Food on Your Family

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There is a recall out for chopped Romaine lettuce.

Normally, I am unaffected by produce recalls because my lettuce was purchased thirty days ago and I am still telling myself that I’ll eat it. I can cut around all the brown spots, right? We’d hosted a family party Sunday, however, so I bought that huge package of Romaine hearts from Costco the day before.

As each heart was ripped out and discarded, I had the mental image of pulling cash from my wallet and throwing green bills away.

Which leads me to a common question I hear: how much does it cost to feed a family?

I have four boys. They’re young, and have always had modest appetites. My husband, who has never passed 150 lbs in his life, says he feels full after soup. Still, our food costs are going to be more than a young couple working full time or a small family of three.

Plus, kids grow. They eat more when they grow.

I lived with my younger brother when he was a teenager. I’m safely estimating that I’ll have that TIMES FOUR in a few, short years.

One perk to having children is that people will occasionally offer me free food. As in, Chelsea, I’m moving and am just throwing away all the food in my fridge. Do you want to come over and see if you can use any? Or, I’m going on a restrictive diet and left some pantry items on your porch. Give away what you don’t use.

It almost makes up for how much I spend otherwise. Actually -no, no it doesn’t.

Whenever I think I’ve got it bad, however, I think of larger families. We’ve hosted my husband’s sister’s family of eight children a handful of times. Don’t worry -we’ve returned the favor. But adding six people to ten is easier: just kill two chickens instead of the one and throw a bit more flour into the roll dough.

I may go into Costco to buy bread and come out with a new set of tires, but my weekly trips and expenses for food are about equal to my sister-in-law’s daily ones.

One of my favorite films to watch growing up was Yours, Mine, and Ours, with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. Although it has many pertinent scenes, every time our relatives come stay I replay the grocery store part in my mind. In the film, the poor cashier enters the products manually. Tub after tub of oatmeal follows bags and bags of Wonder bread, AND they have two more shopping carts to go after all that. The cashier totals it all up; they spent $126.63 (the equivalent of $920.87, using online inflation calculators).

The North family really could have used a Costco.

We took our ten house guests to the world’s largest Costco last time they were here. My husband was at work, so we may have resembled members of a certain lifestyle involving two wives. Each adult manned a shopping cart and helped herd the dozen children roaming around us.

It was somewhat exciting to purchase 36 hot dogs, multiple loaves of bread, 5 lbs of cheese, and enormous bags of chips -and know that we would eat it all within the week. We filled the carts with food and diapers, plus children in time-out.

I felt overwhelmed projecting how much regular grocery bills must cost. And, as with any large organization (recalls aside), their family has waste. have waste, and feel that I do fairly well planning out meals and reusing leftovers.

I find myself mentally calculating what the cheapest take-out meals are (Chinese food, pizza, or chicken “on the bird” from Costco), least-expensive home meals are (bean soup, grilled cheese and tomato soup, pancakes), or how often we can visit relatives at mealtimes.

I mean, when the boys do hit puberty, I’m going to be in trouble. Donations? GoFundMe, maybe? Actually, taking a full-time job might be the best option.

I wonder if Costco is hiring.

 

Reflecting on the Future

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My grandparents had a mirror in their bathroom, opposite another mirror on parallel walls. I could see myself in a hundred rooms in a hundred rooms.

Sometimes I walk where memory shadows still linger: a former neighborhood sidewalk, a street route I drove when I first earned my driver’s license, that base of a tree where I sat with my love in that park.

I see me in the past and even remember the thoughts and feelings of those moments. I think how I will walk there again in the future, and wonder what I will feel then.

 

unsplash-logoAlessio Lin

Happy Birthday to Me

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March 23rd was my birthday. As an adult and a parent, it’s not like I expect a lot of streamers, balloons, presents, or even free time to use the bathroom uninterrupted. I’m just mentioning it to explain why there is a picture of dessert at the top of this post.

Birthdays=cake. Right?

Right.

My side job involves monkey-typewriter skills to produce content for those annoying webpages you go to when you search for party ideas and find you’ve landed on a collection of pictures stolen from actual artistes but leechingly getting the ad revenue for them. I’d say it pays the bills, but it’s more like funding peanut butter on a tortilla for all three meals at college.

What? Oh, yes: CAKE.

I found this Chocolate Easter Egg Nest Cake while researching ideas for Easter Desserts for Some Purpose That Will Rank High in Search Engines. It looked fancy. It looked tasty. Above all, the directions looked doable.

