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Archive for the ‘Motherhood’ Category

My mother died when I was 22.

Not an auspicious start to a post, is it. But I promise not to be depressing. I’m just back to the fallible parent theme.

My mother was a wonderful cook, and a much better baker than I’ll ever be. But there are standard family dishes that I make much better than she did.

She’ll never know of course, so no sheepish “sorry, Mom, your Shepherd’s Pie is dry.”

Now my mother-in-law, this is something different. She’s very much alive, and teaching me how to cook Chinese. Last fall she came over and showed me how to make Luo Bok Gao (turnip cakes– you may have had these if you’ve had dim sum). She brought three different kinds of rice flour (on this week’s theme) and we used daikons from the local grocery, but it just didn’t taste right, and they were very gluey.

Then, last year, I found seeds from Kitazawa seed company, which specializes in Asian vegetables, for actual luo bok, called Korean Turnip on the label. These are, essentially, 2 pound radishes, with a consistency somewhere between radish and turnip. So I pulled my mother-in-law’s recipe, and a recipe pulled off the internet, and landed somewhere in between.

Result? Restaurant quality luo bok gao, way better than mom’s

Awkward.

Homemade Luo Bok Gao

Ingredients:
2 ½ lbs     (1 lb)     Chinese turnip
1 ½ cup     (¾ c)    gluten-free rice flour
3 Tsp     (1 ¼)     corn starch
2 tsp     (¾ tsp)    salt
2 tsp     (¾ tsp)    sugar
½ tsp     (¼ tsp)    white pepper
1 ½      (1)    Chinese sausage, chopped to small pieces and fried (if you don’t have this sweet, dense sausage available, a cheap, mild salami is a good substitute– the fattier the better)
2    (1)    small dried shitake mushroom, soaked in water for 1 hour, then cut off stem and diced
1    (1)    green onion sliced
¼ cup    (¼ cump)    shrimp, diced
1 ½ cup    (¾ cup)    water (approx.)

1. Peel and grate the turnips into a pot; add a small amount of water. Bring it to a boil and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, add more water if needed.
2. Grate the mixture with an immersible blender and then add the Chinese sausage, green onion, shitake mushroom, shrimp, and carrot into the pot.
3. Add salt, sugar, pepper, turn to low heat, and continue to stir.
4. Gradually add the rice flour to the mixture. Do not add it all at once.
5. Add some water and the corn starch, continue to stir. Mixture should not be runny or solid. Add the meat and vegetables.
6. Grease a non stick cake pan (about 8 inches) or casserole dish, pour mixture into pan to a one-knuckle depth, and steam for 40 minutes. To steam: use a large steamer or a wok, add water to the bottom and support the pan with a small rack. After 40 minutes, insert a toothpick in the centre, if it comes out clean, the Turnip Cake is ready.
7. Let cool. To serve, slice and pan fry until golden brown. An 8″ cake yields about 9 small slices. Serve with any traditional sauce.

This recipe makes two 8″ cakes.

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Education at Home

Reading

For the past year and a half, I’ve been homeschooling my daughter. She’s now eight and in “second” grade. Most days we don’t follow a strict routine, and that works well for us. We manage to fit in all that we need to and I try not to stress about missing something that will impede her scholarly growth for the rest of her life. For example, last year we studied Martin Luther King Jr. for the entire week leading up to MLK Jr. Day. We went on virtual tours, watched him speak, and talked about the things that have and haven’t changed since his famous speech. But when I asked her this morning if she remembered who he was, she couldn’t recall. I know she knows – that the moment I pull up a photograph of him or play “I Have a Dream” that it will all come back to her. Maybe not in detail, but the important concepts.

The amount of information that children absorb is amazing. There have been those days that I feel are a complete failure; that I’m positive she hasn’t heard a thing I’ve said, but then she’ll do something like recite a poem we’ve read word for word. At this point in her education I’m not so concerned if she can’t remember the word “adjective”, but that she understands how they are used in a sentence.  The things I do worry about have more to do with the fundamentals: can she write her numbers in the correct direction, or can she tell the difference between a “B” and a “D”. I worry if she understands the concepts of basic math like addition and subtraction, or that she can pick up on the main ideas of a story. I love that she wants to know everything about a skunk (and will gladly teach most people many things they don’t know all about them) or that she’s passionate about science and art. And while I don’t necessarily worry that she’s 100% on track with what the common core, I still make sure she’s learning what she can, at her own pace, about all those subjects.

stopwatch

Using a stopwatch app for a race to write properly

To me, that’s what homeschooling is about: finding a way to teach your children at a pace that’s comfortable for them while trying to make it enjoyable. I like to think of education less like a checklist or a puzzle and more like a montage that can be put together from different angles. I want her to have a love for searching for information. I hope that teaching her in a more creative manner compared to a linear approach will give her a better chance to find answers to the world’s problems. I want to help her become a thinker.

