Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Just Another Midlife Monday (on a Tuesday)

I've been in Walla Walla now for longer than I've lived anywhere as an adult. After living in the same house (barely even switching bedrooms) in a very small town from birth to college (and even then, I went to college in the town next door), the amount of moving J and I did in the first half of our marriage was crazy for me. From my hometown to Portland, a move within Portland, Portland to Worcester, Mass, and finally, Worcester back to the west coast to settle in Everytown, USA.

It was so weird to be moving 'home', but not. I'm very close to my family, so being only an hour-and-a-half from my parents and two of my sisters was fantastic. But it wasn't really home. Living in a smallish town is a funny thing. You know so many people, you see them out and about and say hello in the grocery store, and with social media you kind of know what everyone is up to even without seeing them in person. Which makes you feel connected. But still a little lonely.

Living in Portland, my best friends were the girls I worked with. We saw each other 5 days a week and had this fast and furious, incredibly emotionally draining job that made us each others' people almost instantly. When I started in that office, we were all fairly newly-wed or still single; there were less than ten of us doing the work of what would end up by the time I left four years later being three separate offices with a full team in each office spread throughout three cities in the county. There were babies born, engagements and weddings celebrated, and the shared grief of watching your dear friend lose her husband so very unexpectedly.  A decade later when my friend and I had the grand opening of our yarn store in Walla Walla, I looked up to see that these girls had surprised me by coming from Portland to celebrate with me. I had a full ugly cry because it was just the most unexpected thing. And everything I didn't realize I needed.

Living in Massachusetts, my best friends were my fellow moms-in-the-trenches with little ones. I'd gone from working very full time to being a stay-at-home mom to a super busy toddler H, and I got pregnant with Charlie the month after we moved in. It was daunting to move that far away and not know a soul. I signed up for a moms' group before we hit the road, and by the time I hit Iowa City to stay with my sister for the half-way pit stop, there was an email in my in-box from the President of the group with an invitation to have dinner at her house the night we drove into town. That group (three cheers for Mothers and More, Assabet Valley Chapter) was my life. It was a group focused on the mother, with book clubs and movie nights, a baby-sitting co-op so that you could have a date night or go to the moms' night out functions without spending a thousand dollars on a sitter that we just did not have. There were play groups and trips to the Children's Museum in Boston, Davis Farmland (the best place evah) to Plimouth Plantation, and more jaunts to the beach (both ocean and town) than I can count. There were even evening play dates once a month where you'd round up all the kids and take them to a giant park or indoor playspace in the winter with a stack of pizzas, so that  it was just bath and bed on your own. With so many nights of putting babies to bed alone; those friends were sanity-saving. There was just so much to do, and see, and be, and I loved it there. At the very end of my time there, I joined a running group and ran my first half-marathon, and made even more amazing friends. There are still a few girlfriends in particular who I meet up with as often as I can and every time we're together, the distance melts away and I leave my time with them filled back up with belly laughs and good conversation. And tasty cocktails.

Over the three years I lived in Massachusetts, some of the moms ended up not being as active in the group as their older kids got into elementary school and I was like, I don't get it. Why are they busier now that they've got kids in school? Shouldn't they have more free time?  As we were leaving Massachusetts, I would have an in-coming Kindergartner in Walla Walla, I couldn't wait to have bigger kids in school! I was just imaging all of the special things I'd have time to do one-on-one with subsequent little kids!

I know. Don't worry, that reality check was a good one. Having kids at school bring PTA requests and volunteer opportunities, and teacher conferences, and teacher emails about this baby who doesn't quite fit the regular classroom mold, and the checking of the backpacks, and the monitoring of the homework, and the oh my god where has my sweet baby gone and who is this emotional wreck in their place?! Then came babies three and four and the connections I had with women who were in H's class were hard to maintain because I had little kids to juggle whereas they were done, and the connections I could make with the little kid set were hard because I was finally the one with the big kids at the playground who the moms of littles eyed warily as they launched their large bodies willy-nilly. Not to mention a hard-working husband with a tricky schedule in his civilian job and a commitment to Uncle Sam that takes him away at least one weekend a month.

