Monday, May 27, 2019

Root-beer bread

Just invented this recipe and the verdict is YUM (not GF at all so I won't know):

3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 Tbsp butter, melted
1 can of "Not Your Father's Root Beer" (12 oz)

2 tsp instant yeast + 2 Tbsp warm water (105-115*)

Oven at 375; lightly spray some bread pans with oil.

If using, mix yeast in warm water in small container. It should set for 5 minutes but whatever, do the next steps slow and call it good. In big bowl mix all dry ingredients. Pour in yeasty stuff, melted butter, and the whole can of beer. Stir until it's a sticky blobby dough. You can add more flour here if you want to be able to knead it into rolls or sticks, otherwise plop it into the bread pans. If you have a little more butter melted, pour it over the top -- it will make for a crunchier crust.

Bake 30-70 minutes depending on the size of your bread pans (I use mini-loaves which take about 30-35 mins, a full size loaf pan will take closer to an hour+).

Best eaten with lots of butter. Cinnamon-honey-butter would be amazing. The root beer seasonings of wintergreen, sarsaparilla bark, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean and honey give it a sweet but subtle flavor. I want to try using it for a french toast if any survives until tomorrow (I've made 4 batches and we're already cutting into the second).

Monday, May 13, 2019

Chaos on 4 levels

Our house is a gorgeous old American Foursquare from the late 1880's.  At some point in the middle of the 20th century someone added a two-story apartment to the back end which has its own entrance from the garage and a connecting door through a bathroom on the first floor. The upstairs of this apartment is currently a guest space with a full bath. However, the downstairs--which originally had dreams of being an office--is instead a perpetually too-cold or too-hot space which is also perpetually too-cluttered with random things we'll put away properly "later." It's inconvenient to access, inconvenient to use, and generally sub-optimal. But it has the best southern light in the house, a view of the backyard, and is the furthest from the road traffic noise, so it's frustrating that we can't use it more naturally.

A year after getting tenure, we're finally starting a remodel this week to open up doorways directly from the current kitchen into the space, updating it for temperature control, and converting it into a more practical entrance from the garage (complete with a landing area for coats and boots and such) and a second family room area. It's going to take months and it means that we need to remove a literal ton of stuff that's crammed in over there.

Much of this stuff is currently in the dining room. However, a very large amount has gone to thrift stores or the garbage/recycling. Because the clutter is killing me, this means we've also cleaned out stuff from the dining room and kitchen to make room for some of the displaced items to be put "away", so the kitchen, basement way, and basement are also in mild restructuring.

The current walk-through bathroom/laundry room will be losing a door and gaining a wall, which will mean the team will be re-painting that wall. This, of course, means stripping off the old floral border and repainting the whole room while we're at it because no way do I want them to make it match.

Meanwhile, some of the displaced things also moved into the attic which we quickly discovered has accumulated 13 years of random clutter. It seems that every time the kids "clean" their bedrooms they start with two big trash bags: one for actual garbage (paper towels, old tissues, bathroom cups, scraps of paper...) and another for "things to keep in the attic in case I want them later". However, at the end of most of these cleaning periods, it seems they just hauled both bags upstairs! So cleaning the attic involved opening every bag to sort garbage vs. donate vs. keep awhile longer. It took a full weekend, but the attic is down to about 1/3 of the original amount now. 

We all finally accepted that Maryna will not ever be moving back into her bed in the girls' room and so bags of her clothes and items are now piled in a hallway awaiting pickup and removal to her new apartment while the bed and some other things have headed to the newly cleared out spaces in the attic. Katie's re-designing her room and the boys are in an endless struggle against what I assume is a monster that lives in their dresser drawers and violently empties them onto the floor each day. Rob and I rearranged our bedroom to add a king-size bed and re-configure the space and that's still on-going a little.

In the end, I think we've hauled 3 full car loads to the thrift store and tomorrow's garbage pickup will likely be more bags than we typically put out in 6 months combined.

And yet there's zero chance of sitting at the dining room table, the piano is completely hidden, the piles on the washer and dryer are so precarious I literally hesitated to set a box of tissues on it today. Every single room has a work-in-progress happening and more cabinets and spaces we're hoping to access.

