Oftentimes, when Mr. Quotidian asks me what I’m thinking about, I have to answer “nothing.” Which isn’t to say that my mind is empty, but that what’s going through it cannot quite be called “thinking.” It’s much too fragmented and garbled to be a thought. What it can be described as is tinkering. Like Belle’s father in Beauty and the Beast, I half absentmindedly fiddle with a half forged idea. Most of the time, these musings simmer on the back fire while I putter about my life, occasionally pulling them out and trying to prod them into something coherent. Then, suddenly, when my back is turned, they will boil over into a mess of thoughts on the floor.

These posts are my way of taking those melted thoughts and trying to pound out something useful.

30 domestisities I don’t do

“No one does everything.”

Like bird seed,  this statement is flung casually about as encouragement whenever someone is discouraged by how messy her house.  Other times it’s a warning scattered across the path of someone with new heady visions of homesteading. While it is a truth seemingly universally acknowledged, it is rarely admitted.

With the internet being the way it is, it’s easy to focus on our successes. To crop the picture just right so as to include the lovely salad but not the grungy stove. Or include the baby with the adorable hat but not yourself with unwashed hair. We pretend at perfection by omission. We hope other people’s imaginations will fill in the cropped out details with snippets of magazines, store windows, and commercials. Then by some awful double standard that is so hard to shake, we assume other people are not as careful croppers as we are. That their truth is different than ours. More perfect.

So yes, “No one does everything!” we chirp to one another, scattering the phrase further. Yet it often just lies there in a pile waiting till we need to peck at it again to ease the guilt.  Rarely does it root and blossom into more than an excuse for imperfection in someone’s life, giving her freedom to focus on what she loves and leave the rest.

With that spirit, here is a list of things that are often cropped out of my pictures:

30 Domestisities I Don’t Do

  1. I don’t wash the pot lids every time I use them.
  2. I don’t fold underwear.
  3. I don’t use serving dishes, or sometimes even personal plates at dinner.
  4. I don’t dust.
  5. I don’t iron unless it’s an Event like graduation or my own wedding.
  6. I don’t wipe down my baseboards.
  7. I don’t wash my colander after each use.
  8. I don’t wipe handwashed dishes; I let them air dry.
  9. I don’t organize my sock and underwear drawer.
  10. I don’t go to the gym.
  11. I don’t clear off my desk regularly.
  12. I don’t vacuum under the big living room rug.
  13. I don’t wipe down my counters and shine my sink every night.
  14. I don’t have a skin care regimen or use make up.
  15. I don’t chase after every most cat fur tumbleweeds.
  16. I don’t always separate my lights and darks.
  17. I don’t finely mince my garlic.
  18. I don’t fold Theodore’s clothes at all; at best they get separated into pants and shirts.
  19. I don’t peel my carrots.
  20. I don’t always wash my shirts just because I’ve worn them; if they smell fine, back into the drawer they go.
  21. I don’t match my sheets and pillowcases.
  22. I don’t match my kitchen towels, oven mitts, and wash clothes.
  23. I don’t keep separate “guest” towels.
  24. I don’t schedule weekends of spring cleaning.
  25. I don’t usually give thrifted items that new coat of paint that would take them from grubby to shabby chic.
  26. I don’t style my hair. I don’t even own a blow dryer.
  27. I don’t have a well organized entryway with pretty hooks and creative cubbies. I have nails and some string.
  28. I don’t set the table every night. Forks and spoons get piled in the middle of the table and everybody gets their own glasses.
  29. I don’t regularly mop anywhere but the kitchen; even there it isn’t quite what you’d call “regular.”
  30. I don’t have an intricate filing system for bills, statements, and other mail. Mostly it’s just a pile.

What things do you leave undone so you have time for what’s important? What are those important things?

Posted 4 years, 10 months ago at 10:53 am. 5 comments

alone.

