Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Baking With My Daughter - Gratitude 3

For a long time I thought that I wasn't a particularly good cook. I muddled along in college and medical school, fixing rice and canned chili or grilled cheese and canned soup, but it wasn't something I really cared about or spent much time on. My husband, fortunately for me, is a fantastic cook. He is adventurous and creative and enjoys cooking so much that it has become a form of stress relief for him. So over the time we've been together I've essentially ceded the kitchen to him. We plan meals together most of the time but he does all the actual work.

Recently though, I've become interested in baking. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it has something to do with my daughter and being her mother. I have many, many memories of my mother baking. She still bakes at Christmas and we come home laden with cookies and treats that last us into January. I always loved hanging out with her in the kitchen, chatting and helping with the occasional stirring while she made cookies or cakes or brownies or some other wonderful treat. Somewhere deep inside, baking just feels like something a mother should be doing with her daughter.

So my daughter and I bake together. It is often one of our evening projects on the days my husband has a night out. We make scones, usually. I am crazy about scones and I found a really good recipe a few months back that lends itself to multiple variations. At least once a month I bring treats to work for our morning case conference meeting and so there is a ready and eager outlet for our baked goods. This evening we made sweet potato muffins so that I could bring a seasonal treat tomorrow. My daughter donned her apron and chef's cap and we went to town.

Sweet potato muffins are one of those favorite family recipes that my mother has been baking since I was a small girl myself. My mother makes them every Thanksgiving and they are generally devoured without leftovers. This evening I was so amazed watching my daughter help me measure the flour. She patiently scooped the flour into the measuring cup and then leveled it off, all on her own, before dumping it into the bowl. I asked her about that and she proudly told me "Daddy taught me that!" She cracked and beat eggs and mashed sweet potatoes and stirred and scooped batter into muffin tins. When we got to the actual baking she told me firmly "That's a mommy job" and stood well back from the oven. When the muffins were done and cooled we each tried one (quality control, you know - I can't bring bad muffins to work!) and decided we had done a good job.

Baking with my daughter is a lot more fun than baking by myself. I find that I am much more relaxed about the mess and much more engaged in the actual activity. As we bake we talk about ingredients, why muffins are quick breads, and who her friends are at school. I am thankful for the time we spend together, doing something we both enjoy. She told me this evening as we worked "I'm going to do this for my whole life!" and my thought was, me too.

See other posts in my Thanksgiving Week series here:
Thanksgiving Week - Gratitude 1
Teachers - Gratitude 2

Monday, November 24, 2014

Teachers - Gratitude 2

I had the chance today to sign up for a teleconference with one of my favorite teachers, Rachel Naomi Remen. She is offering a free class in mid-December featuring stories on The Will to Live, and I am looking forward to hearing her read. Dr. Remen's books were introduced to me when I was a first year medical student by the volunteer who coordinated and led the complementary and alternative medicine group that I participated in. She gave each of us a copy of Kitchen Table Wisdom and I devoured it. I read it several times that busy first year becase it gave me courage and hope. It remains one of the most important, influential books that I have ever read in terms of how I approach patients and medicine. It reassured me that there is a place for me at medicine's table, that the spiritual and relational perspective that comes most naturally to me has its own voice, even now in the era of technology and randomized controlled trials and 10 minute visits. I have given the book in turn to many friends and students

In my life I have been so blessed by teachers. From grade school through high school through college through medical school through residency and even today, my life has been filled with people who have poured out their knowledge, wisdom and caring on me. I would not be the person I am today without my teachers. They taught me, and they taught me how to learn, and they taught me to love to learn, and that has made a tremendous difference to me and then in turn to others. One of my own deepest privileges is to take my own turn as a teacher, passing along the gifts that were given so freely to me as well as I am able. There is something sacred about taking part in this living, breathing lineage of human knowledge.

My daughter is just entering education at this point in her life, having officially started "real" preschool this year (as opposed to daycare preschool). I like her teacher very much; a veteran teacher of over twenty years with a fun but no nonsense approach. Her teacher is also from Texas which my husband and I appreciate a great deal, since our daughter was born in San Antonio and we still miss living there. I hope that my daughter will be so fortunate in her teachers all of her education, just as I have been.

I have friends who are full time teachers and I know how desperately hard they work and how deeply they care about their students. I know they don't get nearly the appreciation they deserve and that they often hear more complaints than compliments. So, today I am grateful for all teachers, everywhere. I am thankful to them for their dedication, concern, enthusiasm, knowledge, patience and persistence. None of us would be where we are, reading these words, without them.

See other posts in my Thanksgiving Week series here:
Thanksgiving Week - Gratitude 1
Baking With My Daughter - Gratitude 3

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Week - Gratitude 1

In church this morning one of the pastors called this week "a week of gratitude, a week of really remembering how to say thank you." I liked that idea. A whole week of saying "Thank You!" instead of a day of stressful travel, eating way too much, and not talking much at all about what we are thankful for because, honestly, it's too much and kind of embarrassing to get real that way. A week of saying Thank You instead of a week of build-up to the insanity of consumerism that marks this time of year.

