This chapter is forever unwritten

This past Saturday I woke up crying from a dream. In my dream I was talking to one of my brother’s on the phone when I said, sobbing, “I don’t have very many people who hold me left in my life”. Aaron tried to wake me up and ask me what was wrong and when I was finally able to tell him, he laid there with me in his arms while I let that statement wash over me.

R E S T

Today is Jessica’s birthday, she’s 11, and last night her birthday wish was to have a snow-day from school today. She got her wish! But by 10 am she was in tears throwing a fit over how “normal” today was. It wasn’t about her enough. She was upset that not everything was orbiting around her and I saw red but tried to speak gently to her. The truth in those feelings was that we do love her very much, but the lie was she was entitled to order us around and demand to be put before anyone else all day. Because I will not perform to prove my love for my children. That’s a known here; they’re wanted, loved, cherished. But they’re not coddled, praised without cause, or handed success. In this house, we are kind. In this house, we treat others the way we want to be treated. In this house, we love wildly and unabashedly. But in this house, we do not cater to selfishness. We aim to cure it.

It’s been a rough morning. I’ve said it before here, but parenting her while I still need so much of what she needs from me is the toughest thing I do every day. A few years ago it was not hard for me to make magic appear out of thin air for Birthdays or Snow Days or just because We’re Alive Days. I thrived off the magic of childhood. Losing teeth meant I stayed up well past a respectful hour creating “fairy doors” through the house for her to find in the morning with her little sack of gold behind one.

She hasn’t grown out of wanting to experience that magic and maybe where I failed along the way is demonstrating the joy out of everyday magic. Feeling snow fall on your face, smelling the spring air, steam rising off a cup of tea, being able to read my favorite poets, or write on a rainy day. Being thankful for the small hands that held tight to mine, or holding Aaron a little longer before he left for work. I do all of these things, as a meditation in reminding myself that this life IS beautiful. I just haven’t talked about it … out loud? Enough?

Cool completely.

Moving into this new season and age of kids has been hard for me. When I was their age my life was in shambles and where they have the luxury of not even knowing that kind of pain, they don’t have the references to experience the great joy of our Now because the tremendous sorrow of my Past isn’t imprinted on their little hearts.

I was reflecting on this while trying to muster up my strength for today to be MORE patient, MORE kind, MORE understanding. Wondering to myself if I had failed at this Birthday. If this certain brand of sadness was creating an apathy to my child’s unmet expectations when it hit me: I don’t have a frame a reference for what this season means for me when I base my today on the experiences of my past. This chapter is forever unwritten.

No excuses.

A great freedom can come from this, getting to pen the pages of our lives with the kind of love I want them to know. Unconditional, no-holds-barred, boringly extravagant love. Which means I have more people in my life than I even thought who are still around to hold me. Because it’s not my job to open my heart and bankrupt myself for everyone else. It’s my job to open my heart, the way I open my arms, to feel the greatness of letting them in.

Let's look up, eyes wide shut. Let's hold our arms open to bring each other close. Let's step light but with purpose and let's inhale, deeply, the breeze in the air. Let's trust where we are and love where we're going, let's know when to stand still. Let'

Happy Birthday, Jessica. I love you with a depth I had never swam to before I laid my eyes on you.

Christmas Card 2.0 and a Happy New Year

Christmas 2015

The last time we sent out Christmas cards, I think I was pregnant with our second child. He’s almost 8 years old. A strapping young man who surprises us, daily, with his ability to love sacrificially. This kid is altogether the most tiring thing I’ve done (you see, he never stops talking) and one of the very best things I have in my life, along with his sister. She’ll be 11 in a few short weeks and is moving on from being a TEN-ager to Eleven-teen. We’ll keep her, she has this uncanning musical ability. She picks up melody and can play it back (by ear) on her violin. She also writes, composes, and all-in-all is more badass than I’ll ever be.

Christmas 2015

I reign in at still being “Just A Mom”, albeit not very politically correct. But I’ve been shown, over and over again, that showing up for them in the thankless and very exhausting way I’m required to, voluntarily, will be a legacy I’m happy to leave. We are also still married! Let’s take a moment to celebrate that. We are still in business, as Aaron tirelessly works to build something he’s proud of – we’re all rallying behind him because we believe he can, he will, and most importantly, he does. The last time we even mentioned divorce has to be 2012. Progress, yes?

