Sunday, December 18, 2011

But What If I Succeed?

Catch 22.

If I manage to succeed in my careers, my life, then what?  Success would be: knowing what to do, knowing HOW to do things, how to take care of people, how to get things done, how and when to soothe or discipline or praise.

Let's say I actually manage all of this.  I AM the woman who gets it done.  I'm the Mama who provides.  The wife who is the right mix of hot and sweet.  I'm the business woman who knows who to call, what cords to plug in, when to transfer the funds.  Let's say I do it.

It's actually going to make people THINK that I have it together.  That I know.  That I am.

Then, who will be gentle to me?  Who will mentor me and advise me and coddle me?  Who do the heroes go to for help?  And how do they accept the help if it's offered? 

Here's the catch to the 22.  If I "fake it until I make it," there's not much opportunity for being vulnerable.  For actually looking like someone who will accept a tissue, who needs an offer of a drink, who would like for someone to hold open the heavy door.  But if I look like I need help, can I succeed?  Will people respect and trust me?  Or would that admission of floundering or not-knowing be a kick in the back down the icy hill of failure, or worse still, mediocrity?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Painfully Trusting

Brace yourselves.

That moment when your beautiful blonde child obediently opens her little mouth and waits for the spoonful of cough medicine.  It is one of the worst moments of parenting.

Why, you ask?


They trust that the Mama knows what she's doing.  That Mama is doing the right thing.  They trust that these chemicals Mama is putting into the child are the ones that will make her feel better.  To heal.  To soothe.  They don't even get to hold the spoon themselves.  They just open up like little birdies.

It shakes me to my core.  What if I'm wrong?  What if I'm WRONG??  How could I stand it?  I get flashes of the evil and unreal possibilities -- of families gone horribly wrong.  Of mothers gone around the bend.

I know that I am going to take every care; to read each label.  To only give as directed.  To be appropriate.  To be safe and healing and soothing and nurturing.  But why oh WHY do they have to be so trusting?
And why does this cause my soul to shiver the way it does?  The little fevered forehead, the damp hair, the watery eyes.  "Mama. Fix it."  It humbles me in a way that is most unpleasant. 

I love the feeling of bathing them, getting them into cozy flannel jammies, getting them a night time snack of apples and peanut butter.  Reading the book.  Tucking the blankies around the thin shoulders.  Kissing the forehead, patting the hair.  It's all nice and comfortable.

Giving medicine makes me shudder.  All because they trust me so much.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Simonisms: Gravity

Just today, Simon said, "MAMA!  It's sure a good thing there's not 100% gravity in space.  Because there's no bottom of space, and you'd just keep falling.  And that would be bad."

My 8 year old is hilarious.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Party Quesadillas (Veggie, and Green Chile/Chicken) With Bean Dip and Guacamole

My husband, Dr. Smartypantz, told me that there was a party for his department, and that we were to bring a dish to share.  Also cookies.  And maybe bread.

Ok, then.

Sweet man that he is, he made the cookies himself, and made bread dough.  All that was left was quesadillas.  Since there are several vegetarians in our crowd, I decided to make one batch with veggies, and one batch with my personal favorite, chicken with green chiles.

I piled up most of the ingredients I thought I'd use here.
Avocados, mushrooms, limes, jalapenos, bell peppers (yellow, red, green), celery, carrot, cilantro, oil, tortillas, canned black beans, onions, chipotle spices, salsa, garlic.  And a partridge in a pear tree.

First up, I needed to start my black bean dip.
I diced up a celery rib, a carrot, and 1/2 of a big white onion.  Also a whole jalapeno (including seeds because I can HANDLE the heat). 

Notice how finely I chopped all of this?  I'm not going to be able to puree it later, so I chopped verrrry finely.
Added some oil into the pot and sauteed until extremely soft.

Now, this left me with a LOT of veggies.  Even for me.  I suspected that I might not need them all, so I offloaded about half of them or more into a separate bowl.  I'll find a use for them someday soon.
Extra veggies.

During this sauteeing, I grabbed two large (frozen) chicken breasts and tossed them into a big cast iron skillet with enough water to nearly cover them and simmered.

I had to remember to simmer slowly, because I tend to rush and burn things.  You'll notice the teakettle in the background here.  I keep it full of water so if the liquid boils off, I can quickly slop in some more water.