The follow-up in church to the pastor's prayer was an "open mike" sermon in which people went to the front and spoke for a few minutes about something they were grateful for, which I have to admit felt good and honest and weird and a little too intimate all at the same time. I find myself worried about any visitors today and wanting to reassure you all that my church is actually pretty normal, that we don't usually do things like that. Which is true but says a lot more about me and where I need to grow than it does about my church.

I couldn't think of anything to say in church (and I did pray and ask if G-D had anything for me, and I hope if something had popped into my head I would have had the courage to get up and say it, but nothing came, so I was off the hook anyway) but then I thought I could write about gratitude this week. My first thought was I could write a short piece every day about something I am grateful for and post it. Then I remembered that I often bite off more than I can chew and decided not to promise anything. Better just to start with something and then see how the rest of the week turns out.

A few years ago a friend was leading a Sunday school class I was in and she gave us an index card and a challenge. "Write down what you are grateful for" she told us. I filled up the card pretty quickly and I still have it. It's good to look back on, particularly when I am grumpy. The items on my card are my "big gratitude" items, the things that have a huge influence on me that I often take for granted. Here they are:

My husband, who is patient, funny, smart, and much calmer and more level headed than I am. 

Our daughter, who is healthy, smart, loving, creative and curious. She has a bright, energetic and adventurous spirit which teaches me every day.

The rest of our family; parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins - both my husband and I grew up knowing ourselves loved, encouraged to learn, and blessed to always have enough. We are still surrounded by a net of love.

Good health, throughout my family.

A job that allows me to do good and serve others every day, and also pays our bills so that we have enough.

Freedom to worship, speak, write, travel, work, live, have friends as seems best to me without restriction by our government.

G-D's love and care, and his abiding presence with me in each day and circumstance. 

Those are my big items, the ones on my card, the ones I can think of off the top of my head when I focus my mind on gratitude.

See other posts in my Thanksgiving Week series here:
Teachers - Gratitude 2
Baking With My Daughter - Gratitude 3

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Family Masterpiece

When we were setting up the nursery for our daughter, my husband and I repurposed a small chest of drawers to be a changing table and dresser. My mother organized it for us the week after our daughter was born and it worked wonderfully for the first year. Unfortunately, once she learned to pull herself up and open drawers our daughter quickly discovered that it was delightful to take every bit of clothing out of the drawers and scatter it over the floor of her room. This was much less delightful for me, and after a few repetitions of this I wised up and we started putting all her clothes in the closet. We put blankets in the chest since those were easier to put away again. As a bonus, they were apparently less fun to take out in the first place and our daughter turned to other sources of entertainment. The chest of drawers got broken in one of the following moves and so it has been closets for us ever since.

Our daughter is four now and recently we decided it was time for a dresser once again. She has been able to open her closet door and pull down her own clothing in the morning for at least the past six months and we haven't had any repetitions of the clothing covered floor phenomenon. Frankly, we have become a little tired of hanging up all her shirts and pants and putting things in drawers seems like it would just be easier. So my husband ventured to IKEA and bought the drawer sets that promised to work in the large white cabinet that stores her sheets and blankets. 

The starting point.
Plain white furniture isn't terribly cheerful for a four year old and my husband bought some colorful drawer fronts from a different product line to liven things up a bit. Unfortunately, the colorful drawer fronts didn't actually work with the cabinet and drawers. I guess there is a reason you are supposed to buy everything from the same grouping. My husband was mourning this fact and the upcoming trip to return the colorful drawers to get boring white ones when I commented "Well, we could paint them any color we want." 

We looked at each other with realization dawning in both of our eyes. "Why yes. Yes we could. We could paint them not just in colors but in pictures." And so a weekend project was born. We schlepped back to IKEA to exchange the colorful fronts for white ones. Then we hit the craft store for acrylic paint and paintbrushes. We covered the kitchen table with a plastic cloth and got to work.
Work In Progress
We each painted one drawer. My husband gamely took on the fourth since my daughter fell asleep and I was worn out with my artistic endeavors.
Work In Progress
After they were dry we took them outside and sprayed them with a glossy sealant, reasoning that we were likely to need to wipe them down from time to time. Also, we felt just a little protective after all our hard work, and from experience we know that acrylic paint will peel.

This afternoon we assembled the drawers, removed a cabinet door, and installed the runners. My husband lifted each drawer into place and my daughter and I filled them with her clothes.

As our daughter would say "It's our masterpiece!"

Our Masterpiece!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mother Daughter Night

My daughter and I went out together this evening for a special mother-daughter night. Disney On Ice's show Frozen is in town and I purchased tickets months ago with a group of colleagues who have daughters around the same age.