So here I am. Almost nine years in and wondering when I'll make connections like the ones I had before. I have friends here (with my closest friend being my business partner which now means opposite schedules), and I appreciate those friendships immensely.  I just don't have the situation where were we get to spend a lot of time together in person. And when we do get it, the amount of planning and orchestration involved to get schedules to align is usually rocket-launch-esque. My logical brain understands that, frankly, this is all a function of the time of my life right now. I don't have much time to foster physical social connections outside of my commitments to my husband, kids, business and extended family and I want to be fully present for the mothering and wife-ing, bizz-partnering, daughtering and sistering. That just doesn't stop me from feeling twinges of self-pity at posts of girlfriends out having a gay old time; even if I didn't want to be with that particular group of people, the want for having my people to do them with was there. I consider myself to be a reasonably happy person, who generally find enjoyment in whatever I'm doing at the time, so what is happening?!

So then, I finally did what any self-respecting do-it-herself girl does and I cried about it to my husband. He looked at me kindly and was like 'Awww, it's just that middle of life, what is my purpose, what am I doing kind of uneasiness. We all kinda feel that way for a little bit.' So I dried my tears and I sat with that realization. I've spent a good chunk of my married and adult life with big changes. New town, new apartment, new baby, new apartment, new town, new baby, new town, new house, new baby, new baby, deployed spouse, new house, new business, and more cribs, no more diapers, no more strollers, no more moves and with each thing I ditched that was part of that life of change I felt a lightness and at the same time without even noticing it I was waiting for the next big thing. A big project, or a big move, or a big...something. Looks like my next something will be a big ol' case of almost-forty angst. That one might be slightly less fun to unpack.

Monday, December 31, 2018

More is More

My friend posted a stunning New Year's Eve outfit on the socials this morning accompanied by an Iris Apfel quote; 'More is more and less is a bore.' Yes.

I'm in the last year of my 30's and I've gotta say, I'm super excited for 40. I've spent the last year plus in the throes of starting a new business (Purl2 Walla Walla - Stop by if you're in town!) with a good friend and it's been an amazing year of learning more about myself, re-learning that elusive work-life balance. Acknowledging the things I suck at and working to rectify them if I need to, or asking for the help to fill in the blanks. Recognizing things I'm really good at and trying to let them shine.

This year. I want more. 

More laughter that makes me throw my head back, more tender glances at my kids so they have no doubts that my stern voice at times is backed with an endless well of love and empathy for them, more time spent without a screen to separate us, more fresh air breathed in. A little time by the ocean, some more in the mountains. A few deep breaths to take a beat and remember that parenting a range of kids, or any kids at all, is really fucking hard, but it doesn't have to be a slog; they're going to be okay. Being a rigid hag won't help anything.

More grace with my husband, more grace with myself. More movement of my body for the sake of how glorious it feels to work hard, not as a punishment or a guilty reaction to whatever I just ate. More appreciation of all that my body has done for me, less lamenting the things I don't love about it. Because for reals, what's more boring than hearing about what people hate about themselves?

More really good meals that take a long time to consume and are filled with conversation. More friends at my table. More time to be creative in a conscious way. Less clutter, leaving more space to be. More books read, more time spent listening. More of 'if it's not a hell yes, it's a no' to leave room for the things I really want to do. More travel. More exposure to cultures I don't understand, or don't know enough about.

There is a definite swing in our culture in this direction, and I am hopeful. We have so much chaos and ugliness right now, I want to do what I can to bring light. As a naturally anxious worst-case-scenario person, this is work. At the end of the day, or year, or life, I know it will be work worth doing. What do you want more of this year? What are you doing to make it happen?

Cheers to a 2019 that you'll reflect on with happiness and feelings of abundance.
(All photos credit to Gigi Hickman Photography; October 2018)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Yarn Stories

2016 was the year of the Stash Yarn Story Collection. As the consumer it was a really fun project, with each month building to the release of an exclusive colorway with an indie dyer or spinner. Some I had already heard of and loved (hello Spincycle Yarns) and some were new to me. Either way, it was a special colorway, and an accompanying interview with the artisan to get a little peek into their process.

I can't even remember which social media connection brought Sonia Ruyts, owner of Stash Local in Corvallis, to my attention but I'm oh-so-glad that it did. Her genuine enthusiasm for not only fiber artists, but people pursuing their passions in general, is evidenced in her writing and via her podcast.

