10 Lessons from the Kitchen (as I write this I'm browning meat for tacos)

Throughout my years of cooking, which really started in college, I've taken a lot from other people. There's the obvious recipes from Mom that I make continually, the tacos and chili and chocolate chip cookies that are standards and get requests from most people who dine at my table. My dad is a solid go-to guy when it comes to recommendations for fancier meals and details. But I also learned a trick here and there from friends. I distinctly remember standing in my kitchen in Manhattan, Kansas with Matt, making dinner. He spent some time working in the kitchen of a bar-b-que restaurant and showed me how to bend my knuckles toward the blade of a knife so as to not cut off my fingertips. By watching my friend Leah make breakfast one morning I learned the speediest way to chop onions and the like is to keep the
point of the knife on the cutting board. My sister Rachel just recently gave me instructions for hard boiled eggs that are easy to peel. Boil for 16 minutes and then soak them in ice water. It worked and now making stuffed eggs isn't painful.

These are all things I probably could have learned from watching a cooking show or reading a food magazine. Since we don't have cable and my subscriptions are limited to Patagonia catalogs and coffee association magazines, I have to get my food knowledge from the people who surround me. My father-in-law, a man who is helpful in the kitchen if not really a cook himself, taught me one of the best tips for cooking and living. When he buys grapes he takes off all of the stems and rinses the grapes and puts them in a container. They are always ready to be eaten just as soon as you open the refrigerator. This is probably something he did when the kids were little and he wanted to make sure they could get a snack themselves. But this little trick spills over into all aspects of life, especially as a wife, mother and hostess.

2. Take whatever time I have now to prepare for what's coming up next.

If I pack up my bag with diapers, wipes, snacks and kleenex before the kids get up and we have to rush out of the door, the kids will be happier and I will be less stressed. That's the day-in and day-out example. As it applies to life in general, or for life without the time constraints of children, it means getting a calendar and keeping track of dates. Or contacting people in advance of needing something accomplished. My sister-in-law sent me an e-mail just the other day about a family event happening in May and the plans and gifts that needed to be taken care of because of this get together. Now I don't have to run around in a panic because something that should have been taken care of weeks ago won't get finished.

I suppose I realized this tip as I was plucking grapes myself and thinking about Passover. I sent out an email in February about the holiday and began making preparations for it at that time. But the discussions on the actual gathering of people didn't happen until two weeks before the first night of Passover and the stress quickly grew. Who would bring the sides? Who is eating at our home? What time is the seder starting? All of these details began to bog down the excitement of the event until all at once the pieces came together. As I set my table the afternoon before the celebration I realized if I could take care of all the details myself things would get done faster. The reality is, however, that I need other people to participate too. Which leads to...

3. It's okay to ask for help.


today we had a fun adventure. after dropping noah and lauren off at the airport for their weekend trip to chicago, wyatt, cass and i headed over to big cassie's house in linwood. she lives out on a gravel road surrounded by fields and animals. after getting a tour of her beautiful home we moved out to feed the chickens. wyatt liked tossing the bread but cassie had to fight off libby, the 15 year old, blind and deaf dog. bread is a hot commodity and even wyatt wanted to eat some. good old fashioned white bread.

then we moved on to the pond where we went out on the dock and then cassie caught a little frog. wyatt gave him a little touch but baby cass was hesitant from here on out. we walked up to the field to find the horses. big cassie warned us they weren't the friendliest horses and they might not want to get too close, but as soon as they saw us coming they mosied over. and then they wouldn't leave us alone. big cass held wyatt and he braved the large beasts with their hot breath, but i think baby cass was aftraid they were going to eat her. she kept saying, "oh no" and was on the verge of tears several times. she's usually pretty brave, but these animals were too much for her.

when we made our way back to the house for some snacks she was a bit more comfortable with the "meow", wicket the cat. te cat was pretty friendly and wyatt liked petting her but even with big cassie holding wicket baby cassie did want to pet her. as soon as she ran off cassie surprisingly became interested and the kids spent a while chasing and then losing the cat in the house. we went back outside and drove down the road to see the cows. there were a lot of mamas and babies out but they weren't friendly like the horses and mooved when we approached them. we carefully made our way through the cow patties and back to the car, where the kids started to show their tiredness. we gathered our things and headed out the door, but i thankfully remembered that big cassie had her wedding dress. we went back in and i explained in some sort of kid-friendly fashion that sam and cassie were going to get married and live together like me and papa. big cass not only showed us the dress but put it on and she looked gorgeous. it was a funny switch from her tank top and tube socks but we're sure sam is going to tear up when he sees her walk down the aisle.

thanks big cassie for a great morning! we'll be back out for more horsin' around!


a quick update for anyone interested: the kids are both sleeping at night in the bunk beds and doing quite well. i usually only go in once, sometimes not at all. wyatt isn't quite sure how to feel about sharing a room with his little sister, but i think he secretly likes it. this morning he was hollering that he was hungry so i went in and he was sitting on her bed. she was still laying down with her thumb in her mouth and her blanky in her hand. it's safe to say he woke her up.

