Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Total Mom Guilt

"Maybe there's more we all could have done, but we just have to let the guilt remind us to do better next time."   -Veronica Roth, Divergent

They have fun, right?
Before I left on this most recent business trip, my youngest said to me (jokingly, I hope), “If you leave baked goods for us, we’ll remember that you love us.”

I left for California early on Sunday morning, a time when many families are having breakfast and preparing for worship together.  My broken-homed kids were at their dad’s house.  The day before, I had spent in a whirlwind.  I cleaned my house, dropped bake sale items off at the high school, ran errands, took my visiting mother to breakfast, attempted to assemble a bookcase, baked two loves of pumpkin bread and Halloween cupcakes (complete with spider and gruesome hand toppers because deep down, I kind of believed what Thing 2 said about the baked goods) and volunteered at the band competition until 9:30 pm.  When I came home, I cleaned a little more, stuffed money into an envelope for my pet-sitter, started packing my bags and crossed a couple of last-minute work items off my list.  When I finally fell into bed, exhausted, at midnight, I set my alarm for 4 a.m. so I could get up and finish my packing before my early flight. 

I then set off across the country, worked in the airport and on the flight (on a Sunday, no less) and tried to remember what I had forgotten to leave for the window contractors who were coming to my house in my absence.   I raced from the airport directly to a trade show.  Then back to my hotel room to finish a presentation my boss needed for Monday morning.   I fell asleep sitting up in my hotel room with my laptop open after what amounted to a 16-hour workday.

I forgot to put money in my kids’ lunch account so I got an abbreviated text from my eldest.  “Put money on my lunch account.”  OK.  Done.  I tried to ignore the guilt for missing picking him up from band practice and my youngest son’s double and stolen home base at the baseball game.  Mondays are MY days, after all.  I should have been there.

It seems as if my life is often a series of  “I should have” or “I have to” or “I’m going to” or “I need to” phrases.  I spend much of my time feeling guilty for not working enough, not paying enough attention to my kids, not cleaning my house well enough, not weeding my garden, not cleaning my car, not taking my dogs on walks, not making the decision to put my poor elderly cat to sleep…the list goes on and on and on.

So I bake.  I clean.  I shuffle.  I run.  I cajole. I volunteer when I can.  I work hard to keep the guilt at bay.  And I do a little bit here and a little bit there but I never do anything really well. I often think that we women REALLY SHOWED THEM when we started working outside the home.  We managed to get the full time jobs outside the house while maintaining a full load in the house.  We juggle marriage (well, not me so much anymore), kids, jobs, household duties and extracurricular activities while lamenting (bragging?) to each other about how busy we are. 

I am overloaded with the stress.  I don’t even do half of what many of my friends do.  And still I am burdened by all the guilt above compounded by the fact that I am not giving my kids what they really need:  me.  Because what they need, when it comes down to it, isn’t baked goods.   What they need, more than anything, is their parents.

Meanwhile, I’m 30,00 feet over Memphis.  For now, the cupcakes will have to do the trick.   I am on my way, boys.  I am on my way.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Lunatic Baker (Or, Why I Woke Up at 2:30 A.M. To Bake a Pound Cake)

“The measuring and mixing always smoothed out her thinking processes - nothing was as calming as creaming butter - and when the kitchen was warm from the oven overheating and the smell of baking chocolate, she took final stock of where she'd been and where she was going. Everything was fine.”
― Jennifer Crusie

I received an unexpected gift yesterday.  It wasn't my birthday.  I hadn't done anything particularly deserving.  But when my Guy had me close my eyes and he opened up the back of his Man Station Wagon (it's a sport model), I had no idea that he had purchased a Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer.  For me.

The Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer has always been a dream of mine.  (I know, you're probably reading this thinking, "I've had a stand mixer for years.  Pfft.  No biggie.")  But it IS a biggie.  A VBD (Very Big Deal), if you will.  See, the Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer represents more than just a mixer for me.  It's my Someday tool.

I love to bake.  It calms me after a stressful day.  I love the way the house smells when I'm crafting up something yummy in the kitchen.  And olfactory memories are strong ones...I want my boys to remember growing up in a house that smells of cookies and cakes and...well...love.  For many, many years (19, to be exact), I have used the hand mixer my mother gave me as a wedding present.  I've loved that hand mixer.  It has seen me through stiff meringues, chunky chocolate chip cookies, thick butter cookies for my new cookie press and the beginning (and end) of my marriage.  It's been a great mixer.  It does the trick.  So much so that spending a Veritable Fortune for a Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer just never made sense.

So, I told myself this:  "Someday.  Someday you will buy yourself the Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer as a special present JUST FOR YOU.  Maybe it will be because you do something extraordinary like not forgetting to shut and lock the back door before bed.  Maybe it will be because you finally finished writing that book.  Maybe it will be because you're just SO DAMN AWESOME.  But, someday, you will buy that ridiculously extravagant Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer.   And you will BAKE."  

