Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The End of an Era

So, without being overly (or at least unnecessarily) dramatic, it seems to me that it’s time to state the obvious.

It’s time to retire this blog. 

I haven’t written here in almost a year, and it’s been a lot longer than that since I've been writing here regularly. I've tried a few times to get the ball rolling again, but it’s just not happening. It’s time to call a spade a spade (and also to put down some of my nagging sense of shame about not keeping up with this project.) Like any creative piece, you never really feel “finished,” but sometimes you know when you’re done. I think Crossing the Prairie is done.

The years I chronicled here were amazing, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and beautiful. My journey into motherhood is archived here, the good, the bad, and a bit of the ugly. The sense of connection I felt when this blog was in full swing was warm and real, and I am so grateful for those of you who joined me here, who held me up, who believed in me. Being a young mother of many little ones can be isolating and lonely – this blog was a place for me to reach out into the wider world, and I thank those of you who reached back.

Cooking with the babies, Germany 2007
When I was writing here regularly, life was about diaper changes, home-ownership, dinner adventures, preschool, and tiny hand prints.  I wrote about what was happening in my kitchen, my garden, my playroom. I tried out recipes and chronicled both the hilarious and the mundane of modern housewifery, and some of the more interesting – and sometimes challenging - parts of living abroad, military family life, and adoption.

My grandfather, Carrol.
I wrote mostly for my family, so they could see the little ones growing up from far away, and I wrote for myself, in an effort to keep track of who I was in the whirlwind that was my life during that time. I wrote a lot for my grandfather, who got himself an email address and learned how to navigate the Internet in his 80s, largely to keep up with what I was doing here. He passed away unexpectedly in August, and it has felt like the end of an era in more ways than one.

Life is different now. We sold our house in the Great Frozen North, and now we live in a rented house in Alabama – we’ll be moving again in six months, but we don’t know where to yet. The hand prints around here aren't so tiny anymore. When we moved here, I was overjoyed that I didn't have to find a preschool, and then deflated to discover that it’s now time to learn how to parent a preteen. Let me tell you, that’s been … humbling. My kids spend most of their waking hours away from home now, at school, sports, and dance. We still manage to meet at the dinner table most nights, but I can see that making that happen is going to get harder in the very near future. I’m doing more work as a freelance editor (book to be published in 2014 – woot!!), and thinking more about my professional future, which is kind of cool.

I also helped my mom spin down the Ethiopian Women’s Empowerment Fund when her health declined and she was no longer able to run the program. In its place, I launched a new nonprofit, called Women Equipped, which focuses on small business creation for women in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I hope you’ll come check us out at our website and on Facebook – our first Women’s Group should be starting up this month, and I've got high hopes for this new direction.  It’s been no small task to get this project up and running, and I still have miles to go before I sleep, but it’s good work. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do it.

Y’all, I love this blog. I so wanted it to be a thing that could just go on forever - I’m getting all misty-eyed typing this. This was my thing – my space, my voice – for a long time.  But I’m finding myself cornered by this truth: You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.

I want to be an editor. I want to be a writer. I want to run Women Equipped the way it deserves to be run. I want to be present for my children, put dinner on the table, spend time with the people who are dear to me, and still be able to find time most days to fill my own tank, just a little. I don’t think, at least for now, that I can be a blogger, too.


Maybe in the future, there will be another platform for me – I’ll share it here if that reality comes to fruition. I’d like to write more about the things that are heavier on my heart – the complicated art of parenting, social justice, adoption ethics, gender politics, the ways the military and society intersect (or don’t), and other Big Stuff. Crossing the Prairie isn't the right place for that voice, and the person I was when I wrote here is not the person I find myself becoming now. Life is funny, isn't it? You feel the same day to day, but when you look back a few years, you hardly recognize yourself. 