As an introvert, I know I’m supposed to enjoy doing things alone. Being by myself is supposed to restore my spirit and make me feel most myself. And generally, that’s true. Except in one area: dining. I used to recoil from  eating alone. I still shudder to remember walking through a noisy cafeteria, tray in hand, desperately scanning faces trying not to look like I was desperately scanning faces. If no inviting countenance was glimpsed, I played the part of a solitary scholar and ate in the shadow of a book. Being an introvert, it was not an option to just say “Hello! Is this seat taken?” and plunk down next to another eating-alone stranger. Then there was the dark time I found myself both companionless and bookless. It was not my most dignified moment when I pulled out my cell phone, pretended there was someone on the other end, and ate as quickly as I could. (Promise you’ll keep that a secret, m’kay?)

No longer.

I recently found myself with a baby free morning and nowhere specific to go. I decided to head to Uncommon Ground, a local spot that wears a rooftop farm as a crown. Instead of the coffeeshop atmosphere I was expecting, I was greeted by a hostess who seated me with a menu. I felt the tingle of my old  anxiety in my finger tips for just a moment. Dining alone?

Oh yes.

Now I steep in it, this eating by myself. I sat at that table with nothing but the condiments across from me and let myself suffuse. A kettle sang in the kitchen as I exhaled the tensions that seemed to cling to me more tenaciously than a toddler. (At least toddlers can be left with a sitter. I’ve yet to find someone who will tend my worries with the same care that I do.) Through windows pin pricked with rain I watched the tide of people outside at the bus stop while, inside, my thoughts began to color the air around me. My fingers lingered around a hot mug, purposefully feeling the warmth slowly ebb away instead of abandoning it after only a sip or two. An hour passed as I spooned at a berry and yogurt parfait. (Drizzled with honey gathered from hives on the roof just above my head!) I read and reread paragraphs from my book, squeezing out all the the beauty I could from words like these:

“All ingredients need salt. The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender and springy if we need to be seasoned. It’s not so:  it doesn’t reflect badly on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself.”
- Tamar Adler An Everlasting Meal

Indeed.

These hours dining alone were a much needed dash of salt.

 

Posted 5 years ago at 1:32 pm. 1 comment

{this moment}

{this moment} – A Friday ritual from Soule Mama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Posted 5 years ago at 1:21 pm. 2 comments

You know you’re a mama when…

  • you wait until nap time to eat the cookie someone gave you so you don’t have to share it
  • you pick a half a gnawed raw carrot up off the floor and put it in the fridge for later
  • you delight in your cats because you can love them and then throw them on the floor when you’re done with them
  • you keep a mental tally of how many times your jeans have been spilled, smeared, leaked, peed, and pooed on. And you don’t even think about washing them until that tally reaches at least 17. (Poo counts as 5 points)
  • you spend your baby-free evenings watching videos to learn new ways to fold cloth diapers
  • you understand what it means to be physically but not sexually attracted to someone
  • you look down and realize you’ve been wearing oatmeal as some kind of nouveau pendant. Suddenly stranger’s small smiles and headshakes make sense
  • you can locate your child anywhere in the house based solely on the unique sound patterns resonating from the particular things being banged together
  • you spend your falling asleep moments trying to describe the smell of your sleeping baby’s head
  • you wonder how you met new people before you had a baby as an ice breaker
  • you carry around the sinking knowledge that sometime, somewhere, a guest is going to find that apple core your toddler dropped in a secret hiding place
  • you’ve slept with a teddy bear for the first time since your own childhood in a desperate attempt to make it smell like you so you can trick your baby into sleeping longer
  • it’s totally normal for your toddler to finish his lunch after his nap…. off the floor where he threw it
  • you’ll drink a glass a water that’s 15% baby backwash without a second thought
  • you forget to drop the royal “we” when your child’s not with you
  • you have nursed/snuggled/read to/ played with your child… while pooping
  • you plan date nights with the same attention to detail and wishful thinking that you used to plan your wedding when you were thirteen
  • you rarely snap all the snaps
  • you know what a full body hug feels like

