Three pantry staples worth making from scratch

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PASTA

When we renovated our house a couple years ago, we had to move out for a few months. We subletted the apartment of a renter who owned a kitchenaid stand mixer as well as the fettuccine and spaghetti pasta attachments. I’d always wanted to try making pasta from scratch, and here was my change to do it. The recipe book promised I’d have delicious egg noodles within an hour. So I put my 1 year old down for her afternoon nap and got to work. I didn’t know what my dough was supposed to look like so I had to watch a few youtube videos and keep adding water and flour until I had what seemed to be the right consistency. And in one video, the women demonstrating how to flatten the dough had a beautiful sheet of dough after only a few runs through the roller attachment. My dough needed significantly more taming. That first effort to turn flour, eggs, and water into spaghetti took considerably longer than 60 minutes. Fortunately, my daughter slept longer, too, so I was able to complete the project without interference. And dinner that night was magical. I could not believe the difference between scratch and boxed pasta.

During our summer in that apartment, I determined to improve my technique since a three-hour process was not going to be regular weekend one. And by the time we moved back into our house, I was ready to invest in my own attachments. (I already had the stand mixer.) I can now make spaghetti and fettuccine in the promised hour, and I rarely use boxed anymore for the carbonara we have twice a month. Homemade pasta makes an everyday meal feel so special and fancy. And it turns your standard spaghetti with Bolognese sauce into a meal worthy of company. It also enables you to have date-night in and still feel like you’re enjoying a restaurant quality meal. It is definitely an investment, but it’s a worthwhile one.

RECIPE

GRANOLA

I’ve always loved granola, but I didn’t buy it often because I considered it too expensive. Then I got Deb Perelman’s the smitten kitchen cookbook and saw her recipe for big cluster maple granola. It didn’t look too complicated, so I gave it a try. It was delicious. I’ve since modified it a bit to suit my tastes, and now I always have a batch in the cupboard. My kids have oatmeal topped with granola every school morning, and small containers of it make a great gift. It does take nearly an hour to make, but 90 percent of that is hands off time as it bakes, so you can do other things while your house steadily smells like cinnamon and sugar. Without fail, the days I make it, my eldest walks in the door after school and immediately says, “You made granola!”

RECIPE: The smitten kitchen recipe I started from isn’t available online, so below is the basic recipe I use now:

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup each sunflower seeds, chopped cashews, chopped pecans, sliced almonds
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey, or enough to coat
Mix dry ingredients together, then mix in oil, vanilla, and natural sugar. Spread out on baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 50 minutes, flipping halfway through. Let cool and then scoop into a air tight container. I have no idea how long it will last because we go through it so quickly.

CHOCOLATE PUDDING

Ok, I’m probably pushing it to call this one a staple. But who doesn’t like chocolate pudding? I actually had never particularly enjoyed chocolate pudding–until I made this. When I was a kid, my mom occasionally made tapioca pudding, which I loved. I remember waiting impatiently with my spoon, ready to dig in to the dessert, still warm from the stove. Between my brother and me, I don’t think it lasted the day. I haven’t made tapioca for my kids yet, but I came across Deb’s recipe for Best Chocolate Pudding. It has only six ingredients (JELLO pudding cups have 16) and involves only about 20 minutes of hands on time. (It does have to set for a few hours.) My daughter loves it and I frequently have to disappoint her eager request for some for the third day in a row because I finished it myself while she was at school. #sorrynotsorry It’s actually best eaten within two days because by the third day it gets a bit runny. It’s still delicious, but it loses that wonderful rich thickness and behaves closer to creamy chocolate milk.

RECIPE

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I exercised for 100 consecutive days. Here’s what I learned.

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Monday marked my 100th day of exercising at least 10 minutes every day.

At the beginning of May, I decided I needed to start running regularly again. I’d fallen off the exercise wagon early in the new year, after spending a week in Cancun (I know, poor me), and was having trouble getting back on. One evening in late April, I climbed both flights of stairs in our home to share a story with Mike. But I couldn’t tell him right away because I was so out of breath.