While public education can be effective and wonderful (both Hubby and I went to public school and I think we turned out just fine), it’s just not for us right now. I want to be more involved with and in control of my daughter’s education to be able to tailor it to her needs. How do you help your children achieve a love for learning within or outside of public or private school systems? What educational styles and techniques do you embrace?

I can also be found at Unearthing this Life, Twitter, Pinterest, and a smattering of other places around the interweb.

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peppermint 2

The holidays used to be rush, rush, rush for me. It wasn’t unusual to find me shopping during the last few days before Christmas for last minute gifts. While I wasn’t a devoted enough planner to shop on Black Friday or a good enough procrastinator to wait until Christmas Eve, I was still great at getting a lot of shopping completed. Since my daughter came into my life I came to view the holidays completely different.

She was born 3 days after Christmas, and I have to tell you that the Christmas she was born was the best ever that we celebrated. We didn’t do any of the traditional stuff. We didn’t go visit family or plan a big meal as I was hesitant to travel an hour away from our hospital just days before our due date. And so, the Christmas day was spent with my lovely husband, and only him. Presents were opened leisurely and dinner was served when we were hungry. Phone calls were made and well wishes were given. I don’t recall exactly now, but we probably napped or played video games. One thing I do remember is taking photos of my pregnant belly and being full of bliss.

That day put it all into perspective. The season leading up to the holidays aren’t for procrastinating or shopping for the perfect gift. And while family will always be dear to me, having to rush to three different households in one day is just no fun. Regardless of religion, the holidays are about quality time with loved ones. Not this rushing about stuff that we’ve all come so accustomed to.

The next 8 years have only reinforced my opinion. Thanks to my daughter’s birth I became unwilling to travel to each and every in-law and distant relative’s home between Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It was too much stress for the three of us. Sleep schedules would get out of whack as well as my own sanity. We learned to spread out the well-wishing of the holidays over the month. The Kid’s birthday would have a small celebration on the day of, between the three of us, and a bigger party after the first of the year.

The month leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve has become a slow-down time for us. I focus more on her needs as well as making memories for her. She and I make crafts together to celebrate winter and the holidays. We cook, watch old holiday specials, look at holiday decorations, and school less. We also spend long dinners talking to friends and family, but not out of obligation – because we want to. I’ve limited my budget as well as the number of people I buy for. Fortunately the people near and dear to me seem to enjoy the things I make for them. They understand our point of view of the holidays, in part because I refused to try to keep up with the status quo. Making a month–long holiday makes for a lot less stress and for a lot more appreciation.

For now I’ll be holding my baby girl’s hand, looking at the marvels of the season, and enjoying our time together instead of rushing around trying to buy the best presents for all those that I love. And later on when those long, cold, pensive days come knocking on all of our doors we’ll be wishing for the sparkle that the holiday season brings to winter, and recalling them with our own little twinkle in our hearts.

Jennifer can also be found blarging at Unearthing this Life.

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Matriarch

What makes a matriarch?

Is a matriarch the oldest female in the family, or the wisest, or simply the one who usurps the role? We often conflate age and wisdom in our society, possibly because no one ever feels quite “wise,” but it seems safe to assume that age confers wisdom. I think my own mother would have resisted the role of matriarch; it would not have appealed to her sense of the ephemeral. My sister in law’s mother made a classic old-world matriarch, but probably just because she was Old World right down to the accent, the home-cooked Hungarian meals, and the house dress persona. We all try to shoehorn my mother-in-law  into the role, but she also resists it. This leaves me or my sister in law. Or really it just leaves her, because I think she covets the role. Which is maybe what makes a matriarch.

The matriarch is the unanswerable Mother, the person with the final say. This is the appeal– that someone can say, “Stop”. Someone can say, “Don’t”. That someone actually has the final answer and the right to an expectation of obedience, or at least compliance. It is this expectation that confers the power of the Matriarch, and by extension the wisdom. It’s a feedback loop that reinforces the power– if I give you power over me, I need to justify that with a belief in your wisdom, which gives you power over me.

