And Just How Is This Supposed to Work?

One of the challenges I’m facing as a new mother (he’s 9 months old: can I still claim to be “new” at this?) is figuring out how to respond faithfully and responsibly to the What Ifs that Sam has introduced to my life. While he’s much more hardy and capable than he was last spring, Sam is still so physically vulnerable, and it seems like the world is a maze of dangerous situations and hazardous materials. And I know that children grow, and that some day he’ll have the walking thing down and the reason necessary to avoid most obvious perils. But what if someone bullies him? Or a girl breaks his heart? Or, God forbid, he starts driving?! It never ends.

Most days, I can keep the fear under control. But every now and then we’ll have a close call (none serious–yet) or a troubling incident (which was probably nothing) that shatters my illusions of control over his small, precious life. And then I wonder: Does this anxiety grow exponentially with each additional child? How do parents with large families handle the stress? How does Michelle Duggar set foot outside the house, not to mention deal with attention from the national media and its potential effects on her children?

As a teacher, I’ve seen the kind of damage caused by “helicopter parents”, the ones who hover in the background and swoop in to save their child from any difficult situations or negative consequences. Their children become habitual complainers who cannot handle criticism or deal effectively with disappointment or setbacks. Generally, they’re unpleasant and unhappy.

I don’t want that kind of life for my son: I want to teach my children to handle difficulties with wisdom instead of fear. I want to take the Love and Logic route. But I can’t do that as long as my own choices are based on the worried what-ifs. And, truthfully, I AM free from a lot of the worries that plague other mothers I know: I don’t sanitize Sam’s pacifier every time he drops it, and I don’t require people to wash their hands before touching him. Germ risks don’t bother me. (Much.) It’s the things you can’t calculate, random things like falls and SIDS and car accidents that make me catch my breath.

So, experienced parents out there, how do you handle the risks inherent in raising a child? How do you know when to follow the caution of our Just-In-Case culture and when to (responsibly) let go? More importantly, how do you handle the fear when you have so much to lose?

2 Comments

Filed under Faith, Mothering, Uncategorized

Recent Reads

‘Tis the season for listing books, or so my friends at Ignatius and CeilingFlickers would have us believe. Books we’ve read, books we want to read, the best books ever—all excellent lists. And since I’m a bit behind on reviewing the books I’ve been reading (instead of blogging) over the past few months, here’s a list of my own. In no particular order, I present:

Some Books I’ve Read Somewhat Recently

1) Helmet for My Pillow, by Robert Leckie: This memoir, written by a surprisingly articulate and engaging reporter-turned-marine-turned reporter, recounts the story of the 1st Marines in the Pacific theater in WWII. I picked it up at the library after Zach and I watched Tom Hank’s mini-series The Pacific. Leckie’s style is thoroughly enjoyable–his sense of decency, of what is “fit to print” in the 1950s, leads him to compose more…delicate versions of the stories than HBO delivered, but he communicates the heart of the matter powerfully despite this restraint. I’m looking forward to reading With the Old Breed, by Eugene Sledge (the other primary source text for the miniseries) sometime soon. Having spent so much time with my nose in a novel lately, this brief foray into non-fiction was especially refreshing!

2) Cautionary Tales for Children by Hillaire Belloc, illustrated by Edward Gorey: Sam and I spend a lot of time “reading” Sandra Boyton’s books and enjoying the tactile sensations in each of Marley’s adventures, but this little gem is destined to become a favorite in the Good Children’s Library. A gift from Sam’s lovely godmother, Amy, these tales seek to frighten children into obedience (in the most amusing manner, of course). Instead of a description, a single chapter title will suffice: “Matilda, Who Told Lies and Was Burned To Death”.  Oh, okay, ONE more: there’s also the tale of “Algernon, Who Played With a Loaded Gun, and, On Missing His Sister, Was Reprimanded By His Father.”

3) Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: I first encountered this instruction manual for writers when I was in high school. I read the first few chapters, realized it was primarily for fiction writers, and never looked at it again. Until this Christmas, that is, when my dear friend Allison (over at RhetoricalExpressions) placed it back into my hands. Lamott’s advice is so encouraging. Beyond any bit of technical wisdom she offers (and there are many such bits), she frees her students to write by admitting that EVERYone writes crappy first drafts, and most people who write for fun or a living are mildly insane, and should embrace that fact. You can thank (or blame) her and Allison for my attempt to revive this blog.

