The Mediocre Kitchen

As promised, here comes a post about how I have started converting to minimalism and intentionality in my house and life.  While the first thing that I tackled was my wardrobe, it’s the one that I’m still most dissatisfied with – I feel like I’m in a really liminal space when it comes to my wardrobe, so my closet reflects that “temporary” feelings (I am still nursing… but probably not for too much longer during the day; I’m going back to work… but not until September; it’s freezing and whythehelldoilivehereagain… but spring is *maybe* coming).  So as much as I am FAR happier with my wardrobe right now, I’m not quite ready to do more than post the occasionally glimpse on Instagram.

But my kitchen!  It’s still also a work in progress, but I had no idea going into this how much this would change my life.  Cooking and baking used to be activities that I really enjoyed, and where I was very experimental and, admittedly, quite messy.  Cooking for and feeding my toddler and baby, however, has been far less fun.  Actually, I could easily accuse it of being the main source of most of my day-to-day anxiety (tied with the Sisyphean task of laundry for a family of four).  I had a pantry that was overflowing with STUFF and a fridge and freezer loaded with food that I couldn’t make meals out of – and that usually ended up getting thrown out.  Usually, we would look in our fridge, be unable to put anything together into an actual meal, despite the amount of food we were looking at, and then we would order in (I swear that Skip the Dishes knows us by name at this point).  So I was doing groceries (and paying for them in time and money) and then STILL ordering in food.  Once in a while, my husband would get overwhelmed by the fridge situation and just throw everything out, and we would start all over again.

Part of the problem going in was that I cooked off the top of my head.  I’d decide “tonight I should make risotto!  And tiramisu!” and off I’d go to the store to buy the specific ingredients for these recipes.  I’d make them, love them, leave my kitchen a total disaster, and fill my pantry and fridge with one-off ingredients that would languish there for several years before I’d be like “um why do I have a dusty bottle of Grand Marnier in the back of my pantry?  when did I even buy Grand Marnier?  was this a gift?  which 90-year old gave us this?” before trying to pawn it off on one of my senior family members, with fingers crossed that it wasn’t them who gave it to me in the first place.  Through this, I had acquired everything from a jar of what might once have been truffles, to 4 different kinds of curry powders, to various bottles of alcohol, to bottles of condiments with labels in languages that mean I literally don’t know what’s in them.

But no more, friends!  No more!

We live in a fairly small house, and we don’t have a lot of pantry or cabinet space, so what space we have is at a premium.  That means that the first step I had to take was to completely clear out my pantry and fridge and start fresh.  The challenge, though, is that I’ve DONE that before.  I had to rethink it and be more intentional about it.  So before I decided to do a big clean out, I decided to change the way that I was thinking about cooking.  I have done meal planning before, but in the way where I’d go through cookbooks or websites and pick 5 dinners that looked yummy and then buy all of the things I’d need to make those recipes.  I don’t deny the appeal here – I am not a food utilitarian.  I love food.  No, you’re underestimating it.  I LOVE food.  I have literally planned trips around food.  I have decided on which friendships to cultivate based on food.  I have, in a concrete sense, decided that eating delicious food is more important to me than losing weight (I’m serious.  I’m a size 8 who was formerly a size 2… but I had to struggle to stay at a 2/4 by really restricting what I ate and by making myself do exercise in a way that I don’t enjoy.  Now, I am very happy and consistent at my size 8, because I let myself have pain au chocolat with my morning espresso and a chunk of camembert whenever I feel like I need it).

My new approach worked like this: before I emptied out and reorganized my pantry, I needed to figure out what actually NEEDED to be in my pantry.  What items do we use again and again?  What items do we keep that we don’t use?  THEN, I figured out how to organize those items that we really use, and I went about it slowly and deliberately, making space for those items, so that I can easily see them (and therefore am more likely to use them) and so that we know when we are out.  It’s not written in stone, and it’s still a work in progress, but certainly this has allowed me to streamline and simplify both my groceries and my cooking.

Secondly, I re-thought my meal planning.  I decided on two things: 1. I HAD to have a plan.  No more staring at the fridge and figuring out what the heck to cook.  and 2. those meals had to have some consistency to them, so that I can re-use the same ingredients and don’t have to spend as much time thinking through things week-by-week and day-by-day.  But, let me stress, I cannot do the same meal every night.  And I can’t abide by the super plain, boring food that my husband and toddler seem to like.  So it had to be exciting (to me), consistent, and easy (like 30 minutes top to bottom).  Sadly, there are more conditions that I have to honour, like that my daughter is, y’know, 2, and while I believe that she should eat what we eat because I am not going to add “short order cook” to my already packed job description, I need to take her palate into consideration.  I sometimes give her palate more credit than it deserves, and I have to learn from those experiences going forward.