Posted 5 years ago at 1:46 pm. 1 comment

Gerund Pudding

  • Convincing myself that “shucking” is onomatopoetic
  • Embracing summer rather than retreating from her
  • Admitting that his baby feet are not so baby anymore
  • Smiling at my little man’s inventiveness concerning games- can you guess his favorite?
  • Discovering the savory side of berries
  • Pedaling ever more confidently all over the city
  • Puzzling over  how one meets people in a new city without a bank of classmates or coworkers
  • Appreciating how old friends in a new place can make the new place feel more comfortable
  • Ironing out my laundry routine so that I’m not monopolizing the coin op machines but also have diapers always at the ready
  • Expanding my carnivorous horizons through Mint Creek Farm’s meat CSA. (Lamb spare ribs, where have you been all my life?)
  • Witnessing a paradigm shift in my thinking about nature after realizing that animals observe us just as much as (or more than) we observe them
  • Finding excuses to put herbs from my window boxes into anything
  • Growing a new kombucha scoby
  • Flavoring that kombucha with the essence of summer- blueberries, tarragon, peaches, pineapple sage, and melon, and…
  • Pointing out every time I see a front yard/ roof top/ community garden that’s thriving

Posted 5 years ago at 8:01 pm. 1 comment

This past year

[In true motherly fashion, I began this post six weeks ago. It was the anniversary of Little Man's entry earthside. As he took his birthday nap, I mused. I'm just now getting back to it and publishing these birthday ruminations. ]

A year ago today I sat just about where I’m sitting now. Propped up on pillows on the right side of the bed a snuggle’s breath away from my sleeping baby.

So much has changed. For one thing, the bed now sits in a Chicago apartment building rather than above a garage in South Carolina. For another there are no longer ambiguous stains on my sheets (pee? sweat? breast milk?)- only unambiguous ones (drool, definitely drool). The kitchen cabinets sport baby locks, the desk drawers have yardsticks stuck through the handles, and the trash can sits on top of the sofa. On the book shelf,  Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Birthing from Within have been replaced by That’s Not My Teddy and Goodnight Moon. Mr. Quotidian and I spend our dates on the couch with a bottle of wine rather than out… somewhere. Our movies come with mandatory intermissions. 6:30 a.m. is considered sleeping in.

Yet the babe sleeping next to me is still the same, essentially at least. Yes, he’s longer, heavier, and has 7 teeth now. And yes, instead of just sleeping he also giggles, grabs at cats’ tails, and wills himself towards the ceiling fan. He has gone through several nicknames in the intervening months. (He now prefers Mr. Thed from his daddy and Snuggle-wuggle-wigwam on his silly days.) And yet he still locks eyes with me as he nurses. Still clenches my heart with his cries. Still trusts me.

So perhaps it’s me that’s changed? I now know my way around such terms as bilirubin, meconium, and object permanence. I can decipher all  most of the forum abbreviations. (Though BM still throws me each time. In mothering forums, it usually means breastmilk. My first thought is always bowel movement.So typical sentences such as “we’ve been giving her a bottle of bm before bed…” always cause a double take.) I have working opinions on breastfeeding, infant sleep, milestones, and vaccinations.

But those things seem more like growth rather than change.  In the same way that Little Man being able to get off the couch by himself is simply a new expression of the established need to explore his surroundings, being a mama has forced me to adapt and learn new coping devices. But does that really change who I am? Is motherhood a feather duster that simply brushes away old habits and selfishness, leaving the shelf cleaner but in basically the same form? Or is it a chrysalis in which everything I am is broken down, liquified, and then remade in an all together new form? How much can a person adapt before they become someone new? Does it even matter? Perhaps it’s just frivolous introspection aggravated by lack of sleep.

I feel like I should have some big personal epiphany to share with you regarding motherhood, change, and self. Words that would buff out the scratches and stains left by the day after day after day, leaving the dignity of motherhood to gleam in the melting afternoon light. Lacking that however, I am unsure how to end this. So perhaps I will just settle back into the pillows and watch as the light dribbles shadows across my sweet one’s face.  As I have many times this past year.

 

Posted 5 years, 1 month ago at 3:12 pm. 2 comments

A beautiful kitchen does not good food make

A series of what can only be considered fortunate events culminated in finally pushing the Quotidian household towards Chicago. If cities could be soul mates, I’d say I’ve found my other half. As the Intelligentsia website put it, Chicago is “a city that is brooding, practical and reluctantly beautiful.” (Their flagship coffeebar, by the way, is a mere 472 ft from my front door.) I hesitate to label myself in front of others who know me so well because I can just imagine you coming up with counter examples to any category in which I choose to place myself. However, brooding practicality seems as good a description of my personality as any.  It’s true I once favored the purely decorative, whether it was collections of porcelain figurines or jelly shoes that caused my toes to grow funny. As I’ve grown older, though,  I’ve come to recognize the beauty in things like a quilt casually crumpled over the back of a chair, a bowed shelf of canned goods in a cold basement,  or even an expanse of cleared off table.

