on feeding a family

When it comes to feeding myself and my family, I have high ambitions. I want us to eat super nutrient-dense meals based on fresh vegetables. I want starches to mostly come from perennials (tree food). I want high quality meat & fat, bone broth, and ferments. And I want all this to have variety, taste really good (so my 5-year-old will eat it*), be simple & quick to prepare, and not cost 90% of my household income. Do you have similar ambitions? But it’s hard! It got to the point where deciding what to make for meals each day was a significant source of stress. Stressing about the abundant, high-quality food we get to eat is embarrassing. Talk about first-world problems. But if you are the primary cook in your family, I’m sure you can relate.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to crack this code and design a system (it’s always about designing a system in this house of permaculture fanatics). I’ve been watching my new neighbor/old friend Sarabeth feed her hungry family of six, one-pot, gut healing, meals three times a day (outside on her camp stove, no less! My hat goes off to you, Sara!). One day Sarabeth casually mentioned that they eat eggs for lunch everyday. That was an ah-ha moment for me, having lunch be the same thing everyday. Back in the fall, Damian & I started having a big green smoothie every morning, and it made a huge difference in my day -because it has a ridiculous amount of fiber and micronutrients, so feels great in my body, and also because I no longer had to decide what was for breakfast (a teacher once told me that “trying to decide” is basically the worst mental state you can be in). If we have our smoothie for breakfast, and eggs for lunch, we can eat some meat with dinner and all I have to decide is how to flavor my meal! I don’t know if I’m accurately conveying what a revelation this is for me.

In case you are curious, here’s how it plays out:

Breakfast for me and Damian: Giant green smoothie. Oliver is not yet a fan of this smoothie, so he gets some combination of fruit, nuts, yogurt & sometimes grain.

Lunch: best eggs in town (from our permaculture chickens)! I usually serve them fried or poached on a bed of arugula salad (from the garden). Oliver will eat arugula if there’s a balsamic dressing, so that’s nice. In theory a dried fig and a sprinkle of nuts in the salad are enough carbs, but in practice we usually want a little more and will have a chunk of acorn bread or a little rice. My other go-to egg meal right now is what I call “picnic” I boil the eggs and pack containers (or small plates) of olives, cheese cubes, carrot sticks, toasted nuts, mesquite crackers, sometimes hummus, sometimes nori… you get the idea. It tastes better outside. (apologies to my readers who are currently buried in snow). I like the idea that I can do quiche or okinamyaki or any number of other egg dishes, if I get sick of eggs as themselves.

Dinner: I like to make a potroast or roast a whole chicken and then eat it over the course of several days. Sometimes we’ll do ground beef patties or a can of sardines or a fish curry (in which case we eat rice). With some cooked sweet potato or winter squash and a big pile of sauteed greens (from the garden), some kraut, and a cup of broth with miso, it doesn’t take much meat to feel satisfied. If I’m feeling creative I’ll take the meat from the chicken or potroast and saute it with some aromatics or make a sauce so it tastes Mexican or Indian or whatever. These meals feel easy to put together and taste really good.

I’ve always tried to meal-plan, but the world of recipes is overwhelming. I really like this structure and how it goes along with the permaculture** principle of “limitations create abundance” this framework with a few fill-in-the-blanks to allow creativity (or stay super simple if I’m busy or tired) feels like I’ve finally cracked the code. Eating only a modest portion of meat at one meal a day helps our budget a lot. Having a huge garden and laying chickens makes a huge difference too.

*A note on kid eating: Oliver won’t eat a big pile of sauteed greens, but he’ll sometimes eat a few bites. He eats the seaweed in his miso. He’ll eat carrots, and piles of sauerkraut and sometimes broccoli… generally I just serve up nutrient dense food that tastes good to me and don’t sweat it if he doesn’t eat parts of it.

