Staying in the Moment

I want to start this post with a celebration. No, not of adoption or spring or anything, but for the first time in approximately…5 years there isn’t a giant pile of laundry obscuring the end of my bed. Now, I want to stress here that the pile has shifted over time in size and scope and of course it’s always clean – there’s another location in the basement for the dirty stuff – and we do tend to be dressed fairly often, so I definitely keep folding stuff and putting it away.

But it has always been there, an omnipresent stack of cloth that has to be shifted and stacked ever-so-carefully so as not to fall on the floor when it’s bedtime.

When we put the house on the market briefly last summer, I might have hid the pile in the closet, so it appeared as though there was no laundry pile, but in fact there still was. The laundry pile is always there, like an immobile clutter stalker, greeting me every time I walk into the bedroom. Since the bedroom is also my office (that tiny 4×38″ – approximately, I think it’s really 36.5″ – area has a different kind of omnipresent clutter) I walk by the giant pile of laundry dozens of times every day.

It stares back at me, daring me to think I could clear it. I avert my gaze and keep walking to heat my tea.

But since we’re deep in preparing for children, and while I really don’t think a 4 or 7 year old is going to judge me but their social worker, current foster families who want to stay connected and all other the people who are starting to want to visit and meet our fabulous new family members, and presumably also enjoy seeing the not-so-new ones, might, I decided to make it go away.

I should note that this anticipation of judgement has also got me bleaching grout and contemplating if we have just enough time to paint every single wall in the house so it looks fresh and pretty.

Eli says we don’t have time, but I don’t think he’s being fair – he could do it in his copious free time if he really wanted to. Did I mention he doesn’t have any free time?

Just ignore that point – not pertinent.

But the laundry pile. It meant turning the accidentally bleached black t-shirt that I had to secretly replace for my oldest child into rags, actually putting outgrown kid clothes into labeled bins and transporting them to the attic (or an attic-adjacent location with good intentions of getting them to their final destination soon) and actually folding fitted sheets, which no one on earth except my ex-husband actually knows how to fold flat.

And NO, I emphatically didn’t stay friendly with him so that I could occasionally implore him to fold my fitted sheets, although I freely admit I’ve wondered if that’s over the line to ask a few times. He stresses that I could learn if I just took the time, but clearly that’s not the right solution.

In any case, for a brief, shining moment, the foot of the bed is almost laundry free – almost because of the giant pile of unmatched socks that still linger on the bench that sits in front of the foot of the bed. These too, morph and evolve, but there’s always a really spectacular number of unmatched socks. If it wasn’t so annoying it would be impressive.

Are you ready? You must be so excited!” says people. “Huh, I say. I had forgotten that the end of the bed matched the headboard. I mean I sort of knew, but it’s been so long, you see...”

I think they are talking about kids, but I’m busy being mesmerized by the clean spot in the house I’ve made. It’s also distracting me from other things that are far, far weightier like how in the world I’m going to parent 4 kids, work full time, garden, run, manage the house, find time to occasionally lob a kiss at my husband and remember that friends and family need me too. Oh, and also we have to feed everyone. 2-3 times a day, every day.

Totally excited.” I murmer. And while truly, I am, I am also worried.

You see, I’ve done this before, well, not really – but I had babies and neither one slept for a year and I was so tired I forgot to pay bills and the exhaustion was so bad I would go to the store for bread and come home with no bread and 14 kinds of cheese because it was just so exciting to be alone for a little while even though there were almost certainly other people in the grocery store, I would think.

I don’t know, I don’t remember.

And your life gets down to the minute. Will I make it through this hour, to bedtime, to Friday. But the difference this time, accounting for the extra complexity of caring for kids, integrating our family with them here, dealing with their traumas and losses, keeping our eye on the ball with the older, biological kids to make sure that they are okay too, and do this while juggling housework, laundry, meal-making, groceries, yard work and work work.

And that’s where truly living in the moment has to come in. In order to make it all happen, it’s really fine to break life down into 15 minute chunks where maybe some laundry gets folded (but please not at the very clean foot of my bed kthx) or dinner gets prepared, at least in some part, or you get that thing that’s overdue at work finally completed. I used to write down the 6 things I was going to do each day, often only getting to 3-4, but writing them down does indicate that there’s a strong likelihood you will get to them.


And that’s going to be our lives for a little bit. And with that comes the other piece – acceptance. This is a phase. It’s a phase where there’s too much to do and not enough time, but it’s also our last round of littles, and Eli’s first true round of them, so we need to be present and enjoy it. Is it all going to be enjoyable? Ohhellzno. But some of it is going to be really, really fun. The next 2 weeks while we drive 60+ miles each way for transition visits and upend everyone’s schedule and I cram in 2 more work trips, not so much.

But after that there’s a little downtime. Just enough to go to the playground and come home and eat string cheese with a very small little person who just needs somewhere to belong. The laundry can wait.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…..

How is it even late April? Garden season is upon us, and I don’t feel ready. Wasn’t it February last week?

I’ve been transplanting some of the bigger seedlings, and getting the garden cleaned out, something I ran out of time for in the fall. This year I have fewer seedlings, as I’m trying to be strategic about what I’ll have time to tend as we add children, and also what we tend to need to supplement from the CSA. I rarely need lettuce for the 20 weeks the CSA runs, or kale. So this year, I simply haven’t planted any. I will later on in the season, but not yet.

But spaghetti squashes, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes – there are never enough of those. Apparently I planted garlic last fall because it’s up, and I had completely forgotten. I mean, I vaguely remember, but that was a lot of busy ago. Nonetheless it’s there, in neat rows in the back of the Potager garden, so hooray, there will be garlic this year. I mean, so will there be from the CSA and by fall we’ll probably be drowning in garlic but I planted it so it must be a good idea.

Somewhere along the line in the last year I lost my sense of humor, and I’ve been working on transplanting that, too. We’ve had a decidedly un-funny couple of years, to be sure, and I have tried to not see folks going about their lives all cheerfully are total aliens, but it’s been a little like that. In my defense, a steady stream of pandemic, family deaths, money stress and not enough time will do that to a person.

But I’ve realized that taking everything seriously is actually kind of…boring. It shrinks your world and your interests.

And I really, really hate the idea of being boring.

So my new plan is to be amused by (almost) everything, because life is in fact really funny and weird, and embrace the chaos. I have always joked that I want “It seemed like a good idea at the time…” on my headstone when I die along with a recipe for something that someone 100 years from now will try to make and now I think I mean it. I also want a Viking burial, but those are not really a thing, so maybe I’ll just be composted instead.

As I approach my 50th birthday, speaking of the impossible, I have concluded that it’s really important to know what you want to happen when you die. I don’t really care if there’s a party, but if there is, there should be a wide variety of appetizers, because those are everyone’s favorite’s anyway. No stuffed chicken thank you.

And everyone should take something and use it. I still regret not taking my grandmother’s deviled egg plate, and although I have one now that is probably much nicer, it’s still a regret.

That said, my plan is to go on living for quite some time, enough to be annoying to everyone, so don’t come for my egg plate quite yet. I have a lot to do, and my intention is to be a very fun old lady.

Just not yet.

Yesterday was my probable last day of no-real-plans aloneness for what is probably a long time to come, and I tried to get everything done. Eli is still recovering, so I spent time in the garden and dealing with the laundry that needs to be folded and put away, did some cooking, including clam chowder and organized and cleaned out kids drawers, including starting to load up drawers for the kids who have not arrived yet.

The yardwork is especially a challenge – we have 1.24 acres, and we are the clean up & maintenance crew. Before the giant tax bill we were occasionally able to pay for a spring clean up, but those are pretty expensive, so we just do it as we can. This year that’s going to mean every time we have a free half hour we’ll need to be out there, but it does eventually get done. And in a couple weeks we’ll lay down a few yards of compost. Much of the soil here was pretty bad, so we’re slowly and iteratively working on it, building it up a bit more every year.

And of course, there’s our weekly meal plan and weekend meal prep, which is essential.

Clam chowder was dinner because Eli is finally be able to consume somewhat real somethings, as long as I cut up the Canadian bacon really small. That said, I was probably blithely optimistic about the switch in diets in my last blog post, this is really going to take some work and preparation to make sure there’s food he can eat, and while he eventually will be able to help, not yet.

The rest of the week is going to quite be busy so meal prep and planning is critical, for all 3 meals of each day. And because we have been tightening our belts more, I’m making snacks and things as much as possible.

So this weekend has been heavy on batch cooking. To help make breakfasts easier, I made egg muffin cups – this time with sauteed leek, zucchini and little bits of bacon – quick to grab, easy to chew, good for the freezer. We have a dozen, and I froze all but 4.

There will be leftover clam chowder for a couple lunches during the week, and I may make myself some chicken or tuna salad.

Today I’m going to make these Malted Milk Ice Cream Sandwiches with my son for desserts. We started making them during Covid lockdown, and they are worth all the time and effort. I’ll make tonight’s dinner, the meatballs for Monday, and then Monday evening I’ll mise en place for Tuesday’s dinner.

My target is things that all of us can eat – that the kids like, that Eli can consume, and things that aren’t too stressful for me. It’s going to be an interesting challenge. I might have been wildly overconfident in my last blog post about this. It’s definitely doable, but it is going to take some real prep and planning.

Sunday: Dinner will be stuffed Shells with Ground Beef and Spinach, which is always a hit meal in our house. I’ll probably make popovers to go with it

Monday: Garlic Butter Meatballs with Orzo with some onion and other veggies cooked in. I may make a salad on the side for myself and the oldest, and cut veggies for my son.

Tuesday: We need easy, quick and filling. Creamy Parmesan Sausage Soup should do it. I can do the prep work quickly Monday night or early Tuesday, and then finish the soup with the dairy later so when Eli and my son get home from Fencing class around 6 pm I can feed the hungry folks.

By Wednesday we should have enough leftovers we can have a night of everyone-present-feeds-themselves.

Thursday: More soup! This time Creamy Chicken and Mushroom but with boneless, cooked-until-shreddable chicken. Or maybe Chicken Tortilla Soup. Not sure yet. But definitely soup.

Art by 10 years old

Friday: Eli and I have to travel out to to do a transition visit with the little one, so we likely won’t eat until later. My current plan is to have soup leftovers, but if not I’ll quickly throw some meatballs into broth with sauteed onions, finely chopped and whatever other veggies I can squeak in, unless I manage to make Pav Bhaji in the instant pot that we can come home to.

By Saturday I’ll need another meal plan, and I definitely think that Shepherd’s Pie and Potstickers will be part of it. I also want to get Masarepa next month and make stuffed Arepas, which are a soft corn-based thick pancake that can be topped or stuffed.

I wanted to note a few things here. One, because we’re tightening our belts, we carefully choose the places we spend. Most of our meat comes from Walden Local Meat, a meat delivery service that specializes in local, organic, and sustainable animal welfare. Its important to me if we’re going to eat meat that we do it thoughtfully. We do end up supplementing our chicken and if we need – very occasionally – ground turkey, because there’s never enough and it’s really expensive, but we’re also trying to eat less meat, and less generally.

It’s a pretty expensive investment, so we’re cutting down in other ways. We have a budget and we plan around that based on what we need. Because I don’t always know what Walden local will bring, we often pick our protein and then plan the meal around that. I view this mostly as a fun challenge.

I really focus on things that can make multiple meals. Time is at a premium here, with careers, 2 going on 4 kids, and house and yard work. We have enough going on to keep 4 or 5 adults busy all day every day. In order to sustain that, batch cooking on weekends is essential.

And lastly, I rely on frozen veggies as much as fresh. I have found i sometimes don’t get to Cauliflower when i mean to, and after throwing a lot out, I sometimes buy frozen, which means our Pav Bhaji maybe won’t be quite as authentic as it should be, but I’ll make it when I have time.

And lastly, I love to experiment, especially with foods from other cultures. Often those mean much cheaper ingredients, like lentils, where a 5-lb bag goes a very long way, is a complete protein, and really tastes good. Dal is something I’m working on mastering, as it’s really good, and a great quick and easy lunch. Also there’s just infinite varieties of it, and other uses for lentils – here’s 25 possibilities. Not everything I try is a hit, but by providing variety I find that our options for inexpensive, filling meals grow every month.

Spring Beginnings

The first of the tulips started to bloom yesterday, and they make me so happy to see. I love flowers generally, but tulips for me, even more than daffodils, are the harbinger of spring and green and warmth and gardens. My delight in them is endless, and I plant more every year. Cheap entertainment, are tulips if you add a few at a time and then forget what you planted in the cold of fall, so you get a gorgeous surprise in the spring.

We have been getting a lot done. I ran a 10-mile road race under a canopy of cherry blossoms in Washington DC, much more slowly than in 2019, but as a return to running it was pretty good – I finished, and I definitely wasn’t last. We had a 4-day weekend in DC as a family as well, and it was wonderful.

The giant split-trunk pines are down, and my relief comes every time I look out the window. Yard cleanup is in process. The old, broken attic stairs are out, and the new ones are in, needing just some trim and paint to make them look like they have always been there. Eli’s surgery was this week, just as the kids are on vacation and I’m working straight through, so I’ve prepped self-serve foods for myself and the kids, and this weekend we stocked up at the Asian and Indian grocery stores so the house is filled with fruits, veggies, yogurt drinks and ice cream for Eli as he recovers, and all the snacks.

In addition to a few things from Amazon Subscribe and Save, we’ve spent $621.28 on groceries this month, and that’s the bulk of what we expect to spend, with only fruit and milk for the rest of the month, and probably not much of that, as we have at least a week’s worth still. I tend to prefer to buy more in bulk and then eat it down than go to the grocery store every week, but when we’re deep in savings mode, which we’ll revert to for most of this year, it’s cheaper to do smaller shops on a weekly basis. We went to Costco in March, and will likely do that or BJs in June again, but in between we’ll spend as little as we can and eat up what we have.

Shopping at multiple grocery stores over the course of a month is a big part of our food strategy, and comparing prices is essential. For example, 10 lbs of onions at HMart, the big Korean grocery store near us was $10.99 today, but at Spiceland, the smaller Indian grocery store we frequent, that same bag was $5.99. By waiting, I saved $5 – not much in the grand scheme of things, but I got the same exact thing for almost half the price by paying attention. Because it’s a bit of a trip to go to these stores, we only go every few months, but it’s a fun outing Eli and I really enjoy, and we mostly go by ourselves, since The Adorables, now ages 14 and 10, can be left to their own devices for a few hours here and there.

The next time we go though, we’ll be taking kids with us. 4 arrives mid-May, and her older brother, 7, will arrive in July after he finishes first grade. We’re madly doing projects and going through saved clothes and supplies to get ready, as well as taking on some cleaning projects. This past weekend I emptied and scrubbed out the fridge, did some yard clean up, deep cleaned 14’s room, and several loads of laundry while Eli helped on all fronts and removed the old attic stairs & replaced them to boot.

We have a lot to do in the month before 4 gets here, and not a lot of time to get it done in.

We’re excited, nervous…all the feels. Going from 2 to 4 kids is going to be a thing, and these kids have had some trauma, and for at least a bit our biological kids are going to have it somewhat worse, to be sure. But we’re pretty good at rolling with things, so we’ll go day by day and do all the things we can in order to make it work. But in so many ways, this spring feels like we are in a brand new place – this is a real beginning for us with a larger, finally complete family, renovation on the near horizon, and other big life changes.

During the big things, it’s easy to lose sight of the small ones, but I never try to lose sight of food in the form of meal plans and our budget. We’ll be cooking a lot with the new kids and our existing ones. This month my food splurges – I do have small ones each month – were Tomato Passata and Fennel Pollen to make the now-famous Red Hen Pasta when Eli recovers, a dish apparently so good that your date will order the same dish and never share.

Eli will be on a modified diet for a bit, so my challenge is can i fill our weeks with healthful, varied foods that don’t require a knife to cut? The answer is challenge accepted. Hello to dal, soups and curries. And pasta, of course. Ragu bolognese, in all likelihood. Soft breads, like English Muffin bread. Maybe this Crispy Fried Tofu recipe. And a thing I am so excited to make – Pav Bhaji, served to me by my friends Kalpak and Preeti for dinner this winter. I bought and froze some Pav rolls to go with it already and they gave me the just-right Pav Bhaji Masala. It should be a fun experiment.

As we go into summer, and heavier soups and stews give way to simple things, this is still a good challenge. Dal, of course, is good all year long. Burrata and sliced tomatoes with a little bit of basil and balsamic vinegar over a soft bread is a good dinner when it’s really, really hot. And then there’s Gazpacho. I’ve made a lot of gazpacho in my time, and I can’t say enough good things about this one and then this one, which I was fortunate enough to have several times at Charley’s Crab in Palm Beach before it closed. And then of course fish – lots and lots of fork-tender fish.

And then as the weather cools later this year, I’ll probably splurge on some good Hungarian paprika in the fall and make Hungarian Goulash, which honestly, I’m thinking needs a side of pierogies.

We definitely won’t starve. And soon enough the seedlings will become the garden and our CSA, and we will be living in sunshine. Happy Spring!

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