And you don’t know me well if you think I don’t indulge in a good brood every once in awhile.

While I do get a thrill out of already claiming Chicago as “my city,” I know that I am still a newcomer here. There are new corners to be rounded just about everywhere I go. So it seems a bit disingenuous to inventory all the reasons Chicago and I are the perfect match. Things like not being the only one sporting the homeless granny chic grocery cart. Or being able to attend a live jazz concert simply by opening my window. Or that summer here waits until spring is finished speaking. There are also some things that are common to any major city- enjoying public transportation along with people from all different economic backgrounds, passing a couple in the street and not being able to assume the conversation you overhear will be in English, and deciding on a cuisine for dinner (Japanese, Italian, Lebanese, ect) still leaves you with about three restaurant choices within walking distance.

There are also other less desirable things common to cities. Namely, the mac ‘n’ cheese kitchen. You know the type: a room that seems like an afterthought with a fridge squeezed in, postage stamp size counters,  and just enough cupboard space to store a few pots, bowls, and of course, your blue stash of mac ‘n’ cheese. I am now the proud owner renter of just such a kitchen.

This is the picture I took  during our apartment hunt which turned into more of a scavenge when two (!) apartments were rented out from under us. By the time the dust had settled, this was the only apartment left out of the dozen or so we’d looked at. The rest of the apartment is quite nice. There’s wood floors instead of plastic elementary school style tile. (Yes, that huge hole in the floor is still there. It grabs disturbingly as stocking feet.) The apartment is on the south side of the building, so even though I don’t have any private outdoor space, there’s ample sunlight.  And the location is something out of a dream. Two bus lines within blocks that will take you downtown within 20 minutes. A local bagel bakery, diner,  and chocolate shop clustered at the end of the block. The kitchen, however, was cause for big tears and gnashing teeth. And maybe a little sackcloth. Only Mr. Quotidian will know whether or not ashes and swearing off cooking for the duration of our lease were involved, and he’s been sworn to secrecy on the matter.

How was I supposed to cook -  I mean really cook – in a kitchen like this? Sure, it’d be perfectly adequate for other people, but for me? Where’s my food processor and 16 pots and pans supposed to go? Not to mention all my pantry foodstuffs,herbs, and spices, which accounted for an eighth of our moving boxes all on their own. My cookbook collection probably bumps that fraction up to a quarter. Where were all these chef-ly accouterments supposed to go in a kitchen like this?

To hell with a chef’s kitchen you say? Power to the small kitchened people? Granite and stainless be damned, too, you say?

Oh,
….right.

A few days after signing the lease through tears, I decided sackcloth and ashes was probably not the most helpful response. (Actually Mr. Quotidian decided for me and I was forced to agree.) After all, a beautiful kitchen does not good food make. Do I seem sure of that? It’s only because I’ve repeated it as a mantra these past weeks. As I came to terms with my new kitchen, I began to look at it as a creative challenge. A wise person once taught me that limits are the harbinger of creativity. If that’s true, and I believe it is, this will be one of my most creative kitchens yet.

Here are some of my limits:

  • I’d rather spend money on quality ingredients than fancy kitchen organizers. Therefore, make every effort to repurpose things I already own. When something must be bought, try to purchase things that can be repurposed themselves in a new kitchen. (I won’t, after all, be living with this kitchen forever.)
  • The kitchen must be as intrinsically baby proof as possible. Safety latches and rubber bands can only go so far.
  • Even though it’s small, it must not feel cluttery. The counters will be kept clear.

“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”
“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”

“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”
“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”


Posted 5 years, 3 months ago at 11:21 am. 2 comments

A Chef’s Kitchen

After belly flopping into the Chicago apartment classifieds the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a disturbing undercurrent: the “chef’s kitchen.” While this sounds very posh and all, it inevitably means two things. See if you can guess.