**sorry I keep preaching permaculture, I can’t help it.

 

 

productivity and parenting

i recently read a great article about the importance of morning routines on productivity. it echoes and consolidates pretty much all the advice i’ve ever heard about feeling good and getting valuable work done. i’m very much a morning person and have designed my workdays to end at 2pm because my effectiveness pretty much falls off the cliff by 3. so if i was to be my own productivity guru, i’d recommend i get up at 6, exercise, “clock in” at work, then do a bunch of home projects and be officially done with everything goal oriented by 3. the afternoon and evening would be chill, and i’d go to bed early. sounds great, the only trouble is, i have a 3 year old. maybe that’s a big excuse, but i really don’t hear much helpful advice when it comes to being productive while being a full time parent. here’s my situation, tell me what you think:

i work at my job (from a home office) 2 mornings a week while damian is officially on parenting duty. damian also takes oliver for an hour a day while i exercise (in theory this happens everyday, anyway…). the rest of the week i’m full time parent. it’s not that damian doesn’t do any parenting other times, but he mostly works (he’s a permaculture designer and musician) and cleans up after us. as you may be aware, the kind of distraction free focus that productivity experts recommend we create and guard every day is not exactly possible with a 3 year old present.

oliver generally sleeps from 10pm-6:30am and naps from 2:30-5pm. in theory, i could be productive during this nice big chunk of nap time, except that is the time of day that i am the most brain dead. i need a lot of sleep, so if i got up before oliver, i’d need to go to bed before him also, which is not possible most nights because my husband is a musician. i’ve tried napping when oliver naps in hopes of getting up crazy early, but i either can’t fall asleep to nap, or if i do nap, i can’t fall asleep at night, so i’m back to square one. i’ve tried forcing oliver not to nap, but he’s just a wreck all afternoon and is so overtired and miserable that bedtime is long and painful, and he still gets up at the same time in the morning so that extra hour in the evening doesn’t really help me.

i’d love to have productive chunks of time every morning without my kid. i often have more work than will fit into my 8 hour workweek, and i usually end up doing it during nap time or evenings, even though i’m less efficient (sorry grace). and of course there are the 50 million personal projects (like writing blog posts! and designing our chicken tractor!) that i feel like go forever without any progress whatsoever.

so, what do your mornings look like? do you have any tricks to getting anything other than parenting and a couple loads of laundry (if you’re lucky) done in a day?

Rubber ducky rant

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Oliver has a collection of rubber duckies that have come from various sources; from left to right we have Quackenbush (an army themed duck inherited from Robert Spocker), Haida Duck (a first nations themed duck from Alicia on Haida Gwai), baby ducky (Santa brought this per request in 2013), DinoDuck (dinosaur themed duck given as a prize for checking out books at the library), and ninja duck (also from Robert).
So I guess themed rubber duckies are a thing. That’s fine, I guess, but here’s the problem; not one of these ducks can float in a duck-like way (see top photo). Not even classic non-themed baby ducky! What the hell? I just really don’t understand. I had a rubber duck when I was a kid and I’m pretty sure it floated. I’m pretty sure that was the point. So all these toys are being made and nobody bothers to see if they actually function before manufacturing? Perhaps they are just for decoration. pretend toys. It’s very meta. It’s not just duckies either. Ollie has received cars that won’t roll, crayons that don’t draw, bubbles that don’t sphere. I guess it’s the idea of a toy that sells, and whether or not the toy does what you would expect is secondary.

a letter to my 3-year-old

dear oliver,

i’ll just tell you right now, this is a love letter. there’s no denying it. i am head over heals in love with you. it’s that crazy kind of love that i want to shout from the mountain top. this love is irrational and all-consuming. i can’t help it. i just think you are the very greatest. when you turned one, i published your birth story. when you were two, i wrote you a somewhat desperate letter. but today, my ollie, today, you are three, and i have nothing but praise. sure, you struggle plenty as you develop that pre-frontal cortex. and i reach the end of my rope often. i loose it sometimes… but more and more you are an utter pleasure to be with. you speak kindly and impress people with your “thank you so much!” and your “excuse me, mama…” people often comment on how verbal you are and we all get such joy out of conversing with you these days. you are full of great ideas like sharing fruit with our neighbors, or mesquite bunny crackers. i love how you pronounce festival, “festibal” and tell your papa to “send me a text.” you give great kisses and hugs, and randomly exclaim that you love us. recently you commented that something was “stress-able.” i asked you what you meant and you said, “you know, like, yelling.” i think you are really smart. you like to riff on words and rhythms. “crack an egg, crocodile.”