This is always my personal measure of fitness: can I climb a couple flights of stairs without being winded. If not, time to do something about it. Twelve years ago, I took up running after I climbed a flight of escalator stairs and had to pause at the top for several seconds. And now, every time I find myself choosing the lounge pants over the running pants a few too many days (or months) in a row, my catalyst for action is difficulty breathing after climbing a flight of stairs. So while Mike waited patiently for me to be able to relate my tale, I decided it was time to don the running pants again.

But action is hard. I often find it challenging to get back into a routine because my regular 45-minute run or DVD workout doesn’t always work for a given day. Then I listened to a podcast by The Lazy Genius about establishing morning and evening routines, and regarding exercise, she advised her listeners to set a goal so small you couldn’t fail. Her example was doing just one position in Yoga every morning, and building from there. I decided, my “couldn’t fail” goal was 10 minutes of exercise every day. I figured I could always manage 10 minutes, even if it meant squeezing it in right before bed. And I’d recently purchased a DVD that was a collection of 10-minute workouts.

And so I began: every day, I would either go for a run or do one of the 10-minute workouts. Most days I managed at least 30 min. Some days–running days–it was more; other days, it really was just 10. But every day, I did something, and lo and behold, yesterday I hit 100 days in a row of exercise, and that seemed an achievement worth celebrating.

Over the last 100 days, I learned a few things:

I had to redefine progress. I had several goals in mind when I decided on 10 minutes a day, one of which was to lose a few pounds. Over the last 100 days, I GAINED a few pounds. This has been grit-my-teeth frustrating, to the extent that I’ve vowed every time I step on the scale to never weigh myself again because I know it’s not an accurate measure of my progress. I still weigh in every month (I can’t resist), but I try to focus on non-scale victories: I can climb the two flights of stairs in my home easily! Even while carrying my 3-year-old! I’ve gained flexibility by doing that 10 min stretching workout so many times. Once impossible exercises are now merely challenging. I have more energy in general. I’m motivated to make healthy choices every day since I’m working out every day.

The chain effect is a powerful motivator. Once I’ve done something a few days in a row, it’s much easier to get up and do it again the next day–even if it’s the last thing I want to do–because I don’t want to break the chain. I’m a morning person, so I prefer to exercise right when I wake up, but several times in the last few months, I did my 10 minutes late in the evening, around 9 pm, because I hadn’t had a chance earlier in the day and I didn’t want to have a missing link. One particular day, we left first thing in the morning and were out all day, so after dropping the zip car off that evening, I ran home and then around the block a few times.

Two weeks ago, we went to Las Vegas to visit my in-laws. Our plan: play in the pool. Going by my track record (ahem, Cancun), this should’ve been an exercise-free seven days. But I’d done the math by then and realized I had more than 70 days of daily exercise under my belt. I wasn’t going to let a week away break my chain that close to 100 days. So I brought workout clothes and my DVD and determined to keep up my regimen. And I did. And it was not that difficult. Jet lag helped. (I was up several hours before anything began, and even before my children woke up — might as well work out. This also helped me read three books, so overall I call this week a resounding success.)

It’s easier to continue something than start from nothing. I normally find it challenging to resume an exercise routine upon return from vacation (again, see also, Cancun). But this time, I had never stopped exercising. Every day away, I had made sure to do some intensive movement for at least 10 minutes. So possibly two of the hardest days for me to exercise — the day I travel and the day after — I got in my 10 minutes. I didn’t do any more than 10 minutes, but that’s ok.

I have to be willing to incorporate my kids. I’m a SAHM. As I mentioned, typically I work out right when I wake up. Sometimes my daughter wakes up the same time I do. So if I want to burn some calories first thing, she’s doing it with me. The easiest way to make this happen is to take her for a run in the jogging stroller, which she LOVES. But both kids also love doing my DVD workouts with me. Unfortunately, their participation equals a less intense workout for me because they’re a bit crazy and frequently get in my way. But no matter, I still get my time in, and I love that they love to exercise with me. In fact, they often practice the moves outside of our exercise time. At the pool the other day, Lydia kept exclaiming, “Mommy, look!” as she maneuvered her legs in the water in movements that resembled those we watched on screen.