We’re going on 12.5 years of marriage and 15.5 of dating. Pretty soon I’ll have that little notch about being with him longer than I was ever without him and it’s honestly terrifying. But in a really beautifully, trusting, let’s do this, sort of way. I continue to waiver in denial about being Type 1 Diabetic, it’s a thin line of believing it’s not a death sentence and accepting that life is still worth the effort in the midst of uncertain circumstances and absolutely no clear answers. Touche, right?

It’s true that the older I get the less my vision for the future is 20/20. It seems my plans have cataracts and instead of undergoing a simple surgery to regain control over my vision – I’m lead, blindfolded, into the greater unknown with a heavy hand in trusting that my Lord will carry me through. This year we celebrated with Oliver at his decision to be baptized, we rallied around Jessica as she overcame her own social fears and heard clearly, maybe for the first time, how valuable she was and is. We wept with each other over the loss of so many dreams and held tight to the belief that the other side of 2015 was another chance to get up and try again.

None of that is easy to convey with a photograph once a year with a simple message of “Merry Christmas.” Not that I don’t wish I could get myself in gear and just execute the Christmas Card and I also love receiving all of your thoughtful words and happy faces. But friends, family, strangers … it continues to be of upmost importance to me to be transparent and authentic. To be real in a very messy life. It’s spectacular to get to live this, but it’s paralyzing to do so in a box that’s all tied up and sitting neatly in the corner.

May your next year be full of the unexpected, wrapped in joy, and when the darkness visits may you be able to see the light for what it is: everything that will set you free.

Merry Christmas! Love, Aaron Jodi Jessica and Oliver.
xoxo

Existential crisis: this is Tuesday.

Is today Tuesday?

All of a sudden I can’t remember. I was sure it was Monday yesterday, I was ready for it. A long weekend with everyone home, I was ready for the day of silence, me who likes a lot of solitude. But today feels like Monday. Because today I ended up texting a friend about my existential breakdown about what the eff am I doing with my life? And, also, Aaron had a really good day. So … makes sense. We balance each other out this way. When he’s high, I seem to slip into the dangerous closet of Not Enough, Never Will Be, Who Do You Think You Are.

This feels overdone on this site. I know I circle this dead carcass on a regular basis. Jodi needs to light the fire again so we’re going to go round and round with pep-rallies about kumbaya moments – and can we all just hold hands and love each other?

Well, can’t we?

Right. So, today. I’m a little terrified, a little unsure of whats next. It’s a little overwhelming. I could go back to school, I could intern or volunteer, I could go back to work where I left when Jessica was born, I could do anything.

ANYTHING.

I could solo-preneur it, but this is what I know: I work best in collaborative spaces. In teams, I work well with other people. I can work alone, but that only lasts for so long – and the whole idea of working for me is to be with other people, not to be by myself anymore.

It’s good to know this much. It gives me the essential questions to ask when I’m considering jobs and positions. All of this while I was driving by homes today, because that’s still a thing. I’m still redoing houses, only, well, we haven’t bought one yet.

It’s Monday isn’t it? This is a joke, right? I’m being punked.

No? Cool. I love being an adult. The day turned around when the kids got home from school and instead of the begging for screen time of some sort they asked for Christmas music and got the markers out.

December 1, 2015

December 1, 2015

We spent hours dancing to Christmas carols and coloring (I folded laundry … ) and tonight was the Parade of Lights in Holland – which we go to every year. So I was a little anxious about Aaron’s arrival home and dinner and timing and … well. I love this stuff.

December 1, 2015

I put some potpourri on the stove and the house smelled like Christmas. It was glorious.

Christmas music: on. Kids coloring pictures of holly: currently. Cinnamon cardamom evergreen potpourri: simmering. Welcome, December. I'm really excited for you.

I still had some leftover stock from the clams over the weekend so I grabbed some shrimp from the freezer and pulled out Dinner: A Love Story for a recipe, I added some veggies to my clam/curry stock and rice noodles and dinner was served.

December 1, 2015

December 1, 2015

We made it to the parade in time to see all the lights and meet up with friends. All in all, today was a good Tuesday.