But it’s not the only role available to old ladies. The witch-woman, the Crone, the Crazy Old Lady, also has her place alongside the Matriarch, in fact without her the Matriarch is too powerful. Like the King needs his Fool, the Matriarch needs her wise woman who basically doesn’t put up with her bull. The matriarch sustains the status quo and provides continuity, while the witch woman provides the potion that turns your world upside down. The matriarch offers stability and the witch-woman passion.

The concept of the matriarch, the Powerful Old Lady, is very appealing. I am too young for this role, and at any rate, I’m headed straight towards Crazy Old Lady. I also don’t have enough of a satellite system, so to speak– no young ‘uns, and not much of an extended family. (Which brings up the other question of how large your tribe needs to be before it even requires a matriarch.)

The world needs both– the Matriarch to provide the base, and the Crone to blow it up. Tradition and Innovation, Wisdom and Passion, Power and Magic.

Is there a Matriarch or a Crone in your tribe?

My mother would have been 90 this month Thursday. She died more than 30 years ago, so we’ll never know if she would have been the matriarch, or the witch woman, or if she would have been simply mom. Are you Matriarch, or Crone?

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Emily from Tanglewood Farm, here! My mother has been a huge role model in my life. She is incredibly practical, hardy, and full of life, and it’s these traits that I’ve been trying to cultivate in myself as I’ve grown.

She has a sort of quiet appreciation of things, and the ability to find wonder in any natural thing, often exclaiming things like “Hickory trees are nice!” or “Hello, squirrel!” Oh Boy, she’s going to kill me for posting those quotes… but it’s things like this that make me love her. She’s not afraid to blurt out the little-kid phrases that pop into her head. She’s willing to admit to staring at the way water pools on leaves and closing her eyes to pick out the songs of the local frog population. I don’t think of her as a hippie, no. More of a Hobbit. We’re all Hobbity folk, in my family – aside from living above ground, that is. (Radon gas is a real threat to modern-day Hobbits!)

This is the first Mother’s day that my mom and I have been apart. She has moved to New Hampshire while I remain in Michigan. Every year I think about how Mother’s day is so silly. It’s just one of those consumer driven buy-this, buy-that sort of holidays. Then it hits me (every single year) I don’t care if it’s consumer driven. My mother is full of inspiring energy and hard work, and it’s from her that I get my love of gardening and making things. I owe her a day – my life, really – even if I’m states away. Happy Mother’s day, Mom.

***

For me, Jennifer, moving from my tiny corner of Northwest Indiana all the way to Nashville, Tennessee was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, next to raising my own daughter. Fifteen years ago I decided it was time to break the invisible umbilical cord that I felt was holding me so close to my mother.

retro?

We’d been through a lot together, she and I. For ten years it was just the two of us. Because of that, we’d grown tremendously close. I’ve always considered her my best friend – from the time I was a small girl. It was incredibly difficult when she remarried, as I was afraid I’d lose my best friend. What I didn’t realize was that I was gaining a wonderful dad and a brother that still amazes me.

Moving away from that family, and the woman I idolized, was difficult, but to this day we talk several times a week. We make plans to visit as often as possible. Sometimes I even think that being so far away from each other makes our relationship and our visits that much more special. Extra efforts are made to make every moment count.

I miss my mom horribly. And to this day, fifteen years later, I still tear up when we part. I’m just glad to know that that umbilical cord still exists, but is now reciprocal. I love you, Mom.

***

Mother’s Day is very bitter sweet for me (Xan). My own mother died when I was a young woman, so I’ve made up the whole motherhood thing as I went along. I wrote this for my daughter when she graduated from high school. I have no photo, but rather a poem about a photo.

I think sometimes about a picture I have of the three of us
My mother, my daughter, myself
We’re laughing, arms linked and people turn to see
granddaughter catching grandmother’s eye.

I have been imagining this moment since I was a child.

It’s just a fantasy
My mother died eleven years before my daughter’s birth.
She never knew my daughter nor my daughter she
Except in the crumbling pages of the black and white photo album.
“You look just like her, Mom”

I shake my head, because I look neither like my beautiful mother
Nor like my beautiful daughter
Their beauty reaches around me,
Embracing me and connecting them
Two vibrant women who are so alike
And look so much alike
And can never know each other.