Someday hasn't arrived yet. I just have never been able to justify the expense.

But, yesterday, due to...I don't know what it was...maybe the cool fall weather?  I looked especially fetching last week with my runny nose?  Just because?...my Guy purchased the Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer.

I am going to have to remember to be extra special nice to that Guy because a) he loves me enough to buy me the RIGHT COLOR (red is really the only color that matters to me) b) he knows me enough to know that this gift would send me over the moon and c) he didn't even wait for a holiday.  [Disclaimer:  I get equally excited over the Atomic Fireballs he hands over in church on Sunday mornings, so he knows that he doesn't have to be Ridiculously Extravagant to win any affection from me.]

So, yesterday I rushed home, excited to use my Brand New Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer.

And life got in the way.  I was busy picking up kids, getting groceries, supervising homework, printing Thing 2's school project that, before I knew it, 10 p.m. had rolled around.  I was EXHAUSTED.  And a little cranky.  And I didn't want my Very First Baking Experience with my lovingly purchased Dream Machine to be rushed or stressful. 

I rested my hand carefully on top of the Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer and said, "I'm going to take a little nap.  But I'll be back."

So, I set my alarm for 2:30 a.m.  And, at 2:30 a.m., I woke up like I was 6 years old again and Christmas morning had arrived.  I raced downstairs and made a cup of coffee (hello, I still have SOME sanity left...I know what's important).  And then I carefully washed the parts of my new mixer.  And I read the operating instructions.  And I assembled the butter, the sugar, the eggs, the flour.  I juiced some lemons.  I installed the splash shield.  I finally figured out how to install the mixing paddle.

And I mixed.

I oohed and aahed over the blending.  I walked away from it while it creamed butter and sugar.  I listened to the whirring of the motor.

It was everything I dreamed it would be.

I'm sitting here now smelling deliciously baked lemony goodness.  And I know my boys are upstairs in their sleep smelling the good smell of love wafting from the kitchen.  I have my coffee and my dogs.  That Bright Red KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer is a part of the living dream.

Go out there and bake something today.

If you like my blog, share it.  Or Like my FB page to get updates.  Or make a comment below.  If you don't like it, well...just try not to hurt my feelings.  I'm sensitive.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Backpacking is for Girls

“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

On Saturday, we hiked.  My Guy and I strapped all that we would need for 24 hours on our backs and we ventured with Sparky and Mr. McDougal in to the wilderness.

The great majority of my friends do not understand my propensity to head for the trees.  There are no creature comforts out in the woods except for a warm fire, a cozy sleeping bag and a dry tent.  My friends prefer climate control, real mattresses and wine in a glass instead of in an aluminum trail mug. And, overall, I wouldn't want to live that way EVERY DAY but I find that going to the woods every now and again brings me back to my center.

I am fascinated by trail hiking, especially long-distance hikers who wax nostalgically about "finding themselves" over many body-crushing miles on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.  They write about mutilated feet, scorching heat, unbearable cold and the kindness of strangers on the trail.  They recite scores of stories about long days hiking with only the thought of how much physical pain they were in.  They remember being scared, lonely, worried, tired, and sick of themselves.  I immerse myself in their stories, walking alongside them in my mind.

How I long to be one of them.

Odds are, I'll never be a thru-hiker.  As it is, we take some pretty short trips because my knees simply can't take the load in their current state.  But I suck up the pain of my arthritis-riddled joints because I cannot bear to not do it.  There is something so satisfying about carrying a heavy load up a mountain, making camp, finding wood to make a fire and sitting by a river or a stream filtering water for drinking.  It's primal.  And soul-repairing.  It doesn't have to be a long journey.  It just has to be...away.  Away from smart phones and tvs and cars and stores and ads and "I want" and "I need" and "Could you?" and lawns to be mowed and every single other item that demands your attention every moment of every day.

Sometimes, it's just good to be away.  Really, truly AWAY.

I sat there on Sunday morning perched on a large flat rock in the middle of a stream.  The temperature was just under 40 degrees Fahrenheit and I could see my breath in the beams of early morning sunlight streaming through the trees.  I yawned and rubbed my eyes before I put the plastic tubing of the water filter into the icy water.  As I slowly pumped the water through the filter into our Nalgene bottle, I became intentional in my appreciation for this planet, this life, my friends and family and for the many things I tend to take for granted every day.  I sat there on that rock in the frigid cold before I ever even had one drop of morning coffee and I thanked God for everything I have, everything I am and everything I have yet to learn.

It was a beautiful time of worship.  And I can't wait to get back there again.  Join me?  You know you want to... 

If you like my blog, share it.  Or Like my FB page to get updates.  Or make a comment below.  If you don't like it, well...just try not to hurt my feelings.  I'm sensitive.