December 1, 2015

My mom has this code she uses in her cook books to rate the recipes she’s tried. She writes V.G. on most of her recipes and when I was a little girl I thought this meant “VanderGriend” for her maiden name. I just assumed that this was a recipe her mom had tried, or something of that sort. But as I got older I learned that V.G. meant “Very Good” – as in, this was a recipe to keep around. There’s one in her arsenal with a note about how all 4 of her kids hated it so much we all agreed to go to bed early (wild rice something or other and I will never buy wild rice, ever).

I started using this code shortly after we got married thinking I could just bring my childhood recipes into this new life and it would be smooth sailing. Little did I know, Aaron loved what I made, but not in the quantity or constant rotation I had such a passion for. All of a sudden the kitchen I grew up with wasn’t enough, and it had always been enough. My mom was Betty Crocker, I grew up on homemade potato chips. But Aaron wanted to try a protein other than chicken. He liked seafood, spice, variety.

It was all together terrifying and completely freeing at the same time. To have permission to leave and cleave in such a substantial way but also to stray too far from the only roots I had: it was a process.

I didn’t grow up day dreaming about these kinds of things. I never imagined my wedding until it was time to have one, I didn’t fancy myself a career woman (although there was a short stint of Boston based dreams I was pursuing), I was a dreamer – that’s for sure. But not for things like what kind of cook or kitchen I would want. I didn’t think about things beyond wanting to have babies. And I wanted babies. Seven would have been ok with me. I wanted to be a mom, like my mom. I wanted to be my mom, basically.

And she’s great (I love you) but I had no idea that I was pursuing something that couldn’t be replicated, even though I tried for so many years.

So when her code for recipes, tried and true, didn’t stick I had to decide what was going to. What was I going to bring with me? The knowledge of how to use yeast, that I will never forget. When to knead and what it feels like to work the dough into a agreeable mass of heartwarming bread. I’ll never forget the secret to great chocolate chip cookies or that fact that she doesn’t stray from a recipe (where I go off the path on a daily basis). Every time I pick up after my kids I think of all the times I left my cereal bowl on the coffee table and how it magically disappeared. (same with laundry, mom … thank you.)

December 1, 2015

It’s taken me this many years of housekeeping and childrearing to selflessly just do the work. I don’t know how long it took my mom but she hasn’t stopped. I’ll bring that with me. I’ll defer to her, first, on any question in the kitchen. I taught her how to make lobster but she’s taught me how to bring my family to the table. She taught me how to listen to my kids after school and what disarms them better than anything: food. When you only ever hear “fine” how to make the house smell like peanut butter swirl bars and then they come clamoring for a piece … how they’ll just start talking when their mouth is full of something special.

I love this legacy and I’m proud to have a part in it for my own children but today taught me something. I can clamor against all the odds and keep myself in the comfort zone of the safety net of what worked yesterday and be ok. That will always be ok. Everyone around me lets me get away with this.

Or I could get up and just keep going?

Is today the day you give up or do you get up and just keep going?

Farther … than ever before.

Looking around my house and all the purchased art is linear stacks of lines, or phrases, or words and it was starting to bother me because: what's with all the letters? But I think words are beautiful. So I put that on my wall, too. #handlettering #brushl

And I think that’s what I’m trying to do. One mess at a time.

Case of the Monday's

Because waiting for perfect is just

more waiting.

Thanksgiving wind down

We had a bit of a restless patch in our weekend. The kids had been off school since last week Wednesday and while most of you can understand, there’s always a bit of tension around the Holidays with extended families, we weren’t exempt from that. But everyday we got outside to hike or walk or explore. Either downtown, around the neighborhood, or to some of our favorite dunes and parks.

Adventure: big boots

I ended up finishing THE BOOK that I couldn’t stop writing about (as seen here and here) while we were at the aquatic center with the kids. I took the last couple pages to the bleachers while Aaron and the kids swam around below me. I would get finished with a page and look up to see Aaron racing Oliver through the floating obstacle course, or to see Jessica bravely riding the zip-line into the pool. I would look up to see the reason I was so fired up about this book in the first place. I don’t even know why this specific one unleashed this in me, but it did. And I’m really happy.

And then on Saturday we hiked Mt. Pisgah counting stairs (203), taking every trail we came upon, and releasing the expectations of the weekend.