Maybe I just wanted to make that edible nest thing.

Point is, I bought (most of) the ingredients. I harvested that instant coffee. I mixed the flour and cocoa and yoghurt into chocolate cake. And, who helped me? Not those lazy children. Not that husband-who-works-a-steady-job-so-I-can-afford-something-called-“yoghurt”-as-opposed-to-“yogurt.”

Actually, my oldest son did help me. We (mostly) followed the recipe, substituting for the fact that NO STORES around our little suburb had Woolworth’s Gold Greek Yoghurt nor Woolworths Gold Hand Finished Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringue.

I’m no professional baker, but I’ve made my share of cakes. From scratch. And, not just “scratching” open a cake mix box. Although we followed the directions, the cake turned out like a round brick. The Sahara Desert has a moister surface than it did.

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Still, I whipped my own meringue, filled the darn thing, drizzled hodgepodge ganache over the top, and perched that cute, actually-inedible nest up top. Jellybean birds flew through the window and laid their little clutch inside it and the birthday cake was ready to serve.

I suppose I hoped the filling and topping might soften up the cake slabs. I optimistically hoped the cheap brand of instant coffee we found at Whale-Mart would not make it taste like overpowered, cheap instant coffee. I also get a bit pigheaded when I start a project (I like to call it “tenacity”).

I even forged ahead when we had to pickax a few holes in the top in order to place some candles.

But the chocolate rock stayed solid, its meringue/cream/sugar innards gooshed out when we attempted excavation, and the darling chocolate and vermicelli nest chewed and digested much like actual twigs.

We all tried some. You know, after singing about birthdays and happiness.

“I like the jellybeans,” my second-oldest said. “Can I have more?”

“Cake?” I asked.

“Jellybeans,” he and two brothers answered.

“Sure,” I sighed.

Determinedly, I sliced myself another piece. I dolloped the escaped filling atop the bits of pumice I removed. “Welp,” I told my husband, swallowing broken brick and teeth, “Maybe next time I’ll not bake it as long.”

The sweet man adopted his encouraging face. “I’m proud of you for trying it.”

“Can we have more jellybeans?” Asked the dog, the cat, and the rat.

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Wednesday

Arthur Dent, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, explains that he “never could get the hang of Thursdays.” For me, it’s Wednesdays.

Midweek is not only Hump Day. It’s also our Garbage Day and my all-articles-are-due-by-noon Deadline Day. And, silly as it is to complain about, my two hour house cleaner is due to arrive.

The cleaner is part of my recent attempts to not be depressed anymore. You know, because cleaning is depressing. I’m not entirely sure it’s working, however, since my overall problem is that I procrastinate and then explode.

universe-2151332_1920Yep, like that.

So…. Wednesday is really Meltdown Day. Meltnesday. Meltdownesday?

As usual, I woke up after trying to stay up late finishing stuff and now feel like I have to clean the whole house so the cleaner can see the floor to mop it and then finish typing 500-word-each content articles that are so boring I want to get in a car accident on the way home from taking children to school just to avoid it and then watch the garbage truck drive right past my house because
+I
+++forgot
++++++to set out the cans last night
+++++++++…..again.

Plus, it’s our Birthday Season. But, maybe most days are actually like this. Even in Australia.

My Mama Said

Stress

My mama didn’t say there’d be days like today.

She didn’t say I’d wake completely wasted from staying up writing for a job I took because I have no job skills and only the lingering hope that everyday writing will somehow help and the paycheck is something whereas writing what I feel is nothing.

And the children, the children are yelling and picking and putting each other down like mean little parrots of their emotionally-drained parent who stayed up writing and let them watch a movie as a treat and to distract them from herself.

But watching a movie wasn’t a Fun Mom thing after all because now my child with some behavior diagnosis or another is telling me exactly what he thinks and his disrespectful behavior is the sort that would have gotten knuckles slapped or backsides switched a hundred years ago but instead I’m supposed to hug him and reassure him that his erroneous feelings are valid and I love him no matter what.

I don’t remember my mama telling me there’d be days where I didn’t love my children, no matter what because they’re impertinent and rude whilst telling me that I am the rude one while I’m washing their clothes and making their food and cleaning their residual dirt from all the floors.

No, she didn’t tell me about how many floors were in a house and how many clothing items four small boys can manage to dirty per hour or how many times they’ll throw an empty cup in the sink till only the backup ones are clean and those free-from-restaurant sorts are what visiting guests drink from.

