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Disjointed at Best

Well, I made it. The long anticipated weekend of sadness has passed without much ado about something really big to me. We were originally going to go out of town and hide, but we decided to be thankful after all and stay in town only planning to see one family per day. The idea was to spread the love out as much as possible so as to enjoy our time here and there rather than everywhere all at once but nowhere that matters. Hair standing on end, screaming from one suburb to the next.

I can’t believe it’s been a year. Last year I was sitting in this same living room with this same damn Christmas tree thinking about things like thank you cards for the checks to help pay for the memorial service, and how I was going to fall asleep without crying. This year I’m thinking about how to get Lily to fall asleep without crying and how much I love where we put the Christmas tree this year. I have changed over the course of the year, though. Somehow I’ve come out in the end – or more like  just barely into the beginning – less predictable emotionally, more emotionally disruptive and wholly unstable than I was before. I’m less willing to be nice for the sake of being nice, much more willing to be angry. I’m often flustered, irrational, at fault. I said bitch on the phone to my mother the other day. I wasn’t calling her a bitch, but I said the word. And I wasn’t just repeating something someone else said – I meant to say bitch and I said what I meant. Because that’s what I do now. That’s how I roll. I say what I mean because…I mean it.

***

I raked and bagged up leaves in the front yard today, all by myself. Lily helped me, but I’m taking all the credit. David and our neighbor did it last year and I remember looking out the window at them like it was yesterday. Why does that day stand out? I was at the kitchen table, blogging, occasionally checking the soup I was cooking (or maybe it was bread I was baking), Lily was playing in and out, I was 8 months pregnant and browsing Etsy for new prints to hang on the wall in whichever room we ended up choosing for the baby. I could see them through the front window and remember feeling so safe. It was very sunny and crisp outside and so warm and cozy inside. David would take breaks and come in to drink some tea, give me a kiss, see what Lily was up to. Olivia felt so natural to me in that moment. One of my favorite memories with her. As a family, we were happy that day. I can remember lots of other times during that pregnancy where we were not a happy family. The Holmes’ were having trouble many, many other days. I had a lot of guilt after we lost Olivia that I cried her away with worry about our future. I truly did not think David and I would make it if we had another child. I’m still not sure. Things were not good. We were frayed to what we thought were our edges (we learned they were not). We were tired of trying to make peace and we saw no end to the struggle in our near future. We were this close (fingers pinched together) to giving up.

She saved us, is something I would say if I thought about it that way, which I don’t. I don’t consider myself the type of person who could stay happily married to someone through our child’s death, but not through her life. What kind of backwards love would that be?

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All About Me

I’m not sure if this requires an explanation but…I’ve said all along that the one thing Olivia has given me that will not be taken away is the desire to make things better. She’s given me the will and the heart to take control of my life and turn it into what I’ve always dreamed of. For myself…for my daughter…for my husband…for my future children…

So, I’ve written a mission statement, posted it on my wall and saved it in my phone so I can read it anytime I need focus.

I will be the type of wife and mother who supports without attempting to control. I will treat my husband as my equal and my daughter as her own person, not an extension of myself. I will serve my family by cooking for them, planning fulfilling activities with them on a regular basis and organizing our home in a way that allows everyone in our family to focus on obtaining happiness with clear minds. I will teach Lily how to think for herself and develop her own set of principles; I will help her develop her own script and to avoid relying on whatever default she is given by us or her environment.

I will work with the following characteristics in every situation: integrity, honesty, reliability, creativity, enthusiasm. I will make sure my work does not interfere with my personal life.

When it comes to our possessions, I will buy quality items we can afford and that are worth taking care of for years to come. I won’t forget that all things can be replaced; lives cannot.

I will strive to find joy in every situation – or at least look for the silver lining. And I won’t forget about the importance of physical closeness with my husband.

I will be open to friendships outside of my relationship with David by returning phone calls as well as kindness. I will look into people’s hearts for their sincerity and reflect that in my own heart. I will seek to understand differing opinions without judgment.

I will look for and be open to opportunities to provide service and contribute to my community; to show Lily that community service is an obligation, not just a nice thing to do.

Above all, I will remember that I deserve no more or no less than anyone else. Working with others is the best way to achieve common goals.

I will live my life according to these principles which are solid, do not fluctuate and cannot be violated. I will strive to live by them in all I do.