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

Mt. Pisgah hike: Thanksgiving hike

We ended our long weekend by hosting friends for dinner last night with this menu: Coconut-Ginger-Curry Clams, Roasted Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Polenta, and Banana’s Foster Upside Down Cake. The polenta was a first for me as was the upside down cake and I learned how to flambé but the first time I made clams was last winter during a blizzard over Valentines Day. And I haven’t stopped thinking about them.

The broth has a hint of sweetness from the coconut milk but the salty, zingy flavor of the red curry paste/ginger/garlic and fresh lime juice with delicate clams that open just by steaming: it’s magic. And it’s the best when you dip a pan-toasted baguette into the broth and it runs down your arms.

Eating with my fingers is my favorite way to eat. When you have to lick your fingers and pools of sauces and drippings splatter your plate with each bite. That’s the kind of feast I want to have if given the choice: the one where you’re all in. Where there’s no question as to what you’re doing: you’re eating. You’re submerged in spices and scents and seconds and you just want more.

As we were cleaning up last night and putting the leftovers away Penelope (The Kitchen Beet) suggested I smash the left over polenta into a pan and store it in the fridge overnight: then this morning I should cut wedges and lightly pan-fry them with whatever toppings I wanted for a hearty breakfast.

That sounded pretty tasty.

But last night was a tough one. I was up every few hours with bottomed-out blood sugars pounding orange juice and chasing my lows back to my normals and trying (but failing) to sleep. By six when my alarm went off I was bottomed out again at 54 and falling. So I drank my juice and laid down again until I felt strong enough to get up (the really low numbers make me weak) but by the time the kids needed to get ready for school I wasn’t functioning any better and now dealing with a headache from all this madness. Point is: by the time breakfast rolled around for me I was already on a roller coaster and wanted nothing to do with delicious pan-friend polenta wedges. So Aaron got the kids to school and made sure I was ok, and I got my strength back, and went for coffee. (Priorities)

By lunchtime I was ready to try food: And here’s what worked:

Pan-fried Polenta Wedges with Runny Eggs and Tomato Jam

In other words, left-overs: remastered.

Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.
Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.
Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.
Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.
Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.
Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.
Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.
Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.

Do you have cast iron pans? Might I suggest that be one of the only things on your Christmas list if not. TJMaxx always has some for a good price, Target has some too. You can also find them used at thrift stores. A quick seasoning of the pan and it should be good as new. ANYWAY: Melt a slab of butter in your cast iron pan (or any pan, but I like to be specific). Measurements are suggestions – so just go with it. I would only use coconut oil here if there is no goat cheese in your polenta.

Flip them a few times – when you start to see a browning crust, they’re warm. Transfer to a plate and now crack your eggs. Fry those up, flip em, and toss them over your wedges on your plate when you’ve reached your preference of “runny” egg. I had left over roasted tomatoes/spinach/garlic so I tossed that in the pan to heat up next. When I was satisfied with the heat I poured it over my polenta and eggs and squeezed a lime over it. Then I went in.

And you guys, she was right: it was good.

It was great even, the whole weekend. The dinner, the left overs, the time.

I don’t want to scare you or anything with my new-found drive to write here, but I’ll be back. I have so much to share with you.

Shhhh, just listen. (And happy thanksgiving)

I’m not sure why I want to keep talking about this, I only know that every few pages I’m texting excerpts to Aaron from the other room and there is no emoticon for FIST PUMPING YES MOTHERFUCKER. So I’m typing that a lot also. (Sorry, Grandma … and mom?)

Thanksgiving 2015

I started reading this book yesterday and not really in earnest until after the kids were in bed and instead of retiring to the basement for mindless television we both crawled in bed with a book and spent the next few hours turning pages. I laughed, I cried, but mostly I laugh-cried. Somewhere around midnight I put it down and closed my eyes.

I’ve been having really vivid dreams lately but I didn’t wake up with details of last night’s complexities, instead I woke up slowly to the wafting smell of bacon coming from the kitchen. And like I was hoping would happen, I had those visions of coming home for the Holidays and waking up in your old bedroom while your parents are downstairs starting the coffee and making breakfast. (That’s what Thanksgiving and Christmas are for, you see.) I’m not gonna lie, it was like a movie and I just laid there savoring the moment, even if it was fleeting, of feeling like I was young again.

Thanksgiving 2015

I was giddy and that was a welcome feeling for today.

