When I was in middle school my family lived in Wisconsin. We lived in a tiny town way up north that was known for skiing and friday night fish fry's. Our neighborhood was backed by a lake and in the summer my brother and I would go fishing for bluegills that my mother would then cook for dinner. It was a quiet, delightful place to live and I miss it dearly. I also miss our neighbors. About a year after moving into our home an elderly couple moved in next door. They were both retired and instead of working the gentleman poured himself into creating amazing wooden furniture and decorations. His wife built one of the most impressive home gardens I have ever seen where she took great care in growing the most perfect rhubarb I've ever had. And every friday afternoon she would waddle over to our front porch and deliver her strawberry rhubarb pie, hot out the oven. We would polish it off within minutes and on sunday we would return her pie pan back to her kitchen. Sometimes we'd linger and she would tell us about her life, family, her kids and grandkids. There was such a feeling of comfort, peace and coziness in their home at all times and it was a reflection of the wonderful down-to-earth and kind people that they were. Saying goodbye to them broke our hearts and to this day I've never had a better pie.
Now this is a crisp and not a pie and of course it doesn't even come close to the one I'm talking about but for somebody who's not very good at pies or crumbles or crisps this turned out incredibly well! And the best part is just how easy it was. Ina Garten recommends serving it with ice cream which of course is never a bad idea...
4 c fresh rhubarb, 1-inch diced
4 c fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1 1/4 c granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 c orange juice
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 c quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, diced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the fruit, toss the rhubarb, strawberries, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and the orange zest together in a large bowl. In a measuring cup, dissolve the cornstarch in the orange juice and then mix it into the fruit. Pour the mixture into an 8 by 11-inch baking dish and place it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
For the topping, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, salt, and oatmeal. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, covering it completely, and bake for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown.
I've been hearing people say for a while now "Oh I was just reminded that my children are always watching me. I must be better, sit up straight, be more careful..." or essentially strive for perfection. Kindness, endless joy and happiness, calmness and collectedness and a boundless can-do attitude. There's nothing overtly wrong with this but it makes me wonder a little... Should what we allow our children to see in us really be so perfect?
While my parents were visiting us a few weeks ago my father asked "What are we going to do with Birdie when we have to leave for the airport? She's going to get so upset!!" And I told him that we were just going to let her be upset because I'm going to be sad too (in fact I would cry) and that this is normal and healthy and something she needs to start understanding. I am ok with allowing her to cry and I would be right next to her holding her hand and telling her that we will all be ok after a good cry. She may only be two but she's incredibly perceptive and trying to sort out the jumbled up mess of emotions that she is feeling on a daily basis. All of the professors in my Early Childhood Education classes were fervent believers in treating children not just with respect but with the understanding that their capacity for human emotion is bigger than we realize. And it was back in college that I decided that I would never talk down to my children.
I realize that sometimes I seem silly for sitting down to "talk" with a toddler that is thrashing and screaming like a banshee but I have found that she will eventually tune herself into my wavelength (and if that wavelength is frustration and anger she will tune into that too) and then we can then have a conversation about her behavior. And I've noticed, over time, that she has begun to appreciate the fact that I treat her the same way I would treat any adult. But the point is that she gets sad, angry, frustrated, offended, hurt, moody and basically the entire spectrum of human emotion. Sometimes she is incredibly sweet and kind and we reward her for that and sometimes she is mean and unkind and we are working on teaching her to process those emotions and also apologize when she has hurt or disappointed one of us. And here's the thing - how is she to learn the ins and outs of forgiveness if she never witnesses us having to ask for it ourselves? We do want our children to respect us but we don't want them to make gods out of us - omnipotent, all-knowing and beyond reproach.
Because the moment someone is convinced that in order to be "good" they must be perfect is the moment that they stop allowing themselves the luxury of introspection, growth and honesty. And after all we are all flawed, have made and continue to make mistakes and are in need of constant forgiveness. What will our children learn from us if all we show them is the "highlight reel" of our emotions? And wouldn't it be incredibly confusing to them if they never seen us lose our temper, patience or fall from grace when they do those things daily?