Once the last selection of the year was announced, I waited eagerly to see if she planned to continue the project into 2017, but she had something else up her sleeve. On May 15th, you'll be able to purchase the Yarn Story Collection eBook, as well as kits made up of a selection of the limited release yarns featured in the book. The book is a gorgeous collection of photographs, accompanied by interviews with the artists, and insight into Sonia's passion for the craft. I was actually able to purchase almost all of the yarns, and was surprised when I looked through Instagram, how many of them I had already incorporated into projects. If you search the hashtags #StashYarnStory and #YarnStoryCollection you'll be rewarded with a gallery of gorgeous projects.

My Prairie Glass Mitts from Huckleberry Knits and the Whitefish Ripples cowl I made with my skein of Bumblebirch Quill in the colorway Trailhead are two projects just waiting for the blocking mat. I'll be sure to share them when they're done!

But perhaps my favorite project from my Yarn Story Collection was Shannon Cook's Feyre Shawl. It had held steady in my queue from it's publish date, but I hadn't found the yarn I wanted to use for it, or the time to knit it. Then came the last two selections for the Yarn Story, and I knew I'd found my combo. Lomo Love by Sweet Georgia is a super deep, jammy purple, tonal in nature with some highlights of an almost bright pink. I wasn't positive they'd be the right fit when the Fiber Seed color was revealed, but I took a chance and was so happy when I opened the package and put the two skeins together. Serendipity is part moody grey, part creamy base with a riot of speckles and together they made the most beautiful shawl.

It took awhile to knock out my list of projects that were queued ahead, but she's off the needles now and all blocked, and I love the result. Shannon's patterns just don't disappoint. Ever. And the combination of color and texture made this crescent shawl such a fun knit that can be styled in a number of ways. (and I love the horn shawl pin!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Plan Your Work

Meal planning has made the change to a healthier lifestyle become something that is sustainable. Keeping our dinners varied, yet simple, has kept things interesting in the kitchen as well.

Here's what's cooking this week:

Sunday: Leftovers (J/S Out to dinner)

We finally made it to Passatempo and spent two and a half hours with one of our best Walla Walla dining experiences. We had:
-Delicious strong cocktails, paired with Mandorle Aromitizzate and Olive(fancy-talk for almonds and olives), shared a green salad and a pasta course of Carbonara, and finished with Steak for him and Pork Tenderloin for me with a side of braised winter greens, along with glasses of The Walls GSM and Syrah. It. Was. So. Good. If you've not yet been, get thee there posthaste.

Monday: Oven Roasted Chicken Drumsticks and Veg. (Truth told? Chicken on the bone, as my children call it, is their very favorite...and it totally skeeves me out, so I had kale salad with dump ranch and a protein shake that night while they devoured their meat sticks with greasy fingers and smacking lips. It was as appetizing as it sounds.)

Tuesday: Baja Shrimp Tacos with Chipotle Crema (Delicious)

Wednesday: Apple Cider Vinegar Braised Chicken with Collard Greens (coming up tonight)

Thursday: Mini Meatloaves with Kick-Ass Ketchup, Mashed Parsnips and Roasted Carrots with Pine Nuts

Friday:Oven Fried Salmon Cakes with Lemon Caper Dill Aioli (aka paelo mayo with lemon juice, capers and dill whisked in ;))

Saturday: BFD* Sweet Potato Waffle Sandwiches /Family Movie Night

I said in my last post that weeknights have become rather hectic with H on swim team and Charlie in Basketball, so my weeknight meals keep in mind the following routine: I prep dinner to the point that it's ready to go on the stove top or in the oven, or just be reheated, and J finishes it, feeds the littles, bathes them and then H and I walk in the door right about then and eat. I really, really, really hate having a split meal time but for the time being it is what it is. So, the prep for the shrimp tacos last night went like this:

I marinated the shrimp, mixed the vinaigrette and dressed the cabbage, whisked together the chipotle crema. Instead of using the whole chipotle chilis in adobo and having to blend them, I used Chipotle paste, which I found in the hispanic section at Safeway, in a tube, and love it. No more half-cans of chilis hanging out in the fridge post-recipe use.