Thanksgiving 2015

One of the chapters of this book talks about the dark secret of lazy parenting: the ritual. Before this book I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s newest title, Better Than Before. A few chapters into it I had one of those moments where I had to get up and walk around and immediately sit down to write the rules I know about myself.

It was a short list, but on it I chronicled:

I drink coffee every day.
My day is bookmarked by carpool.
I always use chicken bones to make stock.
1st snow means hot chocolate, photos, and lots of anticipation.
I like habits, their boundaries feel wonderfully safe to me.

Plus a few other items – but I love how looking back on it I see this list differently in just a few short weeks. I love the ritual of life and traditions. I love knowing that every time I roast a chicken I know the next two days my house is going to smell like chicken soup with lemons and garlic and bay leaves. I love knowing that the morning of the first snow is always a celebration in this house.

In Dinner: a love story, Jenny says “In other words, when there are so many little things to think about, it’s comforting to know that I have a few of the big things running on autopilot.” (FIST PUMPING YES MOTHERFUCKER.)

After breakfast we piled the kids into the car for a Holiday Hike at Riley Trails. I’ve found that walking 30 minutes a day is somewhat of a secret trick to managing my bloodsugars so I do that without lapse. Every day, rain or shine, I walk at least half an hour. If I can manage to get my family to do this with me: I love it. But for the first thirty minutes of any hike or walk – I have a zone and I go there. One step, two. Breathe. Exhale, inhale, look up. Look around, look down. Inhale, listen. The wind in the trees sounds exactly like the lake lapping the shore – it’s the most beautiful thing to listen to in the dead of a forest.

Silence has a song, too.

Thanksgiving 2015
Thanksgiving 2015

And after my half hour is up my mental check list turns off and I can slow down a little. I don’t feel so much pressure to keep walking, just keep walking. I don’t feel like I’m saving myself anymore: now I just feel like I’m serving myself. We go off the path a bit more and explore.

Thanksgiving 2015

And once in a while I can stop altogether to close my eyes with his, heads laid out in wonder while every other sense in our control is on high alert. Smelling the breeze, touching the wind, listening to the rustling of the leaves.

Thanksgiving 2015

Winter is coming, we can smell it.

Winter means soups and stews, pasta and sauces. It means homemade breads and bottles of wine. Cheese boards, exotic fruits, champagne. Winter means time. We have time.

Having people around our table is something we’re trying to do more of. More families, more couples. More meals together. Not out (although we love a good night out) but in. More sharing what we already have with people in our lives that we already love.

Jenny, again, writes about hosting (Phase 3) with kids. She tells a story about another couple, equally as daring as she, who coordinated an evening of pasta making for her family and theirs.

“Making pasta from scratch was the kind of endeavor that I would’ve once called a “someday” project. As in, “Someday, when the kids are older and I have more time I’ll attempt to do that.” That was the best part about having friends like Todd and Anne. When you feel like you’re all in it together, someday suddenly seems a lot less intimidating. Someday suddenly feels … here.”

FIST PUMP YES MOTHERFUCKER.

You see where this is going? I can’t stop. Something happened, I let the dam go. So I stopped everything (after texting that passage to Aaron with my, now well known, sentiments absent of emoticons) and went to the kitchen, giddy all over again. I had a cantaloupe that needed eating so I sliced it up and while I was emptying it’s sunset-colored belly of seeds I just had this feeling … this is simple and extravagant. This is good.

Thanksgiving 2015, snacks

Simple extravagance is important to me because it doesn’t beg for more. Because small voices with big hope are more powerful than large voices with an echo. Gentle conversation where inspiration breeds ambition, these voices matter to me. It allows you to show up, it doesn’t take your coat and replace it with a cloak of titles or achievements. It takes your coat and wraps it’s arms around you.

Thanksgiving 2015, snacks

I’m on page 228 and this is what I know:

Room temperature cantaloupe is sweeter and pairs well with Chardonnay. Having something to say but not knowing how to say it is a reckless way to spin yourself in circles. One step, two. Breathe. Exhale, inhale, look up. Look around, look down. Inhale, listen. Add a pinch more salt, to almost everything. Keep canned tomatoes in your pantry and a good olive oil. Your freezer is a treasure trove of last minute ideas. And it’s ok to begin from nothing: to build something with depth, to wait just a little while longer for the flavor to develop.

Because silence has a song, too. And she’s singing wether you’re ready for the show or not.