Whilst the veggies were sauteeing and the chicken was simmering, I began to work on the veggies for the veggie quesadillas.
Here, I'm cutting up a few mushrooms and a variety of bell peppers into thick strips.  I'm also going to cut fairly thick pieces of onion.  The jalapeno I'm going to finely dice.  Nobody wants a mouthful of jalapeno, methinks.

The chicken is getting just about fully cooked.  I'm going to start shredding it now, using the wooden spork (I love my wooden spork) and a table fork.

Did you forget that we were going to make a Black Bean dip?  Yup.  Me too.
I opened a large can of black beans (normally I will make them from the dried beans, but who are we kidding, here?  I had no time for that.)
Also, you will see the big secret of my beans' success:  CILANTRO STEMS.
I chop the stems off of a bunch of cilantro and toss them into the cooking beans. It gives an awesome bright flavor without being overly cilantro-ey.  I also added HALF of one chipotle spice cube. Sadly, I think my dogs found the other half on the floor.  I'm not sure, but they DID go through about 4 bowls of water that afternoon.

Into the bean pot with you, my lovelies. 
 Getting back to the chicken filling, I shredded up the two chicken breasts.

Then I open a large can of diced green chiles.  I used MOST, but not all of the can.  I could have used it all, I guess.  But I was cooking for musicologists.  I did not know how intense their love for green chiles is.  NOTE:  Green chiles are NOT jalapenos.  They are not terribly spicy (well, the canned ones aren't -- go to New MExico and WATCH OUT).  But they have a lovely amazing depth of flavor.

I cooked the chicken/green chile mixture until nearly all of the water had evaporated, then removed it to a bowl to cool a little.  And because I needed the pan.
Chicken/green chile filling

Did you remember that I also had to accommodate our veggie friends?
Here you see red, green, and yellow bell peppers; onions; mushrooms, some garlic (not visible) and a chopped jalapeno.
I heated that pan up until it was HAWT, y0. I added a little oil and dumped in about half of the veggies I had cut for this purpose.  Do NOT crowd the pan or you'll get flabby STEAMED veggies instead of awesome slightly BLACKENED crisp veggies. 
I removed these to a bowl and repeated for the other half of the veggies.
Batch 1, cooling in a bowl.

Batch 2
It seems important to LEAVE THE VEGGIES ALONE while they are blackening.  You don't need to stir them all the time like you would in a stir-fry.  WAIT.  That's why they call it STIR FRY!  (feeling very smart now)


Remember our bean dip?  It's been simmering very slowly, letting the liquid reduce.
 See how thick it is?  Those veggies are barely holding together, they're so soft. Almost ready, but not quite.  Simmersimmersimmerstirsimmerstirstir.

Now, there's another thing I was supposed to make.  GUACAMOLE!
I'm making a much bigger batch than usual (I usually make it 1/2 of an avocado at a time so I don't gorge myself, but today I'm using FOUR avocados. eep!).  I will be a little careful adding ingredients so I don't screw up the proportions.

First, cut the avocado in half.  Make a note to yourself to NOT cut towards yourself, no matter how safe it seems.  Knives tend to skitter around once they hit that center seed.
This one has some bruises because it led me a merry chase at the grocery store.  It fell out of the cart and rolled under the grapes display.  Then I kicked it. It ended up near the cabbages.
Gently slap the seed with the knife to "grab" the seed with the knife, then rotate the blade to get the seed out.  
This is my method.  Squish it.  The insides fall out.  Squish it harder and all the other green goodness will squish out.

LOOK! A bowlful of avocado!

 Now, grab a handful of VERY finely chopped cilantro.  You don't want enormous sprigs.

 A few tablespoons of VERY finely chopped onion,
and about 1/2 of a very finely chopped jalapeno.

Now for the lime juice.  I like to "roll" my limes before I juice them.  I hear it makes the juice easier to get out.  I have no idea if that's true, but I still do it.  Just lay the lime down and push on it while rolling back and forth a few times.  (Like when you were a kid playing with Play-Doh, making snakes. Just like that.)
 Cut the lime in half and juice away, right into the bowl.  This particular one was like the lime equivalent of a clown car.  I could not BELIEVE how much juice came out.  So I only used one lime rather than two.

Eviscerated lime halves.

Then I stood there like an idiot, thinking "I need to mash up the avocado.  Whatever shall I use?"  Then, like a bolt of lightning from above, came the answer.  

 Mashmashmash.  I didn't want to get it completely smooth, though, so I left some chunks.

I tasted, added a bit more jalapeno, some more cilantro, a little salt, and then decided it was lacking something.  I added a good teaspoon or so of my friend, GROUND CUMIN.