Also, on my bucket list this summer was to do yoga with my kids. From a friend’s Insta story, I learned about cosmic kids yoga on you tube. The woman yogi choreographs moves to accompany her retelling of popular animated movies. The onscreen background reflects the movie’s environment, and she dresses as the heroine. We did the Trolls episode, which I found to be a good workout, and the kids loved it, having just watched Trolls several times.

I plan to continue doing 10 min a day because I know I’m in better shape even if my scale doesn’t reflect that. A friend on Instagram (@humansoutside) has been chronicling her year of spending at least 20 minutes outside every day, which has inspired me. But for now, I’m excited I made it 100 days.

File under “kairos moment”

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My 6-year-old can be quite challenging. In his best moments, we can butt heads. When he hasn’t had enough sleep/food/connection, we seem capable only of argument. This morning I was sure was going to feature the latter: he’d had a hard time falling asleep the night before (when I checked on him at 10:15, he stared at me, undoubtedly waiting for me to explode…which I did), he hadn’t had breakfast yet, and we needed to leave for camp. He’d already declared he didn’t want to go because he hadn’t enjoyed it the day before. After a nonsensical conversation about why he had to go today (“I think you have artistic talent and this will give you more ideas about what to create. And we’ve paid for the week, so you’re going.” “I want a different answer!” “I don’t have a different answer.” “Why not?!” Sigh…), I told him we were leaving in 20 minutes and left him in his room to get dressed. I fully expected he would not be ready in the allotted time, especially when we had another nonsensical conversation once he came downstairs: “Ok, buddy, you’ve got about nine minutes to eat before we need to go.” “Stop telling me the time!” “But you need to know how much time you have.” “But I don’t want to know the time!” Smh.

I was girding myself for a fight once he finished his breakfast, and then Lydia interrupted my mental prep: “You count, I hide,” and proceeded to fit herself under the folded over Bob stroller, pretty much disappearing. If I hadn’t seen her scrunch herself into the small space, I might have had a genuinely difficult time finding her–she hid herself really well. But I did, so I had to pretend. Dutifully, as she remained hidden, I counted to 10, and then proceeded to name all the places I was looking. “Is Lydia next to the couch? No… Is Lydia under the couch? No…” And then Teddy joined me. “Is Lydia in the closet? No… Is Lydia behind the chair? No…” And after a reasonable number of wrong guesses, we both turned toward the stroller, and Teddy feigned surprise as he looked at the floor, where his sister was gleefully covering her eyes. “There she is!” he exclaimed, and Lydia squealed and maneuvered back out of confinement. Teddy and I exchanged grins at the ridiculousness of preschool hide-n-seek, and he returned to eating his breakfast.

We enjoyed another couple rounds of play (with Lydia resuming her position under the stroller each time–if it worked the first time, why not try again…and again…and again?) while Teddy finished his oatmeal, and then we got our things together and left for camp.

So many mornings when my initial interaction with Teddy is less than agreeable, I have a hard time recovering. Today I didn’t let my frustration take the reigns. And today I got to enjoy watching him be a fun big brother.

And we even got to camp in time.

The therapeutic art of making pasta from scratch

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It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon over Memorial Day Weekend. Out on the back patio, Mike is putting together a shed, and the kids, for once, are playing well together. Since Mike needs my help only sporadically, I pull my turquoise KitchenAid closer to the edge of the counter where it’s stored and attach the hook. I heft my five-pound bag of flour from its perch on the pantry shelf, sending a slight smattering of the white stuff into the air to land, invariably, on my shirt. For the millionth time, I make a mental note to get canisters. This will never happen: I oscillate between getting cheap ones off Amazon or splurging on good quality ones from a socially conscious organization–and never land anywhere, so do neither. And therefore dust myself with flour every time I bake.