Right now, in this moment, it's exciting and motivating to rediscover space as we remove unwanted stuff and instead have new possibilities. However, I know myself and in approximately 3 weeks I'm going to be screaming my head off about how I can't live in this chaos for one more day, so just pray for my poor suffering family.

Monday, May 06, 2019

When things go well..

I tend to focus on "when things go badly" and that's misleading. Things here are often really good.  Today, Jorge got his results from a standardized exam they had to take for 6th grade. He's been a moderately engaged student for most of his school years: doing sloppy half-hearted work so that he can check a box and move on to anything more socially engaging. He has not been able to find the internal motivation to do a good job just for the sake of doing his best work. Going into the tests we reminded him that (a) working fast wouldn't result in any extra social time or activities, just sitting until the test time limit was done and (b) the tests had no value at all except for him to see how well he could do if he tried so he should use it as a self-check. Like a time trial or anything else really, he was just competing against himself to see how he did.

Whatever it was, it changed his perspective and he gave it a real, sincere, solid effort. He got his test results today and scored in the 98th percentile for the national average (closer to the 85-90% for private or suburban schools, but still! Huge!)  Since he's over the 95% mark, he's eligible to take a junior version of an SAT exam, and if that goes similarly well, he qualifies for the Johns Hopkins talented youth program that Katie has been part of for a few years.

He's so proud of himself , and that's really the success that I'm cheering about. It's no surprise that he has the knowledge and ability -- he's a smart kid!-- but he's not easily motivated to try his best. I'm so excited to see where this confidence will take him on his realization that he really can do anything that he sets his mind toward.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019


Maryna had her baby girl on March 2, making us grandparents and shifting those generations yet again. Her story, her information, all of that is not mine to share. I've emphasized a lot to the new parents that they are responsible for protecting and sharing their daughter's information and story and I really believe that. In retrospect, I have often over-shared things my kids may someday wish I hadn't felt so free with to the whole internet (I think there are less than 10 readers here, but still, the internet).

But this is my blog and my writing space and so I can share my thoughts as they relate to me.

This has been hard for me. Really hard. When we merged M into our family I had intentionally set my hopes and expectations very very low. The goal, we thought, was just to ensure she survived to 20-ish in a safe environment, a statistic that was less than 50% likely to happen otherwise. We told ourselves that she would likely seem like an extended-stay-exchange-student and that she may never feel like a daughter to us or view us as parents to her. We knew that, we accepted it, we went in with those eyes clearly open.  We partnered with her in healing and saw ourselves as mentors more than as authority figures. We saw her progress, grow, heal, and open herself to the idea of a career and future of her own choosing.

In many ways, I think it was a huge benefit to us to have jumped into the teen years with a fully-aged teen with zero history. We had none of those moments of "oh, but you used to..." that seem to trigger so much of the friction between adults and their teens. We were all simultaneously learning who she was and what she liked or not with no expectations other than everyone trying their best to be respectful and honest. I imagine (and have already felt) that as Katie reaches similar stages of experimenting with who she might want to be with new interests and opinions and styles that a part of me will be (is) hung up on grieving who she has been and who I might expect her to become.

But despite our low expectations and fairly low bar, there were enough glimmers of closeness and nearly-family feelings. I took on the role of mom in every way she permitted. I poured out energy and affection and guidance and love beyond what I knew I had available.  She still has never addressed me as mom or anything else nor has she addressed anyone in our household by a name or title. She barely speaks 3 words at a time to us but speaks fluently anywhere else to anyone else (in fact she's looking for work as a translator). It's not the relationship we want, but it's more than the one we went in expecting. It's a tender bruise most of the time.

And then, when she was still a 19 year old high school student, she got into a relationship with a 34 year old man who lied openly to us about his age. Both have the mental age of about 16, but that doesn't change the super gross facts of it. I wake up sick about it a few times a week, thinking of my girl trapped in this relationship with a creepy, gross, skeevy, old man. I see news stories every day of disgusting men in their late 20's and early 30's preying on girls age 16 or 17 and those men are rightfully locked away and shamed for their gross indecency...but just 2-3 years later with the same age gap means it's "fine" apparently. Nothing to be done. "Age is just a number" as all of their supporters (his family) say. Why act your actual adult age when you can screw a teenager, after all?