These are the most amazing young people. 
The kids are older now, too, and as they develop lives more independent of mine, I don't feel like I have the right to continue to tell their stories like I used to, when they all seemed like (sometimes quite literal) extensions of myself. They have their own voices now, and I'm not as confident in my ability to judge which stories are fit for the public and which ones are more personal. What's more, in the New Age of the Internet, I realize that my kids will soon have an "online presence" (exactly when did that become a thing??), and I don't think I should be the dominant voice there. (Privacy and safety concerns are another thing entirely, and also worth considering.) My guess is that my mere existence on this planet will be enough embarrassment for their teenage lives.

That whole thing about bigger kids - how "it doesn't get easier, it just becomes a different kind of hard," (if you told me this anywhere between 2005 and 2010, you may remember me sticking my fingers in my ears and saying, "I'M NOT LISTENING!!!") - well, it seems like it's true. I no longer live and die by the double stroller or have to stir my dinner with a thirty pound thrashing toddler on my hip. But the real, deep, emotional hard work of parenting - of sharing this brief time with people who will be adults before I catch my breath - it's just beginning. 

Also, they are hilarious.
Dear friends, I thank you for sharing this time and space with me, for listening to me, for watching my children grow, celebrating joyful times and grieving with me in the hard times. As long as it's practical and safe, I'll be leaving the blog archives and the recipe index up (I use that thing more than the general public does, I think). It's been a good run, y'all.


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.

--Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Happy Earth Day from the Great Frozen North!

In case you missed it, yesterday was Earth Day. Funny story: I go way back with Earth Day - when I was in high school, I was super involved in environmentally conscious extracurriculars. We recycled, we educated, and we participated in our town's annual celebration. One notable year, I was in a play about - um, I really can't remember exactly what it was about. Conservation of some kind, I assume. What I do remember is that my part was a bat. Like, the winged mammal. I had a costume that involved a black turtleneck and some improvised wings, and I had actual lines which I performed for the general public (this was the culmination of my theater career, by the way.) 

R's mother was also very involved with our town's Earth Day celebration - she is a gifted graphic artist, and was responsible for designing the annual t-shirt in those days. While I remember almost nothing about that Earth Day - except that my little brother got stung on the top of the head by a bee - my mother-in-law and husband remember it fondly, even marking it as a seminal moment in our relationship, since they both bring that blush-inducing story up with some regularity. It would seem I was a very cute (or at least, memorable) bat. 

As far as I know, there are no pictures of my theatrical achievement. If you've known me that long, and you happen to be in possession of said photos, I would be most grateful if you used them to light your barbecue grill. Thanks so much. 

Anywho. Fast-forward more Earth Days than I'd like to count, to 2013. 

If you Google "Earth Day images," you get stuff like this:



What you get if you live in the Great Frozen North and you look out your window on Earth Day 2013, it  looks a little different. 


The news predicted (and stood by their prediction, for the entire day, despite being proven wrong before the sun even came up) a chance of snow. Maybe an inch - just a little "moisture," as they say around here. Mother Nature is HILARIOUS.


Fun fact: my kids have not had a full week of school since the third week of March. Another fun fact: our area generally gets about 40 inches of snow annually. We've gotten more snow than that since Easter, and the kids have had more snow days than the last three years combined. They are happy. I am tired. 

After the family spent some quality time shoveling the ten inches or so of snow-prise, an epic snowball fight broke out. This is the point when I broke out the camera, thus taking myself off the list of potential targets. I am no dummy.



 The boys are still working on their snowball fighting skills. (You'll notice Lina excused herself, also.)


Once again, age and treachery triumphed over youth and energy.


I swear, spring must  be right around the corner. Where the snow banks have melted, the grass is already green, and the way it's going, it will need to be mowed as soon as it thaws. This Mother Earth - she's a character, eh?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Still running.

Last year, I ran a half-marathon. It was a huge deal for me - more physically challenging than anything I'd ever attempted before, and an emotional achievement just to attempt. I didn't train properly - I committed to run it six weeks before the race. And honestly? It went great. Best run of my life.

