me and my big mouth, but it clearly didn’t help.  Steadfast as ever, the amaryllis sat in its sunny window and ignored the cold.  It’s at work to bloom and provide cheer for our Winter days.

That’s happy! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reflections on Motherhood

The backstory:
I’ve been thinking about motherhood of late.  What follows is the first of a few entries on that topic.  I caution that these opinions are mine alone and reflect my experience as a mother.  My goal isn’t to offend but is to share my point of view and lay down on (digital) paper some things about motherhood that I have come to believe.  

Solitary Motherhood
In my life and work, I know a number of what society calls single moms, women who are unmarried and raising children.  They aren’t all single, per se, so that designation feels inexact to me.  The phrase single mother isn’t really the whole of what I mean, because motherhood of this variety isn’t just about not being  partnered with the the father (or other parent) of your child.  The women I am talking about are involved in raising a child (or children) primarily on their own while also working outside the home.  To me they are therefore a category on their own.  I call them solitary moms.  

I’m not a father, so I don’t know for a fact that what I’m about to write about solitary motherhood isn’t true for solitary fatherhood, but all that I know about our social and cultural world tells me that there is a huge difference in how society treats mothers and fathers, especially those who are on their own.  Over the years, these distinctions have frustrated me because I think that society often makes life for solitary moms more difficult than it needs to be.  More on that in my next post on motherhood.