i love your physicality and how you move your growing body. you can ride FAST on your balance bike and aren’t afraid to try new challenges at the skate park. you know yourself, though and don’t try anything outright dangerous. generally, when you want to go somewhere, you don’t walk or run, you gallop. -a modified skip that i better get on video before it’s too late.

your focus and patience is increasing every day and you are a joy to work with on projects like paper mache, or even vacuuming or doing the dishes (sometimes). i love how you are using your imagination more and you can tell us stories. you are figuring out so much all the time. you want to know the what-where-why about everything and your questions are getting more complex.

you are starting to learn what is pleasing and displeasing to the people in your life and often choose actions that will please. we are very charmed when you do this! the other day a friend of yours was crying because he wanted a toy that another kid was playing with. once you understood the situation you marched over to the kid and emphatically explained why they should give up the toy “to make jonah feel happy and not cry).

oliver lee, we are so glad that you are here with us!

love,

mama

 

the art of house-guestery

every time we have house guests or are guests in someone’s home, i learn a little something more about myself and how i want to be as a host and/or guest. we just said goodbye to some dream house guests. the pleasure of having them got me thinking about what the differences are between house guest situations that leave me burnt out, and those that leave me inspired.  i came up with the following advice for myself. i’m not sure how universal this advice is, so don’t blame me if your next visit with your japanese grandparents-in-law doesn’t go well because you followed my advice.
on being a host

  • do what you can do to make things clean, lovely, and welcoming, as long as you are feeling happy and generous while doing it.
  • don’t stress yourself out striving for a level of perfection (or even lack of squalor) in an exhasting cleaning and cooking frenzy. it’s awkward for your guests if they feel like they are making your life difficult.
  • buy/make good food, beer and coffee so it feels abundant and celebratory. (if you can afford to and it feels good.)
  • don’t over extend yourself or think you need to cook every meal, do all the dishes, and be everybody’s mommy.
  • give a little orientation so your guests know the wi-fi password and how you like things done and can make themselves at home.
  • elicit help with cooking, dishes, baby bouncing if your guests haven’t already offered. take them up on the help when they do offer.
  • be clear about what works for you and what doesn’t, don’t expect your guests to read your mind. if you need to go to bed, go to bed. if you need quiet to put the baby down, say so.
  • take a little vacation from everyday life. relax and enjoy your company.

on being a guest

  • give what you got. bring a little something or ask if you can pick anything up on your way. tell stories, give appreciations. if you have a nice camera, take a portrait, if you’re handy, fix a door knob. make it clear that you are glad to be there.
  • keep your phone/computer use at an absolute minimum, especially in common areas. it’s rude to be in your own bubble in someone else’s home.
  • communicate well in advance about your plans and intentions, duration of stay, etc. give a good eta and updates as needed.
  • err on the side of asking permission. “tis better to ask permission than forgiveness” pay close attention to enthusiasm levels if you are asking to stay more than a night or two. a lot of people have deep politeness ingrained in them but will privately feel resentful.
  • except, don’t ask if you can do the dishes. just do them. if you are dealing with overly polite people, they may put up a fuss, but you have to insist on this. do the dishes. they will be so happy.
  • play with the kids. if your hosts are parents and you pay attention to their kids and act like you like their kids… oh, this makes parents so so happy! but do remember you are an adult and it’s your job to de-escalate if you get the kids all crazy rowdy.

case study A: not good
a person I’ve known for quiet a while and i like very much (whom I’ll call Pat since my intention is not to publicly humiliate my friends) contacted me while traveling with their significant other, and asked if they could stay. i said “yes!”
i then proceeded to cook and clean and change sheets and grocery shop in preparation. when pat & co showed up (a couple hours later than they told me they would), they spread out their stuff in my very small living room and asked me for the wi-fi password.  they then both stared at their laptops while i made dinner. we had dinner, i did all the dishes, they went to bed. the next morning i made an elaborate breakfast and they were back in laptop land. we had breakfast and some small talk, i did all the dishes, and they had a conversation with each other. then they left. i felt burnt out and slightly used. if i had it to do over i would say something like, “hey pat, i want to hear about your trip, tell me about it while we clear the dinner dishes.” and i wouldn’t have continued to bend over backwards in hospitality mode for guests who weren’t that excited to be here.