there's a drawback to the new sleeping arrangement: they may not be getting all the sleep they need. the combination of late night festivities (birthdays, ball games) keeps us out late, and then when one of them wakes up the other wakes up too. however, there's even an upside to this -- they are taking longer naps, in seperate rooms. the last four days they have both taken naps at least three hours long. this is something i can handle. and if the sun is out when the kids wake me up in the morning-- either hollering about starvation or standing next to my bed telling me about their poopy diapers -- then i feel like i can face the day, and look forward to a quiet afternoon.
last night was a little rough, but after several reprimands i wore them out and they fell asleep in their beds. the problem? twofold: first, cassie is excited about this new arrangement and wants to play in secret with her big brother. wyatt was happy to go along with her, which rather surprised me. second, i might have put them to bed too early. they were still pretty wound up and weren't ready to lay down.

i learned my lesson and tonight i held them off till i could see the sleep rolling in. how many times have i gone back in? once. that's right, just once and that was because wyatt wanted me to turn the closet light on. since he's up high he doesn't get as much light (for book reading and calm playing) so i usually turn this on for him. this was part of the problem (and part of the solution) last night. too much light for little cass. tonight when i left i turned off the closet light and left on only a little nightlight. that seemed to work till he hollered "mama" and asked me to turn the light on. since cassie was still in her bed curled up i decided to oblige him. seems like an okay decision: they are quiet and i'm loving it.


currently the kids are like giant raisins; they've been in the tub for over an hour and still loving it. who am i to take them out and ruin their happiness? we survived one of the busiest holiday weeks of our lives, with two passover meals and two easter meals combined with tom's birthday. with all of the great family in town we were especially busy, but very blessed. in the midst of it all we got some of the best sleep we've had in years. rachel took the kids overnight on friday so we went to bed at a reasonable time and when 9:30AM came we were BOTH still in bed! and in the midst of recupperation for all of us on sunday afternoon the kids slept for three and half hours and we helped ourselves to a giant sized nap as well.

but the most interesting experience in sleep happened saturday night at mima and pop's (deann and mike's). cassie decided she was finished with sleeping in pack-n-plays, even though she slept in one the previous night. she crawled out of two different pack-n-plays, debating on where she wanted to sleep. eventually we laid her down next to wyatt in the big queen-sized bed and after a little correction and wyatt's reassurance ("it's ok cassie, lay down") the two of them fell asleep side by side.

the next night she wandered into wyatt's room and sat down on the lower bunk and before too long we had convinced her to sleep in the new pink bed. she is officially a big girl, sleeping in the crib for naps only and staying in her bed at night. this morning when they both woke up wyatt turned off the noise machine and the heater, opened their door, closed our door (so cassie wouldn't come in and wake us up, wyatt told us) and they played together for a half hour before tom decided he'd had enough sleep. it was a gift, to be sure. we will see how it goes tonight, but we're praying for a repeat. next step, getting their own breakfast.


it's been quite a week. tom took sick last thursday and it's a been a string of illness that hasn't left yet. i took wyatt to the doctor on tuesday because he was struggling with a fever, runny nose, watery eyes and a dry cough. lungs: clear. ears: clear. nose: influenza. he was such a big boy at the doctor's office, answering all the questions directly and taking deep breaths when they listened to his lungs. i was really proud. don't get me wrong, a week of being stuck in the house has made me less compassionate and patient than i'd like to be, but we're surviving.

the biggest struggle i've had with him is his sleeping bag. abbie (via james) gave him this cool camo sleeping bag for his birthday. he sleeps in it every night. but with the fever he really shouldn't sleep in something so thick. try telling him that. he screams, he cries, he coughs. then he asks you to zip him up. every night, "zip me up!" (he wants this every night, not just when he's sick) i have to sneak in later and unzip the bag, throw it off of his very sweaty body quickly and quietly, and then put a sheet on top of him. tonight i did it when he was semi-coherent. it didn't matter, he went back to sleep and then later called for a drink. i went in, assisted him in his drinking and then he said something to the effect of "zip me up". tuck me in, maybe. cover me up, perhaps. whatever it was didn't matter. without hesitation i made sure the sheet was spread all over him and began to tuck it in under his sides. as i pulled up the sheet around his neck he said, "thank you".

i'm praying for a night of few coughs and no screams. he's had a rough go, poor little man. we're thankful he's not throwing up all over and instead is just a mopey mess. tonight he laid on the couch while tom read his book about an israeli spy and every now and again wyatt would say, "what happened now, papa?" tom would summarize in a g-rated way the last few pages and wyatt was content. he likes the idea of armies and fighting, he's a boy. however this is the book that has the actual picture of the spy as he was hung by the syrians. not quite 3 year old material.

he laid there a long time, happy to be under the covers, curled up next to his papa. it's nice to have him be such a cuddle bug, but i'm finished wiping noses and listening to an unproductive cough. i miss the fighting over toys and jumping on the bed. most of all i miss a good night of sleep. but i guess i was already getting kind of used to that anyway.