But, really, I’m sure my mama did not anticipate driving to preschool in sock feet, gym clothes that never saw exercise today, and hair that keeps falling out when a light zephyr passes through the air or when a child dislodges several in a rough sign of affection that was probably more of an attempt to show how upset he was over yet another Rude Mom gesture.

Perhaps she knew about the hopelessness, about the parroting, about the ramshackle hairstyle. Maybe she was watching us mirror her sadness and repeat her empty, futile anger as we did whatever we wanted. Did we hear her crying as we knocked incessantly at the locked door?

Honestly, I’m not sure what my mama said because I didn’t always listen.

unsplash-logoFinn Hackshaw

The House That Someone Built

House Plans

I think most people picture building a house much like other adult life ideas. We think it will be customizeable, fantastic, and affordable. Let me tell you, however, that building a house isn’t quite like all that imagining.

If you’re going to be crushed by this dose of reality, head over to one of my happier posts and keep assuming life is a bed of roses and all that.

For the rest of you brave souls, we’ll take it in steps like a house plan. Or, more like a how-to on naïve decisions.

1. Customizeable
I used to think anyone who built a house drew up the plans himself and ended up with a castle. In our dating years, my husband and I would tell each other what amazing features our house would have if we ever got to build one.

There was a fireman’s pole, down to a ball pit. I’m sure I pictured a turret or two. Also, since we were teenagers, we planned a secret, underground path out to our secluded makeout gazebo in the backyard. Priorities, you know.

In actuality, the builders are the masters of it all. Whatever company you go with already has blueprints for buildings that are proven to not collapse on anyone, nor cause extra man hours of tunneling, and (most importantly) that their contracting companies have experience building a hundred times.

2. Fantastic
If the building company in charge of your future abode allows for changes or upgrades, it will have most of them arranged in packages. Again, they don’t want to deviate too much from what they know works.

Let’s say, for the sake of imagination, they were on board with a secret passage. First, they would have you agree to fork over a few extra thousand. Then, their design team would create new blueprints that have to be approved all over the place (by the city, namely). Finally, you’d decide you need to scrap the idea because putting toilets in the house is probably a better use of your funds.

So much for a ball pit.

3. Affordable
Okay, so I knew building a house was probably expensive. I hadn’t ever planned on being able to do it in my life. Some stars aligned, and the husband got a bit extra from a contracting job, we sold our current place, and I was pregnant at the time so anything could have happened and I wouldn’t remember it.

I already mentioned the cost of package upgrades, though that was just the surface of an enormous iceberg populated by narwhals. EVERYTHING costs extra to touch. We’re talking countertops, cupboard exteriors (and the detail and stain you want on them), fixtures, carpet (or other floors), under porch cold storage, extra shower head in the enormous shower space, better landscaping than topsoil and a few flowers, windows and surrounds, ceilings, finished basement, kitchen appliances, etc. etc. etc.

Phew!

Let’s say you don’t listen to any sales pitches or wife beggings, and you go for the very basic price they advertised to draw suckers like us in. Still, there is most often a HUGE down payment required when you all sign the agreement. For our place, it was 20% of the house cost.

If your math is a bit rusty, that means you need to pay them $60,000 for a $300,000 house. Do you have $60,000 laying around? Better look into selling your hair. Maybe your teeth.

And, let’s just say you got past all that and made it into the house with all your stuff. You may notice that the basement is not finished, nor is the backyard, that your neighbors are walking all over the property line because you didn’t build a fence; AND they can all see you perfectly well because you need to buy window coverings, too.

Window

I understand The Dream, because I went through the whole wishing and house-building thing myself. (That’s how I got all this insider information.) My husband and I walked through existing houses, and just couldn’t help feeling the fresh draw of a completely new, clean floorplan. Why settle for an older domicile, when we *could* have this better thing?

Existing houses have their problems, but at least the blinds are already on.

And, even though our house is fewer than five years old, we’ve already had to replace the water heater, built-in microwave, and main sprinkler valve. The clothes washer dying was a bonus, not to mention the garage door mechanism.

Maybe someday we’ll recover enough to afford curtains over the blinds.

Flights of Antsy

I used to be able to fly. I would run fast; faster -scissoring my legs and gaining altitude till I could coast in the wind.