From there, it took a couple of months of trial and error.  Some experiments were crazy successful, like having my daughter help me make dinner whenever it was possible, and help serve it wherever it wasn’t possible for her to help cook.  Some experiments were significantly less successful, like my curried salmon stirfry, which we thought was delicious and which my daughter thought was worse than starvation.  After the trial period (let’s be honest, my life will always be in the trial period), I was able to sort out that my typical week looks something like this:

Monday: vegetarian option (meatless monday!)

Tuesday: tacos

Wednesday: salmon or chicken

Thursday: chicken or salmon

Friday: Pizza (we go to nonna’s house on Fridays for her homemade pizza and have been doing this for a decade- bless her heart for hosting six children and their 5 grandchildren every week)

Saturday: pasta

Sunday: Wild Card (i.e. leftovers, sandwiches, or order in)

All of these meals HAVE to have a protein, a carb/starch, and veggies.  My daughter (luckily) does not shy away from any particular category, though she obviously has likes and dislikes within each one.  From within this framework, it’s actually really easy.  I like to try out a fun recipe at least once a week, but try to pick something that doesn’t require me getting a bunch of random ingredients.  We really like Italian and Asian flavours in particular, so I usually stick with those palates, with the occasional branch-out to French or Indian/Thai.  We also don’t eat a ton of red meat, as you can see.

Once I had this laid out, the rest came about a lot easier.  My grocery list is already 80% done before I even start: I know I need chicken, salmon, whatever meat I’m using for my tacos, and lean ground something for my pasta.  I always get a bunch of whatever seasonal vegetables I know I can get my daughter to eat (right now it’s a LOT of cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips etc. because it’s winter, but in the summer, it’s more greenery and asparagus).  I need rice and potatoes (usually baby potatoes or red so I can keep the skin on and boil them quickly if I need to).  I also ALWAYS have garlic, onions, ginger, coconut milk, and the ingredients for tomato sauce.  I know a handful of solid recipes that I know my kids and husband will eat, and then I mix it up a 1-2 times per week so that I don’t get bored.  Any time I make something adventurous, it’s with the idea in my head that it MIGHT get added to the rotation, if it proves to be simple, delicious and not too expensive to add to the consistent grocery list.

After I had nailed this down and done a few weeks of work with it, I realized that I could pretty effectively organize my pantry.  I bought wood crates from Ikea, labelled them with my principal ingredients, and suddenly my pantry looks all fancy.  Now, I have saved even more time because I don’t have to really think about my grocery list and (thank you, sweet sweet progress) I use grocery delivery or pickup services.  So on Sundays, I just spend 10 minutes putting it all on my online grocery bill and it shows up at my house, or I pick it up, the next morning for the week.

So there you have it.  In a strangely ironic twist, the less I have in my pantry and fridge, and the more deliberate I am about what’s there, the easier it is for me to cook quick, healthy, and delicious meals.  I swear to you that my mealtime stress has been reduced to almost nothing because of this change.  Now my mealtime stress is related to my daughter wanting to eat her dinner sitting on the ground in the closed pantry, which she has proclaimed “the Yukon” and my internal voice whispers to me “choose your battles… one day you’ll tell this story at her wedding.”

What do you do to simplify your mealtime routine?  Is it as chaotic and stressful for you as it was for me?  I’ve sort of gotten used to the fact that things that are hard for me are often easy for other people because I am a walking ball of loosely bottled anxiety.

And, if you’re interested, my favourite cookbooks and blogs for delicious and quick meals are Half Baked Harvest (her blog and her book are just… wow) and Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks.  I also follow a few healthy mom food-bloggers on insta.  I’ll do a roundup on there for those who are interested!

 

xo

Mediocre Mom

Bell Let’s Talk Day – Momming with Mental Illness

So I’ve been away for a while.  First, I took some time off for Christmas.  Then, I realized I was online too much, so I wanted to sort out my priorities… and then, my depression acted up.  I like to think of depression as something like arthritis: it’s always there, but sometimes it “acts up.”  In many ways, to me, that’s the most accurate description of depression.  I can still get out of bed.  I can still interact with people, and laugh, and chase my kids.  But it’s harder – almost impossible – on the mornings where my depression is acting up.  It can be affected by the weather: I have a much harder time dealing with depression on cold, dark days than on sunny ones (though this is not always the case).  In addition to the physical similarities, I also see a commonality in the way that people treat depression and arthritis.  If you have arthritis (or any chronic pain condition, like fibromyalgia), you know what I mean when I say this: people don’t want to hear you talk about it.  The first time you are with someone and you are having a flare-up, you tell them about your condition and they are sympathetic.  But if every time you’re with them, you move slower, or you complain (or even mention it), they eventually get tired of hearing about it… or at least it sure feels that way to you.  So you start to pretend that it DOESN’T bother you.  You smile through the winces; you get up and participate, even if all you want to do is sit and cry.