 Then, for just a little more flavor, I added a blop of a pretty good salsa.

DONE!  Now, I needed to make sure it wasn't going to get all brown and nasty, so I squeezed a little more lime juice over the top and then pressed a piece of Saran wrap right onto the surface.
Heavens to Murgatroid!  The bean dip!
Using the same masher, I mushed up the beans and veggies into an obedient dip.
See?  Lovely.

 Our next phase:  Making the actual quesadillas.  Our ingredients:  small flour tortillas, Mexican-style cheese, and the cooled veggies and chicken fillings.  (The cilantro and limes are for garnish later.)

Heat the pan to medium.  Pull out your baking spray and spray one side of the tortilla (not the pan).  Flop it into the pan, sprayed-side down.

Add some cheese, then top with some veggies.

This tortilla is really cheesed!  (heh)

 Add MORE cheese (to glue together, then the other tortilla.  Spray the top tortilla.

 Mash the two together by pushing down with a spatula.  This will make sure it all sticks together before you flip it.

Spraying top tortilla with baking spray.
TA DAH!  I flipped it!

This is me using a tortilla to fan the pan when it got too hot. 
Pile o' quesadillas.
 We ended up with the following:

FIVE veggie quesadillas (each cut into six wedges)
EIGHT chicken/green chile quesadillas (each cut into six wedges)
Black Bean Dip (vegetarian, too!)
Sour cream

I served them room-temperature on platters garnished with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs.  The salsa, sour cream and guacamole I served in martini glasses of varying heights.  I served the bean dip in a little crock.

All got rave reviews from the crowd! 

When using a big pile of ingredients, it's important to NOT use ALL of the ingredients in ALL of the dishes.  You don't want everything to taste the same.

Also, don't try to multi-task when frying quesadillas or you're gonna end up with a smoky kitchen.

Finally, martini glasses make lovely containers to serve dips, because you can shove them right up next to the serving platters without having them get in the way.

FLAVOR PROFILES of the dishes I served:
  • Guacamole tasted very citrusy and clean, full of cilantro. 
  • Bean dip tasted  deep (the sauteed veggies did that), with a fresh undertone (cilantro stems).
  • Veggie quesadillas tasted smoky (in a good way) and healthy.  The mushrooms lent a bit of "umami" (or "yumminess") without much mushroomy flavor. Were I making this for myself only, I'd have used more mushrooms.
  • Chicken quesadillas were delightfully green-chile-ish.  It's a wonderful flavor.

Chicken: $2
Avocados: $4
Tortillas:  $4
Veggies/Fruit:  $3
Salsa/Sour Cream: $4
TOTAL: about $17

TIME: I started it ALL at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and finished up (not counting packaging it for transport) at about 4:30.

I give this a total A+

Thursday, December 8, 2011

YOINK! Things I DISLIKE that Everybody Else LIKES

I was reading "One in the Hand", and she was talking about things she hated that everybody else likes, and I was all, "DUDE! That could be ME!"

  However, being my mother's daughter, I thought to myself "'hate' is a very big emotion."  I just can't commit to saying I hate things unless I really REALLY hate them.  Therefore, this is a list of my dislikes.

I am in agreement with One in the Hand in my first one.

1:  BATHS.  My husband thinks that baths are the answer to nearly anything that ails you, but for me?  Not really.  Parts of me stick out of the bathwater and get cold.  It's boring.  I feel like I should be doing something, like shaving my legs or pumicing my heels.  I can't read unless I'm willing to sacrifice a book to the Water Gods.  And when I get up and out, I feel like I weigh a ton.  I'm always worried I'm going to slip and kill myself.

2:  DARK CHOCOLATE.  Maybe I haven't had good enough chocolate, but it's not creamy like milk chocolate, and it just reads as bitter in my mind.  I can easily do without it.

3:  Adam Sandler.  He's not funny for the most part.  He's just stupid. 

4:  Eat, Pray, Love.  I read it and ugh.  It was the most self-serving book.  And actually, I found it to be poorly-written.  In the hands of a better author, it could have been spectacular.

5:  Twitter.  I've tried.  Really.  But the whole point seems to be "how many times can I interrupt other people's thoughts?" which doesn't suit me.

6:  Gambling.  I just don't get it at all.  Why would anyone willingly use actual money to do this?  You're not getting anything out of it.  Yes, I guess sometimes you win, but mostly, you're just getting rid of your hard-earned cash.