It’s actually quite a process coming up with a comprehensive list of everything meaningful in your life and then simmering it down until there’s no more liquid and you’re left with a rich, shimmering pan of thick, yummy goodness. I’m sharing because I believe when you say something out loud, it has more chance of coming true. Sort of like the stories we tell, or the ones we’ve been telling for so long we can’t remember if they’re actual memories or just pictures we’ve turned into stories, or stories we’ve heard that we think we remember. It’s all a blur the older I get.

What would you put in your mission statement?

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Picture Perfect

I have two things to say about Lily.

  1. She got into the Pre-K program we wanted for her.
  2. She has picture perfect vision.

Yes. That awful assessment I put my sweet, grudging Lily through paid off. I coached her well (evil laugh, though I didn’t really coach her at all). If you don’t remember, the goal of the assessment was for her to score low enough to convince the school that she needed to be there. We received the letter last week letting us know that we succeeded.

Lily will be going to school in August! I am so excited for her. I hope I don’t freak her out with my enthusiasm. I’m just so sure she’s going to love it, especially after watching her just a couple of weeks later. She’s come out of her shell so much lately that the other day I wondered what she’d done with Lily as she was yelling “hello” to kids riding their bikes past our house. She was climbing the tree in the front yard and she was a completely different child. I shouldn’t say different, though. That’s misleading. She was just being herself in the presence of others. It was wonderful to see because people respond to her. She is so refreshingly sincere that you can’t help but become consumed by her. And she’s started doing this thing lately when she talks; she tilts her head just so and shakes it back and forth while she makes this no-nonsense face. David’s mom said tonight, “gimme a brick, lemme put it on your head so you can’t grow!” What a funny exclamation. And so uniquely southern.

My second thing was that we took her to the eye doctor today. She told me on the way in she was going to be just a little bit scared (not shy – scared) but it only lasted like 5 minutes. It wasn’t long before she was answering every question, taking every little test. She was so curious, you could tell she couldn’t help herself. We walked in the room and there was a basket of toys, the top one a puzzle just like one we have at home. She immediately went to it and started taking it apart. She pointed out to me that we were missing one of the pieces in our puzzle. I need to look for that.

The doctor asked questions about what kinds of things she likes to do. Does she like cats? Does she ride a bike? Lily mostly whispered her answers to her questions. She was never louder than a quiet, “two balloons…a car…a hand”. The doctor calmly and patiently asked question after question, watched her hand/eye coordination, watched her eyes with every move she made. It was so amazing to watch. This other adult communicating so easily with my child and my child so confidently proving herself…until she picked up the ball.

The doctor wrapped up the exam and was just beginning to give me the results. Lily laid down right there in the middle of the office, flat on her back and started kicking the ball in the air. Then she went across the room and we rolled it back and forth for awhile. Which, as it turns out, the doctor explained, is a very good exercise for their little eyes. It requires them to focus in and out on the ball at different depths. So we did that for awhile and then she kicked the ball and it hit the doctor right in the head.

She kicked a ball into the side of the doctor’s head.

How embarrassing. We were just sitting there talking, she giving me the recap filled with nothing but compliments to her performance and vision and she gets a ball in the side of the head. I was just about to put her in time out right there in the doctor’s office when she intervenes, just takes the ball and blows it off all together. Besides, she was the one with the ball in the office in the first place. What else would she expect a curious 3 year old to do?

But her reaction was so calm, so smooth, so unsurprised. What a great doctor. What a great woman. She was wonderful with my child. I hope Lily encounters people like Dr. Summers her entire life.

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On Bad Parenting, Trying Harder, and Good Eats

There was scrimmaging at soccer this weekend. The kids were 3 on 3 and the very opposite of aggressive. In fact, I’ve never seen a more polite competition. They all very patiently waited for their turn to kick the ball and no one even came close to stealing from the other team. The coach last week was right, it was hilarious – we were glad we brought our cameras.

At one point, Lily kicked the ball too far to the left of the goal and after trying to kick it back into place, just picked it up and put it directly in front of the goal before she scored. No hands, no schmands.

But did I yell at her? No. Did I berate her in front of all the other kids and parents?? Of course not!

How did the poor boy whose father yelled at him disappointed the whole “game” not get what he was doing? Lily just stared at him as he went on and on that his child should be trying harder, paying more attention, not being such a 3 year old loser. The only thing stopping me from walking up to him and giving him some gentle words of advice was that my terribly polite husband was there and we girls must be careful who we pick fights with lest our husbands be forced to turn on the chivalrous. I settled for mentioning it to the coach after practice. But I really felt sad for that sweet boy. He will never love soccer.