I measure three and a half cups of whole wheat flour into the mixing bowl, add half a teaspoon of salt, and let the hook do its thing. As it works, I crack in four eggs, one at a time, watching flour and egg incorporate. I help the process along by pouring in a cup of water, and the mixture turns craggy before coming together in a cohesive, slightly sticky, whole. I sprinkle a baking dish with more flour, tear the dough into two parts, place them in the dish and cover it.

“Alexa,” I command, “set a timer for 20 minutes.” Time to let the dough rest.

The first time I made pasta was in someone else’s house. We were subletting an apartment while our house was being renovated, and our “landlord” also had a KitchenAid stand mixer as well as the pasta attachments I’d long coveted but always dismissed as too expensive. One afternoon while my eldest was at summer camp and my youngest was napping, I hauled out the box with the dough flattener and spaghetti and fettuccine cutters and got to work. I Googled “how to make fresh pasta” and found Mario Batali’s recipe, which instructed the would-be pasta maker to mound the flour on the counter, make a hole in the mound, crack four eggs into the hole, and slowly work the flour into the eggs. In theory, one should find oneself with a cohesive whole of pasta dough. I dutifully added the recommended the three tablespoons of water, but I could not get the dough to come together. Hoping I hadn’t just wasted four free range eggs and almost four cups of flour, I reasoned that dry dough needed more water, so I kept adding a bit at a time until it seemed right. Eventually I would learn this part of the process is way easier in the stand mixer and that the best recipe is actually the one in the KitchenAid recipe booklet.

I should pause and point out here that KitchenAid claims you can make pasta with their implements in an hour. Let’s just say that first time took me a bit longer than the promised 60 minutes. Because once the dough was formed and had rested for the requisite 20 minutes, I still had to portion it, flatten each portion and actually cut the pasta. I had watched a YouTube video on how to push the dough through the roller, and my dough looked nothing like the dough in the video. The dough the woman in the video was pressing through the roller looked, well, like I imagine sheets of fresh pasta would look before being cut. Mine? Looked like burlap. The woman in the video passed her dough through the roller maybe four times. That first attempt, I think my poor dough balls were shoved through a couple dozen times.

Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that you can  ruin pasta dough. Despite the excessive “kneading” — which is part of what the rolling out does — my pasta turned out fine, although I hadn’t yet learned to add flour as I went, so I spent a lot of time separating individual strands of fettuccine that were too sticky going through the cutter. But no matter, fresh pasta turned out to be vastly superior to its boxed cousin. It was so delicious, I determined to give it another try, although I decided to wait until a Saturday afternoon when Mike would be around to keep the kids occupied. I wasn’t going to press my luck that Lydia would nap for three hours (!!) again.

By the end of the summer–and the renovation — while I hadn’t reduced the time to the sought-after hour, I was hooked to the process. There’s something undeniably satisfying about making a staple from scratch, about working with your hands. I could’ve used the time to listen to podcasts, which I do enjoy, but I preferred to forego the distraction and simply focus on the dough and the machine, letting the whirring of the roller and the cutter be the soundtrack to my art. And converting flour, eggs and water into pile after pile of fresh pasta felt like a huge accomplishment, something I’ve found elusive as a SAHM. Not to mention that I was making restaurant-worthy meals for a fraction of the price. Since we don’t eat out much in this season of our lives, serving pasta made from scratch allows me to have a meal that feels special without the nuisance of dining out with littles.

When we moved back into our house, complete with brand new kitchen, I decided to finally splurge and purchase my own pasta attachments. It was close enough to our anniversary that I could call it a present, although I only needed to justify it to myself. Mike had seen how I’d benefitted from the hours in the kitchen, and deemed the “gift” cheaper than therapy. Now, whenever it’s been a tough week, or if I just need to accomplish something, I pull out the box of attachments and mix together some flour and eggs.

So on that holiday Sunday, the fourth day of a DCPS five-day weekend, as the kids happily entertain themselves with the box the shed came in, I contentedly coax one piece of dough after another through the roller and then the fettuccine cutter, sprinkling flour liberally over each pasta sheet, and then over each waterfall of cut pasta that I drop into the waiting pan to go into the freezer to set.