I've been training now for nine weeks, to run that same race, and I find myself at an impasse. I have been training harder than I ever have before. My short runs are between four and five miles, my long runs have been up to nine miles. Due to a variety of factors, some more in my control than others, I've put on a bit of weight in the last year, and it is sloooowly coming off.

And then, I got hurt, exactly halfway through my training program.

My form got sloppy, I tried to run through pain that I should have been resting through, and I ended up seriously busted up. Like, needing to brace myself to go up and down stairs (and did you know that split level houses like mine have stairs everywhere???), waking me up at night, visit the chiropractor, busted up. I took ten days off and did some cross-training (snowshoeing and shoveling, thanks to the recent weather). I've been doing drills, watching videos on form, consulting with people who know better than me.

Truthfully, I want to quit. This is really hard, really frustrating, and pushing myself this hard is really scary. The gremlins in my head have their megaphones out, reminding me at great volume that I am no good at running, and in fact, I am not an athlete of any kind - I'm a slightly pudgy mid-thirties mama, coming from a long line of similar women, and I should just eat a few more salads and give up on this whole thing.

And then yesterday, there was a bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. At least three people were killed, including an eight-year-old boy, and over 150 people injured. The finish line of my own half-marathon - not nearly as world-famous, but equally celebratory and triumphant for me personally - was full of cheering families and friendly camaraderie between exhausted runners of all skill levels and speeds. We cheered because we'd done it, and nobody compared times. Being there, at the other end of a goal, was an achievement - I can only imagine this multiplied by the prestige and history the Boston Marathon.

The marathon won by an Ethiopian man and  Kenyan woman this year, by the way - their glory stolen by somebody else's evil act. It's shockingly difficult to find a picture of them in all the chaos on the Internet, so I am honoring them here. Well done, Ms. Jepto and Mr. Desisa.

Kenya's Rita Jeptoo and Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa - Winners of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The blast knocked me off kilter yesterday, too. (Just ask my poor husband - sorry, R.) My mind kept racing back to the blasts of September 11, 2011, as rumors flew of more bombs, more deaths, greater chaos with boundaries not yet drawn. Would there be more destruction? Was Boston under attack? Were we all under attack?

This morning, it seems that the violence was limited to one awful place. But this is the subversive nature of this kind of act - it floods into the consciousness of all of us, everywhere, who understand that it could have been us, standing at that finish line. This is when we all make a choice.

A message from New York to Boston projected on Brooklyn Academy of Music 
We choose to base our actions on love, not on fear. We choose to keep on keeping on, doing the things we know make the world and our own lives better - calling loved ones, holding our children closer, honoring the lost and injured with what feels right to us and our own spiritual and emotional sensibilities. We pray, we toast, we donate blood. We remember that many people, all over the world, live every day with the threat of bombs just like the ones that detonated yesterday in Boston, and we honor their courage with our own.

We lace our running shoes up again, and run for those who cannot.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring in the Great Frozen North

Is it just me, or did Easter sneak up on anyone else this year? I feel like I had barely finished packing up Christmas decorations when Lent came, whizzed past, and then BAM! Easter! It was Wednesday before it even occurred to me that I ought to think of a holiday meal. (Glad I did that - we ended hosting two other families, and had a great time).

The kids were quite fun, and good sports about the fact that at *this* house, Easter is NOT another Christmas, and the Bunny does not leave new bicycles, iPods, and the like. Our bunny is more the sidewalk chalk and sunglasses type.




We did the Easter egg hunting thing in pleasant weather, considering how early the holiday fell this year. Note the lack of snow boots and parkas on the lovely people below. The kids spent the whole afternoon playing outside with our visitors, reminding us that buying a house solely for its awesome backyard isn't a completely terrible idea.


And then....well, this happened. 


My sister gleefully informed me on Facebook that it was a record breaking snowfall for April - we were all over The Weather Channel, and she wanted to know how I felt about being part of history.


HARUMPH.