4) Beowulf, by Anon, translated by Seamus Heany: This was my second year teaching Beowulf, and it is proving to be one of my favorite units. The story is so simple, so raw, and yet provokes such nuanced questions about justice and heroes and the monsters inside of us all. Nineth graders respond well to the combination of mythical creatures, family feuds, and gory battles. I hope Sam is a fan of this one someday. It’s a quick read: return to it through Heany’s masterful translation.

5) Almost All of The Books That Michael O’Brien Has Written: I’m presently about 50 pages from the end of A Cry of Stone, which is the last in his “Children of the Last Days” series. I’ve also read Theophilos and The Father’s Tale is beckoning me from under the Christmas tree. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, you simply MUST. I cannot recommend them highly enough. However, I will attempt to do so in greater detail in a future post.

But enough about me. What have YOU been reading? And what should I add to my list?

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Reading, Teaching

Daily Bread

Not exactly perfect, but definitely much more successful than other recipes I've tried at 6k feet!

My attempts at baking bread at 6000 feet have produced mixed results. All along, my goal has been to create a healthy, hearty sandwich bread that toasts well and doesn’t have the consistency of lead. While I’m not there yet, I think I’ve found a new path to pursue with this book: Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day.

Their premise is simple: wet dough keeps well in the refrigerator and, if you make a large batch, you can have it handy for baking fresh loaves every other day or so. I started yesterday with their basic recipe for a French boule. I only made a half-batch, enough for two small loaves, because of my deeply ingrained fear of failure. (No use in wasting even MORE flour.) Though I followed their directions perfectly, I was disappointed by how little rise I saw in the dough after three hours. But, trusting that my husband will eat anything I make for him, I kept going.

The baking process is a tiny bit more complicated than for regular loaf bread: it requires a pizza stone (finally giving this under-used wedding gift a job!) and a broiler rack with water (? I don’t know what this is, but I filled a cookie sheet with hot water and that seemed to work.) The book gives clear step-by-step instructions–including frequent reminders NOT TO WORRY, which I appreciate–and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it rose in the oven. The steam from the broiler rack (or cookie tray)  creates a great crisp crust, too.

The book includes recipes for sandwich breads and whole wheat breads, which I plan to try next. Colorado friends, check out these high altitude baking tips before you start–I wish I had! (By the way, the Colorado Springs public library has multiple copies of the book) Overall, the process is SIGNIFICANTLY easier than other yeast breads I’ve tried. Plus, the satisfaction of smelling your own bread baking is, of course, priceless.

2 Comments

Filed under Domesticity, Uncategorized

Merry Happy

One of the charms of living on an academic schedule is the frequent opportunities for a fresh start. Every August is a new beginning, complete with that bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils and determined resolve to see the true potential in each student. Every January presents a chance for more changes, which usually start with the purchase of a new bathroom scale (the old one is, clearly, malfunctioning). And every June  provides an occasion for continued improvement (“This summer, I’m going to teach myself ARABIC! (No.)).  Throw in the inspiration of a birthday, and at least one good confession, and you can revive your motivation for self-improvement at least every other month.

In this light, it’s no wonder that educators are such vastly superior beings! We improve, on average, five times faster (…or is it five times more frequently?), than your average Joe.

The thing is, every time I NEED that kick in the pants, a reminder that, Yes–time marches on, but No, all is not yet lost. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin again with a clean slate.

Isn’t it funny how the small things weigh us down? I don’t know about you, but my resolve is easily shaken. Tiny failures pile up so quickly. A chore ignored on Monday, a coupon left unclipped on Tuesday, the grading incomplete on Wednesday, and by Thursday I’ve decided to give up, order a pizza, and let the clutter accumulate like piles of broken dreams while I fade into the oblivion of poverty and filth, doomed to a lifetime of obesity and nauseating similes.

But, as the immortal Lucy Maud Montgomery reminds us, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.”