And 40 minutes later–yes, I finally got the process down to an hour — I have a freezer bag full of noodles and a refreshed spirit ready to engage with my kids for for the rest of the evening and another full day.

 

 

 

Don’t break the chain!

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Over the last few months, I have been learning that I’m a chain person: when trying to establish a new habit, once I’ve done it a few days in a row, I want to keep the chain going. Every X, whether mental or physically marked on a calendar, gives me a huge sense of accomplishment. (It also releases a shot of dopamine in your brain, so there’s science to back up this chain method. There are even apps to help you keep a virtual chain, since a calendar you can mark with a red sharpie is so last century, not to mention you’d need multiple calendars if you have more than one habit you’re trying to establish.) Evidently, Jerry Seinfeld used this method. The story goes, another comic asked Seinfeld’s advice about coming up with new material. Seinfeld advised the new comic to write one joke every day. Seinfeld said he did use a paper calendar, a large year-at-a-glance one. And for every day he wrote a joke, he marked an X on the calendar.

Of course, for this method to work, the daily habit has to be reasonable. Seinfeld didn’t advise the amateur to come up with a new set every day. And even if I successfully make pasta from scratch three days running, I’m unlikely to continue that chain, no matter the rush of feel-good hormones; that activity just takes too much time. And my 3-year-old likes to help, and I only have so much patience for that. Not to mention, I don’t have the space in my freezer for that much fettuccine.

In one episode of her podcast The Lazy Genius (highly recommend this podcast–especially the two episodes about creating routines), host Kendra talks about forming habits and recommends choosing something so small, you can’t possibly fail. Like writing one joke, if you want to do stand-up. Want to start doing yoga every morning? Pledge to do one down-dog. That’s it. Want to start meditating? Commit to one minute. Or if that even proves too long (because meditation is really hard and my mind wanders 400 times in one minute), maybe try 10 seconds. Anyone can focus on their breathing for 10 seconds. Take two deep intentional breaths. There. Done. And when you’ve got a chain going for that, after a few days, or even a few weeks, add to it. One down-dog and one butterfly stretch. Double the meditation to 20 seconds.

In my case, I realized I needed to get back into a regular exercise routine. Winter was…cold. So I didn’t run…at all…for several months. I just can’t run in single digits. Nor did I even do my beloved DVD workout. I just couldn’t be bothered. But at the end of April, I had just climbed our two flights of stairs and had to pause telling Mike a story because I was so out of breath. (This is always the key indicator for me that I’m out of shape. I should be able to get from ground floor to third floor without breathing hard. And I’m really in a good place if I can do that while carrying my daughter.) And my in-laws had just visited and we’d talked about our visit this summer. I want to not feel too self-conscious wearing a swimsuit (I don’t think it’s possible to avoid all self-consciousness).

So the first of May I determined to exercise for 10 minutes every day. Exercising just a couple days a week doesn’t work for me. I really need that chain effect. And as I’ve written about before, I can do anything for 10 minutes. (Except meditate, evidently. Gotta start with ten seconds, there.) Conveniently, the DVD has six 10-min workouts. I can do just one or I can do a couple. Often, I’ll get myself going by promising myself I only have to do one of those workouts but then I’ll tack on another one, because it’s only ten more minutes. But sometimes I really do quit after the first one. And that’s ok. If I’m exercising every day for ten minutes, that’s a great start.

I usually plan to exercise in the morning, since I find that’s a good way to start my day and then I’m done with my 10 (and often more) minutes and don’t have to think about how I’m going to work it in at some other point during the day. But some days, it’s just not possible, and if I didn’t have a chain going, I’d probably not bother. But I currently do have a chain going — a 19-day chain as I write this. So on Mother’s Day, when I read for an hour before church instead of getting in my workout (despite knowing we’d be out of the house all day hitting up my favorite crab shack, in Pope’s Creek, Maryland), I went for a 10 minute run that night after the kids were in bed, because I didn’t want to break my chain.

