Thursday, July 31, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation

Guys.

I have not been rocking this return-to-stay-at-home-mom thing.

It's been a little difficult.  Or a lot, maybe.

We have had far too many fights and far too many television shows and far too many instances where Mama looses her cool.

A couple of days ago I told my children they were fighting over something stupid.  My son had a quick intake of breath to show me I had used a 'bad word' and before he could say anything I said "Yes!  I know I said 'stupid' because IT IS STUPID!"

Ever since then he's been using the word sporadically then turning to me and saying "Well YOU said it."

That I did you little heathen.  That I did.  (Although to be fair to myself - IT WAS TOTALLY STUPID.)

I mean, yeah, we've been able to do a few things.  We went to the aquarium with their grandmother, we went swimming, we went hiking and fishing, we had a birthday party, we went to the fair (THE fair - the Meade County Fair, obvs.), we went swimming again.  We even made it to Abraham Lincoln's birthplace.

But dear lord the fighting.  And screaming.  And fighting.  And whining.  And arguing.  And whining.

I know it's my fault.  I went from a couple of months of being able to pee alone and also having two whole days of the week all by myself to being completely immersed in mom-ness.  And honestly, summers do not showcase my best qualities as a Mama.  The days stretch out without me being able to fill them.  The kids don't play together unless I am there to keep them from smacking each other, and even then lots of time board games end in someone stomping off or someone else ripping up the pieces.  Tempers are short all around, all the time and I don't know why.  (Probably a lack of drugs, I'm just guessing.)

I don't know how to teach them to be friends.  I want to play with them, but I also try to keep a bit of distance because I don't want them to rely solely on me for entertainment.  As it is I have to force them to do something other than watch TV.

But I try to balance keeping the house from looking like life exploded in it with being a good, fun, mom, with trying to make jewelry and handknits to sell.  (I'm going to set up at a festival in September with my sister.  Not exactly prepared for it yet.  Also I have an Etsy shop.  Want something?)

So far nothing is balanced and we all just fell flat on our faces.  Maybe that's normal.  Maybe not.  But I can only try to do better.  I've got three weekdays left before I go back to work.  Time to peel the kids away from their screens and do something.

Mama is going to be fun if it kills her.  (Pass the drugs.)  (I'm just kidding.)  (I don't know why I felt the need to clarify, but I did.)

Let's look at some photos, shall we?




























Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Motherhood and more: Making things by hand provides sense of pride*

I like to make things. I’ve always liked to make things. If it’s something I think I can do myself, well, then at least I’m going to attempt it.

I started young and I’ve tried just about every handwork-type craft there is. I used to sew my own Barbie clothes – mainly evening gowns of course – from leftover material scraps of whatever
my mom happened to be sewing at the time. Cross-stitching came later, toward middle school. And then jewelry making in high school because that’s when all the macramé-hemp jewelry was in style.

Around that same time, I made my mom teach me to knit, though it wasn’t easy because she was a lefty and I’m a righty. We worked more on sewing a few years later, though I still haven’t mastered sewing on a button. Knitting and sewing are probably my all-time favorite crafts, but I’ve also crocheted, gardened and, recently, tried my hand at Papier-mâché piñata-making.

And cooking. Let’s not forget cooking and baking.

My kids haven’t necessarily followed in my footsteps, yet. But I think it will come. They have an appreciation for the fact that I can make things for them. Or maybe they take it for granted that I can.

My son wanted a Minecraft Creeper stuffed animal and instead of asking me to buy it, he asked me to knit him one. So I found a pattern and knit one. And I have to admit it’s a pretty awesome Creeper. Even though I’m not exactly sure what a Creeper is. Or Minecraft, for that matter.

But my point is I like knowing how to do things. I like knowing where my food comes from, I like making my own yogurt, I like knitting my own sweaters and hats and sewing my own dresses. There’s a bit of pride with it, you know?

The problem with knowing how to make things, however, is that lots of times I will look at something in the store and say, “I can make that,” which is a direct quote from my mother. I probably won’t make whatever it is, but the fact remains that I could.

My parents gave my sister and me a pretty self-sufficient childhood. We didn’t buy vegetables in the store that often, especially not store-canned. We grew our own. We canned our own. As such, summer, to me, smells like tomatoes canning on the stove.

My mom sewed and taught me. She made pretty much all of our Halloween costumes, a tradition I’m attempting to carry on with my own kids. She also taught me how to knit and macramé, and that a handmade gift is always, always better than a store-bought one.

Cooking and growing things was a given. We were not packaged-meal people, and to this day canned spaghetti tastes disgusting to me. As does canned soup.

I hope I don’t sound superior, that’s not my goal. I just feel like, for me, making things myself causes a sense of pride that doesn’t come with buying something in the store. Plus, once you find out how easy making certain things actually is, it’s hard to spend the money on a skirt you know you could easily sew yourself.

Making something by hand, whether it is a necklace or mittens or a cake, creates a link to a time when everything wasn’t readily available, when everything wasn’t disposable. And I like that idea. I like working for something. Obviously, everything in my life wasn’t made by hand.

I’m all for clearance T-shirts for the kids and the little heathens love the plastic toys. But I try to input as much homemade as I can into their daily lives to show appreciation for the skill it takes to create something by hand. And to show that effort and taking time to work for something is important.

And I guess it’s working, a bit. The Creeper says so.

*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on July 23, 2014.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I had my first kiss at the Meade County Fair. Don't tell Chris.

So I just submitted my monthly newspaper column and it was all about how I love to make things by hand.  I expect the hate mail to start about 20 minutes after it publishes.