The other sad part of split dinner; Crappy lighting for your victory bite photos, but they were so, so good.

*Breakfast For Dinner

Friday, February 3, 2017

Whole Dirty Thirty: The Food

Rawkstar Fuel, indeed. Please meet Dump Ranch
I finished my first full round of Whole30 Thursday. I feel really good, am planning to keep most of the routines we've established and have added a number of the food bloggers I found during my meal planning straight to the top of my rotation. I've been asked by a few people for tips and recipe ideas so I thought I'd do a couple quick posts on the process. One on the food. The other the feels.

If you're not familiar with Whole30, it's basically a super strict version of the paleo diet, which was developed first to be an elimination diet to self-test for food sensitivities and give your body a general reset. Full disclosure, and I am the first to admit that I poo-poo'd the plan for a long time. It seems a little crazy to eliminate so many food groups, it's concerning that it wouldn't be a sustainable eating plan for me long-term, so any weight loss or other gains I made during the month could be easily reversed, and I just have a general disdain for anything that smacks of elitism because I'm a reverse snob. Give me a big old truck and some jeans and I'll feel at home. Plop a diet coke in the cup holder? Homier.

A month without sugar (including maple syrup, honey, agave or stevia), legumes, dairy (no ice cream?!), chewing gum (sugar or sugar substitute), alcohol (suuuugar-boo hoo and adios vino), soy or grains. What can I even eat?! Turns out, quite a lot. And it's even good.

With four kids, I have a large-ish family, and with our already busy afterschool schedules I wasn't down for signing up for something that would add a lot more food prep or planning, but I do love to cook and make dinner pretty much every night as it is. I kept the food relatively simple because I was not making two dinners. My kids would eat what they normally did for breakfast and lunch, but would have Whole30 dinners. And no dessert. So, I figured they'd catch a little benefit from that by default. (Just to get a feel for our routine; Monday through Friday I prep dinner a bit and then grab the big kids from school. By 4:15, I have dinner pretty much ready to either stick in the oven, or instructions for reheating and I take H to swim. J feeds the other three and starts their bedtime routine so that by the time I get back with H at about 6, we eat with each other. I can't wait until H advances to the next level and has swim in the evening because I really don't like the split dinner hour.)

I had been following the Whole30 Recipes instagram account for some time, and the food they featured there every day all looked so good, and very accessible and I had read the timeline (aka what to expect) a number of times (spoiler alert: I never found the Tiger Blood).

I was not interested in adding a bunch of stores to my grocery shopping routine, or quadrupling my grocery budget. There were a few specialty items that I sourced on amazon, but other than that, everything I bought was at Safeway, which is my usual grocery store. I think part of what is intimidating sometimes about the idea of doing a whole30, is that you have to spend your whole paycheck on food. Now, I have a pretty well stocked freezer re: meat and a very full range of herbs and spices, so there were a lot of staples that I didn't have to purchase. I'd add a good $100 if you're going to be buying almond flour, coconut aminos, coconut oil, etc. I would also add some time to your first shopping trip if you're not used to reading labels, because unless you're buying a specific brand that's been listed as compliant, read; they sneak sugar into everything. Costco has a lot of compliant foods now as well, and at great prices. Their unsweeted vanilla almond milk is one of my staples, and their large bags of dried mangos, apricots, dates and figs were great staples to have one hand. (dates and figs are often used to lend sweetness where you'd otherwise be using honey or sugar in some recipes).

My husband agreed to take the plunge with me, after some convincing, and we chose the day after holiday break ended as day one. I spent the week or so before starting to cull through my cookbooks and pinterest, and realized that the genius thing about being so late to the party is that the interwebs have done all of the work for you. Honestly, enter 'whole30' followed by any recipe you're looking for in the google search bar or on pinterest and you're in business! I didn't do any big cook-up days, or spend any more time in the kitchen than I previously did. Now, if you are used to grabbing something to go more than a few times a month or eat a lot of convenience foods, then it might seem overwhelming at first until you find your rhythm. I would highly recommend that you have an immersion blender and wide mouthed jar for making mayo, dump ranch and other condiments, and that you prep condiments on an open time that is other than dinner prep. I learned that the hard way when I tried to make ketchup at the same time I was supposed to be basting drumsticks with bbq sauce that was supposed to have said ketchup in it.