7:  So You Think You Can Dance/Glee/American Idol/Reality Shows.  Real people are annoying and shallow when they have a camera trained on them.  And Glee is ... it's like being locked in a room with the most annoying members of the Drama Club in high school.  They're all hanging around the boombox, singing whilst making meaningful hand gestures, and I'm edging around the perimeter of the room trying to find the exit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Being the Mom of Gifted and Talented Kids

Dave, with guitar, Grandpa, Karen (making an odd gesture), little Stevie and me (bottom right).

 Having grown up being the youngest of four smarty-pantz kids, I was accustomed to the high-expectation litany from teachers. “Oh, you must be good at math, being Steve’s little sister!” “Oh, Dave got such high grades in History. In fact, with his photographic memory, he'd read each page of the text then rip it out because he didn't need it any more.  I can’t wait to see YOUR work!”  “Karen was such a great artist!  I’m so glad YOU’RE going to be in my class!”

This is really and truly one of Karen's recent paintings. I KNOW. 

Naturally, I was tragically bad at math, Physics made NO sense to me, and my art skills?  Well... Want to see for yourself?

My sibs and I were “gifted and talented,” as it was coded in our school district.  My talents were more in the reading, writing, spelling, science, and music areas.  Our parents liked to see the A’s on the report cards, but (luckily) supported me as I struggled through math and physics, and never made me feel bad about my lack therein.
Not THAT kind of G&T, sadly.

As the parent of G&T kids (Oddly, until just now I didn’t put together that G&T stands for both Gifted and Talented AND my favorite beverage, Gin and Tonic.  Interesting.), I am faced with people’s mistaken assumptions.

1:  A G&T kid is gifted in ALL AREAS.
    Um.  No.  My little brainiac daughter is awesome at math and English, but her PHYSICAL coordination? She has been known to trip and fall, even when standing still.  As a preschooler, she almost always had a bruise on her forehead from smacking into car side-view mirrors in parking lots.  She did not understand how to throw a ball TO  someone until I explained the geometry of it.
My off-the-charts brilliant son cries and lashes out in anger over improbably small hurts, and when upset, babbles nearly incomprehensibly in frustration.  He also can’t seem to draw anything except stick people and buildings (usually with lightning or possibly gunfire -- it’s hard to say).

Dana, a friend of mine who is very passionate about possibly debunking G/T mythology was taught that these kids are actually most identifiable by the extremity of their asynchronous development. In some areas the child will be extremely precocious, mastering skills or hitting milestones much more quickly than the average developmental timeline. However, there will be developmental areas in which the child will be slower than average to develop. The three main spheres of development are cognitive, social/emotional and physical. Developing much more rapidly in any one of those spheres almost always results in one or more of the other spheres looking relatively stunted in comparison. With that in mind, look how much more sharply the truth about a G/T kid comes into focus.

2:  G&T kids are well-behaved.
    BWAAA. HA.  OMG, these kids are exploding with ideas and thoughts and FRUSTRATION.  They have SO many ideas that their little bodies can’t handle, and this causes anger, anxiety, impulsivity, and sometimes even sadness.  They routinely get into fights with each other over who gets the dictionary, who gets to read the newspaper, and who came up with the best description of the color blue.  Seriously.  They will cry because the other one knows how to do multiplication up to the 12s, and the other (younger) one only knows up to the 5s.

3:  G&T kids like to do schoolwork/homework.
    YOU try to get a kid interested in writing all their 5th-grade spelling words 5x each AND put each one into a sentence when they are actually at a 12th grade reading comprehension level.  It’s like pulling fricking teeth.  And any kid who easily learns things HATES to find out they can’t figure something out in a split second.  Trying to deduce how to carry the 2?  If it doesn’t make sense RIGHT THEN, it’s Armageddon.

4:  G&T kids can apply their knowledge to their lives in practical ways.
    Oh, I’m wiping tears of laughter away at this one.  They might be able to come up with an hypothesis and method and result for a science fair project, but when a PENCIL BREAKS?  They stand there and stare blankly at it, wondering what force on Earth could possibly solve this problem.  Never mind that there is (a) a cup full of mechanical pencils on the shelf, and (b) an electric pencil sharpener on the table.  Nope.  “The pencil is DEVASTATINGLY BROKEN. It’s a sign that I need to go watch Spongebob.”

Welp, I guess that's that.