And so we begin again. Tomorrow is my first blogiversary: Breeding Lilacs is now an entire year old. I’ve posted 65 times in the past 365 days, and I hope to triple that number in the coming year. Hope to? No, PLAN to. Will.

Those of you who have been with me this whole time know that 2011 has been a big year for the Good family. You were with me during my last months of pregnancy, the arrival of Sam, the early weeks of motherhood and that very long hiatus there during the summer. Often during this past year, the combination of housekeeping, parenting, teaching and playing moderately challenging board games has left me with little time or inclination to write. I’ve missed it, though, and am hereby resolving to stop avoiding it and to stop blaming the baby when I do.

Since we’re still in the thick of the Twelve Days of Christmas, let me wish you a very merry one. And Happy New Year, dears. May 2012 be our best one yet.

1 Comment

Filed under Beauty, Mothering, Writing

How-To

How to Make Cake Pops  Balls in 25 Steps

(Only 10 of which are actually necessary)

1) Begin on a day when you have fifteen other more pressing things to do. Attempt to do three other things in between each step below.

2) Bake a cake according to the directions on the box, burning it only slightly when your infant creates an untimely diaper situation.

3) Unfairly curse the altitude, but take comfort in the fact that no one will see how the cake actually turned out.

Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-a-altitude.

4) Crumble the cake into a big bowl with your bare hands. (Do not leave the cake crumbles unattended, as your husband is likely to find it upon coming home and assume that you’ve finally gone insane.)

5) Wash hands thoroughly if you’ve recently applied lotion or changed a diaper, then mix half a can of icing into the cake crumbles. (Remove your wedding ring half-way through)

6) Form sticky cake crumb/icing mixture into balls, set on wax paper-covered baking sheet and place in the freezer.

Ready to freeze!

7) While the balls chill, prepare the candy coating in a double-boiler, or a pyrex inside of a pot of water, if that’s the best you can do.

SOME people just use a microwave, but we know that a double-boiler is best.

8 ) When the candy chips have melted in a smooth, even-colored liquid, remove cake balls from freezer.

9) Dip a lollipop stick into the melted candy, then immediately plunge it into the center of a cake ball. Take a moment to admire your work.

10) Artfully twirl the cake pop in the melted candy. Try not to panic when you notice that the candy coating is AWFULLY thick.

11) Definitely panic when you realize that you’ve forgotten a styrofoam block for holding the cake pops upright while they dry.

12) Sit there despairing for 45 seconds with a lumpy cake pop in hand while your baby cries and your phone rings and your sense of self-worth plummets like a 401k.

13) Put the cake pop back on the wax paper, upside down, and try to regain a healthy perspective on life while attending to various other crises.

14) Try dipping another cake pop, insanely expecting better results the second time. Realize that half your candy coating has been used up on two cake pops that could each constitute an entire meal.

Overgrown Cake Pop Monster

15) Weep a little, and eat one of the elephantine cake pops to make yourself feel better. Grudgingly admit that they taste okay.

15) Whine about your failure on Facebook.

16) Make your husband eat the other ugly cake pop and cry some more while shoving everything in the fridge or freezer when he tells you–as you already know–that the candy coating is much too thick.

17) Take a couple of days off. Torture yourself by browsing through Bakerella’s archive of fondant-covered miracles. Buy three different kinds of candy coating. Seek advice from professionals/friends on Facebook.

18) Return to your project with renew inspiration, determination! Fortify yourself by eating one of the frozen cake balls.

19) Realize that all of your materials have absorbed an awful onion and garlic flavor from the chili that you put in the fridge yesterday.

20) THROW EVERYTHING AWAY.

21) Repeat steps 1-8.

22) Only, THIS time, make the cake balls much smaller and  accidentally splash a SINGLE DROP OF WATER into your candy melts, thereby irrevocably ruining the entire batch.

23) THROW IT ALL AWAY AGAIN! Blast Abba’s “Dancing Queen” from itunes as you hobble from stove to trashcan, alternately singing along and sobbing.

24) Give the microwave thing a try. Admit that it’s much, much better.

25) Spend the next hour sniffling, snuffling, dipping and twirling until you end up with THIS:

Finally, a decent little pumpkin.