I feel like I failed her. I should have seen his lies, should have demanded they not see each other, should have confronted them earlier... I don't know. I hate this and I spend way too much of my time and energy composing absolutely scathing lectures that I'll never give. I have a six page typed rant about it. I seethe over it. I lose sleep over it. It consumes way too much of my brain. I failed her. I failed.

I need to shift back to that initial mindset. She came, she grew, she healed, she graduated, she was given the chance to set her own path... and then she regressed back to her old survival strategies, she chose a different life and in the process shut some of those doors and turned down some opportunities. But I can't control it and I have to stop trying to. In these 4.5 years I fell right into the trap I was so glad to have avoided: I built up expectations of who and what she would be and now I'm grieving them and trying to force something that simply isn't the plan. We set a goal for her and she met it. She, in fact, was so close to exceeding it in many ways. But that's not our goal to manage and I need to figure out how to be ok with that.

Monday, February 25, 2019

A much needed space

We had strongly considered not going to Puerto Rico this year. We went in 2016 because we wanted to try a family vacation to somewhere amazing to celebrate Maryna having been home for a year. We went again in 2017 because it had been so nice. We went in 2018 partially because we figured it was our last year of all the kids on the same school scheduled breaks and to help bring badly needed tourism dollars after Hurricane Maria. This year felt un-necessary as we planned it. But we got the chance to rent our favorite condo again and, really, we needed a break.

So we went, just the 5 of us, and it was magical, as always. (and as is the new normal, pictures are scattered across several devices so these are the camera ones)

We spent most of our days on the beach by our condo, building in the sand and walking along the coast. We spent the better part of one day hiking some trails in El Yunque (including swimming in a water fall) and another taking a ferry back and forth to Culebra to see Flamenco Beach where we snorkeled until we were caught in a downpour that left us somehow wetter than we already were.  On our 2nd last day we drove into Old San Juan and toured the forts and city.

Monday, February 11, 2019


Things here suck.

It's funny how one kid's struggle can so completely overwhelm the rest of life. Really? Things are good.

Katie is enjoying school, getting new opportunities, occasionally trying new things and discovering it's not fatal, and she is still one of my favorite people to hang out with as we pick apart literature or the news. 

Jorge is thriving in his 6th grade year. He just played the role of Grimsby in his school play and he was funny and confident and clearly loved by his classmates. He turned 12 and spends more time with his D&D group than his family and that's probably best for everyone since he is the most social creature ever to walk on this planet.

August just tested up to his purple belt and is incredibly smart. Crazy smart, really, which means he's in trouble nearly every single day even at his super-accommodating school. We're learning about the periodic table today? bah. I already know how to diagram atoms and identify the elemental structures and bonds and I'd rather write my story.... and he's off to the office for an hour. We're working on giving repeat lessons a chance because there's always more to learn, Mr. Know-it-all.

But then there's M. Oh my heart.

In a series of crushing revelations, we learned that the boyfriend is not "27, just turned 28" as we were told but actually was 34 at the time he started dating our 19 year old high school daughter. Only 5 years younger than us, her parents. Older than most of my younger siblings.

I'll give everyone the chance to process the vomit-y reaction you naturally had to that if you aren't a skeevy creep who wants to say "age is just a number" which really means "he may be 35 now but he is still only emotionally able to handle acting, dressing, working, and living like a 17 year old".  He STILL DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A DRIVER'S LICENSE.  He's the poster child of a Scrub (Thanks TLC. 20 years later and still strong). "Always talking about what he wants and just sits on his broke ass." Word.

So at 34 he started dating a 19 year old high school student. He tried to take her to prom. They were pregnant within 4 months of starting dating so you can do that  math. Both of them lied to our faces for over a year about his age, such as when we celebrated his 28th (ahem, 35th) birthday at Thanksgiving. And there were other revelations about his decisions over the last 17 years of his adulthood. There's just nothing good to say here, folks. Not one.damn.good.thing.