case study B: adrian dolan and his friend, bear. best house guests EVER

i’m using real names because i want to publicly celebrate these gentlemen*

adrian is an old pal from my teenage years in BC. he let me know a week in advance that he’d be in our area with a friend and would like to get together. i said “come stay with us!” he gave me a date and updated me several times with their whereabouts. i made up the beds but didn’t knock myself out on the cleaning. damian and i showed them around and then ollie and i went with them into the national park where we had a grand time. on the way home we stopped for dinner supplies and they insisted on picking up the tab. adrian helped me cook while bear read oliver stories. we drank beer and ate yummy tacos and then adrian and i visited while we cleaned up and bear and nathen chatted and played with ollie. in the morning i made a yummy breakfast and bear kept me company while drawing with ollie. after we ate, adrian spent more than an hour patiently showing ollie all the gear in his sound engineering case. ollie’s comment; “i REALLY like batteries!” bear did the dishes. we hung out a little more and then they left. oliver’s comment; “i really like those mans! i’m sad that they left. i’m sad that they left with that bag…” i was sad that they left too.

*actually, almost all of our house guests are fantastic. it’s an honor and a pleasure to share our space with our friends and i want to do it more.

figuring out holidays

something i struggle with a bit as a parent is how to handle holidays & traditions. when to keep up the family or cultural tradition, and when to change the tradition to reflect my values and needs better. growing up, my mom and oma were really good at making festivities grand. there was much preparation and many components to every holiday or birthday. the women who raised me were both “super-mom” types who would stay up late into the night to finish a surprise project and make things perfect. i am not that kind of mom. sometimes i wish i was but, my super-mom mom also taught me to take good care of myself, that stressing over perfection is really not worth it. i learned that the people i love would rather have me happy and relaxed than have a pinterest-worthy birthday party. for me at this stage of my parenting career, that means not staying up late. it means not single-handedly cooking a meal for 10 people. it often means not buying gifts. last year it meant completely forgetting my husband’s birthday. oops. stressing over holidays and birthdays doesn’t feel good, but ignoring (or forgetting) them doesn’t feel good either. so i’m trying to find that middle path. doing simple but meaningful celebrations. for easter i had about 50 different egg decorating craft ideas pinned on my pinterest board. i started stressing about where i could find white eggs that we could use that came from non-CAFO chickens, and then i realized. i already have eggs. most of my chickens lay pretty brown eggs and my auracanas lay green ones. so ollie and i broke out the water colors and crayons and decorated a few eggs. i sprouted some wheat berries for easter grass, and acquired a few edible and non edible easter treats (small chocolate bunny, a few chocolate eggs, yogurt covered raisins, bubbles, marbles, and a rubber ducky) i did buy some plastic eggs, because hand felting easter eggs is just not something that’s gonna happen this year. i was planning to make the easter cake my oma always did, but it may not happen.

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hysterical twos

you’ve probably heard the phrase, “terrific twos.” I’m assuming that phrase was coined as a backlash from parents who got sick of people referring to children as terrible. obviously, generalizing an entire year of human development into a single word is overly simplistic and pointless (and possibly harmful) but if i had to pick one word for this phase, it wouldn’t be either of those. i pick “hysterical.” as in, hysteria; “an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping, etc.” (definition from dictionary.com)
in the last hour my 32-month-old had three weeping breakdowns. one because he didn’t want me to drink his milk (i wasn’t drinking his milk), one because he wanted to have brought his doll to nana honey’s house (we had just returned from there and he didn’t think about it when it was possible), and the third because i had the nerve to drain the bathtub water (30 minutes after he’d been out of the bath). during this last one he wailed, “you keep doing stuff i don’t want you to do! he seemed truely heartbroken that i betrayed him so bitterly. the bathtub drain plug, he wanted it in. was that so very much to ask??
between the tantrums though was singing alison krauss in the sweetest little voice, giggles, galloping, “i love you so much, mama.” toast & honey, soft clean baby snuggled in a fluffy towel, and the cutest damn smile and lit up face you’ve ever seen. he says the funniest stuff. i can’t explain it. parenting this two year old is crazy fun, crazy frustrating, terrible, terrific, heart bursting,  heart breaking, and hysterical. i wouldn’t trade it for nuthin.