Is it the thoughtfully laid out floor plan, making everything easily accessible with minimum effort? Or a sink that easily accommodates all the dishes that predictably accompany cooking? Or a dedicated pantry space to properly store food staples? Or how about a space that makes the chef in question feel wanted instead of exiled to a hole?

Nope. A “chef’s kitchen” simply means granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. Preferably new.

Now, I’m not arguing that the above kitchens aren’t nice looking. A couple of them are actually quite beautiful. And I really wouldn’t complain about cooking in them. What troubles me, however, is the way serious cooking is equated with granite and stainless, preferably new. As if good food couldn’t come from an outdated Formica topped kitchen with mismatched appliances.

I suppose it’s a side effect of the “foodie” movement. (And don’t even get me started on the word “foodie.” Or “chef” for that matter.) Food as an idea has become trendy. In many ways that’s a positive development. People who used to fill their grocery carts with boxes and cans are now filling it with vegetables. Or even forgoing the cart altogether in favor of a market basket. the people responsible for bringing us food deserve a little of the lime light. Food is beautiful, necessary, photogenic, and decidedly sensual.

It’s also just dinner. Good food doesn’t have a thing to do with granite and stainless. New or not. Any kitchen can be a chef’s kitchen. The only requirement is someone cooking in it.

 

Posted 5 years, 3 months ago at 9:08 pm. 2 comments

learning to read

(Calm down grandmas. It’s not Baby-tidian that’s learning to read.)

I was one of those kids who stayed up till 2 in the morning. I wasn’t talking on the phone or sneaking into places I shouldn’t be, but ever the nerd, I was reading. I read anything and everything that would fit between two covers. Through all of middle school and most of high school, I could lose whole weekends to a book. I’d start a new book on the Friday bus ride home and the next time I looked up it was the wee hours of Monday morning. Since my wise parents pretended not to notice the slit of light coming from under my door at all hours, I never had to resort to the flashlight under a blanket cover.

The only thing I (mildly) regret about all that time spent turning pages is that I consumed mostly pop culture lit. You know the type: multi-book family sagas that begin on the Mayflower and end in the California gold rush, or books detailing the myriad trials of teenagers, be they twins, babysitters, or orphans. I haven’t read as many  classic literature books as I often pretend to. So instead of those late night reading sessions contributing to a rhythmically beating literary heart, I’m left with vague palpatations of plot twists and character descriptions. For example, on a shelf somewhere is a book about a girl trapped in a basement. Whether by friend or foe, for what reason, for how long, I’ll never remember. She types out her memories of adolescent angst on the random typewriter locked in with her. There is also a book about a boy who is able to time travel to the past where he meets his doppelganger who has typhoid, or perhaps tuberculosis. It may or may not involve being stuck in a library.

Anyway, the point I was wanting to make is that in the past I spent hours and hours reading. I read like I napped; if it didn’t last at least 2 hours, it wasn’t worth it. While I still routinely take hours long naps with Babytidian, I’ve had to give up such lingering over pages. As part of my preparation for giving birth, I compiled a rather ambitious list of books I’d like to read. The first few weeks I had a stack teetering next to the bed (right next to the midnight nursing snacks and water). Now I’m lucky if I get all my email read each day. For longer than I ‘d care to admit, I gave up book reading altogether. I subsisted on blogs, Netflix, and Hulu. It was just easier. I could still listen to the dialogue even if Babytidian took my attention away from the screen. (Try as I might, I just couldn’t keep reading if I wasn’t looking at the page.) But I felt mentally bloated and weak.

Slowly, I’ve been relearning how to read. In small bits.

And pieces.

Here.

And there.

While I do sorely miss the days when I would only budge from my comfy chair to make trips to the kitchen and the bathroom, I’m beginning to enjoy reading this way. Instead of sprinting through a book and barely catching my breath before opening the next, I am forced to mosey through the pages, letting each paragraph dissolve on my mind like a lozenge. Perhaps I should take up poetry reading…

Posted 5 years, 5 months ago at 5:59 pm. 2 comments

Mama Guilt

It’s taken awhile for us to come face to face. I was led to believe that we would meet much sooner than this– as if you would be gripping my son’s heel as he was born. But midwives came and went, the birthing pool was filled and then packed away, and my little family nestled in our bed…and you didn’t appear. Even when we had to take him to the hospital. Or when he shivered because I forgot his blanket.  Or when I realized I’d been buckling him into his car seat incorrectly. You barely whispered a threat, still as a breeze. How funny that I thought I’d stood against the gale those times. I thought I had won. I should have known it was too easy of a victory.