My airstrip was the front lawn of my childhood home, the one with the steep hill. Or, it was the field with trees by my junior high school so I could fly into them and hide from my pursuers. Once, I was over a desert landscape and flew out of my kidnappers’ helicopter, landing amidst skittering sands.

Yes, usually my dreams involved exciting adrenaline escapes from hopeless prisons. I was contained for how special I was with all my powers. Sometimes I knew I must get out or my parents and siblings would get hurt as threats to me.

I passed a few years dreaming in solitude, but problems began to creep in. One time, I had to escape and ensure I also freed my helpless child. In a later dream, I tried to run but was literally dragged down by three dependents. I searched around in panic, mentally calculating the odds and knowing that it was impossible with so many.

Now, I rarely sleep well enough for my mind’s movie projector to work. When I am treated to an exclusive showing, the picture is blurry or I can’t save the world because the chores weren’t done.

Even my imagination has become hampered by the sludge of the everyday.

Disappointments and, Well, Life

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Life sucks.

It usually does, of course, but I’m focused on specific vacuum-like attributes this morning.

Two nights ago, I was finally enlightened as to the funeral program for my recently-deceased grandmother. I’ve been saddened about her passing, to say the least, and now feel somewhat like I’ve been punched by a random, vindictive leprechaun as I walked innocently down the street.

A certain relation of mine took over the funeral plans. I realize I’m a grandchild. Though, really, that’s only in name. A few legal and medical sources confirm I am hardly classified as a child anymore.

After typing up a rather satisfying, flaming, angry writing vomit session; I still feel upset. At least I didn’t actually publish it though, so we’re making progress.

To top the icing on the cake of the day that had already been filled with “normal” Mom Life stresses, I learned that my writing entry to a contest had not made it past the first cut.

Now, I’m never over-confident about my skills. I’m very good at self-deprecation and an extreme sort of humility and poor self-esteem and whatnot. What really got my yoga exercise pants in a twist was reading through the snippets that did make the final cut. I don’t mind losing (much), if the winners are worth losing to.

I like to think I’m collecting data on what might make my story accepted the next time I enter when I bitterly read through the competition. However, in this case I’m left scratching my head. In fact, this is the third time I’ve submitted to this blogger, so it’s more like I’m smacking my head with the keyboard.

What can I do differently? Suck more?

This is the part where we remind the audience that I’ve been trying to be a good little girl and eat healthy and exercise. So, I haven’t had fall-back options like binge-eating Valentine’s chocolate and staying up all night staring blankly at a computer screen as I type angry words about a certain in-law and a certain contest.

Chocolate was 70% off at Walgreen’s. It’s not like I overspent, at least.

Do Not Acknowledge When the Grim Reaper Calls

Old Folks

I am afraid of dying. It’s not a unique fear, nor a novel one.

From people in the religious community to which I belong, my statement draws vocalizations of denial. They say life persists after death. They know I will see my passing friends and relatives again in some grand family reunion.

But even they avoid reminders of The End.

They do not house dying relatives, attend festivities at Adult Day Care centers, or wish to visit those inevitable hellholes that await the living: nursing homes.

They’re just as afraid as I am. We’re all afraid.

My parents took us to visit relatives in “care centers” when we were young. I didn’t like going. I resented being forced to sit there while some wrinkled, age-stinked woman barely recollected her younger years. I didn’t realize my parents didn’t like the situation, either. Still; it was a sense of duty, family, and love.

Perhaps our problem is not entirely a fear of death.

True, we are scared. We do not wish to stare at the handiwork of The Grim Reaper and know it is our end as well.

However, the whole picture of avoiding age is a painting of mural dimensions. The painting, of course, is not a happy scene of meadows, sunlight and wildflowers. It’s more like those dark-shaded scenes of swirling landforms and moody lakes.

painting

(Pinterest)

See those painted weeping willows over the water? They are not happy trees. They are our own, selfish sadness at losing our loved one. We feel the hole in our lives, to some degree. We recall happy (or sad) memories and accordingly droop to the reflective surface morosely.

Mountains and hills shading the background represent trials and difficulties. Why is an entire range present, and why are they so far away? We want them far; we don’t like discomfort.

Real life, adult life, needs people willing to face and overcome uncomfortable things.

One such uncomfortable activity is the care of helpless, dying humans. If you think you don’t want to do it, think about the people who are paid by hospice companies or care centers. The high turnover rate is an obvious sign that no one likes wiping old peoples’ bottoms.