 Congratulations! You may be emotionally crippled and two pounds heavier, but you’ve made CAKE POPS BALLS!

Take some more pictures to document your success.

Throw a party.

Serve cake balls.

3 Comments

Filed under Domesticity, Whimsey

Adventure in Renting

So I come home today from running errands.
(You can tell that this is going to be an awesome story because  of the killer opening line.)
After unloading the car, I change Sam’s diaper and get him settled in his high chair to play while I get ready for lunch. As I’m warming up his spinach puree in the microwave, I hear a toilet flush. Our toilet. From the bathroom three feet away.
With characteristic elegance, I gasp and  lunge for the knife block on the counter. In the split second during which I deliberate between a bread knife and a chopper, the bathroom door opens to reveal my elderly landlord. He has just come by to investigate a recent issue with our kitchen sink. Finding no one at home, he went ahead and checked the plumbing…and then decided to “check the plumbing”.
I was home for almost 10 minutes before he made an appearance.
In fairness, I should note that my landlord  is, like me, quite hard of hearing. There are times when this affliction is a blessing (such as all night, when I don’t have to listen to Sam fuss when he wakes), but occasions like this make me wonder if I will someday endanger us all out of sheer ignorance. For instance, I sometimes don’t hear the front doorbell if I’m upstairs, and sometimes people mistake our front door for the entry way into the whole building. Half a dozen times I’ve come downstairs to find a pizza delivery boy in my dining room, looking around for apartment number six. So I’m somewhat accustomed to these mild shocks. But today’s was just worse. On so many levels.
At least he fixed the sink.

1 Comment

Filed under Domesticity

Happiness

While alone in a quiet house on a Sunday afternoon, sipping a Fat Tire and waiting for my family to return from a walk, I had a startling revelation. Pleasantly heavy with a delicious birthday dinner, (prepared by my mother, who visited this weekend), refreshed from a peaceful nap, and warmed in my heart by messages of love and good will from friends all over, I realized, yesterday, that I am truly happy. And, moreover, I suspect that I have been for quite some time.

I don’t mention it much because I don’t remember it often. Somehow, I manage to avoid the pleasure of contentment by keeping frantically busy washing tiny socks and checking mundane chores off a never-ending list. I seek happiness in the tepid thrill of minor accomplishments, foolishly ignoring the pervading peace already here.

It is not, I’m afraid, very fashionable or even polite to profess happiness these days. People seem to assume that such a blatantly positive attitude betrays hopeless naivete about the myriad problems facing our generation or–worse–a lack of concern for the suffering.  Many also labor under the assumption that if we don’t have a litany of personal problems to share and suffer through, than, well, there won’t be much left to talk about. So we smile patiently, and explain how everything is fine, or would be if the mechanic didn’t charge so much or if this case of the sniffles would disappear or if our bosses didn’t expect us to do quite so much work. Graciously accepting the mild pity offered in return, we rest comfortably on our pillars of martyrdom and quietly dare our friends to trump our set of woes.

But I’m done with replying to the casual “And how are YOU?” with a list of difficulties that temper my happiness: none of the minor problems that crop up in daily life deserve to be first on my list of conversation topics. I can bear testimony to much greater, and vastly more interesting truths.

It’s easy to say that, I admit, when I’ve just received a bunch of lovely gifts and I’m well-rested and my fridge contains over half of a decadent chocolate Kahlua cake. (Cake which I will gladly share: yes, I’m talking to YOU, local pregnant friends. Chocolate glaze. Coffee ice cream. You know you want it.) But the glow of birthday bliss has, in this case, served as a much-needed reminder of the graces I enjoy year-round.

Some of you know that my perspective on aging is traditionally tainted by a measure of distaste and more than a little fear.  The gray hairs sneaking in around my temples and my complete lack of interest in trying on jeggings remind me that I’m slowly becoming decrepit and dead. (I know, I know–just bear with me). But this year I can honestly say that turning 27 is okay with me. Because, for the first time—thanks to my husband, my son, my parents, and my ever-loving friends—I actually believe that this will be the best year yet.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Beauty, Faith