I’d promised myself I wouldn’t let you catch up to me.  That I wouldn’t let you trick me out of my birthright of peacefulness. My rational self knows that I will not be able to make the world perfect for him. That he will get hurt on my watch. That he will be disappointed. That his heart will break and dissolve into tears. It’s not that I desire this for him.  But I am resigned to it in the same way I’ve come to accept those things for myself. In the same way that autumn is so bitterly beautiful, I know these things are part of being human. I was determined not to let you disfigure that very fragile beauty.

But it seems I was preparing the wrong front. You are a crafty enemy and adept at this through much practice no doubt. You let me win those easy battles, appearing weak.  You didn’t attack me with stereotypical things like not enrolling him in baby classes or letting him play on a dirty floor. You didn’t even attack my ability as a mama when I was learning to breastfeed or comfort his newborn cries.

Let me think I was a conqueror.

Instead you disguised yourself, if not as a friend, at least as something familiar that I am much less capable of defeating. In my blindness you came to me with a familiar touch. I knew the scent of you well in my Bible college days. Like then, the problem is not simply that I am doing something wrong. No. It goes much deeper than actions, things I could fix with enough will power. It’s me. My substance. My soul.

There’s not enough of it.

Or too much of it.

Or something.

You make deals with me. Do this, and you’ll be a good mama. But just as I manage to do that, you switch out the prize of winsome competence with swarthy inadequacy. I am tired of having to choose between making sure dinner doesn’t burn and being a good mama. Between shifting to be more comfortable and being a good mama. Between thinking my own thoughts and being a good mama. If I was a good mama, these things wouldn’t be a dichotomy. In a dream world, these needs would gracefully shift up and down the ladder of priorities, glowing with the serenity of angels.   But instead they slip and fall and dash their heads on the rocks below. And I always save the wrong ones. Balance is never mine.

It seems I will never be free of you. Even into the damp inkiness of night, you grab at me. Force me to wrestle with you till I have no strength left to even hold my babe.  I crumple onto the couch. (How is it only 9am?) As I limp through life, I resent what you’ve made of me. I used to be strong. I used to know how to take care of myself and have enough left over to care for others. Why has that ability deserted me now, when I need it the most, to care for the biggest Other I ever will?

It’s not always bad. There are moments, hours, even days, of piercing happiness. Where I feel reunited to an estranged part of myself. I am a favored one, blessed with much. I know this. I have a husband who has both flexible work hours and a flexible heart, never once begrudging me the comfort and care I need. My son is healthy and vivacious. Sometimes, when he’s asleep, I sneak into the bedroom just to watch him. He is always breathing and beautiful. We don’t want for anything. My life is coated in many colors of goodness.

Why then do I feel so enslaved to you? Why will you not let me go? What can I give you that will appease you? There is precious little in this barren famine-riddled place. My best intentions to try harder, to do better… they wither on the vine. There is no fruit. My emotions are thin and wan. Except for frustration. That at least looms large with ghostly eyes. Isn’t the mark of a mother her endless selflessness? All the poems and songs and books say so. I don’t have it. I try to get by with the minimum effort, as if this were some middle school science project. Perhaps then I am not really a mother at all? I so much wanted to be one of those women who takes gracefully to motherhood. Who, whether or not she planned to have children, allows it to bring out the best in her.

Instead all my worst traits are dragged out of me like entrails. I am weepy and selfish. I manipulate and grumble. All my reserves of patience and peace are gone. Even a little fussing makes me grit my teeth. Neediness sends me running to the other room. Having trouble starting a car will ruin my day. When did this become who I am?

And yet I know this is a foreign place. I do not belong here. This will not be my final resting place. You cannot fool me. There is a land where sweet goodness flows and I can look up clear. You cannot fool me. I see hope underneath.

I hope.

Posted 5 years, 7 months ago at 9:25 am. 4 comments