That.  That is depression.  Or at least what it is to me.

I have what is called, in some schools, “high functioning depression” because I can live a “normal” life, even when in the throes of mental illness.  I can camouflage.  I smile, instead of crying.  I play with my kids, and talk to friends, instead of staring at a wall.  I work, instead of sleeping.  I have learned what I look like when I’m “normal” and I emulate those behaviours as closely as possible.  I usually feel like people just don’t want to hear about it (even if that’s simply not true, it’s how I FEEL when I’m there), and that I can’t use it as an excuse for withdrawing from the world, because my friends/coworkers/family deserve better than that, even if it’s what I need for my own well-being.

And this is especially true as a mom.

How do you explain to a 2 year old that you literally can’t talk to her because it is taking every ounce of your energy just to be in clothing?  Or that you can’t walk to the playground today because the struggle to put together more than one-word sentences is simply too overwhelming a task?  My desperate desire for her not to see me having Rochester’s-first-wife-in-the-attic moments is so strong that I power through.  My intense need not to somehow pass this on to her, like some kind of mental flu.  It’s like jr high track and field: you HAVE to participate, even if you’d rather cut your own legs off than race the 800 meter today.  I get in my lane and run the damn race; it’s just that I’m running the race in knee-deep mud, so every stride takes 10 times the effort that it should.  And even when I know it’s not true, it feels like my lane is the only one with this mud in it – like somehow all the other moms got clean lanes.  So I’ll show up.  I’ll race.  I’ll put on my runners, I’ll get in my lane, and I’ll run this damn race like my lane isn’t full of mud.

And the cycle, as vicious as it is, requires that I then recharge from the herculean effort of doing something totally innocuous with copious amounts of sleep.  If you’re a mom, you already know the punchline: sleep is not something easy to come by as a parent.

That’s it.  I don’t have advice.  I don’t think of myself as somehow “better” than other people with depression, just because I can force myself out of bed.  Trust me, there are days when I can’t.  I understand the crushing weight of it.

So, moms out there with depression – I feel you.  A wild, sad, emphatic salute to you in your struggle.  For days when you show up, and days when you can’t.  Days where you smile and laugh and chase and tickle and days when you stare at a blank wall while your baby naps.  For the times you swallow what you want to say and say “I’m fine” and days when you can’t, and you cry when you’re asked if you’re alright.  Stay strong.

This is my annual post for Bell Let’s Talk Day.  I started trying to be more open about my mental illnesses several years ago, starting with a post on Bell Let’s Talk Day on facebook that marked the first time I ever openly anounced my struggles, and I want to end this one the same way I’ve ended them all: if you are struggling, reach out to someone (if you can) and know that you are NOT alone.  If you aren’t struggling, reach out to someone who might be.

POTTY TRAINING

So life with a toddler and a baby is, as expected, insane.  But the previous level of insanity reached a new level of crazy this weekend when we decided to potty train G.

Backtrack a second.  We actually decided to potty train her like, three months ago, but we went about it in the way that I go about everything: half-assed.  And you cannot half-ass potty training.  You must whole-ass potty training.  Ass-and-a-half, even.  Prior to Friday, G had peed on the potty ONCE successfully and it was after my mom sat with her on the potty for an hour and a half with stickers.  I had gone to Toys R Us around her second birthday and bought a potty for on the toilet, and a portable seat for when we went out.  I switched her to pull-ups, and occasionally I’d ask if she needed to go to the potty, but that was it.  I was doing basically nothing, but at the same time I was frustrated because it wasn’t working.  So I went and bought an elmo stand-alone potty.  I had sticker books, special search-and-find books and a renewed determination to… do exactly the same amount of nothing.

Four months pass.  I get no sleep.  Daycare will only support what I already have in place, but wont potty train her for me (the nerve of them, refusing to parent my child and making me do it), and the after-daycare hours are so crazy that seriously I blinked and those four months were gone.  MY plans to have her potty trained before the snow was wiped out by both my own inaction and Edmonton’s early snowfall (which has trapped me in the house like some sort of domestic version of The Revenant).