I've never believed in labeling emotions are good or bad, they are all simply "feelings." What we do with those emotions is infinitely more important than the fact that we feel them in the first place. So I feel that if our children are to navigate the complex web of human life and all that comes with it we must help them learn how to navigate their emotions first and foremost. And the best way to do this is by example of course! So yes, sometimes I lose my temper and I get angry... and then I go and apologize and say something like "mummy got angry because you were naughty and shouted but she is sorry and loves you very, very much." Or sometimes I get sad and I tell her that "mummy needs some quiet time to be sad." I've let her see me cry, be angry, happy, frustrated, tired and don't worry she's seen me laugh too. And by the same token she has expressed all those same emotions too. And together we are learning that if we yell when we're angry we need to apologize (same applies to throwing things when we're sad, her not me, lol) and when we're frustrated it's best to say "I don't like that I can't buckle my shoes by myself, will you help me?" instead of kicking and screaming. And I hope that when she's older we will learn together what it means to make mistakes, to seek forgiveness and be granted it.
We want our children to know that life is a journey, one that will be full of wonderful experiences, victories, mistakes, losses, achievements and failures. The absence of any or one of these does not make someone better, it would simply render any of us non-human. What we do with all of this is what is of actual importance. I too believe that we should never let our mistakes define us, however I think it's silly to think that they won't change us. Hopefully the changes are always for the better, always to draw out a more authentic, open, genuine and honest version of ourselves. I want our children to know that it's ok to shine a light on the darker parts of ourselves in order to try and change them because it's when we shroud those qualities in darkness and secrecy that they grow to be strongest. The unconscious thrives on anonymity and denial, gaining power over us until we have no idea why we do the things we do. It's a treasure trove of guilt, sadness, disappointment, fear and resentment. And I believe that it all starts when we are very young - the first time we feel that we aren't good enough and we lock it away and a drop falls in the bucket...
So yes, our children are watching us closely but I hope that what they see when they look at me is a real person with real feelings, flaws and someone who is constantly evolving, never afraid of saying "I'm sorry." I hope my children always know that in our house "we" are not bad or good but we "do" things that are bad or good. And more than anything I hope that my children know that the well of forgiveness will never run dry because lord knows children are already the most forgiving people on earth and I can only hope to live my life with that much abundant grace.
birdie: dancing and always asking for a song
teddy: he's "playing" more and it's done wonders for his relationship with Birdie as she finds him infinitely more interesting now. Makes my mama heart melt.
THINKING ABOUT: Last thursday night I breastfed my sweet baby boy for the last time. He's mostly eating solids now and taking a bottle a handful of times a day and taking into the consideration his issues with dairy and my other health issues I decided it was time. I nestled into the bed in the guest bedroom where he is currently sleeping and put him to the breast. I rubbed his head and kissed his cheek and tried so very hard to remember this moment. To remember the way he gulps and sort of hums while he eats. To remember the way he always has to be grasping something - my bra strap, the collar of my shirt or my favorite - my finger. To remember the way his body gets both heavier and limper the deeper he falls asleep. To remember the way we have made such a good team for almost eight months. To remember... it all. I felt knot in my throat form and the weight of the moment as it shocked and overwhelmed me. And all of sudden I could see it all again... I could feel my heart beating out of my chest, the bright lights and then... that cry. That unmistakable wail that could only belong to my darling boy and no one else. I could see us later too, him latching on for the first time and letting me know that "we've got this." And I cried. I cried so hard for this miracle baby that floored us with his coming and I cried for his gentle spirit that has always uplifted me even in the hardest months and I cried for all this love, for the way he united and bonded the four of us even more than we were before. It was hard and special and perfect and I pray to God I won't ever forget it.
FEELING: Quite a bit of pain. With Birdie my supply dried up long before she was done nursing so this is something new for me. I've sought the advice of the google gods and mommy forums and I've armed myself with a hefty head of cabbage. Yes, cabbage. Somehow it works?!! I will say daytime is bearable but nighttime has been tough, especially since I'm a stomach sleeper. I'm praying this is over soon and I get some relief. This weaning business is just the pits, you have to suffer physically and emotionally and then there's the whole cabbage thing on top of it. Yikes.