We haven't had a snow like this since Rome was a wee baby. During that lovely spring, I shoveled feet upon feet of snow with a howling babe on my back, while R sent me pictures from his deployed location, which was a beach. I shoveled, he snorkeled - and he still asks why I was so angry. 

We got a total of 25 inches of snow, drifting to three or four feet in places. I'm informed we are fortunate, because the accompanying wind kept the snow from accumulating on trees and power lines, sparing us from the power outages that are plaguing cities east of us, as Winter Storm Walda makes her angry way that direction. 

Both Hubs and the kids got two snow days in a row - a real treat (for them). 




Rome. I don't even know what to say about this, except to assure you it was self-inflicted.


At one point, we thought we'd lost Lina for sure.


Phew.


I may have had to shovel a potty trail for her, since the snow was quite a bit deeper than she is tall, but the wee Appalachian dog proved to be a trooper in adverse conditions, and came out to keep me company while I shoveled. On a related note, two foot tall snow drifts in all directions work pretty well as a fence for a short dog. 


Danny, being predictably really really ridiculously good looking. That smile! Swoon


R's car. Would you believe he did not love my snow art? I am hilarious!

Part of me is glad that we got this mighty last winter hoorah - R is from even further north than here, and he just loves this stuff. My kids love the snow, too, and it's cool that they got one last great snow before we move to a warmer climate. We went snowshoeing in our neighborhood, we built snow caves and went sledding, we made steamers, did crafts, watched movies, and did all the good things that people who love the snow love to do. 

And then, the part of me that has an internal calendar set on Louisiana time, and can't stop herself from looking for azaleas this time of year, threw herself on the ground and pitched a mighty tantrum. When that didn't work, I made a pot of soup and put on a second pair of wool socks. After all, we do need the moisture.   

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rome's Honeymoon Brussels Sprouts


First of all, did you know that they are actually "Brussels sprouts," and not "brussel sprouts"? I had to look it up - it seemed like too many plurals to me, until I made the city-vegetable connection. And then I looked around to see if anyone was coming for my Editor Street Cred Card (betcha didn't know we carried those...). But it seems I am safe, since I verified before publishing, like a good editor.

We are big Brussels sprouts fans around here. These poor vegetables have been so mistreated in so many kitchens - they really have an undeserved bad name. Like most vegetables, they are horrid when boiled into oblivion. To be fair, just about everything, except potatoes, is gross when boiled into grey mush.

My dad was the one who reintroduced us all to this charming wee veggie, with his life-changing recipe - it has converted more than a few haters. (My apologies on that embarrassing misspelling - in my defense, it was before I was issued that Street Cred Card). That recipe is a great and beautiful thing, requested at just about every family get-together we have with that side of the family. It does, however, break the reasonable leafy green-to-butter ratio that I strive for on non-celebratory occasions.

My brother has been tinkering in the kitchen with Brussels sprouts, and provided me with the inspiration for roasting them. You get a similar caramelized effect without quite as much oil and butter, and it's super quick and easy. It's perfect for a weeknight meal, and goes beautifully with just about any main dish. We like it especially well with grilled chicken, sausages, or fish of any sort. Chilled leftovers are tasty in a salad, if you can get your hands on them - on the extremely rare occasion we have leftovers, one of my kids usually eats them as an after school snack. I kid you not.

The first time I made these, R was still deployed. My kids ate them with relish you just can't imagine. Rome asked me if I'd teach his wife how to make these one day. After I pulled my inner feminist up off the floor and let her have a moment to discuss gender roles, equality, and the division of household labor, I told him I'd teach HIM how to make them himself. I guess his eyes glazed over during that part, because he replied by asking if maybe I could just send him some of these Brussels sprouts on his honeymoon.

My future daughter-in-law is going to hate me.

Without further ado, the Brussels sprouts that will cause my son's first big fight with his wife.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar

2 lbs small Brussels sprouts, halved (or quartered if they're larger than a big marble)
1 or 2 red onions, cut into 1 inch chunks
about 2 TBS olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced very finely or smashed to a paste
balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and place in the hot oven while you prepare the Brussels sprouts, so it gets nice and hot.