I treasure these times with my daughter because it's usually not me who gets to take her to special events. At least, not on my own. My husband, as the stay at home parent, takes her to museums and sporting events and parks all the time. When I'm not at work we usually go out as a family. We set this evening up as a mother-daughter event though, which means I got to do something special with my little girl. We went out to dinner together, an actual sit down restaurant (although not a fancy one) and then to a 7:30 pm show. I kept the event a secret until we arrived and had the fun of hearing her exclaim in delight "It's a Frozen show!" when we walked into the venue.

The problem with a 7:30 pm show is that bedtime at our house is at 8:00 pm. At four years old my daughter's outgrown naps, except for the occasional dozing off while in the car. We sat down for the show and sure initially she was fascinated, all wide eyed intensity watching the performance. Sure enough though, by 8:00 pm  she was curled up in my lap. By about 8:30 she was covering her ears and hiding her eyes from the more dramatic special effects and by intermission she was very clearly no longer having fun. The noise and the heat were overwhelming, and then she remembered a scary scene coming up and then she asked to go home. So we left at the end of intermission. My goal was for us to have fun together, after all. Better to leave early, while it's still a good evening for both of us.

To be honest, I wasn't all that disappointed to leave. I'm not big on crowds and noise myself. As my dad says, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  And I am not in such a hurry for her to grow up. I like having a child I can take out to dinner, but I also like having a child who wants to cuddle up when she is tired. I know that all too soon she will not be so snuggly; she will have more stamina and will also be too grown-up to lean on mom that way. I want to enjoy it while I can.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Skyline Drive

I had all kinds of plans for today. I was going to spend the afternoon after church catching up on homework, writing one blog post and roughing out some other ideas, tidying up the house and yard and generally getting things done. It was a difficult past 2 weeks being on call and I'm feeling rather behind on my life. Yesterday was my day to play, with a lovely picnic with good friends in a beautiful winery and then some time with my husband and daughter out shopping for Halloween costumes together while we waited for my cell phone screen to be repaired. Today was going to be my day to catch up and get ahead.


It really was a beautiful day. Sunny, cool, just the right amount of breeziness. Who knows how many more beautiful days we will have this year anyway? Winter is coming soon. The leaves are beginning to turn and fall color doesn't last forever either. It just didn't seem right to waste a day like this indoors. It would have been ungrateful, I think.

So, instead of a well written, thoughtful blog post I have pictures and memories. My husband, daughter and I drove out to Skyline drive for the afternoon. There is a nice visitor's center near Front Royal, about 90 minutes from D.C., that has a number of short hikes and some outstanding views. My husband and I picked the shortest trail with some help from a ranger and we all set off with our water bottles and cameras. Our daughter examined leaves, recognized trail markers, picked up acorns and rocks (that she left behind: take only pictures, leave only footprints!), and banged sticks together to make music. She managed the entire hike, including some long uphill sections, under her own steam, which is a first for all of us. We enjoyed the day and each other. I'm still feeling behind on life, but at least I'm cheerful about it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Already Home

We celebrated Break Fast with my husband's cousins this evening in their beautiful home in Maryland. It was a low key and lovely gathering over bagels, fish, and sweets to celebrate the end of Yom Kippur as a family. The kids were big enough to play more or less on their own this year, under the direction of the oldest girl cousin and her friend. The adults chatted and ate too much, wandering from room to room as little groups coalesced, conversed and dispersed over and over again.

Yom Kippur is an intense, serious, Holy Day. It' a time to reflect on how you are treating others, how you are honoring G-D, and how you are using the gifts you have been given. It's a time to pray, to abstain from food and to focus on G-D; a time to confess your wrongs and to receive his forgiveness. It's a fraught and holy time, so it is particularly sweet at its end to come together with family and food and fun, in the softer beauty of regular life.

When it comes down to it, this is the reason my husband and I moved our little family back to the East Coast. We lived in Texas when our daughter was born and we liked it a great deal. We had wonderful friends and Texas itself has many advantages; less traffic, friendlier people, lower cost of living. But despite all this we came back to the East Coast, where it is noisy and stressed and congested. We came back in order to come home.

We came home so that our little family could be part of our bigger family. We came home to celebrate Break Fast each year with our family, and see the cousins playing and not miss the children growing up. We came home so that my daughter can see her grandparents once or twice a month instead of once or twice a year. We came home to raise our child amidst the solid network of family and friends centered here, so that she would always feel that love and support. We came home so that our lives would be patterned with bright ribbons of community and tradition, each season flowing with a rhythm of observation and celebration.

Every once in a while my husband and I talk about moving. Some job or another in an interesting location crosses our email and we say "what if?" And then we attend a birthday party, or spend Sunday afternoon with our parents, or attend Break Fast, and we remember that we are already home.