Still, I think about the three of us
and the image in my mind is so clear, it must exist on a black and white photo somewhere
I’ve just misplaced
That is why I know it so exactly  that I can tell you what we’re doing:

We’re laughing, arms linked
People turn to see because we are so happy to be together
And so connected by the shared face of my mother and my daughter
Who can never know each other
Except in my imaginary photograph.
Where we are always laughing, arms linked.

For Nora Aspasia, from her mother Alexandra, down the generations, through her grandmother Olga Aspasia and her great grandmother Eleni and her great-great grandmother Aspasia

***

Thinking of all of you mothers out there, with fondness in our hearts.

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stream

Now that the heat is going away, we are spending even more time outdoors. I find it extremely important to teach my daughter about the environment around her, and how to take care of it. This morning we went for a hike on the nearby Natchez Trace. This is the second official “hike” she’s gone on with me and I was afraid we’d already taught her poor lessons about nature. Thanks goodness my sister came to the rescue. She’s been going to school for, well, years – I call her the tenured student. She’s studied geology, teaching, and biology; she’s worked as a tutor, homeschool teacher, nanny, camp counselor, nature guide; and she’s more patient than I have been as of late. If it wasn’t for my sweet sister, I’m not sure I’d have the desire to take my daughter back on a hike anytime soon.

trailhead

So what could be so hard about taking a six year old hiking on a nature trail? She got upset when I told her she could not take home some leaves and sticks to save in her nature box. The girl talked and talked and talked, then talked some more, as we were hiking – interrupting all the conversations we older gals would have. She wanted to stop at every water crossing for snacks and drinks. It was a special treat for her, but it was frustrating to stop every 15 minutes for a break. We quickly learned that we’d have to work around the Kid’s desires. I don’t feel the need to leave her at home for these shorter hikes, but we quickly found some tools to keep her interested in the world around her instead of the “plans” she’d made. Ahh, it’s tough having a perfectionist as a child, but even more difficult when you’re a perfectionist and idealist yourself!

rock table

My little sister, she who is seven years younger than myself, she without her own children, she who’s been going to school for just this thing for, well, forever… she showed me how to manage my own daughter on a hike and I love her for all of it! In my excitement to spend time out in nature, exercising my tired bones and spending time with my sister, I’d forgotten that part of the reason of taking my daughter with was to teach her something.

quartz

  • Get them thinking about the world around them by engaging their brains.
  •  Ask children about what they see.
  • Why would a plant grow in one place instead of another?
  • Why should we cross streams on rocks instead of tromping through the water, overturning every rock we come across?
  • Why is it important to stay on the trail?
  • What can your children see that is significant of the season?
  • Count the different sounds you hear.
  • birds, bugs, water, wind through trees, raindrops, sticks breaking, nuts falling.
  • Have the children guess what could be making those sounds. What type of bird do you think is singing? Do you think that squirrel is angry with us? And so on
  • Can you imagine why it would be so important for an animal to have good senses?
  • Why is it important to take only photographs and memories with you?
  • Imagine someone coming into your house and moving all of your food and furniture around. How would that make you feel?
  • Even items that aren’t food for animals can be food for other things like mushrooms, trees, and so on. The circle of life affects all organisms.

yellow 

Having my sister with us on our hike today gave me insight of how to teach my own child about the world around us. What techniques and tricks do you use with children when out in the wild?

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Ever feel like this?

It seems like that at least once or twice a year I sit back and look at my life and am completely overwhelmed.

There are so many good and constructive and meaningful things that I wish to accomplish that there seems to be no way to get it all done.

I am committed to cooking from scratch from as much homegrown produce as possible.  But as noble as that is it also entails a large garden with all that involves.  Not to mention the time it takes to cook from scratch for a large family every day…all day long.

Homeschooling is something that for our family is a lifestyle choice that we made long ago.  Yet there are days that planning lessons and hanging out ALL day with my kids seems a bit…well crazy!

Then there are the animals that are as much a part of the family as anyone that need care and cleaning and feeding.

The dishes don’t do themselves…

Nor does the mountain of laundry.

There are bills and doctor’s appointments.  Dentists visits and playgroups….

I try to make sure we flex our creative muscle so crafts are a must.

And then there is the blogging…and the photography that is involved.

My mother-in-law is still lingering in hospice, visiting numerous times a week is a must.

I know it is all about prioritizingbut everything seems important and/or necessary.

So here is my question for you today.

How do you do it all? Or have you given up on doing it all and just do what you love?   Or do you delegate and sit back and eat bon bons while you order everyone around?

Seriously…there must be a system or something for getting it all done.  I would pay big bucks if someone could let me in on the secret!

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