Hopefully this bodes well for achieving my summer goal of being able to fetch something quickly from our top-floor bedroom just as we’re leaving the house. And lounging happily by the pool at our Las Vegas resort.

My son competed in his first spelling bee

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When we first learned about the spelling bee, I was excited. Teddy is a great speller, and my parents were going to be in town, so they could come with Lydia and me to cheer him on. Teddy was decidedly less enthused. My mini me was wary of standing on stage and speaking into a microphone. I get it. In fact, in the face of just such a scenario when I was in sixth grade, I preferred to intentionally misspell a word (village — I dropped an ‘l’) during the class spelling bee to avoid the school wide affair, a story I actually shared with Teddy much to my husband’s chagrin. I wanted my kid to compete, but I totally understood if he wanted to opt out.

A list of 60 words came home, and we immediately ran through them. He spelled 57 of them correctly the first time. I put the words away, planning to quiz him periodically during the next couple weeks. Then, the day before the spelling bee, snow was forecast…and school was cancelled in advance. The bee was rescheduled for the following week. Another list of words came home (the same? not sure, actually; I didn’t compare them) and again we went through a few, although we didn’t get through all of them this time; Teddy got restless–and possibly bored. But…it turned out that the week of the rescheduled bee was also the week of testing for the upper grades, and those teachers resented giving up precious prep time to the bee. So the bee was rescheduled…indefinitely.

We forgot about it. I figured it wasn’t going to happen, and I didn’t think Teddy would mind.

Then, the second week of May, I got a text from Teddy’s teacher saying the bee was back on — that Friday. The afternoon of the spelling contest, Lydia and I and a handful of other parental cheerleaders sat in the cafeteria and watched each class’s star spellers file onto the stage. Teddy looked…enthusiastic? I was shocked. He sat quietly onstage with a dozen other kindergarten, first and second graders while the pronouncers settled in with their lists and microphones. He was speller number four in the first round. And his first word was “ship”. I smiled to myself, knowing he could spell that one in his sleep.

He strode to the microphone with a smile. (My kid? Comfortable on stage?) “Ship,” he said clearly in a strong voice: “S-h-i-p, ship”. Then he returned to his seat, his face neary split with his grin. I was baffled. Who was this kid who just stood onstage and spoke with such confidence to an audience? The same kid whose kindergarten teacher intentionally moved him to the back of the class to force him to speak up — to no avail? How could I replicate this at home?

The first round continued, eliminating a few kindergarten spellers. Round two brought “parents” — another easy word for my confident?? kid. Round three: “Awake.” No hesitation. Round four: “vacation.” Just before Teddy, another kindergartner had spelled “lotion” l-o-s-h-i-n, but my word nerd got the “tion” just fine.

It was about round five, when the first second grader misspelled a word, that it occurred to me that Teddy could actually win this thing. He hadn’t seemed baffled about any of his words, yet. And then in round 7, he got “bakery”. “b-a-k” he spelled, and then paused. And I held my breath. “e” he continued, and stopped again. I couldn’t decide whether it was better to stare at him for support or look away. But I couldn’t look away anyway. I was so tense! “r”. I was sending positive spelling vibes as hard as I knew how and doing my best to keep Lydia quiet, who, a half hour into the spelling, was hitting her wall. Finally, he finished the word: “y”, and I could let out my breath in a whoosh. And relax. And focus more on setting Lydia up with something entertaining.

And then the round was finished, and Teddy was one of two spellers (both boys) left on stage. And I just stared at him, thinking how proud I was that he got this far.

Teddy’s kindergarten teacher, who was MC’ing the whole thing, took a moment to explain the final round: if the first speller missed his word, the second speller would have a chance to correctly spell that same word. If he also missed it, both would remain in the competition and the first speller would get another word. Teddy was speller number two. The other contestant walked to the microphone. His word was “dishes.” He said, “d-i-s-h-s.” And my mouth dropped open. I couldn’t help it. Teddy was going to win. I knew he could spell dishes. And by the smile on his face, I could tell he knew it, too. Indeed, he practically skipped to the microphone. “Dishes. d-i-s-h-e-s. dishes.”