My girl is completely blind right now. This fierce girl that has spent 4 years growing and progressing through the emotional and mental scars left by her past is now back to where we first found her.

When I asked about their plans to handle the emotional and mental wreckage that birth and parenting will always turn up for anyone, he spoke for her "oh, I told her she'll have to just be strong and get through it." And everything in me wanted to jump on the coffee table and kick him in the face. Strong is what has kept her alive and surviving in whatever way she could. Strong is what keeps the lies of depression just dulled from their roar. But strong isn't enough to heal it, grow past it, and thrive. That takes a plan, therapy, work, support, and perhaps medication. I'd like to see him break his legs and then I'd tell him to just be strong and keep walking. Surely you don't want to have to use a crutch or go to therapy to actually heal that. Just be strong and get through it. Asshole.

Clueless. Immature. Selfish.

I'm so angry I feel like there should be sparks flying out of my scalp. I want to be petty and pull all of our support (the car mostly) and say "this is the life you will have with him. He has nothing to offer anyone, and he never will. You will be letting him live off of you until he runs off with his next 19 year old girlfriend." I want to vomit every time I see him.

I've never felt this hate-filled toward anyone. Let's keep the pop music rolling and cite Bieber: "My mama don't like you, and she likes everyone." 100%. I love everyone. I look for the last shred of good in anyone and everyone. Up until 2 weeks ago I'd come up with 100 excuses why this guy was worth trying to accept and help even thought he was an exceptionally immature and un-ambitious "28 year old". Now that he's 35? And has no integrity? And all the other things we learned? Yea, shove off. Shove all the way off. Bye.

But how do you cut off a kid when it means damning her and your new grand-daughter to whatever chaos and insecurity she's signed onto?  Do we step back and let it happen in hopes she sees it herself quickly, turns back, and still trusts us to be there? Can we do that? Or do we need to keep a life-line and small safety net in place to show we really can be trusted...but then she'll use it constantly and life won't seem so bad and she won't admit to herself or anyone that she even has "help" from us to keep them from total disaster.

I don't know. I just don't know. The whole thing makes me feel sick, angry, manipulated, hurt, disgusted, frustrated, and STABBY-SMASHY-KICK-KICK-SCREAM-Y. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ending 2018

I'm not a big fan of change. I like routine, predictability, order and efficiency. 2018 has not provided much of that. Ironically, I was sure that getting tenure would be the thing that nailed down all the routine and predictability one could ever ask for; and yet immediately after getting that wonderful news and a commensurate raise...nearly everything else that we took for granted sort of blew up.

We said goodbye to our sweet girl, Daphne, the day after Labor Day (Sept 4, 2018). She was (to our guesses) about 15.5. We got her in late 2003 and she was almost a year old. She was a good good dog and a furry old horsey and we miss her.

Maryna found out she was pregnant and stormed out of the house and moved in with her boyfriend of about 4 months. It...sucked. It hurt and we cried a lot. But we put on our grown-up pants and did the grown-up adult stuff and dealt with the hurting person (as in she was hurting and she was hurting others). We rallied around the other three hurt and confused kids and it felt exactly like I imagine standing on the deck of a storm-tossed ship trying to preserve enough of our bearings and essentials to continue in a meaningful way once it all blew over and settled.

We've resumed a new relationship and baby-girl is due in March (again, both my baby-girl, and her baby girl). It's raw and still being shaped and under Things UnBloggable.

Of course, there was also my health scare, the death of a colleague which tumbled much of my work routine into an extra stress of teaching, my best friend losing her job and moving multiple states away, teen-and-tween angst for Katie and Jorge, some behavioral health concerns about August from his teachers, and just so much more.

It has been a relief and a release to just stop moving the past 4 days. Since Christmas afternoon I have barely gotten out of pajamas, not eaten a real meal, and my Fitbit is worried I am in a coma. I'm letting myself process all of this yuck that I've been pretending is "fine. Just fine." And then, if that works, I can set it cleanly and firmly behind me as I start a new semester and new year.

2019 promises to have lots of drama and opportunities and excitement and a new baby girl. Hang in there. (That's a note-to-self, mostly)