THANKFUL FOR: When I took a break from social media last week it wasn't just about "not looking," I physically deleted all the apps from my phone. By the second day I stopped carrying my phone around the house with me all day and would just leave it in our bedroom all day. It brought me back to the days of yore when if you had a moment of alone time or silence or were "waiting" whether it be in line at the grocery store or at the doctors office you just. sat. there. Alone with your thoughts. Honestly, sometimes I felt like I was getting to know myself all over again. Instead of constantly filling my time with what "everyone else is doing" I thought about what I want to do. That felt... dare I say refreshing?? I also found myself being thankful for the little things that I often don't notice - the warmth of Teddy's body first thing in the morning, the way the glass in the a picture frame reflects the trees in our backyard, the late afternoon light in the nursery or the sound of the woodpecker early in the morning.
EATING: So, not to keep riding this weaning train but!! I will admit I was pretty excited to be able to add dairy back into my diet again after eight months! So, on friday I had pizza and frozen yogurt and on saturday I had ice cream and by saturday night I had... a lot of pain. And bloating. And just generally feeling miserable. It was bad. And you know what?! It wasn't worth it. I thought all these things would taste sooooo good after being deprived for so long but my reaction was sort of meh. I don't know that this will be a lifelong thing but I think at least for right now I'm going to hop back on the dairy-free bandwagon.
LISTENING TO: Papa bear and I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of My Morning Jacket's new album The Waterfall and now that it's out we can't stop listening to it. It's a slightly different sound then what we're used to but I love when a band can surprise me like that. I also love that it arrived just in time for the summer to. One of my favorite memories is when we went to one of their concerts the summer before we got pregnant with Birdie. It was a hot and muggy day in late August when we saw them in Virginia. We camped out on a lawn with cold drinks and corn on the cob and were so free. I remember being a little disappointed when it was over that they didn't play our favorite song but then Jim James came out for the encore and played it after all! It was the perfect ending to a perfect day, one I'll never forget.
READING: I was in need of some comedic relief last week so I started Jim Gaffigan's book Food: A Love Story. So, so good. I kept driving Kevin crazy because I would bust out laughing while reading it to myself in bed. Of course then I just had to read it to him and basically I just ended up reading the whole thing out loud. The bit about oysters had me crying. I finally worked up the courage to try an oyster two years ago and I couldn't agree more with his assessment of the taste being akin to pneumonia. Yuck!!
LOVING: Being a mama to a two and a half year old little girl. Birdie is growing up into the most wonderful, fun, sweet and funny girl and I feel so lucky to get to witness it. I could have never imagined that it would be this good. You can pretty much have entire conversations with her now and she gets in these funny moods sometimes when she'll talk in a funny voice and she's just a joy to be around. I love observing how creative she is - seeing her draw, hearing her silly songs she sings to herself and watching her read book after book to herself. She even has "favwite" books now!! Childhood man... it's so, so good.
Above is the only photo I have from my "delivery." The photo is of my father holding up a bag of food that he brought my mum. Since men were absolutely not allowed in L&D wings in Russia my mother would lower a "rope" she would make out of the sheets there and my father would tie it to a basket full of clean clothes, books and food for her. She in turn would fill the baskets with her laundry and letters to keep my father and family updated.
Just a few weeks ago my mum discovered these letters and shared them with us. I wept like a baby and read and re-read them. It was incredible to hear her try and describe every single one of my features to my father only using words... Could you imagine?? Below she writes: "I love you so much and I'm so happy that I was able to give you a daughter. I miss you terribly. How are you faring in the apartment all by yourself? Don't miss me too much. Hugging you tight and sending my kisses. Yours... The evening of July 3."
I have been loving all the recipes I've discovered through the Love & Lemons blog. Considering what they attempt to do (replicate the taste of dairy) the recipes are quite simple and easy to execute. I made this mac and cheese for us this weekend and it was a huge hit!!
▪1 big head of cauliflower (4 loose cups, chopped, plus extra small florets to leave whole)
▪12 oz brown rice elbow pasta
▪1 tbsp dijon mustard
▪1 shallot, minced
▪3 cloves of garlic
▪1/2 tsp smoked paprika
▪1 c cashew cream (see recipe below) or sharp cheddar
▪1 tbsp sherry vinegar
▪salt & pepper
▪pasta water, as needed to thin
▪1/4 c panko bread crumbs
▪1/4 c chopped chives
cashew cream: (this makes extra & can be made ahead)
▪1 c cashews, soaked for a few hours (strain soaking water before using)
▪1/4 - 1/2 c water
▪1 small garlic clove
▪1/4 c minced shallot
▪2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
▪salt, to taste
Start by making your cashew cream. (Strain the soaking water from the cashews). Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Scoop the cream out of the blender and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower florets and cook until tender but not mushy, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to drain and scoop the cauliflower into a blender. When the cauliflower is out, bring your water back up to a boil and add the pasta.