Secondly, and this is my personal opinion, I think whole30 would be really really hard if you don't like eggs. We went through, no joke, about 12 dozen eggs. Jared did the 30 days with me, so with two adults eating hard boiled, egg salad, shakshuka, over medium, frittata, egg muffins, scrambled, you name it, we were the Forrest Gump of eggs. We also ate a lot of greens. From kale to iceberg and everything in between, this plan is heavy on the protein and greens, light on the fruit and healthy fats, even lighter on carbs (though it's not a low-carb diet). If you don't like to eat salads, this might also be a struggle at first.

I did not have any issues with headaches or other symptoms of 'withdrawl' from sugar, other than a general sense of resentment that I was so chubby I had to do this to get a jump start on my path to wellness. But that's for the emotions post. Overall, I just felt good. The first couple days I talked about food pretty much non-stop and my husband finally asked 'Is this going to be one of those things that we talk about food all the time, but don't actually eat any? If so, I'm out.' Okay, message received. From then on I just referred to the menu board when asked what was for dinner, ha ha.

I tried to rotate what I had available each week so I didn't get burned out on any one food. I tried Sweet Potato Toasts (pretty delicious), and making my own mayonnaise (I'll never buy it again, so simple and delicious), and the sweet baby angels at Whole Sisters created, and then shared, dump ranch. For which I will be forever greatful. Dump Ranch got me through the first week or so. I actually prefer it to traditional ranch and that is a huge deal. I kept a variety of precut veggies on hand, which made a lot of the roasted veg bases for dinner super simple.

Sheet Pan Dinner, which you'll see on the menu board a couple times, is just a couple packages of Aidell's (or I actually found the safeway brand to have a couple of compliant flavors) sausages cut into 1-2 inch pieces, and a jellyroll pan of veggies roasted. During the last ten minutes or so of roasting, add the sausages to the top to warm them through; et voila! Dinner is served.

Breakfast was often leftover roasted veg from the night before and a couple over medium eggs. I kept things really, really simple so that it would not feel overwhelming. Once you know what ingredients work, you can adapt regular recipes, but there are so many great resources for already whole30 compliant meals you don't need to.

I don't want this to be a novel, but I need to address coffee. I will never love black coffee. I take my coffee with a splash of half-and-half, so I needed a substitute. Some ideas I tried were cashew, almond and coconut milks, all unsweeted and carrageenen-free. They were all fine. But just fine. I found success finally with nutpods creamer, which is half coconut, half almond milk and comes in orginal, vanilla and hazelnut and had to be ordered on amazon.

RX bars were also something that I kept on-hand for mornings that were just crazy and I didn't want to skip breakfast. They have a whole30 compliant mixed case that was available on their website with a 20% off and free shipping deal so I snapped them up. They are fairly expensive purchased one at a time, but the bulk deal made them just over $1ea. My faves were blueberry and chocolate sea salt.

Without further ado, my meal plans. I only planned dinners, as lunch was either a salad or leftovers. One night I ended up having to scrap what I'd planned and make something faster, but I moved that to the following week's plan. All of the recipes turned out really well (except sweet potato fries, I've tried every trick and they just don't work out for me). Look below the plans and I've linked where applicable! On taco night, I simply had taco salad instead of a shell. Other than that I didn't add any starches to the kids' dinners. Caulirice can be found already riced in bags in the produce section.

Whole Sisters; dump ranch, zuchini bites, BBQ drumsticks, and dump ranch. Oh, did I say that twice?

NomNomPaleo; kahlua pig, mocha rubbed pot roast

WellFed: Fried Chicken Meatballs, KickAssKetchup, Burger Night (well fed Weeknights cookbook)

Rural Eating: Grilled Romaine Salad with Hot Tomato Vinaigrette

Food Faith Fitness: Jerk Shrimp Strew with Cauli Rice (SO GOOD)

Are you contemplating a Whole30? Any other questions I can answer? Stay tuned for my post in the next couple days on the feels. Because it turns out this was more about meal planning and keeping sugar out of my gob. There was some real work to be done!