Filler scenery like grasses, dips, valleys, and bushes are the long, unknown journey. It’s not a cushy trip, nor one we can predict the duration of. It’s annoying. It’s a detraction from our regular life and a depressing play on our emotions.

Finally: the lake. Water is a favorite metaphor in creative works. We think we see the bottom, though it’s a murky, weed-choked one. Simultaneously, saddened viewers may see a reflection of themselves on the surface, of their mortality.

The water is the dying one’s life. The size and depth thereof depends on their personality and experiences.

So, what now, art lover? Do you wish to continue avoiding your picture as it takes on more and more of your regrets and negligence?

Dorian Gray

(Wikipedia)

I don’t blame you, really.

I’ve brushed closer to Death within the last week than I’ve had to for many years. Good healthcare, I suppose.

My grandmother is drawing her last breaths, completely unaware of the world around her. She hasn’t been awake or eating for five days. She hasn’t known who I am for a few years.

She was moved to a special Alzheimer’s facility last autumn. It’s only ten minutes from my house, but I have not gone frequently. I’ve felt impotent, as she stares at everyone around her in confusion.

I’ve felt deeply saddened as I briefly made eye contact and saw only emptiness.

Why go, then? She doesn’t know.

Fear of an eternal religious judgment? I’m not that superstitious anymore. Mostly.

Judgement

Let me draw you a death-scene a little different than the one my grandmother is part of now. Different, slightly, than her being completely asleep; with her anxious children staring at each other for hours, for hours of days.

Over a year ago, we were told my husband’s grandmother was failing. Confined to her bed in a home shared with her oldest son, she woke occasionally and spoke little.

When I arrived, armed with disruptive children and a picture book of garden flowers, I found my husband’s cousin already there. She had brought a guitar. Patiently, sweetly; she strummed it and sang.

She had a lovely voice.

Right then, I decided I wanted to be loved enough that someone would sing me off to Eternal Sleep.

And that, fellow Thanatophobics, is my impetus for care of the elderly. It’s a Golden Rule sort of thing. How would I want to be treated? What attentiveness may I expect?

Given the obvious truth that I may be susceptible to Alzheimer’s as well, I’m likely to degenerate to a similar state of ignorance. When I am anxiously rubbing my hands, wondering at the empty walls of strange rooms, and feeling a strange sort of violation at having others bathe me -who will care enough to visit?

Will you?

The Adventures of TinTin

Tin Tin
(From Beyond the Marquee)

About exactly a month ago, I listed seventeen children’s picture books I was fond of.

Today, I wish to journey across Egypt, the ocean, America, and even the moon -with TinTin.

First, I must have you young ‘uns travel back to a time before graphic novels were so prevalent; back when Americans just didn’t get it, though other countries did. Picture a world without so much variety, but still with motorized transportation and microwave ovens.

The world of my childhood.

Occasionally, my mother would bravely venture into The City with all three of us rambunctious children. After finding parking, we’d pile out of our station wagon and walk up the steps to the Salt Lake Public Library.

This was also before they’d built the big, fancy building there now. Ours was a more modest setup -a large, square structure with odd exterior walls of cement.

Never you mind how long ago that actually was. (If you ask my six-year-old, my childhood was around the time electricity was invented.)

The point of all this rambling nostalgia is that Hergés’ TinTin was a very special treat.

We didn’t live in Salt Lake County, so the library card for my mother was an extra cost. We didn’t own that many books. I’m certain we had no comic books or graphic novels around the house.

So, we each felt a mounting excitement as we literally mounted the stairs up to the children’s section, ran quietly through the main area, and turned left into the section of special, out-of-country books.

There, on the wall, the librarian would have set out all the TinTin books they had. It was like a candy store of literature.

My mother would finally catch up to us, note us sprawling on furniture with a book each, and sneak off to the adult section. We were good for a solid ten minutes.

What was The Adventures of TinTin to us?

As I said, those books were a special treat. They were also adventure, expression, art, and European humour. We were enamored with these silent cartoons we controlled.

Later, I would discover Astérix. That’s a story for another time. These days, graphic novels are everywhere. I pick up a few for my children from our own public library whenever we go.

Heck, they even have some with action-packed tales like The Laws of Motion: the story of Isaac Newton.

This old hipster says that’s all well and good, but classics like TinTin need to be read. If you haven’t ever, look into getting a copy. They’re still around, and they’re worth the time.