***

So, I’m probably the last to know this but I’m officially not too cool to read self help books anymore. And I wish someone had been able to convince me sooner that not only was I not as cool as I thought, but I could actually learn a thing or two from old Stephen Covey. Yet, somehow I’m still sort of embarrassed to admit it.

Anyhow, I’ve managed to convince David to read about the 7 habits with me and I for one, can already feel the positive effects on my relationships, behavior and general outlook on life. Habit 2, for instance, is all about beginning each day with the end in mind. And since I’ve been to the end and back, this concept speaks to me.

My behavior towards Lily (and David and everyone else I care about) does not accurately reflect how deeply I love her (and them). See. I’m a yeller. We don’t spank but we yell all day long. My frustration responds far more often than my patience and understanding and I make myself sick with worry later that my behavior will haunt me down the road when she rebels fueled with years of her own frustration. I’m trying to win too many insignificant, little battles, not the war.

As a side note, I’m not sure if my yelling has become more frequent since Olivia died or if I just feel guiltier now. Either way, I’m energized to change. I love that girl with all my heart. I didn’t know my heart had the capacity to love someone as much as I love her. Yet I use my size and my authority to bully her into doing what I want her to do instead of teaching her to want the right things. I’m smarter than that. I’ve just been lazy as far as she goes lately and that is what is changing.

***

And finally, I’ve gotten the old recipes back in order and I’m a’cookin’. This weekend I made rum glazed pecans, a breakfast fritatta, pasta with roasted cauliflower and garlic, and tortilla soup. I’m going through a cooking phase again which is definitely a good sign that makes everyone happy. I’ve been getting a subscription to Cooks Illustrated for the past couple years and finally put together a homemade cookbook of our favorites. For those of you who like to cook, here’s the Tortilla Soup recipe. In the future, this is how I want to be loved when I’m sick. I’ll have this instead of chicken noodle soup any day. Seriously, if you love summer time comfort foods, this is amazingly fresh and full of flavor. We love, love, love it.

Tortilla Soup

 Makes about 9 cups, serving 6.   Published March 1, 2005.  

Despite its somewhat lengthy ingredient list, this recipe is very easy to prepare. If you desire a soup with mild spiciness, trim the ribs and seeds from the jalapeño (or omit the jalapeño altogether) and use the minimum amount of chipotle in adobo sauce (1 teaspoon, pureed with the tomatoes in step 3). Our preferred brand of low-sodium chicken broth is Swanson’s Natural Goodness. If advance preparation suits you, the soup can be completed short of adding the shredded chicken to the pot at the end of step 3. Return the soup to a simmer over medium-high heat before proceeding. The tortilla strips and the garnishes are best prepared the day of serving.

Ingredients

Tortilla Strips
8 corn tortillas (6-inch), cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  Table salt
Soup
2 split bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds) or 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds), skin removed and well trimmed of excess fat (I used the chicken thighs)
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I didn’t get enough chicken broth, so I used 4 cups of broth, 2 cups of water and a cup of olive brine)
1 very large white onion (about 1 pound), trimmed of root end, quartered, and peeled
4 medium cloves garlic , peeled
2 sprigs epazote , fresh, or 8 to 10 sprigs fresh cilantro plus 1 sprig fresh oregano (I used thyme, cumin, cilantro, salt and pepper. I don’t even know what epazote is.)
  Table salt
2 medium tomatoes , cored and quartered
1/2 medium jalapeño chile (omitted – Lily would never eat it, “too spicy!”)
1 chipotle chile en adobo , plus up to 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (thyme, cumin, garlic salt and pepper)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Garnishes
1 lime , cut into wedges
1 Hass avocado , diced fine
8 ounces cotija cheese , crumbled, or Monterey Jack cheese, diced fine (used Monterey Jack)
  fresh cilantro leaves (used fresh from the backyard!)
  minced jalapeno pepper (nope)
  Mexican crema or sour cream (unfortunately couldn’t find Mexican crema)