In a large bowl, combine Brussels sprouts and onions. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I find it's easiest to get the sprouts evenly coated when I do this with my hands.

Remove hot pan from the oven, spray with nonstick cooking spray, and pour seasoned Brussels sprouts onto it. Shake the pan a bit to make sure they're evenly distributed and as much surface area as possible of the sprouts is touching the pan (that's where that caramelizing magic happens). Return to the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, stirring once about halfway through, until sprouts are deeply browned and tender. Timing will depend a lot on how big your Brussels sprouts are, so keep an eye on them.

In the meantime, add your minced garlic to the bowl you tossed the sprouts in, and add another teaspoon or so of olive oil. Mix with the backside of a large spatula to make a paste. Set aside.

When Brussels sprouts are good and done, remove pan from the oven. Transfer sprouts back to the bowl with the garlic, and toss to coat. Return them to the pan, and continue to roast for 3 to 4 minutes, until garlic is fragrant (but not smelling burned).

Remove from the oven, and drizzle generously with balsamic vinegar (lemon juice would be a nice alternative here, too). Let them cool for a couple of minutes (this is usually the time it takes me to get my kids to the table, and send one or more of them back to the sink to wash their hands "again"), and serve. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I'm not the only one.

I love Jay Smooth. He's so much cooler than me, which makes it extra awesome to hear he has the same creative gremlins that I do.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Re-calibrating.

Ahem.

[peeking around corner]

Hi.

I know it's been... like... a really long time. It's been so long since I've been writing here regularly that I feel sort of self-conscious showing up out of the shadows and expecting anyone to still be paying attention.

But I miss writing, and I miss the sense of connection and community I find when I'm doing this regularly. I love looking back over the archives and seeing the highlights - the big moments, and the little things I'd forgotten. Blogging helps me to pay attention, to mark the joys on the calendar. A couple of years ago, we had some pretty catastrophic things happen here on the home front - you'll notice that it coincides with the time when blogging went by the wayside. It was a necessary thing at the time, but as life has returned to some sort of a balance (I believe they call this "the new normal"), I find myself feeling ready again.

As I told a friend, I am re-calibrating.

So, Easter pictures should be forthcoming, along with a few other things. I got myself a Facebook page to make my fresh start all official and everything. (I love that we can all make our need to be "liked" totally up front now. Please Like me.)

In the meantime, here's a brief recap of recent happenings, in no particular order.

R came home from deployment.

My kids grew a combined total of four inches in the last three months. Also, I took exactly zero pictures of them in the month of February. Somehow they grew anyway.

We added a new dog to our family. Meet Lily, the Appalachian "Yorkillon" (that's fancy for some sort of Yorkie-Papillion-WhoKnowsWhat mix). She's two. 

She does this every single morning. Did I mention that she's two?

Danny drew this.

Spring came to South Dakota.

I signed up for another half-marathon, and am halfway through an actual training program.

After four years in The Great Frozen North, we got orders to move to the Deep Deep South.  Moving closer to my family and the beach - awesome. A hiatus of at least a year from shoveling snow - fantastic. Still deciding how I feel about the rest of it.
We also celebrated Christmas, Valentine's Day, President's Day, Crazy Hair Day, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and April Fools Day. I've almost finished the final edits on a book I've been working on (editing, not writing) for the last four years - expecting publication this year - and started on another one. I've been busy with Ethiopian Women's Empowerment Fund, switching our focus from our young women's house (They're all graduating this year! Yay!!) towards a micro-loan program for mothers, which is closer to our original goals. And learning a lot about non-profits, fundraising, cultural fluency, and privilege. Lots of growth up in here.

So, there you have it. I'm reading a book by BrenĂ© Brown, and she talks a lot about "leaning into the discomfort." (You should watch her TED talk - it changed my life.) Coming back to this well-loved project I have so neglected is uncomfortable, but good. Thank you, dear readers, for still being here.