And that was it. He won the spelling bee for the lower grades. My child who loves language as much as I do, whose idea of fun is making up words that rhyme, who’s been asking me to read him road signs from the time he could talk, won his first spelling competition. I could not stop smiling. And neither could he. And his trophy. Oh my word, the thing was huge! He thought that was awesome. (He took great delight in attempting to hide it behind his back when Mike came home that evening.) And as if that wasn’t enough: the prize for first place? Nats tickets. Because obviously. How fitting is that. The only real question that remains: who gets to go with him? 😉

Self-care means I buy myself flowers so I don’t yell at my son

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I’ve been working through a parenting workbook created by Dr Laura Markham called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. It promises to teach parents how to use “mindfulness and connection to raise resilient, joyful children and rediscover your love of parenting.” Let me tell you, it’s been a game changer. I’ve been a longtime subscriber of her e-newsletter and I’ve read her book, but her strategies have never worked for me. Until now. Somehow, the process of reading the content in conjunction with working through the exercises has acted as a sort of parenting coach, and I’m able to implement the tools she provides.

In April, Mike traveled more than usual, and the weekend before one four-day trip, I was feeling particularly anxious because I don’t do well alone with the kids multiple days in a row. (I’d never make it as a military spouse with my husband on deployment; well, I would, but I’d have to get help!) But I got prayer at church the morning before he left, and I made a plan to work through some of those workbook exercises every morning Mike was gone.

I’m happy to report, that first day was the beginning of a two-week streak of no yelling on my part. And I think a major component was the topic I happened to be working through that week: self-care. Dr Laura talks a lot about keeping your own tank full so that you can be compassionate toward your children. I’ve read about this concept several times in her e-newsletters, but in the workbook I had to write down what self-care would look like for me. And then I had to think through and write down what obstacles keep me from indulging in these practices. And then I had to make a plan to do them anyway. Another exercise encouraged me to set an alarm on my phone every hour to remind myself to check in and ask myself what I needed in that moment. I certainly didn’t do that every hour, but I did it more often than I ever do, and it helped me reset.

Recognizing and meeting my own needs is not easy for me — I’m a 9 on the enneagram; we are notoriously terrible at figuring out what we want in general, never mind deep soul stuff — but when I took the time to do so — and gave myself permission to splurge when what I needed required a purchase — I felt so much more in control of my reactions in –ahem — challenging situations. Instead of reacting in anger, I could take a moment to calm myself. And in that moment, often one of two things would happen: I’d either realize what was happening wasn’t that serious (so I’d keep myself from blowing up) or, if it was a big deal, a logical consequence would come to me (so I’d avoid declaring a consequence that did not match the crime, which I’d later have to either rescind or implement, neither of which are appealing).

Another shocker was how my calm had a knock-on effect with my son. He feels injustices intensely and reacts in ways I would consider out of proportion, but pointing that out in the moment obviously isn’t helpful. Typically, I get frustrated by what I perceive to be his unnecessary and drawn-out intensity and respond accordingly. But when I was able to maintain calm, I noticed he seemed to tap into that and his outbursts lessened in intensity and duration: win-win! I did so well all week that when Mike returned, I felt like I could’ve handled the weekend alone, too!

I’ve since relapsed a bit, but I’m still trying to be intentional about practicing self care. A few things I’m trying to make a habit of:

  • Buy flowers every week because looking at them on my counter makes me happy. I’ve never been one to splurge on a colorful bouquet because it seemed such a frivolous expense, but I’ve realized it’s worth it given how much joy I get from it.
  • Exercise at least 10 minutes every day.
  • Read my daily devotional.
  • Read a good book rather than scroll through social media feeds.
  • Wear rose scented perfume. In thinking about the things that make me happy, I realized that, while I love the smell of roses, I don’t have anything with that scent–no body lotion, body wash, perfume, nothing. Then, the week before Mother’s Day, the paper had an insert advertising perfume — one of which was Amazing Grace ballet rose by Philosophy. So I told Mike I was getting it for myself. And I’ve been enjoying it every day since.