Instructions

  1. FOR THE TORTILLA STRIPS: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread tortilla strips on rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with oil and toss until evenly coated. Bake until strips are deep golden brown and crisped, about 14 minutes, rotating pan and shaking strips (to redistribute) halfway through baking time. Season strips lightly with salt; transfer to plate lined with several layers paper towels.
  2. FOR THE SOUP: While tortilla strips bake, bring chicken, broth, 2 onion quarters, 2 garlic cloves, epazote, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boil over medium-high heat in large saucepan; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large plate. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer; discard solids in strainer. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces; discard bones.
  3. Puree tomatoes, 2 remaining onion quarters, 2 remaining garlic cloves, jalapeño, chipotle chile, and 1 teaspoon adobo sauce in food processor until smooth. Heat oil in Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering; add tomato/onion
    puree and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture has darkened in color, about 10 minutes. Stir strained broth into tomato mixture, bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, about 15 minutes. Taste soup; if desired, add up to 2 teaspoons additional adobo sauce. Add shredded chicken and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. To serve, place portions of tortilla strips in bottom of individual bowls and ladle soup into bowls; pass garnishes separately.

Per Serving: Cal 250; Fat 7 g; Sat fat 1 g; Chol 45 mg; Carb 26 g; Protein 21 g; Fiber 4 g; Sodium 460 mg

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Bring It

It’s been quite a day. Quite a week, really. I’m actually looking forward to going to work in the morning and just…working. There have been so many distractions lately that I feel all out of focus. Focus feels good sometimes. It makes me feel in control. Something I have much too little of.

My day started simply enough. Today was screening day for the Pre-K program I want to get Lily enrolled in to help her get used to the idea of going to Kindergarten next year without completely flipping out.

Having spent her entire life going to lunch with her grandmother and playing in the backyard with her father, a classroom is not something with which she has any experience, nor any desire. 

I know Pre-K is for under privilaged kids, and while I wouldn’t exactly call us under privilaged, we do need help. Lily doesn’t go to daycare because it would be too hard for us to afford. David could get a job, but he’s an artist trying to create and if he can do that and keep Lily at the same time, I’ll take that any day.

Lily has learned many useful things from him. It just so happens that one of those things is not how to be a social butterfly, which was painfully obvious at the screening today.

She would not speak. Not one word.

She pointed out all the right colors of balls, but wouldn’t say her name. She refused to count the blocks, but she did line them up and point at them as though she were counting in her head, which I’m sure she was doing because she can count. To ONE HUNDRED. Not today. She also drew a very nice circle, but she wouldn’t say how old she was or identify any of the animals on cards. Not one. The only way she would even stay near the lady doing the screening was if she was sitting in my lap. And as sweet as that is, I just don’t get it.

I’m not shy. I get nervous around certain people on occasion, sure, but it’s not shyness, it’s more like self-consciousness. I don’t know how to treat shyness. I don’t even know if it’s something to be treated. Will school just cure her of it naturally? Or will she grow up to be exactly like her father and hopefully marry someone to compensate for her lack of social skills?

I don’t have the answers to these questions but I know I’m going to need to learn how to chill the mess out before I screw her up even more. (See that? What do I mean by “even more?” I am not meant to be the mother of a fly on the wall. I love them, but I sure as shit don’t understand them).

While the screening was going on, the car we just bought in October (in preparation for the new baby) started running rough. Lucky for me, David’s knowledgeable about this sort of thing, so he was on it, but it’s still one of the least pleasant things to have to deal with. I left work early to work from home the rest of the afternoon (yeah, right) while he drove across the city to like 5 auto zone type affairs looking for precious new parts.

The VW Passat is a beautiful car. It does not have easily located, nor cheap, parts. We knew this going in. We did not know it would start so soon. Although maybe we should’ve been a little more realistic. It’s not a “new” car; it’s just new to us.

Around 5pm things started looking up, and not because it was “5 o’clock somewhere” but because Dave came home with the required parts, Lily was up from a nap and we were headed to basketball practice with her favorite cousin, Sawyer. The grandparents even came tonight to marvel at the adorableness that is 3 year old basketball. But remember what I said earlier about the shyness? It takes at least the first half of an hour long practice to do anything without my hand firmly placed inside hers or her arms firmly wrapped around my leg. But for the last 15 precious minutes she didn’t even need me out on the court with her. I was so proud!

Afterwards we took her and her cousin to eat and play and she actually ate and actually played and actually stopped playing the first time I asked without whining once. Not once! I was again, such a proud mama. She even went to bed pretty easy tonight. Last night the monsters kept her up from 10 to midnight.

But now that the house is back in order (relatively), the girl is asleep, the husband feels useful and accomplished, I’m happy and settled again. Ready for another day. C’mon days, bring it on. I can take it.

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