5:  All the kids in the family will display similar G&T tendencies.
    Yeesh.  That’s like saying that all the kids will like green beans or the RED dental floss.  As the youngest myself, this was the worst one.  There’s nothing like having a teacher regard you brightly that first day, thinking, “Oh, THIS one will be such a breeze to teach,” and then when you get up to the blackboard to do the problem, you feel her eyes narrow as she cocks her head to the side and asks, “Umm, honey?  Remember the Order Of Operations? Ohhh. You don’t. Really?”

6:  G&T kids get good grades.
    Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  I really have to thank two of my daughter’s grade school teachers here, because they each let her have the actual grade her work deserved.  As I mentioned, my daughter is crazy-good at reading and spelling, but in 3rd grade, she got a 48% one quarter for spelling.  I was aghast, and asked the teacher what in the HECK had happened.  Teacher responded that since my daughter already knew all the words, she didn’t bother to do the “write the words 5x, and use each in a sentence” for many of the weeks.  I applauded the teacher’s strength in giving a real grade to the little girl who had won the Gold Medal in the All-School spelling bee for the last 3 quarters.  Next term (after actually doing the work), she was at 98%. The following year (4th grade), my girl got a C- in reading.  READING.  She was reading Nancy Drew and Harry Potter in kindergarten.  When I asked about the grade, I found that she hadn’t done a number of oral book reports because she thought they were pointless.  Again, I praised the teacher’s honesty, and suggested to my daughter to get her butt in gear.  The next term, she earned her A+.

My son, on the other hand, is a wiggle-butt, and has a tough time staying at his seat long enough to finish his work.  He got a mid-semester report stating that he had roughly 25 PAGES of unfinished classwork, and would be getting a failing grade unless it was dealt with.  We called him to task about that, and rescinded all TV and computer privileges until his work was completed, but told him that we would love him no matter how many years it took him to get through 3rd grade.  It took him just under ONE WEEK to finish ½ semester’s worth of work.  He got nearly 100% on all the assignments.  The key?  I had him stand up to do his work at the kitchen table.  Also, having no access to Lego StarWars is a pretty good motivator.

Sometimes (in my case), the giftedness/talent lies outside the realm of good grades.  I am a musician, and have been winning competitions and auditions since I began playing. I'm lucky because my parents knew how important my flute was to me and no matter how poorly I did in Trigonometry, I always still had my music.  Sadly, I've seen parents take very gifted musicians/artists/whatevers OUT of their lessons because of their failures in, say, math or reading.  This will result in a very unhappy, angry child with no outlet for his or her  prodigious gifts.

7:  G&T kids are dull and boring and square.
    They are snarky and funny and deliciously original.  Some recent incidents include making gingerbread cookies.  I had them decorate the cookies on their own, only to find that they had made them all into zombies.  My daughter wrote a mini-play which featured a Thanksgiving turkey trying to talk its way out of becoming dinner, and when it failed, its spirit haunted the cook, gobbling in the dark of night.  Then my son found a grasshopper under our Christmas tree and decided to teach it about space and the Milky Way by using the Christmas lights (blinking them on and off).  These kids are hilarious and curious.
Not our actual cookies.  We ate them too fast to get a photo.

8:  G&T kids will follow in their G&T Parents' footsteps.
     As a former G&T myself, I have to remember that my kids may not demonstrate the same talents or have the same passions as I do.  Just last year, I tried to encourage my daughter by giving her flute lessons.  I couldn't IMAGINE that she wouldn't be awesome.  But she isn't.  She's average.  And that should be enough, right?  But I never heard her practicing for fun. Suddenly I realized that I had not acknowledged one of her TRUE gifts:  cooking.  She hums to herself in the kitchen, she sings, she creates and experiments.  As soon as I had that "a-HA" moment, I provided her with her own equipment in the kitchen,and took her grocery shopping so she could spend time doing HER thing.  She is SO much happier now! She still plays the flute a little, but it's not what makes her heart sing and that's OK with me.

No matter how high the IQ, the GPA, or the reading level, they’re just kids.  They squabble, tell fart jokes, and chew with their mouths open.  And they have problems with enemies and friends, with handwriting, with teachers.  It’s easy to forget that they’re just grade-schoolers when they start to ponder the mysteries of the universe,  and sometimes I expect too much from them.  Then I go check on them after bedtime and watch them sleep, surrounded by Barbies, books, trains, and candy wrappers, and I get to focus on WHO they are, and not what they know or achieve.

--written with the input of the RFML SparkyNinjaPirateHookers