In the blender - add the dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, to the cauliflower, and puree well. Add about ¾ cups of cashew cream, sherry vinegar, and blend again. Add starchy pasta water, as needed, to thin the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. (Add more cashew cream if you want).
When your pasta is al dente, set aside a cup or so of pasta water, then fully drain your pasta and the water out of the large pot. Return the cooked pasta to the pot and stir in the sauce. Add more reserved pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce.
Pour your pasta into a large baking dish (or a few individual sized dishes). Place the remainder of the cauliflower floretes on top. Top with a sprinkling of panko, cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Bake until the top is golden and crispy - about 12-25 minutes depending on the size of your dish.
Lately I've noticed myself retreating from social media a bit. I haven't been as active or engaged, at least on the outside. However, in my mind I suppose you could say I've been more active than ever in the sense that I've been thinking about it a lot.
I feel like this year saw a seismic shift happen when it came to blogging and social media. Increasingly I found myself heading deeper and deeper into the recesses of both to find authentic, un-sponsored content. Old standbys of mine "bit the dust" so to speak and new ones all told the same story of "sponsored by..." And along with all the sponsorship and product placement came a higher emphasis on curation or what we've all come to call an "aspirational lifestyle." And I haven't been innocent of the bug either. More often than not I find my daily life "not acceptable enough" to fit into that little square - it's not pretty enough, not curated enough, not perfect enough, not shiny enough. And so I pass. I pass on Teddy eating watermelon for the first time because it takes place outside with harsh lighting (i.e. a very gorgeous sunny day), on a dirty blanket and with mismatched clothes. I pass on how adorable Birdie looks reading a book to her doggie because the playroom is a den of destruction and the "frame would look too busy." I pass on a photo of my little tribe cuddling on the floor of the living room because it "wouldn't look perfect" and who wants that? My iphone is a treasure trove of #fromthecuttingroomfloor.
And yet... And yet I see a call for more "realness," not just from myself but as a quiet, building chorus in comments sections and forums. I hear people say things like "I miss blogging circa 2008" or "I used to relate to you when you were more open/authentic/genuine/raw." And though it's true you can't rewind time and we can't go back to the way things were when blogging was new and exciting and warm and fuzzy I would like to think we can at least try. But as someone on the blogging end and the reader end I have to say it's incredibly hard. It's difficult because it does not appear that those qualities that people claim they pine for are validated. The popular blogs, IG, twitter accounts are not the "real" ones, in fact it seems that the more curated your version of life the better. The accounts with mass followings are nothing but beautifully decorated coffee tables that sit upon rare vintage rugs, endless walls of subway tile, babies in white onesies frolicking in dreamy backyards and airy quotes about the way motherhood (even on the bad days) is still, ultimately, the most wonderful, magical, fulfilling, beautiful and lovely job in the world!!
And don't get me wrong - I am a terribly aesthetic person. I love beautiful things!! I look at these pictures and I get all the heart eyes too. But... but I fear that too much of this leaves very little room for real life. Because when we connect with people, when we feel that delicious feeling of "me too" it's rarely over the fact that "oh my gosh! me too! i also have the cleanest, whitest kitchen in all the land!" No, we connect over "me too!! my toddler also made me want to rip out my hair today!" or "me too!! i've also been wearing my bathrobe all day because i'm sick as a dog and just trying to survive with two tiny and incredibly needy humans!" We need others not when life is perfect but in the exact opposite of perfect - when things feel like they're crumbling and we're just barely hanging on. It's in those moments that we want to reach out our hand and say "will you walk with me?" And yes, that means making yourself vulnerable and taking a risk but very often the reward is a human connection, however small, that makes an impact on your life.
My father once told me that the best works of art are never about the "good times," no these works of art are celebrated and loved because they dare to grab the messiest, ugliest parts of life and say "this is still good, this is still beautiful, this is still valid, this is still LIFE." And I fear that with all this curating and perfection we're going to miss out on the whole reason we loved social media/blogging in the first place - the human connection. Because perfection or the "highlight reel" leaves a bad taste in our mouth, more often than not, it makes us all feel less than, alone and bitter. "Why not me?" we often ask ourselves when seeing someone's vacation, gleaming home or perfect children. And then I feel that there just ends up being a lot of "yuck" passed around online and it's not even based in reality. How do I know this? I know this because the few times that someone dares to pull back the curtain a bit and really let us into their homes or lives we feel camaraderie, understanding and the "me too."