It's not that I think I'm better because I make my own yogurt.  It's just that I really, really enjoy it.  I enjoy sewing clothes.  I enjoy knitting sweaters.

I'm a bit afraid I came off sounding like I'm awesome and you're not because I bake my own bread.  (Not always!  I swear!)

But really it's not because I think I'm better, it's because I'm 'frugal' and know that I can probably make something for much cheaper than I can buy it in the store.

Oh well.

At the moment I am actively avoiding my children.  Or child.  Sebastian is fine - he's building his new Lego Chima set and is actually a joy to play with.  The younger child, however, is not taking naps anymore - and hasn't been - and is short-tempered and violent and hoo-boy do I ever want to ship her off to someone else's house.  Or daycare.  I really, really miss daycare.

The hardest thing about being home for the past few weeks has been that I don't have any time to myself anymore.  It's back to constant companions and complete exhaustion when said companions are finally in bed.  That's not good for my introverted soul.

I know, I know.  Stop complaining you ungrateful woman.  I fully admit that I am never satisfied.  I missed them when I was at work and I missed being at work when I am at home.  And that my friends, is the circle of the life of a mom.  I'm about halfway done with my time before I have to go back to work.  Chris is taking a few days off next week and we're going to get the kids out of the house.  We'll probably go to the Meade County Fair - which, of course, is the biggest and best fair around.  The kids will love it.

I guess I should get back to parenting and stop actively avoiding my children.  Adele throws the blocks at my head if I don't play with her when she wants me to.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Homemade Friday on a Monday: Spaghetti and Meatballs for the Birthday Boy

So I survived the weekend.  The weekend of turning 33 and frantic cleaning and last-minute preparation for my son's 6th birthday Pokemon party, and Germany in the World Cup Final and Germany winning the World Cup Final and making biscuits and gravy for my son's birthday breakfast yesterday and homemade spaghetti and meatballs for his birthday dinner.  (He had a hot dog and grapes for lunch.  There's really only so much cooking I can do in one day.)


And I even survived my daughter being up from 2-4:30 last night (this morning?).

After party clean-up the house is still relatively clean, so that's refreshing.  I do have tons of laundry to put up that I shoved in a closet before people got here, but other than that I'm in pretty good shape.

I thought I'd share my spaghetti and meatball recipe with you today.  I know it's not Friday, and therefore not time for a Homemade Friday post, but I figured you'd forgive me.


This is not a quick meal, obviously.  The sauce (or 'Sunday Gravy' if you will) needs to cook at least 45 minutes.  As my dad says, you can eat it after 45 minutes, but it's done after 2 hours.

The meatballs take time, too.  The mixture has to be combined, then formed into meatballs.  Those have to be browned in a skillet, then finished in the sauce.

It's an immensely satisfying meal, even if you have to work it during the first half of the World Cup Final, running back and forth from the kitchen to the living room every time you hear your husband yell out.

My spaghetti and meatballs isn't nearly as good as my parents', but really, that's how it goes, right?  The sauce never tastes exactly right, the meatballs aren't as tender, but everyone was satisfied.  And next week for the July birthday celebration at my parents' house we get to have it again - the right way.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti Sauce

olive oil
garlic
onions if you like - but I'm usually too lazy to cut them up
3 quarts of tomato juice (or two large, 46 oz cans)
24 oz tomato paste
italian seasoning
sugar
salt

In a large pot or dutch oven heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add onions if using and saute until soft.  Add a tablespoon or more of garlic and saute until lightly brown - not dark.  If it gets dark it becomes bitter.

Add tomato juice and paste.  I never measure my italian seasoning, which is probably why my sauce never tastes exactly right.  I add a palm full.  And then usually more later.  Add a tablespoon or two of sugar, just to bring out the sauce a bit, then a tablespoon or more of salt.  I usually season it a bit, then let it cook and taste it for seasoning later on in the process.

Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 2 hours with a lid cracked on top.

Meatballs

3 lbs ground beef - lean - 94/6
1 lb italian sausage
oregano, basil, parsley - or italian seasoning
1 diced onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
5 slices of bread, or bread crumbs
grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
olive oil to brown

Mix meat, onions, garlic and seasoning (a palm full - or more) together.  If using bread, soak in warm water to soften, then add to mixture.  If using breadcrumbs, mix with meat mixture.

Add egg and parmesan.  Mix all together with your hands and form into meatballs - large meatballs, about the size of a small baseball.  Or between a golf ball and baseball.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Brown meatballs on all sides, a few at a time, turning often so they don't burn.

It's best to brown them all and transfer to a platter.  When all are browned, put them in a pot of spaghetti sauce, already hot, and cook in sauce for 45 minutes.

You can freeze them either before or after cooking in sauce.  I froze half of the meatballs after browning them - mainly because they all wouldn't fit in my pot.  This recipe made about 35 meatballs.

Once sauce is about 30 minutes from being done, start a large pot of water heating on the stove.  Once it boils, add salt - a couple of palm fulls, depending on how much water.  Add the pasta.  I usually let it cook for a few minutes, then taste and add salt as needed.  Cook until it still has a little bite to it.  Don't let it get mushy!  Strain pasta and add back to pot.  To keep the noodles from sticking together, it helps to add a bit of sauce to them and stir them around.


Serve a heaping plate full with at least two meatballs and a mountain of parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

Here's my mom's original, handwritten meatball recipe.  The woman has amazing handwriting for a lefty!  Probably because she was taught by nuns: