Valentine’s Day traditions

Being single on Valentine’s Day is meh. As any of my exes will attest, I’ve never been sentimental about the holiday. Despite the long, interesting, and muddled history of it, I have always associated Valentine’s Day with “just another excuse cooked up by mega-corporations for people to feel like they should be consumers of stuff they don’t actually need.” Still, as I said, being single on this day is meh. Not awful, but not wonderful.

In the last few days, I found myself looking forward to the day. I decided I’d make a special breakfast, do some fun stuff with the girls during the day, and we were supposed to go see the movie Babe at the Friends School of Portland (but the snow cancelled that). Planning with my younger daughter, we decided on heart shaped pigs in a blanket for breakfast, and chocolate dipped strawberries during the day.IMG_0083IMG_0082

As I set out the plates last night, knowing I’d be dragging myself out of bed a lot earlier than I’d prefer (my children have not mastered the concept of sleeping “late”), I started enjoying myself. I’ve decided to throw myself into the holiday, doing some things that will hopefully become traditions. I love the idea that my daughters can associate Valentine’s Day with not-romantic love memories. Then, when they are adults, if they find themselves without a love interest on Valentine’s Day, they may not feel the day is “meh.” Maybe they’ll start their own Valentine’s Day not-romantic love traditions. And maybe they’ll give their dear old mum a call because it’s a day we always celebrated together when they were little.

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what I rarely admit about how I parent

When my children have a lot of screen time, we all feel cluttered and cranky. I can’t talk about this much, though, because it’s a loaded topic. In the past, I’ve brought up my preference that our children don’t spend much time in front of screens (television, computer, other) and I’ve found people defensive. More than defensive, I find people want to tell me I “shouldn’t feel so bad about it” if I let the girls have screen time so I can take a break for myself.

People really want me to feel less bad about it. That probably comes from good intentions. But, it misses the point. I feel gross when they have a lot of screen time because we all feel gross. I feel bad about it because the effects are heavy. I don’t feel bad because I’m some kind of monster as a parent. I simply feel bad that I’ve come to a point where the easier answer is screen time, knowing the consequences will be more hyper-stress energy than if I wait it out and we stay screen time free.

What “a lot of screen time” means for me is more than an hour and/or two days or more in a row. When we have the screen going for more than an hour or two, our home feels crowded, tired, and too busy and loud. When that happens for a couple days in a row, we might as well’ve had no sleep the night before. It’s a mess.

All that said, tonight the girls watched Frosty the Snowman, and Curious George’s Very Monkey Christmas. (More than two hours.) And, we had screen time last night (the 2nd half of Rudolph and, for the older one, the American Girl holiday movie (Samantha?)). It’s fine, yes, yes, I know it’s fine. But, it also leaves me feeling like we’ve got a layer of sediment coating our lives that won’t clear way until we’ve had several days in a row where they don’t zone out in front of the screen.

When our older daughter was little, she had zero screen time. We used to leave restaurants if there were televisions being forced on us. I appreciate our zealous commitment to the value of simplicity through limited screen time. When we started adding screen time into her life, it was limited almost exclusively to nature programs and some preschool programming (Franklin the Turtle, Little Bear) even though she was four and five years old. Life is different now. The electronic childcare option is a reality for me. Plus, my daughters aren’t always with me (so their time in front of screens isn’t up to me).

It’s difficult talking about not using much screen time in our lives. It’s telling to me that the topic is so fraught with judgments and misunderstandings. It would be nice if I felt I could say “I feel gross and awful when I let the girls watch show after show…” without people trying to tell me to relax about it. We seem to be in such a minority that my distaste for screen time feels more comfortable as a secret than as something I would discuss freely in a casual social context.

Y’know, except for writing about it on the Internet.

no groceries challenge revisited (2.0)

In May and June, I imposed a “no groceries” rule on myself. I was very low on cash. I wanted to find new ways to save money. I know loads about preparing, cooking, and storing good, healthy food. I also knew I wasn’t using the food I already had in an efficient way.

I wrote about it some, in these posts. On Monday, I’m going to start my personal challenge again. This time I’m in less desperate straits, but what I learned a couple months ago stuck with me. I know I’ve strayed off the path of financially healthy decisions.

There are a few significant lessons I learned from my month of not going to the grocery store—with a couple exceptions—that I didn’t share here. My first “real” trip to the supermarket after my challenge was to Whole Foods. As I learned in this personal challenge, leaning on the grocery store for prepared foods like snacks for lunches, treats, and fresh fruits is the most helpful use of my food dollars (the cases of water are not mine):IMG_3792Or, rather, when I buy whole foods and make almost everything at home, there are only some items I need to purchase pre-made.

Other lessons I learned:

  • the decrease in trash and recycling was startling. There was almost nothing in our recycling (no packaging) and the trash bags were much lighter (less discarded leftovers);
  • the impulse to buy more because “I’m about to run out” costs money and wastes food;
  • engaging my children in the mindful consumption adventure makes our return to whole foods a family value that we all enjoy;
  • keeping the refrigerator organized made using leftovers much easier and more palatable;
  • it was my cooking skills that made this challenge especially fun, rather than frightening. I am lucky I know what I’m doing in the kitchen. If I didn’t know how to cook, especially how to be creative with basic and/or surprise ingredients, this would have been a lot more difficult;
  • after the challenge “ended,” I maintained a “no groceries” perspective on our consumption. I flinch a bit when I think, “I’ll grab xyz at the market” because I know I’ll need to be careful I don’t purchase more than I need;
  • what I need is so much less than what I want.