Because at the end of the day we're all the same really. We all want to love and be loved, we want our children to know that they make our world go round and we want to tell our husband's "I'm so happy you're home!" more often than we say "Can you hold the baby?" We are all tired and doing our best and dream of one day in the future getting to go to Target alone because spa days are nice but can you even imagine getting to enjoy the Nate Berkus aisle without someone whining for you to buy yet another "hideaway pet???" Because we all forget to take our makeup off some nights and want to read more than one chapter before passing out in bed. We all want to lose the baby weight and fit into our pre-pregnancy jeans and remember what it is like to leave the car with just a purse and one's keys. Because for most of us finances are tight and budgets are not cute little diagrams that live on Rifle Paper notebooks but are lines of scary numbers inside the awfulness that is Microsoft Excel. And because we just want to feel connected, loved, appreciated, cared for, understood and validated.
And what do we as bloggers offer to our readers who spend so much time making us feel wonderful? A few giveaways for purses and rings here and there? I just don't think that's good enough. That's why there is such a disconnect right now. We're no longer connected to each other instead there is a glass divider between the "aspirational lifestyle" of the blogger and the real life of the reader. There's no possibility for a connection, only window shopping. And as any of us know the more we window shop and the more we feel like we can't have the things behind the glass the more frustrated and bitter we feel.
It's inevitable of course, more often than not all things that start out as art end up going the way of the dodo bird. And it's not completely a bad thing. I think it's fantastic that in some instances it gives mamas a way to stay home with their babies and make some money too. I also think it's fantastic that so many women are being paid for all the hard work and endless hours that they pour into these blogs. I think it's incredible that so many of us have been able to parlay something that started as a journal into a full-blown career. However, we have to be careful here. We have to remember that this is a two-way street between writer and reader. We have to remember who helped us get to where we are. We have to remember that "sponsors" ARE NOT the most important part of this equation. We have to remember that sometimes it really pays off to feel like the black sheep, to come out and say - "HERE I AM!! Here are my flaws, my mistakes, my messes and they all live happily alongside all the beauty, achievements and gifts I have." Life is up and down, messy and clean, happy and sad, good and bad. People are all of those things too. Some people are in our life to lift us up, some are there to help us learn and grow, some are there to make us laugh, others bring tears. I think if we allow ourselves to dig deep and look at things holistically we will realize that everyone that has ever orbited around us has taught us something (emphasis on something).
Some are saying that blogging is already dead and for all intent and purposes it would seem that way. I think we're almost there, we're living in the twilight of blogging so to speak. Perhaps that means that we should just take what we can and leave it all behind. However, that doesn't seem right to me. Blogging helped me find my voice, write my way through so much pain and angst of my twenties and make some lifelong friends and I'm just not ready to lock it up and throw away the key. It's been very quiet here as of late and I get it, comments are dead too. But I still love coming here, occasionally pouring out my soul, sharing snaps of my children who are growing in the blink of my eye and sharing a recipe or two. This is space means a lot to me and I want to keep it going but I want to perhaps augment "how" I've been doing it to some degree. I want to learn and allow myself to celebrate all parts of life (photogenic or not) and to ask you to join me in celebrating it all. And let's put our clicks where our mouth is and support those individuals who are already doing this. Let's show with our actions that we really do want honesty, open dialogue, raw emotion and authenticity. Let's show everyone that it's ok to tear down the facade and let us see the real you - messes and all. Because (I apologize in advance for this sounding like a Dove commercial) we are beautiful because of all our composite parts, not just the pretty "highlight reel" ones.
“What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.”
― Nora Ephron
*This will be the last post with open comments. I may not be ready to close this space but I am ready to close comments. I feel like emails encourage a more intimate and personal dialogue and I welcome them anytime! (you can write to me at floraandfaunablog[at]gmail.com). Thank you so, so much to all of you that have taken time to write something that has made me smile, think or has simply touched my life. Huge, huge hugs to you all!! xx