But wait!  Here comes a three day weekend!  Didn’t my mother-in-law tell me that it only takes three days to potty train a toddler if you dont let them wear pants?!  PERFECT!  So when Friday rolls around, we get G from her room and… take her pants away.  At first, she was really upset because she loves her pants (they have cats on them.  Cats.  I’m such a dog person and my kid freaking love cats.  I think it’s evidence that she’s already going to be a rebellious teenager) and then, when we slowly tried to take her pull-ups away, things got a bit hairy.  See, her pull-ups have “Mickey” (it’s totally Minnie) on them, and it was like we were torturing her by not allowing her to wear them.  After a few attempts at distraction, we put a towel on the floor and took out her favourite puzzle, and she thought making “bum marks” on the towel with her penaten-coated rear was hilarious, so we were out of the woods.

Then we hunkered down to wait it out.  Everyone has told us that potty-training is the hardest and worst part of parenting, so we were prepared for the worst.  We had coffee.  We had snacks.  We weren’t leaving until she was potty-trained.  We set a “tinkle timer” on my phone for 20 minutes.  We gave her as much water-diluted apple juice as she could drink (and holy shit can she drink a lot) When the tinkle timer went off, we went to the potty.  At first she thought this was a hilarious game, and would hang out on the potty and read her new Richard Scarry word book.

The novelty wore off quickly.

Soon the tinkle timer was a source of mini tantrums, so we turned it off.  And it happened!  She stood up, looked at me and said “the pee is coming” and we ran to the toilet and it happened!  And there was no going back: she didnt have a single accident that first day.  We patted ourselves on the back for being such exceptional parents.

Saturday.

I spent the entire day in the bathroom on Saturday.  I Swear.  She had tasted success (it tasted like watered down apple juice, I assume) and wanted more.  Now she got her big girl underwear (it has Paw Patrol characters on it so we sing the theme song constantly – or at least the one line from the theme song that I know) and she wasn’t going to risk getting Skye or Marshall “wet.”  We did have our first accident, but it was because she was so excited about her puzzle that she didn’t want to go to the bathroom, so she peed a little while working on it.  But she told me right away and we went to the potty and it was all golden.

Sunday was the real test.

On Sunday, we left the house.  We went to dance class in the morning – no accidents.  We had our first legitimate accident at a restaurant that night when she told me she had to go and I let her leave the bathroom before she had gone to the bathroom (my fault, but seriously Tony’s Pizza was calling me back to the table!)

So where are we at now?

Well, this sounds like we had an incredibly successful weekend and, honestly, I would say that’s true.  We bonded a lot, she learned to tell me when she has to go to the bathroom, and it seems like she’s really got this when we are at home.

BUT

BUT

She does not want to use the potty at daycare.  It means that she has to stop playing to go, and they are spread too thin to set a 20 minute tinkle timer, or sit with her on the potty for 40 minutes waiting for her to pee, and I get it.  But it’s undermining the process for sure.

And she does NOT have it together for naps/bedtime.  That will be a big issue going forward, and I have no idea how to approach it.  She can’t get out of her room on her own, and we don’t have the kind of monitor in her room where we can hear her all the time – we use a Nest cam, so we can open it on our phones to see her, but it’s not like we would hear her saying she needs to use the potty unless we HAPPENED to be watching when she did.  So if anyone has any ideas here, I’d love to hear them (and then probably ignore them for like 4 months before I give in and half-ass them…as I do).

And here is the biggest one: we have noticed that during this process, her attachment has gone through the roof.  It’s heartbreaking.  Beditme and daycare time have gone through a HUGE regression since Friday.  I know we just have to ride it out, but it’s awful in the meantime, and it’s going to get worse because I’m a masochist and I’m going to start sleep-training L right away here… ugh why.

AND (whiney rant coming)

GOD I ALREADY MISS DIAPERS.

I know.  I know.  Who MISSES diapers??  ME!  I DO!  Do you know what I  hate more than cleaning my toddler’s poopy butt?  Sitting on the ground in a public toilet for fourty minutes waiting for her to poop and then STILL HAVING TO WIPE HER POOPY BUTT!  She’s GONE MAD WITH POWER!  She knows that I have to run with her to the potty if she says she has to go, AND SHE’S ABUSING THE TINY MODICUM OF POWER SHE HAS BEEN GIVEN!  This kid should NEVER be allowed to hold a position of authority – it WILL corrupt her!

 

Next up: sleep training.  I know there are a lot of opinions about it out there, but I’m going to talk about my experiences and opinions in my next post.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences with potty-training and what has worked for you!

 

xo

Mediocre Mom