The no-groceries challenge helped me quite a bit. It took a feeling of deprivation and made me feel stronger. I found a new source of healthy pride and energy. As I said, after the challenge “ended” I still rarely went to the grocery store. In the last month, however, I’ve slid back into finding a trip to the grocery store “for some fruit” ends with four full bags of groceries that we mostly don’t actually need, and will likely not use with efficiency.

This new no-groceries challenge reminds me a bit of people who do “cleanses” with fruit juice or whatever else people do. A re-start into the world of food consumption that aligns with our values. I’ll take the weekend to assess what we have on hand, I’ll do a run to the market for items that will make the no-groceries challenge last longer than it might otherwise (a big container of rolled oats, for example). Then, I’ll stop going to the grocery store. When I start going again, I suspect the the lessons I learned will stick with me for a longer stretch of time. In any case, I’m sure that these personal challenges, borne of real financial need, are benefitting our family in important ways that go beyond money. Yum.

“no groceries” update 1: planning ahead

On my mind a lot is the point when I will have no more fresh produce. I’ve been anxious about it. I almost cooked the spinach I have, though it will last a while so I’ll leave it be.

IMG_3108In the name of not letting things go bad, I decided to make one of our favorite soups (Rosemary Red Soup) for dinner on Tuesday night. Already, I’ve noticed how much more I think about advanced preparations. It’s not as if I was leaning on prepared foods or takeout, but, knowing that it “won’t be an option” to pick things up at the market, it all seems more weighted. I want to use everything, I want to waste nothing. I had everything needed for this soup (wrong kind of lentils and wrong kind of miso, but that didn’t matter) and we all love it. The recipe would make plenty to freeze for another day when I didn’t have time to cook. So, great, right?

IMG_3109I got to work. I’m chopping away, proud of myself for gathering the ingredients first as I have a tendency to find out 3/4 of the way through I’m missing something essential. And, well, it turned out I did miss something essential. “Lower heat and simmer 40 minutes.”

I needed this soup for the table in a total of about 30 minutes, including prep time. Duh. It’s not a long-simmering soup, but getting it ready in time for dinner wasn’t going to happen. I kept on with it and will use it for our next meal.

This left me without a dinner plan, so I scrambled and came up with this:

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That’s leftover salmon, a tortilla with melted cheese and salsa, carrot sticks, and some Romaine lettuce with mayo. It’s a little embarrassing laying out for all the Internet what I gave my daughters for dinner. But, sharing this is part of what I want from this experience.

“Coming up with dinner” takes mental energy and planning. It’s not a simple thing that takes no time. Add the stresses of bills barely paid, health problems, and work deadlines (let alone more significant issues I don’t face, like violence in the home, children struggling in school, or active addictions, etc.) and “coming up with dinner” is a major emotional drain.

Why do people make unhealthy or expensive food choices? Convenience is my first answer. Second is “I know my kids will eat it.” I happen to have children who are relatively great about eating, but, at the end of a terrifically long day, spending time cooking food knowing the children may find it inedible can feel overwhelming.

So, the bits I’ve learned already:

  • every trace of food seems more important. I have half-drunk cups of milk my daughters didn’t finish sitting in the fridge to use for my coffee, for example, that probably would’ve ended up down the drain last week;
  • planning and deciding what to cook and how to best use the ingredients on hand takes time, and that’s not just time in the kitchen, it’s throughout the day as meals approach or planning for the days ahead;
  • I already made an exception and let my parenting partner bring oyster crackers, ginger ale, and pedialyte popsicles to our daughters because they were sick. It felt a bit like a cheat, as I would’ve gone to the market for those things if I could’ve left the girls at home to do it. I have a supportive ex- and that means my daughters don’t have to only rely on me for their love and care, and for extra food when the need arises;
  • I’m out of coffee and haven’t yet decided if getting more coffee counts since I generally get it at Starbucks and that purchase goes toward my credits for an eventual “free” fancy drink. We’ll see… I did put together fixin’s for chai tea concentrate, so, maybe I’ll get my caffeine there.

I’m barely a couple days into this and already I feel hurried and worried. Trying to stay in the present moment (where we have plenty of food) is already a challenge. My refrigerator and shelves are full to bursting, but instead of just feeling grateful for that I feel especially stressed about making the best use of all of it so it will last as long as possible and will be the most healthy and delicious. I’m living in a deeper awareness of the time required to manage food and sustenance.

advantages.

Helping my older daughter with her math homework, I was struck by what an advantage she has. I’ve always enjoyed math, so learning how it’s taught these days has been fun. (It’s taught differently than when I was a child.) I thought about families where the parents don’t have the time or energy or motivation to get involved in the math homework. Even more than that, I thought of the families where the parents want to help but simply don’t have the skills.

My daughter has parents who are involved and academically skilled. Combine that with her luck at being born with a brain that works very well, and she will probably have continued success in school. Children who need help (what child doesn’t?) with parents who aren’t able to help their children with math homework will have a harder time. If they don’t catch up later in life, they will probably become parents who can’t help as well, etc. Advantages and disadvantages. What a cycle.